Frugalize Your Groceries

We all gotta eat, so I thought I’d share how we do it the healthy, frugal way. This is predicated upon cooking most meals from scratch; however, you don’t have to make complicated, gourmet dishes–there are plenty of simple, quick, and healthy recipes, which the resident chef, Mr. Frugalwoods, will post here one day…we promise! After taking our Uber Frugal Month challenge, we realized we needed to spend less on groceries. In addition to not eating out, this is one of our most significant savings.

Our typical weekly grocery haul.

Our typical weekly grocery haul.

Frugal Hound helps out in the kitchen

Frugal Hound helps out in the kitchen

Frugalwoods weekly grocery bill for 2 adults*: $35**

*Frugal Hound’s kibble not included in this calculation           **This is approximate and varies based on our periodic Costco trips to stock-up on bulk items

Frugalwoods typical daily meal plan:

  • Breakfast:
    • whole grain oats (raw, not pre-packaged) with cinnamon and occasionally fruit
  • Lunch:
    • salad greens and homemade soup (bean, lentil, or vegetable), quinoa with veggies, or rice-and-beans with mushrooms.
    • Mr. FW cooks a huge batch of lunch every Sunday and we take it to work with us all week. SO frugal, so tasty.
  • Snacks:
    • bananas, apples, oranges (depending on the season)
  • Dinner:
    • salad greens with a protein (garbanzo beans/homemade hummus, lentils, quinoa, avocados, or inexpensive frozen fish–usually salmon from Costco)

      Salad with frozen Costco Salmon for dinner. YUM

      Salad with frozen Costco salmon for dinner. YUM

  • Dessert:
    • dried fruit (bought in bulk at Costco)
  • Drinks:
    • Coffee (made at home), seltzer (made at home with our SodaStream), boxed wine, and the occasional craft beer

The Ultimate Frugalwoods Grocery Tips List:

1. Avoid packaged and pre-made foods.

  • Sometimes these are unavoidable, but, for the most part, you can find cheaper raw or bulk versions.

2. Buy staples in bulk.

  • If you have a Costco or other warehouse/wholesale store, this is a fabulous resource for bulk and raw items.
  • Sidenote: they have $20 dog beds that are amazing! Frugal Hound loves hers.
Bonus: wind power near our Costco

Bonus: wind power near our Costco

3. Limit meat consumption.

  • Meat is a shockingly expense form of protein. And that’s all it is: one form of protein among many. It’s not a requirement or a necessary part of one’s diet. It’s an option, and an expensive one at that.
  • Sure, we buy meat when it’s on sale or for special occasions, but it’s not a weekly (or even monthly) purchase for us.
  • A good sale option we enjoy is frozen salmon from Costco–comes in bulk and is pretty cheap.
  • Cheaper sources of protein include: tofu, black beans, lentils, garbanzo beans, avocados (depending on the season), and quinoa.

4. Dairy in moderation.

  • Dairy is another pricey protein source. We certainly buy more dairy than meat, but, it’ll really rack up your bill.
  • We have cheese only as a treat and are able to get by on a pint of creamer every few weeks for our coffee.
Frugal Hound Does Enjoy the Cottage Cheese

Frugal Hound: does not actually eat apples

5. Plan ahead and eat everything you buy.

  • Don’t impulse buy and don’t waste food. We meal plan in advance and then purchase only what we need for the week. Planning=tons of savings.
  • We’ve become exact fruit & vegetable purchasers. We were so sick of wasting produce that we now buy the precise amount we need. I do look a bit ridiculous in the produce aisle because I’m the lady with a calculator figuring out the cheapest options and then dividing up bunches of bananas to achieve the 14 that I buy every week.
  • And if we binge on fruit and run out before the end of the week, we just make another quick trip to the store–easy enough since we can bike or walk there. We had to toss an apple that went prematurely bad the other day, but other than that, I don’t think we’ve thrown out any produce in months.
  • Sometimes we do eat odd food combos in order to use up aging food or dying produce, but that just keeps life interesting!
  • Tweak your grocery list each week–notice which items you only need to buy every other week or so.
  • Don’t automatically throw stuff into your cart. Think carefully about what you want to put into your body (and yes, I’ll admit, sometimes it IS a bag of corn chips).

6. Plan a “date night” or “treat meal” each week.

Puttanesca! Forgot to take photo before eating...

Puttanesca! Forgot to take photo before eating…

  • Since we almost never eat at restaurants, it’s a great substitute to have treat meals on the weekends. We plan these meals in advance and shop for them just like every other meal in the week.
  • Recent fave treat meals: nachos!, pasta puttanesca, guacamole with chips, and pasta with pesto.
Frugal Nachos!

Frugal Nachos!

7. Think about your drinks.

  • Sodas, juices, smoothies, and alcohol can cost a fortune. Be mindful of these expenses as you’re meal planning.
  • Here’s what we drink:
    • Coffee: we grind our own beans, but we want to start roasting our own to save dough–unroasted beans are vastly less expensive.
    • Seltzer: this is a luxury, but, it’s in lieu of more expensive soda. I am a certified carbonation addict. We have a SodaStream and Mr. Frugalwoods rigged up a hack to make it super cheap.
    • Wine: from a box! Boxed is the frugal substitute for bottled and it tastes divine. We like the Big House and Bota Box brands.
    • Beer: Mr. FW is a beer connoisseur and so he treats this as a luxury good. Every now and then he’ll buy a few very nice bottles as a special treat. Bonus for me: his fave craft beer store is right next door to my fave thrift store…it’s really meant to be.

8. Buy what’s on sale and comparison shop.

  • Be flexible and vary your purchases based on what’s in season and on sale.
  • If something seems really expensive at one store, comparison shop at other venues. My method is to take receipts from past grocery trips so I can easily check the prices (I also can’t remember numbers to save my life…or anyone else’s for that matter).
  • Not gonna lie, I’ve also taken photos of food in order to comparison shop.
  • We were shocked–SHOCKED I tell you–to discover that some items are actually cheaper at Whole Foods than at Costco! WHAT?! I know, right! This is why I carry receipts around. I need the living proof.
Just found this on my phone...comparison shopping for apples. I wish I could say I'm embarrassed.

Just found this on my phone…comparison shopping for apples. I wish I could say I’m embarrassed.

9. Shop with a calculator.

  • Yes, we’re those people! We whip our calculator out all the time. Thankfully, it’s more incognito now that it’s in my phone. I just look like I’m intently texting in the produce section.
  • But seriously, calculate the price of items per pound, ounce, etc.

10. Keep emergency frozen pizzas on hand.

  • There will be those nights when you cannot face cooking, or a recipe goes disastrously awry, or you just need a treat. Don’t fall victim to take-out! Don’t blow your budget at a restaurant!
  • Stock a few easy-cook options in your freezer for just such emergencies. Our go to is frozen pizza–totally unhealthy, but, Costco sells them for $3 each and they’re soooo goooood.
Mr. FW gives the Costco 'za one thumb up

Mr. FW gives the Costco ‘za one thumb up

Homemade guacamole by Mr. FW in progress

Homemade guacamole by Mr. FW in progress

11. Have fun!

  • Mr. FW and I have definitely turned grocery shopping into a sport. We get a kick out of finding deals and we love roaming around Costco (hey, free samples too!).
  • As disclosed elsewhere, we once biked to Whole Foods just to eat their free cheese samples. We really have no shame.
  • And, we were once mistaken for through-hikers at the grocery store…

What are your frugal grocery tips and hacks?

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43 Responses

  1. I’m in the middle of putting together an article that outlines (with spreadsheets and photos!) all the groceries we bought in April. Our total came in at $555 (including $100 of household goods) for a family of 5. I guess that works out to about $100/wk for us just on groceries.

    Strict frugality isn’t the goal, but I noticed a huge overlap between what you posted here and what I’m seeing in my own grocery shopping habits. I also noticed the word “coupon” doesn’t appear in this article, and it might not appear in mine either (other than to mention you might be best off skipping the coupons).

    We shop what’s on sale and our fruits and veggies for the week are usually whatever’s on sale. It also tends to be what is in season and what’s the freshest (surplus at harvest time = more on our plates).

    Our alcohol and other drink spending is typically very low, and that helps the bottom line for groceries (and perhaps the waste line!).

  2. frugalwife says:

    I look forward to your article, sounds great! And thanks for reading Frugalwoods!

    Good catch on the coupons–I’m not an advocate. I often find that coupons are either for:
    1) name brand items that cost more in the first place
    2) odd things that I don’t usually buy

    I haven’t found it frugally efficient to base a shopping list off of weekly coupons, but I’d be very interested to hear if others do have good luck couponing.

    Cheers,
    Mrs. Frugalwoods

  3. You guys certainly raise some interesting points. I’ve been trying to spend and use money differently, but you guys are taking it to the next level! If you continue to live this frugally, you will definitely reach your retirement goals sooner than later. I’ll visit again. You’ve certainly caught my attention.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Thanks so much for stopping by! And thank you for your kind words! We’re constantly tweaking our grocery shopping and meal plans–with the season, what’s on sale, and our preferences. It’s an ever-evolving process to save more and eat better!

  4. Thanks for article and support 🙂 my wife and I both have careers with that giant box store you mentioned. We pull out $300 cash every other week to feed 5 plus two dogs. Our convenience is that we are at costco pretty much everyday so we never have to totally load up all at once. We have taken on the hobby of cooking all sorts of new things lately. Its fun and keeps us out of the restaurants that usually end up irritating us anyway. Ive gotta be moving more than sitting 🙂 cheers..

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Hey we love costco! And not just for the cheap stuff, we always get great service.

      That’s a pretty decent number for 5 folks and 2 dogs! I bet you also get the inside scoop on what is freshest / best value too! Any costco-pro inside secrets you can share?

      I’ll start: We shop costco on Friday nights. The store is basically empty and we’re able to breeze in and out in under 40 minutes. Downside? No food samples. But our waistlines probably thank us! 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by and for keeping the frugal fam in some frugal eats!

  5. theresa says:

    i really need to get some emergency pizzas. i always very valiantly tell myself that i WILL manage to make dinner every night this week, i won’t get take-out, etc…yeah, that’s generally a load of hooey.

    to Costco!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      YES! Those pizzas are a lifesaver. There’s always the odd night when we can’t cook for whatever reason and they help us stay on track with not ordering in or going to restaurants. We eat them as a treat/date night meal too. In fact, that’s what we’re having tonight! YUM

  6. hannah says:

    If you don’t have the emergency pizzas on hand, another option is to just head to the grocery store instead of fast food or a restaurant.
    When we get those nights where we don’t want to cook or what have you, and we don’t have anything good and easy on hand, I’ll suggest stopping in the grocery store instead of going out to eat.
    First of all, it’s more fun than fast food, as there are a lot of interesting frozen foods to choose between! It’s also a lot cheaper than a sit-down restaurant, and there’s a lot of flexibility.
    Usually my spouse will end up with a frozen pizza or similar, and I’ll end up with some deli meat, fruit, and a bakery item. It’s fun and we’ve treated it like a date before, with a spending limit, and the goal of finding the most interesting food to try out.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      That’s a great suggestion, Hannah! Thanks for sharing. So true that basically anything other than a restaurant/take-out is going to be cheaper. It’s a tough fact to face (for us anyway because we do love eating out!), but it’s a fact.

  7. Pichirino says:

    Lots of potatoes and lots of eggs, they are both very versatile,healthy,cheap and
    keep ya full for a long time,especially potatoes.(see satiety index)

    Just like the writer wrote Oatmeal as breakfast, can be made with variety of fruits and so.Either this or eggs are quite cheap.

    Planning a weekly(monthly) menu is very important as I buy exact items for each meal.

    Probably helps that in my country there is only breakfast and dinner,no lunch but perhaps a snack between if hungry.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Potatoes and eggs are great frugal fare! We tend to eat more potatoes in the winter when we can roast them in the oven and heat up the house (we hate to use the oven in the summer). I’ve actually been meaning to incorporate more eggs into our diet–definitely cheap and healthy. Thanks for the suggestions!

      • gwen says:

        also during pregnancy eggs are super important I’ve learned, particularly for the choline which is critical for brain development. My dad told me he learned that babies whose mothers ate lots of eggs had higher IQ’s, also just read about iodine being super important for IQ too, I don’t eat enough seaweed so going to try and add some more vits or seaweed in my diet. Check out marksdailyapple.com, not preaching! though I am a convert to paleo, I only preach to my mom!. some good info on that site anyways, specially when pregnant.

  8. MaryMay says:

    Thanks for the great post! I’m new to your blog so perhaps I missed it, but I was wondering if you could share some of the lunch recipes you and your husband bring to work? The quinoa dish sounded particularly great!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Thank you so much for reading! I’m so glad you found us :). I haven’t posted any of our recipes yet, but I do hope to in the future. Thanks again for stopping by!

  9. BC says:

    Having been an avid budgeter since I was a teenage, I have taken a two year hiatus while I focus on surviving nursing school. So I don’t know what we have been spending lately but it tended to be about $300-400/month for two of us including household items and any restaurant (usually once a month). And I try to buy organic or local whenever possible.
    Our favorite ways to save and eat REALY well:
    buy produce in bulk when it is in season,preserve it, and eat the freshest of the fresh flavor all winter long (peaches, pears, basil, tomatoes in the form of sauce and salsa, jam) can, dehydrate, freeze. You get a great price, buy from people you know in your community and learn new skills.
    The first one creates the start of our “fast food” frozen pesto and canned spaghetti/pizza sauce make super easy fast meals with leftovers for lunch. We also have done a couple batch cooking days with the help of my parents creating “Nelson TV dinners” for my hubby and I who are both in school and working. We made big batches of minestrone soup, lasagna, cooked and sliced chicken to add to meals, ground venison (hubby provided) with beans and seasoning to toss in tacos. All of this gets divided up into appropriate portions and goes in the freezer till needed.
    I cook big batches of freezable foods and store them in good serving sizes such as dry beans, rice, etc.
    90% of the meat we consume is either venison my hubby has harvested or wild Alaska salmon that my parents have caught with love and bring as airplane baggage when they visit (yes, we are blessed!)
    Garden! Love this thing. It takes time and some initial investment but finally this year, have probably only purchased about 20% of our produce from the store between April and October…and don’t for get the salsa on the shelf, gallons of kale and spinach in the freezer, and pounds of potatoes and onions in the utility room for winter eating! So exciting, and frankly the work is beyond therapeutic for this nursing student.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Yum! I’d like to come eat at your house! Wild Alaskan salmon flown in fresh sounds fantastic. We’re huge proponents of batch cooking as well–saves so much time and enables us to capitalize on cheap bulk products.

      We look forward to the day when we move to a rural homestead and can have a serious vegetable garden. At present, our urban house is surrounded in concrete without a patch of dirt in sight! Can’t wait to grow our own. Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing! 🙂

  10. TomTrottier says:

    There are some nice apps for smartphones shopping lists that are worthwhile. Look for:
    – categories & store/aisles sorting. Sort by categories for your home organization, eg, frozen, fridge, staples, office, bath, bedroom for checking your inventory & deciding what’s needed. Then sort by store/aisle for shopping.
    – price & date by store of sales to check what is a “bargain”
    – coupon expires – to note which coupons you have & when they run out.

    I like HandyShopper

  11. Dude says:

    While I haven’t read all of your blog posts, I was surprised that you don’t go to Haymarket on Fridays or Saturdays for fruits and vegetables. If you go towards the end of the afternoon, you can get huge value as they are often giving away what’s left. Not out of the ordinary to get 10 for $1-$2 – apples, oranges, etc. The quality is quite good and its lots of fun to shop.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      We’ve done the haymarket thing before, but it’s kinda inconvenient to get to from where we live. Plus we tend to choose organic fruits and veggies, and at least a couple of years ago those were rare finds at the haymarket. But there are definitely serious deals to be had! And it is totally an experience to shop and haggle!

  12. Srinivas says:

    Since you own a house, I was wondering if you are growing anything in your balcony/backyard? This not only help you save on groceries but also you guys will be ready with gardening skills when you move to your homestead. We used to go to haymarket when we were living in Boston to save money back in early 90s (we were very poor then). We moved back to India now and live on a farm trying grow everything we eat. I like your approach to life. A simple life.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      We do grow some herbs, but don’t have much outdoor space to do serious gardening. Thankfully our awesome neighbors do have a big yard and a beautiful garden. We help out with the watering, and they give us plenty of leftover and delicious produce. It’s a real blessing.

  13. Andi says:

    We just started diving into extreme savings and our family of 3 is currently living on 50% of our income in Chicago. We are big coffee drinkers and are resisting the Costco coffee transition… Have you been able to find a home-roasting option that’s effective and less expensive?

  14. MrsMamaF says:

    I just found your website recently and LOVE it! My husband and our two children are pretty frugal (no cable, Costco coffee, etc), but your site is definitely going to help us up our game. One thing I do that I didn’t see mentioned is that I’ve been baking our bread since last summer. I get most of the ingredients in bulk at Costco, so it saves a ton over buying a loaf – and it’s nice to know what’s in it. Good luck on your eventual move to VT! We live in Central VT and love it.

  15. Haha! This is seriously so me. I actually blog about my budget grocery hauls and can relate to everything on this list. I’m definitely the lady with the calculator too and I will put back one apple if it means I’m going over budget! But like you, I basically know exactly what we eat each week now so it’s much quicker to shop than it used to be. I keep my grocery prices in a Google spreadsheet so I can easily access them on my phone if needed!

  16. Cynthia says:

    Thank you for mentioning Big House boxed wines. I had not been able to find one that I like. I tried Big House after reading this post and it is VERY drinkable! I sort of miss opening the bottle but the savings, convenience and continued freshness make up for it.

  17. Kate says:

    Greetings from across the Pond! My husband is a big fan of your blog and has just showed me your post – thanks for sharing your great tips!
    I’ve long been a big fan of meal planning, but I recently wanted to shave off some extra £s from the weekly bill. I’d found that even though I carefully planned my list every week, I still spent the same amount regardless. So a couple of weeks of guesstimating and getting nowhere, I started putting a budget against each item on the list, using old receipts and a spot of guesstimating in the early days. If I’m getting an item where I’m unsure about the price of, I just overestimate and on most occasions, I stay within budget. I’m ironing out the process week on week and have a spreadsheet going with all my regular items on there. Overall I’ve managed to get our weekly food bill down from £25 -£30 (approx $40) to £15 ($20) per week for two adults and a cat. We still have dairy, eggs and buy cooking bacon as it enhances other ingredients so you can use it sparingly. I’ve probably got a couple of over budget weeks coming up as I restock our pantry, but the plan is it will save us money in the long run.

  18. Benita says:

    Hi. I’m from Toronto, Ontario, Canada and live in the city. So recently my friend came back from her family’s farm with bushels…4…extra ones of Roma Tomatoes….I ended up with half a bushel and had to scratch my head as to how to start keeping them. We love eating them…but we couldn’t even do a dent in that pile. Both my husband and I come from parents who lived during the 2nd world war and so wasting anything, especially food, was sacrilegious…I turned to Google and my friend for pointers and she said they can/preserve theirs for sauce over the winter….many may say that’s an easy thing…but I have never done this and so I was scared half to death….well, I am happy to say that we are proud owners of 8 jars (one litre each) of vegetable tomato sauce….even that we made sure we used any vegetables that were in the fridge to add and enhance…and no waste other than what would go to our compost (picked up by the city disposal I might add)….I can’t wait to try another project …. pickles!!! Thanks for a very inspiring blog…

  19. M says:

    I think you are both awesome. I used to think I was kind of weird for doing a similar thing but your blog made me realise that living frugally is actually awesome. I wish you both all the best!

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