Simply Abundant Living: Frugal Food Edition

Reader Contribution by Tina Ames
article image

Are you searching how to live on less due to limited funds, retirement, experiencing a job loss or simply want to live a lifestyle of sustainability? Spending less on food is vital. That doesn’t mean you have eat cheap boxes of fluorescent orange macaroni and cheese boxes along with ramen noodles. . .you can dine very well on a few dollars a day! It requires a little work but is so worth it. Here is how I do it. . .

I live with just my husband and dog now that our sons are grown – but throughout the past 30 years – we have budgeted just $2 per day per person for food.  The key is – you have to cook your food from scratch. That makes it so much healthier and cuts the cost. Read informative blogs and articles, watch YouTube videos, etc. for detailed how-to’s on practically everything food related!

For example –

1, Instead of buying a bag of chips that lasts for a short time – buy a 5 lb. bag of potatoes for the same price. From that bag you can make chips (just slice super thin, season, put on parchment paper, then bake or microwave until crisp), mashed, baked, or hash browns – YUM.

2. My sons loved plain rice with soy sauce as a snack – so I would make a pot of it a few times a week and keep in the fridge for them to grab when hungry between meals. Not the boxed instant rice – the real rice from a bag that you simply cook on the stovetop, instapot or rice cooker.

3. For beverages – make a pot of ice tea using just a 2-3 bags of tea of choice (or mint/herbs from your yard) and some sweetener if needed for a half gallon of tea for just pennies versus expensive soda. PLUS – free drink filtered tap water is my favorite.

4. For late night snacks we pop real popcorn on the stovetop using a little oil, salt, and butter. Delicious!

5. Brew coffee in a large pot rather than a pod system. It is better for the environment and saves money. You can put in a thermal pot to save if needed or use leftover coffee in baking as a sub for a liquid. It really enhances anything chocolate.

6. If your fruit is starting to go bad – make banana bread, applesauce, etc. For veggies – make soups, broths or veggie burgers. If you don’t have time – wrap and put in the freezer for later.

7. Use food rebate/bonus sites such as Ibotta, Saving Star, and Checkout 51. Make sure to view before heading to the store and check off item before purchasing. Just submit receipts after shopping and get money back that can be paid out via check, PayPal or as gift cards. The savings really add up.

8. Coupons . . . if you have access to Sunday paper inserts – use them if needed. Many libraries have them available to you – sometimes even clipped by volunteers. I have a hard time justifying spending 3.50 on a paper just for the coupon however. If your store has online coupons – check those off too before shopping.

You don’t have to grow your own produce – but it helps. I budgeted in a CSA 24 week share (Community Supported Agriculture) for the past two years while we were moving and had to rebuild a new garden.  Sometimes you can save on a CSA by helping on the farm in exchange for a weekly share or take advantage of early pricing. You can also buy produce at the store or farmer’s market– but watch for sales. When you find a great sale or have excess from the garden or CSA – freeze, can or dehydrate to preserve.

Proteins/Fats can be in the form of nuts, dairy, meats, eggs, beans, tofu, oils etc. We are in a society now that focuses on excessive amount of protein. Whatever you buy, try to use it as more of a side dish/condiment rather than the main part of the meal. It will save money and is healthier for you.  So much protein can come from beans and vegetables!

Here is a breakdown for a family of four $56 budget ($2 per person per day) as a guide. I live in Western New York – so prices may vary in different locations.  Make it your own and tweak as needed. If you find really great sales – spend more in one week and less the following weeks. It pays to stock up when the price is rock bottom and builds up a food stash for lean times.

Beverages – coffee, tea, milk, creamer – $5 week
Proteins/Fats – meat, dairy, eggs, tofu, oils, nut butter – $14 week
Dry goods – cereals, oats, flour, sugar, rice, dried beans, seeds, spices, breads, pastas – $15 week
Produce – Fruits and Vegetables– lettuce, potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, popcorn, corn, peas, spinach, herbs, bananas, oranges, apples, CSA weekly share – $17 week
Misc. $5

Note: this budget does not include toiletries, pet food, etc.

Start slowly and don’t beat yourself up over a failed recipe or going over your budget. It takes time but once you learn what works for your family – you will spend so much less on food!

Tina T. Ames is an artist, homesteading and blogger and simple living instructor in Western New York State. Connect with her at Simply Abundant Living, on Facebook and Etsy. Read all of Tina’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS postshere.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.