Thursday, March 20, 2014

spices. they dont have to be expensive.

spices. theyre pretty dang important if you want your food to not taste like crap. i mean really, have you ever tried cooking without spices (or eaten dinner at someones house that for some reason doesnt season anything)? without spices, EVERYTHING tastes like sadness and disappointment. this gets even worse when, like us, youre really poor and basically just eating rice and beans and eggs and potatoes all the time. thanks to the magic of spices, its actually pretty easy to take simple ingredients and turn them into a delicious meal. 

but heres the problem: if youve ever been down the spice aisle of the grocery store, you know that for some stupid, stupid reason, spices cost millions of dollars (ok, like, 4-6 dollars for each little bottle). any time one of my friends is getting ready to get married/move out i ALWAYS tell them "get ready for those first few grocery trips to be CRAZY expensive, because until you collect ALL THE SPICES, every new recipe is an automatic $20". 

but really, it doesnt have to be like that. there are actually quite a few ways that you can get around spending all your money on spices (while still, you know, having them so your food isnt terrible). basically, stay as far away from the spice aisle at the grocery store as you possibly can. but more specifically:

1. invest in an already-filled spice rack. 

heres a good one from target. now i know what youre thinking, its almost $50, and do you really need all of those spices. the answer is yes, eventually you probably will (though i think there are a couple of weird ones on our spice rack that i havent opened yet), and $50 for 20 bottles really isnt that bad when you consider that the average grocery store price is $5 each and buying each one individually would cost about $100. plus, now you have a handy little storage solution for all your little spice bottles. now, even the best spice rack wont have everything and you will have to buy spices sometimes, BUT its a good starting point. 

2. dollar stores. 

dollar stores really have a lot more to offer than we usually give them credit for, and most of them have a fairly decent selection of spices. theyre not always the best quality, but they work. since we have a dollar tree within walking distance of our apartment, a lot of our spices come from there. 

3. the bulk bins at sprouts. 

this is something i just found out about. im really not a big fan of buying new containers of things that im just going to use to refill the containers i already have (it just feels way too wasteful), so when our pepper mill ran out, i was really happy to find that at sprouts i could get just a bag of enough peppercorns to refill my grinder instead of buying a whole new grinder. also, since youre buying by the ounce, you only have to pay for what youre actually going to use. 

4. ethnic grocery stores.

if you live in an area that has them, and you have a little extra time on your hands, this is SO worth it. right after james and i got married i found out that the only curry powder available was $5 for a small jar that made lentil stew exactly twice. on our first visit back to california i made sure we went to the local indian grocery store by my old house and we got a HALF POUND bag of curry powder for $3.50. we still havent used it up. 

5. trader joes. 

ok, so trader joes doesnt have everything (actually their selection of spices is pretty small), BUT everything they do have is $1.99. which, yeah, its twice as much as the dollar store, but the quality is fantastic (and its still less than half of what youd pay at the "regular" store)

and last but not least, 

6. the "ethnic aisle" of the regular grocery store. 

I'm sure youve seen those little baggies of spices hanging on the wall over by the tortillas and stuff, right? well those are the exact same spices that are over in the spice aisle and there usually about $1 or so each (and usually theres more in the bag than in the little jars). the only thing though is that once the bags are open, theyre open. and you need to have some kind of container to offload them into (like, the empty spice jars youre replacing or baby food jars or small tupperware or really anything you can imagine so really there isnt much of a problem. 

so thats all i have to say about spices today. is there anything i missed? do you have any super secret tips for getting cheap spices? if so, id love to hear them!


  1. Target and Walmart store brands also sell their spices relatively cheaper than the brand names as well. Thats what I used until I built up my collection :)

    Also - if you know you use something in bulk, like chili powder, garlic salt, lemon pepper, parsely, etc. Costco and Sam's Club is cheap as well!

  2. So many great little tricks!!! :) I remember those first shopping trips... And now I just have a huge collection. When we have more counter space, I think I'll invest in a spice rack and start phasing out my spice shelf (They literally take an entire shelf in my cupboard, but they're on a tiered thing I bought so I can see them better.)

  3. I'm a'huntin for a good spice rack for my new apartment and I have seen a few brands of spice racks that advertise free refills on spices for life...not sure If there is a catch to this or anything but can you imagine the savings!!!? My Husband and I get a high from fantasizing about things like this,as I'm sure you and yours can relate :p

  4. the spice rack we bought came with a certificate to mail in and get free refills for life, but when i read the fine print, it was something like "mail this in for 20 more bottles of assorted spices, no guarantees that they'll be the same ones" and since i knew we werent going to run out of all 20 at the same time, i figured wed pass.

  5. yes! thats the other great thing about a spice rack, it frees up SO much cupboard space!

  6. oh my gosh, i TOTALLY forgot about costco! we use TONS of lemon pepper, so i bought a giant one from costco and it lasted us like three years!

  7. yeah, thats my favorite thing about having a spice rack, i can actually FIND my spices.