What Does A Frugal Person Eat?
Food, glorious food! By far the most hotly requested topic for me to cover (via my query to our Frugalwoods Facebook group) was: food! I had no idea you all were so interested in what we eat! But the more I got to thinking about food (not hard for me to do), I realized that food plays an interesting, and sometimes divisive, role in our broader society and in the lives of those charting a frugal existence.
Food is, after all, an absolute necessity. And for this reason, many a nascent frugal acolyte makes the mistake of blithely skipping over the line items of food–groceries, take-out, restaurants–in their budget. I know this to be true because that used to be me!
Prior to enacting our regime of extreme frugality, I figured that since food is a mandatory component of life, I didn’t have to pay much attention to our grocery bill. Oh innocent child of summer, how wrong I was! While food is clearly a necessity, expensive food is decidedly not.
Revolutionizing the way Mr. Frugalwoods and I eat took some doing–and it wasn’t an overnight change–but here’s the thing: it’s a change you only have to make once. Nowadays, we don’t labor over meal plans or truck calculators to the grocery store or grow all of our own food (yet… ). The key to eating frugally is the same as doing anything else frugally: make it an ingrained habit that’ll pay dividends for the rest of your life. Mr. FW and I don’t reinvent the food wheel every month or even every year–rather, we know what’s inexpensive, what’s healthy, what’s manageable to prepare, and what we like to eat.
A successful frugal meal plan (and a frugal life in general) is all about prioritizing what matters most to you. If you adore fancy cheeses for example, find a way to save in other areas of food procurement in order to facilitate your cheese habit. For us, healthful eating is important; hence, we spend a bit more on mostly organic produce, dairy products, and meat.
The goal of our food frugality isn’t to consume the dirt cheapest vittles on the market, rather, the goal is to strike a tenable balance between tasty, healthy meals and a reasonably low grocery bill. As a frame of reference, we typically spend around $300-$350/month on all food and beverages for the three of us (two adults and one baby).
Our diets aren’t perfect and I’m no nutritionist, but we do try to skew to the healthy side of things (with allowances for the important food groups of chocolate and cheese… ).
The Four-Point Food Formula
Before I enumerate the specifics of our meals, let’s recap the easiest ways to save money on food:
- Do not eat out. Or do so rarely, like we do.
- Do not buy your lunch out at work. I liken this to shooting oneself in the proverbial financial foot.
- Do not purchase coffee on the go. Here’s how cheap it is to brew cafe at home.
- Waste not. Food waste accounts for a gigantic portion of many a grocery bill–don’t become a victim! And, folks, there’s no excuse for not eating leftovers; don’t even try to justify wasting food. If you’re just not that into your chicken tetrazzini on the second night? Pop it in the freezer to munch at a later date.
Become A Grocery Guru
Now that we’ve established our ground rules, let’s examine our weekly grocery trip in greater detail. Believe it or not, much of your savings are determined before you ever set a toe inside the grocery store!
1) Carefully consider where you grocery shop.
Price compare between stores and evaluate bulk options in your area, such as Costco, BJ’s, or Sam’s Club. If you’re shopping at Whole Foods every week, there’s not a whole lot you can do to reduce your grocery bill to the level of frugal weirdo–best to check out a more reasonably-priced joint. And there are very few ingredients that only Whole Food carries–trust me, I’ve checked–you can find nearly identical organic/health food items just about everywhere else. For example, did you know that BJ’s has a fabulous organic produce section?
I don’t price compare every week–that would take forever. Rather, my strategy is to shop for my normal items at each local grocery store over the course of several weeks and then evaluate the prices in a spreadsheet. This is the practice I’m conducting right now in Vermont and although it takes a bit of work, it’s well worth it for the overall savings. In Cambridge, as soon as I identified Market Basket as my thriftiest local option, my price comparison work was over.
2) Create a list in advance.
Don’t be a roving, wild, list-less shopper! That’s a surefire recipe for impulse purchases. Make your list in your actual kitchen while looking at your actual supply of food–check for hidden boxes of pasta in the pantry and lingering lemons in your produce drawer (P.S. what is it about lemons? I always find them rolling around in random places… ).
Food waste often occurs because we buy more than we need for a given week. Not only is tossing food bad for your wallet, it’s horrendous for the environment. If you like to have some extra foodstuffs on hand in case of zombie apocalypse/snowstorm/unexpected visitors, go the shelf-stable route and stock up on things like dried beans, olive oil, and rice.
3) Meal plan.
Parallel to list-making is knowing what you want to cook for the week. Mr. FW and I aren’t hardcore meal planners, but we have a vague notion of what we’re going to eat every day before Babywoods and I hit up the grocery store. This is a mandatory advance practice for us because Mr. FW does all of the cooking and I do all of the grocery shopping (and yes, I have to call him from the grocery story for ingredient clarification at least once a week… ).
4) Invest in frozen pizzas.
Always, always, always have some frozen pre-made food on standby. This is your frugal defense against resorting to take-out or a restaurant meal. Life is imperfect and there will be nights where your awesome intention to whip up boeuf bourguignon is just flat out not gonna happen.
Such as the time our pipes froze at 8pm and Mr. FW had to re-plumb our kitchen, or the time our flight was delayed and we arrived home starving at 9pm, or the time we were in the hospital for a week with our newborn. But on all of those occasions? We had a frozen pizza to the rescue! Yeah sure, it’s unhealthy, but so’s most take-out. And at $3.00 per pizza, at least we’re only failing in one category (health) as opposed to two (health and money).
We also keep a reserve of homemade frozen meals in our chest freezer, which we regularly cycle through so that they don’t atrophy and become victims of freezer burn. Prior to Babywoods’ birth, Mr. FW whipped up a veritable plethora of frozen meals for us to munch as new parents, which turned out to be one of our best ideas ever. We liked this technique so much that Mr. FW continues the practice and periodically makes gigantic vats of something (usually chili, split pea soup, rice and beans with chicken, or chicken tikka masala) in order to freeze portions for future consumption. It’s a hedge against problem nights and, it’s also a relaxing option when he’s not in the mood to cook.
5) Eschew pre-made and packaged foods.
Ok excepting those emergency pizzas, for the most part Mr. FW and I don’t buy packaged or pre-made foods. It’s cheaper–and often healthier–to make everything from scratch. Buying stuff like bread, cookies, and hummus is convenient, but pricier than the DIY route!
Life Is Too Short To Stress Over Cooking
Mr. FW and I typically eat the same rotation of meals everyday for a period of time (maybe a few weeks or months) and then switch over to a new menu. We do this in part because it makes cooking and menu planning nearly effortless and in part because we both go on food jags where we crave the same meals on repeat.
But most of all, it’s just plain easiest. I hear from a lot of folks who are daunted at the prospect of formulating prodigious menu plans each week and my answer is: don’t! Create an undemanding rotation of meals that your family finds palatable and then spend your time (and money) in other ways.
I’m of the opinion that not every meal has to be a huge production. No one has ever perished because they ate sandwiches for dinner. If you love to cook elaborate meals, then go for it! But if you feel overwhelmed at the prospect of cooking every night–don’t! Cook large batches once a week or create a stash of frozen meals to defrost throughout the week. Simplify, frugalize, and enjoy life.
Our Daily Meals
Since there were a number of especial requests from readers for our summertime menu, the below is what we’ve been eating the past few months here on the homestead. Sidenote: if you’re interested in what 8-month-old Babywoods eats, here’s how I make all of her baby food from scratch.
- Rolled oats topped with walnuts, a banana, or berries from our garden
This is a prime example of an inexpensive, easily repeated meal that makes frugal menu planning less arduous. I, in fact, feel so strongly about the thriftiness of this first repast that I dedicated an entire post to it! We purchase our oats in bulk from BJ’s, which is how each serving pans out to a scant 0.10. Walnuts are an excellent complement providing bonus protein and are–yet again–a cheap bulk buy from BJ’s.
I pour organic milk (another bulk procurement from BJ’s) atop my porridge for a dash of calcium and added nutrition–a habit I started in pregnancy and continue now that I’m breastfeeding.
- Homemade bread topped with peanut butter or avocado
- A salad adorned with dried cranberries
Back when we were both working in offices, we were devotees of our uber frugal 0.39/serving rice-n-beans combo because we (and by “we” I mean Mr. FW… ) could cook a huge vat on Sundays and then portion it out for the week’s luncheons. Advance batch cooking is a fabulous way to reduce the strain on one’s weekday schedule and stave off the temptation to eat out.
Now that we both work from home, our lunches trend more towards leftovers or an amalgamation of food from the fridge. An uncomplicated summertime lunch for us is homemade whole wheat bread with flax seeds topped by either peanut butter or an avocado. Here’s the bread recipe I use in my ancient, hand-me-down bread machine (sidenote: I love King Arthur Flour recipes!).
On the side, I throw together a salad of organic greens topped with dried cranberries (purchased in bulk at BJ’s) in lieu of dressing.
A PB sandwich is also a handy take-away lunch on days where we’re out and about during lunchtime. I usually take a sack lunch with me anytime I leave the house–I get hungry early and often and it’s easier to have and not need than need and not have.
- Almonds (gotta buy nuts in bulk in order for them to be cost effective)
- Popcorn (although that’s more of a wintertime thing for us)
- Other fruits and veggies at random
I’m a snacker–always have been–so I need to have a stock of healthy snacks on hand.
Since moving to our homestead in May, we’ve dedicated ourselves to outdoor labor on our land in an effort to take advantage of our delicious–yet brief–summertime weather. Most evenings after Babywoods goes to bed, you’ll find us outside weeding the garden, harvesting whatever’s in season, splitting wood, felling trees, mowing the grass, and the list goes on.
Given that we often don’t turn in for dinner until around 7:30 or 8pm, we’ve streamlined our evening meals to the extreme. Plus, since it’s hot and we don’t have air conditioning, we like to avoid using the oven as much as possible. Creating a seasonal menu that’s reflective of your family’s schedule and predilections is ideal.
- Grilled chicken (or salmon) atop a salad:
- Our favorite summertime dinner this year is grilled chicken salad. I buy chicken breasts in bulk at BJ’s and Mr. FW marinates and grills them up once a week. Sometimes salmon subs in for the chicken. His marinade is a combo of olive oil, garlic, cayenne pepper, paprika, fresh basil, chives and thyme from our garden, salt, and pepper. The cold chicken is portioned out each night atop a bed of kale, spinach, arugula, and whatever’s growing in our garden. We finish it off with some capers (another bulk purchase from BJ’s) and a homemade dressing of freshly squeezed lemon, mustard, sliced ginger, olive oil, salt, and pepper–combine these ingredients and whisk together.
Homemade hummus and raw veggies:
- Mr. FW makes a version of hummus without tahini (because tahini is $$$$) by combining the following in our food processor: garbanzo beans, fresh garlic, Chinese chili paste, salt, and olive oil. This is a divine summer meal because you can make a huge batch and eat on it all week long. Plus, no need to turn on the oven!
- Scrambled eggs:
- A quick option that doesn’t entail too much stovetop heat. Throw in some chives for extra fanciness.
- No-cook Mediterranean plate:
- A combo of olives (bulk buy from BJ’s), sliced cheese, and whatever else we have floating around the kitchen, usually paired with a salad.
- If feeling very fancy and/or entertaining guests, we make this mega easy Focaccia bread.
- Pea pasta:
- We really need to come up with a better name for this one… It’s a summery combo of green peas, arugula, parmesan cheese, olive oil, salt, pepper, and a tiny bit of bacon for flavoring (because bacon!). Mix in with some pasta and squeeze fresh lemon on top.
I admit to having a sweet tooth… dark chocolate, dried fruit, and anything I bake all fall into this category. I’m the family baker and my technique is to–wait for it–bake in bulk from scratch. In the same vein as all other food preparation, there are immense efficiencies to realize with bulk preparation. I only have to pull the ingredients out of the pantry once, I only create one set of dirty dishes, and I only have to run the oven once.
If I need to make, say, a pound cake for church, I’ll triple the recipe and freeze the other two cakes for future use. I then label by date and contents and pop ’em in our chest freezer (sidenote: I think we’re going to need a second freezer thanks to all of the rhubarb and raspberries from our garden in there right now… ).
Just yesterday I defrosted a pound cake I’d made in May and whipped up this black raspberry compote (with black raspberries from our garden) to take to a party. Through trial and error (and oh, it was a bad error too… ) I’ve discovered that my KitchenAid mixer (probably my favorite gift from our wedding 8 years ago) can hold a max of a tripled recipe–apropos enough, that’s also the capacity of our oven. I’ll sometime quadruple, but that’s usually just too much batter (ask me how I know… it was not pretty).
Another baking hack I employ is freezing individual servings of a given dessert. Then, Mr. FW and I can savor just one piece of, say, oatmeal applesauce bread at a time as opposed to gorging ourselves on the whole loaf.
- We’re coffee devotees and like to have one cup of regular with breakfast and a cup of decaf in the afternoon. During the winter, I drink tea during the day as well, but not so much in the warmer months.
- If you’ve ever read Frugalwoods before, you know we’re certified seltzer junkies. And proud of it. In fact, our seltzer habit is proof positive of our luxuriously frugal lifestyle. Sure, it’d be cheaper to live without it, but our goal isn’t to squeeze out every last cent of savings–our goal is to create a frugal existence that takes into account the stuff we enjoy. This approach is precisely why our frugality is tenable for the longterm. Oh and of course we hacked a supremely frugal solution to our seltzer addiction (see here and here).
- I’m a wine fan and I’ve discovered the most economical route is via boxed varietals. I know there are plenty of super cheap bottle options out there, but the problem is that I don’t drink wine fast enough and so any bottle I open invariably goes bad before we can consume it all. This is where the genius of boxed steps in: it doesn’t go bad! I like the Bota Box, House, and Black Box brands.
- Mr. FW likes a good beer and I do too from time to time. Finding that intersection of thrifty and delectable is key here because life is too short to drink foul beer. Founder’s All Day IPA and Long Trail’s Green Flash IPA are his two faves at the moment.
What Do You Eat?
Food is a very personal aspect of life and so I’m in no way prescribing that you too should eat what we eat–you might hate these foods! Rather, I’m sharing our menu in order to give you a sense of what a frugal day of eating can look like. You’ll have to innovate your own frugal recipes to incorporate the foods you prefer, but you can follow our overarching principles in order to drive down the cost of your groceries.
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The pea pasta is called “Hudson Pasta.” We make the same frugal meal (without bacon) to feed an angry toddler when supper is taking too long or when we’re in a rush. We’ve named it after him 🙂
You’re so right that food is an easy area to overlook and justify any expense in since it’s necessary, but that leads to huge unnecessary ongoing costs. One trick that helps a lot is cooking with whole chickens or bone-in chicken. That can make meat even more cost-effective per serving of protein than vegetarian options like canned beans or yogurt. This surprised me when I realized it, as meatless is often touted as the cheapest way to eat. Here are the calcs: http://www.pretendtobepoor.com/meat/
Bone in meat is definitely cheaper, but it is so nice to not have to deal with it.
As for cheap eating in general, I agree with pretty much everything in this post. I’m kind of jealous we don’t have a chest freezer right now.
Have you ever tried a vaccum pump sealer for your wine to suck the air out? I use them to keep bottled wine fresh since I am usually slow to finish a bottle (and usually I get given wine in bottles as gifts) . Maybe you could add it to your Christmas list 🙂
I use the vacuum pump sealer for red wine. White wine I just stick in the fridge and it lasts a while, at least a week. My other frugal wine trick is to drink spritzers, about 60% seltzer and 40% white wine. I find it just as enjoyable as straight white wine on a warm night.
I have to ask….what is the quadruple batter story?
One of our most frugal meals is pasta with pesto. I had a bumper crop of basil this year! Instead of using uber-expensive pine nuts, I use almonds (bought in bulk, of course). Add some garlic and olive oil to that and blend away! Well actually pulse away. You don’t want to blend it too much or you’ll have basil soup. Sometimes if we get really fancy we’ll add some shrimp to the pasta dish. Simple, easy and decadent!
Pine nuts are not too expensive by the large bagat Costco b
Bag at Costco. Sorry, the cat was walking on me!
I can’t find them at the two Costco stores by me. I wish I could- I love them!!! Thanks Linda. 🙂
I’ve used walnuts in pesto with great success, too!
Great idea! Thanks!
Cashews also work a treat and are less bitter than walnuts! We had a huge self-seeded basil crop last summer and made jars and jars of the stuff (which would have made pine nuts prohibitively expensive). The jars also froze really well and we could have summery pesto throughout winter – pasta, delicious stirred into soups, on toasted sandwiches with cheese…mmm
I love that your meal plan really looks so “normal” and that you really don’t stress out over groceries or meal planning. Having healthy snacks in the house has made a huge difference with my teens this summer. They are terrible about making food for themselves but as long as I have a few healthy things trayed up in the front shelves of the fridge, they will generally reach for those first! I was surprised I didn’t see slow cooker meals here somewhere (although many people think of that for colder months). We have used a few of those this summer on really hot nights too. We like the grill – but the slow cooker is a nice change to make pulled pork or chicken for burritos or tacos while not heating up the house any more than it already is! And we are box wine (with seltzer) drinkers too!
I LOVE my slow cooker. It’s an ancient one, bought and used a lot by my mom in the 70’s, and I know that it seems counter-intuitive for warmer weather but I live in South Africa, where it can be blistering for many months of the year… and I love that I can do all my prep early when it’s cool, throw it all in, turn it on however-many-hours-before I need dinner and… then walk away. All mess (flies) and prep is done and finished early and I don’t have to stand sweating over it for hours. Love my thrifty slow cooker, and as a pair of very moderate income earners with 3 little boys, frugality has to be our watchword!
We have my mom’s too – from the 70’s! A nice yellow color – they never seem to die!
My slowcooker just died after 35 years. Any ideas of a great one to buy? I am thinking of going to a thrift store or consignment shop. Any ideas????
I see them at the thrift store all them time, so I’d go that route.
I LOVE my Ninja slow cooker. I asked for it for my birthday and my mom gave it to me! 😀 It can cook 4 ways: stove top, slow cooker, steamer, and oven bake. I live in Texas and try not to turn on the oven in the summer, so having the option to bake something in the heat-containing crockpot is amazing. It’s also nice when a crockpot recipe calls for a stove-top searing then to move into the crockpot and you can do everything in one pot! Y’all, I am obsessed. http://www.ninjakitchen.com/ninja-cooking-system/
Ooh, got hungry just reading this and the urge to zip out to Whole Foods and buy. Wait, hang on a minute – that’s not our mantra now!!
Seriously, since we started to (a) look for what’s on sale at our local grocer (and then planning meals) and (b) not eating in cafeteria at work, we have upped our contributions to Vanguard on a monthly basis. We now look back and wonder how we ever spent so much on food. Just practice, adopting new habits and watching out for those spots when you are tempted to fall back into the former “bad” habit. Self awareness and all that….
Still find it hard to manage kids activities (two boys age 7,9) like baseball and fit in meals for the family without those convenience trips to Panera on the way to baseball.
We find budgetbytes.com very useful
A work in progress for us, but definitely progress
So THAT’S how you manage to spend so little. We have food intolerances, eat almost no grains and more meat, and buy all organic/100% grass-fed/free-range etc. I’ve found that we all feel better eating like this, so although I’m still working on bringing the cost down, this is a priority for us. But being intentional is the most important part!
Ditto on that ^^ !! Food intolerances, paleo, and local/grass-fed/ wild meat is much more expensive. It also doesn’t seem like you eat very much, Mrs. Frugalwoods!
Sorry, but how can you assume that she doesn’t eat very much? I am also a naturally thing person, I eat real foods all the time, and am very active. I just take offense to that assumption, and I’m thinking she would too.
Okay, then our opinions differ, didn’t intend to be offensive. I’m also a naturally thin and active person, my opinion is I would be hungry.
For anyone who must avoid gluten there is an incredible line of gluten free products at Aldi. Not only is it less expensive than brands like Udi’s, etc., it tastes better and has a better consistency. Also, Costco has started carrying more gluten free products as well.
Yes! Costco sells Udi’s Whole Grain. Huge loaf for around $8 (which is actually really inexpensive, given the size.). As a Celiac, this is a great thing. They also have good bagged greens. I need to check out the new Aldi lineup. I haven’t been back since they bottomed out a couple of years back.
Same here! I have tears almost each time I go grocery shop because no matter how much I try…we spend more than I’d like. And we buy hardly any packaged products and don’t cook gourmet. We shop WF, but unfortunately the other stores nearby like Hyvee have very little, or very sad organic produce for more than WF does! I do shop Aldi when they have things I need and I love their wild-caught frozen salmon, tomatoes, and a few other veggies. But, unfortunately, due to hormonal health issues, I need to buy things w/o pesticides and hormones, and due to hypoglycemia, I can’t each much grain. So, eggs every breakfast (oatmeal gives me blood sugar issues), pb and carrots, and I can’t do potatoes or rice very often because of the blood sugar thing too. It’s frustrating, because the organic proteins and produce add up so quickly!!
If you tire of eggs and tolerate seeds okay, you might try quinoa-millet pilaf for breakfast. 1/2 and 1/2 each grain, wash them and toast at the bottom of the sauce pan, then add a tablespoon of olive oil and some chopped shallots, toast a few more minutes, add the water and simmer (I think its 20 minutes). Great b-fast, pretty good protein quotient.
We have a Sprouts about 8 miles away from our Whole Foods and I find similar items there for a LOT CHEAPER!!! We also have a Trader Joe’s and a Winco nearby, so I ONLY go to Whole Foods for items that I cannot find at the other stores, which are becoming fewer and fewer items! COSTCO now carries many more organic products. We also have a local farmers’ market once a week.
I spend way too much on food. This is my current frugal tackle. I started tracking my food costs in January 2016 and was very unpleasantly surprised at the results. My problem is compounded by health issues that restrict certain foods from my diet…but that’s no excuse for overspending…although that has been my excuse for some time!. Now that I have the baseline of what I’m spending it’s time to figure out how to modify it to make it more affordable. Plans include a larger garden next year for sure. Mavis Butterfield has a great blog Dig for your Dinner that helps with what to do when if you decide to really take up gardening. Even if I can cut $100 a month off my food bill it would make a huge difference in my budget.
Thanks so much for this insight into your frugal food habits! Our grocery spending is getting out of control lately; we really need to scale back and look at our spending line item by line item. I love your tip to always have frozen meals on hand – that’s when we tend to overspend – when I’m tired and hungry and don’t feel like making dinner. Your pea pasta sounds delicious! I’m adding that to our list of easy meals to try.
We really like our Instant Pot in the summer for not heating up the house. Chicken and rice dishes or soups are our go-to quick meals in it. I plan to try homemade yogurt in it next.
I also like online grocery shopping – no impulse buying, easy cost comparing, no taking kids along, and I can edit my cart if I don’t like the total at the end! We Iive in the delivery area and delivery is free, but those in the country just choose the store pick up option and they bring it to the car (so no unbuckling little ones).
Love the ideas, we do a lot of rice and beans as well. My favorites this time a year, include a lot of food processing of veggies, like this great zucchini recipe http://damndelicious.net/2014/04/02/zucchini-fritters/ or using egg plant in a million different ways, we love them as a substitute for meat with Italian dishes, http://www.closetcooking.com/2013/09/eggplant-pizzas.html. I love this time of year because produce is so much less expensive, so you can get creative in a lot of different ways!
Is it possible to get Mr. Frugalwood’s recipe for the split pea soup, please?
Very helpful post! Thanks for sharing. From where do you buy your organic produce? I know that Costco has some options, but I’ve often had to resort to buying organic fruits and veggies from Hy-vee (a Midwest chain, I think) and it gets so $$$$.
Reading through what you’re chowing down on, it sounds like a Mediterranean diet! We find ourselves eating a lot of the same stuff. We’ve been on a road trip for the past few weeks and enjoying simple stuff in Toronto right now. Olives, nuts, salami (our version of bacon) and a cheese on top of a salad makes a relatively healthy and filling meal for a tiny price tag (especially compared to the $12-15+ we would pay at a restaurant for most likely lower quality ingredients!).
Food can be an easy way to make or break your budget. We typically spend about $300-$350 per month as well. Although we do go out to eat maybe once a week, we make a lot of our other meals on the cheap to make up for it. For instance, we both get our daily coffee for free from work. While it isn’t the best stuff around, it is free and free adds up quickly when it is an otherwise daily purchase.
We stock some frozen pizzas as well. But recently we have splurged for the $5-$6 Digiorno pizzas. While they are more expensive, they are bigger and more filling as well as probably being made with better ingredients (or at least I’ll keep telling myself that). Thanks for the post!
Great post! I have a hand me down bread maker but haven’t used it in forever – you’re inspiring me. Are you making bread 1-2x weekly? My husband and I also live rurally, but are both still jobbing it (will be coming to and end with a new job change and future move to be closer to work ASAP). We’re also working on a tiny real estate empire…
I’m primarily writing to share our recent breakfast development. Oatmeal doesn’t cut it for us (sorry – I know, but we’ve tried, and I end up hungry 15 minutes later despite steel cut oats with nuts and milk). We recently invested in a (refurbished!) dual breakfast sandwich maker. It has been awesome! We opt for adding veggies/skipping meat/using up left overs (caramelized onions! eggplant caponata! pesto! etc..)/whole wheat english muffins. I cut costs by getting bulk english muffins at the local bakery outlet (Franz, for you west coasters). We love this new little device, we both have a hot, filling little breakfast with quality eggs and ingredients, quickly, and pretty much without dishes or too many choices to make in the morning. Win! Your pasta recipe sounds like a family favorite from my childhood – pasta peas and bacon! Thanks for your inspiration!
Great timing, Mrs. Frugalwoods! I was laid off last week and cooking is one of my primary money saving strategies. It’s been so long since I did it regularly, so the habit is a bit daunting. In the past, I’ve relied on a lot of big pots of soup, homemade sauces, and stir fry dishes. Thanks for posting these ideas. I can’t wait to dig in this week 🙂
Have you seen the cookbook Good and Cheap? It is designed for people living on SNAP. She has several tasty recipes in there. Her granola bars are the best. They the go-to healthy snack for my family – they kids gobble them up, my cyclist husband and his cyclist buddies love them for long rides.
I’m also a big fan of the boxed wine, because Mr. Smith doesn’t help drink bottles and they go to waste.
Cute pictures of both of your babies <3
Do you have drinkable water on your property – maybe from a well?
As a Wisconsin native, I appreciated the line about leaving allowances for fancy cheese, lol. Cheese and Chocolate are also a highly prioritized treat in our household.
Any chance Mr. Frugalwoods could share his split pea soup recipe? I would love to try making that for my wife and I.
Another excellent post, thanks for taking the time and effort to write and share this with all of us!!
I love how thorough this post is! I also keep frozen pizzas on hand, mostly for my husband but I’ll swipe a piece every now and then. Our grocery budget is down to $200 a month. I’m really fortunate to live near some great ethnic groceries that do awesome discounts on bruised produce and by a few Aldi stores. Great place to get grass-fed beef (usually huge discounts when nearing the use/freeze by date), and we really like their “never any” chicken breasts and sausages if we go the meat route. We just returned from Costa Rica, and I’m dreaming of re-creating gallo pinto – their take on rice and beans!
I admittedly violate every rule of frugal food, though my meals are one of the things I consider a priority and build my budget around. Living in NYC I like making the most of the world class culinary opportunities I’m surrounded by – as long as it’s in the budget 🙂
Eating out can be a very great way to add variety. If it was constant hamburgers and pizza out then cutting out should be considered because both can be made easily at home.
We also like to eat out but like to focus on eating things we can’t or don’t know how to make at home. Like Phó. Yum.
When I was in grad school the department set up a fund to cover a couple of grad student’s meals out with each of the invited speakers. They would ‘strongly encourage’ us to go. Learning to have a conversation with people in our discipline over dinner was considered a vital part of our professional formation. I was the only one who went regularly, and I went because I love food. On a tight budget I figured it was worth it even if my meal wasn’t covered because 1. hey, professional development, and 2. amazing food. Also,the sheer number of James Beard winners in the area made trying different restaurants a joy. I can’t say I regret spending the money, either. I now have a switch built into my brain where I don’t want to eat out at all, unless it is going to be amazing. Then I promptly think it must be worth it. Aristotle was right- behold the power of habit.
I loved this post like I love hummus! 🙂 We grew up on farms with the meat-and-potato thing so it is good to have “permission” to serve hummus as a meal. I recently made a big batch with basil from my garden and it was awesome! We’ve had good luck freezing it as well.
My cooking and shopping is in such flux right now. Mr. FP and I are divorcing; he has moved into an apartment and the boys are with him half the time. Since he was by far our biggest eater, I expect a whole lotta leftovers in my future! Leftovers = food I don’t have to cook before I eat it! Awesome! Especially since our house is on the market and the kitchen always has to be clean.
I think we eat a lot more carbs than you guys. Here’s today’s frugal menu:
Tots: fancy yogurt that they bought at Trader Joe’s with their allowance; Costco Cheerios topped with Costco granola or raisins
Me: leftover homemade scone, cup of tea, cottage cheese
LUNCH: leftover homemade refried beans with leftover homemade tortillas; brocoli and hummus
DINNER: leftover homemade pesto pizza, and if I”m feeling ambitious, I’ll roast some summer squash
Thank you so much! I was one of the ones that had asked about this. 🙂
I love your blog and great post. Tahini can be expensive at normal supermarkets, but it can be found for cheap at middle eastern / indian supermarkets. Also, trader joes started selling it for a reasonable price. Its paste, so you can stretch it a long way.
That pizza looks amazing- it can’t be one of the Costco frozen ones, can it? Yum– 7:30am too early for pizza? Of course not 🙂
We’re big fans of crock pot pulled pork and putting it on salads, in burritos, in omelettes, and other random concoctions over the week.
Would love to see your hummus recipe! Chinese chili oil sounds like a yummy addition. My cheap/easy/healthy dinner option is beans + greens + grain + sauce. Varying the type of each competent equals pretty much limitless options.
My husband and I are retiring soon and look forward to creating a simple meal plan like this. He works nights and I work days, so it’s always been difficult to plan meals. Even though we are not early retirement, you and Mr. F continue to be an inspiration to us. Thank you.
that asparagus picture reminds me of the book, “Animal, vegetable, miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver. She writes fiction mostly but that book is about her family’s year of homesteading and eating off the land. You might enjoy the read if you haven’t read already. 🙂 There’s a short segment on asparagus.
I agree with your single dessert freezing concept–this works great with pies too (pies of the more solid variety–goopy fruit pies wouldn’t work). I don’t know if you heard, but last Thanksgiving Patti LaBelle’s sweet potato pies (sold at Wal-mart) were trending up and down the mid-Atlantic because of a viral Youtube viral video (for your entertainment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQRwFn7WPk8). I found one of her sold-out-except-on-Ebay-pies in rural PA and served it at Thanksgiving. It was delicious, but we had leftovers due to dessert overload. I ended up slicing the leftovers and freezing the slices individually on a cookie sheet, and then once frozen, popping them into a storage container. It was a great way to have a nice sweet treat when I needed something and the frozen portions ensured I would not over-eat dessert (something I can do with pie). My family often does this with iced-cakes–if you’re worried about icing transfer, just put parchment paper between stacked slices.
also, I know you all are bread baking aficionados, but if they sell Eureka’s Seeds-the-Day bread at your local BJ’s, it’s worth it to give a try. I rarely eat bread (prefer my empty carbs in dessert), but when I do eat it, I love this bread–it is DELICIOUS toasted with just a slather of butta’.
I’ve read that book three times and love it.
Peanut butter also works as a substitute for tahini in hummus!
I haven’t finished the entire post yet, but I actually made tahini the other day to go in some baba ganoush and found it surprisingly easy. I was planning to buy a jar until I saw it was $9 at Kroger so instead I bought a container of toasted sesame seeds on sale for $3, combined them with a little olive oil and salt, and ground it up in my food processor until it was the right consistency. I ended up with about 1/4 of a cup of tahini, half of which went into the baba ganoush. Super easy and very delicious!
Also for beer: has Mr. Frugalwoods considered homebrewing? My husband and I do a little bit of brewing ourselves, and we’ve found that we can get about four dozen bottles out of a kit that typically costs $40-50. They make great gifts for other beer lovers, and the brewing is a fun hobby. Plus, delicious beer for cheap! (We made a chocolate milk stout over the winter that was amazing. I’m hoping we’ll start an Oktoberfest soon so it’ll be ready by the end of September.)
Your pea pasta sounds like pasta primavera (do a web search). Does that sound better? It can be almost anything, but at our house is usually leftover pasta, grated parmesan (out of the very large green jar), carrots (usually leftover), peas (usually leftover), pepper, any kind of dressing or sauce. You can toss in almost anything else (diced tomatoes, cucumbers?) as well. Could be cold, could be with freshly cooked hot pasta. Re-warms decently if you want it warm also.
I left out leftover chicken.
Great post. I’m always amazed at how cheaply you guys eat.
We don’t really do meal planning either. We mostly just buy the stuff on sale and then I figure out what to make from that. If broccoli is on sale that week, then I’ll be making something with broccoli.
It ends up making our diet very seasonal, and always changing…which is actually kind of nice!
Thanks for sharing all this. My kids and I love Asian food so I fall back on stir fry meals frequently. They’re quick and easy and can use whatever I have on hand. I’ve also started making egg rolls and pot stickers. We also do salads a lot in the Summer. I love making big pots of soup in the Fall and Winter and then freezing leftovers in individual quantities for my lunches at work.
As someone who thinks that low-carb is the healthiest way to eat, being frugal can be a challenge (pasta, oats, rice and grains are all out unfortunately). But it’s still possible to save. Eggs, butter and double cream are a great source of cheap calories and very tasty. For meat, pork belly, mince and liver are cheap and with a crock pot the tougher and fattier cuts are a good choice. And greens don’t have to be fancy: kale and cabbage are as healthy as asparagus and artichokes. Eating this way probably still costs more than if I ate grains etc., but it’s still substantially less money than what low-carb folks often spend. And applying the principles above (other than frozen pizzas obviously!) makes it much easier to avoid unnecessary spending.
Tacos are a staple at our house. Customization and oh so fancy for pennies per serving!
I’m really lucky to live in the country and grow most of the veggies we eat. Fruit is plentiful except citrus (miss California). Two trees of each (apple, pear, peach and walnut) are enough plus a goodly amount for friends. Meat is the most expensive item on the list but only have that a couple times a week.
There is one thing I had not thought of and it’s causing a major shift in thinking about meals. The person I care for is slipping into dementia. There is a whole new diet to worry about. The doc ordered ENSURE – that has punched a catastrophic hole in the budget. Six bottles (one to add to each meal) is $10 a six pack! I’m trying to find ways to buy this in bulk, or at least at a discount.
I only mention this because I thought I had everything worked out – I didn’t. I did not expect illness to be so destructive to a simple thing like meals.
I live in Canada – work as a dietitian – there are generic and store brand version of Ensure [or alternative major brand Boost] that are equivalent in quality but not in price. Ensure or the like is a high calorie + high protein liquid beverage – they are convenient for the user because they are liquid calories. The name brands will have the better sale prices and coupons but the store brands/generics will have the better every day prices. If purchasing, look for the ones with “plus calories” or “plus” as they will have 1.5 times the calories and protein as the standard bottle. The bottles are good for 24 hours once open. If it is covered [I know your health care is different than ours] ask to see an dietitian about strategies that are more cost effective, to maximize nutrient density of your loved one’s intake – ultimately you can make your own version of ensure for much less, it just isn’t always the answer when you are already dealing with the increase care requirements of your loved one.
Thank you for the incredibly valuable information! I will check it all out. I had looked at other brands but so far couldn’t find any that were 350 calories per bottle. I need the most calories I can find. I’m interested in making my own. That is almost too good to be true. I made all my own babyfood before it was fashionable to do so. It was only after I read the labels, though, and found out what was in all those jars of smiley faced babies! Thanks so much for replying to my note – and thank you, Elizabeth for providing this forum.
Happy to help. A compromise of the two options which I failed to mention before might be Carnation Breakfast Essentials bought in the powder form [individual packets or multi-portion canister* cheapest] – usually found in the breakfast cereal section, though some pharmacies will carry it. When mixed with full fat milk it works out to about 300 kcal/10 g protein per serving. You could always add fresh/frozen fruit, ice cream, nut butter, etc to it to make it more nutrition and nutrient density.
Jenna, this is so helpful! I know Canada is way ahead of us in providing medical care. To tap into it is a good thing for me to be able to do. Thank you abundantly!
Our grocery budget has been creeping up over $400 every month, and that’s just for the two of us. But I think I know the culprit: beer, almost all for hanging out with friends, which we’re doing more of these days. It’s about $100 a month, I estimate. Beer up and got expensive on us, and I guess I’m okay with the expense overall: money well spent if it’s to hang out with friends and play board games.
I like the frozen pizza idea. We normally just get that out, but maybe we’ll justify the Costco membership if we can find enough good deals there.
Same here. This months main grocery expense was beer, chips, ice, and snacks for company. We usually get our beer directly from the distributor, but had no time. If you go on the right time, you can get a ridiculously good deal.
Nuts.com is great for bulk nuts – they’re an awesome family operation, check them out!
This is some very good things right here. Although I’m going to argue the point that you “only have to make the change once”. It’s generally not true for most people. Like weight loss or life in general. Stuff happens, things change, and you have to adjust. I say this because people often expect things to be simple and easy – like if you lose weight, yay, it’s gone forever! Well, um, until you have a baby (or two!) or change jobs, come under stress, hit menopause, get injured, etc.
The biggest thing about making the change is learning how to hit the big habits. Not eating out, cooking from scratch, not wasting food, and shopping for deals. But it doesn’t mean you’ll never have to make changes.
When I first blogged about food…oh, 9-10 years ago, my diet was very different, and I only had one child. So, I cooked from scratch, shopped judiciously, belonged to a CSA, etc. I believe in 2009 we were spending an average of $240/ month on food. It was no mean feat. I was also running half marathons, and ate the typically recommended USDA diet…6-7 servings of carbs. I was nearly vegetarian.
Fast forward a bunch of years. In my 40s I realized that I can’t eat that many carbs. So my frugal diet of homemade bread, oats, beans and rice, pasta -well, it’s out. (Not completely, I can eat ~2-3 servings a day of carbs). Luckily, I still had my arsenal of shopping around, cooking from scratch, and not wasting food.
In addition, now I have two kids…so my meal plans have changed. When the little one was a baby, I had a set schedule for cooking (Weekend: 3 big meals, two for dinner and one for lunch. Weds: crockpot day. Veggies: whatever we got in the CSA.) Now, I’m more flexible. One big meal on the weekend. We eat it until it’s gone. Lunch is always a salad for me, and leftover or a sandwich for hubby. Our CSA stopped running due to the drought. We have a produce delivery box now – more food, more fruit, but 2x the cost. When we run out of leftovers, I make something else. Meal planning is often “hmm…it’s Thursday, we have zucchini. What do I make with zucchini?”
Lastly. I LOVE homemade hummus, but generally alternate it with buying it. This week we have the little minis from costco, because for the next 3 weeks we have to pack lunch for our kids for camp. (Usually they eat at school/ daycare). It’s mightily convenient. Another way that our eating habits ebb and flow (there were a few years of buying those darned mini yogurt cups too.) Your whole foods comment made me smile, because tahini is the *one* thing only available there. Well, not true technically BUT tahini is $10 a jar at every other store, but only $6 at Whole Foods. And you know what?? Just this week I found it at Trader Joe’s for $3.99. FIRST TIME EVER. Oh well, I should stock up I think.
In short: we eat lots of veggies, whatever we get from the produce box. Frozen pizza, salmon and chicken, occasional box of mac and cheese. I’ve been making heavy use of the slow cooker and instant pot, which do not heat up the kitchen (tonight: sweet potato chili). I keep a 5.5 lb bag of mixed veggies from Costco in the freezer for when we run out of the rest.
Oh, and final comment! I find that it’s very interesting and useful to dig into specifically what other people eat and spend. It’s a way to get new ideas on what to eat, and new techniques for cooking and shopping. It’s NOT good to straight up compare numbers and feel bad! Where you live, what you eat, whether or not you garden, size of family, type of grocery stores – HUGE differences.
Thanks for sharing your food adventures. In my own hummus experiments, more than tahini, roasting the garlic in olive oil in the oven (tin foil pouch), and using that instead of raw garlic, kicked the flavour up (and also made blending easier – my food processor is small). Involves the oven obviously, but BBQ would also work. I baulked at the price of tahini too, but not having made hummus before, wanted to have a go at the whole-hummus experience, so I made it. Produced a fair bit, which can be frozen. Sesame seeds still fairly expensive – haven’t shopped too widely for any possible deals. I think I will experiment with omitting it as well. Will have to try some heat like in the article recipe next.
Trader Joe’s now sells jars of tahini! I believe its $3.50/ea. I spotted it the last grocery trip I ran. Not sure if that is cheap or not, as I’m not up on tahini regular prices, but thought to pass it along!
At the risk of sounding hummus-obsessed, juice of the lingering lemon also tasty in the hummus.
My middle eastern mother in law recommended using garlic salt rather than garlic. It works really well.
Can’t quite fathom hummus without tahini and would suggest making your own or finding a middle eastern store and buying in bulk.
We always have a pot of pinto beans in the fridge for huevos rancheros, bean tacos, etc. Anna Thomas’ recipe in her first cook book is incredibly good.
Garlic salt is handy for sure. I added it once too after the hummus was made, but tasted a bit bland. It’s forgiving that way.
You’re meals wouldn’t keep me full, let alone by husband :/ Oatmeal for breakfast, even with walnuts, I’d be hungry in 2 hrs. We eat paleo and buy our meat in bulk (local/ grass-fed/ wild) annually, CSA/ beginning growing our own vegetables. To make meals easier we InstaPot and grill. We used to spend a ton on food and occasional restaurant, $1k+ for two per month. Don’t know where it went, probably Whole Paycheck. Following your advice of tracking spending, we’re beginning to understand where our money is going and being more efficient.
In the battle for page-views, do you really think it was fair to weaponize your blog with so much baby cuteness?
Have your posted the chicken tikka masala recipe Mr. Frugalwoods uses? I do not remember seeing it. CTM is my comfort food/one of my main sources of joy.
Oops, sorry- that is rude. What I forgot to say was:
Please post the recipe.
Ha. The world could seriously use more weaponized baby cuteness 🙂
Thanks for all the great ideas and inspiration! It’s been a long and really hot summer where I live and it’s been getting harder and harder to force myself to meal plan. Nice to have an infusion of new ideas!
What methods do you use to freeze your extra dinners or leftovers? Freezer bags, vacuum seal, other means? I’ve tried several different methods and none seem ideal. I like vacuum sealing, but it’s expensive and wasteful and doesn’t work well with liquids. Freezer bags don’t seem to keep food fresh (without freezer burn) very long.
ha ha I had to click on the link to seltzer as all I could think of was alka seltzer for heartburn! I’m Australian and I hadn’t heard that before. We have a soda stream and I love cold soda water with a wedge of lemon or lime. It’s funny we call it soda water but then what you call soda or pop – like coca cola – we call soft drink. I LOVE your idea about a heavy duty CO2 cylinder – our refills are $AUD19 at k mart.
Having a couple of non meat meals every week definitely keeps food costs down. However our indulgence is usually once/ week (only 2 of us at home now) is a small grass fed rib eye steak. We have fish once/ week and then mostly free range chicken. The chicken is more expensive but we are against caged hens and we can’t keep our own.
I grow a lot of salad veg, Asian greens, lots of herbs and we grow a lot of bananas and and swap them with neighbours who have figs, lemons and jaboticaba.
For readers who are GF/ veg/ vegan (I’m not) there is a great blog by a NZ woman http://www.mydarlinglemonthyme.com/ and I have have used lots of her recipes and bought one of her cook books (my son is vegan and she has lots of vegan recipes).
One of my fav pasta recipes is Zucchini, pea and mint spaghetti found on http://www.taste.com.au and so cheap and easy.
I sometimes make pizza with home made wraps rolled out really thinly. Along with tomato and cheese I like avocado and as an indulgence a few king prawns cut into bite size pieces.
I make my own granola at times and throw in grated sweet potato or pumpkin.
Shopping seasonally makes all the difference and keeping it simple – good food not lots of food.
We visited the US about three years ago and I must admit I fell in love with Whole Foods but I know what you mean about shopping there all the time!!!
Hope I haven’t posted twice – my first attempt disappeared.
Love your blog!
Inspired by your original post about it, we have recently started eating porridge in the morning. Very cheap, very filling and quite delicious. We’ll probably be a bit more extravagant on the weekend with some eggs and toast, but otherwise, the porridge is serving us well!
You guys don’t eat very much!
Have you noticed any changes in appetite now that you are doing more physical labor?
I completely sympathize with your KitchenAid conundrum. I made a batch of Christmas cookies with my brother a while ago and, as it turns out, when I wrote the recipe down I had doubled it. Since who needs to ever only make a single batch of them? Only, I didn’t remember that I’d done that, and it wasn’t until I got to the 7 cups of flour I needed, in a bowl that was already maxed out, that I realized what had happened. Now there’s a huge note next to the recipe shouting, “DO NOT DOUBLE!!! REMEMBER THE 2007 COOKIE DISASTER!” Good thing I was making the cookies in order to give most of them away. 🙂
Loved this post, it was very helpful! We spend about $120 AUD on food/drink a week by following a very similar diet. The only problem we are having is that my husband is a chef and he is finding it hard to break the habit of having whole ‘dishes’ as meals which require a lot more ingredients (and contain way more calories) than is neccesary. We cut our meat down to three serves a week for our family of four and that includes one serve of game meat which is usually kangaroo (very cheap, healthy and a little blasphemous here in Australia 😉 Definitely one of the best ways to reduce your food spend after cutting out processed food!
The frozen pizza plan is genius. We use frozen ravioli and canned pasta sauce in a similar way. With practically no effort we can make a tasty, affordable meal.
The one thing that I can’t come to grips with is that you make your own bread and are so conscientious about everything but you still use disposable diapers. When I learned babies go through an average of 12 diapers a day, I couldn’t bear the thought of using disposables and creating that much garbage. The cost savings are an added bonus for me.
Honestly, reusable diapers aren’t a big deal. As long as you have a spot to rinse them and a washing machine in your home, it’s easy.
Hey – tahini is dirt cheap. Buy some white sesame seeds, put in a sauce pan over low heat to toast, and then run through the food processor. Works great every time. Cheap, too, when buying sesame in bulk. When you do it, watch the seeds as they can toast very quickly. We make it and put in our own homemade hummus! (PS Love your blog!)
You Frugalwoods are just awesome! I have recently jumped on the Personal Capital bandwagon. Wow-imagine the shock that I felt seeing it all in unimpeachable numbers! I had been writing everything by hand-but Personal Capital makes it much, much easier! I am pretty good at getting it together at Costco/local grocery/$1 store; but I am terrible at stopping for a sandwich or salad when I am out running errands, pressed for time, late getting off work, etc. Your idea of taking something with you is genius. I will pack a home sandwich, a yogurt, some thing to avoid any more bad money moves at fast food. Incidentally, the $1 store has a bar-b-cue sauce that I love (Secret Six) which is just as tasty as any I have paid $5 for. They also carry Brillo dish soap, which I combine with 25% of a Dawn bottle. That $2 in dish soaps makes 3 refills of a 16 oz saved & reused pump bottle. (I think it originally carried hand lotion.) I have a stand up freezer and I would be lost without it. And yes, I keep several frozen pizzas in reserve. $3 beats $12 any day of the week, and they are quick and handy!
PS-Thanks for the tip on boxed wine. I have been trying to use up the undrinkable wine in cooking, but boxed wine sounds perfect!
I bought a new food sealer for about $30USD this year.
Here’s how I did it:
Ebates.com portal, searched on khols
Kohls.com sale of $99.00
Kohls 30% off coupon with Kohls card
Rebate if $30 from manufacturer
The food sealer came with bag-making material and line pump for liquids.
I can’t tell you how often I will stand in the store and tell myself “don’t waste money on a frozen pizza” and then regret not buying when I end up picking up extra shifts and working past 5. My new mantra is “just buy the dang pizza!” It would have saved us money twice this past month.
Mr FW might want to give making his own tahini a try. I started making my own last year with bulk sesame seeds. I wrote about it here, http://cynthialenz.com/?p=864. It’s so much cheaper than store-bought and tastes delicious! I use tahini in sauces and salad dressing or just as a sandwich spread even without the hummus. Once you start making your own, you kind of want to put it on everything!
P.S. I think you might be missing a “Big” before house in the wine section.
I love this! Mr. Picky Pincher and I struggled with a $1,000/month grocery bill before our own frugal overhaul. Today that number is closer to $500 after a year of planning and hard work.
Some ways we save on groceries:
1. Making things ourselves: pasta sauce, pizzas, bread, sweets, stocks, soups, etc. can all be made at home for less money than you can buy them at the store. And as a bonus, they’re typically healthier and tastier, too.
2. We shop on early Saturday mornings: This ensures we get fresh produce and score 25% off the meats that HEB is trying to get rid of. Woohoo!
3. We meal plan: Every Thursday or Friday night, we sit down and plan our menu. First, we go through our pantry to see what we have on hand. Second, we see what’s on sale at the store. Third, we create the most frugal meals possible based on what we have and what’s on sale. After we figure out what’s on the menu, I search for all possible coupons for the item’s we’re already buying.
4. We have homemade frozen meals: I love the frozen pizza idea! I like to make big batches of soup or sloppy joes and freeze them. They absolutely come in handy for rainy days, and make sure that we don’t spend money on eating out.
5. When we’re in the grocery store, we add up our total as we shop: This is good because we can see how much money our food costs. We realized crab is exceedingly expensive, so we decided to buy it only for special occasions. We’ve even switched to different food brands/varieties after realizing one was cheaper than the other. It also ensures that we know what our total will be once we get to checkout–no surprises!
Mrs. Picky Pincher~ I just had to comment and say Kudos! That’s $6000 per year savings. Impressive!
Fabulous! You brought up so many great topics. We seldom eat out, and typically our meals consist of meat and veggies. We don’t do many grains, fruits, or sugars (same really.) I read so often about buying grains to save money, but the trade off is good health which happens to be something I rather like having:) We get pasture raised, grass fed meat and grow many of our own veggies (or find at farmer’s mkt.) Last year, we spent about $1500 less than the average American household of our size. I’m hoping to better that this year. The other thing (just a me thing) is I don’t like to eat mystery chemicals. I say mystery, because I realize salt is a chemical etc. It’s the ones I can’t pronounce that I really don’t want. We have a saying in our house “Real food rots.” We are healthy and have no weight problems. My goal is to get healthy food and save money doing it. That said, the oddities that aren’t found locally (like olives-yum) are usually purchased in bulk. Azure Standard is a great resource. We live in a rural area so finding bulk anything can be a challenge let alone organic.
We just got a pressure cooker! I’m so excited, I’ve been contemplating one for the past 3 years. We eat a lot of beans and rice and vegetables. But I love cooking new things, so I try out lots of Indian, African, and Latin American recipes for beans. The baby (8 months) just eats what we eat. I occasionally mash something, but we mostly just give him big chunks of food and he gums away.
This year, my brother in law says he will get us a deer when he goes hunting, too. I’m excited about that, too. Neither of us wants to hunt, but we would love to eat more sustainable game. So yay for hunting brothers in law!
Oooo deer! I’m with you, I don’t want to hunt but would happily take a free deer :). I’ll be interested to hear what recipes you find are best for deer–we’re thinking deer chili mostly, but I’m sure there are other tasty preparations too.
O , yes! I love to see what you eat, when you eat it and where you get it from. That sounds weird, but it’s only two of my favorite things: eating and spending little.
Being frugal does not mean that you’re limited to eating unhealthy foods, you’ve just proven that again. Thanks!
O and your daughter is so precious, and well-accessorized I might add!
Fabulous tips! A meal plan I can get on board with 🙂 Can you give any tips on how you actually defrost these meals each day? Do they sit in the fridge/on the counter for the day, and are then heated up in the evening when pliable (?) enough? I would love to pre-make breads, meals, etc. but I’m always hesitant to drop a large block of food into a saucepan to defrost for fear I would screw something up! We don’t own a microwave (and don’t want to..) so the slow route is what we would take. Any tips on this would be greatly appreciated!
We have 4 young kids with a 5th due in 4 wks. I love reading about your frugal meals! We have cut down on Kroger (no Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s by us since we have moved) and do 80 percent of our shopping at Aldi, the rest is Costco and Kroger.
I have found cutting down on eating out has helped a ton, and it’s much easier to stay home with a large family than drag everyone out! We do eat out here and there when kids eat free, or the odd night we have a early sports practice at 5pm (usually hockey nights.) But our grocery bill is less than $1,000 a month for 6 (almost 7) of us so I am pretty proud of that! We do buy a lot of fruit as well.
Would you please, please, please post some of Mr. FW recipes and how he freezes them? I would LOVE to use some before this baby! Our church is so generous with meals for 2 wks, but I know it would help so much for after that 🙂
Thanks for sharing. I have a little notebook dedicated to frugal recipes – it’s nice to have all them in one place. Something nice about flipping through it, rather than a digital file.
Frugal recipes are yummy too…my summer version of split pea soup is white bean and kale soup. I soak and cook a bag of white beans on the weekend, freeze half and the rest get made into a big pot of soup – sautéed onions and garlic, decent stock (usually veg or turkey), a few parmesan rinds stashed in the freezer, a fist full of herbs (rosemary, thyme, parsley, etc), black pepper or chili flakes, lots of shredded kale from the garden. Occasionally, I will bake a tray of tiny rosemary/turkey meatballs and add those as well. Vegan borscht with only ingredients from the garden, and late summer garden minestrone are also extremely frugal options. All freeze well, and with a whole wheat roll make an almost instant meal. Squash/pumpkin soup, carrot red lentil soup, potato soup, mushroom/barley – man, I love homemade soup.
I keep portions of homemade pizza dough in the freezer – pretty handy as long as I toss one in the fridge in the morning. Homemade granola – not as cheap as oatmeal, is a nice option for the warmer months, with fresh fruit and yogurt.
I work in a hospital who recently remodeled the cafeteria and they now off seltzer water! Its free too as long as you bring you’re own cup. That plus the free lemon slices is worth a trip downstairs 🙂
Flax seeds need to be pulverized for there to be any health benefits. The easiest way to do that is a blender. Here is my bread machine recipe:
The bread comes out a light brown with the flax hulls decorating it. It will be quite moist and tender because of the flax oil and wheat germ. The texture is very fine because of the blending, much finer than most wheat germ bread.
A blender or food processor is needed to free the oils in the flax seeds and pulp the wheat germ. They contain many vitamins, minerals, and fibre. I usually buy the wheat germ from a health foods store because they take the care to refrigerate it.
I’ve made this many times in my 1 ½ lb (700g) Black & Decker All-In-One bread machine. (Tho the loaf is heavier…)
1. In your blender or food processor, add:
2/3 cup (175 cc) flax seeds (linseeds) I like the darker seeds as they provide more visual contrast in the baked bread
2/3 cup (175 cc) milk powder [optional]
2/3 cup (175 cc) wheat germ (keep supply refrigerated or frozen)
2 tbsp / 30 ml sugar or honey, any kind
1 tsp / 5 ml sea salt
2 cups (500 cc) warm water (~100F)
2. Blend or process at high speed until thoroughly pulped. The sound will change. There will be speckles of the flax seeds dotting the mixture. Brown flax hulls look great to me! This is lots more water than a regular recipe because the wheat germ soaks it up. This releases all the oil and fibre from the flax seeds and reduces the wheat germ to very small particles.
3. When blended mixture turns thick, stop and add to bread dish. Use a spatula to get it all out.
4. Add 3c / 750 ml stone ground flour on top of the mixture.
5. Add 1 ¼ tsp / 6 ml dry bread yeast on top
6. Set bread machine to whole wheat cycle and start
You can add 2-4 tbsp (30-60 ml) unsalted nuts, seeds, or small dried fruit pieces after the initial kneading for variety. Machines often beep to indicate the right time.
Enjoy with natural peanut butter mixed with sunflower seeds for more usable protein.
Fwiw, I find a digital scale or two very useful in measuring ingredients. You never get measuring spoons or cups dirty (you zero the scale before adding the next ingredient), and it doesn’t matter how fluffy or awkward the ingredient is (like pasta!). See http://www.cookingforengineers.com/article/82/Kitchen-Scales
My usual carb measurement for a meal is 100g /person, eg, pasta, oats, …
Totally agree! We use our scale to measure just about everything–and especially baked goods.
This is great, guys! It would be wonderful if you might do a post each season with your meal rotation – just to give us more ideas for when the weather changes. Making your hummus right now!
I haven’t been bringing my lunch to work these days but that’s going to change this week. It’s pretty cheap to buy food at my work, (around $5.50 or so) but I would much rather spend $2 bringing food rather than spend $5.50. $350 a month for food for a family of 3 is fantastic, I spend around $320 a month for food for just myself.. Guess I have some changes I need to make!
Good call on the 4 points. Eating out is disastrous to budgets. Sometimes its just SO EASY and I’m SO UNMOTIVATED to cook anything. So we do take out, and try not to beat ourselves up over it. We have a 15 month old, and sometimes we just need an hour in the evening to VEG!
We eat simple meals here. The best way I’ve found to saving money, is to avoid the store as long as possible. LOL. Not hard to do in the summer when you have a garden, chickens, your own beef, and an orchard. We had egg sandwiches, salad, and zucchini cobbler for breakfast. We’ll be doing steak/veggie kabobs for lunch, and steak and zucchini fritters for dinner. Most of the ingredients are from the backyard. During the day, the kids can run around outside and eat grapes, berries, plums, etc. I have zucchini coming out of my ears and spent all day shredding or slicing and freezing for winter use.
I thought of the Frugalwoods and the Frugal Followers (is that a thing?) today when I had to… and this actually causes me a small, sharp pain to type this… throw out a generous-sized tablespoon of baked beans that had been left over and stored in the fridge… and then forgotten. They looked okay, but had definitely been ”out” way too long, so they got binned.
It hurt me a LOT, and it made me even more determined to use all left over food, to better organise and store / record/ freeze! We are pretty good at it, I am very waste-not-want-not, can’t stand throwing good food out, and living in a place where genuine, actual hunger and serious lack of basic provisions is a horrific reality for thousands and thousands of people, makes me even more aware of the moral imperative to A/ be grateful and B/ not waste.
I feel your pain, Caroline! I’m the same way. And, I think it’s wonderful you have this worldview–having immense gratitude and respect for our resources is just an awesome way to live. Be proud of yourself that it’s a rarity to throw food out!
Nice 4 points. I think what a frugal person ear is healthier than what is offered in outside. Personally, I can put in as much as green vegetables as I can and make the most delicious dish I can have. And, doing this does not mean that it’s less healthy as it’s for frugal persons. No.
You guys are good! You have me convinced that I want my own homestead…funny since I don’t like the outdoors, I have an unhealthy fear of the woods and unless I can grow chocolate cake in a garden I have no interest! But you make it look awesome! I love reading your posts, so much inspiration.
I’m happy that a few people are bringing up the ethics of the food they eat when walking the line of economics. I’m also happy that the blog references that we each have our own priorities that we will invest more $ in (re: chocolate/cheese). The quality of life for the animals whose products I eat are incredibly important to me, so my food budget will never be as low as it could be, or as low as that detailed here. Please remember that just because something is labeled as organic, that label in and of itself gives no indication to how the animals were treated. We buy animal products from local farms through the farmers market and an interesting farm partnership that delivers Vermont products to the Boston area (www.farmerstoyou.com). While I don’t live in Vermont, I love visiting the state and the agrarian landscape. That is something that I want to preserve for years to come, which is why I spend a LOT more on oats grown in New England than what I could get at Costco. Remember your dollars are votes – use them wisely.
I think eating frugal is a good way to save alot of money. I have friends that eat out every day. I was able to feed our family on $75 a week(my wife and 3 children). More recently we started shopping at Trader Joes for high quality food, we find the prices are very reasonable for better food, then the local wally world!
Such a great article to read! I totally agree with you that if you spend a little more money on healthier foods then that is okay, as long as you don’t spend so much money on something else! As much as I try to avoid eating out, it is a lot harder for me to not grab a cup of coffee if I pass a Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts! That is definitely something I need to stop doing as much! Thanks so much for sharing this!
Awesome article! Have you ever thought about insourcing your meat? My husband is a deer biologist (and deer hunter), and so we eat any deer he kills for the rest of the year. While it certainly isn’t for the faint-of-heart, it means we don’t purchase any meat whatsoever, and as you’re getting an entire animal you can use the bones for stock, the antlers as a dog chew toy, and whip up luxuries like liver paté in your own kitchen! There are up front costs (the gun or bow–he purchased his bow from a garage sale for $30–a giant cooler to store deer meat in until it can be processed, carving knife for processing the deer, hunting stand, hunting license, gun safety class fees, etc) but once those have been taken care of, you have the rest of your life to let them pay off. From an environmental and ethics stance it is also very appealing (as a former vegetarian and staunch animal lover, I can attest to this), as you are helping to manage a species that is overpopulated, the animals are free-range, and no one is purposefully propagating them, e.g. using precious resources to grow them.
Yes, thank you for mentioning this! We are hoping/planning to hunt deer next season (need to get permits, guns, and education first) as we’d love to insource meat and help control the deer population here. We have some friends who hunt, so we’re hoping to learn from them. We certainly have plenty of deer on our land!
Wonderful article! We love the Frugelwoods’ food priorities–healthy, tasty, and frugal! Your family recipes also usually have a wonderfully creative twist! The Beans-and-Rice and the Hummus-and-Popcorn recipes quickly became two of our favorites! So, when Tikka Masala was mentioned in your article, I knew I had to try it! Would it be possible to get the recipe, please?
I tried your hummus “recipe” a few times with the addition of roasted garlic, and it’s great! Today, I decided to try it with tahini (we already had it at home–it’s not too expensive from our local Middle Eastern grocer), and it came out way worse to me. It’s too thick and the tahini overpowered the flavor of the olive oil and chickpea which I really enjoyed in prior batches. I’m playing around with it a lot to try to get it at a manageable taste, but the simplicity of the flavors in your recipe is totally gone. IMO you’re not missing anything without the tahini!
My batch lunch has been a chicken salsa blend I make in the crockpot – two cans of black bean and corn salsa with veggies such as half a sweet potato spiralized and broccoli. (Add the veggies the last hour or two.) Cook in crock pot on high for five hours, the chicken will break apart on stirring. I put it over brown rice in lunch meat containers, done! Lunches for the week.
Veggie scrambles are my “frozen pizzas” – I can whip it up in about the same time add slightly more effort. Otherwise a nice smoothie with some nuts on the side makes a nice, really quick meal.
As for cheap places to shop, Aldi has been my go to. It’s not a comfortable place to shop but they have solid food with healthy options – their pasta sauce is one of the few I’ve seen without a ton f added sugar. And my wallet likes my Aldi trips quite a bit!
My next goal is to try that hummus recipe of yours!
I love this! Thanks for sharing. My food budget is hardest to keep in line so I’m switching to oatmeal for breakfast and the rice/beans lunch to minimize costs. What brand of Chinese chili paste do you use and where do you get it?
There are no BJ Wholesale stores in MI!! But there is Trader Joe’s by me ( as of yet I have not visited but will soon) , Costco and Sam’s Club ( My mom’s personal favorite) . I would also like to hear more about this Kitchen – Aid Kerfuffle , my grandma gave us her mixer , which is well over a decade old I might add, and we’ve had some sticky situations while using it. Pun intended.
Been wanting to try split pea soup after hearing about yours and found this one that was wonderful tonight.
If anyone is interested in trying it this one is super easy and all it takes is split peas, two celery stalks, a carrot, garlic and all I had handy was a quarter of an onion and it was still yum. Used chicken boullion because thats what I had. Would love to see more frugalwoods recipes. amp/s/www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/vegetarian-split-pea-soup/amp
Oh and I did not use a blender, the soup mushed all on its own after about an hour of cooking
I belong to a group called “The buy Nothing project”. We barter in our community. I am very frugal. I was told by a neighbor in my group about your website. I love it. Then today I saw a PBS special about your family. Talk about karma. For me, saving money is a fun game. Thank you for sharing your posts with the world.
I love the Buy Nothing Project!!! So happy to have you here in the Frugalwoods community 🙂
We make al oilo pasta once a week: noodles, parm. cheese, olive oil, a dash of salt, and maybe nutmeg on top., green onions. IF we have chicken, we add that, or leftover ham. VOILA! Delicious with a red chianti too!
Hi there! I have seen you mention frozen pizza more than once, and was wondering what your thoughts on the most inexpensive options are that you have discovered.
I recently found your blog and I’ve been working through the back log. For making wine last longer, you might consider a Vacu vin. Less than $10 on amazon and it will vacuum the air out of the bottle, I’ve found that when used properly I can keep a bottle going for about 2 weeks, so depending on your drinking frequency, this might be worth it to expand the variety of cheap wine available (trader joes probably has the largest selection of bottles less than $10). I’ve been loving your blog, my partner and I are just starting out after college and doing our best to economize 🙂