Living in Greece

A practical guide to moving, living, working & traveling in Greece, plus musing and misadventures from an American in Athens

10 Tips for saving money on food

Save Money

Austerity-driven tax hikes and the rising cost of energy in Greece are driving up the price of food and other basics. Here are a few common sense tips on how to save money.

* Article last updated December 11, 2011

1. Compare generic with name brands

Some of us have attachments to name brand items, but on things that are less important such as rice, flour, dried beans, cream cheese, frozen vegetables or even fabric softener, the supermarket brand might be just as good or better for less money.

*However, a note of caution. Since austerity-hit households began switching to no-name labels to save money, supermarkets raised prices up to 30 percent to make up for a drop in consumption, and brand names lowered their prices to win back customers. Pay attention.

2. Buy bulk

The tag on the shelf tells you how much the item costs per kilo/liter/piece, so it’s easy to compare the product you’re buying with a similar or larger one. If it’s something you use often, it’s usually (though not always) much cheaper to buy the bigger size in the long run.

When I had access to warehouse stores, I would buy fresh meat and produce en masse and freeze it or share the cost with friends.

3. Go to the counter

Rather than picking up pre-packaged products off the shelves, go to the counter to get your meat, cheese and deli items — they’re the same quality brands and less expensive. If you go at off-peak hours, there’s also no waiting.

Again, you can tell if it’s cheaper in advance by looking at the price on the shelf (per kilo), then compare it with what the counter is selling it for.

4. Refill and reuse

Instead of buying another canister (such as a spice jar), why not reuse and refill it with a large pack of fresh spice or herbs? Saves money and extra waste from the landfill.

During my months in Egypt, Jordan and India, I saw many women keep simple jars and refill them with fresh herbs and spices by taking them direct to the vendor, who measured and poured supplies directly into the container. In the USA, places like Whole Foods allow you to fill reusable plastic bags with flour or beans, then empty them in a container at home. No waste!

5. Get a supermarket card

Supermarket bonus cards are free and require only that you fill out an application once. If it’s in a language you don’t understand, a clerk or manager can usually help if you don’t have someone accompanying you. They normally only ask for your name, address and phone number, so English speakers could write those details on a piece of paper in advance if a bilingual staff member cannot help you or communicating in Greek is a problem.

Once you have a supermarket card, you can take advantage of advertised specials and occasional booklets of store coupons that offer extra points.

It amounts to immediate discounts at checkout or accumulated points that grant you gift certificates redeemable on a future visit. It adds up quicker than you think.

6. Visit the farmer’s market (laiki) or green grocer (manavis)

Farmer’s markets offer fresher produce and are often cheaper, especially if you go later in the day when they’re down to their last items and want to close up and go home. There are also ‘irregular’ items for sale at a big discount — see #10. DeviousDiva rightly points out that vendors who specialize in one or two products usually offer better quality.

If you’re like me and work at the time of your farmer’s marker (laiki), find a good green grocer (manavis). In both cases, developing relationships over time might net you a discount or unexpected extra (‘doro’ or gift) for being a friendly, faithful customer.

Personally, I like the fact I can reuse plastic bags or throw all of my items into one canvas bag, instead of taking new bags at the grocery store or arguing with store personnel over reusable bags.

*Sometimes the laiki is not cheaper or fresher, so pay attention.

7. Look for alternative sources

What I mean by this is not stealing vegetables or fruit from your neighbor’s yard, but look for other places to buy products at a discount. My ex-neighborhood butcher, for example, sells better quality frozen vegetables (okra, corn and peas) by the kilo for a lot less than anything offered at the supermarket. The bakery sells eggs for cheap, and they’re fresher as well.

Avoid the corner store, mini-mart or periptero (kiosk), where prices can be up to 100% higher. You’re paying for convenience, not just the product.

8. Consider frozen

In or out of season, I’ve found that frozen vegetables are cheaper than buying fresh, especially if you’re buying generics. The freezing process (if done right) allows you keep them around longer, cook them quicker and still enjoy the nutrients without compromising taste. If you’re set on fresh or your store does not have a good selection, skip this tip.

Also, should you have room in your freezer and the proper storage containers/bags, buying produce at its peak flavor and cheapest price could go a long way to supplying you with good stuff year round. Not all vegies and fruit freeze and defrost fabulously, but it many times doesn’t matter if using them for casseroles, pitas, pies and desserts, ice cream and blended drinks.

I always make a point to freeze cherries and strawberries, just because I like them so much. Juice from pomegranates or puree from any fruit is easy to freeze in ice cube trays and transfer to storage bags, thus making it easy to use what you need instead of defrosting an entire block. Friends who have large gardens and/or live in villages will put part of their harvest in frozen storage for later use, so it’s not uncommon.

9. Grow your own

City dwellers might have a harder time with this one, though many people have balconies, rooftops and windows with ample sunshine to take advantage of container gardens. Some nurseries also have starter plants, which give you a fighting chance without starting from seeds.

I grow herbs in the window of my kitchen in IKEA containers I bought for 50 cents each. Fresher, cheaper and tastes better.

10. Choose irregulars

As of July 1, 2009, the EU is allowing 26 “irregular” vegetables, nuts and fruit back on the market, including apricots, artichokes, asparagus, aubergine, avocado, fresh beans, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, cherries, courgettes (zucchini), cucumbers, cultivated mushrooms, garlic, hazelnuts in shell , cabbage, leeks, melons, onions, peas, plums, celery, spinach, walnuts in shell, watermelons and chicory.

The farmer’s market (laiki) can be a good place to shop for these, as some vendors offer half off or more on so-called imperfect produce. The grocery store also displays imperfect produce near the scales.

They taste the same, should not go to waste, and have character! I love them.

Bonus tip

Don’t forget the Doro!


Being vegetarian, following the Mediterranean diet or at least cutting your meat intake does a lot to trim money off food bills, though I realize many are adverse to this option, which is the reason it was excluded from the Top 10.

I also took into account that most of us are busy people who work full time, have families and may not have hours of leisure time, a vehicle to visit several locations or a housekeeper/unemployed family member to do our shopping for us.

If you’re one of many out there who can’t cook, TV cooks and Internet sources do a great job of teaching you basics and you can find recipes online for free so you can take advantage of the tips above and save money on takeaway. Laziness is not a reason, it’s an excuse! :)

Related posts

Where’s my freakin’ cheese?
Taste of America in Greece
Subway Sandwich locations in Greece

* For residents of westernized countries, “22 Ways to Save on Food” and “15 Ways to stop wasting money on food


  The Scorpion wrote @ April 16th, 2008 at 08:09

What are your thoughts on GMO food. If it’s cheaper, should that be an incentive to buy it. On one hand, a friend who has a degree in the agricultural field has told me that GMO, hormones etc are safe and that Europe goes overboard on the dangers of these products.

But, on the other hand, my Greek friends tell me they are dangerous etc.

  deviousdiva wrote @ April 16th, 2008 at 12:16

Great tips. Thank you.
At the laiki I buy from stalls that specialise in only one or two products. The quality is usually much better. I always go to my regular sellers too. That way I get a few extra tomatoes or oranges, a pleasant chat and a smile.

I try to have at least two meat-free days a week. My two little carnivores hardly notice anymore. Meat is ridiculously expensive and its production is swallowing the resources of the planet at a ferocious rate. Beans and lentils are a great alternative (cheap and healthy) and are relatively easy to use.

I actually love to cook but I do find the everyday aspect of it very boring. But I do have the satisfaction of providing nutritious meal and making ends meet at the end of the month. It’s not easy but its necessary, isn’t it ?

  Cheryl wrote @ April 16th, 2008 at 15:15

I just came back from the laiki…what timing you have! I’m now a regular and I’m getting a few extras tossed in my bags here & there. It’s a nice feeling. Plus, I do save a lot of money and that’s why I make a point to shop for our produce there on a weekly basis.

We’re prepping the garden for summer, then I’m sure that we’ll save a lot of $$. Strawberries went in 1st!

BTW-when I lived in the city back home I had a great container garden-spices, tomatos, cucumbers & more. I loved my container garden!

  eliciab35 wrote @ April 16th, 2008 at 17:34

Coupons are another great way to save on groceries! Keep your eyes out for coupons attached to the front of packages, in particular – I always see these on batteries, for example. Sometimes the cashier will pull the coupon off for you, but you’ll want to double-check. If you get the Sunday paper – clip coupons. Sometimes you’ll have to buy two of an item to save a buck, but if it is something you use often, it is worth it. Coupons REALLY pay off when it comes to your point about buying in bulk too.

  rositta wrote @ April 16th, 2008 at 17:37

We do all of the above too and save lots of money. Bread has doubled in price here in the last couple of months as has flour so I’m making my own bread now… I’ll have to bring more bags next time…ciao

  FMS wrote @ April 16th, 2008 at 17:56

I also recommend eating less :-)

  daranee wrote @ April 16th, 2008 at 22:15

I agree that only some generics are substitutable. One that is not is canned tomatoes. When I buy the generic canned (tin) tomatoes the juices are more water than tomato juice.

  Kat wrote @ April 16th, 2008 at 22:36

The S – That’s a tough one because I think almost all food, GMO or not, have chemicals and/or processing unless you grow it yourself. When I was in India for 5 weeks, I ate nothing but local grown food cooked fresh and never felt better. As soon as I came back, my body went into shock and broke out in hives every time I ate something, no matter how plain (even boiled rice). It could have gone on like that, but I ended up taking anti-histamines because I’d lost a lot of sleep and 5 kilos in a week. I don’t know enough about GMO to give an informed opinion and I won’t condemn it out of ignorance.

DD – I added part of your comment to the article because it’s pertinent. Back in the days I got off work early enough and walked to my laiki, I favored people with one product. Not on purpose, but you try a few and get to understand what’s good and what’s not.

Five days a week I’m vegetarian and fast once a month, but the other person is carnivorous so I usually cook two different meals.

And what you say is true: There’s a huge difference between wanting to cook vs. cooking out of necessity. But what choice is there, it’s not like we can leave our partners/children to starve. It’s the classic difference between a man and woman’s definition of freedom. Men see freedom as the ability “to do.” Women see freedom as the ability “to not do.”

C – It’s nice, isn’t it? This man always insisted on giving me 5 globe artichokes for the price of 2. I kept explaining to him, “Moni mou, den mporo!” You have a great garden in which I’m envious.

E – Coupons are great, especially at stores that give you double. I excluded them from the list because this was written with a world view and not all countries have coupons to clip (unfortunately).

R – You’re a great baker and all-around cook. Bread is something I don’t do because I try to be gluten-free, though I do dream of sourdough. You have a great garden as well!

M – LOL! That’s a good one. We’re much more fit when we eat less (or have less money to buy food – haha). :)

D – That’s so true. One really needs to try it once and see if it’s comparable; if it’s not, better to switch back or try another brand. We’ve been fortunate in that many things we try are the same or better.

  GANIG wrote @ April 17th, 2008 at 01:32

Just noticed that all my comments current and previous have been deleted :-) Kat can’t handle Greek opinions I guess :-) Oh well.

Kat Reply:

I don’t publish some of them lately because you talk about me in the 3rd person (as you do here) based on no real knowledge of me or my life, you dispense unsolicited advice about moving back to the USA, you “bait” and mock me, and some comments are totally irrelevant to the post. I believe I’ve given you the benefit of doubt many times and been more than tolerant.

There are many opinions here regardless of nationality, your previous comments stand, and no one’s comments are deleted. You’re very different (almost arrogant) since returning to the USA, or don’t you remember how bitter, sad and disappointed you were while living in Greece?

  maria v wrote @ April 17th, 2008 at 07:58

fantastic advice KAT, i will probably refer to some of these in an up-and-coming post on my own site

  graffic wrote @ April 17th, 2008 at 22:20

First, fairy is fairy. Since I was 16 I’ve been looking for an alternative but I couldn’t find anything. So I stick with fairy to clean the dishes.

Pringles are adictive, the same as coca-cola. Be careful :)

Laiki market is the best. If you can you should organize in order to buy as much as you can there. You’ll save a lot of money.

Beer is not food but, if you want to go for a coffee or a drink, just arrange the meeting in your house or your friend’s. It will be 400% cheaper and you’ll enjoy the same.

If you want to go out, you can always buy a coke or a beer in a periptero and go to the nearest park to talk. Just remember not to throw the can/bottle away, but in a trash bin.

Mixing food and going out. If you want to go to eat outside, avoid places with know brand names like: Applebees or Pizza hut. There’s always a “better” place than those.

And last but not least. Check the prices when you buy. It can seem obvious, but some seconds of research when picking a product in the supermarket can save you some euros.

  FMS wrote @ April 18th, 2008 at 02:12

We should also mention that Pringles are made with GM ingredients, and are certainly not cheaper for that… :-(

  vasillis wrote @ April 18th, 2008 at 05:47

Supermarkets often lower the price in some categories of products. for example, supermarket 1 chooses to sell dairy products much cheaper than the others supermarkets (same brand) and raise the price to the rest of the products so not to lose profits and that happens with brand name products, so if somebody have time can buy dairy products from supermarket 1, products for cleaning the house from supermarket 2, meat from supermarket 3 and so on

  Anna wrote @ April 19th, 2008 at 00:21

very nice site!

  phillip wrote @ April 19th, 2008 at 12:38

i really agree with tip 3. it’s so much cheaper to buy cheese at the counter than the prepackaged stuff. a half-kilo of feta is always cheaper than 400g of the prepackaged kind. and they can grate parmesan fresh and fast. lunch meats are cheaper as well. i’m very happy with myself for becoming brave enough to go up to the counter.

  Lulu wrote @ April 20th, 2008 at 01:25

Regarding your suggestion to consider buying frozen:

I’ve read (and tend to believe) that frozen food is often more nutritious than out-of-season food that’s been shipped a long way. Frozen foods are typically picked at peak ripeness and chilled very quickly. And freezing methods have improved mightily over the last few decades.

So I think this is a good suggestion.

  FMS wrote @ April 20th, 2008 at 03:22

I have to confess that I regularly go to 3 supermarkets and another 3 from time to time. Why? Because the @#$% Greek supermarkets are so useless that (a) they cannot keep ther most normal things in stock; (b) when they do, the price differences for near-identical goods are so insulting that I refuse to waste my money there; (c) many cheap and high quality (imported) goods are available in only one out of the six supermarkets mentioned.

An economist would wonder why any one of these conditions would apply (let alone all three). My suggestion is that it is the stupidty of Greek shoppers who are more concerned with how much money to waste on (a) an overpriced fake Italian dress/shoes/makeup; or (b) an overpriced kinito/sportcar/trainers. When Greeks learn to shop properly, they will get better shops.

  Thomas wrote @ April 21st, 2008 at 07:54

Lots of good tips here, but I’d like to add some of my own.

Like most people, I found it difficult to make ends meet in Athens, especially when shopping for the basics, like food. The supermarket in my old neighbourhood was particularly expensive, so I found it much more economical to search through the dumpster situated in the side street. People are very fussy about their fruit and vegetables, it seems, and refuse to buy them if they’re even slightly bruised or have any natural sort of marks on them. As a result, these get thrown out. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with them! There’s also no reason why we should turn our noses to, say, a tomato just because it’s a little battered and bruised. Personally, I draw the line at mould.

The open-air markets are another great place to find fruit and vegetables, as others have noted, but of course there aren’t any dumpsters there. What you do here is, you go just after the sellers have packed up their stalls and search through the gutters for whatever has been left behind. Don’t worry if something’s been trampled on — you can always wash it when you get home.

A word of warning, though. This method has become quite popular with pensioners, so be prepared to use your elbows to get the really choice veggies.

  The Scorpion wrote @ April 21st, 2008 at 08:19

FMS, indeed!!

All the strikes the Greeks do for anything under the sun, I wonder why they don’t have a strike against the supermarkets.

The Greek shopper certainly has not realized that they have the power, and can vote with their feet.

Instead of just saying “Edo Ellada”, how about actually doing something about it. I constantly hold my favorite supermarket accountable. The manager at the one near my house is cordile but I can tell he tries to avoid me because I’ve always got a suggestion or concern to improve the store. But, to his credit, he always tries to accomodate my requests.

NOW, imagine if other Greeks insisted on the American model of the Customer is Always Right.

  Kat wrote @ April 21st, 2008 at 11:15

MV – Feel free! :)

G – Yes, I think we are nostalgic for some brands and some do work better than others. For some reason, I never warmed to Fairy.

M – Good point. Junk food on the whole is quite expensive, not to mention healthy. But I guess that’s why we want it sometimes.

V – Welcome! That’s very true what you say. In other countries, they are trying to beat out their competitors on everything. Here, it’s a matter of choosing certain things to advertise on sale and raising other prices. I don’t normally go to different stores — the time and gas it takes to save pennies isn’t worth it, is it? If the stores are close together, and you walk and exercise, I suppose it’s fine.

A – Gracias

P – You should be proud of yourself. I know people who don’t even try. I’ve learned you mainly need a few words. Weight — tetarto (quarter), miso (half), ena kilo. How you want it – fetes (slices), olo (not cut). Or you can even cheat if you want slices and say how many you want. Very excellent point about the parmesan.

L – That’s so true! A lot of fresh food deteriorates quickly in nutritional value, such as broccoli, especially if not stored properly and transported quickly. I think we had a joke in CA about how broccoli had to get on the night train in order to be sold by morning and eaten by afternoon. Thanks for stopping by!

T – All satirical joking aside. There IS some good stuff leftover at the laiki in pristine boxes that sellers were simply too lazy to take home, but one has to get there before the street sweeper comes by and dumps them. I used to see people (mostly pensioners and students) waiting to pounce. My manavis also has a box by the register of bruised produce or produce about to go bad, and she sells it for half off.

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