7 Great Frugal Tips to Keep Your Food Budget Small

Mr. The Poor Swiss | Updated: | Save
7 Great Frugal Tips to Keep Your Food Budget Small

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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!

Homemade Onion Pie
Homemade Onion Pie

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.

Homemade charsiu baozi (pork buns)
Homemade charsiu baozi (pork buns)

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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!

Home made Pork Dumplings
Homemade Pork Dumplings

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

Our garden starting to look good
Our garden starting to look good

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

Best MasterCard in Switzerland
Cumulus Mastercard

The Cumulus MasterCard is a free credit card with 0.3% cashback. This is currently the best Swiss credit card.

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?

Mr. The Poor Swiss is the author behind thepoorswiss.com. In 2017, he realized that he was falling into the trap of lifestyle inflation. He decided to cut on his expenses and increase his income. This blog is relating his story and findings. In 2019, he is saving more than 50% of his income. He made it a goal to reach Financial Independence. You can send Mr. The Poor Swiss a message here.

12 thoughts on “7 Great Frugal Tips to Keep Your Food Budget Small”

  1. Hey mate, thanks for your insights,
    Any advice for an International Student going to Switzerland regarding food and stuff? Will be living in NW, and studying in HSLU.

    Thanks Man for the great info!

    1. Hi,

      I don’t think there is anything else that would apply for an international student. The tips in this article should apply: cook yourself, compare a few shops, use discounters and buy in bulk when possible and cheaper (maybe not great in a small apartments).

  2. I agree with most of the points about how to save on food.
    But as I am from a very small place I also see the need to buy food locally in order to keep the local entrepreneurs thriving. Switzerland is full of these small and nice self-service places like for example https://www.potagerdelaplanche.ch/

    For me I would advise to buy local food and only what you need and do not throw away anything. In my home, the food budget is low because nothing is thrown away, while still buying eco food.

    1. Hi Erik,

      From a purely financial point of view, I am not sure it helps to buy local foods. But I completely understand your point.
      There is a lot of value in local food. They have not been transported for hundreds (or thousands) of kilometers and they help the local economy. There is sometimes also a quality advantage. But not always.

      Only buy what you need is excellent advice! We almost never throw away any food. For me, this is really important. I hate when people throw food away. This is such a waste!

      Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Thank you Mr. The Poor Swiss for this great article. I too have always shopped only at Migros and Coop, sometimes Denner. I will have to check out my local Lidl for sure. At the moment I have a grocery bill of 450-500 CHF every month for two people, which is not bad but could be improved.

    One thing which generates quite some savings for my wife and I is that we make our own sourdough bread. Since we started doing this, we haven’t bought bread again even once. It is delicious and uses only three ingredients that cost anything, which are spelt flour, rye flour and pumpkin seeds. No machine is needed either, just an oven. I cannot recommend it enough.

    Looking forward to reading more articles from you.

    1. Hi Alex,

      Thanks, I am glad you liked it :)

      450 CHF for two people is already probably better than many people. But you can probably take it down to 300-350 if you want :)

      Almost everything you can do yourself can save some money. And it’s often better! We don’t eat much bread, but we used to do some Tresse (no idea if that’s translatable!) on the weekends. It feels great when you know you have done it yourself entirely. That’s a very good tip!

      We are doing tons of Chinese spring rolls and dumplings. They are so expensive in Switzerland and we like them a lot. It’s really cheap to do them at home.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Hi Mr. The Poor Swiss,

    Thank you for your reply.

    After reading that article and testing Lidl and Aligro, I don’t want to go back to Migros either. The only 2 products I could not find in Lidl are sour cream and shredded carrots.

    You mentioned study from Bon à Savoir, do you mean that table: https://www.bonasavoir.ch/file/BAS_06-10-43.jpg ?

    Another option for shoping: I know that some people prefer to drive to the nearest Kaufland (Großfeldstraße 2 in 79618 Rheinfelden, Germany) to buy food. I was there several times.
    Products are cheap and the choice is huge. On there other hand, it takes a lot of time to drive & shop there and you cannot buy a lot of meat because there is a limit which you can bring to Switzerland.
    I am personally not ready to drive to Kaufland every Saturday.

    1. I have also looked for shredded carrots in Lidl without success :)

      No, it was a recent edition of the Bon a Savoir newspaper. I do not know how recent is that file you linked.

      Yeah, I also know people that go do some shopping in Germany. However, I already do not like shopping, I would not spend an entire day just for groceries. It does not make sense. I do not think the savings are big enough to warrant that.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Thank you for that great post. The info you shared is really useful, espacially for people living in Switzerland.

    I have always done my groceries at Migros. Until I read your post I belived that there are only three supermarket chains in Switzerland: Coop, Migros and Denner.
    Relatively recently, I found ALDI which is German brand. By the way, what do you think about it?

    After reading your post I went to Lidl in Ostermundigen and was very impressed by the prices I found there. For example:
    Strawberries (500 gr) costs only 1.99 CHF. Compare it with 2.45 in Aligro, 2.70 in Migros or 2.95 in Denner.
    Blueberries (250 gr): 2.99 in Lidl, 3.80 in Migros;
    Raspberry (250 gr): 2 x 1.99 = 3.98 in Lidl, 4.90 in Migros, 3.95 in Denner;
    Grapes (500 gr): 1.59 in Lidl, 3.20 in Migros;
    Watermelon (1 kg): 1.49 in Lidl, 1.55 in Denner;
    Red peppers (1 kg): 2.99 in Lidl, 5,50 in Migros;
    Rice (1 kg): 1.99 in Lidl, 2.25 in Migros;
    Butter Kochbutter (250 gr): 2.69 in Lidl, 2.95 in Migros;
    Coco Cola (6 x 450ml): 4.99 in Lidl, 7.80 in Migros
    and so on.

    Yesterday I was in Aligro the first time. It’s a big store but what surprised me a lot is that I could hardly count 5 people in total. So, the first question raised in my head was “What’s wrong with this shop?”.
    As soon as I entered the shop, I was asked to present a member card. Of course, I did no have any. I said that I just want to look around, maybe I will not buy anything. However, I was told that I cannot enter untill I fill in the form to apply for their card.
    The form was short, so it took me only 1 minute to complete it, but still it looks weird that every potential buyer must apply for the card. Did you have the same problem?
    The prices for meat were good, but for the rest it was not cheap. For example:
    Chips “Pringles Sour Cream&Onion” (200 gr): 3.90 in Aligro, 2.95 in Denner, 2.95 in Lidl;
    Snickers 6-pack (300 gr): 3.03 in Aligro, 2.50 in Migros, 2.45 in Lidl;
    Tartare (150 gr): 3.08 in Aligro, 2.60 in Migros, 2.59 in Lidl.

    1. Hi Aleksei,

      I’m glad you like the article and found it useful!

      Most people are thinking like you were thinking before in Switzerland: Only Coop, Migros and sometimes Denner. And most people are thinking that only poor people are shopping at Lidl and Aldi.

      I like Aldi as well. From what I have seen for my own groceries, it is almost the same price as Lidl. Some things are cheaper and some things are more expensive. I would save some more money if I were to use both. But this is too much of a hassle to save 1-2% on my food budget. I am quite content by only going to Lidl. Since I started going to Lidl, I almost never go back to Migros. There are a few M-Budget things I still buy at Migros and a few products that I do not know how to replace.

      The Aligro I am going to is never empty, but it is true there is never a crowd either. The first time I went there, I knew I needed the card so I directly went to the desk to make a card. You have to have a card but it is free and everybody can have one.

      As you found out, a lot of things are actually expensive at Aligro. That is why we almost only buy meat there. And not all the meat is very cheap either. We eat a lot of pork and chicken and we found out that it was here that it was the cheapest. Even though Lidl is not far behind if you buy non-Swiss meat. We got there every few months and buy around 20 kilograms of meat. We then cut it, vacuum it and freeze it. And Aligro shops are so big that it is a pain to shop there. It takes so much time going from one place to another.

      Thanks for sharing your comparison, it’s awesome! There was a study recently from Bon à Savoir that shown that shopping at Lidl was about 50% cheaper than shopping at Migros!

      1. I’ve always been a big Aligro fan since 20 years or even more.
        They have 2’000 specials every week so there are a lot of articles that I only buy when their price is reduced (easily recognizable by their big red price tag) to the level that I consider reasonable. But even when not reduced some articles like fish and seafood are cheaper than elsewhere.
        And where else can I find living crabs (tourteaux) that I can cook and freshly prepare at about 12 CHF/kilo ;-)

        1. Hi Pedro,

          Thanks for sharing :)

          We don’t go there very often so we do not really care about the specials in advance. But when we are there, we definitely look for them, especially in the meat section. Last time, we got several Kilos of Ribs at 6.40 CHF per kg!
          I am also a big fan :)

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