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Many people spend too much money on their food budget. And even worse, they do not realize that they can spend much less on their food budget!
Our food budget is something that we have optimized very well. We keep our food budget, for two people, below 400 CHF per month, on average.
For Switzerland, it is a very good food budget. And several months we are quite lower than this. It is the months we are inviting many people to our place that are increasing the average.
To reach this low food budget, we are doing several things. And by following these simple tips, you can also keep your food budget low!
In this article, I will list seven simple things we do, and that you could do too, to keep your food budget low.
1. Cook yourself!
The first essential tip to keep your food budget low is to cook yourself as much as possible.
This first advice is probably the most essential advice for keeping your food budget at a low level. Do not go out to eat many times. Cooking yourself will make a huge difference without any doubt. Eating out can be very expensive in the long run.
Some people use the excuse that they do not have time to cook for lunch at work. Not having time is just an excuse! You simply have to cook more at the previous dinner and take the leftovers to work. I do that almost every day.
It has now been almost three years since I started my new job. And I have not spent anything at the cafeteria for my lunches! And I was already doing that when I was living alone. Some people also prepare their work lunches for the entire week on the weekend. It can work very well!
And cooking yourself does not take that long. There are plenty of dishes that you can do in less than 20 minutes.
Another advantage of cooking yourself is to avoid buying premade dishes. It is not always cheaper to cook yourself. For instance, I have never been able to beat a frozen pizza at one dollar. But it can be significantly less expensive to cook several dishes yourself. And in many cases, you can make it much healthier and much better by doing it yourself!
Now, I am not saying that you should never eat out! There are plenty of good restaurants. And it is nice to enjoy a nice dinner without having to cook. And it is also an excellent way to discover new food. Nevertheless, eating out should be the exception and not the rule.
2. Find the cheapest shop
Shopping in the most affordable shop is very important if you want to optimize the food budget.
I am going to take my example in Switzerland. But this is the same in every country. There are always some shops much cheaper than others. You need to find it and keep to it!
When I started doing my groceries myself, I shopped almost exclusively at Migros. Why? Simply by habit. My parents were shopping at Migros. So I kept shopping at Migros without thinking.
But then, I started comparing the prices, and I found that I could save by shopping mainly at Lidl. For a lot of products, the difference is not that big. But for some products, the difference is enormous! Two things are significantly cheaper at Lidl:
- The vegetables. You can see a significant difference in the price of vegetables. And the quality is the same. I never had a problem with quality. The offer is a bit less varied than in Migros. But we mostly find what we need. And when we need something specific, we go back to another shop.
- The meat. The main difference is that Lidl offers a lot of foreign meat. We buy a lot of Italian chicken, for instance. We can buy chicken for less than 15 CHF a kilo in Lidl, while it is at 23 CHF in Migros. It makes a huge difference, especially since we are eating a lot of meat each week.
Many people do not like the fact that we buy foreign meat. If the price is similar (a few CHF difference per KG), I purchase Swiss meat. For instance, I buy a lot of Swiss pork. But I almost do not buy any Swiss chicken. If it is significantly cheaper, I purchase non-Swiss meat. For example, I have not bought Swiss chicken for a long time. It is simply too expensive. And I have never seen any difference in taste or quality.
We still shop for several things at Migros, but we do most of our groceries at Lidl. Since we are using a Migros Cumulus Credit Card, we get a lot of coupons that we can use as cash at Migros. When we have enough of them, we use them at Migros.
The shops itself are not very important. If you are in another country, you can do precisely the same with your local shops. Find the shop that is the cheapest for your average groceries and stick to it.
3. One shop may not be enough
At least in Switzerland, there is no one single shop with the best price for everything.
You will need to find the right balance between the best price and the time you want to allocate to groceries. Some people do not mind micro-optimizing their groceries. Personally, I cannot imagine going to 5 different shops each week for groceries. But some things are worth buying in another shop than Lidl.
For instance, we have started to buy things in Aligro. The advantage is that we can buy in bulk. We buy some cheap pork and chicken in a 1-kilogram pack. It is about 20% less expensive than Lidl. We also buy some Chinese products such as Soy sauce there.
Finally, there are some things we do not find in grocery stores. It is mainly Chinese products. For instance, we are using quite a few Chinese jam and several kinds of noodles. For this, we go to a Chinese shop. They have an extensive choice, and the price stays reasonable. We also buy our rice here in packs of 25 kilograms!
Now, if you do not want to go to several shops, this is perfectly fine. You can choose the shop that is the cheapest for you and keep to it!
4. Buy in bulk and compare
For many items, buying in bulk is a great way to keep the price low.
And it is also the advantage that you do not need to go shopping too often. Of course, there is the disadvantage that you have to store more things in your home. It takes quite some room.
We buy things like toilet paper, soy sauce, and oil in bulk. If we can keep them for long and we have room to store it. And some things are not cheaper in bulk. Again, you need to compare the price. One thing is essential when comparing two products: The price per kilo (or ounce).
A lot of people are only comparing the price but not taking into account the weight. One kilogram of pork at 15 CHF is much better than 400 grams at 7 CHF. It may seem simple. But it is essential. Many people do not accurately compare the two products. They only compare the price itself, not the price per weight. Only the price per weight matters!
I also mentioned before that we buy our rice in packs of 25 kilograms at the Chinese shop. It is significantly cheaper than buying it in small packs. And we eat a lot of it anyway.
Finally, we buy a lot of large pieces of meat at Aligro. For instance, we often buy pieces of pork weighing about three kilograms. We can then cut it into pieces, vacuum seal them and freeze them.
5. Make good use of your freezer
Something fundamental is to make good use of the freezer.
There are many things you can buy and freeze. You should use it to be able to take advantage of more sales. If you see your favorite piece of meat at a 40% sale, buy a bunch of it and freeze it. We do not often go to Aligro. But once we go, we buy around between ten and twenty kilograms of meat and freeze a bunch of it.
Another way to take advantage of your freezer is to cook a lot! For instance, we have many dumplings and baozi (Chinese steamed bun) in our freezer. You can prepare a lot of them, freeze them and they are ready for your liking!
A lot of people believe that the freezer is only for when you buy frozen food. A lot of frozen food is very unhealthy and sometimes not even very cheap. I think a freezer makes more sense to keep a food budget low!
We do not have a huge freezer, only about 160 liters. It is full most of the time. And we will probably buy a bigger one in the future.
6. Avoid brands
If you are going to cut the costs of your grocery shopping, you need to avoid brands.
There is a massive difference in prices in most shops between brand products and basic products. And most of the time, they are the same. There may be some exceptional brands. But most of them are not that special. They just make more advertisements. And people know them more and as such buy them more. But you need to avoid them.
Let’s check a few examples. I am taking numbers from Migros online shop as a reference. But you can make the comparison in all the shops, and you will find similar results.
My first example is non-bio Tomato Ketchup. The cheapest Tomato Ketchup is Migros own MBudget Tomato Ketchup for 1.40 CHF per kilo. The Heinz equivalent is 4.29 CHF per kilo. That is three times more expensive! A factor of three is a huge difference. And I am not even talking about Heinz Bio that 7.05 CHF per kilo. It is five times more expensive. Do you think it is worth the price? I do not think so. It is only tomato paste, vinegar, spices, and sugar in the end.
Let’s take orange juice as a second example. We are drinking several liters of Orange Juice each week. So this is important for us. The cheapest is once again MBudget Orange Juice for 0.80 CHF per liter. The most affordable brand of orange juice is Granini Orange Juice at 3 CHF per liter. It is almost four times more expensive. The cheapest Andros is at 4.20 per liter, more than five times more expensive! By buying MBudget instead of the brand Granini, we are saving more than 450 CHF per year!
Try to make the computation one time for each brand you buy to see how much you can save. I am pretty sure that you can save a lot of money by avoiding brands when doing groceries!
7. Grow your vegetables
Finally, if you can do it, you can save some extra money by growing your own vegetables.
A few years ago, we started to grow our vegetable garden. We do not make a large profit, but we still save a little each year with that small garden. But if you are good with the garden, and have a large land, you can grow vegetables very cheap! And delicious vegetables at that.
For us, we just started this year. And we have a small garden yet. But it still feels great to eat home-grown vegetables! And I believe that if you do it right, you can save some money. Although not a lot. You should plant things where the seedlings are cheap, and the grown vegetable is expensive. Or a plant that will produce many vegetables like eggplant or zucchini.
Bonus tip: Earn some cashback on your groceries
Even if you are keeping your food budget very low, you can still earn some cash back on it. It will not be much, but it could help if you are serious about optimizing your budget. Remember that this will not change your life! If you want to keep it simple, do it the way you want!
Since I do most of my shopping at Lidl, I cannot use my American Express, so I use my Cumulus Mastercard to get 0.3% cash back on my groceries. Doing so will not reduce your bills but will give you some small bonus.
Conclusion – Low food budget is possible
By following these seven simple tips, we are keeping our food budget quite low. And so can you!
The most important tip for your food budget is that you need to start to cook if you are not doing it already. Do not go out to have lunch every day. Then, you need to shop smarter: shop in a cheap shop and avoid brands. If you can buy in bulk and freeze some things, this could also help you a lot! If you are committed, you will be able to keep your food budget very low!
Our garden is not yet making our food budget smaller. But we still hope that it will be the case. But I have seen a significant difference once I started shopping at Lidl instead of Migros. And another difference once I started to buy some things in Bulk at Aligro. The most important thing is to compare the prices. And avoid brands! There is not one single shop that has the best prices. And try to use your freezer to keep your cost the lowest.
If you follow these simple tips, you should be able to keep your food budget low as well!
If you want to save more money, I have other tips on how to save money in Switzerland.
Do you have any more tips for keeping your food budget lower? How much is your monthly food budget?