Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Best Kitchen Tools to Help Lower Your Grocery Budget

I am not a minimalist.

I could never be one of those people that counts how many items they own, and if they reach over a certain amount, gives it away, tosses it, or sells it.

And I live in a super tiny apartment.
That doesn't mean that I don't value the concept of minimalism, and think that the pursuit of material objects are detrimental, both to one's pocket book and to their mental and emotional health.
Its just that I need my things.

Certain things anyhow.
Not because I like having as much junk around as possible, trying to clutter up my limited space.
But because certain things make my life a lot easier.
And certain things that I have end up saving me lots of money, especially when it comes to making things from scratch.

I have so many kitchen gadgets- I have more variety of kitchen gadgets than most people I know. And even though space is minimal in my house, and no matter how much I do declutter, most of my kitchen gadgets are just some things not worth eliminating from my household, because of how they save me money.
To be able to make as many things from scratch as possible, there are quite a few kitchen tools that I believe are imperative to have, and are a worthwhile expense, since they will pay for themselves many times over once you are able to make everything from scratch instead of needing to buy ready made food from the grocery store or restaurant.
That said- there is no reason why you'd need to spend a lot of money on these items. Many, if not all of them, can be purchased second hand, either through listservs or websites like craigslist, or at yard sales or thrift stores, and if you're lucky, you just might be able to get them free, from things like FreeCycle or dumpster diving.

And so, I present to you this list of my money saving kitchen gadgets- how they save me money, how to get them as cheap as possible, and which I think are kitchen gadgets that every money conscious person should have in their house.

The Basics that Everyone Should Have

A Burner- or a Few:
This is pretty much a given, in my opinion, but in some places, I guess it isn't. But every frugal home should have the means of cooking food from scratch, and not just buying takeout or frozen meals. If you don't have a full range, even buying an electric burner or two will make a big difference in your ability to save money on groceries.

An Oven:
While ovens aren't exactly cheap, I find them imperative in my kitchen, since having the ability to bake opens up many doors of making things from scratch that cannot be made on the stove, whether bread, cakes, cookies, crackers, pizza, etc... If you don't have an oven and can't afford to buy one, I strongly suggest looking into getting a large toaster oven, which is much cheaper than an oven.
If a toaster oven isn't an option for you, you can try to get a Wonder Pot or an Omnia Stove Top Oven which allows you to bake most things on your stove top (but not everything).

A Pot- or Many:
This goes together with the burner and oven- without it, you can't really cook your own food. Yes, they sell disposable pots now, apparently, but as with all disposable items they need to be replaced regularly. It saves more money to have actual real pots to go on the stove- but more on which kind of pot in a little bit.
While one pot is necessary, in my opinion, at the very least, having a few pots will allow you to cook more than one thing at a time, and therefore allow you to serve more than one pot meals, making cooking from scratch much more convenient...

A Refrigerator/Freezer:
I've tried living without one for a few days at a time, and I've determined that these are practically needs, not wants, nowadays. Living without a fridge/freezer means foods spoiling faster, inability to preserve things in the freezer, and needing to go to the grocery store every day pretty much- and every time you go to the grocery store you end up spending more than originally intended. Going to the store every day is a big money waster- going as infrequently as possible is best. So for those reasons alone, I believe a refrigerator/freezer is imperative, and non optional.

Yes, disposables work, but they don't work nearly as well as good knives, which would limit you in your ability to cook from scratch.

Ok, so now I've covered the basics that I assume everyone or nearly everyone who reads my blog already has. If you don't have them, I suggest you go out and get some as soon as possible, as not having them will likely increase your food budget tremendously, even if you don't try to make everything from scratch.

But what about beyond the bare minimum?
Lets say you have just a little bit of extra money to invest in some money saving kitchen tools- where should you start?

So, from cheaper to most expensive, here are the various items I recommend that you have available to use in your kitchen.  Working your way down the list, I suggest you get these one at a time, until you have them all (other than the extras at the very bottom), as these kitchen must haves will more than pay for themselves in the amount of money they'll help you save.

Money Saving Kitchen Must Haves

The Cheapest Must Haves:

Cheese Cloths:
I actually don't have any “real” cheese cloths in my house. When I refer to cheese cloths, I am referring to cloths that are thin enough for liquids to pass through them, but thick enough to hold solids from passing through. I use hand me down cloth napkins and white thin cotton scarves for this- because I find them to be more durable than cheese cloths and easier for me to source.
I use these on a regular basis in my kitchen, mainly when I'm making non dairy milks, but other times as well. These certainly are not a big investment and will be among your most used kitchen items, once you find yourself cooking from scratch.

Glass Jars:
If you're interested in fermenting things, like making your own pickles or sauerkraut or kombucha or kefir, these are useful, and they can be entirely free if you just use jars leftover from purchased items, such as mayo or honey. I've had plenty of offers from friends to give me their jars as well, that would otherwise have ended up in the trash. Glass jars can also be used for canning things, to preserve foods you grew yourself, foraged, or just bought cheaply in season- another money saver. I keep all my homemade condiments, such as mayonnaise, ketchup, worcestershire sauce, and hot sauce in glass jars.

Rolling Pins: 
I am using this as a general term, and not specifics. While a “real” rolling pin makes life a little easier, the main part that is important is that you have something that you can use to roll out things- whether it is a glass bottle, a wooden dowel, or even a can- or a rolling pin. Being able to roll things out gives you the ability to make your own crackers, cookies, pies, pastas, etc... and really helps save money in the kitchen.

Whisking Tool:
You can use a beater- whether hand held or electric beater, or a simple hand held whisk, but both of these are useful in making dishes that require beating egg whites or cream, whether meringues, cakes, marshmallows, or making homemade mayonnaise.

Grating Tool:
I have both a food processor and a box grater, and to be honest, when it comes to grating, it doesn't matter which one specifically you have- as long as you have the ability to grate.
In addition to a box grater and food processor, you also have an option of a hand held rotary grater. Grating is used in many made from scratch recipes, especially salads, or just grating cheese instead of buying ready grated cheese, etc... If you can't afford a food processor, you can use a grater on the smallest blade to essentially grind things up, which is necessary for many homemade sauces and condiments, among other things. There also is the aspect that sometimes you have limited cheap ingredients to work with, and if you are able to grate those ingredients and not just serve them whole or chopped up, you are increasing your options of what you can do with the ingredients available. For example, instead of just making salads and roasted veggies, you can make casseroles or patties, adding variety to your diet, which is a big bonus especially if you're using past prime produce so can't do raw salads, or have a limited repertoire of cheap ingredients to work with.

More Expensive but Still Worthwhile Must Haves

Blender/Food Processor:
Having a machine that can blend or process your foods makes such a difference in the kitchen. It doesn't have to be an expensive Vitamix blender- I found the best tool to start off with was an immersion blender with a chopper attachment (and whisk), since with that and a grater, I was able to do nearly everything I currently do with a food processor. I can't even begin to count what I use my blender/food processor for to save money in the kitchen, but just some examples: making mayonnaise, making homemade ice cream, smoothies, blending leftovers to turn into patties, blending up legumes to make falafel, veggie burgers, or other vegetarian meat alternatives, making homemade dips, non dairy milks, homemade pie crusts, making applesauce, making tomato sauce, etc... A more heavy duty food processor or blender can be used to make homemade nut butters as well. What I said about the grater above- offering more versatility in your kitchen with your frugal ingredients- is equally true for a blender/food processor.

Coffee Grinder:
If there's any tool in my kitchen that gets the most use after my pots and pans, it is my coffee grinder. I find it so helpful- and not for coffee. My coffee grinder gets used mainly for making my own spice mixes- so much cheaper and healthier to make my own instead of buying ready made, not to mention that I can make exotic spice mixes that aren't necessarily available locally, and definitely not at a cheap price. The other thing I use mine for on a regular basis is grinding my own flax seeds which I use as a cheaper vegan egg substitute, in my baked goods, patties, etc... and also to make egg free mayonnaise.
Less frequently I use my coffee grinder to grind nuts that I buy whole (cheaper than buying ground), and to make my own powdered sugar. In the past, before I got my own grain grinder, I even used my coffee grinder to grind my own gluten free flours, such as buckwheat and millet, but now that I have my own grain grinder, I use that for that task instead.

Pressure Cooker:
I've written before about how I use my pressure cooker to save money, but in a nutshell: it allows me to make cheaper cuts of meat taste like more expensive cuts, cook dry legumes quickly and easily, saves utilities by decreasing cooking time, and allows me to cook meals super fast instead of needing to buy processed foods/takeout on busy days.

Crock Pot:
On the other end of the spectrum from pressure cookers are crock pots, which many people find helpful in the kitchen to save money. They are very useful for cooking legumes, cheaper tougher cuts of meat, and for preventing the need for takeout or fast meals, since food is cooking the entire time while you're away, so no need to cook when you're in a rush at the end of the day. Many also use crock pots for making homemade yogurt, but I don't find that necessary. To be honest, the money saving thing I do in my crock pot most often is cooking porridge overnight in it, to eat for breakfast, instead of relying on cereal and milk because I'm in a rush. Crock pots also use very little electricity to run, so they save on utilities as well.

Big Ticket Items/Extras

Once you have all the above, the following are some other kitchen tools that I find save me money as well, but in less obvious ways than the aforementioned. They also are bigger ticket items, so if you can't afford them, don't buy them, but if you have some extra money to spend in the kitchen, these will pay off in terms of usefulness and the amount they'll save.

Grain Grinder-
My grain grinder is the "extra" that I use the most in my kitchen, using it in large batches at least a few times a month. For me, it actually isn't an extra, since it allows me to save so much money in the kitchen because gluten free flours are outrageously expensive but gluten free grains are not. Every batch of flour that I make costs at the very most 25% of what it would cost buying it in the store, but often it costs even less than that. For gluten free families, this is a must have, in my opinion, and possibly should be saved up for and purchased before the items in the "More expensive but still worthwhile must haves" list, as being able to grind your own flour will save you so much money each month that in no time you'll be able to free up enough cash to buy the other items on the list.
If you aren't gluten free, and have the ability to buy sacks of grain cheaply in bulk, it may also be a good idea to get a grain grinder, since home ground whole wheat flour made from bulk wheat berries, for example, tends to be significantly cheaper than purchased whole wheat flour.

Cast Iron Pan-
This is a little more hard to justify in terms of amount of money spent, to be honest, since the biggest quality cast iron has to offer is that it lasts forever, and you won't need to replace it, unlike other non stick pans that get ruined over time and need replacing, cast iron pans get better with age, and work better the older they are.

A Very Large Pot-
A big money saver in my kitchen is being able to batch cook- when I find a lot of a certain item on sale- lets say tomatoes or chicken carcasses- I cook them up in one go and freeze them in meal sized portions (of tomato paste/chicken broth( in the freezer. This saves me time, yes, but also saves me money because I have the items that I bought at a low price available when I need them, and don't need to pay full price for them.
The other big benefit of a very large pot is that if you get it large enough, you should be able to use it to can your produce via the water bath method of canning.

Dehydrators are useful for preserving foods and making things like jerky, fruit leather, etc... and they often cost a lot of money. However, I made my own dehydrator nearly for free- it doesn't have to be a big ticket item.
That said- I honestly don't use my dehydrator currently- it's stored in a place where I don't have easy access to it, so I end up using my oven on the lowest setting for this- it uses more electricity, but is more convenient for me. If you plan on doing a lot of preserving, a dehydrator would be more efficient, both in terms of time and fuel, so it might be a worthwhile expense, but for me at the moment, I don't find it necessary.

So yes, I do have a lot of things that I consider kitchen must haves. And my kitchen is certainly where I don't minimize, despite living in a super small apartment. But I can guarantee you that all the items on my list are ones that I use regularly, and certainly have paid for themselves many times over in how they help me save money.

What do you consider your kitchen must haves for money saving? Anything you think I missed on this list? Are you a minimalist in your kitchen, or not at all?


  1. a crock pot is a fraction of the price of a decent pressure cooker btw. also, from unfortunate experiences, electric burners do not get hot enough to boil water properly, let alone fry or pressure-cook anything.

    but yes on the large toaster ovens- they're as good as regular ovens and, because they're smaller and you heat less air using them, they preheat faster and generally cook faster than ovens. though one drawback is that they aren't well insulated so you can't keep food hot in them for long. and they can't broil!

  2. A slow cooker and spice (coffee) grinder are my 2 most loved kitchen tools. I am considering a pressure cooker for canning. Do you know if this is a different species from a regular pressure cooker? I would love a grain grinder but do not see it in my future

    1. Pressure canners have a weight gauge to make sure they reach a certain weight of pressure to make sure it is safe for canning. Thus you can't use a regular pressure cooker to can, however, you can use a pressure canner to cook things in.

  3. When I spend time thinking about what I use the most in my kitchen ( I cook 100% of our meals at home) the coffee grinder is my most used and loved item. I use it for grinding whole flax, brown sugar and rice for rice flour. I do have a minimal kitchen and find that for every "thing" you think you need to make a dish or ingredients there will be something I can use in more than one way ( a deep fryer basket for healthy chips and as a strainer being a good example). I have in my kitchen what I use on a regular basis, nothing more.

  4. Good post!
    Did I miss reading about a griddle? In India we call it tava and its a must have used for making rotis, amd other gluten free chapatis and dosas.
    Am a big fan of your blog and each post makes me think you should definitely visit India. You will love it and what is more there is so much variety in food you can remain gluten free 365 days a year and never repeat a single dish.
    Plus you can pick up awesome kitchen stuff at reasonable rates- cast iron cookware, pressure cookers....


    1. I was just going to suggest buying pressure cookers from any Indian store if you cannot have someone from India bring one for you. Bed Bath & Beyond is a great alternative with the 20% off.

  5. Our microwave really helps us to be frugal because it makes reheating leftovers quick and easy. Being able to heat food on your plate is also motivating, because it means fewer dishes to wash. We only rarely use the microwave for heat-n-eat convenience foods; it's mostly for leftovers.

    I'd also include a can opener, rubber scraper, and long-handled spoon as essentials. Another tool we use all the time is our garlic press--but some people prefer chopping garlic with a knife or crushing it another way. A large mixing bowl is important to me, for making several loaves of quick bread at once.

    This is a great list! I like the way you started with the essentials instead of assuming everyone has them.

  6. OK, I'm convinced to buy a coffee grinder. Been considering it for a while. I make nearly everything from scratch but agonize over "splurges" like the strainer that I use almost daily but couldn't get myself to buy it until my husband gifted it to me...

  7. About glass jars... I'm totally obsessed with them! I buy huge jars of pickles; not only that I love them, but I get a big jar afterwards to store beans and rice and what-not in!
    Also, I would add garlic press to the list. Before I had one, if something I wanted to make (like skordalia) had more than 3 minced garlic, it would be a great demotivator!


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