Eating Cheap

A lot of people have been writing to me asking if it is indeed possible for a couple to live on $50 a week for food. My usual rule of thumb is $50 per person per week, but desperate times call for desperate measures. When I put a couple on $50 a week, it’s because they have so much debt that they must cut back on essentials in order to get clear of the debt. Hey, necessity is the mother of invention and $50 a week CAN be done.

You have to be a good shopper. A dozen eggs cost about $2.70. That’s six eggs each in any form you want to make ‘em. Eggs are full of protein and, therefore, quite filling. Shop the sales: one week bread may be on sale, the next tins of salmon. Have a float of about $20 in your food jar to take advantage of the specials that will save you money over the month. Scour the fliers for deals and then hit the store with the price-matching policy. Peanut butter that usually sells for almost five bucks can be had for as little as $2.49 on sale.  (I bought four.)

You have to use everything you buy. Waste is the biggest enemy of a tight budget. Old potatoes become hash browns. Just-going-off veggies become stew fixin’s. Chicken bones become stock with addition of some onions (cheap) and left over veggies.

Look for alternatives. Beans are a great source of protein. Add a little sausage (you can buy a pack of 5 sausages for $3.49 and one to a meal for flavour), and bulk up with veggies that will give you the vitamins and minerals you need to be healthy. Overeating happens when you’re eating empty calories and your brain says, “keep going” until you get the nutrients it wants.

Invest in healthy staples. Peanut butter, oatmeal, rice, chickpeas and pasta all make your food budget go much further. Batch cook and freeze portions so you can jump-start dinner when you’re short of time or energy. Soup is easy to make and can feed you for days (or freeze it for a meal next week and in weeks to come for variety). I’ve got a squash and some garlic roasting in the oven right now. I’ll add one of my frozen containers of chicken stock (which cost pennies to make), some ginger (a little goes a long way) and I’ll have enough soup for 6 lunches.

Don’t buy prepared foods. Legumes cost less than a dollar a pound and one pound makes the equivalent of three cans. Making your own sauces means you can flavour it just the way you like (more or less garlic, with or without cilantro).

Add variety. Mussels are cheap (less than $2 a pound) and you don’t have to get too fancy with them. Add stock (do you know you can make fish stock from left-over shrimp tails along with fish skin and bones?), sweet onion, garlic, a bay or lime leaf and enjoy a fabulous meal. Or curry those puppies and then use the left-over sauce to cook your next meal of rice.

Eat the recommended size portions. We tend to over-eat big-time. Learn to eat less and take the time to enjoy every bite. Make eating a wonderful experience as opposed to something you rush through. Savour the flavours. Take smaller bites. Relish the freshness.

Stick with lots of fruit and veggies, and eliminate most of your meat. You might be surprised at how little meat you have to eat to be healthy.  As Michael Pollan says,  “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”

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Gail Vaz-Oxlade

Gail Vaz-Oxlade wants YOU! Join MyMoneyMyChoices.com to get smarter about your money and help others get smarter about theirs. Isn’t it time we eliminated financial illiteracy? Come find me on Google+ and on Twitter.

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89 Responses to “Eating Cheap”

  1. Love your post today!!!
    Recipes to go with everything would be awesome! Especially if it tells me how much time it all takes, because it’s about making the financial budget and time budget work!

  2. One comment I would like to make:
    Only use coupons for items you would actually eat. There is no savings if no one will eat it!

  3. I find that using my crockpot helps me make frugal meals.

  4. Just getting your grocery budget under control can make you feel like you just got a big raise! I use lentils in place of chicken, black beans and mushrooms in place of beef and white or navy beans in place of pork in all my recipes. Espcially in stews and saucy things, they add a satisfying fullness, fibre, calcium, and protein for just pennies a serving. Plus, they’re made from real food. I love that Gail has quoted Michael Pollan, and his book “Food Rules” is a must for anyone ON A BUDGET. His other rule is not to eat anything your great great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.

    Have a look at your last three or four grocery bills. Prepared and meaty things are probably by far the largest component of your bill.

    Finally, be careful of all the other things that are sold in a grocery store. You might go in needing bread, but come out with an impulse-buy sweater, or new wine glasses!

  5. I live off about $175 – 200/month for food for just me – including a couple fast food runs for days I have to run into the city – and don’t find it that hard. I mostly only buy whats on sale except for certain items that rarely go on sale and I need (eg, potatoes). This includes fruit/veggies. I also batch cook for the week. This is important to me from a time perspective as well – after working 12 hours a day, I don’t feel like cooking, so would go out or eat junk if I didn’t have leftovers I could pop into the microwave. I also make my own coffee and pack a lunch to work. People are constantly amazed by my food budget and I think of it as normal.

  6. My partner and I buy all our dry goods (beans, pasta, rice, etc) in bulk maybe once every four months (about $100). Then each week we go to the market to buy fresh veggies… usually spending about $20 each week gives us as many veggies as just the two of us can eat! Meat is a “sometimes” food – I don’t eat it, he does – but he buys when it’s on sale and freezes it.

    We also bake our own bread in a breadmaker, yum.

    Also make sure you go to the cheapest grocer to buy milk! Different grocers (even of the same name, eg Loblaws) in different neighbourhoods have different prices for the same goods. Astro yogourt where my parents live is almost $5 and where I live it’s a $1.50. Go to the grocers in poorer neighbourhoods – they have the better deals.

  7. Food is our downfall in our home and if I can get that budget down this year I’ll be accomplishing something big. So I’ve started by cutting it by $100 a month from last year and introducing 2 days a week of meatless dishes. Meat is the killer for food budgets, as is all processed food. In the crockpot right now is a black bean chili, with the beans soaking overnight. I figure the meal, once I add garnishments of sour cream, chopped green onions and grated cheddar will cost about $5 – serving 4 people.

    In the freezer are freezer bags filled with the hard stocks of broccoli and onion skins (to make veg stock), a chicken carcass from Sunday dinner (to make chicken stock), a prime rib bone from new year’s eve dinner (to make beef stock), and a bag of shrimp tails/shells (for fish stock).

    The best part of doing this is by eliminating processed foods I can control the sugar amount (and also kind of sugar), control the salt and know there are no chemicals and additives in the food.

    Hopefully I’ll be able to cut another $100 a month from the food budget later in the year by adding some more meatless nights. I’m taking an Indian food cooking class to learn more about vegetarian cooking so we don’t get bored!

  8. I LOVE that quote from Michael Pollan and my husband and I have tried to adjust our eating habits to follow it. Gail, I am looking forward to your blogs this year and learning more about your other interests.

  9. Love this post! Cutting the food budget makes me feel empowered. These are a few things that came to mind for me:
    -have a pantry challenge- find creative ways to use what you already have and only buy the necessities for the week (veggies & fruit)
    -bake your own bread! It’s so much cheaper and better tasting than store bought. It’s easier than you think!
    -check your community for food co-operative programs. Many of these programs are meant to encourage consuming fresh produce from local growers and are open to any income level. In my community, you can buy a good food box every other week for $12. You never know what you’ll get, so you often have the opportunity to try new fruits & veggies that you wouldn’t have done otherwise.

  10. Great post today! Being both self-employed we sometimes have to cut the budget during “down” times when business is slow. It’s amazing how creative you can get when you have to.
    I read somewhere that you really should only shop the outside aisles of the grocery store in order to have a healthy diet. And those items are the cheaper ones too!

  11. The best way to save on food is to grow your own! A one meter square plot of any one vegetable should yield enough to feed a family of four while producing. Increase that by a square
    Eter or two and you will yeild enough for storage through the winter. A pack of seeds is about a dollar and should last about four years for a family plot. Lettuce is one of the easiest plants to grow and even thrive in the north and Newfoundland! Most places have a three chicken rule in urban areas and you teach your kids valuable life lessons. Fresh eggs also taste like eggs should taste. This way you can have your meat, local and free range, and not break the bank.

  12. I really enjoyed this post today as this is something that we have been working on in our family of four for awhile. Once you start making little changes every few weeks you won’t even notice that you’ve done them…I’d suggest cutting out the prepared foods first, all that sodium is so unhealthy for anyone. Our family sits down on Sunday for about 20 minutes and we discuss what we would like to eat for the week and then we meal plan. With the plan we first shop in our fridge, freezer and pantry and then make a list…and we do not deviate from that list! We price match and use coupons when appropriate to trim the food budget and this has resulted in a major reduction in food waste in our house along with much healthier eating and less cost. Have fun, learn to cook the things you love and experiment!

  13. Also, grow your own! We live in a city, have a tiny yard and still grow raspberries, saskatoons, and have a strawberry plot and 3 raised boxes 4′ X 4 for lettuce, carrots, radishes, turnips, peas, beans, and most any veggie you can try! Package of seeds at the dollar store 3 for $1!

  14. avatar psychsarah Says:
    January 10, 2012 at 9:43 am

    I will second the crockpot suggestion. Not only does it make cheaper cuts of meat tasty or permits the use of dried beans versus canned without much added hassle, it forces you to plan ahead to get the food in there early, which removes the temptation to order pizza or drive through for burgers on the way home from work when you know you have something yummy, healthy and warm bubbling away that will be ready when you walk in the door! I use our crockpot at least once a week for our busiest evenings.

    I don’t think I could pull off $50/wk for our family, but I regularly average $80/wk (which includes food for two grown-ups, one of whom is currently breastfeeding, pet food for a dog and a cat, household items and personal care… as I type that I wonder if I really am only spending $50/wk on actual “people” food…hmmm…). This isn’t too difficult by planning meals around the flyer specials and stocking up on loss leaders, cooking from scratch 99% of the time (it’s really not hard-I taught myself about 10 years ago after being one of those people who didn’t know how to boil water), and avoiding pricey out-of-season produce.

  15. I think I spend about $38 per adult person per week on groceries. The best way I’ve found to save money is soup. Keep all your meat scraps – trimmed fat, bones, etc. stockpiling in the freezer along with vegetable trimmings that suit a stock, and then once in awhile just make up some soup stock. Let it set in the fridge so that you can skim off the fat, and put the stock in the freezer. I use the fat anywhere I cook with (melt in pan for frying eggs, veggies, etc.). If you make a barley based soup, you’ll have something nutritious and filling, and there’s an endless variation of veggie or meat ingredients you can add in for variety.

  16. We love, love dill pickles. We are saving the large jars that we buy pickles in and are growing our own pickling cukes this summer. We are going to try just the one vegetable in our tiny garden this year. In our front yard we have a couple of small areas that we grow other vegetables. We love our little garden.

  17. I keep washed scraps of veggies in a freezer bag. Every once and a while I cook a whole chicken and take the meat off the bones (put in tupperware) and put the bones in a stockpot with lots of water and the veggie scraps. I boil the crap out of it for a couple of hours, let it cool a bit and then let it sit in the fridge overnight. The next morning I get a cheesecloth out, my colander and a big bowl and squeeze as much of the liquid I can into the bowl, the remainder goes into organic waste. Then I give the stock a quick stir, put them into one cup size containers (makes a lot) and then stack them in the freezer.

    I always use dry beans and soak them overnight and cook them the next day. I eat about a batch of beans a week in various things including soup. I love lentils and split peas because you don’t have to soak them and they’re cheap. Barley, wheat berries (have to soak), rice, or pasta also get added to soup to give ita bit more substance. Celery, onion and carrots are a good soup base and I use different spices and use up any leftover vegetables. I also buy veg. that are 50% off in the store and process them right away. I freeze my soup in cup size portions.

    I use up leftover fresh herbs in the bread I make (herb bread) in my bread machine. I make my own bread. Who wants to eat mould inhibitors, additives and preservatives in storebought bread?

    I always buy simple crushed tomato (no salt) and add my own stuff to it for spagetti sauce.

    I always buy the raw shrimp type clean well and peel and them. I always boil the tails and peels to get the valuable and tasty stock.

    I never eat leftover dinner for lunch the next day because lunch should be kept cheap like soup, sandwich or salad. Leftover dinner is for DINNER the next day.

    I would love to have a garden and grow my own stuff but I live in a condo with no balcony. I had an allotment garden for a couple of years and grew lots of stuff. I grew tomatoes, onions, yellow and green wax beans, lettuce, raddichio, swiss chard, spinach, eggplant (was okay), carrots, zucchini, green peppers, hot peppers, cucumbers (didn’t produce anything), thyme, rosemary and basil (2 types) and marigolds to keep the bugs at bay. I love gardening but it took too long for me to walk to the garden with my shopping buggy of equipment and I gave it up after two years.

    When I think of gardening, those are the times I wish I had a house with a yard or at least a condo with a balcony.

  18. I am currently participating in a “Use it Up” challenge for the quarter. I buy in bulk when things are on sale and have always kept a pretty good pantry – but last year I ended up throwing out way too many things.

    For the next 13 weeks I’m allowing myself $20/week for fresh foods ($260 total – plus $40 for household items (again I had a fair amount stocked up but just kept buying). In order to be able to do this – and to try and lose some weight – I am finally doing a weekly meal plan – I can’t believe how much it helps, both financially and time wise. I will not be wasting anything – and I’ve been eating far more healthfully. By planning I’m able to see where I need more veggies, where I need fish as opposed to meat and where I can add in meatless meals and keep a good balance. I really think I’ll make it to the end of March – it will be a real eye opener one way or another!

  19. We have eggs for dinner once a week, which is not only a money saver, but a time saver too. I save a little green veg from dinner the night before (cooked broccoli or zucchini is tasty), chop it up and toss it in an omelette. A little sprinkling of cheese inside, some toast on the side and we’ve got all food groups covered. The whole meal probably costs $2-3 bucks and takes 10 minutes to prepare. And, since it’s my toddler’s favourite dinner, I never feel like I’m cheaping out.

  20. A lot of the problem is many people don’t know how to cook, they don’t have a properly stocked pantry with essentials to pull out when “there is nothing to eat”.
    You can learn to make quick and healthy 30 minutes meals. Get a cook book.
    Children also do not need to drink milk/juice/pop all day long, they can drink water.
    I am sure many of us grew up in homes where you simply were not allowed to graze all day long, eating food that may have been ear-marked for a later meals.
    My son learned very early that the kitchen was closed at certain times so he had better eat what was offered, when it was offered.
    My last rant is to point out that chips, pop. bottled water (unless you don’t have access to clean water) and NOT necessities.
    Also, the sale meat items are often 30-50% off and still have good “best by” dates. The butcher will rewrap the package to make it not leak and you are good to go!

  21. I usually eat oatmeal for breakfast, but in the summer when it was hot, I got into a cold cereal habit. Big mistake! I looked at some cold cereals recently and they were $5-6 for a box that only lasts a week. I can buy a month’s worth of oatmeal for about half that. I stir in some applesauce and a spoonful of cinnamon and nuts, and I am good to go.

    I also found it helps my meal planning to have themes for each day. That way, menu planning is easy. I just look at each category, pick one recipe from each and then write down my grocery list. If you have just four recipes for each category (pasta, stir-fry, soup etc.) you can go a whole month without repeating.

  22. I’m currently trying to top up my savings to where I’d like it to be, so I’m cutting back on my groceries like crazy. Soups with pasta, beans, or rice have been my saving grace. Filling and delicious.

    Also, a food processor is a great tool to sneak in bits of leftover veggies into the soup without making it super-obvious (it’s also a great way to thicken the soup up). Last night I made a tomato-based veggie soup (with onions, green peppers, celery and cabbage all pulverised in my food processor).

    Later this week I plan on trying out a black bean soup with dried beans, which I can hopefully find on the cheap. I’m a little worried though, as I haven’t had great success with dried beans in the past (they always stay a little too hard for my liking).

    I’m curious to see how my grocery budget fares when my boyfriend moves in. He’s good about eating pretty much whatever I make, but he eats so much MORE than me. I think a menu plan is in my future.

  23. Great tips! I use many of these to keep my grocery budget in tact. I totally agree with using everything you buy — I even save vegetable trimmings for soup stock.

    One thing I would add is learn how to properly store food and what kind of shelf life you can expect. People make a lot of food storage mistakes which mean they’ll throw out food sooner than they should. For instance, supermarket meat packaging won’t hold up in the freezer — you need to re-wrap. When an airtight container is half empty, there’s still enough air in it to make food go stale faster — transfer the contents to a smaller container.

    It’s worth doing a little research for sure.

  24. avatar financiallyfreeinbc Says:
    January 10, 2012 at 11:26 am

    The thing that helped us cut back from eating out, making poor food choices and wasting a ton on money in gas? Make a meal plan and a grocery list, shop only what you need. Make extra and freeze!

  25. Last night my hubby and I made a plan in attempt to cut back. When we took everything out of the freezer we realized we had a lot already. We chose meals for the week based on what we had and wrote down what we needed. We went to the grocery store hoping to spend less then $100. The bill was $99.25! And to be honest there were a few things we stocked up on because walmart was having their dollar sale (canned tuna, soup, margerine, and a few cleaning products) and they had some good deals on fresh fruit/veg so we got some oranges, strawberries, grapefruit, potatoes and carrots Since our weekly bill is usually between 150-200 asnd has little fruit/veg I think we’ve made a really good start!

  26. I live in the far north, where a dozen eggs is closer to $4, but the pricipals of saving money grocery shopping are the same. I make my meal plan for the week based on the sales, then shop my cupboards first, only adding the missing ingrediants to my shopping list. I use coupons as much as possible and stock up when there is a really great sale. I average $130 per week for 2 adults and that includes all our cleaning, personal hygene and paper products. I must admit though, meat is our biggest expense as my hubby is a true “bush man” (he was raised on a trapline) and doesn’t consider it a real meal unless there is meat of some sort involved. If it were up to me I could live on fruit, veggies, eggs and fish, but he needs his red meat LOL.

  27. Shopping the sales with coupons and price matching literally saves us well over $100 a month on groceries.

    There’s a pretty good facebook group called ‘extremecouponingmom’ that provides a good list of where to get coupons and has a weekly listing of grocery sales that helps with matching the coupons up to the sales.

  28. Thanks Beth for your insight into researching what shelf life some products have & how to conserve them longer as I have thrown several items recently due to these circumstances.
    I make everything from scratch as well & careful to plan meals with what I already have available in my pantry & frig/freezer. I also complete a 2 wk meal plan which helps on those evenings you don’t want to cook & on the grocery bill. I will admit that I do shop weekly for fresh vegies/fruit & milk products.
    Thanks Gail, great thread

  29. Good Tips! Last summer we stocked up on in season fruits and vegetables to put in the freezer. Also stocked up on staples and meat.

    Our personal challenge, starting January, is to spend $25.00 a week on fresh fruit and vegetables, bread, eggs, milk, and cheese (as needed). We are on budget and eating well.

    Shopping at stores where we receive reward points is a bonus, and presently have $20.00 in points to use if needed.

    Using a crock pot, meal planning, not wasting any food, and bulk cooking helps make our challenge possible.

  30. There’s a website I came accross (Actually might have been on this board) http://www.soscuisine.com.

    You can sign up for their budget meal plan (it’s free) and it will give you recepie ideas based on the flyers sales from your province. It also gives you an idea of how much your meal will cost, and usually includes desert (sometimes just fruit). But it’s a great spot to check first and see what you can make with the weekly sales.

  31. This month I am trying something new. I have picked a meal for Monday – Thursday and am going to stick with it for budget and time-saving reasons. Monday is “Red Beans and Rice”. Tuesday is pasta night. Wednesday is Indian Aloo Gobi – a cauliflower and potato dish with chickpeas. Thursday is mishmashing any of the first three leftovers into a curry with lentils, over rice. Weekends are for freestyling and I always know “what’s for dinner”. This is the second week and it sure did help keep the grocery budget under control!! Plus, leftovers for lunch keep us out of restaurants.

    I spend $125 a week for two adults and one 12 year old, about $41 per person per week.

  32. I was diagnosed with Cardiomyopathy (heart disease) in the June and was told I had to cut out as much salt as possible. Well since I’m not a salt user I thought “no problem piece of cake” until I started reading the labels on foods I was getting and eating all the time. Since I’m not a cook I would get pre made dinners and sit and eat the whole thing as one serving. Well I can say that since I started reading the labels to find the amount of salt, fats, and serving size, I have stopped eating all the pre packaged food and started finding heart healthy recipes on the internet to make, I have saved a ton of money as well as 48 lbs. When I find a recipe I make sure that I can get a least 3 days of eating out of it, plus I make up a menu for the week of what I want to eat and shop with a list of the ingredients i will need. It really cut my food bill way down which really helps me since I’m on a fixed income.

  33. Excellent post!

    Though I have to say, I love your show, but one thing I always kind of scoffed at was the budget you give most people for groceries. When they were cutting everything else so close to the bone, it seemed like they had tons of cash for groceries! $50/week/person just seems really extravagant to me. I usually average $35 or $40/week for myself, but could easily get that down to $25/week. (And have in the past. I actually wrote a whole series on my blog about cutting my grocery spending last summer.)

    I find the key thing is to cut out ALL processed foods and cut out as much meat as you can stand. If you’re basing your meals entirely around vegetables, whole grains and cheaper proteins (peanut butter, beans, quinoa, eggs), it’s really not that big of a deal. When I was a student my grocery budget never wavered from $100/month. I didn’t get luxuries like sugary cereal or processed food, but I certainly wasn’t eating PB&J and ramen noodles for four years!

  34. So many great ideas. I found myself reading this post saying “I do that” or “I should do that.”

    My husband and I have a pretty good routine down with groceries. I’m a big egg eater. I always say if I ever became allergic to eggs I may lose my mind. I have a health condition that prevents me from eating a lot of acidic foods, whereas he believes the hotter the better. He has great success with making and freezing chili for his lunches at work. It keeps him from snacking at work in the cafeteria. I’m a pretty plain eater so this keeps me in line.

    My top 5 fave suggestions are:

    1 – only use coupons for items you will actually eat. This is SO true.

    2 – make your own bread (I don’t own a breadmaker and am scared to buy one b/c I love bread and am trying to cut back). An alternative could be BOGO, buy one get one, or BOFO, buy one freeze one.

    3 – Love the “Use it Up” challenge. I must try that one

    4 – I’ll add my own – always check your pantry and cupboards before you go to the grocery store

    5- Read labels. Great one Kate and congrats on the 48lbs!!!! 🙂

    One last point – be careful at Costco. Some things are cheaper and some aren’t and those damn samples can sure get us into trouble sometimes.

    Cheers,

  35. avatar Dotty dot dot Says:
    January 10, 2012 at 2:15 pm

    My husband and I are definitely proponents of making a menu plan, writing up a list, and sticking to it. Meat is always expensive, but we won’t compromise on quality and always buy from a reputable butcher. We also like to buy bigger cuts of cheaper meat, and in doing so, we’ve found much success with our crockpot. In fact, on Sunday, we slow-cooked a veal brisket with vegetables, and ate that with potatoes and kale the first night.

    The next night, I took some leftover shredded brisket, along with some of its cooking juices/veggies, combined with fresh veggies (fennel – yum!) and tomatoes (home canned from the summer) to make a pasta dish (pappardelle).

    Tonight, I’m going to take the leftover pasta sauce and mix it with some freshly cooked penne, put it in a casserole, top with caciocavallo cheese, pop it in the oven until cooked through, and eat with a salad.

    Tomorrow, I’ll take the rest of the brisket and make a shepherd’s pie, with a side of leftover kale.

    I think the key for us, is to make enough food to have leftovers and to be creative with those leftovers (so as to not get bored). In total, the four meals cost less than $80 in total, they fed us well, and they were all delicious.

  36. I always think we spend too much on food but in reality our budget is $150-175/week – but that includes everything that I consider groceries, which is not just food. Our weekly budget includes toiletries, cleaning supplies, laundry & dishwasher detergent, pet food, etc. If I actually break it down to what we spend on food, we feed a family of 5 on about $100/week. So I can see how you could feed 2 people on $50.

  37. I am very jealous of the food budgets I’m reading. Our family cannot eat dairy or gluten so we have to spend a lot more money than the average family. We budget $220 per week for two adults and two children. That is a lot lower than one year ago… It still makes me feel a bit ill. We make most things fresh, buy everything in bulk and try to hit the deals. I have a few goals this year that I know will help lower the bill a bit more. We are not soup eaters, but I’m going to see if I can change that by making some homemade stuff. I’m going to try making m own bread again. It is $6 a loaf at the cheapest place in town. When we were making our own it was more expenisive because of the ingredients we had to use. I’m going To try again and see if we can cut it down. Lastly, we are planting some veg around the house this year. I love gardening and know this will be a great hobby for me. we already have chives out there.

    I was even going to try some indoor herbs, but I have not found any that I like on sale yet.

  38. $50 a week per person! There must be some amount of economy of scale, because I don’t know what I’d do with $300/week for the 6 of us. (2 adults, plus kids 13, 10, 8 and 4)

    I budget $600/month for groceries, hba and cleaning items, plus $100/month for eating out. Clearly, we eat most meals at home. 🙂 I find shopping sales, some meatless meals, and shopping at a produce store for most of our fruits and vegetables makes staying in budget relatively easy most of the time. The recent price increases at the grocery stores had me frustrated for a couple of months, but I seem to be doing fine again this month.

    I have a small garden in my backyard during the summer, but I’m afraid I have a brown thumb, so it doesn’t save us much. The fresh herbs are very nice at least.

  39. A way to keep getting flavourings, in particular of high cost tems such as bacon is to reuse the fat.

    My great grandmother would run the packing oil for sardines through a cheese cloth and then use it to cook with. My more modern way is as follows. I buy a pound and freeze it. I cut off just what I need and cut it into small bits. Before throwing thebacon in the pan, I cut an onion into rings. Cook it on low heat and the fat doesn’t burn while the bacon cooks. When the bacon is done I sautee the onions in the bacon fat — the opions absorb the fat. Then when I have burgers, or I want to add the bacon flavour back in (home made pasta sauce), just add the onions. Presto, the bacon taste for no additional bacon cost.

  40. avatar Flynnycat Says:
    January 10, 2012 at 3:08 pm

    I don’t eat meat or dairy, or any animal-derived products, and I save a fortune on the grocery bill. I buy organic because I believe that is best, but I am careful to make sure that what I buy is actually certified organic. I make my own bread, when I eat bread. Beans, lentils and legumes, as well as quinoa, are fabulous, versatile foods. I have a pressure cooker and a deep fryer (don’t yet know how else to make tofu palatable), and I have an ice-cream maker to make my own vegan ice cream because it is too expensive to buy. It is so incredibly easy to save tons of money on food when you make your own and don’t consume meat or dairy. It will also save tons of money in terms of your health and all the medications you won’t be taking.
    Another suggestion I’d make for anyone who is able is to have a little garden and grow your own veggies and herbs. That can help you save, too, at least a little.

  41. Great blog today. Good tips from Gail and the commentors. I am proud to say that I already do many of these things.

    Dried beans are an amazing cost saver and take little effort. I soak them in cold water overnight before I throw them in the pot to shorten the amount of cooking time required. I usually cook mine in a pan in the oven on a day when the oven is already running for lots of baking. No extra electricty required and I freeze the ready to eat beans.

    I also blanch and freeze any leftover vegetables in small pack sizes to throw in to whatever I am cooking. There were a lot of green beans in my last batch of chili that were finely diced and no one even noticed a non-chili vegeatable in their chili is the motto in this household.

    WASTE NOT WANT NOT is the motto in this household.

  42. avatar Flynnycat Says:
    January 10, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    I also like the idea of seeing what you can do with whatever you have in your fridge/pantry/cupboards before going to buy more groceries….a great way to use what you already have and probably forgot about. 🙂

  43. Also making your own baby food is so much better and cheaper. No need for that Magic Bullet either. I would spend a day steaming fresh veggies and you just put them in the food processor and spoon them into ice cube trays to freeze. Pop them out the trays when they’re frozen and into ziploc bags and you have instant baby food. It works the same for meat too. Poach your chicken and into the food processor it goes. I saved so much money by doing this for my daughter’s first year and you have the added benefit of knowing what exactly is in the food.

  44. Look for Cereal on sale ie.. Fibre1 for $3 or everyday price for Sally’s bagged cereal at walmart $3 for 800g.(Spoonsized Shredded wheat copy and other choices) or buy other copies like PC Blue Menu.(as Gail wrote price match and save gas from driving around.)

    Frozen items from places like almostperfect at up to 90% off.
    Frozen Veggies and Fruit = no waste
    Coupons and weekly flyer summaries at mrsjanuary.

    Even doing that I still spend more than $50. Wow you guys/gals are great! However, I do factor in for groceries camping trips and entertaining so that does bump me up. But, I very rarely eat out.

  45. I’ve found the best way to cook dried beans is in my crockpot.
    Just toss in about 1/3 dried beans to 2/3 water and cook for 4 to 6 hours.
    [I find 4 hours on high or 6 hours on low works fairly well with my pot].
    I then portion out the beans into the equivalent volume of a can or 1/2 a can and place them in the freezer. Then they are always ready when I need some. Haven’t gone back to canned since starting to do this – the cost savings is very impressive.

  46. @Jodie: If your family can’t eat dairy or gluten, I really recommend a slow-carb diet instead of specialty products. About four months ago I switched to a slow-carb diet with the elimination of flour, rice, potatoes, and sugar. Our only dairy consumption is cream in our coffee, milk in our tea, and yogurt, but we could eliminate dairy entirely if we had to. My budget is still well under $50/week per adult person. And in the last four months, both my husband and I have lost about 25lbs, without actually dieting. Of course, it’s not as tempting to overeat when you aren’t eating yummy pasta dishes!

  47. I find the best time to grocery shop is Saturday night. A lot of vegtables, fruits, breads and meat go on 50% off. The fruit and veggies generally need to be used within a day or two, so I plan for a stir-fry or stew within a day. I divide the fruit into freezer bags and store it for use in muffins, smoothies and to top my cereal.

    I usually cook the meat right away and divide & bag it into the freezer as well.

    I also divide the bread in half and use one half right away and put the other in the freezer.

    It is worth purchasing a air-sealer for this. It will save you a lot of money down the line.

    I also take a bonus $20 when I grocery shop to buy some “loss leaders’ in bulk if there is something I will use. Loss leaders are usually prominently displayed in the front of the store and/or advertised in the flyer. The store takes a loss on the item, but they know it will bring customers in to buy other things. If nothing is left or it is not an item that I interests me, I will save the $20 for the next shopping trip. Last time I was able to by 4 Cottonelle 24 package toliet paper for $3.44 each!

    It probably goes without saying, but buying ‘raw’ material as opposed to anything involving labour will save you a bundle. For example, get a block of cheese when it is on sale and grate it or cut it into smaller blocks and freeze (see a theme here? I love my freezer) for later use.

    Since I am single, I also go ‘halfs’ on some bulk items with my other single friends so nothing goes to waste.

    And as my grandmother use to say….take a calculator and compare the ‘unit price’ as opposed to the sale price. Sometimes a sale may not be that much of a bargin.

    For those of you who a math impaired like me:

    Unit price = Divide the weight by the price.

    For example, you could buy an 18 oz. jar of peanut butter for $3.49 or a 12 oz. jar for $2.59. Divide $2.59 by 12 to determine that the 12 oz. jar costs about 22 cents per ounce of peanut butter. The 18 oz. jar is the better buy.

  48. Correction to above post:

    Unit price = Price divided by weight ( I told you I was math imparied…LOL)

  49. “IN DEFENSE OF FOOD” by Michael Pollan was wonderful for opening my eyes to the food “industry” and resetting my priorities with my diet. Good, solid common sense in there (I borrowed the audio book from the library).

    Gail, from what you have said there, groceries are more expensive on average around here. I already meal plan, buy marked-down meats, get the clearance bin veggies, and the “day old” breads… and we still are eating over $50/week per person. We are a healthy weight but also very active, hungry people I guess…. our grocery budget averages between 1100 and 1500/month for the 4 of us (birthday season adds to the bill conciderably)

    At least 2-4 nights a week we have a vegetarian dinner. I always make enough to go in lunches the next day too. We try to serve meat as more of a garnish than a main event… pasta sauces, casseroles, soups, dinner salads, roll ups, etc. A cut of meat as a main is served as kind of a “special occassion” type of meal.

    All veggies are not created equal either! Depending on the season fresh produce prices fluctuate DRASTICALLY! Right now we are eating a lot of cabbage based meals (there are a surprising amount of tasty cabbage dinners!), in the summer I grow as much as I can from my tiny city plot.

  50. Some great tips!

    We like our read meat so we buy a whole cow that we split with 3 other people. It’s a local farmer who we know has quality beef. This is more cost efficient and wow, does it last a long time! There’s nothing better in the summer when you can prep some big juicy steaks or in the winter, cook up a roast in the crock pot and you just have to shop your freezer!

    I also like to try new recipes. One of my recent favorites: “Jamie’s Meals in Minutes”. Also good: any of the Crazyplates or Looneyspoons cookbooks and Jessica Seinfeld’s recipes. All are so easy and nutritious!

    If you live in Canada, there is also the show “Fixing Dinner” that is on just before T’il Debt do Us Part (in Ontario, I think it’s on at 12). The host is a mom of SEVEN and she helps stressed families mealplan and shop better/eat healthier. She suggests a 5 day meal plan only. I am recently looking into some of her recipes on the website – some of them on the show look so delish!

    @dkr – thanks for the website suggestion! Will have to check that out!

  51. avatar Elizabeth A Says:
    January 10, 2012 at 7:42 pm

    I love all the suggestions and will certainly use the stock ideas, thanks! I usually use the sale flyer and available coupons to plan my meals for the week. Especially produce, makes such a savings if you follow the sales. This year I want to go through my recipes so it will be a little different, but at some point it will be just me and whatever the cost increase because of that the food goes so much further I think it will be okay. I find I always spend more when I get the “recipe bug”. And do more dishes.

  52. We(my husband and I) live on $225 a month for groceries.

    We go to a local butcher every 2 months and buy our meat. It’s cut at the shop so it’s super fresh and much quality that the supermarket. The price per pound is actually less than the supermarket too. We only have to spend $50 for our meat each trip.

    We have $50 a week for everything else. Vegetables, fruits, cleaning supplies, cat food, etc. We shop sales and use alot of coupons. It takes planning and some stocking up on non-perishables, but it can be done.

  53. The best way to save money in Canada is to go to the US with coupons you can print out and stock up on everything. I find you can save a fortune using coupons in the US and many stores double the value of your coupons. I don’t understand why food in the US is so much cheaper.

  54. After discovering my gastrointestinal woes were due to citric acid/citrus fruits my life has gotten a lot better, and my grocery bill has been reduced. All of my friends would laugh about my food habits. I’m equally likely to roast up some root veggies with chicken or tofu for a meal as I am to fry cheese for supper. But in general, I’m pretty granola when it comes to food. Now that I know what I’m allergic too I’ve found that I can’t even use a simple can of crushed tomatoes – citric acid is an acidity regulator/preservative/flavour so it is used in pretty much everything. My grocery spending over the last few years has hovered around $37-$40 a week (although if my bf is in town it is significantly higher). It’s $30-$35 a week now that I have to make absolutely everything from scratch. (a used blender has been a magical gift.) The downtown farmer’s market in my city used to be a seasonal event but in the past year they were able to move it to city hall for the frigid months. Shopping for the majority of my produce there has saved me a lot of money. While not everything is cheaper than the grocery store- it lasts forever! I find that it is virtually impossible for the farmers market veggies to go bad before I can eat them.
    I try never to buy anything at university. I have a drawer full of stone wheat crackers and tea in case I forget my lunch and need something to tide me over.

  55. I love this post, and all the fabulous comments on it!

    I do most of the things mentioned here, but a few extras include:

    1. be willing to experiment and try to new recipes. Even if it flops, chalk it up to learning. Experience is the only thing that will make you a better cook.

    2. Even if a name brand item goes on sale – even as a loss leader – always check to see if it is a better deal than the store brand. Often the store brand beats the price of the name brand, even when on a huge sale. Most grocery stores show unit costs EXCEPT when the product is on sale… so you’ll have to do the math!

    3. Use coupons only on items you use anyway, and use them when the product goes on sale. Coupons can lead you into buying crap you don’t need, but if you use them right, you can get cheap (or even free – I’ve done it) products on some select items.

    4. Choose the cheaper store on average. FreshCo, I find, is very cheap, and will accept flyers from other stores.

    5. Check expiration dates before you buy. I”ve purchased food that went to waste because it was too near its expiry date.

    6. Purchase frozen veggies when they’re a better deal (usually out of season) for meals that remove some texture (like soups).

    7. Weigh loose produce so you don’t buy more than you need.

    8. When there is a sale on meat or a package of fruit for a set cost, look at the weight to get the most of the item for the same cost.

    9. Wait to do your personal care shopping at a cheaper store and buy when products go on sale. Seldom this is grocery stores.

    10. Buy the occasional frozen junk food (pizza, chicken fingers) when they’re on sale and use them on those nights when you want fast food (say, a Friday night movie night at home) because it will be cheaper. This is providing you have the will-power not to just eat them!

    11. If you can’t grow your own veggies (I can’t – condo living), grow your own herbs. All you need is a window! Herbs are expensive and die quickly once cut. I’ve been growing my own sage, rosemary, and basil since last spring and they’re doing well!

    12. Avoid buying cut-flowers at the grocery store. Buy plants instead.

    13. Shop at the bulk store… sometimes! Things are not categorically cheaper, but I often buy nuts on sale, and other snack foods, as well as epsom salts. Have also found things there that are more expensive. It’s worth going for certain items or for sales.

    14. Forage, if possible, for things like currants or crab apples to make pies or applesauce… not something that you can do every day but the times that I’ve done it with my mom and dad have yielded delicious results!

    15… My favourite tip: Use a community food box. In guelph there is the Garden Fresh Box at the community health centre, and for $20 you get a HUGE box of local produce. (i’ve blogged about this lots of times). This takes meal planning to use it all up! I also blanche/freeze certain produce if there’s too much of one item. You can also split it with a friend.

    A couple other comments:
    – if you’re finding beans tough, even after soaking them, try using a slow cooker, or replace the bag of beans. Beans that are old or stale will not cook properly. Another reason they may be tough is if your’e adding salt to the dish to early. Don’t add salt until near the end, or the beans will be tough.

    – For those deducting personal care items from their grocery list, remember that Gail considers “Food and Personal Care” in her grocery list, even things like diapers.

  56. great post gail! one of my goals for this year is to cut down our grocery budget. I also use our crock pot, it totally saves time and eliminates those nights where you don’t want to cook and are tempted to order in. Also, I stock up on coffee, peanut butter, cereal when on sale and it takes a lot for me to pay full price on those items, i try to buy 4 or 6 of them so that i don’t run out. I’m trying to cut back on prepared foods, as the more natural you stay, the cheaper and healthier it is!!

  57. $50/per person/per week is more than we spend for our family of 5. During the summer, we participate in a CSA and freeze veggies and vegetarian meals for the winter. Cutting out most processed foods is a good way to save money, too.

  58. I just got a coupon in the mail for $1 off of 2 dozen eggs. So I will pick up 2 dozen when they are on sale at Shoppers. One for eating, one for baking.

  59. […] I grew tomatoes, onions, yellow and green wax beans, lettuce, … … See the rest here: Eating Cheap « gailvazoxlade.com ← The 10 Best & Easiest to Grow Herbs the Gardenist | Apartment […]

  60. avatar Charlotte Says:
    January 11, 2012 at 8:25 am

    We eat excellent meals and we do not have to surrender our love for meat! We buy a side of beef each year and we stay at the butchers while he is cutting it to be sure we get the portion sizes and cuts we enjoy most. Now we can eat the best cuts of steak and the leanest ground beef along with tender roast anytime we want and best of all we know it is as close to organic as we can get without the actual organic stamp (we know the farmer). We are also supporting local responsible farming by doing this!
    Another trick we do is when we get our beef cut, we don’t get them to package it. We save on that cost and spend the time to package and label it all with our vacuum sealer. This way we package exactly the amount we need for each meal (no waste or too large or portions) and because it is sealed it can last for a couple of years in our freezer.
    This year we spent approx. 450 dollars for over a years worth of meat including the butcher’s work and bags.

  61. avatar Charlotte Says:
    January 11, 2012 at 8:30 am

    Another tip is to plant a garden! We live in a subdivision and we took out 1/4 of our backyard lawn and planted an amazing organic fruit and veggie garden! I plant all sorts of things including asparagus, garlic, broccoli, watermelon, tomatoes, etc. etc.
    Then I can or freeze them if I have extra. We also pick strawberries and make our homemade jam which tastes better, has no preservatives or artificial colours and is cheap!

  62. my stepfather is a german chef. we told him about some of the tougher cuts of meat in our freezer.. he suggested any kind of brine to cook it in, like left over pickle juice.. would tenderize it. the thought of pickle juice with my meat turns me off…lol

    so what we did instead? we buy no name pop and cookthe toughest meat in the slow cooker with that.. evennot so tough meats: ham with gingerale, beef with coke/pepsi type pops.

    the meat FALLS OFF!!!! its incredibly juicy and flavourful!

    so dont be afraid of the not so tender cuts.. if its a good deal… cook it in POP!!!

  63. drk great web site. So nice that you can localize to your own province. Thanks for sharing.

  64. Would love some frugal ideas on what to feed teenagers! I seem to have quite a few at my house on the weekends at some point……glad to have them but the grocery bills are increasing….

  65. @HG i have 4 teenagers… popcorn! i dont buy pop, that’s a luxury so they buy that if they want it.

    sloppy joes are filling and teens love them, wait til ground beef is on sale. pastas with sauce are always filling, chili goes very far. i fill the pot with all the beans and put a bit of burger in it.. they dont know the difference!

    meatball soup is a fav at our house, home made is cheap and lasts for 1-2 meals with bread.

    my parents owned a restaurant. they always had tons of breads on the buffet because it was cheap to do so and the guests would eat less of the expensive meats when they were filled with delicious breads and buns.. just a hint!!

  66. Wow, I must be doing something good or bad. I spend $40 a week on food for 2 people. I make it work, pre-planned meals are the key. I know exactly what I need when I head to the grocery store and I have my calculator. If something cost too much in my meal then I’ll substitute. For example my taco soup calls for 2 types of beans and only one of them are on sale then I’ll buy just one can or two of the same type. If a brick of cheese is $9 at the grocery store I’m shopping at but on sale for $4.50 at another grocery store I’ll walk over to that store.

    I also try to do fiscal fasts every few months. No spending money for an entire week, not one dime and you’re forced to eat all the food in your house. You’ll be surprised what you can make when you have what’s left in your freezer and pantry.

    $160 a month on groceries for a couple works for me.

  67. @Julie, thanks for the suggestion. I took a look and it looks kind of like the paso diet as much as I can remember from reading about I. My kids already do without a lot of things so I would hate to eliminate even more.

    In other news, made my first pot of soup ever and it’s not too bad. Lol. Veggie even!

  68. […] We all know that eating out costs money but did you know there are some great ways to save money while doing your regular grocery shopping? This week Gail Vaz-Oxlade explained some great tips on Eating Cheap. […]

  69. avatar Office_Girl Says:
    January 14, 2012 at 3:05 pm

    Personally I would find it very difficult to buy food for only $50.00 a week per person. We live in Northern Ontario and food here is terribly expensive. I spend $20.00-$25.00 a week on milk alone. I think it is important to remember that food costs vary across the country, much the same as housing. Up here I spend more on food than I do housing.

  70. Back in 2005 was the first time I started tracking our grocery spending to see what our “normal” was. I was stunned to find it was averaging $250/wk. We virtually never eat in restaurants and all 4 of us pack our lunches so this is ALL the food we eat, but still! At the time our kids were 4 and 11. Fast forward to today and our kids are 10 and 17, and my teenaged son is a bottomless eating machine who now towers over me.
    After the initial shock of the $250/wk I decided we could do better. I started meal planning, reading the flyers, shopping in our freezer and pantry, and never wasting anything. Each year since then when I laid out the spending plan for the year on our spreadsheet, I would reduce the weekly grocery amount by $10-15 from the previous year. All year I’d see if the new lower amount was proving to be reasonable, if I had gone too low, or if could come in under budget. If I could beat the target on a regular basis, I’d reduce the planned amount again the next year. We’re now down to $180/wk even with a teenaged boy. For 2011 I budgetted $180/wk and for the year for the 4 of us and the average came in at $178.64. For 2012 I am leaving the weekly amount unchanged for the first time since 2005. (I suppose with the rising cost of food, this actually means I am actually still reducing?)

    We seem to have found our minimum comfort level for our family, in our part of the country, and with our current lifestyle. Yes we could garden more. Yes we could make more effort to locate coupons for the few items we buy that have coupons, and yes I suppose we could make more of our bread products from scratch. On the other hand we do batch cook, freeze bulk items bought on sale, and make most food from scratch. We continue to meal plan and aim to never throw anything away. At first reducing our costs was fairly easy, but now it seems it would require major changes we just aren’t ready to make in terms of time taken away from other activities. I don’t enjoy gardening, so the idea of putting in hours in the garden doesn’t seem like a hobby, just another job to do after my daytime job. Given our rocky country property and abundant wildlife I suspect it would be a very frustrating experience for a small savings. I guess we each have to assess what works for us at each point in our lives and in our location. While it’s always interesting to hear what other spend, there are so many variables that it’s hard to know if it’s reasonable to replicate in your situation. Unless you’re really comparing apples with apples it may do nothing but make you feel badly. Instead, maybe try taking your current grocery costs and just trying to improve on that a bit at a time.

  71. I am a very busy single woman, that has a home, school, and all kinds of bills to pay every month. In order for me not to struggle with my life, I save as much as I can.

    I batch cook all my meals even my breakfast. I watch the deals on the newspapers and websites of the local groceries stores, looking for the ingredientes that are cheap. I buy in quantity and I storage them. One example are the frozen veggies. I eat veggies every day. A lot of times I also add them in my rice, meats, then a get a bigger portion out of it. I find them usually for U$10/ 10 bags, and the list goes on …

    From there I search what I want to cook using what I have. Once a month, during one of my days-off I cook all day long, and it worth a lot. All the meals I ended up freezing them as portions, using snack bags or ice cube trays (for liquids as sauces or soups) to save space inside of the freezer. I write down what it is, and when I cooked, then I know until when I can use them. I hate junk food, and other than that it is really expensive to eat out all the time. What I have been doing save me for sure a lot of money, with out compromise the meals. I advise any one out there with lacking of time and money to do the same!

  72. […] Eating Cheap Make Do Month Smile and The World Smiles with You Retailer Tricks […]

  73. Eating on a budget makes sense. It does not mean you have you cut on your nutrients. You have to make the best alternatives in eating that will get you the nutrients and make you satisfied. I tried this for one year until now. It saves a lot on costs especially I have bills to pay.

    I opened this idea to my mom who loves to spend a lot on grocery items. At first she did not like the idea in budgeting and selecting the grocery items. It has been 6 months now. My mom really likes the idea. It boost her self esteem that she spends less on grocery items now. She is living her life fit and healthy.

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