Ten Frugal Things We Do--And a Giveaway

One of the primary goals of Casual Kitchen is to help readers make the most out of their food spending. In today's post, I'll share ten useful frugal habits we've adopted here at CK, and I invite readers to share their favorite food habits in the comments.

PS: I'm offering a giveaway prize for one lucky commenter--details at the end of the post!

1) We practice part-time vegetarianism and eat meat in fewer than half our meals.

2) The majority of the foods we eat are simple staples like pasta, rice, brown rice, lentils, beans, and vegetables.

3) Laura brings her own lunch to work every day, almost without exception.

4) We eat out rarely, perhaps three times a month. Even a relatively inexpensive dinner out can cost more than our typical weekly food bill.

5) We avoid buying heavily advertised products. We have no interest in paying for the biggest part of a product's cost stack.

6) When buying staples, we generally buy store-brand or generic products. They're almost always of equivalent quality.

7) We tend to make infrequent purchases of staple foods--and when we do buy, it's in huge volumes of on-sale items. When the 20-lb bags of rice or the 3-liter jugs of olive oil are on sale, that's when we pounce.

8) We've bought a grand total of just three new cookbooks in the past two years. There are just too many untried recipes just waiting to be exploited in our existing cookbook collection.

9) We buy junk food occasionally, but we never keep any stashes of it in the house. It's our way of practicing moderation in our moderation.

10) The brand of wine we drink more than any other is Carlo Rossi--simple, unpretentious table wine that comes in a gigantic one-gallon jug. Who'd guess that for a paltry twelve bucks we can ease our pain for an entire month!

Readers, now's your turn--what frugal things do YOU do? Share them in the comments!

And now for the giveaway: I have a spare copy of Emeril Lagasse's excellent cookbook Emeril at the Grill: A Cookbook for All Seasons available for one lucky reader [take a look at my positive review of it from last year].

To enter, just leave a comment sharing your favorite and most effective frugal food habits (and be sure to include a link to your blog or an email address so I'll be able to reach you). I'll run this contest until Thursday, December 2nd, 8pm ET, and I'll announce the winner with my weekly links post on Friday December 3rd. Good luck!

Related Posts:
Review: Cooking Green by Kate Heyhoe
Almost Meatless: Cookbook Review
Ten Tips on How to Cut Your Food Budget Using the 80/20 Rule
What Have You Given Up That You Don't Miss?

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K said...

Any processed food I buy, I try to think of a way to make it myself. I figure it can be cheaper and/or healthier that way.

The other thing I try to do, especially with meat, is try to get more than one meal out of it - for example, instead of cooking chicken breasts, I'll buy a whole chicken, cut off the breasts for whatever recipe I was making, keep the legs and thighs for another meal, then the carcass goes into the stock pot for chicken soup and extra stock that can be used in other meals. And if I'm roasting one chicken, I may as well roast two at the same time, and use the second for a stash of frozen cooked meat (useful in many, many recipes), and then I have two carcasses for soup/stock making!

Caroline Williams said...

I check the reduced to clear counter every time I shop, and when I see a decent cut of meat which is at least half its standard price and no more than £3, I buy it and freeze it.

Result: a range of meats permanently in stock so there's always something to take my fancy, but I end up paying under a pound per meal I get out of it...and that's if I include the cost of butter/oil, herbs, and gas to cook it with.

Unknown said...

My most effective frugal strategy has to be meal planning. The only times I ever find myself buying takeout or last minute "impulse" ingredients are during weeks when I don't know whats for dinner each night.

In addition, I always make my meals from restaurants last for seconds (or even thirds)! Its a great tip for portion control, but its also more cost effective for the price tag of one entree to be split over 2 or 3 meals.

Unknown said...

I use the bulk bins in my grocery store whenever possible. Beans, nuts, oats, rice, and spices are all cheaper in the bulk section.

(And I second Jaime's meal planning comment. That probably has a bigger effect than anything else I do. But Jamie said it first!)

Julia said...

A gallon of wine lasts you a month? That would never fly in my house... maybe a week ;-) I do buy wine by the case-load to get maximum discounts.

Just last week, I invested in an indoor worm-composting system. It has really heightened my awareness of how much food I waste. In a perverse way, it's changed my habits so I do a better job of eating what I purchase and cook.

When I cook dinner, I always make extra so I have lunch for a day or two.

I tend to shop at Whole Foods where everything is more expensive! As such, I plan my meals by the weekly specials. It forces a new way of creativity. Just last night I had pollack for the first time. At $5/pound, I couldn't resist. And it was delicious!

Suburban prep said...

I will cut up apples for snack instead of having the "Chips" hanging around the house. We do buy in bulk and freeze quite a bit too.

Lindsay @ EatLocal365 said...

We do three things, that have the triple effect of being frugal, healthy, and easier on the environment.
#1, which everyone has said, is to treat meat as a condiment, rather than the main attraction.
#2 is to eat seasonally, which lets us devour strawberries when they're tastiest and not waste money on them when they're bland.
#3 is to try to replace most processed foods with homemade ones, which also doubles as entertainment. :)

Milehimama @ Mama Says said...

We do a lot of the same things. Another way to save money shopping is to shop at ethnic stores - rice is super cheap at Asian/Indian stores, as are spices. Produce is cheap at the Mexican market, and I buy a lot of my non-organic produce there (onions and chiles, especially!)

We also make the most of our money by knowing our food values ahead of time. I don't buy everything organic, but I do buy things on the dirty dozen list organic. I'll only buy fair trade or organic coffee (slave free) and slave free chocolate, but I'll buy any brand of bread as long as it's HFCS free and 100% whole grain.

We cook up three chickens at a time for a dinner meal, and I always make stock for soup the next day! A kid favorite is egg drop soup which is SO easy if you have chicken stock already made.

Anonymous said...

We do everything on your list. It's simple to do and saves a ton of money.

David said...

Mostly simply eating at home. That alone makes everything affordable.

Sally said...

I eat like a peasant:


The link to the rules is broken, but I found them here:


Once or twice a week a make a pot of soup and eat that daily for lunch. I don't know why, but I rarely get tired of whatever is on hand.

Years ago I read Living Poor with Style by Ernest Callenbach. He said to stock up on enough non-perishables (pasta, rice, beans, etc) when you are paid to last until the next time you are paid. That way you'll always have something to eat. Purchase the more perishable things as you need and can afford them.

I include potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, carrots, celery, eggs and sometimes canned tuna when I buy the non-perishables. I make my own bread.

edj3 said...

We are lunch bringers, probably 99% of the time. We also cook everything from scratch--if I'm going to spend money on prepared food, it will be at a restaurant where I can get waited on and not have to clean up the kitchen.

Your article on second order foods (as you know from our emails) changed my approach to meal planning/shopping. The other thing we do is stock the pantry with sale items we always use (non-perishables or things that can be frozen). Then we shop the pantry each week to create our menu list. Saves us tons.

martha said...

Meal planning, stocking up on staples eating in season, and staying out of the store!
I am feeding 6+ teens...and my monthly bill is usually under $500.

I plan my menu for two weeks and shop twice a month at a restaurant supply store. They have the cheapest milk and bread and staples. I then add perishables in season. ...and sometimes more milk...we go through 8 gallons a week.

But I like what Sally said...we eat like peasants! YES! lots of simple meals: hearty and filling and tasty, but not a zillion ingredients or expensive ones.

Erin said...

I have a dinner co-op with one of my co-workers. We each cook double on Mondays, and bring the leftovers to work on Tuesdays. So, my Tuesday night dinner is her leftovers…but it’s new to me! I am often guilty of letting leftovers languish in my fridge until they need to be tossed. Since starting the dinner co-op, though, I’ve saved a bunch of money in wasted food. It also forces me to plan my weekly meals ahead of time, giving me the opportunity to use the grocery store circular for inspiration.

- Erin @ hotdinnerhappyhome.blogspot.com

Kim said...

Like Milehimama, I like to frequent ethnic markets (Italian, Asian, Hispanic, Jamaican, Indian, Middle Eastern, Portuguese, Polish, and Russian are all represented in my area) for the best bargains on staples and fresh produce. Supermarkets in my area can't seem to touch ethnic markets' prices, quality, and freshness.

I buy produce in season from local farmers. I used to consider this a luxury but this past summer was the first year I found produce direct from the farm to be cheaper than the same items at the supermarket (YEAH!).

I grow my own fresh herbs. I dry many of them, too. Some day, when I move from my condo to a house, I'll expand this to vegetables and fruit.

I make my own bread crumbs, croutons, and salad dressings. I haven't bought any of these items in years and I don't understand why anyone would. It's easy and so much cheaper to make your own and homemade tastes so much better. There's just no comparison.

I make my own frozen dinners. I usually cook one or two main dishes on the weekend and freeze individual portions of each. I make my own soups and freeze them in individual or double portions. Lindsay@EatLocal365 mentioned food for entertainment. I often invite a friend over to cook with me on the weekend. It's a great way to entertain!

I freeze my own berries, rhubarb, and stone fruit (peaches, plums, nectarines) in season to use year-round in smoothies and baked goods. Ditto over-ripe bananas.

I make my own yogurt. Next on my list of things to learn to make is bread. After that, ice cream.

For me, making my own is primarily about controlling what's in the food I eat and better tasting food. Saving money is a huge secondary bonus.

Stuart Carter said...

I try to work on the principle my granny worked from - "waste not, want not". I have so many ways to preserve food - dehydration, canning, freezing - that it is a rare day when I throw something out because it went mouldy (I feel bad when I do, like I have failed!).

I make most of our food from scratch. I buy flour and sugar at Aldi as they are cheaper than Costco.

I can leftovers - just this weekend I put up 7 quarts of turkey stock, 4 pints of green beans, and 7 pints of black beans.

I don't shop at Walmart because I can get food cheaper and better elsewhere.

I now have 2 chest freezers so I can really capitalise when someone asks me if I'd like to buy a half pig (local, grass fed, no antibiotics or hormones - yes, please!) or when other things like bread come on sale or on the "ZOMG MUST SELL NOW!!!" aisle.

My KitchenAid is an absolute gift from the heavens. It lets me make bread, cakes, cookies, and pasta - and we tend to eat a lot of pasta.

I am adding more dried beans into our diet, and I tend to buy them from Dollar Tree or Aldi as they are so much cheaper than from any big box grocery store.

We also don't have TV (Netflix and the internet FTW!) so we rarely see adverts. This allows us to judge foods on their price and ingredients alone, as well as leaving me a lot of free time to can stuff. I like canning so much I even have my own website about it - addictedtocanning.com

My one big weakness is recipe books. I have too many of them O.O

Daniel said...

These are exceptional ideas. Keep 'em coming!


PS: Note that this comment does not constitute an entry in the giveaway--it would be beyond lame to give myself a cookbook in a giveaway on my own blog, wouldn't it? :)

Marcia said...

Great list! I do all those things.

We cook meat about 1 to 3x a month. The average month, I'd say I prepare about 5-10 lbs of meat for the three of us. With Thanksgiving being the exception. In fact, I generally only cook meat when we have guests over, so those 5-10 lbs will feed more than just us.

We eat a lot of beans and grains. I no longer shop for sales on these items. I find that certain stores (Trader Joe's, Smart and Final) carry them at prices that are almost always cheaper than any sale.

CSA for veggies, and large bags of frozen veggies from Costco. I buy fruit in bulk based on what is in season (bags of organic apples right now, and tangerines from our tree).

We eat out rarely. We also eat a lot of soup in the winter. My kid loves soup.

María said...

What do I do?
1. Cook from scratch.
2. Cook big and freeze (it also saves time).
3. Instead of eating up or throwing away leftovers, I keep them in the fridge even if it is just a tiny little bit: that can serve as a snack next day or combine to an improvised patch-work "tapas" meal.
4. Use the pressure cooker (saves energy, hence money)
5. I don't remember when I last bought a cook book: I use the Internet. I love videos! They are like the most similar to learning from mom. :)

Eleonora said...

Hi Dan!
Well, I sometimes refer to my mom's kitchen as "the self-sufficiency experiment". I think we tried to make everything from scratch at least once, including cheese and wine. Right now, a huge batch of sauerkraut is fermenting in a corner. Some attempts were more successful than others, and we kept the habit (bread and yogurt mainly). Then, we grow a vegetable garden, so beans, peas, green beans, potatoes, onions, salad, tomatoes, celery, chile are free. And much tastier than those you buy in stores.
My mom taught me that many wild plants are edible, and they often end up in soups or salads.
When I'm not home for lunch, I always bring a tupperware with something from home.
We buy fruits and meat from local producers (Italian meat is all hormone-free, luckily)
Last saturday I hosted a pizza party at my place, I ended up spending 44 euros total (including beer), feeding 10 people, and having a lot of leftovers that guests happily accepted. Well, who'd refuse some brownies for Sunday morning breakfast?
If you read the Bon Appétit article...it's right. Except maybe that dishwashers are getting a bit more common :-)

L.I.N.D.A. said...

Since I have two boys who are still under 10 (2 and 8), I keep their lunches for school as well as mine simple. The children love PB&J, lunch meat, and cheese sandwiches. I stock up on those items as well as fruits and veggies so I am not buying junk food (chips, cookies, etc.) to fill our bags. I buy Kool-Aid and make a big batch that they can take instead of juice packs. If there are leftovers which there is always, I make that into a lunch. I also do as someone mentioned to see how I can stretch meat into others meals instead of just one.

Crazy Kate said...

I bring my own lunch to work. I don't have to wonder if there will be anything good at the work cafe & I heard it's never any good anyway. Way cheaper. Way more enjoyable.

Also, my family likes to eat at Olive Garden. They all make fun of me as I eat bottomless salad & a couple breadsticks, then only have 1-2 bites of my meal as I'm cutting it up. I love that I can stretch one dinner into 2-3 meals AFTER the salad & breadstick consumption!

chacha1 said...

I don't do many frugal things relating to food, I'm afraid. I would rather drive the 15-yr-old car and wear the 4-yr-old shoes than give up grass-fed beef, organic chicken, and the occasional celebratory duck breast.

(Why is duck so expensive and so hard to find? From everything I've read, they are just as easy to raise as chickens. Dan, look into this please! LOL)

Where I make room in my budget for high-quality food is in packing lunches, cooking at home (adding more vegetables to my repertoire all the time), and not paying for services I can do myself, like coloring my hair and manicuring my nails.

Kat said...

I rarely buy processed foods and have been cooking at home as much as possible. I'm not much of a cook, but my husband loves when I make things like tomato sauce.

chacha1 said...

NJSurvivor, just had to comment. I have never met a man who didn't like almost anything with tomato sauce. It's kind of the go-to, can't-fail, in-case-of-emergency all purpose savior of questionable dishes.

Anonymous said...

I cook from scratch and meal plan. Both save me lots of money and are healthier ways to eat.

Daniel said...

I'd like to thank everyone for participating! This is an absolutely exceptional list of frugal food tips.

AND WE HAVE A WINNER! The winner of Emeril Lagasse's Emeril At the Grill is commenter L.I.N.D.A.!! Congrats! Please send me an email to me (I'm at dan1529[at]yahoo[dot]com) with your mailing address and I'll send it right out.

Finally, readers, if you'd like to share more favorite frugal food habits, please feel free! We can all stand to benefit from the collective wisdom of Casual Kitchen's readers.


Sally said...

I just thought of something else. I rarely drink milk or juice -- it's too expensive to be used as a beverage. I do use them in cooking where a little goes a long way.

Janet C. said...

We do much of our weekly grocery shopping at one of the many ethnic supermarkets in our area. (In our case its Cardenas, a large Mexican grocery close to where I work). We find that produce prices in particular are much lower there than in the typical chain store: cilantro five bunches for a dollar; limes 10 for a dollar; grapefruit 3 for a dollar, etc. The larger ethnic stores also feature a wide variety of fruits and vegetables not available in more conventional stores. Their meat prices are good too, but we eat almost no meat at home. And there's a great taco bar to boot!