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Frugal Food and Grocery Shopping 101

If you find yourself in a financial hole, it’s time to stop digging. One way to do that is to revisit the basics of frugal food shopping. There’s no denying that you and your family must eat, but there are ways to accomplish eating good healthy food without going into debt and living way beyond your means.

Background image of shopping cart with fresh groceries

Grocery bills and eating out can wreck a budget. Follow these tips and you will get a good start on reining in those costs. Start discovering your own ways to spend less on food and groceries. Now more than ever it’s time to slash expenses to stay above water and preserve cash.

Stop take out, delivery

I get it. The past two years have felt as though we were in some kind of temporary, horrific season. It was our right to do whatever was necessary to just get through one more day until we would never have to think about lockdown and quarantines again. We felt compelled to engage in no-contact delivery of the food we were used to. Right?

Please, it’s time to stop those thoughts. The decisions to continue with the easy-way-out—such as paying for all these meals, delivery fees plus overly generous gratuities with credit—are going to come back to bite you hard. You cannot continue to opt for that feeling of entitlement even if you believe that things will be back to normal soon. You can’t know any of that. Life is uncertain.

Paying $20, $35, or more to take out or to have your favorite restaurant bring it out to you, so you can get you through one more day is about as unwise a decision as you can make right now.

Cook

Yes, cook at home. The closer you can get to cooking with raw ingredients rather than pre-made packaged items, the less money you will spend.

Go with cash only

When you need groceries, arrive at the store with cash only. Sounds so foreign I know, now that we’ve entered the times of plastic and digital payments. However, cash remains one of the best ways to make a severe grocery budget work, as unsanitary as cash may be (the new excuse for never using cash again). Sanitize it if you must. Do what you gotta’ do—and then just do it!

Visit the ATM on your way to the store. Get the amount you can afford to spend on food, then take only that amount and not a penny more to the store.

If you’re out of cash and you have 10 days of the month to go, it’s time to put away the speed dial and start raiding your pantry. You might have an odd menu for a few days, and so what? It won’t kill you.

If you have the discipline of a superhero where you put all of your expenses on a credit card and then pay the balance in full right down to $0.00 each month, good for you. Use your plastic. Just know that you are in a clear minority in that regard.

If your store no longer accepts cash, my suggestion is to find a new store.

Plan it out

Find recipes that fit your budget—yes recipes, as in cooking and preparing meals from ingredients. With very little cooking background, anyone can learn to make great soups and casseroles.

Deciding on recipes and planning meals in advance will become your financial lifesaver. Find recipes online. There are plenty on this site EverydayCheapskate.com.  Search sites like AllRecipes.com where you can input the ingredients you have to find recipes that use those items.

Skip packaged items

You pay a big premium for packaged items like salad kits, meals in a bag, fruit snacks, chips, pre-sliced produce, or vegetables that come in a steam bag. Anything that has been processed and packaged comes with an additional markup. Peeling potatoes, slicing apples, and chopping lettuce might take extra time, but you will be rewarded well for the effort. And you’ll end up with a fresher, tastier result.

Those 100-calorie snack packs are convenient, but they’ll blow a hole in your food budget. Cut up fruit and vegetables at the beginning of each week, divide into single portions, and store. If you just don’t want to sacrifice your daily Goldfish, buy a large package and divide into sandwich baggies to save over 30 percent of the cost of single-serving packages.

Grind your own coffee

Ground coffee can be marked up to 30 percent higher than whole bean versions. It really is worth your while to grind your own coffee at home. (Not to mention the superior taste.) If you do not have a grinder consider investing in a good basic blade grinder.

Lose the meat

At least three times each week, make your dinner meal meatless. Think eggs, cheese, and vegetables. Try breakfast for dinner with pancakes, waffles, potatoes, and so on. You’re going to learn that having a meal without chicken or steak is a great way to save money and keep the grocery bill at rock bottom since meat is one of the most expensive proteins you can buy.

Eat what’s in season

Eating fruits and vegetables during their natural growing season saves you money because those peaches you love don’t have to be transported halfway around the world. Not only that, they are more packed with vitamins and nutrients (also due to less required travel and storage time) and they taste better, too. Check out this handy list of fresh fruits and vegetables by the month.

Don’t go hungry

Sure, we’ve all heard this one before, but it bears repeating—shop when you’re not a voracious bear. It will engage your brain in a way that will help you make reasonable and frugal food choices. Eat something first so you don’t load up the cart with junk.

Eat the sales

Even if you don’t know what will be on sale before you get there, choose the sale version of whatever you need. Do this consistently and you’ll cut your grocery tab by at least 40 percent. That’s the difference between the regular and sale price of nearly every item in the typical supermarket.

Your new normal

I know, I am not fond of that term either, “new normal.” But we have to get real. We do not know what is ahead. There’s lots of talk about food shortages coming our way any day now. What I know is that we need to be prepared.

One of the best gifts you will ever give yourself is to learn the fine art of frugality. Starting with food is a very good place to start.

Learning to live the life you love on less will change your life. And when food and gas prices return to the real normal, don’t go back to life the other way, where you spend all you have, all the time. Continue to live frugally, and you’ll be looking at a whole new life—where you are a voracious saver, able to build a beautiful Contingency (emergency) Fund, can get out of debt and enjoy life where you are living below your means

Sometimes it takes a seriously painful wake-up call to get us onto a new path—words I speak from experience and with a heart of gratitude.

 


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  1. Anita says:

    If you don’t want to go meatless then think small – small amounts of meat in soups and stews. For example, double the beans in your favorite chili recipe or add a bit of crumbled sausage to lentil soup. Simmer a chicken carcass for a flavorful broth and then bulk it up with a lot of veggies. Curries and stir fries can be mostly vegetables too. For the best value, cook your own dried beans: place two cups of dried pinto beans (washed but not soaked) and six cups of boiling water into a 6-quart slow cooker. Turn the slow cooker on high and come back in two hours for perfectly cooked beans. Use the same measurements and procedure for black beans and chickpeas, but let them cook about two and a half hours. Cooked beans freeze well if that’s more than you need at once.

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  2. Sharon Ditton says:

    I freeze those small amounts of meat and vegetables that often feed the garbage disposal. Then, when I have enough, I make a pot of soup. Free meal!!

    Reply
  3. Yulka says:

    Just use coupons, sales,shop different places for different things,get a part time job at Walmart they will give you discount on your food as I bet other places will that sell food.Don’t skip meat you need that or will become anemic. Buy in bulk meat. There is this place that keeps e-mailing me and they even throw in the freezer if you buy from them.

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  4. Mary Ann says:

    The most important way to save money at the grocery store is to know the cost per serving of a grocery store item. Steak on sale for $6.99/lb. is not an inexpensive choice. Chicken hind quarters at the nonsale price of $.39/lb are an inexpensive choice. It’s also helpful to know what a “serving” is for you and your family. If two hindquarters of chicken (two drumsticks and two thighs) will feed your family, you will need about two pounds of chicken. That is $0.78. If you use two cans of corn for your family and they are $0.69 each, that is $1.38. Making a weekly menu and a grocery list with that information, will help you have an idea if you will be able to stay within your budget.

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  5. Red says:

    While we are one of those that never run a credit card up more than we can pay off that month, we still are frugal about the expense of many of the things we buy. We shop the soon expire meats as well as sale items that are regular occurrences. We are fortunate that if we try a new product that is packed in groups of 6 and we really don’t care for the texture or taste that our food pantry is more than willing to accept those failures. If we weren’t able to afford giving that food away we’d have eaten it as I don’t think we’ve found anything that was inedible! We also shop the sales for the food pantry directly. Canned vegetables seem to be the thing they need the most. They also have an egg source that sends amounts that must be repackaged so we recycle our egg cartons there. They’ve started to need fewer and fewer as they now seem to require people to bring there own, but those still can become damaged etc.

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  6. Karla Bergen says:

    Eat the leftovers. I put left-over single portions in divided containers from previous takeout when. When a container is full (or if I’m lucky two containers) that’s lunch or dinner. I can’t beat to see food go in the trash unless it’s spoiled or moldy.

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  7. Pamela says:

    The best thing I ever did is invest in a food vacuum sealer. I buy more than I need when I find a good sale, vacuum seal it and freeze it. I don’t remember the last time I paid full price for meat.

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  8. Suzi says:

    I buy ground beef and chicken breasts on sale. I have a vacuum sealer and can divide packages into what is convenient for us and freeze them.
    I brown some of the ground beef and freeze it in 1 lb packages; some of it I go ahead and season for nachos/tacos so that there is always an easy meal available. I also make individual meatloaves and meatballs, freeze them on a sheet pan, then bag them for the freezer.
    I make my own spaghetti sauce from canned tomatoes, sautéed onions, garlic, and spices. I will either add browned ground beef or just freeze in quart freezer bags.
    The best way to save money is don’t buy it if you won’t eat it and eat what you do buy!

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