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So now that money is tight for us (and many others)...

My bf has lost his job and we are being supported on my salary (not so much considering our expenses, debt, etc.) So question is-

How can we make the most of grocery shopping? I am not looking for major cheap factor here - I am looking for ways to be smarter with a dollar and make the most of ingredients and buying the right ingredients (which I never seem to do!)

However...we are picky. Won't buy-

anything hydrogenated
anything seriously proccessed-

And to note I don't own a crockpot and can't buy one right now (would blow the circuit in our very old apt.)

Just our preferences - I am in the tri-state area and have access to TJ's, Whole Foods, and obviously lots of supermarkets. But there's so many choices! And I want to make the most of them! Typical meal for us might be chicken breasts with some pasta and veggies on the side. So simple, healthy - looking for more of the same, but not the same thing every night!

Any thoughts would be great! Thank you so much! :-)

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  1. Our very own 'rworange' a frequent poster on this site, did a very comprehensive project on eating with $3 per day and NOT eating any really junky foods! You might find it a good start with this thread:


    1. I am married to the world's most frugal shopper. She buys the stuff and we trade off on who gets to do the cooking. She has a list of five stores that she shops regularly. Her shipping day, each week, coincides with the day after the sale ads appear in our local paper. The inspects the cupboards to determine what we need; never what we want. Then she looks to see where she can obtain what we need at the best price. If the best price isn't what she expects it to be, she either removes it from her list or finds an alternative. She buys herbs and spices in little plastic bags - never in those expensive boxes. We also grow about a dozen herbs and spice in our garden. She prepares a route so that, when she visits the stores, she drives to them in parade fashion to save fuel. When she visits the meat counter she looks to see what they have "marked down" and if it's a good buy she includes it - provided she has enough money (she limits herself to fifty dollars per week) and she does the same thing at the baked goods counter. We make bulk purchases at COSTCO (we have an upright freezer in the garage) and that's our source for items such as coffee, bread, and some of our meat products. Our wine is "two buck chuck" and, believe it or not, we eat quite well using that formula. Of course there's lots of chicken, pork ribs, ground beet in our diet. But there are hundreds of exciting recipes using those ingredients. We avoid chicken breasts (unless they're a steal) and focus on package leg/thigh combinations or whole chickens which we store in the freezer. We get more for our money buying fresh veggies and rarely purchase anything like that frozen or canned. Inexpensive meals include soups, stews, stratas (strata recipes abound) recipes from south of the border (tacos, enchiladas, etc.) far eastern recipes (where you don't have to buy an expensive sauce or spice that you wouldn't typically have in the cupboard) and anything I can roll into phyllo dough.

      4 Replies
      1. re: todao

        $3.00 a day...wow. Not sure we can manage that, nor do I have any time at all to cook bkfast and lunch - we tend to just pick on leftovers from the night before. But definitely some great ideas! Todao the world's most frugal shopper does indeed sound frugal! Very impressive! We actually do a lot of the things you mention your wife does so perhaps we're not so far off the mark. Definitely need to start looking more on what's on sale more and different kinds of recipies that I might not normally have made before-

        1. re: lovessushi

          You are definately on the right track; a cook after my own heart. Nothing I'd rather do than get an assignment that it's my turn to cook dinner and be forced to create something from the accumulated leftovers in the frig. If you're doing that, you've got the right idea. I had a small amount of sour cream left over tonight from another recipe earlier in the week. Found a couple of carrots and made up a pretty good side dish to go with the casserole. The casserole? It was created using leftovers too.
          Best of luck to ya ...

          1. re: lovessushi

            Checking the circulars for sale items before shopping is huge...but the other thing I do is if something non-perishable that I know I'll use is a really good price, I'll buy it and put it away. That goes for non-food items too. The other thing that can save money is cut back on the amount of animal protein you eat. Many times when I make a stir fry I'll use half tofu and half meat. Makes it more acceptable for my carnivore hubby. If there are any ethnic markets on your regular route, check them out. I found an Asian market that not only has has fantastic prices on produce, but the quality/freshness is twice that of the local supermarket.

            1. re: BeeZee

              Yes, beezee is right about cutting back on meat protein...try eating one or two bean or legume-centered dinners each week. Lentils are awesome...very cheap and very filling--a nutritional super-food too. Ma Po Tofu is a great dish that calls for only 1/4 pound of either ground pork or ground turkey with the tofu...over brown rice, it's pretty healthy though it might be a little high in sodium.

        2. Buy only produce and fruit that are in season. For example, in the summer buy melons and berries. Fall? Apples.

          Buy from the bulk bins

          Selectively buy certain types of frozen seafood. Most of the seafood from the monger is previously frozen anyway.

          If you like chicken, buy whole chicken and quarter the bird yourself. Reserve the wings, feet, neck, head (yes, head) for stock. And chicken liver is not only delicious with some bacon fat and onions and peppers, but very healthy. Buy one bird, make three different dishes.

          1. We try to eat frugally as well. We buy our produce from the local farmer's market for much cheaper than the local grocery store. I've cut back on how much meat I serve. Now that the weather is turning, we're eating more soups and stews, which are a great way to use up odds and ends of veggies.

            1 Reply
            1. re: northside food

              I just realized I blogged a few weeks ago about how I do my grocery shopping. If you're interested, here's my tips.


            2. I would think in terms of dishes combining a small to moderate amount of protein, vegetables and a tasty sauce with (or over) a starch. Examples include Asian stir-fry and New Orleans dishes such as jambalaya. These are not economy meals to me, but excellent chow.

              1. If you got a good local bulk store that could come in handy, for example I buy bread crumbs/corn flakes crumbs from there because I can get just a tiny amount rather than buy the expensive "box" from the supermarket which is between $3-5
                Other things like lentils..etc. If you know you're going to make something with them, a soup, a stew, curry then buy what you need from the bulk store. Just make sure your local bulk store keeps fresh items, I wouldn't recommend spices so much because of the freshness and how they're left out but you can save a lot of money and space.

                1 Reply
                1. re: BamiaWruz

                  Thank you all for all the response and good wishes! Really great ideas - many of which I'd just never thought of - lots to think about now when I'm planning shopping and planning meals!

                2. You can start by staying away from Whole Foods. The prices are shocking and the "health benefits" largely illusory.

                  Explore Asian and Hispanic markets for native staples (tortillas, rice) and fresh vegetables.

                  Buy that chicken on sale ONLY (why pay $4.99/lb for something so often on sale for $1.99/lb?) - same with other meats. If your grocery is like mine, there are often markdown stickers on meats reaching the end of their "sell by" date, and you'll find them put out just a bit after the meat dept staff has come in (8am/9am) and had time to make the morning adjustments.

                  Eat less meat, more veg - instead of a whole chicken breast as an entree, how about a stir-fry of a little chicken and some vegetables in a sauce that could be as simple as a bit of soy sauce (you could start there and expand your repertoire as you learn what works). And BTW, less stir-fry, more rice, and don't forget the tea.

                  A crockpot shouldn't blow your fuse - my understanding was that they draw little more juice than a couple of light bulbs. A quick Google search cites 180 watts as medium heat (that's 3 light bulbs).

                  I often serve a meal with a bit of beef cooked slowly in a covered skillet with a bit of flavoring (tomatoes or chili powder or a Hispanic spice mix) and serve with tortillas. Want to make it a feast? Serve on the side a can of black beans over rice..

                  Get to know Our Friend Mister Rice. Cook a lot, serve it often, and use the leftover rice to make Fried Rice the next day.

                  I'm sure you already know that national-brand ANYTHING is a waste of money. I can't tell you how few things in our house are "as seen on TV". Store brands, and even then watch for sales on them. If you get a coupon for something, throw it away - "10 cents off" something that is overpriced by a dollar is no bargain.

                  1. If you have access to a TJls and Whole Foods then I imagine that a farmers market is also in your area. Shop there year-round for your produce, eggs/cheese/dairy and any other items that your local famers market sells and you will purchase what is in season at competitive prices.

                    1. Not sure exactly where you are living, but if you have access to a Chinatown (not the lone "Oriental" grocery store), their prices tend to be significantly lower than most markets. I don't find the same bargain prices with Korean and Japanese markets. Yesterday, DH purchased 5 heads of garlic for 34 cents, ginger at 79 cents a pound, 1 free-range "Buddhist" style chicken (akin to the free-range chicken you'll find at Whole Foods) for $4.74 and spinach at 79 cents a bunch at Hong Kong Supermarket in Flushing, Queens. If we solely purchased our food from Chinatown, we could probably eat very well for $25/week/person.

                      I also agree with the posters that say eat less meat, use bulk bins in health food stores, use up all of your leftovers, buy things on sale and stock up if it's non-perishables like pasta. When I was younger, my parents used to buy tons of pasta when it went on sale for 4 boxes for a dollar. If perishables like chicken breasts are on sale, make sure you freeze them so it won't go bad. I can see a lot of people buying so many things because it's on sale only to have it go bad. Legumes are a really cheap, good source of protein, relatively healthy and nourishing.

                      And in general, things that are seriously processed cost a lot more than buying the whole ingredients and cooking it yourself. People are talking about how cheap those $1 menus are at places like McDs. For $3 (what most people would probably spend on a meal utilizing dollar items), you can prepare something at home that's healthier and tastier.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: Miss Needle

                        Well, where I live we don't have a Chinatown, but we do have a few lone "Oriental" grocery stores. The one near me has nearly unbeatable prices on meats, fish, and veg. They don't have all the veggies that I would normally buy (after all, they are geared towards Asian folk), so I still hit the local produce market for the more Euro/American style veggies. Their meat prices often beat the best sale prices at the regular grocery store. They have a full line of butchers who will prepare meats and fish however you want, too. And the variety is also unbeatable.

                        Use coupons for non-food items. This works best if you aren't brand loyal. Pairing up a coupon with a great sale can net you free or nearly free items. I've gotten ibuprofen, TP, paper towels, toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo, hand soap, body wash, etc. for free or close to free. You just have to wait for the good sales before you use the coupon. For example, the grocery store had one of those once-in-awhile great sales on Aquafresh toothpastes where they were 10/$10. I had a $1 off coupon. Free toothpaste. I collect coupons from people at work and stock up on those items when there's a great sale.

                        We also are living off only my income while my husband is in school full time. I never use a crockpot. Not really my style. We are on our utility company's "Time-of-Use" plan which means they have cut-throat power rates during off peak hours, but double rates during on peak hours. By shifting our energy use to off-peak hours as much as possible, we save a ton. I cook on the grill a LOT (besides, it's gas while my stove is electric). I use the grill as an oven more often then as a grill. And I use it's side burner to make whatever side dish I need.

                        I also don't buy anything with HFCS, hyrdogenated anything, or that's overly processed. I use ground chicken and ground turkey a lot in place of ground beef. Take a look at Mediterranean cookbooks. There are lots of recipes for hearty dishes - many do not require meat.

                        1. re: Jen76

                          I usually buy what's on sale at the supermarket. Since you're in the ny area, you probably have access to so many great ethnic stores. Try middle eastern shops for bulgur, bulk olives, spices, and nuts. Spanish/Latino stores are good for tortillas (which make a good 'lasagna') and some fruits and vegetables. I also tend to shop a lot at the Asian markets for fruits, vegetables, tofu, soymilk, and Asian condiments/ sauces. It also helps to ask around for 'ethnic' recipes. You'd be surprised what people come up with on the cheap.

                          1. re: Jen76

                            Rotiisserie(sp?) chicken. A cooked chicken is as cheap, if not cheaper, than a whole chicken. First night, chicken, salad, fresh bread. Next day, chicken salad, chicken tacos or enchiladas, sandwiches, but save the unused skin, bones, and gelatin to make stock. Then you can make tortilla soup, hot and sour soup, chicken and noodles, chicken and dumplings, or any number of chicken stock based recipes.

                        2. first off, i'm really sorry to hear about your bf. i've been in like circumstances and know it's a very tough situation. i wish him all the luck in the world in his job hunt.

                          I agree with the other posters who said to buy basic grains and in bulk. favorite grains / bulk ingredients of mine are:

                          * bulgur wheat as cheesecake17 mentioned for tabouleh salads
                          * semolina for breakfast cream of wheat, dinnertime versions with butter and cheese and herbs similar to preparations for grits or polenta and an indian dish called upma for any time of day
                          * rice for bedding down stirfries, risotto, or 'fried' rice. stirfry leftover steamed rice with scrambled eggs and scallions for a wonderful, simple meal. no need to use lots / any oil, but it's extra good topped with toasted sesame oil, if that's inexpensive to purchase where you are.
                          * grits or polenta, of course made in hundreds of ways
                          * corn meal for spoonbreads or corn bread
                          * oatmeal (porridge form for breakfast, can be made into really good veggie burgers for dinner)
                          * barley -- again for porridge, as an add-in to soups, or for barley risotto
                          * potatoes -- can be roasted deliciously, baked and topped with chili / meat, microwaved and mashed, made into colcannon
                          * make your own flour tortillas out of wheat flour (let me know if you need a recipe and i can give you the version my mother taught me for serving with "mooshoo pork")
                          * start a sourdough starter and bake your own sourdough bread; takes a lot less time than you might think
                          * dal (lentils) and other pulses can be made deliciously and inexpensively. (you can purchase in edison and other areas of NJ with large indian communities.) let me know if you want indian recipes or a delicious afghan soup made with red lentils and i'll dig them up.

                          in addition, of course soup is wonderful and you can always throw in whatever produce is currently in season and on sale. buy inexpensive cuts of meat like ham hocks or turkey drumsticks for flavoring.

                          i know it's not for everyone, but i LOVE liver and that tends to be pretty inexpensive. you can use it to flavor risotto (if you enjoy the taste). or marinate liver or giblets in a mixture of soy sauce, brown sugar, five spice (or just cinnammon and garlic powder if these are more easily obtainable) and braise in the same sauce with water added, then serve over rice.

                          then there are always eggs, which i adore. tea eggs, egg salad, deviled eggs, omelettes, frittatas, etc...

                          if you eat yogurt, you can make it very inexpensively at home after buying a small container of plain yogurt to use as a starter.

                          if you have bakeries near you, many of them sell day-old breads at a discount. pick some up and use in bread puddings (savory and sweet), panzanella or other bread salads, gazpacho, pain perdu for sweet breakfast or dessert.

                          i wouldn't actually recommend trader joe's for frugal eats, as much as i like some things there. it's more for prepared or semi-prepared items and these are always more expensive than things you can make from scratch.

                          good luck, lovessushi! you're a pretty awesome girlfriend!!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: cimui

                            p.s. now that it's autumn, squash is in season. you can make some amazing, delicious things with squash!

                          2. If you can find an asian market, shop there first. We have one right down the street, and I was in there for the first time several weeks ago. I bought SO much food and only spent $16.

                            I just started law school after taking 2 years off, so my budget has recently changed as well. Salads are generally cheap (don't buy the bagged kind - a whole head of iceburg is only like $2), and I've started eating a lot more sandwiches than I used to. Get some good whole grain bread, a little bit of Hellmann's Mayo made with canola oil, and if you have any leftover chicken from the night before, it's way better than deli meat for a sandwich. You could also try a peanut butter (natural or organic) and jelly sandwich. I recently had one for the first time in a while and forgot how great they were.

                            In addition, if you like eggs, the possibilities are endless. A carton of eggs is relatively cheap, and from that you can make quiches and omelets with fresh ingredients.

                            For a different take on rice, try boiling it in chicken or beef broth and adding some mushrooms, cheese, or spinach, like you would a risotto. It keeps things interesting without being very expensive.