Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Amy Dacyczyn on Food

Below is a letter written by Amy Dacyczyn of The Tightwad Gazette fame. 

This letter did not run in her original newsletter, but was sent to people who wrote in asking for the article, and is a letter she wrote to help her readers save money on their food bill. 

I hope you enjoy it.

Dear Reader,

Our family spends less than $180 per month on food. At 6’ and 5’8 ½” Jim and I are not pygmies. Likewise our six children, ages 9 and down to a set of toddler twins, are also of above average height. And most of them eat more than I do. We are all healthy, have great cholesterol and blood pressure numbers, of normal weights and no one feels deprived. 

For the purposes of accurate comparison, my food bill only includes edibles. Many non-edibles that some people buy at food stores can be purchased at other types of stores where they are usually cheaper. I don’t know if a drug store purchase of shampoo is included in most people’s grocery bills. My food bill does include school lunches as well as gardening and canning supplies. We never eat out. Our food bill doesn’t include any additional energy cost for baking food from scratch. In both cases our savings on food FAR outweighs the energy usage. 

Although Jim is a military retiree we don’t shop at the Navy Commissary because of the distance, and so our food bill does not reflect any savings from there. 

We live 25 miles from a large supermarket. We can’t hit all the sales and do little couponing, since we have no double coupon stores in our area. People from different parts of the country have told us they think groceries cost more in the northeast. The prices here seem to be about the same as when we lived in Virginia, except we have fewer stores to compete with sales and double coupons. 

Most of my newsletters have articles on ways to cut the food bill. On the next page I have included experts of three issues. The first is 17 ways to save on the food bill. Most of them are obvious, but you need to do all of them. The second is an article on the price book. Do not skip this step, no matter how time consuming you think it is to make one up. Many readers have written in amazement of their findings, how all of their perceptions were wrong. It will reduce your food bill significantly. The simplicity of some of the meals shows that I didn’t specifically cook meals for the purpose of publication. The menu does not represent our complete repertoire. Since we plan meals around sales, during any given period we may eat more of one type of food than another.  

By using a price book, bulk buying and simplifying your diet you will not only reduce your food bill, you will reduce the amount of time spent shopping. You will spend less time comparing products for price. When you go into a store you know exactly which products you will buy there, so shopping can be completed faster. We usually shop once a month hitting several types of stores for a total of four hours including 1-1/2 hours of driving. And the few other trips we make to hit sales are combined with other errands or business. 

It is my belief that couponing and refunding should be a part of the shopping process, but only a small part It has not been proved to me that major refunding and couponing will reduce your food bill as much as if you use all the strategies. This has been reflected in letters from my readers who say that since they’ve become sharper shoppers, they have reduced their food bill AND are now using fewer coupons. In general manufacturer’s coupons are not good for convenience foods. For example, cold cereal, even when you subtract double-coupon savings, usually costs more per portion than a large range of other breakfasts you could prepare. Remember, it’s not how much you “save” with coupons, but how much you SPEND that counts. Coupons can be very good for pet foods, coffee, cleaners, and personal care products. 

Some people might think our diet is unexciting. Because we choose less expensive foods we have less variation. Also we are extremely busy. When we have more time to prepare food is becomes more interesting. However we do not mind if food is plain. 

Many people PREFER to spend more on their food bill. This is a value difference which I feel is acceptable, as long as they are financially responsible. However, it is my preference to spend money on things of permanence, something that will give me long term enjoyment or convenience, such as a place to live, a tool, or piece of furniture.

Amy Dacyczyn

~ Living within our Means ~


  1. Thank you for reprinting this. Love Amy and share the same philosophy with her about food and grocery shopping. When people tell me that they can't retire because groceries are so expensive, I want to tell them that it's there choice. Personally, I would rather eat more plainly (and boring) than be a slave to the workplace. After all, once food supplies you with your nutritional needs, the rest is just preferences. And some of the more expensive foods are far less nutritious than some of the "cheap" food, such as beans, eggs, oatmeal, etc.


    1. Excellent point, Jane. Many of the cheaper foods like beans and oatmeal are so much better for you. I'm glad you liked the article. I too love Amy and how much she taught me. I'm glad you enjoyed the article. :)

  2. I got one of Amy D's books for a quarter at a rummage sale. I think she would approve.

    Food is the part of our budgets that has the most wiggle room. You generally can't negotiate down your rent or car payment, but you can almost always cut grocery spending. I'm devoting a chapter of my upcoming "Playbook For Tough Times" sequel to food, and my next book after that will be all frugal food, all the time.

    While my personal blog is a mix of money and midlife, it's the articles on food that tend to pull in comments. That's what I like about blogging: We can all learn from one another. Things that I think are simple and common-sense are completely new to some people, and vice versa.

    1. Exactly, Donna. I love to read blogs because like you said we can learn from each other. Even one little tip can make all the difference. I'm looking forward to reading your new book and the one after that too. :)

  3. I love food and I love what I want. However, what I want and love is mostly inexpensive food. I do buy boneless, skinless chicken breasts, but only on sale. I manage to get the best possible prices using a variety of methods. I am absolutely appalled at the expensive foods people purchase--meat cuts, frozen pizza, bottled sugar water with colors, cut up fruit and veggies!

    I agree wholeheartedly with Amy about food, prices, and plain foods.

  4. I've been reading, and re-reading the Tightwad Gazette books since I bought second happy copies in the 90's as they were released, then resold. The ideas really challenged me and made it possible for us to save more, yet still have a good life, and afford a third child. While not everything was part of our lifestyle, some of the concepts such as the "wow factor" are now ingrained in me before I spend money.

    1. That's great, Sam I learned so much from her and her books. It's part of who I am now.


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