Hello, all of you. Here’s a guest post from former GRS writer (and a perpetual reader favorite) Donna Friedman. This piece about becoming a frugalvore contains material that originally appeared on the Donna, Surviving and Thriving site. Modified for GRS. Enjoy!
The “locavore” movement is based on the idea of only eating foods grown within a 100-mile radius of where you live. For example, Vicki Robin may be more famous for her Money Guide Your money or your life, but she also wrote a book on locavores in which she defends a tentilt diet.
I’m not a locavore but I have my own system, and I think it deserves its name: I’m “frugalvore”. Being frugal is very simple. You shop mostly (or all) of what’s for sale.
This is not exactly a new idea. Lots of people shop this way their whole lives. But it may be new to you if you grew up in a household where no one reads supermarket ads, creates menus, and then works to make the most of every grocery profit.
Becoming frugal simplifies and complicates your eating style.
On the other hand, it’s easier to shop because you’re planning menus about affordable food items that week. However, if you’re the type of person who always shoppers by buying everything that looks good, you’ll need to rethink your supermarket habits.
Fortunately, it’s fairly simple. It is not always easy, but it is simple. Here’s how You are It can become frugal.
Again, the point of being frugal is to buy whatever is for sale whenever possible. To see what’s for sale, read the ads that come in the mail (rather than promoting them directly at the recycling). Pay special attention to loss leaders.
A loss leader is an item with an irresistible price that will drive you to the store, at which point you are likely to buy other things. This is a simple and effective marketing strategy for supermarkets unless you, the customer, are:
- frugal and
- You have enough time to pick deals in more than one place.
There are two supermarkets in our area. We mostly shop in one chain because they generally offer the best prices. But we are watching other store ads. If there’s a real Scocome deal on chicken thighs or bananas, we might as well head. The two retailers are fairly close to each other, so it’s not quite out of our way.
You may have more than two options. I was lucky! If you don’t have time to read and review four or five (or more) stores, you’ll obviously go with one(s) at consistently good prices.
Speaking of this topic…
Keep a price book
Some people can keep average prices in their heads. When they see a “discounted” price of cold cereal or canned tomatoes, they know that it’s actually only a few cents off the regular price, that’s not the time to stock up.
If you can remember the prices, that’s great! Go to the next section.
But if you find it difficult to remember the cost of Rice Krispies or green beans, create a spreadsheet or carry a small notebook with the general cost of the foods you eat most often. Or download an app. (I don’t use one so I can’t recommend any, but search for “price book app” and read user reviews.)
Create a list
Don’t just read ads. Ask yourself, “What would we like to eat on cuts?”
Here comes the role of the Internet. Search recipes and/or Google Loss Leaders each week (plus your larder’s contents) to come up with delicious, affordable menus.
The good news is that shopping and cooking can actually be fun. You don’t need to spend countless hours doing either (especially if you’re searching for terms like “meals under 20 minutes”). Even if you don’t become a great cook, the average person can feed themselves (and anyone else who lives with them) quite well with relatively small expenses.
Check out our unannounced specials
Remember: not all sales are advertised. For Frugalvores, unannounced specials can be like winning the lottery.
Look for “Director’s” or “Closing” labels on the shelves. But also check out the unannounced specials in these sections:
- dairy. Milk at half the price means that homemade yogurt is cheaper. We’ve also learned to look for “hand-picked eggs”: when a few dozen are damaged, employees make new (and much cheaper) batches of unbroken cranberries.
- baked goods; If there’s a bakery in the store, you’ll likely be able to get old discounts on rolls, bread, cookies, and the like.
- clearance. Many supermarkets maintain a section in the back of the store (often near the pantry door) with parked and discontinued items. Sometimes that means seriously dented cans, which I judge by the USDA standard: Pass any cans with deep dents so you can stick a finger in them. But some cans are slightly affected. Other Items Found Seasonal items at deeply discounted prices, or a package that was slightly damaged.
- Meat. Meat is perishable, so it is often discounted. Recently, DF (“Dearest Friend”) stopped in Safeway at a special price of milk and bananas, through their JustForU program. To his shock, he found one pound of ground beef for 99 cents each. That was 93 percent of the lean beef, too—not the fatty kind. We got ground turkey, sausage and other meats at reduced prices too. We use or freeze it immediately.
lesson here? Ads are a great way to find selling items, but they’re not the only way. Find out how and where the local market hides unannounced specials.
For example, in late December I saw a box full of ramen for 10 cents a pack. Although ramen isn’t the healthiest food on earth, it makes a good lunch now and then (especially if you add some vegetables and leftover chicken, if we have any). I bought more packages than I care to remember, but dropped a lot of them at my niece’s house and donated a larger package to the food bank.
I have no idea why ramen was so cheap. But I wasn’t going to turn my back on a 10 cent lunch.
JD Note: I use both clearance section frequently And Discount meat at your local supermarket. Browsing the clearance section is a fun way to find new foods to try.
Learn Sales Courses
Keep in mind that some items are discounted seasonally, such as frozen foods in March, eggs in April, dairy in June, canned goods in September, and turkey in November. But it’s the off-season deals that make up most of the Frugalvore bandwagon.
Real Grocery Cognoscenti knows how to follow Sales Cycles. Many popular items/brands are sold out every twelve weeks (or sooner). If you know your family goes through a box of cornflakes a week, buy enough to get you until the next sales cycle.
Obviously, you wouldn’t refuse to buy a much needed staple, especially if it’s on sale relatively rarely. If I run out of Pepper Jack cheese, I’m not likely to wait until the next selling cycle or the price to lose. Of course, it’s also possible that I stockpiled during my last big sale.
This article can’t list every possible frugal tip, of course, but here are some other helpful hints.
- Take advantage of your store loyalty card. Get discounts with it. Download coupons to it. Earn points with it. My DF uses the Just4U program through Safeway to provide us with affordable prices for basic commodities like milk and bananas, and when he earns enough Just4U points he can redeem them for certain groceries.
- Take advantage of other discounts. On the first Tuesday of the month, we have a 10% discount on Kroger brands when we’re over 55 at Fred Meyer. There is also Military Tuesday. I know that different stores offer different discounts on different days. If you qualify for any of these discounts, take advantage of them.
- Watching boredom. Free gallon of milk if you buy four boxes of cereal! Bottle of barbecue sauce with the purchase of some meat! Buy one / get one free on anything!
- Use coupons. There are fewer physical coupons nowadays, but they are sometimes available in small devices with flashing lights (Also known as “blinkies”) or they are associated with the Products. You will most likely be able to download them directly to your store card from the store’s website or from a site like Coupon Mom. (I love Coupon Mom. She does coupon/sales matches for supermarkets, pharmacies, and dollar stores in every state. Let her do the work for you!)
- Think outside the box. Coupon Mom includes deals at dollar stores and supermarkets – so shop there. I found discounted/last-chance boxes at both emporias, which resulted in deals like a roll of plastic for 50 cents and four packs of toilet paper for a quarter. Grocery isn’t always about food, after all. But both emporias also put food as loss leaders, and in the case of dollar stores almost always have some good deals, like a pound and a half of pasta for a pound.
- Earn rebates. Coupon Mom also matches Ibotta discounts with these coupon/sales deals. I also suggest downloading Fetch Rewards and Shopkick apps and earn points this way as well. Some deals for free items, which I use for either holiday socks/Easter baskets or donations to the food bank. You can redeem points for gift cards or cash.
- Be flexible. You may have written the phrase “whole pan” on your shopping list, but as soon as you walk into the store you’ll see 99 cents of pork loin. It’s okay to change gears. You can get chicken anyway if the price is good. But you can also rewrite some of that week’s menu and load it up on pork loin (as much as it fits in your freezer).
Like I said, there are many other ways to eat well for less, but I don’t want to confuse you. You can find more advice on buying frugal foods here at Get Rich Slowly or on my own site, Surviving and Thriving.
Become a Frugalvore
Is it easy to become frugal (and stay)? not always. And it certainly wouldn’t be as easy as eating pre-cooked chicken or ordering takeaways.
But keep in mind that until relatively recently, people generally cooked most or all of their meals at home. Yes, we are a busy nation. Sure, this roast bird looks delicious – and most importantly, it’s ready to eat.
However, those with tight budgets generally don’t have the luxury of spending the majority of their food dollars on a ready-made grub. And even those with some disposable income should consider austerity at least for a while.
What we choose to buy and eat has consequences. Dollars spent on the most expensive out-of-season beef or tomatoes flown in from Israel are dollars that do not support our long-term goals.
So try this mantra: If it’s not for sale, it’s not in my cart. Say it as often as you need to so that the economy in the economy becomes automatic. This is not poverty. It is wisdom.
Donna doesn’t just keep a great blog about Economics in Economics. She has also written two books. PDF versions of GRS readers are available for $5 each: Your Operating Handbook for Tough Times (Discount serial number
GRS1) And Operating Manual for Hard Times, Vol. 2 (Discount serial number