Living in Greece

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

Archive for April, 2008

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 nightbird

Otus scopsPhoto from

Our proximity to the mountains and trees, when they’re not on fire every summer, makes it possible to breathe clean air and enjoy sounds reminiscent of a village, despite the main road nearby. I await nightfall and the sound of the nightbird.

I came to know the nightbird’s call when I lived in a village outside Olympia. The first lesson I got — delivered calmly, as if to explain drinking a glass of water — was how to handle a snake when (not if) one falls on me in the garden. Not easily frightened, but not a lover of snakes either, I paid close attention and tried to stay away from all trees and arches with growing vines. A half hour later, a snake fell on my boyfriend’s father; he beat it with a stick and paraded around the limp trophy before throwing it in the trash.

Later, I had the chance to view a tzitziki (cicada) from up close after my boyfriend scouted an unsuspecting target on a tree, pounced like a panther and caught it gently between his fingers. “No kill,” he said. After being deafened many a times in summer, I was surprised to see such a small bug, and a rather adorable gray spotted one at that. Observation complete, he was free to go.

After sundown, there was a distinctive ‘birp’ noise in the distance, which could be heard at consistent intervals and sounded solitary. “What kind of bird is that, and is it calling for another bird?” I asked.

“It’s the nightbird. Maybe he’s calling for a mate,” said my companions. “Sorry, I don’t know the English word.”

Night after night, this nightbird called out, only to hear nothing in return. And yet, his call never weakened or ceased. It was many weeks later when one ‘birp’ was finally answered by a higher pitched ‘birp,’ going back and forth for hours, until silence fell into darkness. We assumed it was a happy ending.

For the past month, that cute little ‘birp’ has come back to make me smile. Thanks to Spyro, who is a birding expert, I now know this is a gionis or Otus scops (Scops owl) and what it looks like, but I still like to call him the nightbird.

No matter what chaos I experience during the day, I can come home at night and listen to the persistent, simple and sweet ‘birp’ of the nightbird, reminding me that some things change a lot, but others remain happily the same.


*Sadly, I moved away and can no longer hear him calling. Miss you, birdy.

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Bugs and beaches
Tired of being tasty

Minimum salary vs. cost and quality of living in the EU

Based on minimum EU salaries by Eurostat and FedEE, and Mercer’s Cost of Living and Quality of Living surveys, the following table compares them side-by-side so anyone considering a move to the EU can get a general idea of where a country stands. It is not an analysis of any kind.

Be aware that the rankings done by Mercer were based on hard factors that could be measured (garbage services, air quality, access to education, etc.) and considered the most comprehensive in the world. However, quality of living never takes into account an individual’s personal preference, as it is completely subjective and impossible to quantify. i.e. One man’s castle is another man’s ghetto.

*Article last updated July 1, 2013

How to read the table

Any country marked with an asterisk (*) had several cities present in both the cost of living and quality of living surveys, however I used the highest ranked city, so it may not be representative of overall cost. For example, Paris is one of the most expensive cities in the world, but Lyon ranked high in quality of living but very low in cost — the complete opposite of Paris, even though it is also in France.

In the cost of living column, the first number represents the rank amongst the 27 EU countries only, followed by the actual rank worldwide in parentheses (#). Quality of living is expressed the same way. So if looking only at the EU, Italy and Greece are 3 spots apart in quality of living at 14 and 17, respectively; however, on a worldwide scale, there is actually a much wider margin with Italy placing #49 and Greece at #78.

* Post is based on a suggestion from DealsEnd

Minimum salary vs. Cost and Quality of living rankings

Country Salary Cost of living
Quality of Living
The “Big 15”
1. Denmark 1 2
2. Luxembourg 2 14
(#18 )
3. Ireland 3 5
4. Sweden 4 8
5. UK * 5 1
6. Netherlands 6 9
7. Germany * 7 13
8. Belgium 8 15
9. France * 9 4
10. Finland 10 7
11. Austria 11
12. Italy * 12 3
13. Spain * 13 10
14. Greece 14 11
(#78 )
15. Portugal 17 17
Newer members
16. Malta 15 No rank No rank
17. Slovenia 16 20
18. Cyprus 18 25
(#118 )
19. Czech Republic 19 16
20. Hungary 20 18
21. Poland 21 No rank 20
22. Estonia 22 21
23. Slovakia 23 12
24. Lithuania 24 24
25. Latvia 25 19
26. Romania 26 22
(#108 )
27. Bulgaria 27 23
(#108 )

*Croatia is an EU member state as of July 1, 2013.

Sourced from previous articles

“Minimum salaries in the EU
Quality of Living rankings” by Mercer
Cost of Living rankings” by Mercer

Author’s Note

Comparisons such as these are provided for the convenience of readers who may be interested. I myself do not compare countries as a general rule because I believe it is important to visit a country and match its conditions to what your personal priorities, circumstances and goals are now and in the future.

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