frugal tips for crisis thrivers – part 1

Some of the autumn bounty from our farmers' market.

This blog is brand new and doesn’t have any readers yet, but someday it might, and some of them might be people like me: living in Greece, wanting to make it work, but not having as much money as they once did. We make as much in a year as many people I grew up with make in a month. But we still manage to have a wonderful quality of life. We live in a beautiful home, eat delicious, healthy meals, entertain friends frequently, and have lots of time to spend together. How do we do it? Here’s a list of some of my “frugal tips” for those of us who make Greece home, taking it one day, and one struggle to survive, at a time.

I’ll be breaking up the tips into several posts because I have a lot of tips!

We live in Thrace, so the stores I refer to may not exist in all parts of Greece; if you live on an island, your prices, even at the same stores, may be higher. And this is a baby blog started a few days ago, I’m sure as hell not getting a penny for mentioning any of these stores!

Part I: Food Shopping

  • I comparison shop, and rather than telling you that you have to start from scratch like I did, I can tell you that between Carrefour (Marinopoulos), AB Basilopoulos, Lidl, and Masoutis supermarkets, Carrefour is generally speaking the cheapest. If I had to choose just one store to do all my shopping, I would have to choose Carrefour on the basis of price.
  • Carrefour has the best (both in terms of variety and quality) storebrand line of the supermarket chains. This is a large part of why they are the cheapest, because their storebrand items are so much cheaper than the name brands (at all stores), and barely cheaper than the storebrand items at other stores. If you want to save money, the very first thing you do is switch to the cheapest storebrand. If you don’t already use storebrands, you should know that the products are generally made by the same companies in the same facilities with the same stuff as the name brands. You may be able to tell a difference, but the vast majority of the actual difference is the packaging material and design.
  • AB Basilopoulos has the most reliable international food line, especially for American food, unless you live in a city that has foreign supermarkets, like Athens; but you will pay a premium. One of the best ways to save money in any country is to cook the foods that the locals eat. So while you may want to hit up AB once in a while for some cranberry sauce or jalapenos, make sure you’re buying some storebrand lentils from Carrefour too.
  • Lidl has generally higher prices than Carrefour, but they have good prices when they offer specials. Their specials are often on foreign products, which is a great supplement to AB and often much cheaper. I have also been able to find less common products there once in a while – I have found almond flour there, which is not easy to find in a regular supermarket, and it was cheaper per kilo than almonds, so worth buying if you use it. Lidl has the cheapest butter (€1.49/250g at time of writing) I have seen in Greece, and their sugar is also cheaper than other stores.

Summer at the farmers' market

  • Greece has a great network of farmers’ markets (laiki / λαϊκή), which are usually held once a week in most towns and cities; Athens has several per day in alternating locations. If you’ve never been to one, here are a few tips specific to the laiki:
    • go toward the end. Vendors are often more interested in getting rid of their produce than in getting a good price for it. I have been offered a vendor’s entire table of stuff for €2. I filled my freezer with that and we’re still eating some of it 7 months later.
    • comparison shop. They mostly comparison shop for you, and you will not usually find large differences in price from one vendor to the next, but you will sometimes find a good deal if you are lucky.
    • buy seasonal produce because it is cheaper, always.
    • most Greek farmers’ markets sell many things besides produce. Ours sells fabric, linens, rugs, kitchen tools, bathroom accessories, dishes, eggs, dairy products, locally made pasta, herbs and spices, toys, tools, cleaning supplies, toiletries, jewelry, shoes, clothing, outerwear and underwear, fish, plants, trees, and of course fruit, vegetables, dried fruits, dried beans, rice, and nuts. Yours may also sell pastries, candy, cut flowers, used books, antiques, and any number of other things. Always keep the laiki in mind as an option when you realize you need something.
    • many – if not most – laiki vendors will often give you something for free. They will very often throw a few extra of whatever you are buying into the bag and not charge you; or they will give you a few of something else to try. If you just want one piece of produce, you will usually not be asked to pay for it.  This means that comparing the posted prices at the supermarkets and the laiki will often mislead you into thinking the supermarket price is lower.  The actual price per kilo is what matters, and if your laiki vendor gives you an extra half-kilo for free, that’s a pretty big difference.
    • If you are paying taxes in Greece, you are collecting receipts for you tax return.  It’s important to know that all consumer transactions in Greece must be accompanied by a legal cash-register issued receipt.  That includes the laiki.  However, if your laiki is anything like mine, getting them to give you a receipt is practically impossible.  They will either tell you the machine is broken, or the battery is dead, or it’s not working, or….  It’s up to you if you want to press the matter, but sadly, it’s usually a better deal to let it slide, make a note of what you spent on a piece of paper (for dealing with your budget later), and move on.  Pissing them off may mean not getting that extra half kilo for free.