How To Live Below Your Means And Live Well: Tips To Save On Food

Editor’s Note: A while ago reader Karen K. emailed me after a post on saving money was published on this site, and offered some of her own tips for saving money on a variety of topics. I told her that her tips might make a good article, and she followed it up by sending me the following about how to live well while living below your means. Take it away Karen!

You asked me how I’m able to live well while living below my means.  This article will reveal some things I’ve learned regarding this subject.

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I have done every one of these tips over a 40 plus year period.  I also have some principles regarding this lifestyle which I feel are important. These ideas may work for some people, but not everyone will want to do them. Everyone is different.

People’s level of comfort level in using these tips may change as time goes on if they get better jobs, experience the death or loss of a spouse, gain a partner, have children and so on.

But to me, living below your means is all about never spending more than income than you have. You may have the “means” to afford a better vehicle, a better house or you may “qualify” for a certain limit on a credit card. But just because you have the means doesn’t mean you have to live up to and beyond those means.

I’ve always bought good quality vehicles, but they were considerably less money than what I could afford.

The same with housing. I haven’t had or used credit for almost 2 decades, and have never had a problem. It would be a very rare day that I would do any impulse shopping.

I also never take more than what I need. If I have more than what I need of something, I will share it with someone.

My main areas of spending had to do with food, clothing and shelter. Food spending was and is my number one priority for savings, as it is one of the areas that you can have the most affect on.

How to live below your means and live well saving on food

Saving On Food

Food was and still is my number one priority. I don’t believe that if you’re poor that you can’t be and eat healthy. You have to be more creative and it is more difficult if you’re a poor person, but it is completely doable.

I was a single parent for 15 years and learned to feed my child very well on very little. Here are some things that I did to save on food, and still do.

  • Take advantage of free or reduced cost meals: I often worked one or 2 jobs and one was always where I could bring my daughter AND where I would get at least one meal a day for my daughter and myself. I cleaned a daycare, a church and a large house. The owners and the pastor always left a lunch for us. One lady cooked lunch for us on the weekends. I worked in a deli restaurant and at the end of the day I was always sent home with beautiful gourmet sandwiches and home made soups.
  • Freezing food: My mother bought me a deep freezer and that in itself has always proved to be priceless. I have a much smaller freezer now, but still invaluable. Find great deals on food and freeze the extra!
  • Grow or pick your own food: I grew herbs on my windowsills when I lived in apartments and gardens from the time that I had a space outside. I also learned to can and preserve food at a young age. Herbs can go a long way in adding flavor and elegance to an inexpensive meal. I’ve grown berry trees for years. Raspberries for instance are about 4 dollars a pound where I live and I often trade a few pounds or so for other fruit at the farmers markets. I’ve also picked my own fruit such as blackberries, apples and cherries. It is much more inexpensive to pick your own fruit than even buy it from a market. In regards to vegetables, I buy in season, grow and “trade” with my neighbors. If a neighbor brings me beets, then that’s what I eat. Zucchini is one of my favorite vegetables and there are always people that grew too many and just want to get rid of them!
  • Sales on food items: You should always be careful about this, but can get substantial savings. Little things like bumped cans may not be such a good deal. When they are dented, they can get air in them and be very unsafe. I always used to get to know the butcher, the produce manager and baker of stores. On produce, quite often, the manager would give me boxes of imperfect fruit, such as bananas and apples. I had a lot of apple sauce and banana bread in my freezer, but it was healthy and it was good. I quite often got loaves of day old bread, nothing wrong with it.
  • Take extras or leftovers: Pay attention to what an employee is taking OFF the shelves. I once got quite a few cartons of yogurt, took it home and froze it. The butcher of one store that I still patronize will cut fresh soup bones for me. I also ask for “ends” of meat which are only the ends of bacon and lunch meats that they don’t put in your packaged lunch meats because it doesn’t look nice. I still make my own chicken stock and soups and stews and freeze them in portion sizes.
  • Take advantage of discounts and freebies: I still live below my means, but eat very well as a senior. We have a club in our area (not exclusive) that offers a hot meal once a month. They HAVE raised the price and now you have to pay 3 dollars and bring a side dish! There’s entertainment with some of the locals as well and anyone can go. There is a restaurant in the next town and on certain days, they give people a container of fresh soup and artisan bread to take home. There are also plenty of festivals in the summer and plenty of food and samples that you can enjoy as well as the culture and entertainment. I spend about 30 to 40 dollars per week on groceries. This includes some specialty items like a good cheese or cooking items such as olive oil. Where I save money on certain things, I will splurge on some quality items.
  • Save on meat: I eat very little meat now, but always ate a lot of chicken and fish. I wait for canned salmon to go on sale. I still buy a whole chicken and have the butcher cut it up. I can get quite a few meals out of that, as well as stock for soups and other meals. I eat a lot of brown rice and beans. I always make more than what I’ll eat and freeze the leftovers. They are much more nutritious than some other foods.
  • Find the discount cart!: This is one of my favorite tips when it comes to saving money on food and sundries. That is as long as I can remember, there is almost always a Discount Cart somewhere in the store, including the more expensive stores. You can ask if you can’t find it. This is date expired only AND often not expired. The manager may have gotten a new shipment, new product or won’t be selling that item again. (discontinued) You never know what you will find!  This is usually the first place I head to when I’m in a grocery store. I have purchased everything from toothpaste, high end bath soap, laundry soap, salad dressing, granola bars, health bars, peanut butter, jam, crackers (once again the expensive kind) and the kind of expensive canned crushed tomatoes that I like, as well as coffee, and other canned items. I have also found “promo” samples of expensive body lotions, shampoo, deodorant, candles (both the gift kind and high end). The candles go for 10 cents in the cart and 3 dollars on the floor! They are usually cleared out seasonally. I recently purchased approximately 100 dollars worth of “discount cart” items for 20 dollars!
  • Keeping track: I keep track of what I buy and spend, as well as having a yearly list of free items I’ve gotten, discounts received or deals. One year alone, I saved 4,000 dollars just on food, clothing and shelter. I put what the retail value would be and then what I paid for it. When I go “shopping” for a certain item I always check online and do price checks in stores. Where I live, there is one store that the prices are exorbitant, Yet they will have a sale and the prices are much lower.  Make sure you double check.

You have to be vigilant when you live a frugal lifestyle – and to save on your food costs. Good luck!  – Karen K

Last Edited: 21st February 2014

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  1. says

    I actually used your discount cart idea this past week when I was at the grocery store. I found a food item I was planning on buying anyway in the discount cart, and it cost $2-3 less because it was near expiration. It still tasted fine, we just got a nice discount.

    Another thing I do – even though I’m not a big coupon user typically- is that I just go throught the grocery store’s coupon book before shopping. Even without going out of my way I can easily save $30-40 on our bill every trip – more if I try a bit harder!

  2. Nancy Miller says

    Some of the things I have found really helps with the food and cooking time as a single person living alone is:
    -buy the bonus packs of meat and save per pound.
    -buy in bulk and split it up when you get it home. Works great on dry goods and pantry items.
    -cook the whole package at one time using one recipe or a few different ones. The oven is already hot and you only cook one time period for quite a few meals.
    -freeze the leftovers in individual servings. These are great to take to lunch or use for dinner.
    -freeze or use the stock in another recipe along with leftovers that are too small for a whole serving.
    -use that crock pot! It’s a gold mine for saving money and time.
    -Discount grocery stores are opening everywhere! They get in high end items and sell them for drastically low prices. It’s an easy way to try them without the fear of “wasting” your money on something you didn’t like.

  3. says

    This was probably the most helpful article thus far for me. I use to use coupons when going to the groceries but stopped buying the paper because it was a waste of time and money and stop buying the meats at a big food chain because I would get poor cuts of meat with lots of fat. Now I shop at a health food store and food is a little more expensive but much better tasting and more options. I will try the discounted bin next time I go but I wonder how to go about talking to the butcher when I’m not familiar with specific cuts and what’s better.

  4. Angel says

    We are a small family so leftovers are pretty routine for us. I found that not throwing food away saved us as much as heavy duty coupon use. When we were diligent to eat up everything we made, we cut our grocery bill by almost half. It’s not always fun to eat the same things for 3 days but I liked not wasting.

  5. Cat Ng says

    Life will always have the makers and the takers. The makers will usually work hard and live reasonably within their means. The takers will usually not put the effort in and blame others for their “unfair bad luck”, then want the makers to pay for them in the name of “fairness”. The simple truth is everyone has a choice and if you choose to live below your means and save you will save. Period.

    Most will say they can’t live below their means because ..(insert excuse here). How many of these people that simply can’t save anything have I phones, computers, WIFI, new cars, big screen TV’s with cable, eat out all the time, etc.

    Of course they look at me like I’m crazy when I suggest they cut a $100+ a month cable bill. Or drive a car that is 3 years old. Or only fill up their tank from the cheapest place according to GasBuddy. Or get $25/month budget car insurance from Insurance Panda. Or cook their own food instead of spending a hundred a week on restaurant food (or far more if they like the bar).

    We make the beds we lie in. Be responsible for yourself.

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