Checklist – frugality – The food

After paying these obligations (taxes, insurance, etc.) food is in the top 3 expenses of a Swiss citizen according to several studies. In first place, we find housing and then mobility. These two categories of expenses will of course be analyzed in future posts.

The food : a cultural story

According to a study conducted by Galina Kolev, professor of economics at the Institute of German Economics in Cologne, it would seem that there are regional preferences in terms of food. She noted, for example, that people in Greece spend on average three times more on food than in Germany.

In Switzerland, I have not found any study at the national level that would highlight differences between cantons or regions. However, it remains that food in general is an important source of expenses and should be analyzed, as it can play an important role in your savings rate.

Tip #1 – prepare your meals for work

I think this is the point that comes up every time, on every similar blog. If you want to cut down on your food expenses, stop eating out every day as part of your job! By taking 15-30 minutes a day maximum to cook your meals for the next day, you will save between 400.00 and 600.00 CHF/month per person!

When I started my first job in Freiburg, I ate every day at the restaurant. It was great and I could afford it since I finally had a salary… True but not great thinking! Eating a daily meal in a restaurant close to work costs between 17.- and 23.- CHF and a drink for 4.- CHF. So you end up paying between 21.- and 27.- CHF per day, which means between 420.- and 540.- CHF/month.

Side note: As I write this, it makes me smile and I can’t believe how much money I was spending in this category even 3 years ago…

Having eaten a few times in more expensive cities such as Lausanne, Geneva or Zurich, I let you do your own calculation.

Let’s sum up what hurts:

  • Eating out every lunchtime: CHF 420.- to 540.- CHF/month in Fribourg
  • Annual budget: between 5’040.- and 6’480.- CHF (for one person)
  • Potential raw savings over 10 years: > 50’000.00 CHF !

Yes, you read correctly. Going to a restaurant for lunch with your colleagues will cost you more than 50’000 CHF over 10 years. I let you do the math if your partner does the same… In addition to the huge financial savings, preparing your meals will bring you other benefits:

  • You learn to cook regularly.
  • You will tend to eat more healthy because you will think about your meals.
  • If you have children, they will inherit your habit by seeing you cook and they will eat freshly cooked and healthy food every day.

In short, you have understood, I have just given you the trick to earn about 500 CHF/month by “working” at most 30 minutes per day. For your information, this represents a maximum of 10 hours of work per month or a “virtual income” of CHF 50/hour. Many people are not paid 50.- CHF/hour in their work.

Tip #2 – Plan your meals for the week

Planning is the key when you want to save money in this domain. I can understand that for some people, planning all your meals for the week may seem absurd, but it’s the way to save even more money! Here’s how I recommend to proceed:

Step 1 – Prepare your meal list for the week, lunch and dinner

Do it only once a week! I suggest you do it on Saturday morning, because that way you will have time to go shopping on Saturday or Sunday. There are two ways to build this list depending on your priority: The time needed to prepare your meals or the quality and diversification of your meals. Let me explain:

  • Version 1 – “Time first, then food : you don’t want to spend too much time cooking, so each evening you will prepare one meal that you will eat at the evening and the next day at lunch.
  • Version 2 – “Food first, then time: If you are okay with spending more than 15, 20 minutes in the kitchen every evening and you are going to prepare a meal for that evening and another meal for the next day at lunch.

Each version has its advantages and disadvantages. The GP family uses the second version because we love to cook (and eat) and we don’t see it as a chore, but rather as a family activity. The advantage of the second version is that you will also be able to eat in a more balanced way, because you will eat lighter meals adapted to the evening and the lunch. Example: You prepare pasta with your favorite cream sauce. This meal is great for lunch, but not so great for dinner. The objective of this blog is not nutrition, so I advise you to choose the version that suits you best.

If you already know that cooking is a chore for you, start with version 1. Your goal is to save money on meals and establish a routine that you can follow.

Personal confession: Both me and Mrs. GP have the same problem of motivation when it comes to cooking for yourself. Indeed, if you are alone on a night or not in a relationship, it is often much more complicated to find a regular motivation to cook your meals. If you are in this situation -> Version 1! This is what a GP family meal list looks like.

Our weekly menu list

You’ll notice that Sunday meals are reserved for leftovers. By making certain recipes, we know which ones will give us a little bit of leftovers, so it’s ideal for us.

Special advice for babies: If, like us, you are lucky enough to have a young child, you know the joy and pleasure of feeding him/her with different vegetable and fruit mixes. The following advice and Win-Win, both economically and nutritionally -> Make the compotes yourself! In our case, we do it twice a week in order to offer the freshest preparations possible. As for food, we favor seasonal and organic products even if they are more expensive, because the priority is the health of our child of course.

Bi-weekly ritual – Preparing baby compotes!

Step 2 – Build your shopping list

Once you’ve written down your menu list for the week, you’ll be able to create your shopping list! This step should not be overlooked if you want to maximize your savings. For each of the week’s recipes, you will write down the necessary food items and add them to your list. Your list will be made up of only the food items you need for the upcoming week! That’s the key trick in this step!

Of course, you will take the opportunity to buy other non-food products necessary for your daily life.

Making your shopping list this way has several advantages:

  • Financial aspect: you will buy only what you really need to feed yourself during the week.
  • Ecological aspect: you only go to the store once a week. You will have much less or more perishable leftovers
  • Emotional aspect: you will get caught up in the game of food optimization. You know why you buy each food.

Here is what our shopping list looks like for a week for example. (Sorry it is in french only 🙂 )

Shopping list adapted to our weekly menus

Also, remember to keep track of how much of each food item you will need to buy. For example, if you have 3 recipes where you need eggs, count how many you need in total instead of just taking a guess. This is especially important for foods that perish quickly. Obviously, you don’t necessarily need to go into this level of detail when buying pasta, for example.

Step 3 – Do the shopping

This step may seem obvious, but there are a few tips to know so that you don’t “destroy” all the efforts you’ve made to get there with an optimized shopping list 🙂

  • Tip #1: Never shop without a list.
  • Tip #2: Never shop before a meal or on an empty stomach.
  • Tip #3: Avoid large shopping malls with many stores.
  • Tip #4: Choose off-peak hours over peak hours.
  • Tip #5: Avoid “mini” sized portions.
  • Tip #6: Don’t fall into the trap of false actions.

Tip 1 is obvious, especially if you understand and do step 2 of this post correctly. More generally, if you go shopping without a list, you will be more tempted to buy anything and everything. You’ll have habits, but the chances are big that you’ll buy too much and that you’ll have to throw away perishable foods because you couldn’t eat them in time.

Tip 2 may seem funny at first, but it’s been proven that if you go shopping when you’re hungry, you’ll be tempted to buy things you want in the moment because of your hunger. So we’re going to favor times right after lunch or after a big breakfast.

Tip 3 is for people who like to shop and stroll around the stores. No chance, neither me nor Mrs. GP like this so no worries for us to go to a big mall. However, if you or your partner likes to store, I suggest you follow this tip and focus on food stores only.

Tip 4 avoids crowds in stores. It’s more pleasant to do your shopping in stores that are not too crowded (especially during Covid-19). In fact, this tip allows you to be less stressed while shopping. If you feel comfortable in the store, you’ll take more time to choose the right items. You will take the time to evaluate the actions, the different products and take the products that suit you best according to your interests (economy, actions, organic, vegetarian, vegan, etc.).

Tip 5 is a well known fact. The smaller the size or the more transformed the product, the higher the price per kilo. The idea here is not to systematically take the biggest sizes, but especially to avoid taking the smallest sizes. That’s when you’ll appreciate having taken the time to note the quantities needed for each post on your shopping list! Thanks to this, you will be able to buy the most adequate size for your needs from an economical point of view and you will also avoid food waste. The example below is obvious! The small Mozza Pearls (left) are twice the price of the 300 gram block (right).

Price difference between 4 identical products but in mini format or already processed (Migros)

Finally, Tip 6 is not applied enough. Just because a promotion has a big 25% off on a specific brand of cured ham at the beginning of the meat section does not mean it is the cheapest cured ham on the shelf! Of course, there are good offers and it all depends on how you are going to use the product. The objective here is to ask yourself what quality of product you need and want for your meal. For example, I will not take the same quality of ham on the bone if I want to use it for ham croissants or if I want to eat it as a main dish with cheese.

I warned you, shopping is a step in itself that you should not neglect! Even if it’s a lot of rules at once, they will become automatic in your daily life and you’ll enjoy shopping!

Step 4 – Cook and eat!

You’re finally at the point where it’s going to be the most fun! You start a week with daily menus that make you feel good and you won’t have to think about your meals for a week! Isn’t that nice? As far as cooking is concerned, I don’t really have any advice to give and even less on how you are going to eat 🙂

The only thing I recommend here is not to throw away leftovers or excess food! Some dishes are even better the next day, like lasagna or pasta bolognese! If you have enough leftovers to make a meal, don’t hesitate to postpone a meal that you had planned for another time. Postpone the meals that contain the foods that keep the longest, because you will surely be able to postpone this meal or part of the food to the next week 🙂

Tip #3 – Budget your dining out properly

Dining out is covered in this post because it can quickly become a major expense. As we have seen and explained in this post, eating out at work is a big source of expense. However, one should not neglect the expenses related to the outings with family or friends in these same restaurants. I’m not going to dwell on this advice, but like any other hobby or activity, I advise you to think about the budget you want to allocate for your restaurant outings! If you haven’t already done so, I invite you to read my post on why maintaining a budget is the key to increasing your savings rate.


As you have understood, food and eating in general is an important source of expenses that is really worth controlling! It’s up to you to set your priorities, but by applying some or all of these tips, you’ll be able to significantly reduce your food-related expenses and possibly invest that money elsewhere.

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