But if you’re a seafood or freshwater fish lover, it’s not quite as straightforward. Sure, you can opt for shrimp instead of lobster, or tilapia over coho salmon, but depending on where you live, prices, quality and availability vary widely. Small-town grocers in the Midwest, for example, may have nothing but frozen bags of fish fillets and shrimp available, while large cities and coastal towns may have a number of fish shops that sell a wide selection of fresh seafood.
As general rules, though, certain types of seafood cost less, frozen is almost always cheaper than fresh and, depending on how much you love to cook, fillets can offer a savings over whole fish, or vice versa. And, no diss to freshwater options, but for the sake of simplicity, we’re just going to refer to it all as seafood from here out.
Here are some guidelines that can help you save money on your seafood purchases.
1. Try something new
Depending on where you live, you may have a wide variety of fish available to choose from. If so, look at buying less expensive substitutions. If you like oily fishes like tuna, consider mackerel instead. Love halibut? Try some cod or hake for a significant cost savings.
2. Opt for the local catch
Seafood that doesn’t require extensive shipping (and the associated costs) is frequently less expensive. Get to know the types of fish and shellfish that live or are raised in your area and try it all to see what you like best.
3. Buy in bulk
Warehouse grocers like Costco offer large bags of frozen seafood, including tuna steaks, swordfish, lobster tails, shrimp and mussels. These can be significantly less expensive than buying fresh each week, especially when you factor in fewer trips to the grocery store.
4. Buy frozen
Fresh seems like the better choice, but the truth is most fish is frozen or kept very near freezing on fishing boats and during transport to your grocer, so there’s often very little difference in the quality and texture. Frozen also tends to be cheaper than fresh and you may find more options available in the frozen food section than you do at your fish counter. Plus, it lasts longer, so you don’t have to cook it right away.
5. Buy fillets instead of whole fish...
If you plan to only eat the fillets from the whole fish, and discard the head, tail and bones, you’re probably better off just buying the fillets. While whole fish is frequently cheaper by the pound, you’ll typically need to buy one pound per person, but only one-fourth to one-half pound per person if you’re buying fillets. With that in mind, it’s easy to see that feeding three people with a whole fish costing $5 per pound doesn’t offer a cost savings over fillets costing $10 per pound.
6. ...unless you’re going to use the scraps
However, if you plan to use the head, tail and bones as the basis for another dish, buying whole fish can result in a cost savings (you can use your shrimp, lobster and crab shells for this purpose, as well).
7. Catch your own seafood
The cost of a fishing license is pretty nominal in most states, so if you have the patience and the time, a quiet day on the lake or at the beach surf-fishing is a surefire way to keep your food costs low while filling your fishly desires.
Want more easy grocery hacks? We've got ways to save on eggs (yes, there are a few) right here.