I’m sure many of you have wondered at one time or another — how on earth am I supposed to have a reasonable food budget while living in Switzerland, land of overpriced everything?! Yes, I agree, the prices can be quite a shock at first! However, I’m glad to share with you a few tricks I have up my sleeve.
You may have noticed in a number of my posts thus far, my meat has a reduced price or a 50% sticker. This means the meat has been reduced to sell, as it expires that day or the next. This is most often done at the end of the day near to closing time, or most especially on Saturdays as the store will be closed on Sunday and they are losing an entire day to sell the product.
So with this in mind, it has become my usual custom to try to do my shopping quite late in the day when they begin marking down the meat. In this case, the early bird may get the worm, but they pay a heck of a lot more for it — the latecomer gets to save some cash! 😉
By buying meat reduced to sell, it saves me quite a bit and I can buy double the amount (when possible) so that I’m getting two meals for the price of one 🙂 To help matters, I purchased a second freezer. They show up in the Aldi weekly sales a couple times a year, and are totally worth it. Subscribe to the Aldi newsletter emails or look for a secondhand freezer on sites like Ricardo. You can either double your recipe and freeze half to re-heat later, or just freeze half your meat for another dish.
Now – you’re probably thinking, what happens if I go to the store and there is no reduced organic or higher quality meat? Should I just buy the cheaper label?? No! While I’m ALL for saving money — If at all possible I would like you to avoid buying budget meat. Two main reasons: first, the conditions that the animals are raised in in even the better label supermarket meat is not great. There are rules in place but still, they are not so strict on animals being allowed outdoors, etc. The regular label and budget lines have even less regulations in place, and it is very likely the animals you are eating have been kept in inferior conditions and fed inferior food, and possibly received drugs and growth hormones (I can’t for sure say what the rules on imported meat or budget lines are). And two: by buying and consuming this low standard meat, you are encouraging the production of this meat by giving them your money and accepting these practices.
So not only are the animals raised poorly and fed a poorer diet – you are also encouraging it.
So – having said that – I really feel the best way forward is to be a savvy shopper.
1. Plan 6-8 meals. Make 4 of them vegetarian or meals that you can add a meat on the side if you find a good deal. Be flexible. If you planned to buy zucchini but bell peppers are on sale, go for those and do the zucchini dish next time. I will suddenly go from making a zucchini curry to making fajitas if the price is right! 😉
Many North Americans, Brits, Australians, etc. find food shopping frustrating in CH because they are used to planning for recipes and just going out and buying the items they need. Prices may fluctuate a bit, but most common items are within the affordable range and you don’t need to plan too much around sales or reductions.
Unfortunately this method is not ideal in Switzerland if you are trying to save some money, or stick to a food budget. By just simply deciding that you will purchase X ingredient, you may miss out on a really good sale. And you don’t always account for the additionally reduced items.
So being able to make some quick decisions and having a pretty good stash of reliable recipes is a great way to see a big reduction in your grocery bill!
When you arrive at the grocery store, zoom to the meat section first to see what’s available, and then if possible (i.e.: no screaming kids with you!) you can even have another quick look on the way out just in case you missed the “sticker lady” giving out those wonderful 50% reductions… !
The vegetarian meals can be added or subtracted based on what you find for meat. I usually aim for 3 vegetarian (or mostly vegetarian, i.e.: using a bit of bacon from the freezer or some sliced ham) meals, and the rest with some kind of meat.
Examples: Lasagna – vegetarian or with ground beef added, Stir Fry or Lo Mein – vegetarian or with chicken, turkey, or pork (look for the cut: “geschnetzeltes”) added, Soup (all kinds) with grilled sandwiches, Frittata or quiche, Slow cooker meals (larger cuts of meat, double packs of whole chickens, chicken parts like thighs and legs), Veggie burgers with sweet potato fries, quinoa, rice or pasta with a meat like pork chops, pantry staples like tuna casserole… I’ve usually got a number of ideas in my head or written on my shopping list and I add it all together once I get to the shop and see what’s available.
You may want to print out recipes or write down in a notebook the ingredients you will need for each recipe if they are not something you can easily remember. This way if you find something on sale, you can already have an idea of what to make with it.
Things I look for on sale:
Chicken (whole or parts)
Pork – chops, sliced, ground
Whole pork shoulder, beef shoulder
For each type of meat I have 2-4 recipes that I can remember or quickly google the ingredients for. Or I know to buy veggies to go on the side – like green beans, potatoes, broccoli or brussels sprouts.
2. Vegetables and Pantry Staples
To see what’s going on sale (Aktion) each week – download the Smartshopper app from Comparis to your smartphone or tablet
and you will quickly be able to see what is your best bet for veggies and pantry staples like rice, pasta, beans, cheese, etc. If something is a particularly good deal and you use the item frequently, stock up! Buy 4 boxes of rice, 4 bags of flour, 4 sticks of butter (you can freeze them), etc.
If you are dedicated to eating organic food, try, try to make it to an Alnatura shop or check out the Alnatura range in Migros stores. I have found the prices on their own brand to be REALLY good. I now buy a lot of items like couscous, tomato sauce (Passata), maple syrup, golden syrup, snack foods (chips/cookies), applesauce (unsweetened!), and many others at Alnatura versus in Migros or the Reformhaus.
PS: I’m going to do another post on what I keep in my pantry, and how I can “grocery shop at home” before I head to the store to buy fresh ingredients.
3. Store Points and Rewards Cards
Here is the last trick up my sleeve. I make those Migros Cumulus points COUNT! Migros offers cash back in the form of “Bons” that you can use as cash in any Migros shop, and also with many affiliate partners. They give you the cash based on the points you earn, not the amount you spend. Which is BRILLIANT as they are always offering ways to multiply your points, both in store and with coupons.
I will wait to stock up on certain things like toilet paper, laundry detergent, water filter cartridges, diapers, and any other high-price item until I’ve got one of those 2x, 5x (and sometimes even 10x-be sure to enter kid’s birthdays and your birthday on Famigros!!) coupons in hand. Then I just rake in hundreds if not even occasionally thousand of points. Some stores do a promotion where it’s 5x on everything that day. Well, bring your additional coupon because then it’s 2x+5x or 5x+5x…. you get the idea. All those points = cash.
If I can find a good deal, I even prefer to buy electronics, sports goods, books, DIY and garden items from Migros affiliates, as I can use my Cumulus card in those shops as well to collect the points on expensive items. I also use the Migrol petrol stations, with the specific Migrol customer card (separate application). Normal transactions at Migrol give you 1/2 a point per franc you spend if you swipe your Cumulus card at the payment register. But if you have a Migrol card specifically, you earn the entire point. I fill my petrol tank about 2x a month at around 65-70chf each time. So thats just an easy 140 points that I get just for doing something I had to do anyway! If you must fill your own heating oil, you can use Migrol to fill the tank and receive the points for it. You can also get a Cumulus Visa credit card and put all your major purchases, like plane tickets and holidays on it to receive the points.
So every 2 months, when I receive my statement, I receive on average between 80-150chf in cash bons. That’s basically a free shopping trip for me. I am not spending any more than I would normally, I’m just being a bit sneaky about when I shop and when I stock up on pricey items. I don’t buy anything I would not have otherwise bought.
Some of you may be more partial to Coop. That’s fine as well, you can collect the points just the same and use them in different ways. There are still 5x and 10x coupons printed in their weekly newsletter and given out with your points statement or with your store receipt. You can pay for many items with points, or collect them to use to purchase household items from their catalog. You can also redeem them against airline miles (for a fee) and other discounts. I shopped Coop for many years, but once I found the cash bon system at Migros I found it much easier and simpler to just maximise my points and then receive the cash! But to each their own 😉
So those are my top 3 tips to reduce your grocery budget and score some good deals while food shopping!