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9 Great Frugal Tips to Keep Your Food Budget Low

Baptiste Wicht | Updated: |

(Disclosure: Some of the links below may be affiliate links)

Many people spend too much money on their food budget. And even worse, they do not realize they can spend much less on their food budget!

Our food budget is something that we have optimized very well. On average, we keep our food budget for three people below 600 CHF per month.

In Switzerland, it is a very good food budget. And for several months, we have been 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 do several things. And by following these simple tips, you can also keep your food budget low!

In this article, I list ten 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 must 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 avoiding 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 crucial to optimize your food budget.

I 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, which is 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 differences 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. I would say that 95% of our groceries are done at Lidl. But we sometimes have Migros coupons for things we only find at Migros.

The shops themselves are not very important. 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 single shop with the best price for everything.

You must 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 visiting 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 several Chinese jams 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 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.

We also buy a lot of large pieces of meat at Aligro. For instance, we often buy pieces of pork weighing about three kilograms. We can cut them 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 between ten and twenty kilograms of meat and freeze 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 many of them, freeze them, and they are ready for your liking!

Home made Pork Dumplings
Homemade Pork Dumplings

Many 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 want to cut the costs of your grocery shopping, you need to avoid brands.

There is a massive price difference in most shops between brand 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.

We can check a few examples. I am taking numbers from Migros online shop as a reference. But you can compare 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.

We 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 4.20 per liter, more than five times more expensive! By buying MBudget instead of the brand Granini, we save more than 450 CHF annually!

Try to make the computation once for each brand you buy to see how much you can save. 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 cheaply! 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.

8. Know when to shop

If you can be flexible, it can be worth checking your primary shop at different hours of the day. You could save a lot of money with that.

For instance, in many shops, in the early morning, they sell bread and pastries from the day before at a heavy discount. This is the case at the Lidl where I am shopping. I can sometimes get four pastries for 1 CHF. And they are perfectly fine to eat during the day.

In some places, you also get heavy discounts at the end of the day because they sometimes start to discount things that will expire soon. I have heard that in Migros you can get many things at 50% off if you shop during these times. I have not found that in Lidl, but I did not try many times since I generally shop early.

I am not saying you should check out your shop several times daily. But once you know when to shop, you will know when to take advantage of these deals.

9. Drink tap water

I am always astonished by how many people drink sodas and other soft drinks regularly. Not only is this very unhealthy, it is also very expensive.

Drinking water is much better for health and budget. I think water should be the main drink for most people.

And many people still buy tons of bottled water instead of tap water. In Switzerland, we have excellent tap water in each home. I see no reason to buy bottled water, which is more expensive and bad for the environment with the tons of plastic this industry generates.

10. Take advantage of rewards

Many shops have a fidelity program that rewards their customers. For instance, at Lidl, we use Lidl Plus a lot. And before, at Migros, we were using the Cumulus system. Most large chains in Switzerland will have a program like this.

I am not a fan of mobile applications, but I found Lidl Plus to be an interesting system for Lidl.

This system gives you some coupons every week. And every time you shop at Lidl, you can also win some free stuff or reductions. We even had an 11% reduction for one grocery. In these cases, we stock some things like coffee or flour.

If you shop at Lidl, Lidl Plus will help you get the most out of your groceries. But if you shop at other places, you should definitely check out their rewards system if they have one.

We have saved a significant amount of money with these rewards programs.

Bonus tip: Earn some cashback on your groceries

Even if you keep your food budget low, you can still earn some cash back. 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!

For shopping at Lidl, we can use the Cembra Certo One Mastercard to get 1% cash back there.  Doing so will not reduce your bills but will give you a small bonus.

Do not compromise on health

While spending less on your food budget is important, it is even more important to not compromise on health.

Many cheap things are very bad for your health. Most processed and frozen food is significantly worse than if you were to prepare it yourself from good raw products.

Industrials add many things to prepared products, making them cheaper and conserving them longer. All these things are often bad for health and are not useful. On top of that, these food products are generally not very nutritive either.

Therefore, it is much better to spend a little more on raw products rather than cheap processed products.

Conclusion – Low food budget is possible

By following these nine 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 can 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 saw 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?

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Photo of Baptiste Wicht

Baptiste Wicht started in 2017. He realized that he was falling into the trap of lifestyle inflation. He decided to cut 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.

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29 thoughts on “9 Great Frugal Tips to Keep Your Food Budget Low”

  1. Hello! Any advice on buying organic produce and meats? We try to eat organic since having children to avoid pesticides and chemicals. Also if we can’t buy organic we try to buy Swiss, both because food produced locally requires less preservatives as it doesn’t travel far, and because I’d heard that Swiss agricultural practices are less chemical-heavy than most other countries anyway. Both these things can create big extra costs in our grocery bills. Perhaps because Coop and Migros seem to carry lots of the organic products and they are just pricier stores. I’m wondering if anyone has found any ways to do this more cheaply?

    1. Hi Cara,

      I do not know of a great way to get cheap organic products. Local markets are probably ideal for vegetables and fruits, very local and often organic.
      For meat, see if your village has any farmer selling directly. We have recently bought a big from a family member and are very happy about that.

      Now, Lidl and Aldi also have many local and organic products, so you can try to find cheaper products than at Migros and Coop.

  2. Thanks for the interesting article! Have you considered the health factor in your diet and the products you buy? I noticed that some products that you mention are not super healthy – e.g., mBudget juices are made of concentrate and with added sugar. With some dishes, it’s healthier to prepare them yourself and to know what’s in them, although they are cheaper to buy off the shelf (like pizza, cheap cakes etc.). What is your view on this? Did you have any hesitations when you were deciding on your food budget?

    Personally I cannot survive without fresh produce and my diet is based on fresh seasonal vegetables. I like cooking and baking and I do it often, but I don’t eat that much meat, dumplings or stuff that one can freeze. I do not shop bio/eco products and yet my monthly food cost is 300-400 for one person. But I don’t know how I could cut it without compromising my health priorities.

    1. Hi Aleks,

      Yes, we are considering this. We buy more and more raw products, and almost nothing is prepared or processed.
      The orange juice example is a bad one because I don’t drink much orange juice anymore. My wife always has the same argument you mentioned about concentrate and sugar and she convinced me. We also never buy sodas except when we have some guests but that’s been that way for a long while.

      We are not very good at seasonal products, but we only buy them fresh as well.
      If you are at 300-400 per person, you are already doing a great job I believe.

      I would not compromise on health either. I should mention that in the article!

    2. I’m glad to see that my boyfriend and me are not the only ones spending 800-900 CHF each month in a supermarket.

    3. First, thanks for the blog, Baptiste Wicht. It is interesting to read about different fincancial products and also about your personal finances. You clearly put a lot of effort into it.

      So, now to the comment: I like to bake and cook as well and very rarely eat out or eat in the canteen. I am vegetarian, so that saves me some money. But my groceries are about 80 – 90 % organic. Last year I recorded my expenses for some months and had 200 – 250 CHF per month. I am very surprised about your high expenses with that little meat and no organic products.
      Perhaps, I have to record it again for some months. Surely, it has risen since nowadays I go to a bakery from time to time and buy sometimes on a farm shop. It should be still under 300 CHF, though.

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