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.
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:
- whole grain oats (raw, not pre-packaged) with cinnamon and occasionally fruit
- 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.
- bananas, apples, oranges (depending on the season)
- salad greens with a protein (garbanzo beans/homemade hummus, lentils, quinoa, avocados, or inexpensive frozen fish–usually salmon from Costco)
- dried fruit (bought in bulk at Costco)
- 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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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?
Never Miss A Story
Sign up to get new Frugalwoods stories in your email inbox.
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!).
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.
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.
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!
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..
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Thanks for sharing! You’ll be excited to hear I’ve been eating an egg a day for my entire pregnancy :)!
a pregnancy and nutrition link, not sure if posting in this old post will be effective, not often commenting on blogs ‘cept yours:)
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!
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!
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.
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! 🙂
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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?
Huge congrats on living off half your income! That’s absolutely awesome! We’ve actually converted over to Costco coffee–we did a blind taste test and found a brand from there that we like. Here are the details if you’re interested: Is Costco Coffee Any Good? We Bravely Discover. Best of luck to you :)!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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…
Yum! Sounds great! Well done on learning a new skill and not wasting food (sacrilegious to me too).
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!
These are super detailed and helpful. I love the pictures as well!
What I love about you guys is that you consider the price of everything!!! Your rice and beans recipe and your oatmeal post have been so helpful to us!!! I just couldn’t seem to wrap my brain around how to eat healthy and thrifty. Now I get it: less meat! We had been on paleo all during winter to help me lose the baby weight. It worked but we saw our grocery bill skyrocket. I have studied, read, meditated on and prayed (even this) about your food and grocery posts trying to get a revelation for how to feed my family of 5 healthy food but make it simpler. I think I’m starting to figure it out in baby steps. During this uber frugal challenge, we went back to milling our own wheat and making our own bread. I can make 3 loaves for $2.50. I was paying $1.79 a loaf at aldi which wasn’t truly fresh whole wheat bread. Next Sunday, we are making a batch of rice and beans for our week day lunches. I’m at sahm, but with 3 kids lunch time can be a lot of work so I’m looking forward to just popping that tray in the microwave. Baby steps. I know what you have said about sharing recipes and that Mr FW doesn’t use them but please consider posting the lentil and split pea soup recipes. Also, I would love to see more posts of your pantry, fridge and pictures of your dinners. It helps so much to see an actual picture and some ingredients of what you are eating. Your influence is far and deep and your generosity in sharing your journey and what you have learned has impacted my family forever. We will never be able to go back the other way. We are currently saving 50% but once we pay off student loan and van then we hope to kick it up even more. Thank you for everything you do for the frugalwoods nation!!!
I have a spreadsheet I created last month so that I could compare prices for all foods I usually buy between all the grocery stores but I haven’t used it yet. This post has reminded me to get back on it. My husband and my most significant spending is take-out and groceries, and we want to get that under control. Thank-you for this post!
Hi there! So excited to find this blog via your interview with Like A Mother! Thank you so much for sharing so much incredibly helpful information. We also homestead in Central Vermont and I’m super curious where you found a Whole Foods around here? Discovering the Burlington area Costco was life-changing for sure.
Hi Lauriana! This post is several years old and was written when we lived in Cambridge, MA (outside of Boston) where there is a Whole Foods. No Whole Foods near us here in Central VT that I know of :).
We live in a rural area with 1 grocery store and 3 hours away from a bigger city with Costco, etc. it is so hard to be frugal with one store. With 2 people, we still spend about $500 a month. It is so hard to get under that figure. Winters keep us home because of the snowy, icy roads.
Some of the comments here mention coupons. Having worked at grocery stores in the past, I think coupons are almost always a *waste* of money. I’ve seen things that “extreme couponers” do: Buying a ridiculous amount of an item that they have a coupon for. Driving to multiple store locations to find an item for a coupon, or get more of it (people told me that they did this). Making their child get in line behind them and buy more of something, because it has a limit per customer. Yeah, your nine-ish-year-old really wanted her own four containers of fabric softener! Hah! The *only* time a coupon saves you money is if you always buy that item, in that quantity, anyway.