Do Without

Doing Without: What I Don’t Buy

Updated 12/2014 

Lettuce The Prudent Homemaker 

Sometimes I feel like the un-normal American. It seems that wherever women are gathered, they love to talk about their shopping habits. Considering that shopping is our responsibility, and it takes up so much of our time (as does cooking) I think we cannot help but talk about food.

The trouble is that I have no idea what these women are discussing. I’ve never heard of some of these foods. I don’t even know what section of the store two women at church were discussing the other day. I’ve been in that store, but I’ve never paid any attention to the section where all of the convience foods are located. I admit that I wouldn’t know where to find it. The women were discussing a delicious salad that one had brought to a meeting. “After all,” reasoned the first, “why make something when you can just buy it?”

This is exactly the opposite of the way I think. Why buy something when you can make it?

Cooking from scratch, especially from bulk and home-grown ingredients, saves me quite a lot of money.

My way of shopping has changed much over the last six years. There are things that I used to buy that just aren’t in my budget anymore. Some of them have never been in my budget. (Some of them would never be, as they are not things that I eat or drink anyway, but that many people do).

I’ve had a lot of comments recently from readers, wondering how I’ve cut our food budget to $0.40 a day per person. While I’ve shown you what we are eating, and I’ve written about how we’re eating for less,  I think an important part of our budget is what we aren’t eating and what we aren’t buying.

 

Grapes The Prudent Homemaker

Use It Up

Wear It Out

Make It Do

Or Do Without

If you’ve ever wondered what you could cut from your food budget, and you just aren’t sure what else you could live without, these lists may give you some food(s) for thought.

Whole Wheat Crackers The Prudent Homemaker

Here are some things I never buy:

Fruit snacks
Granola bars
Potato chips
Pretzels
Crackers. I make my own.
Juice boxes
Powdered drink mixes
Flavored water
Cold cereal. It doesn’t matter how inexpensive it is. I will never go back. The children are no longer hungry an hour after breakfast, and a cooked breakfast is so much less money!
Coffee
Coffee creamer
Tea
Alcohol
Grapes. I grow my own and eat them in season
Apricots. I grow my own and glean apricots.
Figs. I grow my own and glean figs.
Pomegranates: Again, home-grown and gleaned.
Cherries, artichokes, zucchini, sugar snap peas. I grow all of these. If they do poorly, we go without.

Herbs The Prudent Homemaker
Fresh Herbs: I grow lots of fresh herbs. They are easy to grow and there’s no need to buy tiny packages of them at the store. Most of my herbs are perennials, so they are not a recurring expense.
Exotic fruits and vegetables
Cake mix
Icing
Meat above $2 a pound. In general, I stick to only buying meat that is $1 a pound or less. This usually is hams and turkeys bought on holiday sales, frozen, and used all year-round.

Ham The Prudent Homemaker
Deli meat. Instead, we cook hams and turkeys and slice them for sandwiches.
Cookies. I make my own instead.
Applesauce: I make my own, usually with gleaned apples or apples I’ve bought for .50 a pound.
Bread: I make my own for .25 a loaf.
Bottled salad dressing. I make my own dressing for pennies.
Jelly. Store bought is cheaper (sometimes) but homemade tastes better.

Green Onions The Prudent Homemaker
Green Onions. I bought starts for my garden years ago. I harvest the side shoots, and every year they reseed themselves. They grow all year-round here. I’ve never had to buy them since! You can read more about this here.

Ham The Prudent Homemaker

Lunch meat. We make sandwiches from turkey and hams bought under $1 a pound instead.
Popsicles. These are so easy to make and so inexpensive to make! I have several recipes here.
Pasta sauce. I buy a #10 can of tomato sauce and make my own instead.
Bean Sprouts. In 2005 I bought mung beans in bulk for sprouting. 2 Tbsp will fill a quart canning jar once sprouted. I still have lots of mung beans left.
Alfalfa sprouts. Ditto for what I said about mung beans!

Tomatoes in Colander The Prudent Homemaker

 

Fresh tomatoes. We eat the ones from the garden. If the tomatoes don’t grow well, we have less.

Baby food. I haven’t bought baby food since my third baby. It’s really easy and much less money to make my own.

Canned beans. I used to buy these, but prices went up, our family grew, and I learned to cook whole beans. Now I buy beans in a 25 pound bag. I cook up a big batch and freeze bags of beans to use later.
Pasta/Rice a Roni mixes. I make my own instead.
Individually packaged anything.
Organic food. Really. It’s too expensive.

Yes, I know that there are coupons for many of those items. I still don’t buy them.

 

Popsicles

 

Here are some things I almost never buy:

Lettuce. We eat lettuce from our garden. With a packet of 750 lettuce seeds costing under $4, I can plant lettuce for a couple of years for very little. However, it does not grow in the hot months. I will buy lettuce a few times in the hot months, but not very often. I usually buy Romaine hearts at Sam’s Club because they are the cheapest lettuce I can find. I only buy lettuce around 4 times a year.

Candy: I limit buying candy to a couple of holidays a year. I make sure to combine coupons and sales whenever possible when I buy candy.

Eggs over 1.25 a dozen. I can still sometimes find eggs at .99 a dozen, I buy 13 dozen, and I make them last until the next sale comes along. (According to the American Egg Board, eggs are good for 4-6 weeks past their expiration date. I have to ration them out to get 13 dozen to last that long, since we can eat 18 for breakfast if we have scrambled eggs).

Greek Yogurt 2 The Prudent Homemaker

Yogurt: I only buy a small container of Greek yogurt on a rare basis when needed as a yogurt starter for making my own yogurt. So far I have only bought one and I have been using my own yogurt as the starter for new batches. If at some point it no longer works, I will get new yogurt to use as a starter, and will then make that one last as long as possible.

Fruits and vegetables that are more than $1 a pound (those that are sold by the pound).  (Update 12/2014: The lowest price for strawberries in my area is $1.25 a pound on sale in season. I make an exception for those to buy them at that price).  I buy in season at the lowest price, which usually means .25 a pound to .79 a pound for most things. 

Out of season produce.

Juice: I have bought apple juice to use in cooking to make fig sauce. I buy this on sale for $1.25 or less for a half-gallon bottle, and I buy 12 or fewer bottles a year.

Soda: Very, very rarely, I will buy a 2-liter bottle of root beer (on sale) for me and my husband for a date. We will have a little bit and make it last for a while.

Tortilla Chips: This is the only kind of chips I buy, and it’s rare. I will occasionally have them on taco soup, and rarely for a date night at home with my husband.

Restaurant Meals: We don’t eat out but once or twice a year, and then it is only because my mom gave us money for my husband and I to go out for our anniversary or our birthdays (usually not both).  This year we went out once on a date for my husband’s birthday.

Zinnias Roses and Basil The Prudent Homemaker

Fresh flowers: I’ve found the least expensive way to have flowers on my table is to grow my own.

I’m sure there are more things that I don’t buy that are on the “typical” shopping list, but since I don’t buy them, they aren’t even things I think about!

What are you currently buying that you could cut from your grocery bill?

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40 Comments

  1. Do the math and show him the numbers!You can keep bulk items in food-grade buckets in an apartment, such as rice, oats, flour, and sugar.When it was just my husband and I, I used to spend $200 a month for the two of us. Now I feed 9 for $100 a month. If I had known then how to do the things I do now, it would have been a lot less money. Just the money I spent on Rice a Roni alone would have been a huge savings! It cost me .79 a packet (I believe it’s $1 on sale for a box now) which we would have as part of our dinner. Now I can make it for .40, and it’s the equivalent of about 5-6 boxes/packets. Your freezer can be well stocked with turkey, hams, chicken, and vegetables. Turkey and ham at less than a dollar a pound is much cheaper lunch meat than the $7-$10 a pound for lunch meat that you pay at the deli. For two people it will last even longer! You can cook turkeys and freeze the meat; it takes up a lot less space. I throw turkey in meals instead of chicken, as it costs me less.I make French bread for .25 a loaf. You can half the recipe and have 2 loaves for the two of you, and use it with meals, for sandwiches, to make bread crumbs, etc.

  2. Have you ever checked out the website Cultures for Health? We make yogurt, buttermilk, sour cream, and even greek yogurt from their cultures. You only save a small amount from each batch to make the next and you never have to buy it from the store again. I know we have saved so much money! Just wanted to share the idea.

  3. Your garden is absolutely amazing! We have a small garden each year plus one bed of edible plants. However, the climate here in Canada greatly limits our growing season.Thank you for all the ideas that you share on your blog- I really appreciate them!

  4. You can freeze eggs, just crack them out of the shells and into zipper baggies. Squeeze the air out and squish the yolk to blend the eggs. Lay the bags flat in a rimmed baking pan and freeze until solid. I store the baggies in a gallon size freezer bag to protect them from freezer burn and to keep them in one place. To keep track of the number of eggs in a baggie I use a sharpie marker and write it on each individual bag, like 2 or 3 eggs. An easy way to fill the baggies is to open them and stick them into a coffee mug, fold down the zipper portion around the cup, then fill it with your eggs. To thaw the eggs just pop them out of the baggie and into a bowl, cover it and refrigerate overnight.

  5. I would encourage any of you who have a bad experience in a restaurant to later call the manager and politely tell them what happened, or what was wrong with the food. They need to know, and it may well get you a free meal out!My husband and I don’t eat out nearly as often as in years past. We are retired and have less money. We do always go out for birthdays and anniversaries. This year we went to Red Lobster, a favorite, for our fortieth anniversary. My husband has Parkinson’s Disease and has had a slight stroke on one side, and cutting meat is extremely difficult for him now. He ordered steak as part of his meal and asked that it be cut in the kitchen. The waitress came back and said the kitchen staff said they didn’t do that. We let it go and I cut the food on both plates, as I do at home.Later at home, the longer I thought about what happened, the unwillingness to do this small thing for someone paying a good bit of money to eat there, I did a slow burn, and on Monday morning called the manager. She was horrified and said if anything like that ever happened again, to ask for the manager on duty, and there WOULD be meat cutting in the kitchen. She also sent us a gift card large enough for a free meal. I know this discussion is old, but it has been on my mind since I read it a few days ago. We as consumers need to politely but firmly let people know we expect value for our money and not let poor service or poor quality just pass without any complaint.

  6. Well, I thought there really wasn’t much more for me to cut or creatively change but alas I am wrong. So I have some questions: Potato chips & Pretzels – what do you serve your children on the side of a sandwhich? We normally have those and pickles.Juice boxes – Do your kids have little thermos??? Basically how do you address the on the go drink? For instance our friends have a lake house and they let us use the boat what would you take out on the boat? Do you buy bottled water?Powdered drink mixes- The only one I buy is gatorade because our kiddos play sports and we live in Texas (100+). Do you make your own mixes or is this just something you do not bother with.Lunch meat. We make sandwiches from turkey and hams bought under $1 a pound instead. – where did you get your slicer? I haven’t seen one at goodwill or any place like that.It looks like I need to learn to make yogurt! thanks for the encouragement it’s always easier to walk a path when you aren’t alone.Blessings my friend!Kyle

  7. Kyle, I will serve pickles as well (homemade) with sandwiches, and fruit. I live in Las Vegas. It was 118º all week last week. We drink water. Water from the tap does not get cold. I fill plastic bottles and put them in the fridge, and then I pour from those. The chlorine will dissipate that way, and then the water is cold. We drink a lot of water. Juice is a luxury and a very rare treat.We are not on the go a lot, as that would require a gas expenditure. If we were, I would get some thermoses or insulated water bottles for everyone. I do have one insulated water bottle and one larger thermos that I have taken on occasion.I got my sliver from Amazon. I have a post planned on sandwiches where I will show you what I am using. I had bought one at a garage sale but the motor died out. We decided to go with a nicer one and it has been holding up well. I am making ham sandwiches this week after I cook a ham and make some bread, so I’ll try to get that post up this week!

  8. Wow! what a great list. I thought I was very frugal, but you have given me lots more great ideas! One note on furniture– we have trash picked some great things: bunk beds, chairs, and bedside tables. The rest of our furniture was donated to us by friends and family when they decided to upgrade and get new furniture.We drink cold water from glass jars stored in the fridge, and the girls drink milk with dinner. As an occasional treat, I make “grape soda.” Pour a 2 liter bottle of cold unflavored sparkling water into a pitcher, and add a defrosted can of grape juice concentrate. Stir gently. We make it last longer by serving it over ice.

  9. Does anyone know how to make homemade cottage cheese, and would it be cheaper than buying the store brand? My stepson LOVES cottage cheese, and we go through a lot of it.

  10. We also live very frugally, but cant’t cut everything on that list because we have a very short growing season, although I do can and freeze a lot for winter use. We also save money in a lot of other ways as well. We are vegetable farmers and sell produce at the farmers market and the income has been very small the last four years, well below the poverty level. The only thing I have to say is that if we sold our produce for the prices you are willing to pay we would not be able to continue farming. If you really need to eat this cheaply that is fine, but I would recommend people who can afford a little more to spend a little bit more and support local farmers and businesses. Just my two cents 🙂

  11. Celeste, I agree with you. We need to remember that everyone has a right to make a living, not just ourselves. I believe in supporting the local business in my small town. I only shop in the city when we have to go there for appointments, never driving there just to shop. If I have no business in the city, I buy out here where we live.If everyone ALWAYS did EVERYTHING as cheaply as possible with no exceptions, wages would be driven even further down than they have been the last few years, and then where would we all be? I limit how much of my business I give to “the world’s largest retailer” because the drive to the lowest possible price has driven jobs overseas and things are being manufactured by people who make a couple of dollars a day working for people who are allowed to pollute at will, and where the standard of living for working people is deplorable.It’s good to be frugal and reduce our cost of living to be in line with out incomes, but we need to use a balanced approach, or in the long run, there are fewer jobs and less money for everyone.

  12. I know that it is impossible to grow things and sell them for those prices. For example, the cost of raising chickens is MUCH more than what I pay for eggs. Since we are in Real Estate and the market here leads the nation–and had a major drop in sales and prices–we have lived with a 70% income loss for several years. Our budget for 9 people for groceries has been $100 a month. In order to feed 9 people for $25 a week, it’s important for me to keep my prices as low as possible. I have that budget because that is all that we’ve had to spend. That said–I have a reader in North Dakota with a garden roughly the same size as mine. Thought she can easily have 6 months of snow, she also has an unheated greenhouse that she uses to extend her growing season. She easily harvests much more than I do, because our summer temperatures cause most prolific crops (tomatoes, beans, zucchini) to stop producing flowers, as it is just too hot. It can (and has) been 90º in March (2004 last time). We have 5-6 months above 90º each year, and summers are 116º on average, and do get hotter. This means there are a lot of things I cannot grow in summer. I recommend checking out Eliot Coleman’s books on gardening year-round, which he does in Maine. If gardening is your source of income, I would certainly want to extend that time to allow me to grow year-round.

  13. We have cut the amount of drive thru foods tremendously since I am home full time. However, I have severe fibromyalgia and often my family gets sandwiches, frozen, or leftovers from my parents. I would really like some suggestions on how to better incorporate home cooked meals, while dealing with flair ups and pain caused by my disability. I look forward to reading the posts from Brandy and followers of the blog. I have learned so much.

  14. I often feel left out of similar conversations at work when my coworkers talk about things they do like going golfing, jet skiing, vacationing, going on cruises, weekend trips, and buying every imaginable gadget and electronic. Being a single mother we live pretty slim compared to my group of peers at work but otherwise compared to many people I know we really live in abundance and I’m grateful for that. One thing I just about never buy anymore are cleaners. I make my own cleaner with amonia. The amonia is cheap and lasts forever. I bought two jugs at Target a few years ago with coupons and still haven’t gone through even one yet. It cleans great.

  15. In all fairness, when you buy an item in season it’s often cheaper because it is being harvested in abundance. Brandy mentions store sales prices…this means the store has decided the price, not the customer. People often stock up on items when the price is low…this makes sense, and is an honest way to save.

  16. I often serve popcorn (air-popped in a wedding present popper that is only 26 years old) with our sandwiches. It provides crunch and is filling without being high calorie. I pop about 1/2 of popcorn and use 1 tablespoon of melted butter to drizzle over it, then a sprinkling of salt.

  17. Brandy–I was just rereading this post. Have you ever tried making tortilla chips? Just buy a package of corn tortillas and cut them in quarters. I fried them in a skillet. They are so yummy and you can make tons. I see corn tortillas for $1 a package all the time.

  18. This is what I do with the bounty of eggs my girls (ducks and chickens) put out every summer. I have somewhere around 6 dozen in the freezer right now, another 4 dozen I need to freeze yet and 3 more dozen in the frig! I do not push my girls to lay year round, so in the dead of winter, egg laying drops off dramatically. I then do not need to purchase any eggs for my winter baking/meals. This year it will be especially cost saving since the avian influenza outbreak killed off so many egg laying operations. Since egg prices have risen, it is now much closer to breaking even with the cost of feeding them vs the cost of buying eggs in the store especially if you compare it to the price of eggs from chickens kept in a similar way we keep ours (pasture raised with household scraps as treats).

  19. I know that I am two years late to the party, but maybe I can help someone else with a similar issue. While I don’t have fibromyalgia, I do have times where I don’t have the time or the energy to cook homemade meals from scratch. If you have a big enough freezer, you can freezer cook. I got the idea from “Once a Month Cooking”, but people have been doing it for decades. I have a baking day when I have the time and energy. I bake 3 loaves of bread, 3 batches of cookies, a batch of muffins and freeze everything. You can do this for dinners too. Cook up some chicken and spend a day making casseroles for the freezer. On a smaller scale you can double or triple recipes you make each night and store leftovers in the freezer for times when you can’t cook. Or you can prep starters for your meal, like browning ground beef with onions. Then you can use it later for casserole or skillet supper and you have cut some of the prep time.
    If you do not have a freezer, you can prep your own dry mixes for muffin mixes, etc which does cut prep time. You can also come up with some easy meals to make from canned food or use your crockpot. I know this is not a perfect solution, because it requires planning, but some ideas.

  20. I know I’m commenting years later, but someone might still be wondering. Cottage cheese is similar to paneer. You can find recipes online. You basically heat up some milk, add some vinegar or lemon juice. The curds separate from the whey. You drain it. Wring out all the liquid using a cloth. Then you press it flat and cut it into cubes. I love fresh, but you can fry it too. To make cottage cheese, you would add some heavy cream to the curds. It’s been a while since I’ve made it, but as I recall, it is small curd.

  21. I live in the Sonoran Desert here in Az and in my 25 + years of gardening here have never had my tomatoes stop producing in the summer, they can slow down some. I have been able to harvest them a couple of years into December also. Zukes usually into August but by then we can be tired of eating them everyday, and friends and family run away when they see me coming with a bag lol. I haven’t been able to garden these psst 5 years due to ground squirrels, but discovered a chicken moat and mid to late January I am going to start building mine and be able to plant a garden in mid February again! The secret to having your garden survive the heat is shading in the afternoon and watering at night (less evaporation occurs). My family loves okra and I always plant it on the west side of the garden to provide shade for other plants, tomatoes included.
    Gardening provides me with a few benefits, great tasting cheaper food(I grow organically), exercise from prepping, planting, weeding, harvesting and closing it up for a short period of time, and mental solice, the garden is my peaceful spot, where I go to reflect on things while I work without interruption from my husband and children. I also use my garden to help feed my chickens any produce that isn’t edible for us the ladies will always eat, not to mention the scraps and melon rinds they love to eat. Here I can grow beets year round so I stopped canning them years ago, why bother?
    I also found a produce distribution this past spring that sells 60lbs of produce for $10, I volunteer at it and get mine for free. I always stop to share with my parents on my way home. Sadly my father passed away in early December and my mother has dementia and will be moving in with us before long. One month we had a ton of tomatoes and I made two batches of spaghetti sauce, adding in some of the zucchini and yellow squash in the distribution too. I also have a good supply of pickles from the cukes another month.
    We were going to sell our property (3.34 acres), but have decided to make some changes to it and fix it up to suit us better. Plus with my mom the less we move her the better off she will be. I miss my garden and having chickens and can hardly wait to do it again. We are applying for a home equity loan in January to be able to fix some of the things and replace the ac/furnace as neither work. We have 2500 sq ft home and use 4 window units to cool it and so far this winter only 2 space heaters to heat it. I don’t want to go back into debt(we paid cash in 2011 when real estate was at it’s lowest point here), but in the long run the repairs will add to the value and save on the utility bills. Plus if I can garden again and have chickens again even more money saved on food.

  22. I have just discovered this blog. Love it. But living in Canada is a lot more expensive than living in the US. Most of what you state doesn’t apply to us. Some of it does. And thank you for the tips. Us instead of pomegranates, which come on sale for $2.50 a piece, we use apples. Not as tasty or healthy. But $16 a bushel is cheap if you pick them from the road side stand. Having my own little road side stand, I sell my excess that doesn’t keep. I also sell eggs. $3.50 a dozen. It’s the cheapest I can sell them. The part of Canada I’m in, we have a very long growing season. 8 months long. And I try and keep to the things in season. But the funny thing is that the fruit and veggies that are the cheapest at the grocery store (and are grown local) are usually from the USA or Mexico. Weird.

  23. One thing that I permanently cut from my shopping list, almost a year ago, is garbage bags! We were getting the heavy duty ones, so I’m guessing that I may be saving as much as $6 per month by not buying them.

    Once I got started on recycling, I realized that we could reduce our trash down to the point where there was no need to buy any special bags for it. My rinsed recyclables require no bags at all. They just stay in my recycling bins until I take them to the recycling center and put them in their bins. My compost bin and compost pile takes care of the wet and icky stuff. The paper waste can be burned, composted, or recycled. By the time, we’ve pulled all those categories out of our trash, there’s not much left for disposal and it can be pretty much put in any reused bag, or none at all.

  24. Boy are you lucky, here in Michigan the cheepiest produce is 1.99 a lb. on sale. Potatoes are around $4 a 5 lb bag on sale. Carrots if found cheap are $15 for a 5 lb bag. The farmers here think everyone works for the car companies.

    1. Holy cow!! I live in Southern California, and I get most of my produce (1# carrots, bag of zucchinis, small butternuts, etc) at the dollar store.

  25. It’s just amazing what you are managing to do for the price! You’re eating better than I do for 50x the cost.

  26. Caution… Store bought milk and cream…will not work for this Home Made Cottage Cheese Recipe. For those who want to make cottage cheese, it is easy. First, you need to find a or farmer who sells unpasteurized milk and cream. I no longer am able to find these ingredients. where I now live. Now you need to separate the cream at the very top. from the milk and place the cream, in the pot. The entire recipe is done with a large Dutch oven., filling to about 1/3 of the pot. Place the milk and only the cream and you will want to put the old fashion clothes hanger wire on the back elelment…and the pot on top of it. You will need to make sure that the temperature is on low. It should not scorch the cream. Leave it alone…and you can stir on occasion in the beginning…but you need t not stir after a couple of hours. I know it is difficult not to do anything….but leave it on the burner for about 6/ 8 hours. Take hold of the handles on the pot and lift above the burner and giggle the pot some. Once it is set up like jello, all one and the cream has all been absorbed, turn off the heat and allow it to cool. At this point, you can use a round head potato masher with the square grid for example and carefully cut into the solid block of cheese. purposely want to gently cut into the cheese, trying hard not to press down no more than once …and now, you have the real old fashion cottage cheese. You can also use a knife to cut the cheese. You may want to add just a few sprinkles of salt. Then you can scoop your cheese into a glass pie plate lined with cheesecloth and wrap it up tightly. Refrigerate. You can eat it just like that….or in cooking. It is the best of the best. Do NOT allow young children to drink unpasteurized milk. You can cook with it…but I would want to put the milk in a preheated oven in a Dutch oven , covered with a lid, on 325 degrees for 1. 5 hours or until very hot. Cool first, then refrigerate.

    1. Gail, there are now a few brands selling cream-top milk that is not homogenized (but it is pasteurized). I believe Sprouts carries it.

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