Frugal expat tip #1: shop like an immigrant

 

I’ve written before about how the terms “expat” and “immigrant” are both somewhat unsatisfactory. I tend to use both with a bit of a winking eye alcohol suggestion:

But, gratuitous Arrested Development references aside, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, and what’s good for the expat and the digital nomad is probably also good for the casual traveller as well as the locals. I definitely think that’s the case for this first Frugal Expat Tip.

Shop Like An Immigrant

Immigrants are smart, fam. They know where the good deals are, and they usually have some awesome ingredients. Perhaps best of all, if you’re doing your grocery shopping where the immigrants are, I can guarantee your food budget will stretch farther.

Food is the only thing I shop for on a regular basis, and my go-to supermarket here in Dublin is my friendly neighbourhood Aldi. They have both amazing prices and a reassuringly diverse clientele, so I knew I’d found a smart place to shop. My weekly food shop, including some luxuries like a bottle or two of wine and a bit of dark chocolate, comes to an average of €30 per week. That’s with loads of fresh veg, meat, eggs, cheese, coffee, and whatever household bits and bobs I may need, like bin liners or soap. With that, I make the vast majority of the food I eat in a week, with the exception of the odd restaurant meal (say once a week on average).

Just to math that shit up (to borrow a phrase from the always math-y Millennial Revolution) a quick sec, if I make 7 breakfasts, 7 lunches, and say 6 dinners a week, that’s 20 meals a week. If the average cost is €30 per week, that’s an average of €1.50 (or USD$1.64, or CAD$2.25) per meal. And that’s for stuff I enjoy and feel is healthy, like green smoothies with banana, spinach, and coconut oil in the morning, big salads with chicken & avocado for lunch, and things like Thai curries with loads of veggies for dinner. Plus good coffee every morning, and the odd glass of red wine with dinner.

When I lived in the US, I wasn’t lucky enough to live near an Aldi or a Lidl, but my solution worked just as well, if not better: Asian markets (the fewer white patrons, the better tbh). My favourite was the Vietnamese place near my old neighbourhood (what’s up, Hau-Hau). I would routinely get a week’s worth of healthy, fresh food here for $20 USD. You’d have to go elsewhere for little treats like chocolate or cheese (or anything not meat, fish, veg, or Asian-specific), but since they stocked the staple foods of my diet, at about half what I would have paid anywhere else, it was a big win. Plus it was just plain fun to shop there. This was one of my weekly hauls, and it came to less than $20 as I recall:

Here in Dublin, I’ve not found a full-service Asian market on par with the likes of Hau-Hau, but Aldi/Lidl do the trick, with some good Asian/African shops for sauces and spices and the like (shout out to Han Sung). And this is a trick I try to replicate when I travel on a more short-term basis, as well. I always love shopping in foreign supermarkets, and it’s the most fun when they’re not the overpriced, posh ones, which tend to be more generic. Go where the local immigrants, and the smartest of the local native-born population, go. Enjoy the slice of real life, enjoy not overpaying like a sucker, and enjoy the healthy, tasty results. Gawking at the weird stuff you’ve never heard of counts as bonus free entertainment. Extra bonus points if you walk there. 😉

Similar to my feelings on not owning a car, I see this as a triple win, at minimum: saving money, living healthier, and having way more fun. Plus the sense of satisfaction that you did the more badass thing. Start flexing those frugality muscles, and shop like an immigrant, whether you are one or not.

8 thoughts on “Frugal expat tip #1: shop like an immigrant

  1. Making Your Money Matter says:

    Saving on groceries is definitely the #1 way to save money as an expat, especially if you housing and transportation are covered already for you (as ours were). Buying imported food is so insanely expensive, but also usually are processed and less healthy for you anyway. We saved money and improved our lives by shopping locally.

    • Grace says:

      Such a good point! And, if you’re lucky enough to have housing and transport covered, there’s a chance you might get a COLA as well… and those tend to be calculated using the “expat” cost of food, so by pocketing that and shopping like a local, you’re doubly winning! Is your expat adventure over now?

      • Making Your Money Matter says:

        We did get a COLA, so we were able to save a considerable amount of money by not upping our lifestyle. We’re currently back in the U.S., but are being considered for another expat assignment in the fall to Shanghai, which we’re really hoping will pan out. We need a fresh adventure!

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