5 Foods I Grew Tired of Buying, and How I Quit

By Linsey Knerl on 2 December 2007 29 comments
Photo: Baked Bread

Everyone who cares about frugality understands that it often involves becoming more self-reliant. In the course of an average day, consumers spend money on food items that can’t be produced at home, and require us to spend money to obtain them. On the flipside, there are other things that could be made at home, but with greater time and expense than it is worth. The following is a list of kitchen staples that I quit buying, and how I’ve made it work.


Bread – This is a new one for me. Our family of six easily tears through 3 loaves of bread a week. This is over $400 a year in bread expense alone. Baking your own bread isn’t difficult, and it only seems daunting the first time you do it. After you get the hang of it, you can work it into your schedule without any adjustment (after all, most of the time spent baking bread is in letting it rise.) For a super tutorial that any dummy can follow, check out this link that includes tips for getting the best price on your baking supplies. (For a fresh-baked perspective on bread, see Myscha and Philip’s articles.)


Eggs – Not everyone is in the position to raise chickens. If you happen to have the space, however, and it is legal where you live, a few free-range laying hens are really easy to care for. They are great for pest control (some even eat mice) and have pleasant dispositions. For a minimal initial investment, you can keep a flow of fresh eggs coming year-round. We easily consume the eggs that our small flock produces, and they outshine the store-bought competition. (For more Wise Bread commentary, see Myscha and Philip’s other articles.)


Hot cocoa mix – A box of cocoa mix can go on sale as low as 99 cents during the year. If you drink as much as our family does, however, this is a terrible deal compared to making your own. I have tried all kinds of homemade mixes consisting mainly of powdered milk, sweetener, and cocoa, but Trent’s recipe at the Simple Dollar takes the cake!


Gravies, broths, and cream soups – If I totaled up what I would spend on these three items in proportion to the rest of my grocery bill, they seem daunting at times. This is really ridiculous considering that they are all made from the same thing – meat stock, water or milk, and thickener. If you aren’t up to making your own homemade stock from chicken or beef, bouillon can make a fine substitute. Just remember these simple kitchen equations for instant savings:


Bouillon + water = broth

Bouillon + water + thickener (flour or cornstarch) = gravy

Bouillon + milk + even more thickener and some heavy stirring = cream soup


Dog Food – If the pet food recalls weren’t enough to steer you towards making your own dog food, maybe the cost-savings would. Your lone Chihuahua may not eat enough to warrant grinding your own chow, but my two Great Pyrenees pups are destined to reach 100 pounds by adulthood. The premium bag of 20-lb kibble from our supply store costs over $15, and this is gone in a week! The staggering bill caused me to re-examine how I could feed these hounds on a budget. The homemade dog food is easy to prepare once a week in a food processor with scraps of high-quality trimmed meats, rice, and veggies. Wondering where my pie pumpkins ended up after October? They made great puppy food! (An additional recipe that works well can be found here.)


These are five food items that were worth it for me to find a way to avoid purchasing. Every household will be different, however, and if you don’t spend much in these areas, it may not work for you. With all the free information available, you could possibly find other homemade foodstuffs that will give you maximum savings. Already doing so? Tell us about it… we’d love to hear how you do it!

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Guest's picture

Thanks Linsey! It's great to know someone is actually doing that, when all I see people buying in grocery stores is processed ick.

Linsey Knerl's picture

What's amazing is that when my husband first suggested that I make our bread, I cried.  I did not want to be "that person".  Now I can happily use the "bread money" for something I really want, and I have accepted this is how I will be living for awhile!

Myscha Theriault's picture

First of all, thanks for the links, girl!

Second, I'm looking forward to attempting the hot chocolate and (perhaps) the dog food. They are both things I've had on my mental list to try homemade versions of, but haven't made the transition yet. I'm going to check out the pet food recipe link right now. Just as an aside, here's a link to the cream soup recipe I mix up as a dry mix in bulk every few months. It is SO convenient to have it there when I want to do a batch of chowder, which is probably going to be today or tomorrow. And you are so right, the broths, cream soups and gravies add up to a mind blowing amount if you use them regularly.

Thanks again, Linsey!

Guest's picture

I had never considered making my own dog food. I'm going to look into that (it has to be better for pups than commercial stuff).

I have been making my own hot cocoa mix and base sauces for years - no preservatives and they taste so much better than pre-packaged stuff.

Guest's picture

Home made dog food is a REAL money saver and it's probably better for the dog. I freeze individual servings in covered bowls and take them out of the freezer a day before they are needed.

You may want to give some raw bones to provide calcium for growing dogs. (Cooked bone has too much danger of splintering.) Or, you can provide calcium by putting some egg shells in your dog food. I use a little coffee grinder to pulverize the egg shells.

Myscha Theriault's picture

Good idea. While I haven't had a chance to run the egg shell idea by a vet, I would tend to lean towards lending it some validity, as my sister-in-law needs calcium supplemented in her diet for medical reasons. The store bought supplements were outrageous, so her doctor gave her a recipe (I don't have it, have only seen her make it) using egg shells and lemon juice. She was supposed to take a couple of spoonfuls of that a day instead of the calcium supplements. I do remember her saying that in order to get the pure source of the calcium (which is apparently what egg shells are), she had been instructed to use shells from raw eggs, not cooked eggs. Does this fit in with what anyone else has heard?

That being said, our lab is on laxative capsules due to a gland issue she has, and the vet said to get the kind without calcium. Now, she may have said that due to the fact that dog foods have it (?) and too much would not be good.

Now I've got myself wondering . . . I'll have to add it to my list of questions as we are going for a medical follow up and booster shots in a week or two . . .

Julie Rains's picture

My hot cocoa recipe is milk and store brand choc. syrup in the microwave; I'm not sure how cost-saving it is, but I nearly always have both on hand.

rstlne's picture

I stopped eating bread because I got tired of it. However, there are many kinds of breakfast foods, many in generic brands and/or bulk quantity, available in the average supermarket. I also have leftovers for breakfast sometimes.

Guest's picture

I can't help wondering why anyone who is on a budget would have TWO Pyrenees - feeding them is one thing, but with big dogs, everything costs twice as much - medication, kenneling... I certainly wouldn't recommend it if you are thinking about a dog and already counting the pennies.

When we had our Bernese, before the drought, we used to buy a side of lamb for $2.99 a kilo AU. He used to eat legs of lamb! (now it's $30+ a kilo) Chicken necks, carcasses and wings are good - the small soft bones are very digestible, and they are usually pretty cheap.

Guest's picture

I didn't mean that to sound so critical, by the way - just that the articles opening comments about being frugal seemed to suggest that the family was already on a budget (I didn't think three loaves for six was all that much, really) - then added the puppies - but logic rarely comes into it with animals, does it! We have somehow acquired a menagerie ourselves.

Guest's picture

I'm a bit surprised at your assertion that homemade dog food actually saves money. I'd considered doing it for the nutritional aspects, but had always figured that real meat (even scraps) would cost more than whatever processed-meat-like-byproduct they use in kibble.

I'd be really interested to see more detail on the numbers for this - what kind of scraps and where you get them, do you buy it in bulk, &c.


Guest's picture

I have 4 large dogs and we feed them a high quality grain free food. We also cook for our dogs. I buy whole chickens when the price drops below 99 cents a pound and we feed them a mix of chicken meat, white rice and vegetables from our garden. Cooking for our dogs is actually a little cheaper than commercial dog food. My dogs are much leaner and healthier and have beautiful coats. There also isn't as much clean up in the yard because they are absorbing more nutrients from the real food they are given.

Myscha Theriault's picture

Just a little extra commentary on the person who was commenting on large dogs and how they apply to the budget.

I can't speak for Linsey's decisions, but for myself at the time that we got the dogs there were (in addition to being ready to give dogs in need of adoption a home) security concerns for us. (BTW, we have a lab and a German shepherd / collie mix.) With my husband's job, we weren't sure if he was going to Iraq or not.

Would be interested in anyone else's experience / reasons. 


Linsey Knerl's picture

It is a valid question to wonder about having two Large Breed dogs when on a budget.  We have the dogs for security reasons and as part of our farm living / livestock needs on our 9 acre farm.  The Pyrenees are wonderful with children, have a short puppy phase (little nipping, tearing things up), do well in cold weather, train well, and are great for keeping predators away from our chicken flock.  We tried going without a dog for some time, due to the cost.  We ran into so many problems with raccoons, fox, badgers, stray cats, etc that we decided to invest in pups.  They were purchased from a reputable breeder at 1/5 the cost because we bought them during the fall when people have a hard time selling them.  The benefits have far outweighed the costs for us just in security reasons and the safety of our chickens and calf.  

I certainly wouldn't recommend big dogs just to have them, as they do cost more to feed.  We have gotten around the cost of feeding them high-end meat simply by adding them into our grocery buying.  When we buy bulk hamburger twice a year on sale for 99 cents a pound, we buy an extra 10-20 pounds for them.  Same for turkeys when they are B1G1 during the holidays.  We will also check the meat case for items that are at the end of their sell date.  The meat is still good, just needs to be cooked or frozen right away.  This is a great way to get chops, roasts, turkey legs, etc. for pennies.  


Linsey Knerl's picture

If it wasn't clear from my comments, our pups are work dogs,  not so much companion animals.  While we love them, they are more a cost of doing business out here on the farm, than simply a hobby or a love for animals..  :)

Linsey Knerl's picture

The calcium is a great point to bring up.  I also give my pups a small bit (1/4 cup) of dry dog food, as it's good for their teeth.  I either make this myself, or use coupons combined with sales to get the smallest bags for pennies or free.

There are some larger bones that are safe to give adult dogs and these will also help with both calcium and strengthening their teeth. 

Guest's picture

If you eat it, make your own granola. It's easy, inexpensive (even with the nuts and dried fruit that I love) and healthy. If I could get my kids and husband to stop eating the boxed cereal, my grocery budget would go down quite a bit.

Guest's picture

In my apartment, my freezer (actually, ice box within the fridge) is so small that I can't fit very much in it. And living alone, while I absolutely love to cook, I don't like leftovers that much because they usually spoil before I can finish them (ie: small icebox).

I love soups, with crackers, so I scour the sales, and whenever they go on sale at my local store (usually something great like 4/$5) I pick them up, along with whatever healthy crackers I can find. I get the not-spending-a-fortune on soups, but sometimes it's more cost (and definitely time) effective to buy in smaller portions.

Guest's picture

ah, that makes sense then. I'd made the assumption they were pets as Pyrenees are quite fashionable at the moment - a pity as I gather they really are working dogs. I think in a farm and bush environment dogs are well worth having. Fortunately the only marauding animals we have here are mice, rats and snakes, and our cat and small terrier deal with them very well.

Giving an unwanted dog a home is certainly a good motivation, and I know that often it's the people who can least afford it that will open their home to the needy.

The Bernese was a good guard dog in a sense - he only barked if a stranger was about - but unfortunately looked like a big teddy-bear, so we were broken into despite his presence. (and were just grateful he wasn't harmed; nobody was home but him.)

I should know better than to cast aspersions when I know nothing of somebody's situation or motives (and probably shouldn't when I do: who am I to judge?). So, my apologies.

Linsey Knerl's picture

I am all too familiar with people getting in over their heads financially when it comes to pets.. (thus my lighthearted look at cost-efficient pets ).  No apologies necessary -- it gave me a chance to clarify further.

Thanks for the comments! 

Myscha Theriault's picture

At our house, pet food is only a minimal part of their upkeep. Medical bills can abound with large and small breeds alike. So can "Skunk Be Gone" product purchases . . . yup, lots of things are the same no matter what the size. This has been a great spin off discussion  . . . thanks!

Guest's picture

For those who question the wisdom of spending money on pets, I'd like to point out that frugality is not about depriving yourself. It's about having a meaningful life because you didn't waist your life energy chasing things that don't matter.

My pet is well cared for because I don't have an i-phone. For me, its a good trade off. Your situation may be different.

Linsey Knerl's picture

You said it... that is exactly what I was trying to say in my article, Choosing Between Apples and Oranges .  Living on a budget doesn't automatically determine that you won't be able to buy things... it simply allows for you to plan ahead so that there are fewer surprises.

Myscha Theriault's picture

I am definitely in agreement with that. We felt ready to incorporate pets into our lives, and rearranged our budget accordingly. That being said, it's nice to save money on their expense where we can. Thanks again for the article, Linsey.

Guest's picture

For our cat, the options are to inject her every day with insulin ($$$$) or manage her diabetes with diet ($$) - in her case, raw meats/organs, some egg yolks, homegrown oatgrass. Had we known, we probably could have avoided spending thousands treating our dog's cancer by feeding him properly in the first place. They're carnivores - why do we feed them so much grain?

In the past, I ground her food, but these days I just divvy up bits and pieces into fridge containers and scoop out servings. It's not precisely the same mix every day, but why should it be?

One note: bouillon is not stock - it's got none of the nutritive value of the real thing, which helps gut, joint and immune health, so it's not a good regular substitute. Many bouillons also contain MSG, which shouldn't be fed to children at all. It's really worth the minor hassle of throwing some bones in the crock-pot with a little leftover wine and freezing in recipe portions.

Guest's picture

Get small "disposable" plastic containers (ziploc or glad). They have really small single-serving sizes. You can freeze and microwave them, and also wash them and reuse them. Prep the soup, and freeze it.

Also, make your own soup. You just need a large pot, or a crock pot, and put water in it, a pinch of salt, and a lot of vegetables. The veggies break down and turn into the broth. You can even use the "inedible" or ugly parts of your veggies, and save even more money. If you want a meat soup, add the appropriate meat. You'll find that this real soup tastes much better than canned, and has a tiny fraction of the sodium.

Guest's picture

great article! I'm inspired. I love the thought of raising my own chickens one day!

There are a few more things we can afford not to buy anymore that weren't found in the article:

Herbs!! Grow your own herbs! My basil grows like a weed every year! Herbs are incredibly easy to grow and they are VERY expensive at the grocery store.

Food storage containers!! I have approx. 20 cottage cheese tubs in my cabinets that I use to store leftovers to chopped fresh veggies. It's a great way to save money and reduce your waste output of your household. So save your margarine tubs, large yogurt tubs, sour cream tubs, coffee cans, etc!!

Linsey Knerl's picture

Great ideas!  I had to laugh at the cottage cheese comment, not that it isn't a great idea... my grandma is great at this method.  Every care package we ever get comes with goodies stored in bread bags and cool whip containers. It's good for us, because she doesn't have to hound us later to get her good tupperware back!

Guest's picture

Yes, I pulled out the bread machine and have been giving it a great work out. It's amazing the number of recipes that use simple, 'honest' ingredients that give a fantastic tasting loaf. I haven't bought bread from the store for simply ages now, and I'm staggered at the amount of unnecessary ingredients store bread contains. It's always great when you can save money and eat well at the same time!

Thanks for the inspirational articles and motivation...