In this episode of the because money podcast, we are joined by Kristen “The Frugal Girl” which is super exciting because as you will see in the video, Kristen is absolutely awesome. Kristen is a voice of reason in a world where frugal can mean a lot of different things. In the time we spent with her, she was respectful and balanced and provided insight clearly gained from years of practical experience in managing her time and money well.
If you haven’t checked out her blog, you should… and you should also subscribe to her email newsletter. And while we are telling you what you should do, consider checking out the resource list below and following along with the transcript below while sitting back and enjoying the episode!
Jackson: Jackson Middleton
Kyle: Kyle Prevost
Sandi: Sandi Martin
Kristen: Kristen aka “the Frugal Girl”
Jackson: Hello everybody and welcome to another episode of The Because Money Podcast. I’ve got to say that I am extremely excited about this episode. But before I say anything, and just ramble on and on and on, I’m going to send it over to Sandi and she’s going to introduce our guest. And then we’re gonna talk about all the cool things that our guest does, and how it can impact your life. Here we go, Sandi.
Sandi: It’s my turn to ramble on and on. Awesome. You know, I’m really, really excited myself. I’m going to echo Jackson, because we have Kristen, who blogs as “The Frugal Girl”, and has been blogging since I think 2009, it could be. Kristen, I never told you this, but your blog is the first one that I ever read back-to-front. I hadn’t even read blogs before.
Kyle: That’s a big deal.
Sandi: It’s a big deal, back-to-front. So welcome. Thank you for coming.
Kristen: Thank you. I’m excited to be here. This is going to be fun.
Sandi: Well, it’s can’t not be fun, really, with us. We have a good time. [laughs]
So today we’re talking about saving money on food. And I think that often when people first start—they know the name of your blog is The Frugal Girl, so people know we’re talking about saving money—people very often, when they start thinking about saving money or changing the way that they spend their money, they’re told “well you can save money on food”. Google that and you’ll start seeing things like apps to save, or clipping coupons, and going to different stores. Do you do that?
Kristen: I used to, back in the day. For a while there, there was lots of double coupons going on. I did that for a while, but I kind of soured on it for a couple of reasons. First of all, it just takes too much time to do that. And once I had four kids and I’m home-schooling them…it’s just too much work. And the other thing is that a lot of the food that you can buy with coupons isn’t really what I want to feed my family. [laughs] I know expert couponers will say you can find coupons for meat and produce, but honestly most of what you can get coupons for is processed foods, because manufacturers aren’t looking to save you money on milk and fruits and vegetables, and meat. It’s all processed stuff.
So I prefer a simpler method to buy simpler food. [laughs] I like to buy real foods and keep it simple. My favourite grocery store to shop at is Aldi, which doesn’t even take coupons. They have a really simple method for their stores that they just carry the products that sell the most frequently, and they carry them at rock-bottom prices. And so they don’t have sales and they don’t have coupons and rebates, and it’s really simple to save money on groceries there. So that is my very favorite way to save money on my food. That, and cooking at home. [laughs]
Sandi: So let’s talk a little about cooking at home. We don’t have Aldi—and as I said, I’ve been reading your blog for a long time—and every time you talk about it, you say such glowing, wonderful things, and I think, “Aw, some day, maybe.” [laughs]
So we used to look, in Canada—I’ll just tell you—we use to look at the coupon blogs and tutorials, and you talking about Aldi, and think “what can we do here in Canada?’ And I think that we can do the very same thing that you do at home now. We can save money with only one grocery store in town, without any coupons.
So let’s talk a little bit about cooking at home and some of the ways that we can save money, just at home, without worrying about coupons and worrying about what stores we go to?
Kristen: Well, you can buy almost anything you want at the grocery store. [laughs] And if you cook that at home versus getting something that’s take-out, you’re going to save money right off the bat. I mean, you can pretty much eat prime rib at home for the cost of take-out, because take-out is so much more expensive than almost anything you can buy at the grocery store.
So if you just [laughs]—it’s not really a “just”—but if you cook at home, you’re going to save money even without changing your shopping habits at all.
Sandi: I love that you said “just”, because we’ve been talking about that for a while, about how that’s often the kind of money advice that people get. It’s prefaced with “just” and then you’re not supposed to worry about it, like “Oh, just cook at home”, “Oh, just do that”.
Kyle, when you were in your bachelor days, you said that you cooked then. Was it “just” cooking? Was it that easy?
Kyle: Well, people wouldn’t have maybe described it as cooking, so much as boiling various different things to then consuming. I knew I wasn’t very good at it. I didn’t like interacting with it because it just reaffirmed that I wasn’t very good, and I wasn’t really interested in learning. And so it wasn’t “just” cooking for me.
Sandi: And Jackson, you just started cooking at home and I’ve followed your adventures on Instagram for a while now. Right now you have something up about the lovely food that you ate yesterday. But it wasn’t long ago that you started cooking for yourself. So was it “just” cooking for you?
Jackson: Well, no, here’s kind of how it went for me. I did have an “ah-ha” moment, and it’s funny because Kristen, on your blog I read that there was no ah-ha moment. You just kind of always plodded along. And I appreciate that, I really do. But I had an ah-ha moment. I was raised on Ichiban noodles and Kraft dinner, and the natural progression to that is take-out. You just say “Ah, I’m too busy”. How can you be too busy for Kraft dinner? But I was, so I would eat out. And I had a really poor understanding og money, really.
But it was about a year-and-a-half ago that my wife and I decided we don’t want to cook at home just to save money, we want to cook at home because we were bored of take-out. Now how wild is that? It is what it is. But we found that you can cook at home, and if you just take the time to learn how to do it. If you invest the time into it, it’s fabulous. And I’ve found a real passion for cooking, and I’ve never cooked anything, but I love cooking and the kind of simple that I would say for me, the “just” for me is that I like to make my food look good. And I like to present it.
I remember way back singing like “French restaurants? I don’t want a plate this big. Give me Texas, baby. I was supersize. I want everything.”
Kyle: Now you’re talking my language.
Jackson: And that was it. It actually happened at McDonalds. It’s like I can get a pop the size of an 18-gallon container for 48 cents. That can’t be good for me! [laughs] That cannot be healthy. This is not a good thing. So I actually looked at investing in quality and actually, okay how can I take simple ingredients and make them better? How can I make them fit into a meal?
Lately, I’ve been picking onions. I just take an onion, I pickle it in a brine. I’m experimenting with different brines, so that I can cook my onions and include them in a meal, and see how they impact. I’m spending so much time on little things. I cut up one mushroom in my eggs this morning. That’s crazy. I would usually have 78 mushrooms, but you don’t need that.
So, I guess for me it’s been a long process. There was an ah-ha moment that I should really be doing this at home, but then I really dug in and started investing at home. Yeah, that’s been for me. This whole cooking at home, it’s not just, “Oh, just cook at home and everything will be good”. I found that if you spent time at it and you really invest, you’re knowledge base grows, and the more it grows, oh man, this is just so much fun. And I’m having fun. And now I read food blogs. Now I go to your blog and I read it, and it’s like, “That’s a good idea, kebabs. I’m in. I’m going to make those kebabs”. But I’ve got the knowledge base. I understand how to do it.
Kristen: Well I think it’s really great that you have discovered that this is super-fun for you, but I don’t think that’s going to be everybody’s experience. [laughs] So I don’t want people to listen to this and be like, “Oh wow, what’s wrong with me because I’m not really having fun with this?”
I think it’s going to be fun for some people, but for some people, it’s just going to be hard, it’s work. And I think having the expectation is really helpful, because sometimes I see things peddled on the internet, like “Oh, this is a super-easy way to cloth diaper” or “This is a super-quick easy way to dinner on the table every night”. And the truth of it is, it’s hard to get dinner on the table every night; week in and week out, especially if you’re wise about your grocery shopping and cooking healthy food, and still wanting to have some time for other things. It’s just hard.
So I think it’s important for people to expect that this isn’t just going to be a walk in the park necessarily. So I don’t want people to wonder what’s wrong with them if they feel like this is a chore, like because sometimes it just does feel like a chore. [laughs]
Sandi: Especially on a Wednesday night when you’re “Well, I didn’t really think about it this morning and now everybody’s come home from school or they’re done school for the day and they’re hungry” [laughs] Part of it might be this anticipating. Sometimes I feel it’s discouraging to say that, but yes, this can be discouraging. But knowing that it will be, and actually coming up with at least one meal that you can make with stuff in the pantry, like rice and beans, or something that you know you can make fast. Even though it’s not the most exciting thing and you might not put it on Instagram, might be a really good way to avoid that sort of take-out call it 5:30 in the evening when you haven’t prepared anything for the day. [laughs]
Jackson: That’s exactly it. And for us, we found our go-to meals, and we kind of stock it in our fridge. Because yeah, we still get that “Oh man, let’s just go out for food”. But now it’s almost worse, because now it’s “Let’s go to Radius Food Company”. They only cook food that’s been grown in a hundred miles and doesn’t cast a shadow, and it’s expensive and really tastes great. So now we’re kind of food snobs at restaurants too, which is terrible.
But we found go-to meals in the fridge do help for that. And cloth diapering, no. You’re absolutely right. This might not be everyone’s gig. Cloth diapering is a hands-off, no. And we’ve got four kids too, so no-go. [laughs]
Kyle: There’s nothing “just” about cloth diapering.
Kristen: I did not cloth diaper any of my four kids. So yeah.
Kyle: Major props to whoever does. I’m not bashing you. I’m just saying, that’s a sacrifice. Good for you, Sandi. Good for you.
Sandi: Let’s not talk about cloth diapers and food.
Kristen: I want to throw in there too. If you’re somebody who’s new to cooking at home, I think it’s good to have realistic expectations. And it’s also good to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. If you’ve been eating out seven days a week, it might not be a good idea to quit eating out “cold turkey” and expect yourself to make seven meals a week at home. It might be better to just be like, “Well, I’ll try cooking three meals a week at home, and I’ll still go out for the other four”, because that’s still progress.
And if you take a more measured approach like that, you might actually stick with it, rather than just flaming out after seven days, like “Oh this is too hard”.
Sandi: Oh, I love that so much.
Jackson: That’s so perfect. That’s amazing advice because that’s been our experience too. We got so frustrated with ourselves when we’d eat out. And then we realized the goal isn’t perfection, the goal is progress. And then when we finally got our heads around that, we could actually go out, enjoy a meal, and then get excited.
I would eat at a place and it’s like okay, I’m going to have fun and I’m going to learn how to cook that. As long as you’re moving forward, you’re good. Move forward.
Kristen: Yes, an all-or-nothing approachis really problematic in all kinds of financial ways. For paying off debt or any kind of spending you’re trying to curb. If you can focus on making progress instead of being perfect, that will get you so far. It’s better to make slow, steady progress over a long period of time than to go in this enormous spurt and then completely fall off the wagon. I’m all about the slow and steady.
Sandi: I love that so much. What about the kind of equipment that you would need? I grew up cooking at home. You grew up, your family cooked at home. So for us, it seems like “Oh yeah, well I’ll start cooking” because we assume that everybody has everything already. So would you have advice for somebody that wants to take your advice, progress slowly, but kind of still needs to buy a colander if they want to make spaghetti? What do people need?
Kristen: Well, I think it’s the common beginner mistake in pretty much any area, to assume that the equipment is what is important. [laughs] Because whether you’re taking pictures or you’re cooking or you’re taking up a new sport, usually the equipment isn’t what really makes the difference. Somebody who has skills can make do with a pretty limited array of kitchen equipment.
I actually don’t own that many pieces of kitchen equipment. I have two pots, a frying pan, and a Dutch oven, and those really are the four things that I use to make most of my meals. And I have some baking sheets too. But I would just want people to know, it doesn’t have to be fancy. Just a few pots and pans, and you can turn out something edible in your kitchen.
Sandi: So let’s talk a little bit about ways that people can save money, that they don’t really even know about. Let’s talk about the backend, although I guess in the context of cloth diapering it’s maybe not the phrase that I want to use. [laughs] But one of the things that was always a hallmark on your blog was food waste, right? Food Waste Fridays, and I think that’s how you even started blogging in the first place.
Kristen: It is.
Sandi: Trying to shame yourself into not wasting food, right?
Sandi: Let’s talk a little bit about what we throw away and how we can save money by paying attention to that part of it, too.
Kristen: Sure. A lot of people, when they’re trying to save money on their groceries, they focus on obtaining them cheaply. But then they don’t really think that much about what they’re actually going to do with the food when they buy it. So Americans throw away 40% of the food that we buy, which is just really sort of mind-boggling when you think about it. Here we are trying to save 50 cents on a box of cereal, but we’re wasting 40% of our grocery budget by just throwing it into the trash, which is just crazy.
But I used to throw away all kinds of food every week, even though I was into saving money. One day I was throwing my stuff away from my fridge and I was just like “This is ridiculous. I need to stop this”, so I thought a little public accountability would help me. So I posted pictures of my food waste on my blog every week. That’s how I got started blogging back in 2008. I still throw away a little bit of food, because I’m not perfect, but I’ve made a lot of progress. I’m no longer throwing away copious amounts of food from my fridge every week.
That’s a really important way to not waste money, by not throwing away the food that you buy, and eating it instead.
Sandi: So, that leads me to ask you about meal planning, because that’s another thing that I’ve noticed that you’ve done for a long time. And I can’t imagine really trying to not throw out food without having a plan to use it. I think of my own fridge – if I didn’t plan what we were going to eat, I’m sure most of it would get thrown away pretty frequently, because without a plan it’s like “I need a big tub of sour cream. I don’t know what I’m going to use it for [laughs] but I need it.”
Kristen: Yeah, I think for some people who are just able to look in their fridge and just throw together a bunch of random ingredients and make a meal, I don’t think that they necessarily need to plan. But the rest of us, I really think meal planning is super-helpful. For me, especially because it helps me to know what to buy at the grocery store. Then also, it gives me a plan for what I’m buying at the grocery store. So when I bring it home I know this is going to go for this, and this is going to be used here. So I’m buying what I need and no more than what I need.
Sandi: Yeah, I really like that.
Jackson: Let me ask your advice on this. There’s two camps here. Buy everything at Costco real cheap and then end up wasting some, or go to the grocery store every single day, or somewhere in the middle? I know what I’d like, but what do you find that works for you?
Kristen: I hate shopping, so I do not want to go to the grocery store every day. [laughs] I want to go as infrequently as possible. So I’m somewhere in-between the Costco and the every day kind of thing. I usually plan for a week or two at a time, and I make a detailed grocery list, based off of the menu plan. And then I go and buy all the essential ingredients for what I need to make. And then I don’t have to go grocery shopping for another week or so.
If I go two weeks between shopping, then I will usually only buy one week’s worth of perishables stuff like fruits and veggies, and then I just make a quick stop for those things in-between the two-week period. [laughs] But yeah, I don’t want to shop all the time.
I do shop at Costco, but I don’t buy very much in the way of perishable stuff from Costco, because even with a family of six, we have a hard time going through the mass quantities of produce that they have there. I prefer Costco for things like yeast and whatnot, that don’t go bad.
Jackson: Like 78 pounds of apples from Costco. And that’s the small quantity. I love shopping. I do all of the shopping in our house, and I’d shop every day. I would go to the store in the morning, buy what I need for that day. I love it, but I know that’s not really feasible. We live 45 minutes from the closest grocery store.
Kristen: That’s a great idea though, for avoiding food waste. I have often thought to just go to the grocery store every day, and then I would never accidentally buy too much and my fridge would never be very full, and I wouldn’t lose things in the back of it. But for me, that’s just not going to happen.
But it’s great that it works for you. I’m just making it clear that we are not grocery shopping every day.
Jackson: And the other trick we’ve got for food waste is we bought chickens. So we’ve got six chickens, and they eat our scraps. They love it. They just flock to it. So that’s been our secret.
Kristen: I feel like that would be an overall net loss in terms of productivity, and I don’t think I have time for it. [laughs] I do compost.
Sandi: So, you know what? Now this is just going to be me thinking out loud, which is often what happens when I open my mouth. I wonder if just the idea around cooking, for people who this is still a brand new thing for them. The idea of cooking at home might be just something that they move toward, instead of moving away from something. Do you know what I mean?
Kristen: You’re thinking of it in positive terms rather than negative terms, you mean?
Sandi: Yeah. Instead of “I absolutely cannot eat out”—just what you were saying before. “I can’t eat out, and therefore I have to eat at home”.
Kristen: Womp-wah. Yeah, I definitely do better if I think we’re making positive choices, rather than not making negative choices. Like if I think, “what are the healthy foods that I can eat?” Instead of “I better not eat that brownie”. Just framing it that way is just helpful for me. It makes it feel less like a punishment, which is really good.
Sandi: Do you know what? That was one of the ways that I actually entered into cooking at home. Obviously, I just said we cooked at home and our family it was just kind of the expectation, right. The idea that that I could make something the way I like to eat it. That’s what moved me toward it, instead of just I’m supposed to cook at home because that’s the expectation. It was “Oh, I can put a whole bunch of cilantro on something that nobody else likes”.
Kristen: Yeah, that is definitely a benefit. But I think I’m more motivated by the money-saving aspect of it. And also the health aspect of it, too. That you can each much healthier food by cooking at home than you can when you eat out at a restaurant, or you get take-out or pizza.
Sandi: That’s true, actually. It’s all that prepared food.
Kyle, I don’t know when you were doing your bachelor stuff, do you remember just kind of walking through the grocery and were like “Oh, chicken nuggets. I need some of those. And perogies, I need some of those”.
Kyle: No, I was actually fairly healthy with it; just really boring.
Kristen: That’s my husband. [laughs]
Kyle: Yeah, like a lot of boiled vegetables were a key thing. Depending on if you steam them, they retain more of their health benefits. But for meat and stuff, because I’m a rural guy and I’ve always been a rural guy, we tend to have a lot of family friends that are farmers. So you buy like a quarter of a cow. And then again, I’m going to alienate half the show here, but I enjoy hunting, so we’d often have venison, which some people are like “Oh my god, you shot Bambi”, but super-healthy. You can’t get healthier meat, really, if you look at what goes into that. Then actually, my wife’s family grew up on the lake, so we always have a copious amount of fish in our freezer. So eat healthy, just boring. I didn’t really know what to do with it.
Kristen: [laughs] Something I wanted to add, for new people in the kitchen, I think Trina Holden sent this on Instagram the other day. I just pick a couple of recipes and make them every week, or every other week for a while, until you’re really comfortable with them. Because cooking is sort of like learning a new vocabulary. And if you try to learn a whole new language all at once, it will be so overwhelming. So if you just pick a couple of recipes and you make them until you get really good at them, then you’re like, “Okay, I know those. Now I have some room in my brain for some more recipes”.
I don’t think people should feel like they have to do something new every single night. It’s okay to practice something. And once you practice a recipe, it’s not that hard. Then it really is just making that meal; whereas at first it’s a little overwhelming.
Jackson: And I’m going to totally agree with you there, 100%. I think that is some of the clearest, best advice. That was my experience exactly. I was watching the Food Network and I watched Michael Smith make pesto and braised lamb shanks. And I’m not kidding, those are the two meals and I started with. I said I need to do that. I made pesto and I made braised lamb. Seriously, I sat on my coffee table with my PVR and I would stop it. I’d run to my kitchen and put in the lamb shank. He goes, “You gotta sear it up perfectly”, and I’m like “Okay, bottle of wine. How did he pour that?”
But I’m not kidding. I think for three months, every week I made pesto and braised lamb shanks. [laughs] We had a friend who was a farmer and had lamb, so it worked for us. But the pesto, then we could use it as a dip. We’d put it on our pizza. We had pesto pasta. So we started repurposing the pesto. Then I started changing the straight pesto Genovese to a bunch of experimenting, like I added sundried tomatoes. But I nailed down two things, and from there it was like, “Okay, well what could this be?”
So it wasn’t like all of a sudden I could just cook. But one meal gave me the confidence to cook another meal, and gave me the confidence to cook another meal. And then eventually, we had a week’s worth of meals. Now, it would be pretty boring if we just year-after-year repeated those same meals, but man. I’m about a year-and-a-half in and I love cooking. I get excited about it. I’m pickling things so I can put it in my food better.
But it certainly wasn’t that way from the start. It wasn’t like, “Ah, I can cook”. So I totally agree with you.
Kristen: The more you do something, the better you get at it. And when you get better at something, it’s more fun and less frustrating. So if you have this expectation, like is this going to be harder at the beginning than it will be later on, then it can help you get over that first initial “Oh, this is really hard” kind of feeling. Because you know there’s greener pastures ahead, if you can just get over this hill of getting a few meals in your repertoire and under your belt.
Kyle: I was just going to ask Kristen with the appropriate “greener” metaphor there, if she has gotten into the whole gardening thing. Do you do the garden in order to efficiently have healthy meals for a reasonable cost, or is that quite a lot of bother?
Kristen: That’s a good question. A lot of frugal people garden, and I do not because I don’t really enjoy it, and we live in an area that is really shady. I tried growing some things, but they were just all kind of like little and iffy looking, and I didn’t really do very well.
And my parents have a beautiful, lovely, sunny garden that produces copious amounts of produce. So I just mooch off of their garden, and I’ve just decided that gardening is one of those things that I’m just not going to do. And that’s okay because we all picking and choosing in terms of saving money. We can’t all do everything that saves money.
I always tell people that they should pick the frugal activities that are the least distasteful to them, because if you try and do a frugal activity that you just despise, it will be really hard to stick with it. So, gardening is of those things for me, and I’ve just decided to let it go. I am not going to worry about the fact that I’m not a gardener. I will pay other people to grow food for me.
Sandi: So look, I think that we actually could come up with—which we don’t often do on this show—but we could actually come up with five points for people to start cooking, I think.
Kristen: Get organized. [laughs]
Sandi: I know, I’m excited! [laughs] But pick one thing. You know, you’ve never cooked before. You’ve only ever had a couple of experiences. Pick one thing that you could make that you know is pretty simple, that doesn’t take a whole bunch of equipment, and make that once a week for 2-3 weeks and then add in something new.
You know, we have this idea I think (as regular, normal human beings) that if I’m going to make a change, I’m going to make it all right now. And when we see the time ticking by, even though mentally we know we’re making progress, we see the time ticking by and we say, “No, I should be totally different by now.” So to give yourself some idea of momentum, okay I’m going to cook one thing this week, and next week, I’m going to cook it again plus one other thing. I think that we could come up with a very good little point-form list. Maybe we’ll append it to the end of the resource list, when we eventually get this episode up. [laughs]
Is there anything else, Kristen? Is there anything you want to cap us off with? We’re close to being out of time, but what was your number one thing you’d like to finish with?
Kristen: Just to give yourself grace. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself about changes that you make. Just know you can’t do all of the things, and you can’t do all of the things perfectly; even the things you do choose to do. I hate to watch people burn out when they try something new and they just feel overwhelmed, and they quit, and they’re like, “I’m never going to be as good at this than this other person”, who seems to have it completely together. But if you want to stick with something for the long-haul, you have to give yourself grace.
I have been working on my food waste since 2008, so that’s quite a few years now and I still throw away some food every week. But I know that I’m a completely different person, food waste-wise, than I was back in 2008. And I’m probably always going to have an odd bit of food waste here and there, and that’s just going to be okay. I’ve made lots of progress in that area of my life, and I can be happy with that.
So I would want people to take that attitude with themselves. Give yourself a little slack and just look for progress, not perfection.
Sandi: I love that. I’ve said that already about five times, but I’m so, so happy that we had you on the show, because that’s some really great overall advice. So thank you, thank you for coming.
Kristen: Thank you for having me. This was fun.
Sandi: We’ll do it again sometime.
Jackson: Thank you so much for coming on the show. If you guys want to find out more about Kristen, you can go to www.thefrugalgirl.com, where she will teach you how to make homemade yoghurt. She’s got 571 comments on how to make homemade yoghurt.
So quite a few people have trusted her blog, so you should probably go there. Anyway, thanks so much for coming on the show, and we’re out of here.
Kristen: Okay, thank you.