The Frugalheads love to eat and drink. Especially when someone else is cooking.
And we thought we were doing it cheaply. We didn’t shop at the major chains, we bought a lot of fruits and veggies, and few sugary or prepackaged snacks. We ate out, but not every day – a couple of lunches throughout the week at inexpensive joints and a date night once a week that included dinner.
Until we started keeping a budget, we had no idea how much it was costing us. Talk about sticker shock. We were spending a whopping $2000 a month on groceries and eating out!
Today, our grocery budget is $500. Sometimes we go over, but most of the time we come pretty close. And we don’t spend hours clipping coupons.
Here’s how we do it:
1. Keep track of prices
FRANNIE: Most people don’t. Keep track of prices that is – at least not for everything. Before frugalness, if the newspaper inserts advertised a great deal on lettuce, we believed it. Who has time to research the price of lettuce around town? Stores count on this.
So slowly I started collecting data – or as the old fashioned frugal gurus call it, made a grocery price book. Basically, it is a list of prices that you collect over time for all the things you buy. It gives you an idea for what is a good deal (or not). If you include dates, days, and different stores, you can get an idea of when certain things go on sale, and which stores are better to shop at for different items.
A grocery price book is totally empowering! Bulk is not always better, sale is not always the cheapest…Now I toss a copy in my purse each time I update it, and use it like a cheat sheet, so I can get back at “the man.”
Click here to see my most recent version, which is saved as a Google spreadsheet. Send us your “data” so that we can make a detailed book for all San Diegans!
2. Ignore Brands
FRED: Does Crest really get teeth whiter? Does Tide get clothes whiter? Do you always shop for food at your local big name supermarket? If so, you’re falling victim to the persuasive power of advertising. Advertisers in 2012 spent a whopping $140 billion getting U.S. consumers to believe this kind of nonsense.
If you stopped buying expensive brands, nothing and we mean nothing about your life would change — except you would have more money in your pocket.
We buy the cheapest laundry detergent we can, a huge tub of Gain for $5, about a third or a fourth of the price of a similar sized tub of Tide. (We could save even more by making our own detergent.) Gain is made by Procter & Gamble. Guess who makes Tide? Procter & Gamble.
(FRANNIE: Experiment with this. I haven’t found a good substitute for some of my beauty products yet. But Fred is right: most generic brands are not noticeably different )
FRED: This is a big reason why we avoid coupons. Coupons entice you to buy items that are more expensive and less healthy than you would normally buy anyway. You’ll find a lot more coupons for Tide than for Gain. You will see plenty of coupons for Fruit Loops. You’ll almost never see a coupon for apples.
3. Shop in Non-Traditional Stores
FRANNIE: I am in love with the 99 Cents Only stores in our area. They have bread, fruit, and vegetables for far less. We’ve gotten bags of 10 avocados, 2lbs of apples, 2lbs of nectarines or plums – all $.99 each. Lots of old people shop here for a reason!
Also, shop the Asian and other ethnic markets. These are great for a lot of our staples, vegetables, and fish. We buy big bags of rice, big vats of peanut oil, hoisin sauce, and tofu at our local Asian market. The place smells of fish, and the fish swimming in murky waters used to freak me out, but we got some tilapia for 1.99/lb and it was awesome. Not rotten at all. It is my go-to place now…
4. Buy What’s On Sale and Make Menus After
FRED: Planning out a week’s worth of menus saves you money, it’s true, but how you plan can save you even more. Instead of coming up with a shopping list based on what looked good on the cooking show you saw, buy what is on sale and then figure out what to make from that.
It is amazing what you can make from what is hidden in your pantry, your sale items, and using the internet. It is usually tastier, too, because most sale items are in season.
Just remember to never shop while you’re hungry and always bring a list to the store.
5. Use Your Freezer
FRED: A freezer is a money-saving tool that quickly pays for itself. People sell them on Craigslist all the time. Or you can buy a new one at a scratch and dent place (we have a Sears one in San Diego where we bought ours).
Our family eats a ton of whole wheat bread items. So we buy five to ten bags at the 99 Cents Only store and freeze them. Also, to ensure that cheap large bags of staples like rice or floor don’t import unwanted creatures to our household, we throw these in the freezer for a week before storing them in our pantry.
When whole chicken drops to 88 cents a pound, we buy a bunch of them and stick them in the freezer. Whole chickens will last up to a year without losing flavor, so you are essentially locking in that sale price for as long as you have room in your freezer.
You can buy meat that’s on sale because it’s close to the sell-by date and freeze it. Huge savings there!
6. Make your own stuff
FRANNIE: I make my own yogurt, granola. Fred makes Mark Bittman’s awesome no-work bread. I’ve started making my own all-purpose cleaner, granite cleaner, and super green, environmentally safe cleaner for the kids stuff. Using distilled white vinegar, plain ammonia, rubbing alcohol, baking soda, and water you can make enough cleaners to last a year for just a couple of bucks.
As Fred can tell you, I’m a neat freak, and love to have everything sanitized. These cleaners do a great job. More on this later.