Jen Oh

Food Frugal

Food expenses are some of the most daunting areas to try to save. We eat ONLY organic. Even from the farmers market, etc – due to residual pesticides that can be in the soil, we have chosen to go only certified organic because of the extensive soil testing that occurs when farms are certified. Due to our choices, food expenses could be extremely high, but we have been able to keep our expenses low (at approx. $150 for a family of 3 -and a 1 yr old)

Most of us do not pre-plan meals or come up with extensive shopping lists before heading to the store. It takes extra planning at first, but once you get a system going – the amount you can save is significant.

  • Pre-plan meals: this saves time, energy, and helps you be more cost effective
  • Pantry nights – eat out of your pantry at least once a week or once a month, by eating from your existing stockpile, you help rotate your food supplies plus allows you to save money
  • Stockpile on pantry items when they are on sale – but only if you use them!
    • In our home – especially through Azure and Frontier (both companies offer bulk goods at discount prices), if it’s an item we eat/use all the time and on sale, I buy extra.
    • The biggest thing is to not get caught up in a sale – if you won’t use it, REFRAIN! But for us, we can never go wrong with getting extra pasta, beans, etc. They won’t go bad and we will use them all.
    • For a month – keep records of what you purchase and how much.
      • By doing this, you can see what you can weed out and what you can increase. You can decide what to buy in bulk and what not to. It took us about 3 months to get it right, but we by all our produce from the farmers market and our pantry items from Azure and Frontier.
      • If it’s not a necessity – wait until you can get it cheaper.
        • Because I do monthly bulk orders through Azure and Frontier – if we run out and it’s not a necessity, we don’t buy it at the store. We wait until I can get it cheaper. You can’t do this on everything – but you’d be surprised how much aren’t necessities. This was difficult at first, we’d want to just run to the store to buy it…but we never left the store with just the one item. So now we don’t go. If we don’t go to the store – we don’t spend the money on incidentals.
        • Beware of things that are pre-made that are super easy to make at home from fresh ingredients – usually a huge savings (i.e. salsas, sauces, dips, etc)
          • This is what got me started in making so many foods for our family. When James was an infant, he loved yogurt. It cost $6 for YoBaby and he was sometimes going through 2 containers. I discovered it was super easy to make it. It takes a quart of milk for me to make the same amount of yogurt at a cost of $3. After that, I started taking a look at what we buy and slowly converting to making it. This was a 3 year process for us to come to a point where we make these commonly purchased items:  bread, tortillas, mozzarella, buttermilk, sour cream, yogurt, jam, crackers, ice cream, granola, elderberry syrup, kefir, kombucha, pitas, and hummus. Marc is our “saucier” and he makes awesome spaghetti sauces (or just about any sauce) and salsas.
          • If you buy from a store
            • If you shop at Whole Foods – shop on Fridays. They run special sales on Fridays and often have great deals then. Also- always check their coupons. They have their own sales newsletter with coupons in it and carry Delicious Living Magazine (which also has coupons in it).
            • Use the bulk bins.
              • Bulk bins at many stores – especially Whole Foods – can be much cheaper than packaged items. If you have specific allergies (like gluten) – please be careful as a lot of items do get compromised. But if you want the best deal on flours, beans, rice, etc – often times the bulk bins have the best price. This is also a great way to try new things. You can purchase a meals worth of a special rice before buying in bulk.
  • Don’t go grocery shopping when you’re hungry.
  • Shop seasonal. There is a reason strawberries are more expensive in the winter and why apples are dirt cheap in the fall.
  • Shop on the outer aisles at the grocery store. According to Michael Pollan (and I have checked this out – it’s true!) – most grocery stores put the “necessities” on the outer aisles: milk/eggs in the back, veggies to one side, meats on the other… by skipping the inside aisles at the market – you skip the “bad” stuff and save money too.
  • Make a shopping list and stick to it!
  • Use coupons and join saver groups
    • But always comparison shop when you get to the store. There are often times where I find I can buy in bulk cheaper or a different brand is cheaper or on sale.
    • Create a free email account for coupons, i.e. hotmail, gmail, yahoo… I have one – just for coupons and potential junk emails. FYI – Google has the best spam filters of all the “free” services.
    • Email companies you buy from and request coupons. Most companies will send you them at no cost – just email them with your address and let them know how much you like them – in a week or 2, coupons will arrive! The ONLY company that hasn’t sent me coupons when I’ve done this is Bob’s Mill…in fact, they were so rude about it that I have completely stopped buying anything from them.  A simple no would have sufficed 😉
    • Often companies and restaurants have clubs (or even “like” pages on FB) – by joining these, you get coupons sent to your email.
  • Every few months I just google organic food coupons and you’d be surprised at the links that come up. Many people blog about coupons and you can find some great links looking through other peoples’ hard work
  • Restaurants can completely destroy your budget, but be realistic – there are times you go out to eat.
    • Create a restaurant budget (either number of times a month you go or a monetary budget)
    • Use coupons. The weekly fliers,  ValPak and MoneyMailer are great for this. Bed, Bath, and Beyond, Amici’s,  World Market, Buca di Beppo, Baja Fresh, and many neighborhood restaurants/stores  commonly have coupons.
    • Sign up on their email list or join their “clubs”. We often get emailed coupons for restaurants we go to.

Coupon websites:

Companies that have coupons available online:

Some good coupon advice resources:


  1. Gabe

    Organic Deals and Coupons is a blog site that you’ll love Jen! She has tons of links to the newest organic coupons available. She’s super nice, too, and she’s in CA. Hope you’ll check it out.

    Loving the blog!!

  2. April Price

    Great article Jen! Tons of good info, I’ll be rereading it a few times tonight.

Comments are closed.