Why We Don’t Meal Plan
Today I’m participating in a grocery cost comparison study with a number of other bloggers hailing from different parts of the country, led by the fabulous Kayla of Shoeaholic No More. Our goal was to evaluate prices for the same grocery items in our respective regions.
Reporting in for the Boston area, I did my price checking at a local New England chain of discount grocers, Market Basket, which is where Mr. Frugalwoods and I conduct the majority of our food purchasing.
Below are the foods each blogger price checked. Kayla compiled our individual reports into this table, which provides a nifty comparison of prices in Pittsburgh, PA, Brooklyn, NY, Minnesota, Kansas, and of course, Cambridge (yours truly).
|Item||High Price||High Price Location||Low Price||Low Price Location||Average Price|
|Gallon of milk||$4.19||Pittsburgh, PA||$2.59||Cambridge, MA||$3.50|
|Loaf of white sandwich bread||$2.19||Pittsburgh, PA||$0.99||Kansas & Cambridge, MA||$1.33|
|1 lb of stick butter||$5.79||Pittsburgh, PA||$2.49||Kansas & Cambridge, MA||$3.79|
|1 lb of 90% lean hamburger||$6.99||Brooklyn, NY||$4.99||Kansas||$6.01|
|1 box of Cheerios (price per ounce)||$0.48||Brooklyn, NY||$0.19||Cambridge, MA||$0.30|
|5 lb bag of potatoes||$3.47||Minnesota||$1.99||Cambridge, MA||$2.65|
|1 dozen large eggs||$3.79||Brooklyn, NY||$1.79||Cambridge, MA||$2.42|
|12-pack of Dr. Pepper||$5.50||Brooklyn, NY||$4.98||Minnesota||$5.09|
|1 lb of boneless, skinless chicken breasts||$4.99||Pittsburgh, PA||$1.99||Minnesota||$3.19|
|1 lb of chicken (whole chicken)||$1.59||Pittsburgh, PA||$1.09||Minnesota||$1.33|
|5 lb bag of flour||$2.79||Pittsburgh, PA||$1.49||Brooklyn, NY||$2.01|
This was a fascinating exploration into the divergent costs of food across the nation. You can check out additional details on each region at the following participating blogs as well as everyone’s tips for saving money at the grocery store:
I was delighted to see that Market Basket clocked in at the lowest price for 6 of the 11 products despite Cambridge’s notoriously high cost of living. I fervently believe you can live frugally anywhere in the world (though some spots are certainly easier than others), so don’t be using your high COL city as an excuse to not frugal it up!
We don’t shop at Whole Foods or even at the standard grocery store—by perusing the not-so-scenic aisles of Market Basket*, we reap savings. And we don’t buy junk either, our produce is mostly organic and the rest of our food is on the healthy end of the spectrum.
In case any of you frugal grocery store-obsessed connoisseurs are curious, we do indeed have an Aldi’s, but it’s not walking/biking distance from our house and, the prices are almost identical to Market Basket’s. To round out our thrifty pantry, we do a monthly Costco run to stock up on bulk staples.
*Everyone who lives in New England nodded along as they read this. Market Basket may not be pretty, but boy is it cheap.
In The Frugalwoods Pantry
Something that struck me as I scurried around Market Basket conducting my experiment (in addition to wondering if anyone was going to yell at me for photographing food and writing down prices) is that Mr. Frugalwoods and I don’t buy very much packaged food or meat. Like almost none.
It’s a central tenet of how we keep our grocery expenses at around $330 per month for the two of us and still manage to eat delicious, nutritious meals. The high prices of the soda, cereal, and meats on our comparison list all made me realize just how much we save by not buying those things.
Furthermore, all of our food is homemade, by which I mean Mr. FW cooks from scratch using raw ingredients. There are no mixes or packaged foods in our panty, expect for the odd bag of tortilla chips to accompany our homemade guacamole (some things in life are sacred).
We Don’t Meal Plan
Another core element of our low grocery costs is an extremely simplified, efficient meal plan. We basically eat the same things on repeat. And we’re totally OK with that. More than OK, we’re elated. Why? Well, dear frugal friends, it’s easier and it’s cheaper.
To expand, we don’t eat the same things every day all year long, rather, we get into jags of certain foods and we’ll eat them on rotation ‘til we’re sick of them and then we move onto something different. At present moment, our weekday menu involves oats for breakfast, rice-n-beans for lunch (along with a salad of mixed greens), apples and bananas for afternoon snack, and a steady oscillation of homemade hummus with veggies or a salad with salmon or a lentil stew or quinoa with veggies for dinner.
Since Mr. FW and I both work full-time jobs, manage Frugalwoods, and in-source everything from haircuts to dog grooming to home repair to house cleaning—we have scant extra time. And meal planning takes time.
In much the same way as we fail to budget—and instead live on frugal autopilot—we also fail to meal plan. Yes indeed, we’re basically the worst frugal weirdos ever: no budget and no meal plan. But hear me out, folks.
The Frugalwoods approach to most things in life is frugal efficiency. In pursuits as diverse as brushing Frugal Hound’s fangs to mapping out our intake of vittles, we crave systematized optimization. We prefer to operate on a system whereby we don’t have to waste brain power thinking about what we’re going to buy (hint: as little as possible) or what we’re going to eat. Hence, having a set rotation of meals is right in our sweet spot (terrible pun definitely intended).
The Benefits of a Simplified and Repeated Meal Plan
Allows us to buy foodstuffs massively in bulk because we know we’re going to use every last drop.
- Leads to budgetary and time efficiencies. Mr. FW pares recipes down to their essence in order to omit costly, time-consuming steps. For example, he discovered he can make our homemade hummus sans the most expensive ingredient: tahini. Neither of us misses the flavor, and the lack of tahini drives the price per portion waaaayyyy down.
- Making the same meals on repeat enables you (or your home chef) to hone recipes for max speed. For example Mr. FW’s $0.39/serving rice and beans, which I shared last week, yields every single one of our Monday-Friday lunches in just 35 minutes of cooking time.
- We whip through our grocery shopping at top speed because we buy the same things each week and thus know where they’re located (we’re a total mess when we have to go to a new grocery store. Woe betides the grocer who dares move our cheese).
We have the skill of price-comparing in our minds (not unlike Jedi…) since we’ve memorized the costs of our frequented foods.
- No food goes to waste—we eat everything until it’s gone. We have no qualms eating the same dinner two or three nights in a row in order to use it all up. Mr. FW has already put in the effort to cook it, we’ve already spent the money on the ingredients, and so we’re darn well going to eat every morsel.
- If you want to be a true frugal maven, you’ve got to eat your leftovers. No excuses. If you can’t stomach immediate leftovers, you can try freezing things or organize a food swap with a fellow frugal friend (yet another valuable reason to seek out thrifty buddies).
- It removes the stress and time of laborious weekly menu planning. Frankly, Mr. FW and I both prefer to otherwise engage ourselves—with the noble pursuits of hiking, yoga, and… oh who am I kidding, we just need more time to devise new ways to dress up, photograph, and otherwise torment poor Frugal Hound (homemade greyhound costumes don’t come out of thin air, people).
But in all seriousness, this last reason is perhaps the most important to us. We value our time and guard it fiercely—anything we can streamline, we do. Mr. Frugalwoods genuinely relishes the art of cooking, and he’s an incredibly talented and inventive chef; but, he only indulges his passion when he has the time.
It is decidedly not enjoyable for him to come home from a long day of work and face the prospect of an elaborate 3-hour recipe (not to mention the revolt Frugal Hound would stage since she has to wait to eat until we eat).
On weekends, with the luxury of time, he pursues complicated and scrumptious experiments. But as a weekday cook, he needs a format that enables him to slap a healthy dinner down in record time. Since we never eat out or order in, the pressure is on Chef Frugalwoods for every meal we consume. That’s a lot of meals! If you’re not down with munching the same meals every week, come up with a two-week rota of options.
I remain a deeply grateful wife for his culinary exploits and, his thrifty cooking is a crucial aspect of our ability to save 71% of our incomes. Food is expensive and, if purchased carelessly at the grocery store, eaten in restaurants, or thrown in the trash due to over-buying, it will absolutely consume your budget (ridiculous pun intended, naturally).
What do you spend on groceries every month? What are your tips for keeping food costs in check?
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