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What Do You Do When You Live Outside the Reach of Sales?

Guest post by Lisa from PanaMom

If you live in a city with a great drugstore or a grocery store that doubles coupons, saving money on your household budget is fairly straightforward. But everything changed when we moved. Goodbye, Publix and CVS. Hello, Panama! I had to get creative! (And if you live somewhere without access to all the deals, you’ll need to get creative, too!)

Here’s what has worked for me:

1. Find out what’s local.

Local is almost always less expensive. Seedless grapes here are $5/lb, but pineapples are $0.75/each. Nathan’s hotdogs–my absolute favorite hot dog–are $7/pkg, but fresh fish is only $3/lb. Although there are no “loss leaders,” there are still deals to be found.

2. Eat like a local.

Especially in developing countries, people are living and eating on low salaries as a way of life. You can, too.

I cut out almost all the processed foods. It saved us hundreds of dollars. I stopped buying boneless, skinless chicken and started processing chicken quarters. Rice, beans, and lentils have become staples of our meals.

3. Shop like a local.

It’s natural to seek out something familiar. For me, that was the big American-style grocery store. $6 packages of Oreos made it all feel better. I couldn’t spend all my money on overpriced food. I decided to hit the local open-air markets and found $0.10 limes, $0.25 mangoes, 40 pounds of oranges for $6!

4. Waste not. Want not.

Your grandma was right. If you don’t waste what you have, you don’t find yourself in a place of need.

Aluminum foil is $10/roll here. We rarely throw it away after the first use. Packaged tortillas are cheap and come with wax paper circles between them. Those circles have proved invaluable. We use them as “plates” at snack time and they also hold paint for the day’s craft.

5. Make it yourself.

Flour, yeast, turbinado, and the like are inexpensive. In bulk, they are cheaper.

All the recipes for your favorite foods are easily accessed online. My kids love Pillsbury crescent rolls. They are $4 a can here. So, I found Crystal’s Butterhorn recipe, and we all love them.

Another favorite is homemade goldfish crackers. I know what is in them, and the kids love them.

The more I make from home, the less often I have to go to the grocery store which means less opportunity to spend money. And it’s fun. We are currently working on perfecting our homemade Chick-Fil-A lemonade!

6. Be honest.

You might have to explain to your kids that you cannot afford to buy something. And that’s okay.

My girls love strawberries, but they are $10/pound. I can’t justify that amount of money out of my budget when there are plenty of other fresh fruit options. I had to sit them down, tell them no, and explain why. They were not happy about it, but now they are learning at an early age how to manage their money.

Lisa has been married to her awesome husband for 12 years. She is a stay-at-home mom to their three great girls and one terrific son. Follow her Panamanian adventures at her blog, PanaMom.

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  • Brook says:

    I’d recommend growing your own strawberries (and anything else you can). But strawberries in a strawberry pot are fairly simple.

  • Elizabeth Sue says:

    That was a really great article, very relevant to wherever you live! Thanks Crystal!

  • Andrea says:

    For those that live in rural areas within the US, Amazon’s grocery section often has great deals.

  • Christina says:

    LOVE this post… And it is true even when you DO live near the big box stores! I recently went from having $800-$1,000 a month for our grocery budget for a family of 5 (going on 6) to having JUST $400 maximum plus recently having 2 adult friends and 2 kidlets staying with us on a regular basis… By using the crockpot more & learning how to can & making my own ricotta and butter our less than half grocery budget is stretching further than ever before!!!

    • Chelsea says:

      I’d love more information on homemade ricotta!

      • Megan says:

        Do a quick search online and you’ll find some great recipes. You basically just heat milk, “curdle” it with some sort of acid (lemon juice or vinegar), strain out the curds and repeat the process with the whey. It’s very easy and delicious. Good luck!

      • Christina says:

        feel free to visit my blog… I post my own personal recipes in addition to ones I find that I want to try and ones that have been MAJOR hits with our family lol… (I started it when I was a Tupperware Rep & it just kinda evolved from there lol)

        Lately with the little bug on the way I have been stuck in the sweet & creamy Ricotta & have been making the EXTRA effort to find yummy ways to use it (besides just eating it with a spoon that is LOL)

    • Bethany says:

      our family of 4 budget is $240 – you can do it!

    • So true – our hometown isn’t nearly as remote as Panama, but we do live in a rural area and most weeks I need to weigh how much it will cost in fuel (and time) to drive into town for the BEST deals, vs. staying local and being more limited as to what fits into our budget. Wonderful post – thanks!

  • Denise says:

    Awesome advice! I just live in Maine and often struggle. We grow a lot of our own, use every bit of what we do have and try to be content:) Thanks for the great reminder!

    • Christina says:

      I have to ask… what is the easiest to grow? I am wanting to start my own little garden from planting pots but have not ever tried anything and would like to start simple lol

      • Denise says:

        I think it changes every year, dep on weather, etc. Lettuces, spinach, herbs, zucchini, tomatoes do good (I buy small plants at the nursery bc I have 5 kids lol), peppers (seedlings also), I buy ground cherry seedlings from SeedSavers (Oh, my…!!), green onions (you can buy those at the grocery store and replant the white root part, just dont cover all the way). If you own your house, you can transplant rhubarb from a friend and it’ll come back yearly. In pots, be diligent about watering:) HTH:)

        • Christina says:

          OH SWEET!!!!!!!!!! I Have green onion in my fridge right now!!!!!!!!! Unfortunately we’re renting right now… but I was planning on doing a self watering system with a 2ltr bottle so the plants can take the food & water as it’s needed (and this way I don’t kill the poor things by over/under watering LOL)

          Now with growing lettuce does it go bad as fast as when you buy it? Cause we NEVER have enough time to eat it all before it goes bad 🙁

          The peppers I HAVE to do because I cook almost EVERYTHING with a multitude of peppers, onion, green onion & cilantro lol

          I bought the topsy turvy thing to do tomatoes in only to find out you HAVE to start it with a grown plant or start it in a pot & grow it for AT LEAST a year before transferring…

          I am hoping to do oregano, grapes and strawberries in them too but I need to figure out how first lol…

          I live in Illinois (just west of Chicago) so kinda similar in climates… REALLLLLYYYYY cold during the winter (up to 40 below) and REALLY hot in the summer (up to 140 degrees with the heat index)

          • Andrea says:

            To use a topsy turvy, you need a tomato plant that is six to eight weeks old. Outside, tomato plants typically only live for one growing season (a few months) and they turn into a jungle in that time!

          • Martina says:

            we are renting also, this year we grew tomatos, cucumbers, peppers, during the summer, now we are trying out brocoli, kale and carrots for the fall/winter season. When growing in a container, make sure its deep enough and has enough soil, our tomatos still produced but i think they would of done better if we had a selfwatering container, and more soil. The Vegetables Gardeners Container Bible by Edward Smith shows you how to build ur own self watering containers basicly with 2 buckets or wahtever you have on hand as a containe

          • Amanda Y. says:

            grow leaf lettuce like romaine and then just cut what you’ll use that day–it’s the best and that way none goes bad

          • Ugh – we tried the topsy turvy two years in a row for tomatoes, and they never survived. This year, we planted cherry tomatoes in the ground as well as in the TT planters, and the ones in the ground are thriving; we got a handful of tomatoes from the TT, and now the plants are dead.

            I’ve always heard that strawberries are really difficult to grow. Tried them outside just one year, didn’t have a problem with the birds, but only got a couple berries per plant all summer long. I’m curious about growing them in containers, though.

          • Christina says:

            Thank you guys soooo much for all the info!!! I will get the The Vegetables Gardeners Container Bible for sure!!!

            I tend to use Roma Tomatoes the most (love plum tomatoes for everything from salsa to pasta sauce to chopped onto a tostada or on a taco!).

            and TY Deb for that info!!! I will have to use it mainly for fresh herbs then and maybe test out how well strawberries grow in it too as we got the stand for them… Maybe JUST maybe it will do better with that vs the tomatoes… I do have to ask did you just do the cherry tomatoes or have you tried other types of tomato plants with the same results???

            and thanks so much for the tips Martina! I was thinking about getting the tree style planters (the BIG HEAVY WIDE rectangle ones) so that my lil bugs can’t knock them over and I can essentially have a garden inside that could with a bit of finesse be moved to the porch when the weather is nice again (it’s gotten pretty cold pretty fast here this last week!).

      • Andrea says:

        It depends on the climate, the soil and the amount of light they get. It also depends on what type of planter you put them in, as some plants need a lot of nutrients to produce and containers don’t always provide what they need (or the soil in the containers gets too hot and cooks the roots).

        • Christina says:

          I had actually gotten a book about container gardening and have been reading about the nitrates and acid levels and ph balances…

          It’s a lot to learn but is a REALLY good read…

          It also has all kinds of ways to naturally supplement the things that are normally just naturally in the ground…

          Also it talks about the different things you can do to prevent the compression/overheating of the roots (i.e. the coconut fibers) and it talks about bugs & all…

  • Amy Reynolds says:

    Thank you for reminding me that I take so much for granted!! I have a freezer full of strawberries! I’m convicted! This was a lesson in Gratitude 101 for me.

      • Toby Long says:

        I am also grateful as a missionary in Asia who about croaked when I lost coupons, was pregnant and could not eat local food, and had to figure out how to feed my family all over again. So refreshing to hear another perspective. (Confession–twice a year, we splurge on the strawberries!) I was wondering if you would be willing to post recipes or links or…for some of your rice/beans/lentil recipes. I know they are cheap, but need ways to make them taste appealing. I didn’t see how to search your blog for this, so I’d love any link.

        • Rachel says:

          If you’re not familiar with the More-With-Less Cookbook, I would look for that. It’s a Mennonite cookbook that is full of all sorts of inexpensive recipes, many using rice, beans, or lentils, and lots of the recipes were submitted by missionaries all over the world, so they have good tips for making do with what you can find.

  • Lisa…Great tips! I dare say your family has a far better diet than *most* of here in the states who have not had to adjust our shopping. Would love to know how you season our beans and lentils…

    • There is an herb mix (the name of which I competely forgot) that includes scallion, bay leaves, and parsley. That’s what we normally use.

    • Sara says:

      Hi! I know I’m not Lisa, but in the past couple years I have learned to cook dried beans that are yummo (after years of trying once or twice a year and gagging at how gross they were every time I tried). It does require patience. FIRST I use the carcass from a roasted chicken and make my own stock one of two ways (I love this because whole chickens are regularly on sale for $1 or less a pound and this stretches them to make more than one meal) 1. boil it with about 8 quarts of water, 1-2 tbspn salt and 1 wedged onion for about 4 hours or 2. cook it overnight with same ingredients in a crockpot. Then I strain and discard the stock. Don’t cheat here and use less time on the stock. This length of time makes stock that tastes like food a grandma made with love. SECOND While making the stock, I rinse the beans, cover them with water and bring to a boil. Then I turn off the heat, let them vent and soak in the water 8+ hours. THIRD I drain and rinse the beans, cover them with the strained stock, add another chopped onion, 1 tbspn salt and 1/4 cup of jalapenos or juice from a jar of jalapenos. I bring them to a boil, turn down the heat and let them simmer for 40-60 minutes. Then I turn off the heat, let them cool and put them in the fridge overnight. LAST I cook them in my crockpot on low the next day for 8-10+ hours. Though this method takes two days to prepare, the actual time spent in the prepwork is minimal. It is worth the wait! Don’t cheat or take shortcuts! It produces very tender beans, perfectly seasoned and spicy. Great served over rice seasoned with lime, salt and cilantro and with chopped mango or tomatoes on top! (PS I live in Texas so all those ingredients are very cheap here. You may need to adjust your peppers, rice seasonings, toppings, etc. to what works where you live.)

  • Lela says:

    Wal Mart changing their coupon policey has done wonders for me as they are the only choice but will now take the B1G1F sales from the bigger city fliers.

    • Amy Reynolds says:

      Will all Walmarts do this??? I had not heard that, and that would help me out big time!

      • Christina says:

        They have!!! Some of the workers are ignorant to the new policy so you should go download it & print it out though this way they can’t argue with you when you have proof from THEIR corporate site!!!

  • Outright says:

    Eating locally can really open up your culinary world, I’ve found. So many things you would never think to try but now give a chance since it’s cheap and available.
    Great post!

  • Erika says:

    An interesting perspective! I appreciate your sharing.

  • Emma K says:

    Thanks for the input. We are supposed to be heading to SKorea in 2012 and these ideas are great. We will still have access to a Commissary and there sales so that will help us a lot.

  • AnneJisca says:

    Great post! I live 3hrs away from the nearest Walmart and cheaper grocery store. The grocery store in my town is small, and priced high! I buy in bulk all my staples when we happen to be out of town and save hundreds a year that way! Basically all I buy locally is fresh fruits/vegetables, milk and cheese. I had to tweak our grocery shopping this way, with large amounts spent when going out of town, but then saving in the long run. Way to be creative, it’s worth it!! 🙂

  • Audrey B. says:

    Great points! Would love to hear about the lemonade success!

  • Danielle B says:

    Great article Lisa! I love your positive outlook on a stressful situation.

    I’ve recently changed my approach to grocery shopping and feeding my family too. Made from scratch foods are just so much more affordable. I’ve almost completely quit couponing because it stopped yielding the benefits for my time. I still play my drug store game for CVS, but as far as food- buying in bulk, making from scratch, and just plain ol’ doing without are the three themes of this season of life.

    I know I almost always comment this whenever there’s a post about thinking outside of the box on food, but The Prudent Homemaker is THE best resource for really learning how to make your food stretch. Brandy’s positive attitude and creative spirit is a constant source of encouragement to me.

  • I’ve lived in other countries, and I saw the Amercian grocery stores, too. The prices were sky high, as you mentioned. I never shopped there.

    I found different things in different cities. In one area, we actually took a bus across the border to go shopping in a grocery store in a neighboring country! The aisles of cheese and chocolate where wonderful!

    Meat was extremely expensive. The one exception was bacon, which came chopped into small pieces for cooking inside of dishes.

    I remember eating meatless dishes, lots of eggs, salads, pasta with sauce and cheese, cheese sandwiches, and making my own salad dressings (prepackaged dressings didn’t exist at the stores).

    About once a month I still dream about my favorite store; the produce was wonderful and seasonal.

    I ate a lot of lentils, too! We also couldn’t buy ziploc bags where we lived.

    Defintely learn to eat like the locals! You might just discover some new favorite foods. I now LOVE mache (aka corn salad) as it was the lettuce that we bought in cool weather (I can’t buy it here, but I can grow it, so I do!)

  • Cindy says:

    My husband and I are hatching plans to move internationally, and I loved this post (linked to it on my blog too)!

  • Kimberlee says:

    Great article! These strategies work anywhere, but are especially applicable to overseas living. I’m sending this link to my friend who recently moved to the Dominican Republic right now!


  • Amanda says:

    Those are a lot of great tips!

  • Johnlyn says:

    You wrote that grapes are $5.00 per pound while a pineapple is $.75…that reminded me of a tip from the book The Tightwad Gazette.

    Amy D. wrote in there that you shouldn’t compare how much different kinds of cold cereal costs, rather compare how much one breakfast costs compared to another. scrambled eggs versus cold cereal.

    That tip has saved me so much money!

    Thanks for your post – it’s a great reminder of the things that I try to do, but occasionally forget about!

  • Courtney says:

    I love everything about this post! Thank you for the wonderful tips.

  • Mera Johnson says:

    This post struck a cord with me. Not because of the great money saving advice but a personal cord. I was born in Bocas del Toro Panama, my mom was from there and my grandmother and other relatives live there and in Panama City, my dad is a missionary so I grew up in the Caribbean moving from place to place. I also don’t mean to pry but the places you have lived kind of leads me to believe your husband works for CAT as mine does. We live in the Aurora, Il area, but my husband works for the Joliet facility. Just wanted to say I hope you enjoy your adventures it’s great for your kids and Panama is a beautiful country!

  • Jenny says:

    Very interesting! 🙂

  • Liz says:

    Thanks for the post. We just moved from FL to Brazil, and I am learning to shop like a local. I miss BOGO and couponing, but am learning to find other ways to save money on our groceries. We definitely eat lot more fresh fruit now.

  • This was a great article! Thanks for posting 🙂

  • Such a timely post! We are moving overseas in January (Lord willing). The prices there are cheaper, if you buy local. Thanks for the encouragement to be creative and to embrace a new lifestyle.

  • Jamie says:

    When we’re in Uganda a can of Pringles is $4, but a fresh mango or avocado is less than a quarter! One thing I’ll add for those living internationally is to confer with local friends to make sure you are getting a fair deal when prices are not posted. Our African friends always joke about paying “skin tax.” Vendors often tell foreign shoppers a higher price assuming they are rich or lacking cultural knowledge. So learn as much as you can before you head to the market!

    • Marisa says:

      This is so true! My husband was a missionary in Taiwan and learned to speak Mandarin Chinese fluently. When he and a friend asked, in English, how much something cost, the man conferred with his boss in Chinese and the boss told him an amount much higher than it should be. The man then told them a higher price than the boss said. When they said in Chinese, “Didn’t he just tell you such and such price?” the man was shocked and sold it to them for much less than the boss said. Haha, so it really does pay to know as much as you can and the language if possible.

  • Amanda Y. says:

    Love this article! Love hearing about how others live and overseas cultures, etc. It’s amazing how fast you can adapt to a healthier diet with fresh food and not processed products!

  • Rachel Beita says:

    Great post! Good advise! We lived in Costa Rica for 5 years (my husband is from there). After moving to the US last year I was amazed at the prices and selection.

    One more tip is to buy the local brand instead of the imported American brand which can often be double or more overseas.

    • Sara says:

      I love this articule! It reminds of my country…Costa Rica! I was raised and born there and when Moved to the US I couldn’t believe the prices,apples pears and grapes..all year long?! WOW I couldn’t believe it was this easy/cheap to buy many things. Those fruits are very expensive there but there are also many fruits and vegetables way cheaper. I guess we have to work with what we each have, there are no stores that double coupons where I live now but its definitely better than no coupons at all 🙂

  • Susan says:

    I recently traveled to Alaska where we vacume packed salmon and smoked salmon. We also picked fresh raspberries and rhubarb and made freezer jam. I loved your posting. I linked it to my blog where I post on saving money with or without a coupon from metro Atlanta

  • Sara says:

    REALLY appreciated your article…living rural with no double coupons, not many coupons etc…can make me feel left out. But the reality is it is better to cook from scratch…and eat whole foods. Have a great day!!!

  • Kristen says:

    I appreciated this article. We are missionaries overseas and there is no such thing as a coupon here. Food is incredibly more expensive here, but seasonal produce is much cheaper. We have learned that we eat according to the season and go without. And I have gotten so much better and cooking and making things from scratch. 🙂 It’s hard not to get jealous of so many people in the US who can get such great deals and use coupons, but this is where the Lord wants us and continues to provide for us to be here! So I am grateful 🙂

  • Katie says:

    My husband and I are Canadians but our first four years we were married we lived in the States. I loved being able to take advantage of the low prices. However when we moved back I had a hard time adjusting to the price. We live very north even for Canadians and there is hardly any fresh produce and no great coupons. The one way I have found to save money is on loss leaders it seems the only real way that you can save here. If someone else has any suggestions I would love to hear from you.

  • Mandy says:

    Love you PanaMom! So “proud” for you (in a very noncondescending way). I had a discouraging grocery day, and needed my “Lisa” dose. Great reminders and encouraging. 🙂

  • Amy B says:

    I absolutely love your can-do attitude! We all have to learn to make the best of each of our situations, and grow from our disappointments! I needed that encouragement today.

  • Grace says:

    Just fyi CFA lemonade is extremely easy. Just squeeze the lemons yourself and put ridiculous amount of sugar in it lol. Seriously there is nothing special about it.

  • Tami says:

    I agree with growing your own food! My 4 year old and I just planted carrots and green peppers! He is loving watching them sprout out of the dirt and we are taking pictures every other day to see how they grow. I have 2 more pots and need to get some additional soil so that we can plant strawberries, tomatoes and zucchini.

  • Laura says:

    Really enjoyed this article! We moved to a remote location (Canadian Arctic) and have had to get creative about saving money on groceries since the cost is high due to being flown in. We’ve had to adjust the way we eat and learn to make more on our own and grow what we can inside the house. Thanks for these great tips!

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