frugal recipes frugal kitchen

Help! I’m Scared of the Kitchen! It must be Full of Spiders or Ghosts or Human Repellent!

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Okay, how many of you have a kitchen full of gadgets you never use? (I’m raising my hand.) In order to unlock savings at the grocery store we need to demystify the art of frugal cooking. So grab your favorite frugal recipe and kitchen implement, let’s dive into a frugal conversation on groceries and the kitchen!

We have cut our household annual expenses in three years by $14,000! We started tracking our spending in 2015 and spent a whopping $41,000. This year we are on track to spend $27,000. After 2017 is wrapped up, I plan to take a deep dive into those numbers. But today, I want to focus on one of the major ways we’ve cut our spending: groceries.

Garden veggies a plenty
Garden veggies ready to be made into dinner and shared with family!

I absolutely love cooking, grocery shopping, eating, gardening, and almost all things food! One thing that I’ve actually never particularly enjoyed is going out to eat! We used to spend lots of money going out to eat, and I hate restaurants. But that’s for another day!

It’s easy to grab take-out and bring it home. If you do it on your way home it may not even take much time (but it’ll probably still take longer than cooking)! But it will for sure cost you more money (even with your fancy groupon)!

If the kitchen is a bit intimidating read the next section! Everyone can learn the basics of cooking, which is one of the easiest methods to embrace frugality!

How much can I save by cooking frugally?

We’ve reduced our monthly food spending from $600 to $225!

Yeah, sure, you don’t want to go fully vegetarian at home like us, but before we went vegan we reduced our spending from $600 to $350/month while paleo (plus cheese). There’s plenty of room for reducing spending without sacrificing great healthy food and eating your picky/hipster diet!

Frugal Shopping Tips

Ever wander through a grocery store, get overwhelmed, throw a bunch of items in your cart, and just leave a quickly as possible? Then you get home and question, why did I buy six different types of beer ? Oh yeah, I was overwhelmed, I thought the beer would help. Maybe it wasn’t beer for you, but insert candy, ice cream, cereal, pasta, butter, etc., you get the point.

Buying more food than you will reasonably eat or beer than you will (should) drink is not a frugal choice. 40% of all food grown in the US is wasted. We have plenty of food to feed everyone, but supply chain issues and picky shoppers means there are hungry people out there. We ar growing enough food, but almost half of it is ending up in the landfill (or hopefully compost pile).

Whether you want to save money to give back to others, retire early, or make ends meet in your home, eliminating all* food waste is key.

Here’s how you can save money in the grocery store:

Buy in bulk
Bulk Bean Seeds
  • Read the sales ads before, and stick to buying what’s on sale

  • Write your shopping list beforehand based on:

    • What’s in your cabinets

    • Meals you plan to make (I don’t formally meal plan, but I do have a general rotation of meals)

    • Food that you know your family will eat

  • Don’t get distracted by the great marketing displays

  • Check out the store’s online coupons

  • Go to the cheapest grocery store in your area

    • Aldi

    • Farmers Market

    • International Grocer

  • If you have time, go to multiple stores and just shop the sales ad at each.

  • Oh, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention growing your own frugal garden! It’s amazing to develop a new hobby! This is my fourth year in the garden and it has helped our home become healthier and save money!

If all else fails avoid the grocery store! If you find yourself constantly overwhelmed, short on time, or coming home with food you did not plan on buying maybe the grocery store is not for you. Luckily, there’s options!

  • Have your partner do that shopping (I almost exclusively do our grocery shopping)

  • Let the store/app do the shopping for you. In my area we have:

    • Shipt

    • Click List

    • Meijer Curbside

  • Shop using Amazon pantry or another online grocer

While that may not sound so frugal, it may actually save you money. Especially if you are always tossing extra items in your cart that you don’t truly need.

Also, don’t go shopping when you don’t actually need to. I keep our pantry fully stocked at almost all times and start stressing when we run out of one staple. But we have lots of staples in our pantry, so running out of one doesn’t mean we need to rush off to the store with our credit card in hand! Money is not burning a hole in our pocket (or bank account), and going on fewer grocery trips will inevitably help you to save more money! (I struggle so hard with this one, I want to buy the loss leaders every week, but in my home with just two people we don’t need groceries every week.)

We mostly buy the same foods every week. Get the inside scoop on our recommendations by joining the frugal pack email list (I promise to not spam you, and you can always unsubscribe!):

How do I learn to cook?

2017 is a great year to learn to cook, if you don’t like to cook. There are roughly a million food bloggers, youtubers, and Pinterest is filled with more recipes that I’ll have time to cook in my life. Check out my top recipe Pinterest board here (and follow me)! I’ve made all these recipes, so none of the links are broken/failed. (Anyone hate when a pin doesn’t lead where it tells you it will?)

My favorite high tech way to learn to make a recipe is with these awesome videos taken from above the cutting board or frying pan:

I love how they show you what size to actually cut foods and how it should look throughout the cooking process. Mr. Kiwi is not super confident in the kitchen, but he’s great at following a recipe, so these help him to ask me fewer questions when he takes a turn cooking.

My favorite low tech ways to learn to cook is to follow my favorite classic cookbook.

Learning the basics like cooking pasta, making marinara, cooking dry beans, assembling an awesome salad, pancakes, roasting potatoes, and steaming broccoli will help you to whip up restaurant quality meals in no time!

Think about the foods that you grab from take out or at a fancy restaurant. Not the middle of the road restaurant, the cheap and the expensive one. Learn how to make that food first.

How to I Graduate to Inspired Cooking?

When you first start cooking you will want to follow recipes, but eventually to truly save money you’ll want to trust your instincts and start cooking based on the inspiration of items in your pantry or fridge. This will unlock untapped savings potential, since you’ll waste less food, and not run to the store for the 1-2 items you don’t have but the recipe calls for!

Black Beans and Veggies for lunch and dinner!

Mr. Kiwi loves and hates that I cook without following a recipe 9 times out of 10. At a certain point you’ve cooked enough that you know how to approximate and adjust recipes to suit your family’s specific tastes.

Now that we’ve made the switch to vegetarian/vegan at home I’m adjusting a bunch of our old favorite recipes. Before that we were paleo, so I had to adjust and get rid of all the grains there.

We’ve tried about a dozen different diets to help with chronic pain, so we’ve been weird eaters for years. If you have specific questions about your crazy diet constraint let me know! I’ll help you find the frugal way!

If you want to abandon measuring and reading the next step on your phone/tablet/computer then inspired cooking is for you! First, you have to accept that things won’t always turn out great. If you’ve followed a bunch of recipes and have some committed to memory you should rarely completely ruin food, but you may make a bunch of subpar meals.

  • Taste the food you are making while you are cooking! Don’t just keep adding things, taste and then decide what to add!

  • Know when to use what oils: Olive is for salads, peanut/avocado high heat frying, canola for cheap cooking, cocount oil where you’d use canola (also a butter substitute), crisco for baking (when you bake, you should follow a recipe and measure, thus I’m a pretty bad baker)

  • Stock the kitchen with spices you’ll use regularly

    Would you believe these cost the same amount of money?
    • Garam Masala

    • Garlic Powder

    • Cumin

    • Mustard Seed

    • Ginger

    • Thyme

    • Basil

    • Oregano

    • Parsley

    • Spice mixes (especially for beginners or teaching kids to cook)

    • Salt and pepper

  • Don’t be scared of ugly looking food. When you start cooking by instinct you may end up with a lot of brown meals that taste great. Some fresh garnish goes a long way!

Not following a recipe when you cook is a surefire way to impress your friends! And it speeds up the cooking time.

I love to cook, but now I’m busy with a full time job, the blog, in the garden, out with the dogs, crafting, and hanging out with friends and family. As much as I’d love to spend an hour or two in the kitchen every day – it just isn’t an option.

Fortunately, ascribing to a frugal life aligns with my values. I’ve chosen to embrace frugality in the places where I enjoy practicing it most. Food is one of the main areas where our home has cut cost, without sacrificing happiness.

It may not be an area where you want to focus yet, but at least focus on minimizing food waste in the meantime. It will immediately help the environment and your wallet. Cheers!

*The exception that I require is garden food waste. Inevitably you will not eat everything your garden produces. The pests will get to it, you’ll be inundated and things will get out of control. Give yourself a break and take notes for next year so you grow the right types and quantities of food.

What’s your favorite frugal cooking practice?

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