Frugal foodie

Is “frugal foodie” an oxymoron?  Is it possible to eat high-quality, ethically and sustainably grown food on a limited budget?

This is a tough one, and one that I’m struggling with now, as we look for ways to trim our monthly expenses.

According to various sources, U.S. households spend a smaller portion of household income on food than households in any other country.  It is possible to eat very cheaply here.  It is even possible to eat a relatively healthy diet without spending all that much money.

We consciously made the decision, as our income allowed over the years, to shift a higher proportion of our spending to food.  I’m well aware that the items I put in my shopping cart are not always the cheapest.  I’m prioritizing things that are important to me: fresh produce, local products, organic products, fair-trade or ethically grown and produced products, eggs and dairy that are local and/or free range.  But that often comes with added cost.

And now I’m rethinking that cost.  I want to buy the product that has the lowest environmental impact and is [theoretically] the healthiest choice, but it’s not [financially] sustainable with our current income.

It’s become a bit of a balancing act — there are some things on which I try not to compromise: only organic (or local, if I talk to the farmer) when it comes to produce’s “Dirty Dozen” and organic (or at least non-GMO) soy, wheat, and corn products.  I highly prefer my dairy to be organic, but I’ve compromised on a couple of cheese purchases lately — the “good” stuff is SO expensive.  I’ve been avoiding replenishing our butter supply — since chemicals/toxins often concentrate in fat, butter is one of our priority organic purchases, but at more than double the cost of conventional . . . oof!

At Matthew’s urging, we went ahead and bought several pounds of organic, fair trade chocolate from a company that helps West African cocoa farmers, but we’re also buying some more affordable (and less Earth- and people-friendly) chocolate, so, yeah, compromises.


  1. Eat at home / cook your own food: your money goes MUCH further this way.
  2. Shop around.  I’m the last person in the world to drive all over town just to get one item here or there, but I tend to know the best places to buy particular items.  Unless it’s urgent, I try to wait until I will be at or near that store again.
  3. Shop bulk bins for beans, grains, flour, etc.
  4. If you have storage, you can special order a entire bag of flour, sugar, grain, etc. (usually 10-50 pounds, depending on the item) from most grocers with bulk sections for a discount.
  5. Stock up when it’s on sale — having a deep freeze can help with this one.
  6. Grow your own — while there is noticeable start-up cost (seeds, mulch, soil amendments) to growing our own produce, having our own supply of many fruits and vegetables enables us to eat well without completely breaking the bank.  The cost of purchasing large quantities of some of the higher dollar produce we grow (e.g., raspberries and heirloom tomatoes, to name a couple) would be staggering.
  7. If you can’t grow your own, consider purchasing a CSA share.

What do you think — is it possible to be a “frugal foodie?”  What are your tips and tricks for saving money and still eating well?  And on what foods do you or don’t you compromise?


  1. Deepa says:

    Great post as always! Even for folks who eat home cooked meals most of the time, grocery bills are pretty steep especially if you buy organic. We too buy organic dairy, free range eggs and organic fruits/veggies if they belong to Dirty Dozen category. Season fruits and veggies is something I constantly look out for since they are sourced within the country or sometimes local. Since I was born and raised in India, frugal cooking is something I have seen in many households. It’s not necessarily inferior in nutritional value, but with limited income and a crowd to feed one must come up with a lot of imagination to mix and match ingredients. For example, it is very common to cook a combination of vegetables (potato-cauliflower-greenpeas, chickpeas-spinach, greenbeans-lentils) to ensure there’s enough for all family members and also for picky eaters in the family. Apart from paying off health wise, frugal eating also makes us respect food and be empathetic to others who can’t afford three decent meals every day.

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