Grocery store

Frugal Food and Grocery Shopping 101

As food costs continue to soar, it’s a good time to revisit the basics of frugal food shopping. Grocery bills and eating out can wreck a budget. Follow these tips and you will rein in those costs. Start discovering your own ways to eat on less.

Now more than ever it’s time to slash expenses in order to preserve cash.

Grocery store

Stop the take out, delivery

I get it. It feels as though we are in some kind of temporary, horrific season when it’s our right to do whatever it takes to just get through one more day until we never have to think about this again. At least you can get no-contact delivery of the food you’re used to. Right?

Please, stop those thoughts. We don’t know. Life is never certain, but more uncertain now than ever. The decisions you are making right now—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 know for certain your job is coming back and 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 meal is about as unwise a decision as you can make right now.


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. Do what you gotta’ do—and then just do it!

If you have the discipline of a superhero, good for you. Use your debit or credit card. If you’re like everyone else in the world, visit the ATM on your way to the store. Get the amount you can afford to spend on groceries, 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.

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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  Search sites like where you can input the ingredients you have to find recipes that use them.

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. 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 your job and income return, 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 a heart of gratitude.


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  1. Cathy says:

    Mary, PLEASE get rid of all of the popup ads! They’re so distracting and even when deleting them and selecting “repetitive” as the option, they keep popping up (from criteo)! So annoying!


  2. Karen says:

    If there is a Smartfoods (membership free restaurant warehouse grocery store) near you, go there if you can and buy in bulk. You can get a 25 lb bag of flour for $11. That is what we do.

  3. Karen Ranieri says:

    Tidbits can always be upcycled!! Rule #1 — don’t throw away the money you have spent already!
    Bread ends/stale pieces, last hotdog roll – freeze (for soup croutons or meatballs)
    Meat (Freeze. Chop beef for breakfast hash, chili or soup or making stock. Ham, shrimp, pork, beef bits for fried rice. Fish for chowder, fishcakes. Wrap any bits with cheese and potatoes in ready-made biscuits, sprinkle dough with grill seasoning or herbs for hand pies.)
    Veggies (Fried rice! Soup. Hash. Almost anything wilted/past prime can go in a quart of stock with an onion, celery, carrot, garlic then pureed. Add cream and above croutons for a great soup.)
    FRUIT IS EXPENSIVE!!! 1. Wilted/squishy/dried out fruit – Peel (or don’t!). Slice (and freeze on cookie sheet after slicing, individual slices WONT stick together once you scrape them into a ziploc), – OR- slice and layer on ready made puff pastry. Brush with apricot (or any) marmalade, sprinkle with sugar (chopped nuts optional) and bake. 2. Brown/squishy grapes – braise with chicken or pork. Make ambrosia fruit salad. Add to BBQ pork skewers. 3. Make a pitcher of sangria!! You’ll forget about all the money you lost….

  4. Nata Etherton says:

    My situation is different than yours. I cannot go to the grocery store due to age and chronic medical conditions. I cannot forgo meat because then I slip back into chronic anemia. I cook every day, and am working through what I had in the freezer before the pandemic.
    I just wanted to give you my point of view.

    • Pat C says:

      I’m in the same boat. As a senior with underlying health problems, I won’t go into a grocery store, even with a mask and gloves. I order on online and do touchless pick up, i.e., they place my bags in the trunk of my car. The range available online is less than in the store. As well, I have dietary restrictions that include food allergies and intolerances and diabetes. So, nice ideas but not applicable in the current pandemic.

  5. S says:

    Not great advice for current times.
    1. Many stores no longer accept cash.
    2. Local grocery stores have cut way back on sale items. What used to be 4-6 page weekly ad is now two at most, and sale items are mostly processed foods, pretty useless. Just find your local store with best prices, and stick to basics – beans, fresh veges, fresh fruit, grains, eggs, lean meat in small portions.
    3. Agree with stop eating take-out. We rarely do in normal times, we’re usually disappointed. Helping local businesses? I understand that sentiment , but is it really helping? Do they really want to be forced to be at work, in a small space with others? I wouldn’t. And there are multiple people cooking, packing, bagging, touching the food and packaging, then handing it over? No thanks.

  6. Donna Barbieri says:

    I always cook, and shop for the weekly sales but nothing is on sale now at our supermarket. So I’m just continuing to be frugal. When making iced tea, I use 2 tea bags to make a half gallon, just let it steep for about an hour. We like Rooibos for hot tea, so to save I make a quart size with the used tea bag and keep it in the fridge in a glass bottle, then just pour and heat in the microwave, 1 tea bag for 5 servings. We don’t like strong coffee, so I make 2 cups from one “use your own coffee” refill pod in the Keurig, hitting the large cup size, then the smallest cup size in a 2 cup measuring cup.

    Monthly “Freezer Inventory” is key to knowing what I have pre-made, what I have, and what I need. I freeze leftover fruit for smoothies, keep whole ginger and parmesan cheese wedge in the freezer ready to grind when I need it. I freeze cooked spaghetti squash in sandwich bags (squeezing out excess liquid), then put the bags in a freezer bag. Husband won’t eat it, but our 2 Jack Russells like it as their veggie when I home cook for them. Clean freezer bags are always reused.

    • Mary Hunt says:

      Hi Vickie … Send an email to and we’ll get right back to you with a link!

  7. Nancy Akerly says:

    Some good ideas for saving on food in these uncertain times. But in this small rural area where I live, I know the workers and restaurants are trying to keep going, so we make a point of ordering curbside pick up foods at least once a week as a support for our local economy at a times when many families have no other income. Sometimes this means we eat light at other meals throughout the week. Just a thought, Mary.

    • Kay Jones says:

      Nancy, I agree with supporting the local eateries. I am retired and have a budget. It allows for lunches with friends. Since this is not possible at this time, I have redirected that to getting curbside pickup. I enjoy cooking but have also changed that up a bit and used those savings to add to the pick up amount. It’s not much, but every little bit helps. I have also “found” a bit to send to the local food bank. I don’t miss the food and the warm feeling it gives me to help out warms my heart.

      • Mary Hunt says:

        Good thoughts, Kay. However if you or Nancy, like so many were putting the entire charge of your pick up and delivery meals on your credit card, without means to pay that entire balance in full every month falling deeper and deeper into debt, that would be ill-advised.

    • Janet says:

      I agree with you. If people ate every meal at their own home when they are not traveling, there would not be many restaurants for travelers to eat in except for at truck stops and/or in large town/cities because there would not be enough business profits for small-town restaurants to stay in business. Small towns do not seem to grow or thrive without a grocery store and at least one hometown restaurant. Also, eating in restaurants does help with everyone’s emotional health because of the socializing aspect of seeing and visiting with other people in a local restaurant. Loneliness and/or isolation is not good for people.

  8. Betty Thomas says:

    I have a few tips that have served me well. Shop once a week or every two weeks (if you can) and only go with a list of ingredients that you have taken off your menu planner. You can get away with just planning dinners (less daunting than planning three meals a day 7 days a week!) if you keep staples on hand for lunches and breakfast. I use leftover dinner for lunches and it works well for me. Many people keep fruit and cereals on hand for breakfast. Grow a garden or even a few things in pots on a deck or patio. Get the kids to help, they will eat veggies if they helped grow and prep them. Make a double batch of meatloaf or casserole and freeze one. With a well stocked freezer you won’t be tempted to grab take out. Some people do not like leftovers so redesign them! A meatloaf can become a good soup the next day when broken up and used with broth and potatoes or pasta. Leftover potatoes can become potato pancakes, leftover rice can be a stir fry. And don’t forget a fridge cleaning frittata. Over ripe veggies and eggs can make the most appetizing frittata. It can be a challenge but it is wonderfully fulfilling and gets to be 2nd hand if you stick with it. Thanks Mary for keeping us sane in a difficult time.

  9. Betty says:

    Before you menu plan go online to your favorite grocery store and see what’s on sale. Plan your menu on these items. Tuesday is a great day to shop because if there is an overstock of a sale item it will get reduced further

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