The fat’n’frugal: Weekly shopping for two on 25 €

Cash envelopes: You can do it too!


Disclaimer: Prices are taken as they are in Germany/the Netherlands/Luxemburg (depending on current location). Taxes included. I am neither a nutrition expert nor a finance expert. This post is based on our weekly spending for two people in Cologne. We drink tap water and a shit load of tea. This is also part of the weight loss journey.


People who visit our place usually notice the envelope on our fridge. It has funny numbers (and calculations that do not make sense) and boxes on it and it draws the attention of our guests almost every time. Lately, I have received many requests on how to do it and here is my instruction:


  1. Start a general list of things that you use up. This took me a couple of weeks. I hung the list on the fridge and every time I noticed we were out of things, I added that to the list. I only added things we regularly use/eat; that means that we do not buy things only because we like them. Confusing much? I am talking about ‘phases’. After our vacation in Greece (which was super cheap), I had a Greek yoghurt phase. LOL. However, I have never been a great fan of dairy products in general. The BF was super confused with my newly found taste for Greek yoghurt. For a couple of weeks, I would eat Greek yoghurt for breakfast but as time passed, I grew less and less fond of Greek yoghurt – although I still like it. We bought a four-pack of Greek yoghurt a few months and it remained untouched until I noticed that the expiry date was getting closer. I then ate it but it didn’t make the list. I only added items that I was certain would be used up. Think of your general list as a fancy club everybody wants to get in but only the best can have access. You’re the strict bouncer. The rest is unnecessary stuff that takes up space in your pantry. This list was the essential start of our shopping budgeting.  img_3639
  2. Make a grocery list of the things you really need. This does not include impulse decisions such as: ‘OMG, there is a TV on sale. I need it!’ but checking local sales and promos beforehand is not a bad thing to do. However: Let your house tell you what you need and not flyers and ads! Stick to your general list! This is possibly the most crucial step for this mission. In order to succeed, you must only buy what you need. Do not fall for sales that might satisfy what you like, but not what you need.
  3. Only place cash in the envelope. Fun fact: We initially started with 50 € per week and wanted to add 50 € to another envelope; the fun envelope. We figured that we could take what we didn’t spend on groceries that week and add it to the fun envelope. TBH, we only cut down our grocery expenses in order to maintain our party habits. We now calculate 75 € per week for our fun – including drinks, eating out (which we rarely do) etc.
  4. In case you’re not already a mathlete: Be prepared to train your mental arithmetics! (Or bring your phone/calculator/super smart partner or friend/whatever floats your boat)
  5. Make time for this shopping mission and be ready to go to different stores if needed. Depending on what made it on our list that week we either walk or drive. We are lucky enough to live near a Lidl within 10 walking minutes. At the store, take the time to compare prices and expiry dates! The later the better! Some things are cheaper at different stores. The other day, I realized I needed turmeric powder – which is quite a rare spice to buy at a regular supermarket. Discounters such as Aldi do not carry turmeric powder. More expensive ones do and they ask for a lot of money. The ‘brand name turmeric powder’ I usually buy costs 2 € for 35 g. When I went to an Asian supermarket, I spent 2,99 € for 400 g (!!!!!!). Yes, one is darker than the other but given my enormous use of turmeric powder, I don’t care. (I love it.) Special purchases such as turmeric powder should always be done in specialty stores. You can save so much money!
  6. Bring enough reusable bags! Most of them can be folded in your pocket to where they not take up much space. Depending on whether I am walking or driving to the store I either bring a suitcase/backpack (all depending on how heavy the shopping will be) or when driving just a few boxes to place them in the trunk. Thanks to living in Europe, I have acquired quite a collection of reusable bags. I use them all the time. I try to avoid buying plastic bags at all costs! (Finally, stores have realized that plastic bags add to the pollution problem and therefore you have to pay a crazy price for a plastic bag.)
  7. When buying a lot: Bring your reusable chip for your shopping cart (Europeans only?)
  8. Stick to your list! I know stores can be tempting with good product presentations and sales of name brand products. Do not be fooled!
  9. Do the math with every single item you buy! There is no way around this if you want to stay in budget. You will be a mathletic at the end of the year. If you’re feeling lazy, just jump to the next zero. [Butter: 99 c » 1 €] [Noodles 39 c » 40 c]
  10. Buy generic brands – despite sales! Avoid name brands as much as possible! Most sales promote name brands and compared to what they usually cost, they might be cheaper. BUT: Generic brands are usually still cheaper – although the name brand might be on sale. I myself almost bought name-brand butter because it was new (and a trap) and I thought: ‘Wow, 99 c is a pretty dope price’. I grabbed the butter, I looked at the expiry date and mid-walk I realized that I had not checked the generic brand. I turned around and checked out the generic brand. 75 cents, twice as much, expiry date ONE month later. See?! I almost fell for the new product. Yes, the design was very nice. Yes, it was on sale (50 % off) and yes, I wanted to try it. I guess I dodged a minor grocery bullet there.
  11. Compare, compare, compare and think! The BF loooves Mirácoli (idk why). Since I really don’t want to spend 2 – 3 € on 200 gr of spaghetti (WTH) and a tiny bit of sauce and Parmesan, I usually try find a generic brand that will have a similar pack. Those packages are so expensive, even when bought as a generic brand. Those packages usually cost 1,50 – 2 €. Despite what the package says, those small boxes usually result in ONE (manly) serving. You can buy 2 kg of spaghetti for under 2 €. Let’s say I buy the ingredients separately: Spaghetti at Lidl: 39 c, Sauce (depending on what kind and how much) MAX 1, 50 €. Let’s do the math: Less than 2 €, four very hungry people fed or normal portions and leftovers to eat for lunch the next day!
  12. Be wise when it comes to fresh food! Be the voice of reason! I hate seeing food go to waste and I think about my environmental footprint a lot. The meat industry contributes way more to the pollution than cars and to think that people throw away meat makes me super sad. We eat sausage on our bread but not every day and not every week. I guess you could say that we eat pretty much balanced. Our meat intake is very small. Don’t get me wrong, I do love me some steak from time to time but it’s a) not healthy to eat a lot of meat b) expensive and c) bad for the environment d) ethical reasons set aside (sorry, PETA). The same goes for produce! Veggies and fruits (unless bought local) require a lot of logistics. I try to only purchase products that are domestic such as carrots, spinach, apples etc. If it’s not imported, it usually is pretty cheap. And: only buy what you use. I like to buy 1 kg of carrots for 99 c. That bag of carrots will be used with 1 – 2 weeks, there are stored in the fridge. They are used with every meal. Healthy, filling and cheap!
  13. If possible, buy deep-freeze veggies and fruits. I like oatmeal in the morning with blueberries. Blueberries and any fresh berries are very expensive. Yes, deep-freeze fruit tastes differently but the taste of being frugal is nicer. I prepare my oats with soy milk and honey, let it soak in and to me, it is still good. Did you know that deep-freeze veggies tend to have more nutrients than fresh veggies?
  14. For beginners: Constantly ask yourself: Do I really need this? Simply asking this questions has helped us saving money. We still are tempted to impulse buy stuff we don’t need but we discuss those things and usually decide that we do not need it.
  15. Don’t panic if you exceed 25 €. You are just learning. It’s more important to develop awareness for your spending. The rest will come over time.
  16. Place the receipts in the envelope. This way, you can keep all the receipts for the month. My goal is to keep the envelopes until the tax return and then throw ’em out.
  17. If possible, do not take money out of the envelope for other non-related expenses. Try to stick to the budget, but I am not one to judge if you do take out the money.
  18. If you like, use the money you didn’t use for the following weekly budget. We zero it in, collect the loose change in a jar and use what we saved the week after. Let’s say we saved 5 € in week #1, we use those 5 € in week #2 where we only have to add 20 € to the envelope instead of 25 €. We do not go with 30 € because we would like to save the money instead of spending it. Lose change makes the envelope too heavy for the magnet on the fridge and it makes my purse heavy.
  19. Items we have forgotten to buy are paid for with the loose change from the jar. Our jar contains all the coins the currency has to offer. Every now and then, my BF will take out some change for metro tickets or for Sunday trips to the bakery around the corner or when there is no lunch prepared for him. The jar is never empty, though. Not only do we drop change in there after shopping but also from our personal wallets that become too heavy. It works for us.