Thursday, March 7, 2013

How to Save Money on Groceries in Switzerland

Groceries are definitely one of the greatest expenses of living in Switzerland. It's easy to spend 100 Francs ($105) at the grocery store and walk out with just one modest bag of groceries! Our budget for grocery and household up until very recently, was 1,000 CHF per month. That included groceries, garbage bags, cleaning supplies, etc. But then I read in Time Magazine that on average, 40% of food goes to waste. That statistic stuck with me, and I thought about it every time I threw away leftovers I had forgotten about, or a head of cauliflower I hadn't used before it went bad. Then, when I decided to go on the Holy Mama Yoga Retreat in May, I figured it was time for a little experiment. 

If 40% of food is going to waste, why not cut the food budget by 40%? It was a bold move, but so far it seems to be working pretty well. The first week was a total success and we actually had money left over at the week's end. Week two hasn't been so wild a success, but we haven't gone over by very much. Here is what I have learned so far.

Make a Plan
It is absolutely essential to make a plan! I use a recycled envelope and sheet of paper from the mail (why waste paper, right?) and fold one half of the paper into a grid. On the opposite half, I write the shopping list. I include vegetarian meals and one or two chicken/meat meals. Meat, even poultry, is extremely expensive here, so including vegetarian meals is key. Another important thing is that produce goes bad exceptionally fast. So I only shop for the first half of the week on Saturday, and then I go again on Tuesday or Wednesday for the second half of the week. I keep the meal plan and shopping list in the envelope along with a pencil and all of the week's receipts and take it with me to the store. Having it with me makes it pretty impossible to impulse buy. Only buy what's on the list!

Utilize the Frozen Section
Frozen berries and vegetables are awesome! I buy frozen peas, green beans, blueberries and spinach. The blueberries are a great snack for Coco plain, or they go into smoothies or pancakes. The spinach is awesome for omelettes or scrambles and Coco loves frozen peas plain, or steamed. I actually really like frozen green beans because they taste more like fresh green beans than canned green beans. I really miss the frozen French green beans from Trader Joe's. ;) Plus, frozen veggies don't have salt added the way canned ones typically do.

Make it from Scratch
Pie crust, cookies, pizza dough. Just make it yourself. It costs almost nothing when you make it yourself and it really isn't even that labor intensive. It just takes a little time. Or, if you want this pizza dough, a lot of time. But it's worth it! ;) 

Finally, plan on leftovers. For us, as a family of three, we plan on a meal that feeds four feeding us twice. Sometimes I'll give Coco a different vegetable, for example, peas when we're having salad. But mostly she eats what we eat. The first week, all of the recipes checked out and the portions were accurate so we got multiple meals out of them. This week, a few yielded much smaller portions than I had expected so we have gone over by about 20 Francs or so. Not a huge deal, but next week, I'll watch out for that. Here is the plan from week one:

Pizza & Sautéed Zucchini
Leftover Black Beans & Rice
Leftover Chickpea & Coriander Burgers
Leftover Chicken Parmigiana

There were even leftovers for lunch most days! It was awesome. I found most of the recipes by searching for "cheap, healthy recipes" and pinned many more to my Pinterest. Feel free to check them out! What are your tips and tricks for keeping the grocery budget down? What would you do with the money if you could cut yours by 40%? ;)

7 comments:

  1. that is awesome! we have been concerned about the food budget in switzerland once we move (we put it at $1400 monthly as an average guess) to hear that you pulled it off with $1000....and now cut that by 40%!!! is AMAZING and makes me feel a lot better about everything! even here in canada...we budget $800 a month for groceries (includes extras too, like cleaning products and toiletries etc...). i am going to try to cut that down now...thank you for the inspiration! :)

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    1. It's possible, but I'll make this disclaimer: It's hard! After I've "paid" for the yoga retreat, I can't say we will maintain such a tight and limiting budget. But maybe! After all, I think we spend too much in general in our society in these times. Such an over-emphasis on consumerism that affects even the way we grocery shop! Yikes. So, we shall see, but I do think that at least $800 is more realistic when considering diapers as well. Just a few additional thoughts there! ;) xo

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    2. totally agree with you...i think we will try to aim for $1000 when we live there...seems reasonable, and if we ever hit below that some months...great! :)
      do you find that you waste less with the smaller fridge and no preservatives in a lot of things? you mentioned that you go grocery shopping twice a week...my mom went daily...sometimes twice! (for bread separately) i think your way is much more sane ;) i wouldn't mind hitting a bakery daily, but grocery shopping everyday would be exhausting.

      enjoy your weekend! (i love your friday posts by the way...always really neat links :) )

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  2. OH GIRLS THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!
    Our budget up until last month was 600 a month (really? REALLY?), though now we've upped it to 700. And it was 500 a month before Ruben came along. And yes, that is for cleaning products, etc etc. Needless to say, I could never do it. I did most of my shopping at the Denner, and , like you say, we accidentally became vegetarian. Which isn't a bad thing, I suppose, but sometimes I need some meat. It was a battle to get my hubby to agree to up it to 700, but seriously? We now have nappies and FORMULA (my god that shit is expensive) and all his food I try to buy organic. And I have a boy who goes nutso over blueberries, which aren't cheap. To be honest, my man and I had an argument about it this morning (is there anything worse than a money argument? When you are the stay-at-home mum?) because I just did a huge shop online when all the nappies and baby stuff was hugely on special, which meant that I needed some more in my account to compensate for that. But no, apparently I should be budgeting that in and save for big purchases like that... sigh... sorry, still peeved.

    The thing is that I have always been so good with money. I've never had to worry about going over budget because I am a total stingy tight-arse and am always under. Here, though, it isn't the case. Even if I only ever buy things that are on special and I do some shopping at the migros and others that I know are cheaper (like the freerange eggs) at the denner, and I even sometimes head to the Aldi, I still can't do it. You have inspired me to attempt something new, though, with this whole BE ORGANISED business. I think it would be great for my attempted weight-loss as well, because I can always plan for and be prepared for healthy dinners, even when I am utterly exhausted (because like you say, there should be leftovers).

    SO things I do to save money on groceries:
    - shop around. Boring but true. Like I say, know where the cheap things are. Shampoo and conditioner, washing detergent (so expensive to get the good sensitive stuff!), sensitive baby wipes, butter and eggs all come from the denner.
    - use your freezer! If chicken is half price, but three and put them in the freezer :)
    - like you say, have a list. But dont just use it as a guide, like I do ;)

    ummm yeah. I think a lot of it is just being conscious about it, actually.

    Thanks so much for writing about this! I'm not a crap budgeter after all!

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    1. There's no edit button? EEk! Sorry for all the typos! And I want to say that the sensitive wipes I use are always only for out and about. At home it's water, calendula oil and soft wipe things :)

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