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Cut food bills: Become a 'frugalvore'

Startled by the latest total on your supermarket receipt? Rethink the way you shop.

By Donna_Freedman May 2, 2012 12:14PM

Image: Close-up of a person using a calculator in a supermarket (© George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images)The "locavore" movement suggests we eat only foods grown within 100 miles of our homes. Not everyone lives near a farm, though, and while farmers markets operate in many cities, the produce can be pretty pricey.

To people concerned about how much of their paycheck is eaten up (so to speak) by grocery costs, I suggest a different challenge: Become a "frugalvore."

This concept means eating only what's on sale each week, which is by no means a new idea. People used to shop that way all the time. (Some of us never stopped shopping that way.) Frugalvorism both simplifies and complicates matters.

Grocery shopping becomes easier because you just plan your menus around what's cheapest -- which, incidentally, might mean changing where you buy your grub. Last year, 43% of the more than 24,000 shoppers surveyed by Consumer Reports changed supermarkets to look for better prices.

The complicated part is learning to rethink the way you shop. Whereas in the past you might have just grabbed whatever looked good, you now need to make a plan before you go to the store.

Suppose this isn't second nature to you? Suppose you never saw a parent make a shopping list, let alone a price book?

Time to educate yourself.

A new skill

Savings Nation, a project of the deal site, is a series of grocery savings workshops. "DealPros" -- bloggers with mad shopping skills -- will present two-hour programs to introduce newbie frugalists to the cheap side of The Force.

That doesn't mean substandard dining, says DealPro Andrea Deckard.

"We want people to know you can live your best life on a budget. You don't have to go without the things you want," says Deckard, who blogs at Savings Lifestyle.


Deckard will teach on May 12 in Cincinnati and on June 2 in Centerville, Ohio. Currently 19 workshops in 12 cities are scheduled between May 5 and Aug. 19; other dates will be announced in the near future. Some are free, and some cost between $10 and $20. (Post continues below video.)

The object is to cut the typical family's grocery budget in half using tactics like "realistic couponing," strategic shopping, meal planning and learning to avoid marketing trickery. Afterward, participants may opt to create virtual or in-person communities of like-minded savers.

Other resources

No workshop in your area? Go online. has tutorials and a free online course. Money Saving Mom's "Start Here" section is a beginner's bible. The "Learn to Coupon" page at Southern Savers is a step-by-step guide with a downloadable form for "buy prices," -- aka the "Are you kidding? Buy two!" price.

Even after you've mastered the skills it's not always easy to be a frugalvore. Those rotisserie chickens and prefab Caesar salads look mighty tempting (i.e., they're ready to eat).


Practice this mantra: If it's not on sale, we're not eating it. Say it as often as you need to until frugalvorism becomes automatic.

It's not that you shouldn't budget for a treat now and then. It's that smart shopping needs to be the rule.

As I noted in "Goal-oriented groceries," what we choose to buy and eat has consequences. The more we spend, the fewer budgetary options we have. Money spent on the priciest beef or the out-of-season fruit flown in from Chile is money that we can't put toward our long-term goals. Or toward the electric bill.

If you're already a practicing frugalvore, what tips do you have to share with newcomers?

More from MSN Money

May 6, 2012 12:27PM
Good article and I have read some of your other articles, they were good too.
May 2, 2012 7:28PM
I was a frugalvore for some time. I wouldn't pay more than $2/pound for meat (shooting for $0.80/pound or less on whole chicken) or more than $1/pound for produce (allowing up to $2 for green beans because they were wildly popular with the kids).

I still am - somewhat. I've bought into locovorism and organics quite a bit recently. I still am a frugalvore for things that fall out of those categories.
May 2, 2012 5:54PM
I just bought a big bag of potatoes for $1.49, took 6 for me and gave the rest to a food bank.  U can do the same.
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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.