7 simple things to do to keep your food budget small

Categories Budget, Frugality, Switzerland
7 things to do to keep your food budget small

Our food budget is something that we are managing to keep quite low. Last year, it was still too high. So I changed some of my habits and how we manage to keep our food budget around 400 CHF on average. For two people. This may seem high. But for Switzerland, I think it is quite reasonable. And several months we are quite lower than this. It is the months we are inviting many people over 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! Mainly, the idea is to compare several shops and only shop where you can get the best bargain. If you want to go all the way, you should compare each shop for each product. But who got the time? The idea is more to select one cheap shop as the main shop and then buy some cheaper things in other shops but less often.

So, in this post, I am going to list 7 simple things we do, and that you could do too, to keep our food budget low.

1. Cook yourself!

Homemade Onion Pie
Homemade Onion Pie

This is probably the most important advice for keeping your food budget at a low level. You need to cook yourself as much as possible. Do not go out to eat many times. This 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. This is just an excuse! You just have to cook more at the previous dinner and take the leftovers to work. I do that almost every day. I have been for almost five months at my new job. And I have not spent anything at the work cafeteria! And I was already doing that when I was living alone. Some people also do the work lunches for the entire week on the weekend. This can work very well!

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 1 dollar. But for several dishes, it can be significantly cheaper to cook it 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 definitely nice to enjoy a nice dinner without having to cook. And it is also a good 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 a cheaper shop

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 things, the difference is very small. But for some things, the difference is huge! There are two things that 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 the quality. The offer is a bit less interesting than in Migros. But we mostly find what we need.
  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 about 15 CHF a kilo in Lidl, while it is at 23 CHF in Migros. This makes a huge difference. Especially since we are eating a lot of meat each week.

Many people do not like that we buy foreign meat. If the price is similar (a few CHF difference per KG), I buy Swiss meat. For instance, I buy a lot of Swiss pork. Otherwise, I buy foreign meat. For instance, I have not bought Swiss chicken in a long time. It is simply too expensive. And I have never seen the difference in taste or quality.

We still shop for several things at Migros, but most of our groceries is done at Lidl. Since we are using 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 exactly the same with your local shops. Find the shop that is the cheapest for your average groceries and stick to it.

3. One shop does not rule them all!

Contrary to the one ring! At least in Switzerland, there is no one single shop with the best price for everything. You will need to find a good balance between the best price and the time you want to allocate to groceries. Personally, I cannot imagine going to 5 different shops each week for groceries. But there are some things that are worth buying in another shop than Lidl.

There are still quite a few things we buy at Migros. It is mainly their M-Budget line that is a great price. For instance, we buy orange juice and laundry detergent in Migros in their M-Budget versions. When I go to Migros, I buy a lot of these items. I do not want to go to Migros every week.

We have also started to buy things in Aligro. The advantage is that we can buy in bulk. We buy some cheap pork and chicken in 1-kilogram pack. It is about 20% cheaper than Lidl. We also buy some Chinese products such as Soy sauce there.

Finally, there are some things we simply do not find in grocery stores. This 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 in Fribourg. They have a very large choice and the price stays reasonable. We also buy our rice here in packs of 5 kilograms.

4. Buy in bulk and compare

We do not buy everything in bulk. But for many things, it 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 on bulk. Again, you need to compare the price. One thing is very important 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. 1 kilogram of pork at 15 CHF is much better than 400 grams at 7 CHF. It may seem simple. But it is very important. And many people do not compare accurately two products.

5. Make good use of your freezer

Something that is very important 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 that juicy pork at 40% sale, buy a bunch of it and freeze it. We do not go often to Aligro. But once we go, we buy around ten kilograms of meat and freeze a bunch of it.

Another good way to take advantage of your freezer is to cook a lot :) For instance, we have many dumplings and bao zi (Chinese steamed bun) in our freezer. You can cook 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. Actually, a lot of frozen food is very unhealthy and sometimes not even very cheap. I think 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. I would like to change for a larger freezer. But for now, it does not make sense financially to change my freezer.

6. Avoid brands

If you want to cut the costs of your grocery shopping, you need to avoid brands. There is a huge 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 brands that are really special. But most of them are not that special. They just make more advertisement. 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 do the comparison is 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! This is a huge difference. And I am not even talking about Heinz Bio that 7.05 CHF per kilo. This is five times more expensive. Do you really think it is worth the price? I do not think so.

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 cheapest brand orange juice is Granini Orange Juice at 3 CHF per liter. This 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 own vegetables

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

We just started to grow our own vegetable garden. I do not know if we will really make a profit out of it. But if you are good with the garden, and have a large land, you can grow vegetables for very cheap! And very good 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 grow many vegetables like eggplant or zucchini.

Conclusion – Low food budget is possible

By following these 7 simple things, we are keeping our food budget quite low. And so can you! The most important thing is that your start to cook yourself. Do not go out to have lunch every day. Then, you need to make your groceries in a smart way. 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!

To be honest, our garden is not yet making our budget smaller. But we still hope that it will be the case. But I have really seen the 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 things to do, you should be able to keep your food budget low as well!

Do you have any more tips for keeping food budget lower? How much is your monthly food budget?

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