I’ve been noodling a post for a while now about what it means to really be frugal. One might think that frugal means “not spending very much money,” or “buying cheap things,” or maybe a combination of both, “getting as much product as possible for the least amount of money.” A dictionary definition gives two meanings (courtesy of Dictionary.com):
1. economical in use or expenditure; prudently saving or sparing; not wasteful: a frugal manager.
2. entailing little expense; requiring few resources; meager; scanty: a frugal meal.
For me, being frugal with my money especially in the context of grocery shopping, is something that I strive for, something that I have been learning to do out of necessity, and something that is often difficult for me to achieve. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, and God has revealed some surprising things to me.
1.) To be frugal with my money is to be wise with it.
To be frugal is to spend within the means of our budget, purchase items that are worth their cost (not overpriced or too cheaply made), buying items that really are necessary, not being wasteful, and only indulging where the budget allows, and not over-indulging when it does.
2.) I am not as frugal as I think I am.
Being truly frugal is a change in lifestyle stemming from a change of heart. By that I mean, whether I had 20$ or 50$ or 200$ to go grocery shopping would not affect the way I spent my money if I were truly frugal with my money. However, I often buy the ‘cheap’ stuff when I have little money and the ‘good’ stuff when I have more money. But if the cheap stuff is good enough when there is little, why isn’t it good enough all the time?
3.) I don’t need as much as I think I do.
This is a hard one. It is hard to let go of the things that we think we need or deserve. But the truth is that we usually don’t need as much as we want. This is usually hardest in reference to my children. I am okay not buying extras for myself, but it is hard to let go of all the things I think they should get to have. On the other hand, I should recognize the benefit of demonstrating frugality and wisdom for my children, showing them what is really necessity and what is want, and teaching them the value of sweets, treats, and prizes as a special occurrence and not a daily ritual.
4.) We must be careful not to take pride in being frugal.
Yes, it really is possible to be proud of just about anything, isn’t it? I realized that I could be prideful of how little I could take to Burger King to treat myself and my three children to a special eat out meal. I have gotten the act of eating cheaply through a drive through down to an art – which comes in handy when we’ve gotten stuck running errands all day and we are all starving. Give me six dollars and I could feed us all. Give me nine and I can feed hubby, too. If I got water instead of a soft drink it would be even less. But if I take pride in that, then am I still being frugal to be wise with my money for the sake of my family and for obedience to God? Or am I now being frugal to boast and take pride in it? I must continue to be wise with my money, but instead I should thank God every time I am able to succeed because I know that in my own strength, I am weak and a very poor spender indeed.
5.) Cross out the little things
It’s those ‘little things’ that really add up. Lately I have found myself only getting gas at the gas station and skipping the drink that I used to purchase at the same time. I have been resisting the temptation to grab a snack through the drive through but wait until we got home instead. I haven’t been purchasing a drink at the cash register when grocery shopping. And I have been trying not to give in to the little 1$ treats for my children, though admittedly that is harder. The reasoning behind this is not only that these little things add up to a lot more than I realize (they do), but also that I have come to a place where I try to stop and think: “Do I really need this?” And most of the time the answer is no. If it really is necessary to get a drink or snack NOW, then I do. But if not, then I don’t.
6.) Get back on the horse.
I often fail. Usually I do really good for a little while and then something happens and I fall big and hard, giving in to too many things and spending too much money. When that happens, the important thing is to learn from it and get right back on the horse. Through practice and work and by the grace of God, I will learn to stick to a budget!
In relation to being frugal when grocery shopping, I have been thinking about this more with all the talk that has been brought on by the Oregon governor and his trial week living on a food stamp budget. First off, I must say that I would expect him to have had much difficulty with that task, because he was thrown into a budget he wasn’t used to and hadn’t had time to learn the ropes of low-budget shopping. Secondly, I must add that his budget was 21$ per person and it would definitely be harder to shop for one person with 21$ than it would be to shop for four people with 44$.
None-the-less, it is harder to shop as healthy on a smaller budget, and it does take more work. Encouraged by this post by MamaToo, I found myself more aware of my expenses as I was grocery shopping the other day. I found myself purchasing more fresh vegetables than usual. I bought things that were in season and on sale, so that I didn’t use up too much of my budget on them. I also made an effort to buy a bag of flour (not something I usually keep on hand) so that I can make my own biscuits and gravy instead of buying the packaged stuff. I might even try to make a loaf of bread, too. 🙂
It can be hard and intimidating to try to provide a balanced diet when there is little in the bank. Still, it isn’t impossible. It just takes a little creativity. Here goes:
- ground turkey is cheaper than chicken or beef
- hot dogs – though high in salt, they still contain protein and are a big help when money is really tight. I can always find a package on sale for under a dollar. Turkey dogs are healthier and can usually be purchased for under two dollars. Cut up into mac n cheese and you have protein, calcium and required carbs for energy all in one meal (served with a side of veggies of course!).
- bologna – high in salt but a package of bologna and a loaf of bread will provide lunch for several days and if money is tight, that’s better than no meat at all.
- tuna – tuna can be used in a variety of casseroles and dishes as well as tuna salad for sandwiches.
- bulk bag of chicken – whenever the budget allows I buy a big bag of Good Value (Wal-Mart) frozen chicken breasts. It’s 7$ but it’s cheaper per ounce and I can get several dinners out of it.
- eggs are an excellent source of protein and a dozen is cheaper than a package of meat any day.
- bananas are always the cheapest fruit
- potatoes are probably the cheapest vegetable and oh-so flexible. use for baked potatoes, potato soup and mashed potatoes. but also use for homemade baked fries or potato wedges
- sometimes frozen fruits and vegetables are cheaper than their fresh counterpart. use frozen fruit to make smoothies, non-alcoholic ‘daiquiris’, slushes and Popsicles for summer treats that pack real fruit and vitamins.
- raisins – raisins are fairly cheap and very high in iron and other vitamins. they make a great addition to oatmeal, cereal, cookies, and other snacks so they don’t feel so ‘bland.’
- carrots – carrots are affordable and an excellent healthy snack. slice and serve with light ranch dressing and your kids will eat them up!
- block cheese is usually cheaper than pre-shredded. it tastes better, too! try a store brand block cheese and use it sparingly to make it last longer. a little bit of cheese can go a long way.
- yogurt – yogurt can be blended with fresh fruit and ice to make a smoothie or layered in a dish with sliced fruit and fat free whipped topping for a dessert. buy a larger store brand tub to save pennies and get more.
- a box of pudding with fat free whipped topping is a cheaper dessert than ice cream, and since it is made with milk, still counts as calcium intake – yum!
- string cheese, especially on sale, is a good way to get calcium into your diet on a daily basis. pair one with a fruit or vegetable for an afternoon snack.
For grains & legumes:
- whole grain breads tend to be more expensive, so you can either make your own (which I haven’t tried yet) or buy the cheaper whole wheat and try to get additional grains in elswhere.
- oatmeal and cream of wheat are excellent sources of fiber and iron. they are cheaper than boxed cereal and you can add fruit to them for more variety.
- wheat crackers can be paired with cheese and fruit at snack time, eaten with potato soup, etc.
- bake – make cornbread, corn muffins, banana nut muffins, oatmeal cookies etc for sides with meals.
- beans are cheap!! buy them bagged and use your crockpot, saves the most money and time.
- rice is cheap, too! and with the beans makes a complete protein, making a good deal even better
I could keep going and going, but this is long enough already. The point is that you can provide a square meal on a shoestring budget, and that being frugal doesn’t mean buying unappealing food or lots of junk food. In fact, the junk food takes more out of the budget. Sodas are a real budget buster! So are cookies, frozen pizzas, etc. So in that sense, it actually healthier in some ways to spend less money and not buy all the junk food.
Sure, I often lament not being able to buy ‘organic’ everything, but if I try to make the most of my budget elsewhere, then I can try to fit in some of it. Ideally, I would have my own garden and bake my own breads and other baked goods. Those are on my list of goals that I would like to achieve. Until then I am trying to be wise when spending our money, which I think is all that God is asking me to do – call on Him for wisdom and trusting Him to provide.
Read about the Oregon governor who lived a week on a welfare budget.
Read MamaToo’s post full of low-cost eating tips and recipes.