How in GOD’s NAME do you spend so little on food??

by J. Money - [Edit]

food prep

I am DYING over here friends… Dying.

Just received one of the feistiest emails ever on food budgeting and can’t stop laughing at this guy. He’s on a mission and needs our help to get to the bottom of it! ;)

How do people eat on only $1.00 a meal?? What’s a fat man (his words) to do??

Review this at your leisure and then chime in below if you will… I’ll admit I’m pretty curious how people finagle such low food budgets as well – especially in a healthy way. What’s the secret, friends??

Mr J. Money. I have been a long time reader, or at least I feel as though, since I’ve navigated a great many of your current and past articles over the previous 10 months. My name is Braden and I am a father of 2.

One thing that I’ve been continually intrigued by, but have yet to locate a logical answer to, even throughout the internet’s vast wisdom, is how in GOD’s NAME people seem to spend so thriftily on food consumption when my own family seems, well, cannot at all!!

I have been vigorously categorizing and monitoring my family’s spending habits for the better part of a decade and have the historical records to prove it. I can mark periods of excess consumption by month and correlate that to certain life events (travel, remodel, moving, fat retention, etc). I am an accountant by trade and every bit as meticulous in details as accountants are prone to be. I’ve left no receipt unread in 10+ years and yet…………….. I cannot FATHOM how people are able to execute a monthly food spend per familial unit of less than $1000.

Impossible, insufferable, intolerable!!!

I will not shy away from the facts. I …………. am overweight. I eat. Probably, by most accounts, A LOT. I love food. I love good for you food; I love not good for you food. I love expensive food; I love cheap food. There isn’t much in the way of food that this guy doesn’t love. Oh, you invented a new garlic, cajun, spicy sauce……… AND put it on a White Castle slider, move over son, let daddy have a taste.

I eat a lot of food.

But, while I might account for 45-50% of my 4 person family’s food budget, in comparison with a normal human man at 30-35%?, my family would still eat on average $900-1000/ month.

That roughly equates to:
$12,000 per year spend / 4,380 meals per year = $2.74 / meal.

Now, when I come on your website, and a great many others, people are claiming to spend not even $1/meal. My two young kids waste $1/meal without trying!! The dog mistakenly gobbles up $0.25 / meal without even being reprimanded. This Mormon fellow you had featured the other day claims that he can achieve an average rate of $0.95/meal. [((700*12))/(8*3*365) = $0.958 / meal]??!!!??

I call SHENANIGANS and MALARKEY all at once!!!!

Here is what I want to know, should you be willing to listen and assist me in uncovering the truth: Are these people for REAL?!?!? Can someone actually achieve this level of thrift, or are they in fact denying the truth and categorizing food in other buckets? Are they not counting eating out? Are they not counting staple foods? Are they stealing food; on WIC; eating at Mom & Dad’s; food banks?!!!?

I am being literal, I cannot understand how to reduce my level of food spend to $346.75/ month ($0.95 avg / meal for my family of 4). That’s our monthly spend at COSTCO!!! Yes, we’ve got room for improvement, but these other people must be living on 40 acre farms in the tropics, growing their own produce and bartering rum for beans or something, right? Tell me I’m not crazy!!!

If you look at this rationally, the cheapest food I know, Macaroni and cheese…… not even the organic macaroni and cheese…. standard, horrible, bland, awful for you (probably, according to some dainty nutritionist) Kraft, not shells, mac and cheese. Costs $0.33 / serving (ubiquitous Walmart pricing of $0.98 per box / number of servings (3) on the label), without the addition of milk and butter. Throw those palatable ingredients into the mix and you’re looking at $0.49 / serving (again Walmart pricing; 1/4 stick of butter $0.25/3 and $0.25/3 for 1 cup of milk) for the absolute most ridiculously small portion of sustaining, edible, nearly-food, food on the market.

THAT IS FOR MACARONI AND CHEESE, my friend!!! I don’t know many American families, blessed with children, who DO NOT at some point serve up a dish or two of Macaroni and Cheese (and this is the bottom of the rung brand in sophistication, taste and price). To top that off, for shits and giggles, let’s say that your 14 year old kid is not satiated by 1/3 of a box of macaroni and cheese. You’ve only got another $0.50 in that meal in order to nurture and grow that bottomless pit. What if, GOD FORBID, that 14 year old eats TWO SERVINGS!!!! AAAAAHHHHHHH The humanity!!!! This is no joke. The internet is ablaze with stories of rapturous eating by teenagers. It could happen to you!!!!

So, I say we try and discover meals that are both wholesome and filling and fit within the $1/ meal restriction. I think it’s impossible. You think I’m nuts…….. or is this Mormon fellow starving his kin?

Thanks for reading, I’d be more than willing to assist in showing you my documented spend over the years!!!

This “Mormon fellow” Braden is referring to here is Mr. Dan Miller – a blogger friend of mine who wrote a fascinating post for us the other week on his $5,000/mo budget for his family of 8 (2 parents, SIX kids). Of which $600-$700 goes to feeding his entire clan each month (Braden worked this out to be $0.958/meal). A great read if you haven’t checked it out already…

And out of curiosity, I of course had to get my hands on this Braden guy’s documentation that has been meticulously collected over the years ;) You can download it here for your viewing pleasure:

yearly food expenses

(Click to blow up and/or download – it’s a PDF)

What do you guys think? Is it possible to live off $1.00/meal?? Do you struggle with food expenses too, or have you found that happy medium?

Please do share in the comments below… And bonus points for dropping *your* own food expenses too! The last time we did this we had almost 200 people share and has become one of our most popular posts on the site: How much do you spend a week on groceries?

Big thanks to Braden for keeping it real and letting us pass this around… Let’s hook a brother up!

**UPDATE** Dan’s rebuttal is now live! –> How We Eat on Less Than $1.00/meal

——
PS: A little birdy tells me our Mormon friend will be back here shortly for a rebuttal ;)

Jay loves talking about money, experimenting, blasting hip-hop, and hanging out with his two beautiful boys. You can check out all of his online projects at jmoney.biz. Thanks for reading the blog!

{ 226 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kirsten March 25, 2015 at 6:37 am

I have no idea how some people do it. I spend over $800 a month for a family of 4 (and one is a baby). We have a fair amount of food waste but it’s hard to predict that my preschooler won’t eat but one bite of the apple I give her. Or that she won’t eat any snack at all one day (I have to plan for her to eat, though). I’m dumbfounded by some people’s frugalness. I do know that if I only shop once or twice a month I do better. I make myself use what I have and I limit impulse buys.

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2 Brandi October 18, 2015 at 12:02 am

An idea to help with food waste created by your toddler, Kirsten, is to compost that one-bite-taken-out-of-it apple! It doesn’t bring down your grocery bill immediately, but it can, in time, create “free” soil amendment (for your apple tree that you’re going to plant so that you don’t have to buy apples any more! lol).

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3 J. Money October 19, 2015 at 9:44 pm

I’ve started composting myself! We go through so many bananas in this household that we could produce enough compost for an entire garden each week – hah. If only we gardened now :)

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4 j January 10, 2016 at 6:07 pm

Hi Kristen. What is the plan to get your three year old to eat? The reason that I ask, is that I have a three year old neice who isn’t eating anything besides her “ba-ba” and it worries everyone. Any help would be most appreciated.
Thx

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5 Jon @ Money Smart Guides March 25, 2015 at 6:46 am

Just looking at groceries alone, my wife and I spend about $300 a month and are happy with this amount. But when you add in eating out, since that too is considered food, we are looking at $500 a month. I make it a point to buy things based on sales and use coupons as well price shop to try to get things for the lowest price. Not sure where we will be when the kiddos come around, but I figure it will be be around the $1K per month mark.

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6 Mrs. Frugalwoods March 25, 2015 at 6:48 am

Braden, you’re cracking me up! I thought it couldn’t be done either, but, my husband and I spend about $300/month on the two of us for absolutely everything we eat and drink. Here are our tricks:
-No eating out (as in, none). We cook 3 meals per day at home.
-Very little meat, with fish about twice per week.
-Minimal dairy.
-Everything we eat is cooked from scratch and we buy very few packaged things. For example, we homemake our hummus, bread, cookies, etc.
-We eat A LOT of produce (most of it organic). We could spend less every month if we were willing to scrimp in this category, but, it’s a conscious choice we make to spend more.

Our two cheapest meals are breakfast (bulk oatmeal), which clocks in at $0.10/serving and our homemade rice-and-beans lunches, which ring up at $0.39/serving. Since we keep breakfast and lunch so darn cheap, we’re able to spend more on all the fruits and veggies we eat throughout the day and with our dinner.

It is absolutely possible to do, but, I wouldn’t say it’s easy at the start. Now that we’ve been doing it for awhile, it’s just second nature. But, when you’re first starting out, I’d suggest conducting a full inventory of everything you and your family are eating all week long. Then, start figuring out where you can either pare down or find cheaper substitutes (i.e. bulk oatmeal instead of instant). Good luck! You can do it!

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7 Dan @ PointsWithACrew March 25, 2015 at 7:50 am

Great points – those are some of the very points that I’ll be talking about tomorrow (spoiler alert!) :-P

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8 Braden Dunlop March 25, 2015 at 3:15 pm

This “bulk oatmeal” everyone is RAVING about; what is this? Are we talking about the cardboard canister of oats that you slosh with some water and wait for the ding on the microwave…………….or are we talking about something entirely different.

Because…….if this is what you are referring to, then I EAT BULK OATMEAL. Albeit, I throw a ladle or two of maple syrup on top (fresh from the farm, organic and collected by my neighbors), maybe a pinch or two of “organic” granola, perhaps even a sprig of cinnamon. A quart of brown gold (Maple Syrup) goes for $20. I rarely measure the corresponding unit of distribution, but I’m willing to bet it’s in the $0.25/serving range. No one on here is claiming to eat, uh, plain oats, right? If you are, I”M OUT!!! The spoon is more satiating.

I also eat beans and rice. I’m thinking the distinctions end in the preferred nomenclature, because my beans and rice is canned black beans, uncle ben’s aromatic basmati rice garnished with cilantro and lime juice, a slice or two of avocado (who am I kidding, I love that devilish fruit; I throw half of it on there), a light sprinkle of the always irresistible cheese and some finely chopped bell peppers. We haven’t eaten steak or chicken tacos in three years……..at home, at least. Definitely not a $1 meal.

Beans and rice, without some flair, seems, well, if I were in captivity in Singapore for gum chewing, I’d assume that would be the meal provided on a daily basis.

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9 mollyjade March 25, 2015 at 4:03 pm

You can get maple syrup at your costco for about 1/3 price for what you’re paying.

I find the key to a low grocery bill is 1) don’t spend a ton of money on beverages (tea, coffee, bottled water, cokes, whatever), 2) buy ingredients, not meal kits. So pasta, cheese, flour, and milk will make a much more satisfying and filling mac and cheese than the little blue box. 3) ignore organic (see: http://vitals.lifehacker.com/why-you-shouldnt-buy-organic-based-on-the-dirty-dozen-1689190822) 4) limit snacky foods like granola bars, chips, cookies (try homemade popcorn with butter or homemade muffins). 5) be flexible with your shopping list. If you’re making stir fry for one meal, wait to see which vegetables are on sale before you buy. Pick cheaper produce (apples, bananas, cabbage, bell peppers, cucumber, broccoli) more often than expensive produce (mangos, asparagus, berries).

Of course, you may very well decide that your time, tastes, or comfort are worth more to you than making changes to save money on your grocery bill. Because those are the trade offs.

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10 beth March 25, 2015 at 9:43 pm

I like plain oats for breakfast. The only topping I use is a bit of milk.

Some days I go crazy and make plain, slow cooking Cream Of Wheat too. No milk required for that.

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11 The Roamer March 26, 2015 at 2:29 am

I totally eat plain oats. I think of it as appreciating each foods actual taste. I don’t understand people who drow. Their food in hot sauce or sugar or whatever.
It was a gradual change. First eat oatmeal with sugar,Cinnamon and a dash of milk. Then run out of all that stuff at work force yourself to eat plain oatmeal, realize its not so bad. Haha.

We live in California with our supposed high cost of living and spent $500-$600 for a family of 5.

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12 julie March 26, 2015 at 8:43 am

I eat my bulk oatmeal with an apple. Just slice it up and cook it with the oatmeal. Or when I am feeling bad, a banana and some chocolate chips. I participate in a produce coop, so I spend about $15 on produce every two weeks. I have no idea how much an apple costs. The banana snd chocolate chips are an extra 32 cents.

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13 Donna Freedman March 28, 2015 at 1:57 am

I live in Alaska where things are more expensive, and can get bulk rolled oats for 99 cents a pound in the health food section of the Fred Meyer department store; over in the cereal aisle, a 42-ounce canister of rolled oats goes for $5.29. Last year the bulk oats went on sale for 69 cents a pound and I bought about 25 pounds, which we stored in large glass jars in the basement.
My partner eats his oatmeal with a few frozen berries but no milk. I add a little brown sugar and milk and I think they’re quite tasty. We also cook the oats with half water and half whey drained from the yogurt I make; this adds protein.
When I was really broke I ate oats with reconstituted powdered milk (my dad sent me a case of the stuff), which wasn’t quite as good but hey, it tasted OK and filled me up just fine.
These days I eat the oats because they’re good for me and, yeah, because they’re cheap and simple to fix. Sometimes I even have oatmeal for dinner if I don’t feel like cooking.
To each his own.

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14 Kevin March 28, 2015 at 3:41 pm

Braden, no offense but it sounds like your main problem is your diet. I used to have a love for food and like you used to be what sounds like a CW (condiment whore). Then I started viewing food as just straight up fuel and not something I sought enjoyment and comfort in. Sure I still have my pizza Saturdays but ceasd to have my pizza sundays….. and mondays…… and tuesdays…. you get the picture. It seems that you are asking for the impossible,”how can I still eat junk food at the volume I currently am and shave my food budget?” Simple answer, and sorry for being harshly sraight with you, but you can’t. I mean I hope you’re exaggerating on the “1-2 LADLES” of syrup on your oatmeal. If not that is about 1-2 cups of syrup on your oatmeal…. your weight is quickly becoming understandable. Also, 2 servings of oatmeal is about 1 cup…. 1. I’m going out on a limb and guessing you probably have st least 4 servings or 2 cups to go with that puddle of syrup. I think portion management alone would probably shave nearly $1 off your meals.

Sorry for being blunt but someone had to be. Again I used to eat whatever I wanted and whatever tasted good to me which tended to be more of the unhealthy variety…. i mean I still can’t give up my pizza Saturdays And probably never will. But once you start viewing food as just fuel for your body and vegetables, fruit, whole grains, lean meats as the “premium grade” fuel and the chips, cookies, red meats, kraft MSc and cheese, and the other 90% of shit filing the inner aisles of the grocery store as “regular grade” fuel you’ll see your budget start to shrink. Before you select premium grade fuel though it sounds like you need to stop over filing the tank. Portion control is the hardest and you will feel like you’re starving the first week or two but that is just your body adjusting and actually burning the fat stores you have to make up for the lost intake of food…. which is now at a more normal level. Assuming your an average man and about 5’10” tall and are moderately active, to maintain 200 lbs…… MAINTAIN, you only need 2500 calories. That oatmeal meal you described is like 1,400 alone and that’s with only one “ladle” (1 cup) of syrup accounting for about 800 of those calories on the assumed 2 cups of oatmeal.

Having said all this my suggestion isn’t financially related and more of dropping health bombs on this situation. Braden, you have admitted to a weight and eating PROBLEM. Not a budget problem you just shaped it that way. To kill two birds with one stone the first step to the solution is portion control. Keep eating the junk if you desire but just start shaving the calories. You’ll probably find you’re eating way less food. That’s why you need to introduce healthy food to your meal plans. You’ll be able to eat a butt load more but take in fewer calories. Start by getting all accountanty on your calorie intake. Keep eating like you are and track how many calories you’re taking in each day for the next 2 weeks. See where you’re at and I wouldn’t be surprised if you are around the 5,000-6,000 calories per day range. Shave that by about 500 calories per day for the next week. Then another 500/day for the week after that. So on and so forth until you get to 2500-2600/day assuming you live a moderately active life…. if not you’ll have to go down even more calories Just to maintain 200 lbs if you’re about 5’10″…. which is still actually overweight but at least better I’m assuming. Once you get your intake to about 2500 start replacing the chips with your sandwich with carrots and do other substitutions like that until you’re happy with your HEALTHIER food intake. Instead of ground beef hamburgers get the ground turkey, not only is it better but I was shocked to find it tastes way better too. You don’t have to become a vegan, just smarter. Not only will your budget shrink on food but so will your weight and the savings on food can be spent on smaller clothes…. but then there is another budget benefit to all this, your future health will improve meaning likely fewer doctors visits down the road and your danger of getting diabetes or heart issues goes down to almost zero, so no future major health bills for you. And that my friend is where the real savings are. So while it sucks (at first) viewing your food as just fuel instead of a source of enjoyment has multiple financial benefits…. oh yeah, and health ones to….. that is if you want to enjoy playing with your kids and keep up with them until they’re in there late 20s. I think i just found a possible replacement for your food joy…. your kids and active activities spent with them. They just might like it too.

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15 Braden Dunlop April 1, 2015 at 12:23 pm

My dearest Kevin, Your entire argument is predicated on the ill conceived notion that I apply 1-2 cups of syrup to an oversized bowl of oats. You failed to utilize any of the evidence presented, instead focusing on verbiage to make a mathematical calculation. I might remind you that satirical writing does usually include sarcasm, from time to time, and colorful adjectives in order to elicit humor and jolly, good feelings in the reader. Ladle, though not usually indicative of a finite unit of measure, was used by this writer in such fashion. The data provided very shortly thereafter should have been your sole reference point to infer conclusions upon.

Had you employed simple math in making an understanding of that data, you would have correlated the serving size to be less than 1 US tablespoon (0.8 to be precise). You instead chose to thwart any attempt at using logic to focus your ambitions solely on preaching arrogance and self worth from the pulpit of denigration, thus failing to make a coherent objection. Further to that point, while I and others aired our grievances to the world and provided financial evidence supporting our claims, you chose a cowardly and delusional retort, laying waste to due diligence and competence and foregoing your obligation to share any of the pertinent data which would allow you to further propagate your claims to “#1 Lifestyle Chooser in All the World”.

In the meantime, as we wait with bated glee for your reply, my children and I will assume our grooves on the couch, so as to be comfortable while we “actively” play video games, scoop melted butter into our gaping mouths, douse ourselves in Monster Energy drinks and struggle, under the overbearing burden of our 6,000 calorie / day lifestyle, to breathe.

Your conclusions, sir, are as ill-fated as the foundation to which you’ve amassed your intervening commentary.

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16 Noisyboy April 2, 2015 at 3:27 pm

While one might argue that Kevin is blunt and that he might be over-generalizing, i fully agree with the point he’s trying to make: We need very little to stay fit and healthy and it’s very possible to eat healthy on a tiny budget. It’s all about choice and about how serious you want to be about it. If you actually do the calory-math and invest in some good books on basic nutrition you might be surprised about what is possible and achieveable. I mean, allthough our groceries are relatively expensive in our “first-world-country”, there are people in this world who grow to be a hundred years old on a daily menu of some rice, some veggies, some legumes and the occasional chicken or fish! Believe me; if you buy these things in bulk you’ll save a lot of money!
Again, it’s all about choice and your willingness to put the effort into it. And your initial reaction to Kevins comments tells me that you do not want to ‘pay the price’ to make it actually work. It striked me as the initial reaction of an addict who knows he “should give up the goodies” but does not really, genuinely, want to.
My tip is to create a very simple weekmenu, two or three different meals, simple and healthy, and stick with it. Throw in an occasional “binge-day” and you’re all set.
It’s really that simple!
If, and only if, you are really serious about this. Most people are not. They know this is true but inside they think;”for goodness sake, please leave me alone”.

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17 Kevin April 8, 2015 at 10:15 pm

And you failed to grasp the overall point I was making…… and you must have missed the leading sentence into the reference of ladles “I hope you’re exaggerating…” which if you were, disregard the following should’ve been a given….. I guess not. From your letter and reply in this thread you seem to almost take pride in your over weightedness and refusal to change your diet and cover it up with your “satire.” So your “satirical” comments of denouncing a change in diet makes one to believe that you won’t change your habits and just want a magical solution to shave your food budget while eating the same exact crap. Well my friend, those are called coupons. Because suggesting eating a healthier diet (FYI, healthier food is cheaper) is completely out of the question. Great savings usually come from hard to adjust to changes. If you don’t want to switch up what you buy at the grocery store then the ONLY answer at saving money is coupons…… or going to the cheapest grocery store in your town.

Clearly you’ve been offended. And I am sorry I didn’t use “simple math” to a problem I was supposed to know the equation to with the writer sarcastically throwing me a false problem. I should have known better through intuition because I know you oh so well. Clearly I was out of line assuming a person over eats and eats junk food on the regular…… when they openly admit to being overweight and, I quote “I eat a lot of food”….. and “I eat. Probably, to most accounts, A LOT. I love food.”………. and “But, while I might account for 45-50% of my 4 person family’s food budget….. on average $900-1,000/month.” So clearly I was out of line for a guy who openly admits to eating about $500 worth of food/month…… oh wait, that’s right. It was all satire and sarcasm…. which pretty much means J. Money wasted his time on this whole post because you weren’t being serious about any of it…… or were you. Who the hell knows. Enjoy your white castle and your rent payment you use on food if you love it so much. Clearly it was preposterous for me to suggest an overeater change his diet in order to save money….. which was the friggin point you clearly missed your eyes just got big at the audacity of someone suggesting to ease off the food, Mr. $500 man. You eating like a normal person and spend like $300 in food on yourself (still a retarded amount….. usually that’s what 2 financially minded adults budget for food) would shave your budget by 20%…… huge savings, and your family wouldn’t even be effected by it. But what the hell do I know, I don’t even know simple math.

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18 Liz March 7, 2016 at 10:17 pm

I may be a year late and a few dollars short but I do think that $1 meals are possible although I have a tough time because of being a celiac. I can’t just buy any old brand of whatever and even frozen or canned or even bagged ingredients and foods such as oats, nuts, quinoa, vegetables have to be checked for possible gluten. That being said, I DO like fairly plain oats. May favorite is actually just adding a dash of salt and smidge of butter. I like my cream of buckwheat the same way. Just like grits. My kids like maple syrup and cinnamon but they only get enough for a taste, so maybe a teaspoon if that. A big old jug of upstate NY maple syrup lasts a LONG time here. Portion control goes a long way toward saving money. It’s good for your health too.
Tonight I made a ratatouille-like soup that came out to about $1.40 per 2 cup serving with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese. My canned tomatoes were actually free due to a delivery problem so the actual cost per 2 cup serving was only $1.03. Believe me, my stomach is STILL full!
I can’t make meals out of large amounts of carbs because grains just don’t agree with me even if they are gluten free. Vegetables are fairly cheap however, especially is you do the bulk of your shopping at ALDI, which I do.
We eat meat regularly so most of our meals don’t make the $1 per serving cut, but we have been slowly shrinking our 4 person food budget and it stands at about $800 per month at the moment for a gluten free, partially free range organic diet.

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19 Jay @ ThinkingWealthy.com March 25, 2015 at 6:36 pm

But meat and eating out are the best parts of life! Your level of frugality makes up for my lack thereof! (I just ordered $30 worth of thai food…. for myself (granted it’ll be dinner tomorrow too))

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20 Mrs. Frugalwoods March 26, 2015 at 7:33 am

Braden–our rice-and-beans definitely have a lot of flair :). Here’s our $0.39 recipe in case you’re curious: http://www.frugalwoods.com/2015/01/23/our-epically-frugal-lunch-recipe/

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21 Braden Dunlop March 26, 2015 at 11:39 am

Oh……I’m gonna give this a go. Anytime I can get Basmati rice and black beans in an altered configuration, I’m game!!! I will test, and if applicable, refute your $/serving. To the test kitchen Bean Boy!!!

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22 Aimee March 26, 2015 at 9:42 pm

thanks for posting your rice and beans recipe!!! do you have a suggestion for a chili paste substitute? i dont like spicy/hot.

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23 Mrs. Frugalwoods March 26, 2015 at 9:46 pm

Good luck, Braden! You’ll have to let me know how you like it :).
Aimee–you can just make it without the chili paste, it’s not integral to the recipe, it just adds flavor. Hope you enjoy it!

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24 Sarah @ #hartzogswag March 26, 2015 at 5:24 pm

You’re absolutely right about how you do it! The problem is, for me, everything from scratch/never eating out just isn’t sustainable. I love to cook, and I’m often guilty of overbuying just to try a new recipe. The absolute best I’ve managed is $150 for 3 weeks.. But then I quickly rebounded and ate out like I was on a death wish. I have a coworker who budgets $100/2 weeks for food and she succeeds- but her diet has very little variety, lots of pre-packaged goods and crockpot meals, and in the rare occasion she does eat out, her boyfriend pays.
Planning flexible meals, like tacos one day and chili the next, and committing to lower grocery bills by taking more frequent trips really helped me lower my bill. I’m still working on what my magic number will be for low as possible, but still something I want to sustain.

#hartzogswag

PS: EGGS! Easiest protein around.

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25 Tasha @ OneBigHappyBlog March 25, 2015 at 6:55 am

We spend about $150 a week on groceries but that includes everything we buy for our household: toilet paper, shampoo, dog food, EVERYTHING. If we’re talking just groceries, I’d say we’re at $100 a week for our family of three. And that is for every. single. thing. we eat all week. Even our daughter takes her food to school every day. I show just how far that $100 in one of my blog posts.

We are meatlovers and buy organic most (but not all) of the time. We generally stick with leaner cuts of meat like low fat ground turkey and fish. We eat eggs for breakfast most days and often accompany them with some other type of meat (turkey sausage, bacon, etc). On the weekends we’ll even throw some made from scratch pancakes on the griddle. There is tons of variety in our diet even with such a low budget. We drink nice coffee and tea (from local tea shops) every day. We use our vitamix to make fresh orange juice and smoothies whenever we’re in the mood for that.

The things that we tend not to buy? Soda, candy, cookies, chips (except tortilla), prepared/frozen foods. It’s healthier and cheaper too! We also go light on the alcohol though we do always have several bottles of something in the house. If we wanted to, we could take our budget even lower than it is now by cutting out the organic stuff, cutting out dairy (we all drink lactose-free milk thanks to my delicate tummy), and going with cheaper meat like ground beef and pork. But our current budget and meal plans work for us!

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26 Kate March 25, 2015 at 7:01 am

Like this writer, I am pretty fastidious with my notes when it comes to a food budget. I’m a rock star when it comes to groceries; I can usually get my family of two’s budget to $200 or less per month. My Waterloo is eating out. I love going out to eat with friends. I try to limit that to $100/month for both of us as well.

The only problem I can find with this guy’s “cheap meal” formula is that it relies too much on processed foods. They get expensive quickly and aren’t very filling. I make my own cereals and granola from bulk oats, nuts, fruits, etc., and many meals at our home center around beans (which I cook from dry in the crock pot) and rice. Also, soup! Basically, meals that start in a crock pot are inexpensive, delicious, and easy to make in large quantities.
Even a sandwich with a piece of seasonal fruit on the side would fall into the <$1/meal category. Good luck to this guy!

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27 J. Money March 25, 2015 at 5:30 pm

I just read Dan’s rebuttal which I’m about to drop soon – it’s good, and very healthy seeming :)

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28 DrWe March 25, 2015 at 7:19 am

Braden, you’re a riot! Thanks for the entertainment and intriguing questions. We’re a family of 5. I tried to feed my family on $500 a month. It was impossible. Couldn’t do it. $600 is about as close as we can get, in a month with no family meal at a restaurant.

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29 AMW March 25, 2015 at 7:24 am

We are a family of 3 1/2 (the college student comes home a 2-3 days per week to eat as well). We spend an average of $140/week but that includes all non food related items as well – tp, Health and Beauty, cleaning supplies, etc). What it does NOT include is when we go out to eat. Because we eat (or pack) most of our meals at home, when we do go out to eat once or twice per month this is considered entertainment and comes out of that part of our budget. While we could probably cut down a little more we are comfortable with the level that we are at.

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30 diane @smartmoneysimplelife March 25, 2015 at 7:25 am

We’re floating around the $400 per month mark at the moment. That’s two adults, 3 cats and all cleaning, consumable and groceries. Eating out is rare for us. And, I know we can do a lot better. The biggest thing you can do to reduce your food spend is, preparing meals from scratch – why pay for someone else’s time? Plus, you get MUCH better quality food.

It is possible Braden, and the best place to start is by looking at the types of meals on your menu. Find a few cheap and tasty ones and get your family used to them then introduce more.

Oh, and ditch the boxed mac and cheese and make it yourself… SO much more filling and nutritious.

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31 superbien March 25, 2015 at 7:29 am

Oh please bring “Shenanigans and Malarkey”back for another post, he’s hysterical!

We really struggle with food too. Both the over eating/comfort eating, and trying to be more frugal while eating ethically.

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32 Jordann March 25, 2015 at 7:35 am

We’re at $400/month for all groceries, cleaning supplies, toiletries etc. That’s for two people. Eating out and alcohol is a different story but that’s classified as “entertainment” in my budget. We keep costs down by eating very little meat (2-3 servings per week) and making as much as possible from scratch. We eat out about once a week and permit “snacks” once a week. We have very little food waste which I think is a big contributor to the lower costs.

Also, store bought mac and cheese isn’t cheap! You now what’s cheap? Bulk rice and dried beans, healthier and more filling too.

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33 Heather March 25, 2015 at 7:36 am

$900-$1000/month for a family of 8. that includes eating out and toiletries.

My friends thinks I’m crazy with how I Budget for food, but I have two teenagers and they can EAT. We only eat out once a month or we go out for ice cream. Most of my produce is organic… Maybe not a cantaloupe, but the dirty dozen. We do eat vegetarian twice a week, which takes some creativity for my meat and potatoes husband. I do not buy any chips or processed food, unless we are having sandwiches as a quick treat on a busy weekend (hockey family). I regularly make muffins and granola as snacks. Lots of popcorn. I’ve tried to get my budget lower, but can’t get it lower than this unless I cut out more meat or lesser quality.

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34 J. Money March 25, 2015 at 5:31 pm

Another family of 8 – awesome!!

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35 Carolyn March 26, 2015 at 10:01 am

I buy mostly organic as well. And I don’t think you can buy organic and come in lower than your numbers. But it’s an investment in your family’s and the world’s health.

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36 Hannah March 25, 2015 at 7:49 am

I spend approximately $425 for three adults and one toddler, plus one potluck style meal most weeks, and we always eat meat (I literally only have 8 vegetarian recipes and I’m the only one who likes them).

My key is keeping food on autopilot except dinners which are a mix of simple and adventurous:

Breakfast: 4 Eggs (2 each for my son and husband), one bowl of oatmeal with milk, raisins and craisins (Husband), 2 slices whole wheat toast with peanut butter (me), coffee (me)- almost nothing is perishable

Lunch: Leftovers from dinner or PB&J (Me), Two sandwiches, one apple, one “treat” (hopefully cookies, but often graham crackers) (Husband), Leftover meat or sliced hot dog, sliced fruit, banana, graham crackers (son)- Mostly perishable product but everything but fruit typically lasts at least one week

Dinner: Favorites include enchiladas (with chicken and beans), homemade pizza, quiche, stir fry, Thai curries, homemade ramen, and beef stroganoff. We try to eat a lot of produce (usually cooked in high quality fats like olive oil or coconut oil)

The only thing that I think of as “tricky” is that when I meal plan, I also plan an order that meals should be eaten so that leftover components will get incorporated into another night’s meal. I also only buy enough salad ingredients for 3-4 days as my least favorite is when lettuce or spinach goes bad.

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37 KD in PDX March 26, 2015 at 9:07 am

I LOVE ramen! What is your recipe?

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38 Michelle March 25, 2015 at 7:49 am

Braden, you had me at “Shenanigans and Malarkey!” It is totally possible to spend less than $1000 a month on food, but you would have to do a couple of things…that you might not like! Luckily for you I’m a foodie, so I understand your food love. But, I very rarely eat food outside of the home unless it’s freaking phenomenal. And, I used to bring my lunch to work when I worked in an office. Some tips: you would need to meal plan. You don’t have to be crazy rigid. Just make a plan and stick to it. I’m assuming you have a well-stocked pantry, take a 1 week challenge and eat what you have…in your house! Use the frozen fruit for smoothies, thaw out the frozen meat and make stews. Make dishes like pasta e olio (pasta with olive oil/breadcrumbs/garlic/parsley and anchovy* optional) I just had that last night and I should have added a glass of wine-delicious. Also….and this is painful for me to say-Americans eat too much. Our portions are too big. So, if you’re having a problem with waste, put less on your plate. And then, start going to a food pantry to regain perspective with the kiddos. My mom used to take me to volunteer and it created a consciousness about things that I wouldn’t have considered as a kid. You can do it, but you need to do it as a family and have fun with it. Don’t think of cutting your food bill as punishment or that you will starve. And create an incentive like: the money that we save from groceries is our trip to Disneyland fund. That’s motivation! Good luck.

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39 Braden Dunlop March 25, 2015 at 2:14 pm

Have you been to Disneyland?? A hot dog is $20!! You can see the correlation to food spend by looking into Feb 2014 (i.e., our family trip to the “Happiest Place on Earth”)

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40 The Roamer March 26, 2015 at 2:44 am

Sounds like you are trying to find excuses. Like Michelle said people just eat to much. Yes kid grown and need more food but that’s doesn’t mean gorging or binge eating. It a habit and it’s learned.

Like for example 1 bowl of cereal is enough but no we have 3 in one sitting. Why because it tastes good not because we are hungry. I think Michelle recommendations are stellar.
Something also worth practicing is mindful eating. As in focusing and relishing the texture , the aroma all of it. Chew slower.

As for Disney comment you can pack sandwiches just like anywhere. They don’t actually take it away.

Also second another commenter don’t buy drinks at all. Juice… You already know eating the fruit is better you get the fiber too. Soda… What no. Alcohol limited milk OK. Main drink of choice water.

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41 Michelle March 26, 2015 at 11:45 am

Braden-I’m a foodie. I don’t eat hot dogs TEHE! Really-it’s all pigs hooves and….

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42 Katie March 25, 2015 at 7:50 am

For just my husband and I we spend ~$800/month for all our food, toiletries, and cleaning products/paper towels etc. we eat very healthy, almost no processed foods. I recognize that we are twice as much as most “budget minded” people. It doesn’t bother me. I love to cook, I don’t want to take away cooking what I want with the ingredients I want. And I don’t want to scrimp on portion sizes so we are left hungry. We eat three meals & snacks a day except for one dinner a week out of this – it seems reasonable for me. We have the money in the budget for it and while I am intense about staying at 800 and not going above – I don’t plan on changing it.

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43 Walnut March 25, 2015 at 9:48 am

I’m in your boat. Our budget ebbs and flows, but I’d say we average $600-$800/month on food. Some months we work a gajillion hours. After putting in a 14 hour day at the office, cooking doesn’t happen. Sometimes it’s a frozen pizza, other times it’s dinner out with a glass of wine.

And let’s talk about wine budget here, folks. Why yes, I do counter a high intensity job with a glass of red at night. My mind doesn’t shut off and I’ll be awake all night planning for the next day if my good friend cabernet doesn’t settle me down.

I live by the motto: time, sanity, money – pick two. I counter my crazy food spend by the fact that I don’t otherwise buy a lot of shit. Figure out what you prioritize and don’t apologize for the money you spend there. Just don’t spend on what you don’t care about (more often, what society thinks you should spend on).

And don’t even get me started on coffee.

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44 Claire March 25, 2015 at 4:09 pm

My husband and I are the same; $800/mo. for an almost completely organic whole food diet. We eat at home the vast majority of the time, with the occasional restaurant trip when we’re craving sushi or Thai. I try rigidly to stay within that figure and play a game with myself to try and come in under budget.

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45 Mrs. PoP March 25, 2015 at 7:52 am

In 2014, we averaged $350 at the grocery store and $250 on eating out each month for 2 adults. That includes most household items, alcohol, fancy coffee, and nice lunches and dinners out with friends and colleagues. A few years ago we spent more, but it’s been trending down each year as I learn how to cook. And I mean cook, not “cook”. Mac and cheese from a box is “cooking”. Preparing your own hummus from dried or canned chickpeas (which is actually way easier than it sounds and sooooo much tastier) is cooking. And cooking is so much more cost effective, not to mention healthier!, than “cooking”.

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46 Scooze March 25, 2015 at 2:29 pm

Me, too. Two of us spend $700/month which breaks down to $210 for booze, $70 for cleaning supplies/personal care, and $420 for actual food.

Should I be concerned that we spend 1/3 of our grocery budget on alcohol? Don’t answer that. LOL.

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47 Scooze March 25, 2015 at 2:33 pm

Also, we eat low carb, which means lots of meat. We try to get pastured chickens and grass-fed beef. Expensive lifestyle, but it fits the overall budget.

I’m also curious what % of income people are spending on groceries? For us, that $700 represents about 9% of our take-home.

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48 Scooze March 25, 2015 at 2:36 pm

OOPS this was meant to be tacked onto Katie’s and Walnut’s posts above.

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49 Brenda April 25, 2015 at 10:13 pm

Single parent here. I would love to have your budget. If I only spent 9% on food each month that would be about $150. We usually come in at 12-15% and my teenager is always still hungry. So I search the internet for those $1 a meal recipes.

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50 Elena March 25, 2015 at 7:56 am

We average $350 per month on groceries (including cleaning, bath, pet food, etc). We average $100 for eating out, for a total budget of $450 per month. We are only two, but let me tell you, my man can eat A LOT!

For us, there are three keys to keeping our grocery budget. 1) We only eat meat two or three times a week. That probably makes the biggest difference. 2) We make all our food from scratch (we’ll even make our own bread once in a while). And 3) we incorporate a lot of the cheaper veggies to make sure we eat well while not breaking the bank. For example if we are doing a stir fry, we’ll definitely add in peppers and broccoli (more expensive end), but we’ll also add some cabbage and collard greens to keep the price reasonable (collards are so cheap they might as well be free!).

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51 Dan @ PointsWithACrew March 25, 2015 at 7:57 am

Katie – don’t let people tell you what to put in your budget! The whole point of budgeting is to not spend money on things that are not important to you, so that you CAN spend money on the things that are important to you

If food is important to you then that’s fine – just like the other commenter who said they buy lots of organic produce – just make a conscious decision that you’re spending more in this area, and make sure the rest of your budget is set up to allow it.

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52 Jeff March 25, 2015 at 7:58 am

I am one of the people on the other side of the fence. If my wife and I want to eat healthy, with fresh fruits and veggies there is absolutely no way that we can eat for that little.

Right now we are a family of three, the third person still sponges off of momma so she eats for free. Between my wife and I, we average a little over $600 per month as for my best calculation. When I sat down and made my 2015 budget I went through all of the months in 2014 and counted up the grocery bills from our joint account. This is the $600 average I came up with. The thing is, when I was home, I would normally put the groceries on my account rather than the joint account, so in reality the numbers are much higher. Oh and that $600 doesn’t count eating out either, that is strictly groceries.

I will put some math into it.

Eating all at home
2 people x 3 meals a day x 30 days a month = 180 meals per month
$600 / 180 meals = $3.33 per meal.

Now this is all fine and dandy but…. Well we don’t cook three meals a day per person every day of the month and I already explained where I got the $600 a month number from above.

I am home roughly 5-6 months out of the year. That takes out at least 45 meals a month. Then when I am home, we usually eat out Friday night, and have dinner at the in-laws on Sunday. There’s another several meals that should be taken out as well. That still doesn’t count going out for lunches with my buddies (2-3 times a week when im home) and I usually skip lunch when I am at home because I like to sleep in and eat breaky then.

I would guess that our per meal cost is more like $8. In January, I was home the entire month, except for the four or five days we spent in the hospital having the wee one. The grocery bill was over $800 and there were all sorts of people bringing us food, and having us over for dinner before the baby came.

For those of you that can do it for $1 or even $5, Good for you! It is impossible for us. We could eat a home made ceaser salad (romaine lettuce, lemon juice, oil, garlic and croutons) and nothing else for dinner and it would be more like $2 a serving. We couldn’t even buy a small bag of nice baby potato’s and only eat roasted potato with herbs for $1 a meal. Maybe a bulk box of dry pasta from Costco and a 2 gallon can of sauce and we might start to get there? I dont know, but eating fresh food, theres no chance.

And that guy that started this entire post is classic, love his writing style.

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53 J. Money March 25, 2015 at 5:33 pm

I couldn’t let it get buried in my inbox – had to release the email for all to see!

And look at how much fun we’re having here :)

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54 Beki March 25, 2015 at 8:00 am

I love this post. I food prep and menu plan and I always spend $200-$300 each WEEK at Wegmans. I have tried getting it down, but I always fail. Now I will say, we eat really healthy with lots of fruit and veg. I also pack lunches for 3 of the 4 of us. My youngest is in daycare and lunch is provided. My husband is also a craft beer snob so that doesn’t help either. I make all meals at home except one treat meal out weekly, which is usually not a treat since we go with a 6 and a 3 year old. I blame a lot of this on living in northern Va. I’ve grocery shopped in other states for a savings. This ends up being the luxury category of my budget though. I’d rather eat healthy, mostly organic than have nice shoes or purses…

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55 Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life March 25, 2015 at 8:11 am

I spend about $250/300 per month to feed myself and all the moochers (boyfriend, rooomates, siblings) in my home.

I’m vegetarian. (Beans are way cheaper than meat and fish).
I buy almost nothing “premade”- no frozen meals, no salad dressings, nothing that isn’t in it’s original form or close to it. (I think this is a BIG one both health and $ wise).
I don’t buy any dessert food. (I have things to make dessert from scratch if I really want, but again, this is a big saver for health and money).

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56 The Money Spot March 25, 2015 at 8:16 am

LOL on the stealing food part! By the looks of their budget, I now think it’s possible! It must take a whole new level of planning though.

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57 Aisha R. March 25, 2015 at 8:21 am

Our grocery budget is really low but not because of reasons you would think. It’s generally $260-$300 for two adults and a toddler. That doesn’t include eating out even though I try to avoid it at all costs. I must say I’m on a different side of the equation though. I don’t have to worry about feeding the toddler breakfast, lunch because she eats at daycare and my husband work at Zaxbys so he generally eats one meal 5 days a week there. On Monday and Wednesday nights I don’t always cook because I get out of school at 9. So I usually meal plan to make dinner every night but rarely ever do so we always have leftover meat I bought but never cooked. I get all my meals from home. if I had to cook three meals a day for everyone the total cost would definetly go up to between $400-$500. I also want to add my husband would be none to happy if there wasn’t meat on his plate. Unless it’s breakfast.

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58 Trinnie March 25, 2015 at 8:22 am

Yeah, we spend about $200 a week for groceries and eating out for a family of 5: 3 adults (well, 2 adults and a grandma :p) and 2 kiddos. I do alot of bulk shopping for things that i know we will eat quickly and not go to waste. the problem that i’m finding… I’m a runner. I. EAT. EVERYTHING. ALL. DAY. LONG!!! i would love to get our food costs down, and i know the majority of that is eating out.. but when you work all day, and then run 10 miles at night.. does one really want to cook a meal???

(and J, FYI.. this post has all of USAA’s operational risk team CRACKING UP!)

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59 J. Money March 25, 2015 at 5:34 pm

Awesome! My job is done here!

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60 Brian @ Debt Discipline March 25, 2015 at 8:29 am

Just heard on the news this morning that a 400 pound man robbed a domino’s pizza and he made the workers make him two pizza before he left. No one was hurt. When I read this post it made me think of it.

As a family of five we struggle with our food budget too. Eating out in any form is a budget killer. I mean a trip to get ice cream runs us over $20 and I could buy ice cream for over 2 weeks if I went to the store for that kind of money. We try and cook all of our meals at home, bring lunch to work and school and shop in bulk when we can.

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61 J. Money March 25, 2015 at 5:35 pm

What??? Haha… Why didn’t he just steal the pizzas already there? He wanted something custom? :)

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62 Sarah March 25, 2015 at 8:31 am

We are currently at about $800/month for a family of four…but our kids are 3 and 1, not teenagers. We were actually spending closer to $1200/month on food but have worked at cutting back the past few months. Our “goal” is actually to spend no more than $1200 on ALL miscellaneous items (groceries, gas, household, etc).

We eat pretty cheap meals, but it’s the snacks that get both my husband and I. What’s a Friday night without a fancy dessert?! And weekends usually mean a trip to Starbucks and possibly a pizza! I will say, though, if food is something you love and it’s really important to you, spend what you want on it (within reason) and cut back in other areas! We don’t have cable, for example, nor do we spend much of anything on entertainment.

Good luck!! :)

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63 Franklin B March 25, 2015 at 8:34 am

J, Here’s an extraction from my 2014 food budget. There are some variables in 2014. We decided to loosen up and eat at restaurants more in 2014. This was an experiment that caused a lot of damage to the budget and the most we ever spent in the 17 years tracking expenses.
We are part time empty nesters. We have a college student away at school and one who transitioned and launched late in 2014 so the monthly figure is our best gauge. Looking at cost meal is unproductive for us. $11,200/year was the average for 17 years as we raised our kids. The kids were in competitive swimming, one through college, which requires plenty of food when they ate at home.

2014 Food Spend

Eating at restaurants $4,355
convenience food: take out $336
Costco $644
Grocery Store $4,006
Aldi/Shop n Save/Jerry’s $2,053
Trader Joes $1,209

Total $12,603
per month ave $1,050
per day $35
per meal $3

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64 J. Money March 25, 2015 at 5:36 pm

Cool to see the breakdown like that, thanks for sharing :)

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65 Machee March 25, 2015 at 8:55 am

This post is hilarious! I loved it!

As for my house, there are 6 of us (4 adults, 2 under 1 yr) and our grocery budget rings in at about $400 a month. I am a SAHM, and my husband works nights, so going out for dinner very rarely happens. I love to cook/bake, so most things are scratch made. I make a menu plan each week of meals, and what’s on sale at the store usually determines some of the meals. We don’t really eat “junk food,” mostly because my husband doesn’t like candy/chocolate and I forget to buy things like potato chips since its on the same aisle as the candy/cookies. I also do a lot of freezer cooking, and double at least two meals I make each week so that later when I don’t feel like cooking, I have something ready to go. (I have a large chest freezer, though, so I know that isn’t plausible for everyone.)

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66 connie kolita March 25, 2015 at 8:56 am

OH MY GOD, this here Braden, FUNNIEST EMAIL WRITER of ALL TIMES!! This is pure gold! Pure platinum! Pure Kraft Macaroni & Cheese!!! “Oh, you invented a new garlic, cajun, spicy sauce……… AND put it on a White Castle slider, move over son, let daddy have a taste.” SO FRESH!!!

OK anywhoo where was I. I believe I agree with the dude re: monthly price. My husband has FOUR KIDS (makes me shudder to even think about on account of the expen$e alone…) and they live with him/us half the week. He pays for his and their groceries while I kick in my weekly portion on the side. But to Rock Star Braden’s point, pretty much like clockwork– $1,000/month. The cal-q-lations get all cattywompus when you of course have, say, five Saturdays/grocery shops in a month instead of four, but even so– $1,000/month. And we’re freekin’ frugal and all of that business.

Y’all have MADE MY DAY this morning with this awesomeness– keep up the bangin’ job!! Can’t believe how great this all is :)

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67 J. Money March 25, 2015 at 5:37 pm

haha…. perhaps he needs to launch his own blog :)

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68 Robin @ The Thrifty Peach March 25, 2015 at 8:57 am

We spend anywhere from $250-500 per month, and we eat lots of meat in our family of three. I typically just meal plan at the store once I see which meats are on sale. And I only let myself shop once a week.

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69 Tea March 25, 2015 at 8:58 am

I strongly disagree with the idea that eating healthy has to be expensive. At Costco you can buy a 50 lb bag of pinto beans for $42.34 (that 300 8oz cups of cooked beans). Brown rice is 25 lbs for $16.81 (100 80z cups of rice). Fresh produce prices can vary around the country, but in most places, frozen vegetables will be cheaper than fresh. Frozen vegetables are nutritious. They can be bought as cheaply as $1 a pound at the Dollar Tree. They run between a $1.20 to 1.60 a pound at your Wal-Mart’s, Sam’s Clubs and Costco’s. There are a wide variety of beans grains that can serve as the base for your meals.
If you budget allows, add small amounts of meats and other proteins to flavor you bean and rice dishes. Eggs are frequently on sale at Walgreens for $1.29. A freezer can help reduce your cost allowing you to stock up on meats when they are on sale. A garden can save you a lot on produce and give you vegetables that taste better than anything you can buy at the store.
You don’t have to be a fantastic cook to eat healthy. A rice cooker makes cooking grains easy and foolproof. Just add your liquid and grain and hit the “cook” button, it will switch to warm automatically when it is done cooking. A pressure cooker will makes cooking dried beans quick and easy. The electric ones are as easy as Crockpot to use. Just had your beans, liquid and any other flavorings you want to use and set the timer. It also, will switch to warm when it is done cooking. Microwave some frozen vegetables and you have the basics for a healthy dinner.

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70 Dan @ PointsWithACrew March 25, 2015 at 10:13 am

Love this! I think what many people think of as “eating healthy” is overrated. Not that eating healthy foods is bad, but generally people choose to spend money just buying prepared “healthy” foods instead of time cooking.

And that isn’t necessarily BAD, depending on your family’s situation. But that doesn’t make it impossible

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71 Travis @enemyofdebt March 25, 2015 at 9:03 am

I don’t doubt at all that a family could create a food plan that would be $1 a meal. I’ve seen some frugal shopper’s grocery list….I don’t doubt it at all. And if you’re in a financial difficulties, maybe it’s even necessary. But if you have the room in your budget…..why on God’s green earth would you want to???? If we’re talking about just food (not household necessities), my family of 4 throws down about $600 a month. I like fish, I like Pizza, and I LOVE all things BBQ. I wouldn’t be making brisket and baby back ribs for $1 a meal.

Of course my comment “Why on God’s green earth would you want to???” has an answer….it all comes down to what’s important to you. If watching your investments grow just a little bit faster is more important to a person than sinking your teeth into the heaven that is a shredded pork enchilada covered in a blanket of freshly shredded aged cheddar, then more power to you. I don’t understand it, but more power to you. :)

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72 T March 25, 2015 at 6:04 pm

Yes, this. We’re between $800 and $1000 a month for a family of 4 (2 adults and 2 boys, 9&10) which includes household items as well. It fits in our budget. we like the way we eat on this amount. Why does it matter if others can do it on half?

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73 Becky March 25, 2015 at 9:03 am

I thought I was gonna bust out my cheapskate skills and blast this guy out of the water, but when I did the math, I realized my husband and I spend around $3 per meal. It just seemed cheap to me because we only spend $300 or less at the grocery store per month. But, it’s just the two of us and we also spend around $200-$250 on eating out. I feel like I try to be very frugal with our grocery shopping (although, I will agree that we ‘treat’ ourselves probably more than we should with eating out), and yet we spend $3 per meal? I don’t know what we’ll do when we have kids because I thought I was already being cheap with our food purchases. This year, I have started shopping at Aldi, but we still spend around $300 on groceries between Aldi and Walmart, and still go out to eat. Hopefully we will be able to cut this down somehow when we have kids, but how? I don’t want to be a crazy coupon clipper

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74 Becky March 27, 2015 at 9:25 am

Although, I just realized after reading some other comments, my grocery budget includes other non-food items, like shampoo, toilet paper, tissues, etc. So maybe my grocery budget is really 250 or less, but eating out is still 200-250, which makes my total would still be around 500, making our per meal total 2.74, pretty close to 3 bucks. :( And we even eat egg sandwiches or ramen noodles sometimes for supper

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75 Frugal Buckeye March 25, 2015 at 9:04 am

I’ll admit to having a similar feeling of frustration at times about my food budget. Though at not so nearly the same level as the anxiety that Braden feels.

We are a family of 3 about to be 4 and we spend an average of $600-$700 per month on groceries and another $100-$200 on eating at restaurants for a total per meal spend of roughly $3 per meal.

For our grocery spending we buy mostly produce and meat. We tend to avoid packaged foods when possible and cook most of our meals at home. One reason that our grocery costs are so high is that we try to buy organic produce, eggs and chicken whenever possible. That adds up when you buy a whole organic chicken at $5/lb vs $1.50/lb for a non-organic one. But that’s a decision that we’ve made and we are comfortable with.

I feel better about spending on healthy groceries when I compare that spending to the frivolous spending we’ve cut out – Cable TV, Cell Phone bills, Crappy fast food lunches, etc.

Like everything else in life it all comes down to balance

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76 Braden Dunlop March 25, 2015 at 2:52 pm

I wouldnt call it anxiety!! It’s simply an overwhelming, maddening, ever intensifying need to challenge the observed practices of my fellow man!!

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77 sarah March 25, 2015 at 9:08 am

I completely believe eating healthy for under a $1000 is possible, even for big families. If I can do it on a $400/mo budget with a family of 7 living in New England (which can be more expensive & not have the great deals like other parts of the country), then others can. For the longest time I didn’t think it was possible and because of that, I didn’t even try to eat healthier, to eat better. But when I got sick I had no other choice than to change my eating habits & learn how to do it on a low budget. The funny thing is that my chronic illness I suffer from is something I believed I acquired due to my poor eating, extreme soda intake, lack of exercise, & chemicals in the foods I ate growing up. I always thought that since I was thin I was healthy. So I never bothered till I got sick, which is sad. It shouldn’t have taken going into liver failure or constant pancreas problems to get me to where I am today but it did. Now healthy eating is something that is important to myself and my family. I don’t want anyone I love to end up like me and go through what I have & deal with what I do everyday.
In order to keep my budget low, I’ve had to think outside the box with foods, had to stop being as lazy as I was, make as many things as I can from scratch, & put time in to learn or think of new ways to keep our costs down.
Some ways I keep costs down for my family are:
*eat ethnic foods to supplement our meals (this doesn’t work if you only eat in season foods. Sometimes we can’t so I figure it’s better to eat veggies verses junk, even if it isn’t in season.)
*I make cheap meals like during the winter when squash is on sale I make an African dish that is steamed butternut squash & peanut butter served w/ a salad & homemade gluten free bread. Or boiled plantains & once done put a little coconut butter & stevia or coconut sugar over it served alongside eggs for a filling breakfast. Or mash 1 cooked sweet potato & egg together for our pancake batter.
There are some really great websites out there to give you ideas like The Prudent Homemaker who’s food budget is $400/mo for a family of 8. She has numerous posts on ideas to keep costs down, how she spends her money, & how to stretch your dollars to name a few. Her site was one of the 1st that I found super helpful. Just remember this isn’t an overnight thing, it does take time as well as trial and error. But I ask you this: if you were given no options but to eat healthy on a low budget, wouldn’t you find ways to do so?

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78 J. Money March 25, 2015 at 5:38 pm

Thanks for sharing, Sarah! You are killing it!

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79 Bethany March 25, 2015 at 9:19 am

My fiance and I spend about $500/month on groceries. We eat most of our meals at home and we eat a lot of meat. I’m with the guy who wrote this letter.. I have no idea how some people do it! I guess I could eat much cheaper if I wanted to but we love experimenting with food and eat all kinds of amazing meals.

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80 Taylor Lee @ Engineer Cents March 25, 2015 at 9:22 am

I have no idea how people do it. I mean, I eat a lot. So that’s part of it. And I live in a high COL area. Also, I shy away from carbs (which are the easiest way to get calories on the cheap). But I don’t buy pre-made foods, I purchase in bulk. Even if I didn’t eat out, I’d still spend about $300/month on groceries. So that amounts to $10/day or $3.33/meal? It’d be terrific (or possibly terrible) getting that down to $1/meal but don’t really see that happening unless I drastically change my diet or move.

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81 Diana March 25, 2015 at 9:26 am

Love this thread, Braden’s wit, and the posts! Like many comments so far, this is something we have worked hard to change for our family of four. And, boy, can we eat, too. My 11 and 7 year olds eat like teenagers. Don’t know what we are going to do when they actually are!!

I checked Mint and we have cut our average food budget from August 2014 ($1257 on all food/restaurants/alcohol; $758 of which was groceries) to March 2015 (I estimate by next week we will have spent approx $600 on everything; $450 on groceries).

How did we cut this down in 9 months time? 1) As many others have said, be vegetarian for most meals. We have meat at every other dinner (at most) and it is often very modest in portion. 2) Make friends with beans and rice. My kids’ favorite meal is curried lentils with coconut milk, served over rice (less than $1/serving). Who woulda thunk? 3) I found a barely used bread maker at the Goodwill and it has changed everything. We don’t order pizza anymore — bread machine makes the dough and the kids make their own pizza — Friday night tradition now! 4) My husband and I brown bag most days — even if I am networking with colleagues, I tell them I am on a budget and would they mind brown bagging? I have never heard “no.” 5) One word — Aldi. Love it. Can’t believe how much my grocery bills have gone down. Many items are a lower price than Costco. “Kraft” Mac and cheese is $0.39 a box. 6) Avoid going to the store or restaurants as much as possible. I meal plan so I can get about 2 weeks worth of meals out of one trip to the store. Every time my family sets foot in a restaurant we spend $75. If you don’t go in, you won’t have to fight temptations. 7) As others said, no processed foods — you are paying for packaging and marketing and in many cases, cooking from scratch takes the same time or just a little longer, and so much can be prepped in advance (while making another meal or even frozen for future use).

Good luck, Braden. I feel your pain, but it is possible, even with hearty eaters. On the plus side (no pun intended), my husband and I have lost a few pounds from eating at home more and eating fewer processed foods.

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82 John @ Frugal Rules March 25, 2015 at 9:26 am

Ha ha, I about died laughing at the mac & cheese bit. Having three little ones we have mac & cheese every few weeks for them and was just discussing the other week what it’ll be like when our boys are older and knowing they’ll want to consume a case of.

That said, we’re at $475 month for a family of five and usually carry over a little bit (less than $20-30 per month). We allocate another $100 to eat out, but since our oldest is 7 we don’t want to be “that” family at the restaurant so we recently cut that to $50 and the rest goes towards entertainment/travel fund. We do a lot of the same things already mentioned by others:

-Save for chicken we eat very little meat
-Other than the mac & cheese for the kids we don’t really have anything that’s processed or packaged
-We eat a large amount of produce – a lot of it is organic and from Costco as they’ve added a lot in this area over the past year or two. We also garden quite a bit so that helps as well. We could likely cut in this area but is not a sacrifice we’re willing to make
-My wife makes most things from scratch
-We’ve found out what substitutes we can make – like bulk oatmeal instead of instant
-We really don’t eat any dessert type foods. If we do, my wife makes it from scratch, but nothing packaged as that adds on a lot of cost

Like with other things in life, it comes down to knowing yourself and finding a balance. It wasn’t easy in the beginning, it sucked really, but once we got a system down it has become a way of life.

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83 Gen Y Finance Guy March 25, 2015 at 9:26 am

I am probably on the other end of the extreme as I would not consider myself a part of the extreme frugal movement. First I will give you what we spent last year, which I will admit got a bit out of control. Then I will present the new spending plan we put in place after we realized how much we were actually spending in this category. Since it was the first time we had looked at it, we were shocked.

in 2014 we spent $20,000 in the food category for just 2 people. You read that right, for just two people. But this including dining out, eating in, get togethers out the house, and of course booze.

But the majority of that spend was on dining out. In 2014 we spent $14,000 on dining out or about $1,200/month. Yes it was a bit much. The other $6,000 was on groceries for the house (again including booze). We are guilty of going to a few too many nice dinners, but that is something we really enjoy. We are also guilty of picking up one to many tabs when out with our friends.

That equates to about $9.13/meal for us (assuming 3 meals a day for two people, but that was not always the case).

We have cut this a bit so far in 2015. We have since been spending about $1,000/month in this category. So if we keep on pace we will end up spending about $12,000 in this category. This will equate to about $5.47/meal.

To be honest, I don’t see it going much lower than that. We will not give up dining out all together.

Cheers!

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84 Braden Dunlop March 25, 2015 at 2:46 pm

2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
$15,079 $14,712 $18,368 $17,393 $15,963

Food In / Out and Booze In / Out spend combined. I live in Michigan, so this past Monday was a State holiday…………..Bell’s Oberon was released for the summer season. It was a joyous occasion, one for which I am still paying restitution for today.

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85 J. Money March 25, 2015 at 5:39 pm

You guys would have a lot of fun hanging out / partying together :)

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86 Fervent Finance March 25, 2015 at 9:37 am

Can’t wait for the rebuttal! I’m a bachelor so I love my meat and dairy (grandma would always say eat so you’ll be big and strong). I also work out quite a bit, so in return I eat more than the average guy I would think. My food costs could definitely come down but I really don’t eat out at restaurants unless it is for work, so I’m doing well there. I am trying to cook big meals more that will get me dinner for the next couple days which has been working great.

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87 Chelsea @ Broke Girl Gets Rich March 25, 2015 at 9:45 am

Honestly, I spend a little over $1 per meal, but definitely not $2.

I don’t nickel and dime my grocery spending either – I’m vegan (no meat or dairy – big cost cutter there), buy nearly everything from the produce section, cook rather than buying for convenience (chopping the garlic myself vs. buying the jar of pre-chopped – tastes better too), and buy things like dry beans and rice in bulk.

I never feel like I’m cheated out of food, and I’m never hungry. By learning to cook, I can make incredible tasting food that I’d rather eat than going out to a restaurant. (I’m also super healthy thanks to the way I structure my diet.)

In certain periods of time when I’m absolutely slammed though, it can creep over $2 per meal when I have to buy some things for convenience, but that’s usually only a few days per month at most.

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88 Kati March 25, 2015 at 10:21 am

I’m with ya on every point. Eating vegan totally saves tons of moolah!

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89 Barry @ Moneywehave March 25, 2015 at 9:48 am

I’ve heard of people who have gone “vegetarian” just to save money on groceries, this is just plain wrong. I save money on groceries simply by looking for sales and avoiding food waste. Plus I rarely shop at the big name grocery stores where pricing is much higher.

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90 J. Money March 25, 2015 at 5:41 pm

I could never go vegetarian or vegan *simply* to save money. Gotta have a lot more reasoning for that for such a huge lifestyle change!

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91 Tawcan March 25, 2015 at 9:49 am

Just looking at the spreadsheet quickly I noticed half of the food budget spent on dining out. Can you bring your own lunch instead of dining out on weekdays? What about cutting back on going out on weekends? Your grocery bill doesn’t look too unreasonable.

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92 Kim March 25, 2015 at 10:00 am

I am all for spending money on things you value and it sounds like this fellow really values his food! There is nothing wrong with spending on food if you can afford it and have cut out other things that don’t add value.

We pretty much use one credit card solely for grocery spending and the bill last month was $499.81 (3 people), and that’s a bit high because I’ve been too busy to plan like I should have. We also spent about $100 eating out, which was higher than I would like, but it happens. I notice from the budget included in this post that eating out is a big percentage. If he wants to lower costs dramatically, cut out or severely cut back on restaurants and take out.

We used to spend probably $600-$800 per month for two people, but when I started really cooking more at home and making bigger meals on weekends to eat throughout the week, that’s when we really started saving. We also try really hard to reduce food waste. I save just about all leftovers and make them into something different. We throw away almost no produce as everything left over at the end of the week goes into smoothies or stir fry.

We do buy organic milk and lots of produce, but we use meat as a garnish instead of a main course. I can make two chicken breasts into a pan of enchiladas or a soup and we might get three dinners out of it. We also eat lots of beans and whole grain meals with no meat at all. We only eat expensive things like steak a couple of times per year.

It can be done, but it takes planning and the will power not to cave at the last minute and buy pre-packaged or take out. Good luck!

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93 Mrs SSC March 25, 2015 at 10:06 am

On average we spend $550 a month ( or $127/week) on food. Family of 4 – two small children. We cook everything at home, and don’t really even buy in bulk. We do nothing special – just eat healthy food, try to buy whatever meat or produce is on sale to save a few dollars here or there. On months we are trying to spend less – we can easily get down to $450/month.

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94 Mr. SSC March 25, 2015 at 10:13 am

We track our grocery budget monthly and stick around $500/month for a family of 4. Sometimes it’s $600, but more months than not, we’re closer to $500. Eating out comes from personal allowances but even then, we’re spending maybe another $150/month, so it’s still around $600-$750/month.
We cook almost everything at home, take our lunches to work (I go out for lunch about every other week), and rarely go out to eat as a family. At the toddler stage, it’s just not worth the hassle and we rarely get to enjoy our food.
We do a lot of crockpot style meals, buy fruits on sale, and don’t get “expensive” meats if they’re not on sale.
As far as suggestions, like other people said, start with a meal plan – we come up 5-6 meal ideas per week and buy those to cook at some point during the week, depending on our mood that night. Also, look at how you eat now, and start by trying to reduce food costs by 10% one month. If that is easy and works, try 10% again, the next month.
Good luck!

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95 Kati March 25, 2015 at 10:18 am

What an awesome, rib-tickling post!

It is possible, my food-loving friend. We’re food lovers too, ’nuff said.

We typically eat $450 for all food for a family of four. That’s $90/week for groceries, $30/month on a date – maybe lunch and fro-yo or coffee, and $60 for eating out/treats/takeout. (Five week months increase the grocery budget by $90, obviously, since we shop weekly. So the grocery part for a family of four is $360/typical month.) Our toiletries are in another budget – House Misc – and we give ourselves $10 for that. Our kids eat some food at daycare, which is paid for in their tuition.

Here’s our strategy: We hate waste, we love to cook, and we’re creative planners.
.
1. We plan. Thursday night we look at what’s left in the fridge and brainstorm what recipes we can make from that. That’s how our grocery list starts. Friday, it’s clean out the fridge day, which means freeze stuff that wasn’t eaten. I think specifically of spinach here – if it’s getting a little… limp, hah, we’ll throw it into a freezer bag for soups or smoothies later. Armed with our list, knowing what we’ve got to work with, we shop Saturday morning only for meals we’ve planned, staples like cereal and non dairy milk, and fruit. If I can tell there’s room in our list, I’ll grab bulk stuff – beans, grains, cereals, frozen fruit – or a treat – a 6 pack of beer. :-D!

2. We love to cook and we don’t snack. (As in, munch around. If we plan to have a snack sitting at the table, that’s different, but only happens rarely if we’re going to an event with a later dinner or something.) The benefit there is since we now don’t snack, we save all the moolah that we would spend on crackers or trail mix or nuts or whatever on main meal items. We’re always looking for creative new recipes, and we tend to eat global foods. Irish soup, Moroccan rice, Indian dishes, Thai stir-fries, homemade sushi, enchiladas… geez! Gettin’ tasty up in here!

3. We despise waste. Veggie trimmings from prep – onion skins, potato skins, ends of celery, etc, – they all go into a bag during clean up and straight into the freezer. At the end of the week, I combine all the trimmings and make stock, which I then freeze for later. Extra plain rice from dinner can become the backdrop to a stew or stirfry or “breakfast rice” – just plain rice heated in milk with cinnamon and maybe some honey and fruit – yum. Leftovers from dinner the night before is always lunch the next day. We make meals go farther with a spinach and lettuce salad.

So let’s see, in week we parents eat 3 meals/day cooked at home = 3 * 7 * 2 = 42. Kids eat dinner and breakfast at home = 2 * 7 * 2 = 28, plus lunch on weekends = 2 * 2 = 4. So our total meals cooked and eaten at home per week average 74. $90/74meals = $1.22 / meal. We buy the lion’s share of our grocery at our local produce stand. And that meal could look like:

1. Cuban black bean soup with homemade bread, big thick slices of salted tomatoes and a side salad
2. Thai curry – cabbage, onions & bok choy + some green curry paste + half a can of cocnut milk + a sprinkling of cashews, served over rice or noodles
3. Navratan Korma – one of our favorite indian disahes – lots of veggies we buy frozen, cooked with ginger and spices and served with homemade nana or rice
4. Favorite spaghetti – whole wheat pasta tossed in balsalmic vinaigrette dressing with grape tomatoes and spinach or a spring mix, maybe some olives, yum
5. Hubby made a big pot of spaghetti sauce laste week, some of which we froze – I’ll turn that into a minestrone soup by adding veggies and broth, and serve crunchy bread drizzled with olive oil on the side,
6. Taco soup – saute onions, bell peppers, zucchini and squash and garlic in spices, put in a crock pot, add chopped green chilis, corn kernels, white and black beans, broth and and green enchilada sauce, and you’ve got a crowd pleasing, healthy and filling meal. I ladle over chips and top with some chopped avocado.
7.Mediterranean feast – Roasted eggplant, squash & okra moussaka, moujadarah,

YUM-O

\\
Wow, J$ – lesson learned – I should NOT be meal planning at work! I’m drooling all over my desk!

I am so looking forward to the rebuttal… and re-reading this. BHAHAHAHAHAHA so funny! Good luck Mr. Malarky and Shenanigans!

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96 J. Money March 25, 2015 at 5:42 pm

What a great and thoughtful reply – THANK YOU!!! So helpful!

rib-tickling – hah!

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97 superbien July 25, 2016 at 2:47 pm

Oh my gosh, Kati, really? Tomato sauce can turn into minestrone soup? Whoa! >>>BRAIN BLOWN<<<

Taco soup, sounds ah-mah-zing!

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98 Shawna March 25, 2015 at 10:19 am

I live on my own and spend about $180 a month on groceries, which I think comes out to about $2.15/meal (assuming 3 meals a day). I then have another budget of about $120 for eating out a month. I eat breakfast at home every day (weekends too), take lunch to work 95% of the time (I allocate only $30 of eating out money to lunch at work), and then eat dinner at home ~5 days a week. I usually eat out two or three times on the weekends (counting Friday night), generally one time for lunch and one or two times for dinner.

I do about 85% of my shopping at Trader Joe’s and then the remainder at Ralph’s/Von’s. I could probably figure out a way to spend less on food a month (compare weekly ads against what I buy at Trader Joe’s, try harder to find coupons beyond whats in the shopping apps), but at this stage of my life, I don’t feel I need to. I’m happy with where I am at in terms of my food budget.

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99 [email protected] and the Beach March 25, 2015 at 10:32 am

Your email was hilarious and all I can say is I feel ya! I struggle with my food budget as well but I hardly eat out and I eat almost all healthy food. Still, people claim you still can eat “super” healthy on a budget. I keep working on it…

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100 Miss Fit March 25, 2015 at 10:38 am

Our budget is $800 per month for a family of 4, including a 17 yo and 12 yo. This also includes any eating out that we do. We buy our beef in bulk once a year from a local farm and keep in the freezer. We also try to grow as much as we can during the summer and freeze the excess, although this isn’t a lot.

Costco is great for cereal, frozen fruit and veggies, etc. Breakfast and lunch usually don’t have meat (unless it’s leftovers). With a little planning, if you spend an afternoon in the kitchen making a bunch of freezer meals with the bulk items from Costco, you can eat very well for a lot less than if you were to make the items separately.

Eggs are a delicious and super cheap source of protein; one of our favorite dinners is homemade hash browns topped with a fried egg. We also use them to top left over rice and veggies. It’s definitely worth it to find go-to recipes that use meat as a condiment rather than the main focus.

For chicken dishes, we always use the bone-in chicken (usually thighs, tasty and usually cheapest). After the meal, we use the bones to make homemade stock (or freeze them to make it later). You can use the stock to make super cheap soup. By minimizing waste, we are able to stretch our budget much further.

Good luck!!

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101 Will March 25, 2015 at 10:42 am

$1 per meal on average is definitely doable. You gotta think, breakfast is almost always cheap. That gets you off to cheap start for the day. The other 2 meals can be over $1 and you’ll still hit the $1 average.

I just had an egg sandwich with spinach, cheese, and onion. I’m about to have a banana smoothie. If eggs and bananas aren’t cheap, I don’t know what are. This is the reason hotels offer free continental breakfasts. Eggs, cereal, bagels, oranges, bananas… it’s all cheap.

I’m single and eat on $75/month. That number would be even lower (per person) if I had a family. Then I could buy bulk and spread the costs.

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102 Betsy March 25, 2015 at 10:51 am

I spend about $800/month for a family of 5 (2 adults, 2 kids and a toddler). Counting the toddler as a half, that’s just under $2/person per meal. We are vegetarian, rarely eat out (not terribly enjoyable with 3 kids) and eat very well. I try to do organic for the Dirty Dozen, but it’s not always feasible. I know there’s an economy of scale: a crockpot meal that feeds 8 isn’t really double the price of a crockpot meal that feeds 4. But even with that, I agree that $1/person per meal seems impossible. It also seems pretty undesirable, as eating is one of our great pleasures and I don’t want to skimp on it.

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103 Chris @ Flipping A Dollar March 25, 2015 at 10:53 am

Who adds milk and butter to mac and cheese?

One of the things I’ve found when people complain about the costs of food is that they don’t break down their trips to the store by category. We use YNAB and split up our receipt into household goods (lightbulbs, tooth brush, etc.) and food. Oh, and restaurants are not included in this number either. That’s an extra $50 a month.

We spend $375 on groceries per month (family of 3). And we aren’t that choosy. Now, we did buy a half of a cow, so I guess that bumps up our prices, but that was a 1 time deal that will be used for a long time (especially with grilling season starting).

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104 Julie G March 25, 2015 at 11:00 am

In reviewing your spending report it appears that you had one month where 1079 was spent on dinning out. Let’s face it, dinning out eats up a ton of money. (See what I did there, eats up). I would start there first, if I was in your shoes. Before the economic downturn in 08 my husband and I literally ate dinner out every meal. I didn’t keep meticulous notes and make a fancy spread sheet, but I know for a fact that we ate our retirement.

As Ms. Frugalwoods suggests there are options to have low cost meals at home and if you tackle breakfast and lunch for low cost meals that leaves more wiggle room for dinner/supper to be a higher cost.

So I eat two eggs for breakfast and a tea, my daughter eats oat meal she probably has 0.05 per serving for her. My eggs cost 0.30 per serving tea is 0.05 Honey is lets say 0.10-0.25/ serving that is 0.60 for breakfast. Add a banana at 0.39/lb looking at approx. .15 on the high end that is 0.75 for a meal.

I shoot for 300/month for three people for breakfast, lunch, dinner and have about 50-100 for dinning out. Some months are better than others for sure. Look for coupons when dinning out, Groupons etc. Try not getting an appetizer, sharing meals, ordering water, no dessert etc. Pick up a tub of icecream on the way home if you must have dessert. Even the fancy stuff at 3/4 bucks a tub will be less expensive than the 5-10 dessert per person.

Good luck in your adventures.

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105 Julie G March 25, 2015 at 11:23 am

Also, just for some perspective, after rent you spend my entire monthly income or more on food.

Income 2090
Rent 1025
Left 1065

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106 Braden Dunlop March 25, 2015 at 12:23 pm

We went through a full remodel (completed with my own brawn) of our kitchen in 2013, we had no counters, range or indoor fridge for the month of August. A rational explanation in my mind, but still, when I stepped back and tabulated that month’s spend, I sat in awe of what we had accidentally achieved.

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107 Julie G March 25, 2015 at 5:18 pm

Congratulations on the remodel of the kitchen! I can understand the desire to eat out, When my oven and one eye of my stove went out (got to love living with a slum lord) I did not have the ability to eat out dinner skillet started cooking a lot of my protein etc. Where there is a will there is a way. I am assuming that you are an educated man, I am sure that if you challenged yourself to cut your budget you could do it. I hope that we can hear back from you with your progress since you are a numbers man maybe you can show us pie charts and stuff ( I am not joking I have a sick fascination with those things :D).

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108 Mary March 25, 2015 at 11:04 am

Looking at this person’s email I was intrigued to calculate how much money I spend on myself per a meal. I have a yearly budget of $1800 a year for food or $150 a month for 1 person. I don’t count eating out in my food budget because I do it so rarely (once a month) and considered it entertainment spending. Mine came out to $0.41 per a meal( 1800/4380 meals). To say the least I was pleasantly surprised :)

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109 J. Money March 25, 2015 at 5:45 pm

Dayuuuum!

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110 jkr March 25, 2015 at 11:04 am

Wow, we spend around 800$ per month including diapers, toothpaste etc. and I dont know how to go lower. We are already vegetarian, eat out for less than 60$, bake all our bread ourselves.

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111 Kristin @ Brokepedia March 25, 2015 at 11:10 am

I’m frugal, and I have to admit, it takes effort to keep my food costs down. It’s my weak spot for sure. That White Castle slider with cajun garlic sauce sounds $(%ing delicious.

For me, saving money on food mostly comes down to optimizing my ingredients. A couple of things help most:
• I use the inverted pyramid method to budget with my biggest meal first, and then I create meals using the ingredients that will likely be left over from that meal. And then that one. And so on.
• I also use a website called Supercook to find recipes that I can make with the stuff I have in my fridge. It’s a good site for “Iron Chefing” your meals or whatever.
• It also helps to have a backup grocery list of ingredients for go-to frugal recipes. This helps ensure I don’t overspend during busy weeks when I’m stressed out and don’t have time to think about how to save money on groceries.

Other than that, I shop the clearance section at the grocery store, stock up when stuff is on sale, and shop at the “ethnic” stores in my neighborhood. Not everything is cheaper, but a lot of stuff is.

Oh! And I don’t buy home goods like toilet paper or soap at the grocery store, either. I automate those things for cheap on Amazon sub&save.

Anyway, that’s just how I do it! And now I’m hungry.

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112 J. Money March 25, 2015 at 5:46 pm

And now I want you to cook for me Paleaseeeee!

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113 kirsten March 25, 2015 at 11:20 am

For just my husband and myself we probably spend $500/month on food. About $300-350 is at the grocery store and $150-200 is on eating out. We could cut our dining out budget but I don’t want to :P.

I think something Braden may not have taken into account is the area that he lives. I went to school upstate NY where groceries were cheaper than where I currently live (Fairfield County, CT.) I was able to get by on a much smaller grocery budget. Even with cutting out eating out, I don’t think I could ever get under $300/month in groceries just because of how expensive food is here. My husband and I are both vegetarians so we already don’t pay for meat which tends to be the priciest purchase.

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114 Brandie March 25, 2015 at 11:28 am

At a minimum we spend $1200 a month for a family of 4. We have two kids one of which is a teenager and yes, what you read is true! They do eat you out of house and home ;) I have literally spent $1700 a month before and both estimations DO NOT INCLUDE EATING OUT. We try and keep that as number as low as possible.

My husband and I both work full time and because of this, I will pay $3-4 for a container of hummus vs making it myself. While it would probably save me $10 a month, it doesn’t save me the utility of time, which is a cherished utility these days especially considering the fact that I fly solo some weeks because my better half travels for work. From what I’m able to gather (and please someone correct me if I’m wrong), the majority of the bloggers out there touting these super low grocery bills have at least one spouse at home that doesn’t work and can devote the time to searching for coupons, making snacks vs buying pre-made items etc.

And I don’t mean that in a negative way but just to say that their schedule is more flexible vs someone who works away from the home for 8 hours a day. I am on the “staying home and taking care of the kids and house is a full time job” team.

Additionally, I opt to buy some produce organic and we also buy organic milk and almond milk due to dietary concerns and problems. I buy very little processed food and we eat meat and vegetables with every meal. I also only buy what’s in season for produce and fruit.

I would LOVE to have a $600 a month grocery bill but I don’t think it’s possible unless I sacrifice items I’m not willing to part with such as organics and pre made items.

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115 Julie G March 25, 2015 at 1:16 pm

You assume much regarding the stay at home spouse. My husband watches the kid that is it. Cooking dinner, cleaning, meal planning, coupon clipping, budgeting, etc is me and working a 40 hour week. Looking for a new place to live, etc, etc, etc.

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116 Brandie March 25, 2015 at 3:06 pm

Julie I’m sorry to hear that. It sounds like your over worked and under appreciated. I only assumed because that was our agreement when I stayed home with our youngest. I hope everything works out for you. Best of luck.

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117 Julie G March 25, 2015 at 5:20 pm

I appreciate your concern. I don’t mean to always make him sound like the bad guy LOL. He does go to school three nights a week for hours on in and does have to find some kind of time to do homework. Some people can multitask, some people cannot. I just don’t think that he can :D

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118 Braden Dunlop March 25, 2015 at 8:00 pm

Brandie, that’s why I naked the distinction in the PDF which showed when one adult was working/traveling. It makes a HUGE difference.

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119 Braden Dunlop March 25, 2015 at 8:04 pm

*MADE………….* MADE…………….not Naked, after the picture I’ve painted, no one wants to hear about naked Braden.

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120 Brandie March 26, 2015 at 10:19 am

LoL!!! Totally excusable Braden ;)!

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121 Lauren March 25, 2015 at 11:37 am

I don’t understand how people spend so much every month. We’re a family of 3 and our monthly food budget is $300, and this includes the occasional pizza or meal out! We hardly buy anything processed, save for Annies mac n cheese for the toddler. We plan meals very loosely, so it really is not that hard. Good luck to Braden on cutting that insane grocery budget!

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122 [email protected] March 25, 2015 at 11:43 am

I was inspired by Sam at Frugaling to try a $200 per person food budget in February. We did it and you can read about it here: http://www.52smallchallenges.com/blog/2015/2/27/400-grocery-budget-we-did-it. We’re on track for March, too, and may even have money to spare!

The comments that follow Sam’s post have lots of good suggestions, too: http://frugaling.org/200-food-budget-failure/

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123 J. Money March 25, 2015 at 5:48 pm

Love the concept of your blog!!! Challenges are sexy!!!

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124 middle class March 25, 2015 at 11:54 am

I think some of the cost differences on spending comes from tracking methods. Some people are including dining out; some are not. If you’re not meticulously tracking spending, it’s also easy to not count grocery spending done at Target. I don’t think household goods like toiletries and paper towels should count as groceries so since the bulk of my Target shopping is not for food, I tend to not include this in my grocery spending.

I started tracking our family food spending last year and we spent about $445/month on groceries for a family of four. With dining out, it increases to about $640/month. And this does not factor in that we eat a lot of meals at my parents which saves us on grocery spending, too. Anyway, this feels like a lot of money but we do clip coupons, cook mostly from scratch, shop around, plan some meals based on sales/specials and don’t eat out that often.

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125 Dan @ PointsWithACrew March 25, 2015 at 12:59 pm

That’s a great point – when I shared my budget, I tried to break it all out in various categories so people could compare like to like

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126 Samantha March 25, 2015 at 12:22 pm

I have so many tips that I can’t fit them all in a comment, so I’ll just direct you to my two best inspirational sources:
1) LeAnn Brown wrote an awesome cookbook (stick with me, here it’s a FREE PDF) called Good & Cheap Meals. It was originally for those on food stamps to help them stretch their average $4/day. It’s been a wonderful resource for us on new yummy made-from-scratch meal ideas.
2) also can’t get enough of http://www.budgetbytes.com/ – exactly what you think it is – a cheap recipe blog. Most of her meals are super healthy.

Highlights: Kraft mac and cheese is not delicious nor healthy – and nowhere near the cheapest meal you can get. No more expensive processed foods! You’ve got to be thinking simple, bulk, staple, whole foods: rolled oats, lentils, dry beans (not cans), rice, eggs. Lots of vegetables and little meat. Everything made from scratch and nothing from a box. Obviously very few meals out – those restaurants will catapult your per meal price average.

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127 Heather Mentzer March 25, 2015 at 12:50 pm

I love this advice Samantha!

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128 Heather Mentzer March 25, 2015 at 12:38 pm

So I won’t go crazy with my answer, a lot of people have already said what I’m going to say, however, I will tell you that we as a family of 6 were spending 1300-1600 a month on food and we didn’t even go out to eat! Say What? I knew something had to be done, but I had the same thought as this fellow, how the heck are people spending $500 a month on food!? We made ourselves a few rules, definitely no going out to eat. We only buy produce when it is under $2 a pound, which obviously is limiting, but is our biggest category of spending at the store. We only have meat a few times a week and try to limit the price per pound to under $5, I eat leftovers for lunch, my kids eat school lunch, like it or not, which runs $250 a month. My husband eats at work (he’s a chef). We eat bulk grains and legumes, we buy food at Costco and stick religiously to the list. We now keep our food spending to around $600 a month and school lunches are unchanged at $250 a month, we think this is acceptable for our family of 6 and has allowed us to pocket the difference of $450-850 per month in savings.

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129 jestjack March 25, 2015 at 1:04 pm

Hmmmm….Just finished my income tax and added up grocery receipts came to $3500 for our “semi-empty nest” household for the year. This includes cleaners, food, pet food and paper products….Pretty good improvement as not so long ago it was about $5700/yr. I agree with others …I don’t see how some of these folks feed their families for say….40 cents a meal a person. Red meat in this neck of the woods is so expensive ….it has basically become a “garnish”…..

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130 Logan Maloy March 25, 2015 at 1:15 pm

Maybe it’s a Mormon thing cause I feed my family of three for less than $0.55 per meal. True my boys are only 4 and 1 but I didn’t count the baby in the caluculation and my 4 year old eats the same portion sizes as my wife and I. We have a monthly food budget of $150 and only shop at Aldi. We get no type of food assistance/handouts from anyone but make sure to binge if we happen to be at an event that happens to have food. We never eat out and haven’t grown our own food since moving to Cincinnati two years ago. We don’t shop or cook for taste but for nutrition and filling. We buy what is on sale and find something to do with it instead of determining what we want to eat for dinner then getting ripped off because the ingredients are overpriced.

When we first got married in college we started eating a plate of outmeal for breakfast every morning and I calculated that it costed an average of $0.05 per person per meal. We still make sure to find places that will sell us 50 pound bags of oatmeal (our current Amish supplier charges $31 but in Utah we could get it from the main grocery stores for $22).

I lived in Zimbabwe for two years and learned how to be hungry when I needed to be and how to live just fine on a small budget. We never throw away food.

My amazing wife does basically all of the shopping and cooking and makes sure to do both with an extreme level of awareness. She makes nearly everything from scratch and prefers it that way. We only go shopping once a week at most and cook according to what we have, if we are missing an ingrediant she is a wiz at finding an acceptable alternative.

I had a personal finance professor that told me that simply shopping at Aldi will save you 40% off your food bill. Since moving to Cincinnati (Aldi doesn’t exist out west where I come from) I did a few experiments where we would shop at Aldi, then take the list of items we bought to other grocery stores and see how much we would have spent for the same items. Walmart was usually about 41% more, Kroger was around 52% more, Whole Foods was around 150% more, and we didn’t even bother going to Costco because it’s a rule that you can’t spend less than $150 per visit (that’s why they check your receit at the door, to see if you spent enough to leave of if they’ll have to make you go back for more boxes of crap you don’t even need). I know there are Costco lovers out there that love paying a memberhsip fee because it makes them feel like they are part of a cool group of overspenders who will get mad about my Costco hating but I have never seen anything there that I couldn’t find in bulk (for cheaper) somewhere else. (We love going there to walk around and watch people’s buying habbits because it is an amazing econometrical culture that they have bred there.)

Long story short: “JUST BECAUSE ITS A FOOD BUDGET DOESN’T MEAN THAT THE FOOD NEEDS TO CONTROL IT, YOU DO” ~ now that’s quoteable by Logan Maloy.

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131 Julie G March 25, 2015 at 1:24 pm

Religion may play a part in it as well. From my basic understanding of the religion it is encouraged to have not only financial stores, but food stores as well. Purchasing items at the lowest price possible and stockpiling for a certain amount of time will lower the price per meal greatly.

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132 Logan Maloy March 26, 2015 at 7:58 am

Thanks for reminding me that I forgot to mention that our $150 monthly budget rarely all gets used so any remainder is used to but things that we can store for years at a time. Our goal is to end each month with more food storage than we started the month with. In college we would also look for houses with fruit trees that were dropping fruit on the ground and ask the owners if they needed help using the fruit. At one older lady’s house we left with boxes of pears that we canned and still have in the pantry.

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133 J. Money March 25, 2015 at 5:50 pm

HAH! Love it Logan!

And between you and Braden Dunlop here you both win the awards for best names ;)

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134 Braden Dunlop March 25, 2015 at 7:51 pm

Costco is a scam………I feel shame every time I step up to the checkout, ring up my wares and get gawked at by the attendant as my annual spend streams across their console informing them there is a potential sucker interested in giving them another $55 fee (in addition, you know to the $55 I originally paid for the right to shop there) which is fully refundable at EOY if not spent. Oh the humanity! Everyone stops, states at you, thinks, “hey, fat guy spends $500/month here”…….much shame

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135 Konfused Ken March 25, 2015 at 1:31 pm

Oh – great post!

Our family of four could probably hit the $3.00/meal mark, (and even less if we tried harder), but we eat out an average of two times a week. This is to give my wife a break from caring for a one year old and a six year old, while trying to do everything else, (laundry, house cleaning, etc.)

Sometimes you have to spend money on “mental health improvement”! :-)

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136 Brandie March 25, 2015 at 3:12 pm

Ken I couldn’t agree with you more!! I know your wife really appreciates those breaks too

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137 Laura March 25, 2015 at 1:36 pm

Wow! This topic really hits close to home these days, with hubby and I learning to live on a fixed income since I retired the first of December. I knew this was an area of concern with regard to spending, but I didn’t realize how much of a concern until I studied it this month.

This category is absolutely our biggest money sucker. First issue, we love going out to eat, and now that I’m retired and we have the time (and those senior citizen discounts), we tend to go out more often. Breakfast isn’t that expensive (less than $20 for both of us), but we can easily find a reason to do that two or three times a week (thank God the senior three items plus coffee deal is Monday through Friday only). I used to justify the expense based upon the time, effort and expense of cooking various items for the two of us every morning and then having the leftovers and mess, but it just didn’t pencil out…so once a week is the maximum allowed these days. That alone adds $18/week to the food budget for two people. Lunches were the same issue, now that we have the time we’re out and about, so stopping at a great burger joint or a salad place we haven’t tried yet adds another meal out during the week. Again, I’ve reduced that to once a week or so (not counting $1.50 hot dogs at Costco)…not great but better. Dinner gets pricey, I eat strictly low carb, so no white flour, white bread, rolls, rice, pasta, potatoes, etc. (basically all the cheap stuff). I’ve stopped buying groceries every other day (an expensive habit I picked up when we decided not to freeze any meat because it tastes so much better fresh, or so we thought at the time). We now go to Costco, pick up meat and come home and divide it up into one meal portions, freezing all of it. Still pricey, but way less expensive than multiple trips to the grocery store. Remembering to defrost? That’s another issue.

We still spend over $1000 per month on food (and anything else that goes into the cart at the grocery store, I don’t divide it out). We shop Costco for meat, butter, eggs, almond flour, half and half and cream and milk (low carb essentials), and I’ve recently added frozen fruit and veggies to the Costco side of the ledger because we simply had too much waste with just the two of us. I limit the Farmers’ Market finds to fresh flowers and whatever salad and veggies are in season that we will eat that day or the next, again I find I throw too much away if I get ahead of myself.

My goal is to average $600 per month on all food expenses, including eating in restaurants. For two people, that seems very doable, even going low carb, but as of now we are at approximately double that and we’re still throwing away food, so there’s a LOT of room for improvement. I do a lot of home cooking since I can’t buy several items off the shelf, and those ingredients are expensive, but next to health care this is our single biggest monthly expense and hands down, it’s where there’s the most waste. My goal this month was to see where we were spending (thank you Personal Capital), and my goal next month is to cut the food bill by 25%. I’m confident shopping in bulk at Costco, freezing leftovers as soon as the meal is over (another area I lag in, thinking we’ll eat it the next day and then finding it several days later and throwing it away), and staying out of restaurants except for one breakfast and one lunch per week should have me there in no time! I have no desire to waiver from low carb, but there are still many, many holes in the food budget around here (mostly due to laziness). Just doing the ten day challenges (I did the write everything down one, and am now working on the eat out of your pantry one) has shown me how much we can improve, and I’m stoked!

I wouldn’t waste a lot of time feeling badly about not being able to feed a family of four on much less than you currently spend; if you’ve identified the areas of waste and dealt with them, it just comes down to lifestyle choices. I could live without red meat, but I love a good steak and I choose to spend my food dollars there. Eating a good steak from Costco, bought in bulk and prepared at home, is miles better than going out to a restaurant, and I’ll take my victories where I can!

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138 J. Money March 25, 2015 at 5:51 pm

Thanks so much for taking the time to share today, Laura – means a lot! (And I bet others reading this can relate too)

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139 T.Thema Martin March 25, 2015 at 1:39 pm

I agree with Jeff (post #20). I have yet to see anyone living an ORGANIC lifestyle who spends less than $300 monthly per adult. Organic, natural, and healthy are NOT the same thing. For example, almonds are natural and healthy, but if you don’t buy them organic, they would be processed with chemicals instead of steam.

If there is anyone who is living an ORGANIC lifestyle for less than $300 monthly per adult, please give me some pointers. I have been living a healthy lifestyle for over 20 years and an organic lifestyle for the past 6 years, and I can tell you, as a Certified Personal Trainer for 20 years, an organic lifestyle makes a huge difference.

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140 Tea March 25, 2015 at 1:55 pm

I think if you are going to do all organic on a limited budget, you are going to have to grow the majority of your food. A garden can greatly reduce your fresh produce costs.

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141 T.Thema Martin March 25, 2015 at 3:18 pm

Tea, that is an excellent point for those who live in a house with space for a garden. Those of us who live in a downtown condo don’t have that option. At most, we can grow organic herbs and dwarf trees.

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142 Brandie March 25, 2015 at 3:21 pm

Tea that’s a really valid point. My husband and I have talked about either doing aquaponic gardening or raised bed gardening for produce and vegetables and then canning the left overs for when winter rolls around. At least we would know exactly where it was coming from and what was used to grow it. I’d say our fruit and produce bill is almost half of our grocery bill for the week.

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143 Heather Mentzer March 25, 2015 at 8:29 pm

I think it can be done more easily like Tea said, by growing your own, but even if you can’t grow your own, there are viable alternatives, such as eating in season, buying in bulk and preserving and freezing while organic fruits and veggies are in season or on sale in your area. It seems like almost every area has at least a seasonal farmer’s market some areas, all year long. We eat only organic meat but keep it to only a few times a week instead of every day. You could buy only organic produce items that are on sale or under a certain price, boring but effective(hope you like carrots :)). Also, you may want to consider buying the dirty dozen+ organic, and buying some conventional, like those that may not be certified, but are grown by a local farmer that pledges not to use pesticides. You might want to check out a CSA in your area, they can often be cheaper than buying from your grocer and have a nicer selection. Frozen foods can also be cheaper and supposedly are as nutritious. These are some of the things our family of 6 does to keep to a budget and respect our health and the environment. As a trainer, I bet you eat a lot of calories though, I’m sure it’s tougher to stick to a budget.

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144 Done by Forty March 25, 2015 at 1:43 pm

It looks like last year, we spent about $3,600 on groceries. This breaks down to $1.64 per meal for our family of two.

However, we also spent about $3,200 more on restaurants and date nights, which often involve a fancy dinner out.

Harder to break the restaurant spending down to an average per meal (unless I count up all the meals out, too). Suffice it to say that we’re nowhere near a dollar.

I do believe it’s possible to spend less on food. Way less. I just don’t want to. There are way better places in your budget to ‘go cheap’

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145 J. Money March 25, 2015 at 5:55 pm

That’s a sentiment I’ve seen come up reading these 100+ comments today so far… The idea that even if you *could* lower the bill, that you might prefer not to based on lifestyle. Which is totally OK (provided you can afford it).

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146 Fernwise March 25, 2015 at 1:54 pm

We spend $100 a week, for groceries/catfood/litter/cleaning supplies/wine/beer/etc for 3 adults and one cat. This month, being pretty typical, we DID eat out once – for under $7 at Costco. And while my son and I both work at a restaurant, we do NOT get free meals there and of course we don’t steal food from there.

Simple things make a huge difference.
First – we always have home made soup for lunch.
Second – I bake almost all of our bread (since I work two jobs, some of that I do in a bread machine I bought for $8 at Goodwill).

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147 Kim @ Money Under the Cushions March 25, 2015 at 1:56 pm

Braden, that was such a hoot! Thanks! My eyes sort of glaze over when I read the “dollar per meal,” plans because it’s never anything I’d want to eat regularly. My husband could probably do it, but I’m fickle. After two days (three days at Thanksgiving), I am DONE with a meal. I also like good food. We go through periods of vegetarianism, veganism, weekend carnivores, etc. Shoot. It’s all so yummy. But variety, is literally the spice of life (like that pun?). This month our favorite organic store had pork loin on sale. We bought three pounds. I brought it home, sectioned it off and froze it, and that’s been our main protein for the month. I have made pork loin 16 different ways this month. lol. Tonight it’s Chinese style bbq. pork. Since I NEED variety, it would be hard for me to easily, or voluntarily get down to a $1 per meal. Thanks for a great read.

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148 Kate Horrell March 25, 2015 at 2:01 pm

This always flummoxes me, too. We are a family of six, two adults and four teenagers. Our food budget is roughly $1500 a month. Yes, we eat some prepared foods and junk, but not hundreds of dollars of it. Heck, our milk bill alone runs around $100 each month. Produce is easily $75 a week, and that’s not even as much organic as I would like.

I know we could shave a good chunk off our budget, but I’m just not seeing anywhere near the numbers some people report.

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149 Ann March 25, 2015 at 2:18 pm

What I’ve noticed is it depends on how much food you require. I eat between 2500 and 3000 calories a day and a lot of it is meat and dairy. I lift weights and rice and beans with a side of lettuce won’t cut it for me. And one Apple for a snack…lol…. Are you kidding me? Same with my husband. Neither one of us is over weight. We are very active and require more food than most people with these tiny food budgets. When we don’t eat out we spend about $500/ month for two adults. And that’s bulk shopping for everything. We eat a lot of produce too and nothing out of boxes. I think this is reasonable for two people with larger frames carrying around muscle. If we were tiny and not a lot of muscle then obviously we’d need fewer calories.

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150 Kevin March 25, 2015 at 3:03 pm

Braden – Hilarious e-mail! I’m looking over your numbers here. Your lunch numbers seem REALLY high to me. Now, it’s just my wife and I, but we REGULARLY spend less than $1/lunch during the week. We do things like Chili, Rice and Beans, very little meat, etc. If you are looking to get your costs down, lunch is definitely the place to start!

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151 Braden Dunlop March 25, 2015 at 3:20 pm

Lunch is the most important meal of the day, it replenishes your will to stay at work and continue earning instead of running home to spend time with loved ones!!

Just kidding, I’m brown bagging it now!!

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152 MelD March 30, 2015 at 5:41 am

Weeell… here in Europe, lunch IS the most important meal of the day!! Not so sure about the will to live, sorry, earn, in the afternoons but… :)
And yes, family lunch time is sacred in Switzerland – all the kids come home every day for lunch, as well as the dads and until recently, most moms were SAHMs. Say we’re backward if you like, I don’t agree! I consider myself a clan manager.

Cultural habits vary. The Italians don’t eat breakfast, just drink stiff, cheap espresso. Guess that’s a saving :( I’d hate that!! Love my breakfast. Where I am, really typical Swiss have cheese and wurst for breakfast (with bread), croissants at 9 am, a big cooked lunch made with butter and cream, a sweet snack at 4 pm and just more bread, cheese, wurst for dinner at 6 pm, maybe some wine and somehow they are pretty slim and fit (lots of salad, too, I guess…). Needless to say I’m only Swiss by marriage lol.
(Also – a successful business man has no choice of brown-bagging, all those meals out are part of his work, sadly for his waistline, that is, my husband’s…!!)

I don’t get the packaged mac/cheese thing in the US – why wouldn’t you just cook pasta in its million variations?! Cheapest and easiest thing available over here for any meal.

Also, since living costs vary in the States, surely food doesn’t cost the same everywhere – how can you guys even compare your grocery costs?? They sure vary enormously depending on where you are in Europe!!

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153 David T March 25, 2015 at 3:06 pm

We are a single income family of four (soon to be 5) and my amazing wife spends about $350 a month. We get generic brands, have potato nights, fancy salad nights, and 3-4 nice meals a week. We also eat the leftovers for lunch and often have leftover nights.

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154 Janine March 25, 2015 at 3:27 pm

My fiance and I eat very healthy and always have and it costs the two of us $500-$600 a month. We eat a lot of fresh produce and lean meat and don’t buy much packaged or processed food. I think cost will fluctuate with what kind of food you buy, and where you buy it. I have no idea how a family of 8 can survive on $700 a month.

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155 Alotta Lettuce March 25, 2015 at 3:40 pm

I think Braden is my new favorite person in the history of persons. And I agree with him.

The very best my husband and I have ever done – at the absolutely height of my personal finance nuttery (errr…diligence) was $400/month for the two of us. Now, we have a toddler and another baby on the way, and for a very long time now, we’ve been closer to the $600/month mark. $800 if you count eating out. I mean, my toddler alone eats at least an entire clamshell of raspberries every single day of the week. A fact that sheds new light on all those ‘how much does it cost to raise a child?’ calculations you see around the internet.

But, I know what the answer is. As I read through these responses, there seems to be a direct correlation between grocery budget and the variety/inventiveness of meals these budgets produce. Oatmeal for breakfast…everyday? Eff that noise. Rice and beans…everyday? Sweet jesus, eat something more bland and unfulfilling, will ya? Do you even purchase salt and pepper?

I’m sure that if my family ate nothing but eggs, oatmeal, bananas, rice, beans and plain baked potatoes, I could keep our budget reined all the way in. But we’d also probably have scurvy and take absolutely no joy in eating, which IMO, should be one of the most joyful parts of living life.

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156 Kacie March 25, 2015 at 4:58 pm

Totally agree, no one wants to eat rice & beans every day. But rice & beans (plus a few other things) make a mighty tasty burrito, for instance. So just using the cheaper stuff to stretch the more spendy stuff, and help pull down the cost average.

Same with oatmeal — throw on some almonds, maple syrup and raisins one day; add something else another day.

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157 Braden Dunlop March 25, 2015 at 8:07 pm

I got ALOTTA Love as well!!

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158 Julie G March 26, 2015 at 1:57 pm

I like the fact that I know for breakfast I am going to have two eggs a tea and a piece of fruit. If breakfast is on autopilot I can use brain cells elsewhere LOL. Also the cheap breakfasts and lunches allows me to spend more money on dinner.

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159 Kacie March 25, 2015 at 4:44 pm

Food prices have just plain gone UP over the last few years. That alone makes budget eating harder.

For my own family of 5 and 3 little kids with ever-expanding appetites, it is pricey to feed everyone.

I try to do a few budget meals per week (oatmeal for breakfast; rice & prepared dry beans + salad for a dinner; breakfast for dinner; making the most of leftovers etc.) to help the overall cost.

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160 Brandie March 26, 2015 at 10:24 am

I literally remember when I could get a box of fruit snacks from Food Lion for $1.50 and now those days are long gone! My son also stop eating off the kids meal well over a year ago too so that makes a difference when we do go out to eat.

It’s crazy to think about what the cost of groceries will be in 5-10 years from now. We’re really considering starting our own garden like I talked about above to try and help deter the cost of fruits and produce

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161 Jack March 25, 2015 at 4:55 pm

Fascinating. My wife and I watch our spending but eating is more about taste, health and variety for us than budget. We coupon, and buy bulk, and keep a freezer stocked with specials, but nothing too extreme.

That said, when I was recovering from my accident and massively indebted, broke, and no transportation, I was living in silicon valley on less than $300 a month after rent. Kraft Mac and cheese was a special treat. Otherwise it was ramen, beans, and whatever I could scrounge.

Bad times, but educational.

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162 Crystal March 25, 2015 at 5:32 pm

We spend around $500-$600 a month for all food, groceries and eating out, for just the two of us. We could get it all down to $300-$350 pretty easily though if we just stopped eating out (we won’t, but you asked, lol). Here are some cheap recipes we use when eating at home:

Red beans and rice with sausage: $8.00 for enough to feed 8-10 people. The very tasty recipe is on my site, but it breaks down to sausage, kidney beans, butt loads of spices, and rice. Your initial cook of it may cost more since you’ll be buying spices, but then the more you cook, the less it costs. The $8.00 is an estimate of the price per batch including the costs of the spices spread out.

Casseroles – $5 for enough to feed 8. We use a lot of egg, cheese, and veggies.

Soft tacos – $4 for 10 tacos or $6 for 20 tacos. Use ground turkey (frozen at Aldi’s is $1.75 per pound), taco seasonings (either premade or make your own), and tortillas ($1-$2 at HEB). Tomatoes and lettuce add 15-20 cents per serving.

Spaghetti or ravioli – $4-$5 to serve 6-8 people. Spaghetti is $1.50, Prego is $1.50-$2, then add more basil, oregano, garlic, and onion.

Good luck!

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163 J. Money March 25, 2015 at 5:57 pm

I want to come over there right now and EAT ALL OF THAT STUFF!!!!!

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164 Sukina March 25, 2015 at 5:42 pm

All these post had me laughing! Bradlen especially! I have a eater in my family as well. I try, try and try again to limit his servings and he looks at me like I am crazy. Lol I have no clue what my actual food cost is for two people but I would confidently estimate it to a little under $500/month. We eat and drink mostly produce. My partner and I are adamant smoothie drinkers for breakfast. I am a zucchini noodle enthusiast and will make a noodle salad of everything from carrots, cucumbers and anything else I can spiralize. I am not a fan of no meat and if I hand my Jason a plate or rice and beans with no meat he will look at me like I was an imposter.
We buy a lot of bulk chicken from Sam’s club ( sorry organic enthusiasts) and it is frozen. If I buy a rotisserie chicken it is GONE quickly. All in all I am with Bradlen in the food department mystery. I like good food and I do not know a portion control. I just eat a ton of vegetables and drink lots of water so I can trick myself into being full. If I become hungy all bets are off and my food cost goes up!

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165 Melanie @ Dear Debt March 25, 2015 at 7:00 pm

Wow, pure comment gold. All I can say is I struggle with food too, but we are getting better! We don’t eat a lot of meat, but do like buying frozen pizzas for days we are too busy :( And I still love going out to restaurants but tend to go to cheap places.

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166 Nikki Frugal March 25, 2015 at 7:26 pm

There are 3 of us (soon to be 4) in our household. I (try) to average 150$ a month. BUT we hunt for our meat, and I barter a lot to keep the food costs down…I live around/in an Amish/ Mennonite community so makes it easy to barter ;) I also don’t bring milk in the house (at 4$ a gallon and some families go through several gallons a week I can totally see where it adds up!). I also cook nearly everything from scratch as well and buy in bulk…It CAN be done but i’ll admit it can be a lot of work.

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167 Dawn March 25, 2015 at 9:04 pm

I agree with this guy, but then again have some picky eaters. Like my son wanted lasagne, which the ingredients cost over $10! Luckily I will break it down to some work meals and my little piggies can stuff themselves. Our food budget has been hardest to cut since I do not coupon, cheaper not to own a printer, but do shop sales. But our 7&10 yr olds plus hubby can really eat. Plus meat is popular here. I stick with mostly hamburg and chicken though to save. So typical month is $550 range for family of 4. The ban on peanuts and peanut butter at school have made affordable edible school lunches challenging as well. When they buy at elementary school, lunch costs $2.25 per kid, argh! Fresh fruit and veggies are expensive. But we live in a high cost of living area with no Aldi’s. Thank god for Market Basket and Wal-Mart.

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168 Brandie March 26, 2015 at 10:27 am

We don’t have an Aldi’s either. Literally makes me want to cry to think that if we did I’d be able to save a ton of money :(::: sigh**

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169 Elise @ Simply Scaled Down March 25, 2015 at 9:20 pm

We feed a family of 4 (including formula for the baby) for $300-350 a month and most of our produce is organic, and our meat is free range, no growth hormones or antibiotics. We do it simply by limiting the amount of meat we eat (a pound of organic ground turkey feeds all of us in a pasta dish heavy with veggies, but a pound of organic steak would only feed maybe 2 of us). We also grow a lot of our veggies (you don’t need a lot of garden space, we are renters and do hanging containers for strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchinis). And honestly, the biggest money saver is we don’t snack. We aren’t snackers by nature, so this helps, but think of all the money you would save if you didn’t buy snack foods, or sodas, or juices. Popcorn (bought in bulk) is a cheap snack when you do need a quick snack fix. The other thing that helps us save is to buy at ethnic food markets. They often have quality produce and meats for way cheaper than the grocery stores.

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170 Anne - Money Propeller March 25, 2015 at 9:47 pm

Braden – Please, please, please come bestow an amazing rant upon my site!

My spouse and I (that is, two adults), spend somewhere around $1100/month on food, and the other junk you can buy at a grocery store, like shampoo and toilet bowl cleaner. I’m ignoring restaurants because when we eat out, it is usually pretty expensive and we consider it entertainment. Except for Subway. That’s because we’re lazy, or traveling. We take our lunches to work every day.
Rough and dirty math puts us around $6.11 per meal, a figure which includes some toilet bowl cleaner and a lot of snacks. We eat well, sure, but we still do some things “right” like we tend to only buy proteins when they have clearance stickers and chuck them in the freezer.

Cost of living is also a pretty big factor. Jessica from Budget for Health was overwhelmed by how expensive groceries were in Calgary, compared to Michigan, when she lived there for six months. I stock up on groceries when I am in Calgary because they are so much cheaper than where I live.

Your email has inspired me to write a post that shall be called, “How to Spend an Obscene Amount on Groceries” and will feature me sharing my well-honed expert skills on the subject. I already have about 20 points and it’s been pretty fun to write.

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171 J. Money March 26, 2015 at 3:01 pm

HAH! Love it!

Who knew an email would drum up such excitement everywhere! (okay – I knew that, but I did have a sliver of a doubt ;))

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172 Braden Dunlop March 26, 2015 at 10:37 pm

What would we be writing about?

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173 No Nonsense Landlord March 25, 2015 at 10:00 pm

A can of soup, or breakfast food is cheap. Steaks are out. Small portions are in.

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174 Amy @ DebtGal March 25, 2015 at 10:26 pm

This email, post, and comment thread is awesome!!

My family of 3 spends about $450 on food every month. My daughter brings lunch to school, and my husband and I bring lunch to work (most days – every now and again I find a Juicy Burger receipt balled up in the center console of my husband’s car). Could we spend less? Yes, definitely, but it’s important to me that we eat a lot of produce, and I do buy some convenience foods, like granola bars, for our work/school snacks. Could I make these for less? Probably? Could I spend less on tortillas by making them myself? A lot of bloggers tell me that I could. But, like anything, these are trade-offs that are worth it to me – someone who really does not enjoy grocery shopping, cooking, or cleaning up afterwards. We eat nearly all of our dinners and breakfasts at home, so I think we’re doing pretty well.

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175 Braden Dunlop March 26, 2015 at 11:33 am

What’s a Juicy Burger? I want one!

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176 Lynnie March 25, 2015 at 10:37 pm

This is a GREAT post and I have enjoyed reading all of the comments….I have new ideas because of the J Money Clan!!

Can we approach electricity bills next? I seriously need help in this department!!!!

Houston Texas though…..hot and steamy…UGH!

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177 J. Money March 26, 2015 at 3:03 pm

I remember wanting solar panels once.

http://www.budgetsaresexy.com/2012/03/solar-panel-energy-on-house/

If I ever get a “forever” home I’m totally looking back into it again!

UPDATE: Just saw this from Mr. Money Mustache – How to Cut your Power Bill by 80%

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178 Julie G March 26, 2015 at 4:49 pm

Amen about the electric bill. I use CFL’s turn off lights when I leave etc etc energy bill jumped up 50 bucks from this year to last and I used less energy!!!! (Silly increases in power)

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179 ko March 25, 2015 at 11:37 pm

This article is very timely and interesting to read. We are set for an income reduction in April which will see our food budget reduced to US $200 per month. Some of the time this will cover 3 adults and other times 2 adults.

Not sure how to approach it to be honest…

2 adults x 30 days = 60. If we have 3 meals a day that is 60 x 3 =180 meals

180 meals/ 200 to spend per meal = 90 cents per meal ?? and we have to account for other groceries as well from the $200…fun times ahead

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180 Jennifer March 26, 2015 at 12:19 am

When we were paying off debt insanely hard core we were able to eat for $350/month which included eating out about twice a month and necessities like shampoo/toilet paper/dog food/etc. But we ate a lot of carbs. In the last year, my husband and I have worked our butts off literally to lose 150+ combined pounds. So now we eat very few grains (which are so cheap) and eat a lot of meat, veggies, fruit and spend about $800-1000/month. It is a big difference but possible since we are debt free besides the mortgage now.

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181 Braden Dunlop March 26, 2015 at 8:41 am

Way to go Jennifer and “significant other” in dropping 150lbs!! Now the real challenge (at least what I’ve found) is not gaining back 190lbs!!

I do not blog. I am probably too polarizing and vehemently staunch in my beliefs to spew them readily and without filter to the world.

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182 Jennifer March 26, 2015 at 12:26 am

Also, does Braden blog? Because I would totally read it.

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183 Brandie March 26, 2015 at 10:31 am

I second that motion!

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184 Jeff March 26, 2015 at 5:26 am

After reading all 147 comments on here I have decided that a large part of the food budget depends on where you live. I am pretty sure that it would be cheaper to shop online at some of the places in the states, have it shipped to one of the readers on here homes, pay them a processing fee to pack it up and then pay shipping to have it flown into Canada and I would still get cheaper groceries than I can buy on sale in my grocery stores.

Lots of action on this post J$!

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185 J. Money March 31, 2015 at 12:17 pm

yeah – I’m feeling pretty smart now for publishing this, haha…

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186 Tania April 1, 2015 at 6:55 pm

I was thinking that too. There was one comment below, a family of three that thought their spending of $900 was absolutely horrible. If I can get my own costs for groceries + a few dinners out to $300 per month (for just little ole me!) I’d be pretty satisfied with my progress. But I live on Maui. Our food costs are notoriously high in Hawaii and Maui is even higher than Oahu. That said, while I am simplifying I don’t plan to do the beans and rice thing day in and day out either.

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187 Anna March 26, 2015 at 9:45 am

The Kitchn just had a great article about helping you meal plan/budget. I would probably say between my husband and I we spend somewhere in the 4-600 dollars on food a month but that is including my husband refusing to bring a packed lunch most days and a few isolated dinners out. This month I’ve made a concentrated effort at cooking close to 100% of my meals so my grocery bill has been high but I haven’t looked at the high grocery bill vs. eating out. I’d imagine I’m spending less even with dropping over 100/week on groceries.

http://www.thekitchn.com/inventory-your-first-step-in-meal-planning-and-saving-money-on-groceries-the-smart-shopper-217240?utm_source=RSS&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Category%2FChannel%3A+Main

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188 Carolyn March 26, 2015 at 9:47 am

I totally agree with this guy! I have a family of 6 (2 adults, 4 children), and we spend $1600 a month on food, in California. I work really hard to stay in budget every month. I do buy everything organic, which is much more expensive. I recently figured out we could probably cut our bill by at least 40% if I bought the conventional poison laden stuff. But buying organicfalls into the category of ‘investment for the future’, for my family. We have a small garden to supplement veggies. I buy bulk beans and rice, which is our primary source of protein. And only about 3x a week do we eat meat. Nutrition is preventive medicine. If you are saving $300 a month, but sacrificing future health, how is this a good deal?

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189 LM March 26, 2015 at 10:54 am

We have a very high monthly grocery bill, too. For a family of five, we spend about $1,100. AND we order take-out about three times a month on top of that. I know, without a doubt, that we could spend less. But we like to eat organic and we like to eat well. So our meals are a bit more complex, have more ingredients. We buy a bottle of wine almost every week. We eat meat and dairy–organic or grass-fed whenever possible. I know some people don’t consider organic worth it, but I definitely do.

I will add that food is a big spend category for us, but it’s just about the only one. In other words, we spend a lot on food (knowing full well that we are splurging a bit), but we don’t spend nearly as much in other areas. We don’t go to the movies; we rent. We don’t take the kids to the indoor bounce house place; we go to the park or we go for a walk. Instead of buying books, we check them out at the library. We keep our utility bills low. We don’t have crazy cell phone plans. Our clothing budget is very small. We are active and healthy and don’t have a lot of extra medical expenses.

Ultimately, I think it’s worth spending extra in certain places if it makes you happy, so long as you cut back expenses in other areas.

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190 Nic March 26, 2015 at 11:10 am

It’s great you posted this….On a previous post (it may have been the same one you are talking about in the article) I too had found it hard to believe….Mrs. Frugalwoods set me straight pretty quickly with the oats in the morning and almost no meat. I’m pretty sure I eat the equivalent amount of beef as my doc recommends per month, each week….I find it unacceptable to not include meat in just about every dish I eat…the only times I don’t is in the mornings when I’m on the run and I’ll grab a muffin or something along those lines ($.58 @ Costco). It probably doesn’t help that I also don’t reach for the cheap meats (except for chicken thighs), usually opting for USDA PRIME grade steaks, atlantic salmon, etc….

The other thing is whether or not you’re willing to give up eating out…my wife and I get tired of cooking each night, so we’re not willing to give it up…costs more and we’re ok with that. I’ve come to terms with our food spending (easily $400 a month at the grocery store, $200 at costco and another $100 on eating out). One thing we have done to lower the cost is to order out, pick it up and bring it back so that we don’t feel the need to purchase alcohol with the meal or have to tip (as much, usually I just cut the tip in half). A beer at home is typically 20% of the cost of a beer at the restaraunt…and at a buck a beer, I can afford that.

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191 Nic March 26, 2015 at 11:12 am

Oops…sorry costco muffins are $.67, $8 for 12 was thinking $7

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192 Dividend Dreams March 26, 2015 at 12:17 pm

I think it is possible to drastically reduce your food budget, but everything comes with tradeoffs. I could eat top ramen 3 times a day and be under $.30 cents a day. This of course would likely come with negative health benefits and reduced happiness. I do think that one can live on a balanced diet buy buying items on sale, storing portion sized meat in a freezer, and not eating out. In my house we have many food allergies which makes savings a bit tougher. Many allergy free items come at a premium.

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193 J. Money March 31, 2015 at 12:18 pm

yup – always about the tradeoffs. In food and pretty much everything else in life :)

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194 Kali @ XY Planning Network March 26, 2015 at 3:00 pm

I was cracking up at this email. While our food budget is under control, I could totally relate to some of Braden’s complaints and questions. I am DEFINITELY amazed and often confused by people who are able to feed a small army of children on less than what we spend on all our food if you count both groceries and date night meals out.

We usually spend about $300 per month on groceries for two healthy, active adults. (That includes maybe a case or two of beer every month and/or a bottle of wine.) We spend another $100 on meals out. I don’t think that’s half-bad but I’m sure it could be better.

For us, a low grocery bill starts with eating real, whole foods. The middle of the grocery store is a place we completely skip over. Our pantry is a junk food desert — we don’t buy chips, crackers, cookies, and we skip over soda, juices, etc too (Besides water, we drink coffee, tea, and the occasional delicious adult beverage.)

We also never buy meats — I’m a vegetarian and my husband is when cooking at home; he’ll order a meat dish when we go out. That is HUGE in terms of cutting cost. We rely a lot on cheap staples to create the base of many dinners: rice, beans, lentils, quinoa, couscous, etc. (For lunches: dinner leftovers.)

At home, we make everything we can from scratch. This sucks when you’re hungry and just want to eat something RIGHT NOW, because we only ever have raw ingredients. No instant, premade, prepackaged stuff on our shelves, so the only choice is to cook!

One more factor — we live in the south, so in general cost of living down here is cheaper than in many other places.

I wish I knew what our average price per meal was. I have no clue — but this post is inspiring me to track this information! I love how much discussion and thought this has sparked. Way to go on calling out the frugal community to put up or shut up, Braden!

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195 J. Money March 26, 2015 at 3:05 pm

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s rebuttal ;)

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196 Even Steven March 26, 2015 at 4:39 pm

We are in the $300-$500 range on grocery shopping, which will include a Costco run mostly for meat, this is for 2 people. Our eat out expense is in the $300-$400 neighborhood and falling fast. And for us grocery shopping includes buying dog food, paper towels, pharmacy items, etc. Eating out is of course, coffee’s and lunches at work, then anytime we go out to eat, weekends, etc.

We have cut down overall on our eating out budget, Mrs. Even Steven used to eat out literally every day a few months ago, it takes time but we are getting it.

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197 Phil in Denver March 26, 2015 at 5:58 pm

Any paleo runners or cross fitters also into PF/FIRE? My wife and I are marathon runners and our food/alcohol bill is beyond atrocious ~ $900 per month. We eat mostly grain fed meats or fish and a lot of veggies. No rice. No beans. We’ve almost eliminated corn. We also have an 8 year old that needs to eat clean to keep ADHD at bay. She also requires rockstar vitamins that cost about $50/month. We also have three pets which runs about $100. Then add in coffee consumption at $50 month. We also meet up with friends once a month, when you factor babysitting it’s about $100. Oh vey!

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198 Braden Dunlop March 26, 2015 at 10:35 pm

I play hockey………and have been called a Neanderthal……..but I don’t know much about Paleo anything

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199 J. Money March 27, 2015 at 11:53 am

I wouldn’t want to be going up against you, haha…

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200 sandir March 26, 2015 at 7:06 pm

I believe that people can eat for $1 a day – I just don’t believe they are eating enough fruits and vegetables. I probably spend $1 a day per person just for fruits and vegetables and I only buy what produce is on sale and use a lot of those $1 lb frozen veggies and have a large veggie garden. Heck I even pick free dandelions from our yard to go in our daily salad.

So for two adults I spend $500 a month just on food (another $100 a month for non-food items like tp) and we don’t eat out. We can rarely afford anything organic unfortunately. We’re in a touristy ski town so we have high prices and very few grocery store choices. Our farmer’s market sells tomatoes for $5 each and 1 lb. of carrots with tops for $5.

We focus on produce, beans, whole grains only, and I make as much homemade as possible. I make my own hummus (without tahini as it is too expensive), oat milk, and whole grain pancakes for DH’s breakfast. I cook my beans and hominy in the crockpot and I also do regular green juices. DH packs his lunch daily and it is usually pb and j. I occasionally make whole grain breads and whole wheat pretzels.

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201 CantDoItEither March 26, 2015 at 8:49 pm

We can’t do it either and I have given up trying. We live in HCOLA… Me, husband, college-aged kid. We eat mostly organic and spend $1200 a month on groceries. :(

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202 Laurie @thefrugalfarmer March 26, 2015 at 9:40 pm

This is my specialty, J$! I probably have disappointing news for the guy, though. We don’t often buy chips, rarely buy pop and buy a limited amount of processed food. We cook from scratch a lot – including mac and cheese. We buy everything on sale or at the cheapest price I can find. On the rare occasions that we eat sweets (usually twice a week) we make something like brownies or cookie from scratch. We buy rice and flour in bulk, and cheese too. We have a list of SEVERAL meals that are super cheap (we have popcorn nights, for instance – air popped – no bagged microwave stuff) that we fix during the week. We eat to live and don’t live to eat (I can say this as a reformed foodie). We feed our family of six on roughly $400 a month.

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203 Martin March 26, 2015 at 11:54 pm

I absolutely struggle with food. I don’t even want to share the numbers because it’s scary. I cook most of my meals too! I’m trying to gain weight, so that’s also an issue.

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204 Paul March 27, 2015 at 1:28 pm

Wadddup J Money,

I live in an area that is far from cheap, Long Island NY!

That being said, my SO and I spend ~$200/month on groceries.
We spend an additional ~$100/month on happy hours or meals out

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205 mary March 27, 2015 at 2:15 pm

We are a family of 6 — 2 adults, 4 teenagers (three of them boys). Monthly grocery tab is $1050. I don’t split grocery transactions among categories anymore (food, toiletries, laundry soap etc…) It’s just all one lump number. That being said, this factors to less than $2/person/meal. Considering that we buy simple whole food ingredients to make our meals from scratch – I think it’s pretty stellar. We don’t buy manufactured foods or meals you just pop in the microwave — don’t even have a microwave anymore. Another way we save on household expenses related to food is by not buying disposable things like paper towels, paper plates, plastic wrap/baggies and the like.
For years while we were getting out of debt we heard the rice and beans adage. We ate like “poor people” so long that we began to like it, and then discovered that we were healthier for making the change from costly convenience foods to less expensive whole food options. We do eat out maybe once a month – we can do Chipotle or Jason’s Deli for about $45. Other than that, we eat at home 3xday, and pack lunches for those away at work and school. It took us years to change our buying/eating habits. For us, slow changes over time stick better than huge sweeps all at once that can create a whiplash or deprivation response.

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206 Gus Montana March 27, 2015 at 3:07 pm

Mr. Dan Miller is a bit of a whimper- whiner. It is a blog for heaven’s sake! Not a formal dinner with in-laws at the country club. Braden has called bull-shit where it is due. From an outsider (who is financially minded, but not overly diligent) his post is misleading… Eating out should not come from entertainment or the “Dan” envelope and be excluded in your calculations when you are making a case that you are the thriftiest eater in the village. In addition a footnote that you rarely eat meat would be appropriate. Can you imagine a financial statement and not footnoting a significant accounting policy that significantly affects your earnings…

If I bought bulk rice and beans I would obtain enough nutrition to sustain myself and it would cost very little, but I sure wouldn’t write a blog about how the typical person can feed their family for .15 per day. Eating typical would not include VERY little meat and never eating out. Good or bad, right or wrong typical Americans eat meat and eat out (often in conjunction). He is not a typical specimen when making the case that low cost eating is everywhere but your house..

I do like his point about the value of a budget being prioritizing what is important, but just like anything, there are people that get entrenched in a lifestyle and take it to the extreme with no real purpose. A person that has a budget with a purpose and a plan is great!! More power to them to achieve the things in life that are important to them. A budget and thrift in the hands of an extremist is no different than the dad you meet at a birthday party who’s first words are “Oh man, I’m so sore from Crossfit”. Those idiots don’t care about their personal fitness. They just want everyone to know they do Crossfit.

If Dan Miller wants to eat bulk cheese and Thursday Pizza so he can spend his money on boats, church, children in Africa or trips to Disney World, great, do that without telling the public how sore you are from Crossfit.

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207 Kayla @ Everything Finance March 28, 2015 at 9:43 am

I do pretty well at keeping grocery costs down, but no where near $1 (or less) for every single meal.

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208 MelD March 30, 2015 at 5:59 am

Lots of great tips, granted, and highly entertaining with it!

My two tips of interest are zero waste / Bea Johnson (topical – she says her household costs were reduced by 40% by going zero waste…) and MFK Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf, also entertaining reading (about when people really didn’t have money). Good concepts.

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209 Tania April 1, 2015 at 6:40 pm

The email is hilarious (I love me some sarcastic writing) and the comments are invaluable! Food is an area I’m trying to work on but I think my main problem has been waste. I know I waste a ton of food and can’t be the only one. Now that I’m becoming a bit of a personal finance geek I realize that waste was the equivalent of me grinding up twenties in the garbage disposal. Love all the tips everyone has shared. My plan is to (1) use what I already have in my pantry/freezer/fridge (2) eat at least one vegetarian meal/day (3) limit convenicence foods (4) buy from the bulk section. We’ll see in a few months how it goes. I’ve already managed to reduce quite a bit of my costs by stopping the eating out all the time madness, which saved me on gasoline too as my workplace was remote. Eating a home lunch also meant less driving. I don’t plan on cutting back on fruits/veggies from the local farmers but do plan on making sure I actually eat it all. I have about 20 more lbs to lose too (already lost 30 out of 50) so the two goals go hand in hand. Btw, I love food and I’m a total foodie. I found that I do appreciate and enjoy my meals out so much more now that I don’t do it all the time. There is a ton of info out there about how indulging in luxuries on a daily basis decreases our level of satisfaction.

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210 J. Money April 6, 2015 at 1:29 pm

yeah, you guys commenting here make it so much better cuz y’all are dropping knowledge! A great 1-2 punch :)

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211 femmefrugality April 4, 2015 at 10:35 pm

We spend $100/month per person in our family. Though I’m thinking about starting to spend more to get more organic/grass-fed foods…every time we do that we feel like our food is giving us a high. No joke. It’s amazing what real food does for you. But we haven’t been doing it regularly for a quite a while because we’ve been trying to save money. But we may have been doing it at the cost of our health. It’s a really difficult call.
Also, Kayla (Shoeaholicnomore,) Mrs. FW, Laurie Frugal Farmer, Budget and the Bees and I did a price comparison thing a while ago across all the different areas we live. Pittsburgh, which purportedly has a low cost of living, had one of the highest food prices. My jaw was on the floor. And now I’m looking at his Mac and Cheese prices and freaking out even more…I just saw a box for $1.65 today. And it was on sale.

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212 Master Nerd April 9, 2015 at 4:34 pm

Not gonna lie, I spend stupid amounts of money on food ($200-400/month for just moi). But it’s not crappy take-out or even restaurants (I eat out MAYBE 2-3 times a month), it’s all on good quality food. I love to cook, but I hate eating anything that comes out of a box/jar, so I buy a lot of fresh produce, dairy, and meat, which is the big money sucking culprit! Could just be my neck of the woods, but around here plain-jane ground beef can easily run $6-8/lb at your average grocery store, and that’s not even the fancy grass-fed stuff. Oh well, I guess I rather spend money on quality food that will let me live longer and healthier than save a buck on over-processed junk.

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213 Sandy April 27, 2015 at 4:43 pm

We spend $200 a month for me and my husband on food each month. I cook everything from scratch. I used to write a list of foods we would like to eat and then do the grocery shopping for those foods. Now I look and see what is on sale and adjust the menu for that week to produce and meats I can purchase on sale for that week and that alone dropped our budget for foor by $50 a month. I also use coupons, buy bulk food at a grocery chain called Sprout’s near us. Their rolled oats goes on sale at 0.69 cents a pound at times and I buy a whole lot for breakfasts and make overnight oats with any kind of fruit that I might find on sale that week. Look up overnight oats and you will be hooked on them. I also cook a lot of international food and that allows me to use all sorts of ingredients that no one else seems to use. I make Kimchi fried rice which is a Korean dish. Korean cabbage is 0.70 a pound and I can make dinner for under $2 for two people easily. It helps to know a lot of recipes or look up recipes based on the ingredients that are on sale that week. I had no idea what to do with parsnips before, now I buy them at the Asian grocery store for cheap and make oven roasted parsnips. You can mash them, bake them, stew them, etc. It takes longer to do everything from scratch, but it is rewarding, it is even relaxing for me to make home made bread for example. Just have to be creative and resourceful.

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214 Jesse Mack April 28, 2015 at 1:07 pm

You can’t eat healthy meals for that price. Documentaries on netflix have ruined my once budget grocery bill. Now its organic this and organic that

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215 Lisa | The Money Pinch July 9, 2015 at 12:33 pm

The cheapest I’ve ever eaten was with buying only coffee, cream, chicken, eggs, butter and cheese. Pretty bland, but insanely cheap. Plus, the awesome benefit of fast weight loss since it’s pretty low carb.

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216 Debra September 21, 2015 at 1:08 pm

I’ve been more aware of spending habits lately since I’m in a bit of a crunch with my health. I’m doubting I can continue my full time job for another 10+ years (I’m 55 years old). So, I’ve been doing the big number crunching, looking for areas to cut. One thing that went first was eating out. I used to spend $10-20/day 3 days/week (12-hour shifts) for lunch. We ate out weekly spending $40-50. We don’t do that anymore. I’m also cooking more and (gasp) we’re eating the leftovers! Just implementing those two things will reduce your food budget. Spending less on “convenience” food is another area most people can cut back on. Side note – has anyone noticed the individually packaged apples and peanut butter, grapes and cheese, etc., that are available now? Really!

Irregardless, spending is a personal decison, each family will have to decide what things they’re willing to compromise on and make changes from there. I appreciate hearing all the great ideas!

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217 DB October 8, 2015 at 7:13 pm

I spend about $400 or less per month for family of 4. I love to cook. 1st I buy all my bread related products at the bread outlet. I get whole grain breads for about .50 per loaf. This includes hotdog and hamburger buns. I can cook a months worth of meals for under $150.00 by utilizing costco. You cannot beat the $4.00 chicken. I will buy 4-5 of them, shred them for tacos, pasta and sandwiches. I buy eggs in bulk and we always have hard boiled eggs in the frig -the kids love them as a quick snack or for egg salad sandwiches. I make the meals stretch into two nights – by making extra chicken or hamburger for one dish that the leftovers will be made into a different dish. It takes planning and adhering to a strict list. I have a chalk board that lists what we’re having for dinner every single night. so the night before I pull it out of the freezer and it’s tomorrows crock pot dinner. I make my own desserts, we grow our own fruits and veggies in the summer that we eat and can for later too. I make my own jam in my bread machine and NOTHING goes to waste. It either gets dehydrated or fed to the dogs (I don’t consider that waste we have to feed them too!). Our “eat out” budge is NOT the grocery budget. That is under entertainment and we allow for eating out twice a month. I also work a full time job so I shop once a month on a saturday (clip my coupons but I’m not good enough to be an extreme couponer) and the kids and I cook all day sunday, bag it, tag it and freeze it!

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218 J. Money October 9, 2015 at 12:29 pm

PLEASE COME TO MY HOUSE AND COOK FOR ME!!! This is awesome!! And build a garden while here too please :)

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219 B.C Kowalski November 20, 2015 at 11:26 am

One little frugal food tip – I’ve recently discovered the grain millet – sounds like bird feed but I cook it in my rice cooker every day, and it mixes great with leftovers or dried fruit. It will hold at room temperature, has a good amount of protein (so filling), and combined with an apple makes a fulfilling lunch. Find it bulk at a health food store – I bough a month’s worth (in fact, it might stretch a little more) for about $9. Five meals a week, 20 meals in a month, it comes to way under a dollar even with the apple. I like to eat, and I like simple meals with few ingredients (which I think is a key to keeping costs down). And it actually tastes pretty good!

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220 J. Money November 20, 2015 at 3:46 pm

Thanks for the tip, man!

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221 annika January 6, 2016 at 12:10 pm

its not so easy to spend so little for food but if that is all you have to spend then you find a way. i have three children that seem like bottomless pits and a husband that eats a lot. i wont lie i love to eat as well. my family lives most of the time pay check to pay check and my husband only has been able to give me three hundred dollars a month to make meals to last the month. most of the time it is less. We eat a lot of rice and beans. i can get a 20 pound bag of rice for 9 dollars and a 20 pound bag of pinto beans for 15 dollars. you wont believe all the different ways i have had to come up with ways of making rice and beans so its not so boring to eat it over and over. we also eat a lot of frozen and canned veggies and fruit. a lot of the time frozen and canned fruit and veggies are cheaper than fresh tho i do prefer fresh so do my kids but when it comes to putting food on the table we have to make do. we also eat a lot of oat meal and pancakes for breakfast. i also buy a tortilla mix and make my own tortillas most of the time. it is hard sometimes to not be able to give my kids candy or soda when they want it but that is money that can go to food that will fill the bellies up. Tho if i do give them sweets it is home made and a lot less sugar

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222 Rob L. February 27, 2016 at 11:57 am

I know I am late to the party but I spend about $130-150/month for just me. Boneless chicken breast are always $1.99/lb at Walmart (not the best option) but frequently is $1.69/lb at some of the grocery stores here. Boneless pork chops are also frequently “buy one get one free.” I eat meat with almost every meal so I do not think that is necessary to cut your grocery bill if you want to eat meat.

The real trick for me is eating what is on sale and not having any preconceived notions of what I will eat next week (unless something was really cheap and I stocked up).

One of my favorite recipes is actually really simple. I throw 2 pounds of boneless chicken breast in the crock pot with a jar of salsa and 1/2 cup of balsamic vinegar and cook on low for 6 hours. You then shred the chicken for whatever you like. That amount will last me for 6-8 meals and it costs about $6-7 to make. I am sure you can do the same with a pork roast for pulled pork.

Starting tomorrow, Target will have a 8 pound bag of oranges for $5. That’s just one example of how to get fruits into a tight budget.

I think a main factor also is we have warped ideas on what an actual food portion looks like thanks to restaurants. We can eat far less than some are accustomed to and be satisfied and healthy.

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223 Jessica April 15, 2016 at 4:10 pm

I noticed that he is lumping all of his food (meals at home and eating out) into one category- that almost always means you will overspend on eating out. We used to not track anything and I guarantee we were $1500 plus on food per month because we would eat “what we wanted, when we wanted.” My family of 5 budgets $350 for groceries (used to be $250 but got sick of being so worried about it) and $150 for eating out. We watch for deals, shop at bakery outlets, use deals/ coupons on fast food, etc.. We often buy stuff that is “out-of-season” meaning that you may be eating pumpkin flavored things in January, but who cares?? It is much cheaper to eat made-from-scratch. Kraft Mac n Cheese is not the same as homemade. A loaf of homemade bread is less than 50 cents and your breadmaker does all of the work. Or u can spend $6 on Hawaiian rolls at Costco. We rarely shop at Sams/ Costco anymore because the per-unit price is high compared to sales and we often overbuy in quantity, inevitably leading us to throw out the rest once we are sick of it or it has gone bad. Also- once we explained to the kids what we were doing and why, they were really understanding and more adventurous in their food choices. They also got a lot less wasteful. I also got over the idea that my fridge and pantry had to be busting at the seams- I’m ok to have what I need and not a huge variety of everything in case it might sound good at a later time to eat. This is for real and as I got more into it, I was amazed at how the deals would be found- network with some cheapie friends in town, they will alert you to deals as well!

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224 Ali June 15, 2016 at 9:57 pm

Sooooo, I know I’m late to the party, but this my favorite topic ever and I couldn’t keep my trap shut. Get ready for a novel…

My husband and I used to spend $150/week on food for the two of us, not including eating out. We went and procreated, she eats like he does (A LOT), and things got out of control FAST. One month, I had a serious panic attack when I saw we had spent $800 on groceries AND $1200 on eating out. There was no excuse for it. At all. We got serious about making changes. We now spend about $300-400/month for all three of us (two adults, one kid).

We now base as many meals as possible around produce (as much organic as I can find within our budget), cook at home, limit carbs, nothing but water for me, but my husband will have a soda a day. Thankfully, our daughter thinks soda is gross and doesn’t like juice. I buy meat in bulk from Costco once every other month- usually a pack of organic chicken and a pack of their burger patties that we treat like 1lb of meat. Some things we do in case anyone digs up this post like I did:

breakfasts: sliced apples with peanut butter if I’m going into work for an early meeting but normally: organic yogurt (VERY little- more like a garnish) with about a cup total of raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, and maybe a 1/8 cup of granola/ organic oatmeal with berries/ fruit salad/ fruit smoothies (I buy bananas on sale and freeze them…tip: sometimes the manager will bag up a ton that are just on the edge of going brown and mark them down- I got three dozen for something like $3 once and we had amazing smoothies for weeks!)/ If we’re super hungry, we will add a scrambled egg to whatever else we are eating, but fruit is the base of our breakfasts

lunch (usually for me and my daughter- and whatever friends wander over to our house at lunch. My husband likes simplicity and routine so he just brings a turkey sandwich to work every day or leftovers.): kale chips (that I make with kale we grow when the weather cooperates or kale we get on sale from the grocery store- 1 bunch for $0.99 will give us at least 4 batches of chips that we make with a bit of olive oil, vinegar, and a dash of sea salt) with a half sandwich (usually grilled cheese or just pb) or 1/4-1/2 cup homemade macaroni and “cheese” (I make mac with pureed butternut squash I grow— a bag of noodles is $0.30 then I use a $0.25 rebate coupon HOLLA! $0.05 beats Kraft and I get 6 servings out of this!) / parmesan roasted broccoli and cauliflower/ veggie soup made from leftover veggies, noodles, and tomato sauce/ black bean and squash enchilada casserole.

dinner- oh man, I love dinner: I buy dried beans and cook them in the crockpot then freeze in ziplock baggies- I’ll defrost them for beans and rice, bean burritos, bean and cheese quesadillas (I’ll also add shredded salsa chicken to it), burrito bowls, enchiladas, etc. (we are in tx and love our Mexican food!- we just make it healthier)/ I really love veggie based stir fries so we do a lot of that/ grill chicken, baked potatoes, corn on the cob, zucchini, etc./ Beef or turkey chili with shredded carrot, diced tomato, zucchini, spinach, whatever other veggies are going bad and some cornbread…

I could go on. Seriously, I love this stuff. Cutting our food budget down has allowed us to really simplify our lives so I’m a huge advocate for it. It’s allowed me to pursue job opportunities that weren’t full time, but would lead allow me to gain the experience I need to get my dream job in the future, while staying home more while our daughter is young. And we are all healthier than we were when we were spending boatloads on food.

Oh, and download the IBOTTA app! You get rebates on produce. It’s not much, but a quarter here and there adds up.

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225 J. Money June 20, 2016 at 7:22 am

Way to go!!! Loved reading this (and all of a sudden got mad hungry too, haha..)

Thanks for unloading on us – such good proof that change is possible… And look at what opportunities it brought with it! So awesome!

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226 JLA October 6, 2016 at 11:57 am

Property taxes on my underwater condo, healthcare penalty (punishment for being poor), groceries, insurance (home and auto), HOA fees, cost of living overall – everything has gone up except my salary. It’s just me and two cats, but I’m now down to $40/month for the supermarket. That’s $40 for absolutely everything, including the likes of toilet paper, toothpaste and soap. There’s not much food anymore, period. And what food there is isn’t usually the good-for-you kind. It’s the how-far-can-I-stretch-this-so-I-don’t-feel-sick-all-day kind. I get no breakfast, no lunch, one meager dinner. I’m mixing sugar and water to keep my blood sugar from bottoming out during the day. This sucks. This is not living. I work full time as a state employee in a rut job with a no-raise policy. The only increase in pay is the state’s periodic (and rare in the last 14 years) mandated across-the-board cost-of-living increase for all state employees – same work, done with greater and greater experience, and half the quality of life (no, not even that) than on day one. At 49, my FOA (front-office appearance) days are behind me. For several years, I’ve tried to get another job and even a second job (seriously, scrubbing toilets would do), but no one will touch you past 40, not even a chance. I have become a disposable, throw-away human. I’m not going to live much longer like this. So much for all my effort and dreams. I’ve learned to hate America. I won’t miss it when I’m gone. My last misery will be leaving with the knowledge of all I still have in me to contribute. Oh well, the rest of you, you get what you give. Good luck with that.

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