Let's face it, there's nothing cheap about living in New York City. You'd think you'd only find the high-cost foodstuffs at swanky bars or Sunday brunch spots, but even the grocery store doesn't sell your Raisin Bran for less than $5 a box! CNBC even tells us that NYC groceries are double the national average (and that's just groceries–we're not even talking about eating out!). With that in mind, how in the world are you supposed to afford rent, a phone bill, and groceries each week?
Skip the fancy grocery stores
Whole Foods and Fresh Market are beautiful and brimming with superfoods, but they're also not cheap. If you're after local, seasonal, organic produce, shop an NYC farmers market or sign up for a CSA (see below)–at least you'll support area farmers and save a bit of cash in the meantime. When it come to grocery shopping in New York City, you can't go wrong with Foodtown, Gristede's, Food Emporium, Best Market, Trader Joe's, Pathmark, Aldi's, and Key Food.
Shop for seasonal items
Eating in season just makes sense, and if you aren't sure, just try sinking your teeth into a watermelon in January–you'll taste the difference! Not only does it pay for your palate to eat seasonally, but it also pays. Peaches are cheaper in the summer, and butternut squash costs less in the colder months. In a city like New York where you have to watch your pennies, eating seasonally can help your budget. Check the supermarket circulars to see which seasonal produce items are on sale each week, and hit up any of the city's green grocers or farmer's markets (such as the Union Square market) right before the markets close since farmers and vendors are more inclined to strike a deal with you–they don't want to have to pack everything up and schlep it and store it before heading to their next market.
Plus, you can take advantage of seasonal produce by incorporating that seasonality into more vegetarian meals at home. Not only will this be a great way to squeeze more veggies into your diet, but it'll be good for your wallet, too, since meat simply costs more money than veggies and beans.
Grow what you can at home (herb garden, etc)
Ok, you live in New York City, not Iowa, so it's not exactly feasible for you to grow potatoes. What else can you grow in a sunny windowsill? Try growing your own scallions, cherry tomatoes, or herbs (think basil, rosemary, cilantro). Not only will your wallet thank you, but you'll enhance the flavor of your food when you cook with fresh herbs and just-plucked tomatoes.
Buy the store brand.
Sure, you can spend your precious time clipping coupons, but why bother when the store brand is usually cheaper? That's right: buying the store brand of dishwasher detergent, canned beans, or breakfast cereal is almost always cheaper than buying the name brand, even when you're using a coupon. If you have skin or food allergies, then by all means check labels, but most in-house brands are comparable in nutrition, ingredients, and quality to their name-brand counterparts. Save time and money by purchasing the store brands and shave dollars off of your grocery bill each week.
Sign up for a CSA
Whether you're a vegetarian, a veggie-lover, or just someone who appreciates both fresh produce and a good deal, consider signing up for a CSA (community-support agriculture). Being part of a CSA allows you to support local agriculture as well as indulge in produce that's picked fresh from the farm. You'll get a weekly box of locally-grown, seasonal produce (and sometimes other goodies, like meat, eggs, or cheese depending on the package you sign up for). Best of all, you don't have to drive out to the boonies to get these great fruits and veggies. Local Roots NYC has multiple locations for produce pick-up in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
You might be surprised to learn that what sounds like an elite or fancy service is about as down-home as it comes and is affordable to boot, especially if you prepare more meals at home than you consume dining out. Look for the vegetarian bundle to save money on organic veggies, and save even more when you sign up for the zero-food waste bundle (just over $7 a week for two pounds of not-exactly-perfect but locally, organically grown veggies). You can split the cost with roommates to save even more!
Look for cashback credit cards
It's always nice to get cash back every time you buy, and there are even credit cards that have rewards specific to groceries. The best one out there right now is the American Express Blue Cash Preferred. If you spend a ton of money on groceries, this card is what you want. It offers cashback of 6% at US supermarkets, on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%).. There is an annual fee, but with the high cashback percentage makes it worthwhile.
There is an annual fee, but with the high cash back percentage makes it worthwhile. Keep in mind this card is for those who spend A LOT on groceries. If you've got a smaller household this might not be the card for you, but plenty of other great options for cashback rewards cards, there's no reason not to pick one up for your weekly expenses.