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Spending too much on groceries? ..and how to embrace the frugal lifestyle

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My name is Kathryn, and I am a frugal.
I was in a discussion on another thread, discussing the high cost of groceries, and they suggested I start a new one.

My suggestion that $25pp a week is plenty for groceries, and that if you spent more than that, it wasn't really unnecessary.
I do not prefer to buy organic or other restrictive products.(grassfed, free-range). We take advantage of free food (gleaning, scanning code of practice), loss leaders, reduced foods and sales.

My husband and I have rasied 4 children, with one parent being home for most of this time.We paid off our home and used the equity to finance buying rental properties when we were in our early forties. Within 6 years, we were able to live solely on the rent collected.
We certainly wouldn't have been able to achieve this on our very modest income (approx $30k) if we hadn't embraced a modest, frugal lifestyle.
We now travel 8 months of the year in Australia, and return to Canada for the remaining 4. While in Australia, we housesit for people,and all we need to supply is our food. In between these housesit times we live in our 2006 van.

In 1980,we started out with a 2 bedroom mobile on a rented lot. Bought a piece of land to build a house. Sold the mobile to start the house, and worked lots of overtime while my husband and my brother built our house.We ended up taking out a small personal loan to finish off the interior.
When the first child was a year old old the house was paid for, and I knew I hated working and being a parent. We made the decision for me to stay home.Our family increased.

We sold this house 8 years later and bought a larger one. Paid off that mortgage asap.(within 5 years). I provided childcare in my home for neighbours. After the house was paid off we continued to save our mortgage payment.We maxed out our RRSP (Canada), but soon realised we cannot save our way to wealth.

We were always frugal. Before the children were even coneived, we had bags and bags of babyclothes that we purchased at yardsales. I would plant potatoes and vegetable seeds all around our property, before we made a garden. We would buy everything on sale, and second hand as much as possible. We eventually went down to one vehicle. Being frugal is a process, which we learned as we went along.

Some people think being frugal is to denying yourself. On the contrary. It is more about liberating yourself. It does certainly reduce stress.
Just find out what you want and how to get it cheaper.
Last year we needed a new couch. We have the funds to buy a new one, but instead we searched on Kijiji and found someone who had just bought a new couch and wanted to get rid of their old one. We paid $50 and took it home.
Many times during spring/fall cleanups people would dispose of their microwaves, bread makers, dvd players. The most common fault is a fuse. We have acquired many washer and dryers just because people wanted to buy a matching set...or it just needed a simple repair. My husband is very handy.

The great part about being frugal it is continuing learning lesson.The internet is a vast place to find information.
I like to make applesauce.Did you know you can use the cores and peelings to obtain pectin, and make jelly with? Imagine that!

My tshirt was stained and I was going to throw it away. Instead I cut it into kleenex sized squares. Now I use them for messes and toss them in the laundry.
When my towels get a hole, I cut them into wash cloths.When they get ratty, I use them for rags.

Why be frugal?
For me it is a sense of a challenge. How can I find another use.Everything I can use once more, is one less thing to buy.If I can buy it secondhand, it is saving another product from needlessly being produced. This is all good for the environment.

Too much debt is bad for the economy. How many times have you heard people say they are drowning in debt. Most of their paycheques are going towards repayments.If they could have just bought more wisely, or waited a while to save for the item, they would be better off financially.

When people get to the point where they think they need to declare bankruptcy, it is mostly because of poor decisions they made along the way. They didn't disconnect their cable. Didn't turn down their a/c or heat.Bought a vehicle that they couldn't afford.
They didn't bunk up and take in a roommate. Take odd jobs. Rent out the house and rent somewhere cheaper.Stop buying takeout food and coffee.Mostly they just stick their heads in the sand.
We,as consumers, end up paying more, when others declare bankruptcy.

So being frugal, can help in many ways.
Please share your frugal suggestions.
If you need help, ask...and we will to try to offer assisstance.

  1. The original comment has been removed
    1. Do you advocate spending money for Internet service for the purposes of research, coupons, sales and specials advertised online. I ask mainly because having a PC/laptop, a printer, ink cartridges, paper and the connection to the Net all cost $$ out of a monthly budget. Where does using the Net to save on food figure in for you in frugality?

      I'd love to hear how you raised four kids this way without any food battles.

      28 Replies
      1. re: HillJ

        This 2006 van you live in part of the year, does it have a kitchen, a refrigerator, a stove ? Is it down by the river ?

        1. re: SteveRB

          It is just a regular van with a double bed. We have a portable fridge and hotplate and a gas camp stove. We carry our food supplies in tote containers.
          Sometimes we stay at free camping places, and others we utilise camp grounds.

        2. re: HillJ

          Internet is important. For me, I don't use it for food purchases, but more for entertainment...but I love the frugal subject. I save money by searching for recipes, frugal tips.

          I rarely print anything off, except for our business.(leases etc)
          I used to coupon and rebate. As I got older, I realised these for foods were for stuff I normally wouldn't buy. Coupons are very restrictiive for us, and not like the Extreme Couponers, like we see on tv.

          Food battles:
          If we bought treats, such as popsicles, they were portioned out.
          We didn't allow unlimited access to food. Milk was one glass per day. Juice was one glass per day. If you were still thirsty, drink water.
          Plates were usually served by us, otherwise there wouldn't be any left (especially when they became teenagers)
          They knew how to make cheap snacks such as pancakes,hotdogs or we had a popcorn popper.

          1. re: kathryn_dayle

            So what you're actually talking about is restricting food, i.e., keeping people from eating.

            How do you portion out a popsicle?

            1. re: Jay F

              Yeah, as the youngest of 5 and a borderline poverty-level mom of 2, I have issues with the food restrictions... I think some restricting is called "parenting", some is called "budgeting" and some is called "creating future therapy bills and/or serious food disorders." Food is not just sustenance - it is comfort, it is culture, it is sociability...I have also suffered from almost every eating disorder available in my youth, and thankfully came out the other side able to butter a slice of bread without inflicting bodily harm in one extreme or the other, but it was a long journey to get there.

              I post simply to say: when you make food about control, you make someone's entire LIFE about control - the struggle to gain it, retain it, submit to it...because food is too much a part of life to not have that eke in to everything. Please, budget, be frugal, you don't have to make your kitchen an open party zone, but tread carefully when making food a battleground. My child's well-being (in body and mind) is more important to me than an extra glass of milk.

              1. re: thursday

                When milk is $6 a gallon, and they drink one glassful, that is all the calcium they require. If they are thirsty, there are other choices.
                Other foods also have calcium, so I was not not concerned they were going to be deficent.

                I've read on some threads, where the husband and kids drink a gallon a day.

                1. re: kathryn_dayle

                  You're right that it's not about deficiency - my two year old goes through a gallon of organic whole milk in about a week, maybe less. He loves the stuff. He's a skinny marink that doesn't like to sit still to eat, so I don't mind giving him a glass of milk at every meal and most snack times so that I know he's getting some protein - and he doesn't eat junk; he's never even had a bite of processed food (pre-bought, etc.) We make everything from scratch.

                  My point was about the psychological implications of such restrictions. Food is not just about vitamins, or just about cost, as many others have pointed out. It's about enjoyment. When you make food, and one's relationship with it, less than the complex, intricate, intertwined relationship that it, by its very nature, is and must be, you create potential problems in other areas. This is one of the first things I had to learn to recover from eating disorders: food is a different thing than other consumables, and to treat it the way you might treat a pair of socks, or a haircut, is to not give it the respect it deserves as an essential part of our emotional makeup, not to mention its role in society, whether as a cultural or economic touchstone.

                  1. re: thursday

                    <<not to mention its role in society>>
                    ESPECIALLY when the society is made up of other kids who are not necessarily kind to those kids who eat differently from "the norm".
                    whether i rationally or intellectually agreed with it, i still made all sorts of allowances so that my kid could fit in at school.

                    no one is more lonely than an elementary school kid who is not welcome to sit at anyone else's table at lunch and must sit alone because s/he is not eating the "right" food.

                    i have a friend who grew up REALLY poor. he used to get a used brown paper bag every day and rub some grease in it and bring the empty bag to school saying that he had eaten his lunch on the way to school. that way the other kids wouldn't know how poor he was and that he really never was given any food for lunch. to this day he has food issues.

                  2. re: kathryn_dayle

                    One 8 ounce glass of milk provides 300mg of calcium which is less than 1/3 or even 1/4 of what a child needs (depending on age). And the vast majority of children are NOT getting the amount they require. Google was my friend on this one. I checked several sites for this info. We had a glass of milk with each meal. Always. Fruit juice with a couple of oatmeal cookies as an after school snack.

                    1. re: c oliver

                      Non-fat dried milk is a thrifty option. I don't think I'd make my kid drink it unless I were really on a strict, strict budget (and if I were, I'd hope public assistance would be available to me), but I think it's better than milk only once per day.

                      ~TDQ

                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                        Agreed. My family wasn't poor but we didn't have a ton of money to throw around. We ate more hamburger than steak, more tuna salad than shrimp. But milk was always available.

                        1. re: c oliver

                          We ate a lot of peanut butter, beans, popcorn, canned tuna, ground beef. We shopped at the day old bakery. And milk was never limited, but we weren't allowed to have pop either.

                          ~TDQ

                          1. re: The Dairy Queen

                            Coke (I grew up in Atlanta so it was ALWAYS Coke) was a very, very special treat, as in maybe half dozen times a year.

                            1. re: c oliver

                              Oh gawd yes...Coke really WAS it, even up in New England...and occasionally we'd see a Cotts. In our house, I got to share a 12 oz can of Coke with my dad every Sunday. I would swallow that 6oz like a guppy, so it's good (in retrospect), that my mom rationed it. I am amazed at the soda/sportsdrink consumption that I see among the kids I teach.

                              In New England sometimes you'd get The Dreaded Moxie, which the grownups loved, but the kids drank under duress due to the bitter herbal tang.

                              1. re: pinehurst

                                <Oh gawd yes...Coke really WAS it, even up in New England>

                                My father's most egregious bit of cheapitude, year after year, was that he would only buy Brand X soda, usually at Shop-Rite, the cheapest place in town.

                                1. re: Jay F

                                  See, you were a budding Chowhound even then. You could tell the diff between Brand X and Coke. Lots of my cousins would have guzzled swamp water if it had fizz and sugar. :-)

                                  1. re: Jay F

                                    Ugh. I'd rather have Coke once a year than Brand X every week. And when Costco switched from Coke to Pepsi, I switched to water. And, yes, I can pick out Coke (or Cocola as we called it) blindfolded. There's frugality and then there's ridiculous-ness!

                                    1. re: Jay F

                                      That reminds me of my first summer at day camp. I was probably 7 or 8. We had to brown-bag it every day and my parents included a can of no-name pop. Adding insult to injury this was just after pull-tops started appearing on soda cans, which didn't show up on no-name sodas for years after the big brands had them. So I not only had the crappy pop but I had to carry a churchkey (which would now be classified as a weapon) to open it.

                                      1. re: ferret

                                        Clearly a case of abuse of authority! And I'm sure they then had to pay tons for therapy.

                            2. re: The Dairy Queen

                              <and if I were, I'd hope public assistance would be available to me>

                              The OP is living the way people, who had very little, lived before public assistance actually existed.
                              I don't get the impression she has malnourished her children.

                              1. re: latindancer

                                I was describing my own experience growing up and what we ate, not the OP's experience. We had very little. If I had to live like that again, it would be very difficult and I'd want every resource available to me to feed my family. We also had an additional complication in that we had some very serious food allergies to contend with which made certain otherwise very affordable foods, namely eggs, off-limits for us. I wish tofu (and support for those with food allergies) had been as readily available then as it is now.

                                We were fortunate enough to live in a mild climate (unlike the one I live in now) where fruit and nut trees and a garden grew easily, so we had access to a lot of fresh produce most of the year.

                                Very difficult times I would not want to re-live.

                                ~TDQ

                                1. re: latindancer

                                  latindancer: i do get that impression

                                  <<When milk is $6 a gallon, and they drink one glassful, that is all the calcium they require.>>

                                  <<
                                  Have you seen the size of people..most are obese.
                                  That is because they are overeating.>>

                                  the mind-set of cutting the kids' food down to what the poster (incorrectly) perceives as the bare minimum gives me that impression.
                                  when it is seen as perfectly ok to skimp on the extra 38 cents (which it would have cost to provide a second glass of milk). . . . .

                                  truly, latindancer, if you were trying to save money to buy rental property, would you chose to cut down the extra 38 cents per day per kid to limit milk to one cup a day rather than 2 cups a day?

                                  would you try to justify such a limitation by citing childhood obesity?

                              2. re: c oliver

                                Yes. And many of us on the boards (if we're 40+) remember milkmen. My father used to joke that he was going to buy a cow since I drank so much of the whole milk that was delivered from the local farm twice weekly. Of course, we also kept a glass jug of iced tap water in the fridge, too, for when we were thirsty (our city water is/was good, and there was no bottled water then). And there was always a pot of tea or coffee hot and ready (heavily milked down if you were a youngun).

                                I do recall, on the flip of this, frugality when it came to our protein, which we also consumed in good amounts. During the summer, we had a lot of mackerel, bluefish, trout and the like....things my dad or his friends would catch in large amounts and share, when they had time to fish. My uncles hunted longer than my dad did, and shared what they caught (rabbit, venison, pheasant). We ate a lot of canned tuna and salmon. My mom...who normally bought whole chickens rather than turkeys since we were only 3...could make a work week's worth of meals out of that bird.

                                Also like a lot of you on the boards, we "shared the wealth" garden-wise, which is easier to do when your family were farmers in the old country, and when they have access to good size plots for gardening. We'd get gifted with onions (which we didn't grow), and occasionally berries.

                                But it was a different age. My dad was born in 1922, and didn't become a father until he was almost 50. Men of that generation could often--and did--work at a job with one company until they chose to retire, and then retire with the same excellent benefits and an excellent pension. His was a generation that remembered well the Great Depression, and never wasted a dime frivolously, but for him, frivolity would have been junk food, not a really active milkman.

                            3. re: thursday

                              Thursday, your kids are lucky to have you.

                            4. re: Jay F

                              You tell them they can have one a day.

                              Have you seen the size of people..most are obese.
                              That is because they are overeating.

                              1. re: kathryn_dayle

                                Oh. When you said "portion out a popsicle," I thought you meant you got out a knife and cut it into however many pieces as you have kids.

                                1. re: kathryn_dayle

                                  I think you're missing Thursday's point - putting such restrictions on food can cause very disordered relationships down the line. You can teach them the value of money through other means,

                                  It's one thing to teach them to only take as much as they plan to eat/drink or educate them about healthy food choices (avoiding hydrogenated oils, or too many highly processed snack foods) but growing children need a lot of energy, and I hate to think of a kid not being allowed a second glass of milk.

                                  Further, since when is the RDA for calcium contained in one glass of milk, how does this change as they age? Do you have their meal plans so regimented as to have each macronutrient sufficiently met in the most cost effective way? The exact optimal caloric surplus to support healthy growth and functioning?

                                  If you're worried about them becoming obese..well I think you'd see it coming. They don't balloon up over night. Put limits on TV and video games - not food.

                                  1. re: kathryn_dayle

                                    Or because they're eating empty calories, rather than nutritious food. Or because they're not getting a sufficient amount of physical activity. More than one reason obesity is on the rise.

                            5. I agree that $25 per person per week is a doable budget, especially if you aren't counting school meals. As for the rest, well, I applaud your financial choices but its often not as simple as that. When you're living paycheck to paycheck and carefully saving money even a string of bad luck that many of us would consider minor would be catastrophic. For example, my air conditioning went out during a heat wave last year and the $600 bill was annoying but not a big deal. I got my appendix out and had to take 2 weeks off (my job is physically demanding). No biggie. I have high quality health insurance, a huge amount of sick leave, and a reasonable employer. Without one of those things, the hospital bill would have ruined me, a job loss would have sent me quickly into foreclosure and no amount of coupons or cost saving tricks would have helped. It's just not a simple problem, unfortunately.

                              1. So in 1980, you were able to buy property? Good luck, huh? Too bad, that the US doesn't permit such opportunities today and that the real estate bubble in North America, that was there for you to take advantage of, burst in 2007.

                                I'm a very frugal guy when it comes to everything but food. I spend more money on salts in a year than I do clothes. My Grandmother taught me to use old tee shirts as cleaning rags, but if I'm gonna eat the way I wanna eat, I'm gonna spend money. Hell, I'd rather have 'em turn off my cable than compromise of the quality of steak I buy. Just the 'hound in me, Baby.

                                Oh, and by the way, as a former Corporate Bankruptcy attorney, I'd suggest that, in many ways, consumer debt is actually quite good for the economy. It's over valued stocks and real property that some folks get to take advantage of, that cause crises.

                                1. The original comment has been removed