(Frugal) Food, Glorious Food

  • DH = Dear Husband
  • DD3 = Dear Third Daughter

Hitting our stride with frugal groceries 

We used to spend over $200 per week on groceries. I can’t tell you exactly how much we spent because we didn’t budget, and we didn’t track.  When DH and I started our journey out of debt in June of 2012, we took a random guess at what we could manage for frugal groceries, and came up with $150 per week. A few months’ struggle with tracking and a realization that we were always over budget led us to up that weekly amount to $175. As the New Year of 2015 approached, inspired by a burst of determination to ramp things up I resolved upon $150 again – for real this time. And it worked! This month, February of 2016, in an effort to shake off months of major spending on renovations, we budgeted $125 per week for groceries. And we’re on track to average under that number.

Eyes wide open to potential food pitfalls & being proactive

Amy at Debgal.com posts a weekly meal plan at her site. In response to a recent post of hers, I tweeted about how proactive she is – in terms of both food and parenting – and about how that proactive approach makes for smooth sailing. “Proactive is key for survival for me!” she replied. It’s key for me too.

One of the elements of effective proactivity is to be fearlessly honest about potential pitfalls to the achievement of a goal. When it comes to food, here are the forces that threaten to derail my frugal intentions:

  • I’m not indifferent to food. I enjoy it immensely, and when hunger strikes, there’s an urgency to it. If I’m at work or out doing errands and I get hungry – without something ready-to-eat at hand – I’ll very easily capitulate and buy.
  • I get bored with the same meal over and over again. So if I’m facing the 4th spaghetti supper of the week, I’m very tempted to leave it in the fridge and order take-out. Donairs please!
  • I say to myself every morning, as I pack my lunch, that I won’t eat anything sweet during the work day. And then every day at about 1:30 in the afternoon, my energy crashes, and chocolate sings me a song, promising to be the answer. And it is. I know because I often buy some.
  • I find it a challenge to accommodate the different tastes for food in our household, and the last thing I want to do when I get home from work is to become a short-order cook – so I resort to low-effort meals. But low-effort food is so often unappealing. How about some donairs?
  • My knee-jerk reaction in gratitude, sympathy, celebration, and friendship is to go to Tim Horton’s for coffee or tea and a snack.

So in executing a frugal grocery shop, I proactively:

  • Plan for a variety of meals.
  • Give moderate accommodation to my sweet-tooth.
  • Include easy-to-bring-in-purse-just-in-case items.
  • Include ingredients for baking.

Meal-prep day & frugal fooding

The image above represents the hours of meal preparation that I devoted to a successful week of frugal fooding last Sunday. Featured are two quiches, chicken soup, chicken broth (for next week’s soup), chicken pot-pie, and chocolate chip cookies (baked by DD3). I baked the apple pie for Simon – the neighbour who rescued me from endless hours of shoveling last week when he appeared on the scene with his snowblower. Not featured is the lasagna that I cooked a while after the photo was taken or the chicken breasts and muffins that DH prepared over the next few days. Half of each meal went into the freezer, and the other half went into the fridge. We will almost certainly have some of it next week too.

The meal-prep day has paid off. There is no shortage of ready-to-eat food in our house, and I really haven’t been tempted to resort to take-out. It is easy to accommodate different preferences for supper in the household, and it takes a matter of minutes to put the evening meal on the table when I get home from work. I encounter no obstacles in packing a hearty lunch and just-in-case snacks in the morning to keep hunger at bay through my day at work. This Friday, when a couple of friends will be over for dinner, I won’t need to do a frantic, last-minute dash to the grocery store after work. Everything will be taken care of and ready to go. And as for my gratitude to Simon, what says “Thank you” better than a box of donuts? Homemade apple pie.

True confession: I haven’t had a completely successful week of frugal fooding. I once again decided each morning so far that I wouldn’t eat anything sugary through the work day – and on Monday and Tuesday, I gave into my predictable early-afternoon energy crash by spending on sweets. Lesson learned: Get real and pack a a little home-baking.

Variety and uniqueness in frugal fooding 

One of the most effective ways to get a handle on your personal finances – whether to reduce debt, build up savings, or invest for the long term – is to be intentional about reducing the amount of money you spend on food. Some regular expenses in life are inflexible, but for those related to food, there is significant potential to adjust. The range of weekly spending that people practice in their purchases for household food is incredible – from several hundred dollars (especially when meals out are taken into account) to less than fifty. And while there’s no one-size-fits all recipe for frugal fooding, there is almost certainly some way for everyone interested to make it happen.

You can spend less on food by:

  • avoiding meat
  • eating beans
  • searching for recipes and cookbooks designed for low budget foods
  • buying in bulk
  • buying on sale
  • using coupons
  • growing some of your own vegetables, fruits, and herbs
  • having a “no restaurant” week or month

Harness the power of frugal fooding

DH and I don’t do all of the above, but what we have done has pretty well cut our expenditures on food, including groceries and meals out, in half. And that roughly $125 not spent each week is directed into lowered debts, higher savings, and more substantial investments – all ingredients for the recipe for financial freedom. There is power in proactive frugal fooding. Harness it, and steer it towards your vision of freedom.

Have you ever intentionally reduced your spending on food? What strategies have you used? What pitfalls have you had to deal with. Your comments are welcome.



17 comments on “(Frugal) Food, Glorious Food

  1. First of all, thank you for sharing my post! Also, you basically described me in the bullet points about yourself! And your meal prep day sounds like a lot of work, but completely worth it. Everything looks and sounds fantastic! (I had to look up donairs, though.)

    I’m always aiming to keep our grocery spending under $400 per month, but I typically go over. I’ve definitely noticed the difference it makes on the trips when I don’t purchase meat. My greatest grocery-spending challenges are the desire to feed my family lots of fresh fruit and veggies, which does get pricey: a picky six-year-old, who eats only PB&J, mac and cheese (boxed only), chicken nuggets, pizza, and pasta; and my preference for minimizing processed food (I don’t always succeed here), and buying eggs and meat from humanely-raised animals. (The local, “happy” eggs I buy are almost twice the price of standard grocery eggs.) I usually shop sales, coupon, and buy in bulk, to help keep costs down.

    1. My youngest was a VERY picky eater too. Less so now, fortunately. You are balancing many different priorities as you choose your groceries. If you manage to keep it all to close to $400 per month, I’d say you’re doing very well! Keep up the meal planning Amy! (And I hope you have the opportunity to try a donair sometime soon : )

  2. Wonderful post, Ruth! As you know, we are frugal foodies too and also LOVE food. It’s tough to find a balance, but it’s working. We’ve been hovering around $400-$450 a month this year so far. PS, I’ve been following your lead and doing planks every other day. I’m up to 1m 15 s, and my core is MUCH stronger. Thank you!!!!

    1. Well done with the planks! Your low grocery bill astounds me. For 6 people too! You are making such a difference to your financial health with the kind of smart shopping and meal prep entailed. My hat is off to you, Laurie.

  3. Intentionally reduced food spending? Not as a chosen focus, no. As a bachelor, I did a lot of cooking at home, meal planning, stocking and using the pantry, and the like. Food and snacks were never a real concern for me.

    I’m getting back to that now as my twentieth wedding anniversary approaches and my weight slowly creeps upward from sitting too long at work. I’ve just gotten a $10 small crockpot, slow-cooker recipes from the library and Internet, and Sundays for the weekly cooking binge. The extra food will help replace my wife’s penchant for outside convenience foods, and I expect a bit of free cash-flow from that. But it’s not about the money, it’s about the time for the household.

    1. There are many reasons to prepare meals at home rather than indulge in “outside convenience foods”. Besides the financial advantage, there is taste and health – as well as an enriching of the household just with the great smells of cooking and the high quality hang-out time that happens when people gather near the kitchen – where the action is. I wish you well in gaining time for the household, Sabbaticalia. And you might as well enjoy that additional cash-flow too : )

  4. Great post Ruth! I enjoy Amy’s weekly meal planning posts. This is an area that has plagued us for some time now. We just have not gotten as organized as we could. We do often cook at home, pack lunches daily, but have failed to truly meal plan each week to maximize savings. We need to just do it already.

    1. It sounds like you’re half-way there, Brian. Maybe you could set yourself up for a week of only home-cooked meals next week. Before writing a grocery list, write a menu for meals for the week, and shop accordingly. I wouldn’t worry about the grocery bill to start with. The fact that you’re eating at home and not at restaurants will save a lot on its own. In whatever say you “do it already”, I wish you well with ramped up frugal fooding : )

  5. Great post Ruth 🙂 I need to get our food bill under control as well. Sometimes it gets difficult because I can’t eat gluten, and certain items that I purchase, are more expensive because they are gluten-free. I am trying to incorporate more plant-based dishes into the meal plan however, so that’s at least a good thing 🙂

    1. Your health is way, way more important than your grocery bill, so priority #1 is definitely to accommodate your gluten-free needs. It’s such a growing concern, I can’t help but think the options for a gluten-free diet are also growing. I hope that you manage to find that balance between gluten-free foods that you enjoy and that aren’t too costly – and not too time-consuming to prepare either. There’s never a cookie-cutter-solution that works for everyone. All the best in finding your ideal frugal food point of balance, Mackenzie.

  6. Super ideas! I thought it would be really difficult to not go over-spendy on food when we got back to NY. I’ve missed the food here so much! But I think a few years of reading the PF blogs has really made an impression on me. I’ve been able to stay out of the extreme food spending, and trust me when I say, that’s a new one on me! Congrats on achieving yet another financial goal! 🙂

    1. I understand your history of extreme food spending. It’s a tendency that’s easy to fall into . . . especially if you LOVE food. All the best in finding your new normal, Kay. (And are you going to stay in NY? Or are you there for a few months to settle your mom’s estate?)

    1. That is the #1 lesson I’ve been learning through our journey out of debt. It’s among the fruit of the Spirit. A very good thing to have!

    1. I would NEVER be able to pass up on free work snacks! Why not try some non-boring cooking? It doesn’t even have to be frugal. (It it’s home-made, it’s almost automatically less expensive than restaurant food.)

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