How a Physician Cut Her Food Bill by 63%

Lowering my food costs started with broken bones and wasted chicken.

A few years ago I wanted to do research for a fantasy series I’m writing, so I organized a girl’s trip to explore an island with a cave.

Two things happened that weekend:

1) I went trail running, fell, and broke my ribs.

2) My husband decided to become a vegan while I was gone.
I should never have gone on that trip!
Back then I was the dutiful wife who filled the fridge with prepared foods, so all DH* had to do was pull the meals out and nuke them (I stopped doing this after I read “The Superior Wife Syndrome” by Rubenstein). Before I left for the trip, I had a mental breakdown: I was one burnt out cook. I asked DH to please start educating himself on food and how to feed himself because I was essentially making two meals at a time due to his allergies (he’s anaphalactically allergic to milk, butter, and cheese. Stop and think about that for a second. Life with no chocolate!).

I left one last huge load of prepared food in the fridge (the usual meat and potatoes kind of stuff), and took off, hoping he’d read up on how to cook while I was gone. When I came home, I found it odd I had to toss a large tray of leftover chicken.
Overnight, we had to come up with a frugal way to provide a massive amount of calories/protein source not involving meat or eggs. I mean my husband is 6’1″ and left to his own devices would bike a 100 miles a day.

So like all good docs, I started reading up on food and doing some research. Here’s a list of the result of over a year of trial and error that resulted in slashing our total food bill:

 

Groceries:

1) The source of our biggest drop in shelling out $$ for food: I started shopping at Aldi’s. Don’t knock it ‘till you try it. Take a quarter to get a shopping cart, bring your own bags, and be prepared to bag your groceries after you get through the speedy checkout line. It takes a few trips to get the hang of shopping there. Once you do, you’ll find it’s the fastest grocery store to get in and out of.

2) Joined SAMS club and got their credit card (I only use it for 3% back on travel/restaurants and 5% back on gas).

3) Started to use my bread machine again.

4) Tracked which items are cheapest at which of the three places I shop (Aldi’s, Walmart and SAMS). If you’re too busy to do this, then look at the top and bottom shelves for cheaper alternatives before you buy what is at eye level in the grocery store.

5) I learned to put things that need to be eaten SOON in the LUQ** of the fridge, so I look there when I go to make our next meal.

(If you have someone else do the shopping, send them this blog, so they can start changing their shopping habits to save you money.)

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Save your money so you can use it instead to do crazy things like Bike El Camino de Santiago!

Eating out:

1) We stopped eating out with friends and started hosting potlucks instead.

2) Stopped eating dinners out with extended family and hosted them instead. (when you—because you’re physicians—usually offer to pick up the tab when eating out, those $150-$550 restaurant bills add up. Fast. We had to stop doing this if we didn’t want DH to work forever.)

3) Every few months I buy from a meal prep place (not a box like Hello Fresh, but a small kitchen that makes the entree and freezes it.) I take the meal from the freezer, stick it directly into the oven, and just make the sides, like a salad and veggies or whatever. It’s cheaper (and saves more time!) than restaurant meals. At about $12-14 per small sized entree, this antibiotic-free meat lasts the kids and me for about 3 meals. That and I don’t have to keep all the ingredients on hand to make these various dishes. And yes, I shamelessly use this meal prep service to host people.  (I rarely buy meat anymore in grocery stores.)

4) I got over my food snobbery and kept frozen pizzas on hand for when I needed a meal yesterday.

5) Read Greg Karp’s book Living Rich by Spending Smart.

6) Read every.single. food blog on the Frugalwoods blog.

 

Whole food, plant-based diet:

1) My husband researched how to store food in the fridge. Once we started to implement his steps, we barely throw out food (as I stand here typing this, I’m thinking my scallions sitting in water—which have been in the fridge for a month and a half—need to be trimmed because they’ve grown too tall!).

2) Beans are super cheap and tasty. I now have two shelves of various grains and dried beans in a pantry. My kids would eat beans until the cows come home (I always laugh when the pediatrician asks if they’re pooping okay).

3) We became the proud owners of an Instapot. You’ve heard all the hype for a good reason. That thing is a lifesaver for busy people (And DH cooks his own meals with it now—I don’t even know how to operate the newfangled thing.). Get one and buy an Instapot recipe book.

 

Saving as much money like we did last year took me outside my comfort zone. But we had an end in sight, so I knew we could do this. And we did. After a lot of hard work (and learning new habits!), we are blessed to be reaching our end game in a handful of weeks.

 

Although I consider me being “frugal” a relative term compared to some of my physician peers, I don’t think of myself as frugal compared to the average American who is struggling. Look, I foolishly bought a Groupon beach trip—and walked gingerly back into the house with broken ribs to find out I was now married to a vegan.  😉

 

What are your tips and tricks that you’ve come up with to cut down on your food bill?

 

(*Dear Hubby)

(**LUQ=doc talk for Left Upper Quadrant)

 

 

 

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    8 Responses

    1. Anita Baird says:

      Great! Casey has cut my bill in half by taking me to a super cheap Mennonite discount grocery store in PA.

      Sent from my iPhone

      >

    2. Big Brenda says:

      Do you cook your own beans (as opposed to canned)? Much less costly. Easy and fast in the pressure cooker (I use a stove top one, in part so that I can use the cook stove in season). I have a cheat sheet for all the grains and beans. I try to grow my own protein, except for cheese. I barter for milk. I try to keep up to date on add-ins for nutrition and snacking, ie, broth, beans, seeds, rice, dehydrated things (tomatoes, ginger, bananas, apples, garlic, orange peel, etc.). I immediately freeze larger batches of many staples, and of easy to grab leftovers (extra pizza, muffins). I cut extra bread, including crusts, into cubes for croutons or stuffing. I read about DIY backpacking food for inspiration. I trust the supply less and less the older I get, so am constantly looking for alternative sources locally (that has more to do with nutrition than money though). I do buy in bulk, ie, 5 g of coconut oil and 50 pounds of oats at a time. Certain foods are off limits no matter the bargain, like cold cereal, most vegetable oils, pb with other added ingredients, and pretty much any store meat which in a way saves money. I prioritize nutrient dense food (eat to live vs. live to eat). I am always balancing nutrition and $ which can be tricky. It helps to not enjoy shopping and to not live close to any decent grocery stores.

    3. Char says:

      I’ve stopped making meal plans before I shop. Instead, I buy things on special or fruit and veg that is in season (and therefore cheaper), then plan the meals.

      • bckrygowski says:

        Oh! That’s a good idea! I read about a lady who buys whatever is on sale meat wise and throws it in the deep freeze and uses when she knows what to do with it.

        • Char says:

          Yes, we get most of our meat from Costco, separate it into dinner-sized portions, make up hamburgers and sometimes meatballs with some of the beef mince and freeze it all. Occasionally I find reduced meat at the grocery store and chuck them straight into the freezer as well (unless we’re using it that day).

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