Psst, I make money on some of the links in this post at no cost to you. It keeps the lights on around here.
Hey there, Picky people! Today we have a guest post from my pal Staci over at Streamline365 (PS: she’s giving away a free ticket to FinCon!). She recently moved to Kuwait and is having all kinds of frugal adventures. See how she handles grocery shopping in a foreign country!
We moved to Kuwait about six weeks ago, and it has been an adventure! While we’ve lived outside of the US before, it was with the US Military. In Japan we had the military’s version of a grocery store–the Commissary. I did most of my grocery shopping there because it was the most affordable option. In Japan, grocery shopping abroad on a budget meant grocery shopping abroad at the Commissary.
Now we are living abroad, in Kuwait, as Expats. No Commissary. I thought it would be daunting to grocery shop without the convenience and familiarity of the Commissary, but it has been a fun challenge. There is no “safety net;” either we figure it out or we don’t!
Kuwait has several ways to shop for food.
1. Across the street from our high rise apartment building, we have a tiny mom and pop store.
It is literally stocked floor to ceiling, and if you are creative you could buy what you need to cook and live off of for a week. I always run out of bread and milk, so we are there just about every other day. They always ask us if we want bananas, because we bought them on our first few visits. I think it’s fun that we are probably known as that “Crazy American Banana Family.”
2. Next we have Co-Ops.
These are usually in the middle of a neighborhood, and have just the basics. You won’t find the American/UK brands here. You’ll find the staples, and since we try to eat a “whole foods” diet, we can find what we need. They don’t have much produce, so you make another trip to a produce store on the other side of the neighborhood. I like the Co-Ops and small produce stores, but with three kids five and under and 120 degree heat, I really need one-stop shopping.
3. Grocery Stores.
These are just like ours in the US. There are three main stores.
- Gant: Typical grocery store.
- LuLu’s: Specializes in UK brands.
- Sultan: Specializes in US brands.
I go to LuLu’s because it is closest to my house. The produce section here is awesome, filled with fruits and veggies I have never seen before, and you could spend a few hours just exploring and Googling what they are. The rice section is fun too, with so many exotic types from all over the world. The fish counter is actually my favorite! I have no idea what to buy, but I enjoy browsing.
I’m a big comparison shopper so I have been amazed at how some things are extremely cheap, and others are extremely expensive. Upon our first trip out to explore, the day after our 34-hour journey, I wasn’t looking at prices–probably the first time that has ever happened! I realized when I got back home that I had a container of salad that costs $4 in the States, and spent $14.31 on it!!! On 16 ounces of spring mix lettuce!
1 Kuwait Dinar is equal to $3.33 US Dollars. When you see 3 Dinar, at first your brain thinks, “Three dollars.” Nope, 3 Dinar is $9.99! My first few shopping trips were extremely painful because I had to calculate the price of every item. One dinar, hmmm, is that worth $3.33? It is getting easier now, but a grocery run in the States would take me about an hour, and it takes me at least two hours here.
Anything imported from the US is outrageously expensive. I had no idea that the US is the main grower/exporter of strawberries. The only strawberries I have been able to find come all the way from California, and are $7.96. My kids love strawberries so I buy them once a week, but we don’t waste a bite!
My most surprising, shockingly expensive find in the produce section was an orange bell pepper, individually wrapped in saran wrap. I almost fell over when I saw that the individual orange bell pepper from Holland was 4.79 Dinars. This equals $15.95 US dollars for a single bell pepper. Around the corner were orange bell peppers from Jordan for .5 fils, or $1.66. I’ll take the $1.66 pepper!
American name brands–Kraft, General Mills…basically any processed food brand we buy in the States–are three times the price. Store and even European brands will be in the more affordable range. Buying local–anything made/grown in Kuwait–is the way to go. A loaf of wheat sandwich bread is $1.09, and the pita bread/local breads are delicious and always under two dollars.
Before our big move, a friend living here said that they spend over $3,000 a month on groceries. I couldn’t fathom that. Now I understand how it is possible. They are buying American brands and probably not checking the prices of every item that they buy. If you are buying lettuce at $14, and strawberries at $8, you can easily spend $3,000 a month.
If you are heading on an overseas trip or making a big move, how do you grocery shop while sticking to a budget? Buy Local when you can and compare prices on every single item.
How much do we spend on groceries each month in Kuwait? About $1,000. This includes food for five people, diapers for one, toilet paper, paper towels, and everything you’d usually buy on a Wal-Mart run. It’s more than we spent back in the States, but for Kuwait I think it is a reasonable amount. I’d love to save more each month, and I think with practice I will, but for now I can live with that.
For all of you that are rocking the frugal lifestyle, this might be twice your monthly budget.
How much do you spend on groceries each month? Do you think it would be fun to explore a grocery store abroad?