Frugal eating is one of the easiest ways to save money. It’ll require a little more effort (such as making things yourself and doing some planning). Not all the tips below will work for any one family. But if you try even one or two — you might find that you’re eating better, saving time, and most importantly saving money!
Shop with a grocery list
Sounds like basic common sense, doesn’t it? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been at the grocery store and seen people deciding on dinner right there in the aisle.
Writing a list in advance does a lot of things for you in your frugal eating quest. It saves time by minimizing your trips to the store for forgotten items. It prevents you from accidentally buying something you already have at home. It also helps to limit impulse buys while wandering the aisles.
Do not grocery shop while hungry (or with hungry children)
Have a snack before you shop. If you don’t — I guarantee you’ll end up with more junk in your cart than you meant to. It’s nearly impossible to see all the wonderful items at the store while your belly is rumbling and pass them up. The Easiest way to practice frugal eating is to simply avoid temptation.
Same goes for bringing your hungry kids with you. Feed them a snack at home or at the very least bring some crackers with you. That way when the hunger meltdowns begin, you’re ready!
Shop alone if possible
I have found that shopping alone makes the whole trip run more quickly and cheaply. There are no kids begging for cupcakes or cookies. You have the leisure to read labels and check unit prices when your only constraint is YOUR time.
Use a grocery price book
The concept of the price book is simple. For those items you buy regularly, write down the date, store name, item name, price, and quantity.
For example, if I was recording an entry for canned corn, it would look like this: 6/8, XYZ Supermarket, canned corn, $0.59, 15 oz (0.57 kg). When you get home (or if you carry a calculator with you), you can figure out the unit price. Divide the price by the quantity and you’ll see that the canned corn is 3.7 cents an ounce.
Simply record this same item and its details from other grocery stores. Eventually you’ll get a clear idea of when an item is really cheap.
In my own quest for frugal eating — I started using a price book a while back and found it was a wonderful tool. I can’t count the number of times I stood in an aisle looking at an item thinking “I think that is cheap, but I can’t remember exactly what I paid for it at the other place.”
Price books aren’t for everyone because they require a bit of extra time to use and maintain, but when it comes to figuring out the best prices on everyday grocery items, they can’t be beat.
Grocery shop less frequently (i.e. weekly instead of daily, monthly instead of weekly)
I have found that the fewer trips to the grocery store I make, the less money I spend overall. The more time you spend in the store, the more likely you are to buy those extras you’re trying to avoid.
Grocery shopping less frequently also forces you to have a plan in place (which is nearly always a good idea when you’re trying to save money on food.)
Shop your own pantry/cupboards first
Frugal eating is a tool for spending less…and what better way to spend less than to use what you already have? I try to use my pantry (and its existing stock of food) as inspiration for my menu plan for the week.
If I have several cans of tomato soup and a loaf of bread already on hand — I’m much more inclined to make grilled cheese and tomato soup than if I had to buy all the ingredients.
Try making it yourself
Things like bread, cookies, etc, are MUCH better made at home — plus it’s a fun activity for the whole family. Yes, it takes extra time. Yes, it’s hard in our current time-crunched world. But seriously — homemade cookies vs store bought? I know what I pick every time. You’d be amazed at how cheap ingredients are in bulk vs the premium you pay for the pre-made variety.
Eat at home more often
Almost everyone agrees, eating at home is cheaper than eating out. If you’re looking to save money, try reducing the number of meals a week you eat out.
Brown bag it at work
It always amazes me when people eat out at breakfast and lunch every day and then can’t figure out where all their money goes. Pack your lunch a few days a week (or every day if you can swing it). You’ll save money. Plus, the lunches you make at home might end up being healthier than what you get at a restaurant.
Make a weekly/monthly menu
Meal plan template has helped my family immensely. I plan out a number of meals for the week, and we post the list on the fridge.
It still gives us the leeway to pick and choose what sounds good to eat that day, but it greatly reduces the “what are we having for dinner?” crabbiness at day’s end. It also helps with grocery shopping — much easier to write a list when you know what you’re planning to eat.
Buy in bulk
Unless you have a big family this is most easily accomplished with non-perishables. I don’t recommend buying 3 pounds (1.36 kg) of sour cream and watching it spoils because your family never uses more than 1/2 pound (0.91 kg) a week.
But for things such as flour, sugar, rice, pasta, etc — you can really further your frugal eating plans by buying in bulk.
Avoid the single serving trap
Because we are a society obsessed with convenience, there are TONS of single serving options out there for items as diverse as ranch dressing to peanut butter, even pickles and prunes! The upside of these foods is absolutely convenience.
The downside is all that extra packaging costs money…and it adds yet more garbage to our landfills. Buy reusable containers and spend a few minutes after you come home from the grocery store creating your own single servings.