INSIDE: Do you think it’s possible to eat for $1.00 per meal or less? It actually is! This article will give you some tips for how to eat on less so that you can cut down your grocery bill each month.
Welcome to part II of the Food Budget Battle!
If you missed our last post, a reader of this site – Braden – called malarkey on our blogger friend, Dan Miller, that there’s no way in God’s name you can eat meals for under a dollar (175+ comments so far!). Being the gentlemanly guy that I am, of course, I had to allow Mr. Miller himself a chance to rebuttal and show once and for all if it’s indeed possible ;) So feast your eyes on how he and his wife feeds their family of 8 for $700/mo with tips (and scanned in receipts) to prove it!
(Then be sure to check out his travel rewards blog and show him some love after – he’s spent a LOT of time over the past few weeks sharing his tips and tricks with us, and we truly appreciate that he has!)
After reading our post about the budget for our family of 8, reader Braden can’t understand how we can possibly eat for under $1 / day. He calculated that number off of our estimated monthly grocery budget of $700, divided by 720 (3 meals * 8 people * 30 days). He makes some good points about why he thinks that is an impossible feat and one that can not be replicated.
I can’t speak for him or his family, but I’d like to offer 7 points on how this works for us, and how we really DO eat on less than $1 / meal.
But first, some words on judging…
Before I start, let me talk a bit about judging. Any time you post a lot of information about yourself to a public forum, you’ll often get trolls and other commenters coming out of the woodwork with rather rude judgments about the limited information that they have. I try to let it roll off but it is a bit annoying.
**I firmly believe that the purpose of a budget is not to limit you, but instead to help you not spend money on things you don’t value, so that you have money left over to buy things that you DO value.**
So with that being said, let’s try to remain civil, shall we? :) Here’s how we eat so cheaply:
1. No Eating Out
It might go without saying, but we very, very, VERY rarely go out to eat at a restaurant. If and when we do, I probably would actually count that as “Entertainment” as opposed to “Grocery” but it happens so rarely I wouldn’t even count it. (<— J$: I like this idea!!!)
I go out to lunch with work folks maybe once or twice a month but I pay for that as the “Dan” envelope and if we were to go out to eat as a date, I’d also count that as “Entertainment”.
2. No Meat
My wife is a vegetarian, and although I am not, we rarely eat meat. Oh, we put pepperoni on one of our homemade pizzas (Pizza Thursday!!) and we’ll occasionally have bacon as part of a breakfast for dinner, and sometimes we’ll have hot dogs and hamburgers (and veggie burgers!) for dinner, but we almost never buy chicken or beef.
3. Regional Costs
Another thought I had as far as how we keep costs lower than many is varying regional costs. I live in Cincinnati, which has a below-average cost of living, food included. As an example, a gallon of milk here costs around $2 / gal.
Here’s a snippet of the actual weekly ad this week:
(Isn’t this weekly ad the most amazing website you’ve ever seen?!?!?)
I know that other places I’ve been to (Colorado, Washington DC), milk is MUCH more expensive. I’d imagine that those types of costs go across the gamut of all food costs.
4. Being Accustomed to a Certain “Lifestyle” of Food
Another factor that I think drives up some people’s grocery budgets is being accustomed to certain things as MUST HAVES. Take a careful look and re-examine things with a fresh eye. One of my favorite budgeting “hacks” is instead of starting with your current expenses and trying to cut things out – instead start at $0 and add things in one by one. You might be surprised at what you can do without.
One of my favorite stories about this goes back to the “No Meat” part. Many people (including probably several who are reading this post) either are or know someone who just can’t have a dinner without meat being involved. I am here to tell you that it IS possible to have dinner without meat as the main course and it still be very satisfying! (J$: I am very much one of these people :))
Anyways, several years ago, we were at a large week-long family reunion and as part of the reunion, each of the families took turns making dinner for the group in one week. The people making dinner all knew that my wife was a vegetarian, and wanted to make sure to make something that she could eat (which I appreciated!)
They were serving lasagna, and they just could not fathom the idea of a cheese (or vegetable) lasagna, so instead they took veggie burgers and mashed them up and put them in the lasagna as the “meat”. As you can imagine, it was kinda gross :)
The moral of the story is that you don’t HAVE to have meat (or certainly not with EVERY dinner), and if you’re looking for a way to cut food costs, that’s a great place to start.
5. Buying in Bulk
Now we don’t normally think of the fact that our family has 8 people as a money SAVER, but it’s definitely true that there exists a certain economy of scale. Making a meal for 8 people DOES cost more than making a meal for 4 people, but it usually doesn’t cost TWICE as much.
We buy giant 5 lb. bags of cheese from Sams Club, where it costs $10.73. Compare that to an 8 oz bag of cheese (1/10 as much!) which may run you $2.00 at a local grocery store, even on sale.
We’re able to make that work because we actually will eat all the cheese before it goes bad! Same goes for pasta sauce – we buy the 8.5 lb jar of Ragu for about $6, instead of a 28 oz jar (1/5 as much) for $1.89.
I actually think that Sams Club is generally speaking a ripoff for most things. We buy cheese, some snacks (cheese crackers / goldfish / etc), pasta sauce, syrup, and pancake mix but that’s it, and even that only works because our family is so large. I don’t think that doing the majority of your shopping at club stores like Sams or Costco is a wise financial move – you’re either buying more product than you need, in which case you eat more than you need, or your 128oz jar of pickles goes bad well before you can eat them all :)
We also like to stock up on non-perishable items when they go on sale. You buy a lot this week, when they’re on sale, so that next week, you don’t have to buy it when it’s back to regular price.
I used to be one of “those” extreme couponers, back before it was all cool and on TLC. 10 years ago I would regularly get all of our groceries essentially for free, using a combination of deals, coupons, rainchecks and a LOT. OF. TIME. It’s become a lot harder to do that than it used to be (though still not impossible) and we’ve decided to spend our time in other ways, so we very rarely use coupons.
6. Meal Planning
Meal planning is another good way that we keep costs down. This is another way that my stay-at-home wife, although she earns no income, makes a big positive contribution to our bottom line. There are lots of different ways to plan meals – how we do it is each month we plan a monthly calendar of meals. We have many of the same meals multiple times in a month (let’s give the shout out, once again to…. PIZZA THURSDAY! :-D), but we’ll usually have 1-3 new meals each month.
In addition to having an answer to the age-old question of “what’s for dinner” every night, a big money-saving advantage of meal planning is that you’re able to combine recipes that use some of the same ingredients, so that you don’t waste things that you have to buy just for one recipe (also, you can buy some things in bulk – see above)
You can take this even to the next level by doing your meal planning in conjunction with your store’s weekly ad so you are making meals (and stocking up!) on things that are on sale that week.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: A friend of mine recently launched a meal plan service that helps with planning cheap meals if anyone is interested! It’s called $5.00 Meal Plan and emails you a weekly meal plan that contains ten recipes to make each week. The plans are easy to prepare, don’t use exotic ingredients, and through careful spending and couponing will only cost you less than $5 a meal. You can check it out here: 5DollarMealPlan.com]
7. Cooking From Scratch Instead of Prepared Foods
Most people know that eating at home is cheaper than eating meals at restaurants, but it’s also true that cooking meals from scratch is cheaper than buying prepared foods at the grocery store (even if you are eating those at home).
Let’s go back to the original example that Braden shared, about the 50 cent per serving macaroni and cheese. While that may be true that a 50 cent serving of mac and cheese is the cheapest PREPARED meal you can buy, you can do meals a LOT cheaper than that if you’re making them from scratch.
One example I’ll use is spaghetti. A 16oz box of spaghetti noodles, 2 jars of pasta sauce (or the big bottle of Ragu pasta sauce that we buy), and a loaf of garlic bread might run you about $5, and would be enough for (at least) 2 meals for us. $5 / 16 meals is about 31 cents a meal, and there are other (similar) meals that can be made that cheap.
A Real Life Example
But what good is all this talk without a real life example to back it up? Here are our actual receipts from last week’s grocery shopping. You can see that we do shop (primarily) at 3 different grocery stores – Aldi, Sams Club and Kroger.
Yes, this does take additional time than it would if we just shopped at one place – my wife says that it takes her about an hour and a half to do the weekly shopping, including driving time to each store. Again, this is a non-income-producing benefit of having a stay-at-home spouse – families with both spouses working may value their free time a lot higher, since it’s more limited.
The gross total for the week is: $186.03
Now, different people do budgeting differently, and there are a few things on these receipts that some people might not count in their “grocery” budget.
Looking through the receipts, I see that we have:
- Household expenses – Garbage bags $4.99 + tax, Dryer sheets $1.19 + tax, Laundry Detergent $5.99 + tax, tape $1.19 + tax
- School expenses – rubber bands 49 cents + tax (these were for a catapult my son built for a Boy Scout merit badge)
- Snacks for our March Madness party that I would probably classify as “Entertainment” – $1.89 ranch dip, $1.05 Swiss rolls, $1.05 Swiss rolls, $0.99 Cheese curls, $1.99 Pita Chips, $0.79 Cheese Puffs, Potato Chips $1.49.
- Allergy medicine – $5.99 + tax
- You’ll also see that, contrary to what I said above, we did buy some chicken for $5.99 at Kroger :-D. Special meal for my parents coming to visit
I’m not trying to engage in “fuzzy” accounting tricks, but just trying to give an accurate portrayal of our actual grocery costs. If I were scoring at home, I would count the household and school expenses in, but not the medicine or the party snacks, for a weekly “Grocery” total of $170.39.
This amount is in line with our weekly totals for the past few weeks, which are:
Keep in mind that I did not make any “adjustments” to those weekly totals – they are the exact amounts as come off of our credit card / bank statements and as such are going to include some items that are probably not actually food / groceries. So I feel comfortable in saying that we are in the $700 range for our monthly grocery expenditures.
I hope that you have enjoyed this post and gotten some ideas on how our family of 8 does food spending. I’d love to hear (constructive!) feedback and tips on how you make it work in your family?
What do you think guys?? Does Braden or Dan win the battle here? Does it really matter? (No)
The takeaways of the last two posts here are just examples of two drastically different ways of living and eating. It doesn’t mean one way is “right” or “wrong,” but if you’re not happy with your current results it’s probably good to consider some of the alternatives.
I don’t know if I can give up meat personally (mmmmmm) but we already eat out way less and can surely do better about mean planning and making food from scratch too. As Dan points out though, there’s always a trade off: time.
So the real question is, how bad do you really want a lower food budget?
BIG thanks to both Braden and Dan Miller for putting themselves out there and keeping it real on both sides. Takes some large cajones to do that, and I very much appreciate it! Be sure to check out Dan’s travel blog as well to follow his journey and learn other hacks in life: PointsWithACrew.com
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How do you make a meal out of these ingredients? For someone claiming to they do not buy prepared foods, I see a lot of prepared/ junk foods on these lists. The only fresh produce is iceberg lettuce, baby carrots and bananas for a family of 8? I would rather spend more for s healthier menu.
I was thinking the same thing. My grocery receipts include only fresh veggies and meat and I spend about the same. No crackers, swiss rolls, or Milky Way bunnies in my cart. Super easy to eat on the cheap when you only eat spaghetti and pizza. < totally judgmental comment and I don't care.
It was just one milky way bunny for 59 cents. Not really an indication for busting the budget.
Budget aside…it also isn’t “food”.
Well you did also miss “APL GOLD DEL” and 2 things of Strawberries – curse those grocery receipt abbreviators! :-P We must have already had some oranges and frozen vegetables as well as I see those around the house
Our meals so far this week have been:
Monday: Spaghetti with Garlic Bread
Tuesday: Cheese / Refried Bean Quesadillas
Wednesday: Roasted potatoes and homemade biscuits
Thursday: Homemade pizza
Friday: It was going to be pasta with eggplant and fontina cheese but my mother-in-law is coming over to watch the kids so Mrs. PWaC and I are going on a hot date :-P
Where is the protein for your growing children?
Amy I really think you’re missing the big picture here. He’s only sharing his Dinner menu and you can get Protein from other sources such as Beans. You also aren’t aware of what the kids are eating for Breakfast or Lunch.
Just like I choose to buy certain Organic Produce and leaner cuts of meat and Organic Milk for dietary reasons, Dan and his wife choose to feed their family the way that they do because it works for their family.
I’m sure if their menu choices were causing nutrition issues for the kids and themselves they would adjust it accordingly.
Looks like their breakfast is a ton of cereal, crackers, cheese snacks, and stuff like that. I too am confused looking at these receipts when he says they make most of their food from scratch. It really doesn’t look like that, with the exception of the dinner meals pointed out. Beans have some protein, but 1 meal a week of beans isn’t really enough.
Protein deficiency in vegetarians is a myth. The amount of protein required for a human is based on their current physical size not the size in which they will be in 2-5 years. Assuming the children are eating a well balanced diet, again this is an assumption and based on the amount of sweets and processed foods on the recipe it might not be a good one, protein requirements will take care of themselves.
I am seeing a lot of cheese in the meals, which does have protein. Beans also, the milk is also protein. He also said that eggplant was going in the Pasta dish on Friday. If you really look at the list they have many cheese items and apples and bananas not to mention what is in your freezer before you shop.
I know I eat larger portions than most, but find it hard to believe that 8 people eat one pkg of noodles two jars of sauce and one loaf of garlic bread. That is a small meal, I get that it is probably the correct portions and I am seeing it wrong.
One box is 16oz and you need 2oz pasta per person per serving. 2oz uncooked pasta equals 1 cup cooked. 2 jars of sauce is actually pretty heavy on the sauce and garlic bread with one loaf just allows for a reasonable amount rather than an enjoyable amount. Also, the pasta and sauce is actually REALLY filling as it stands.
Personally I’d like to say Thank You for sharing. I did a major over haul of our finances roughly 8 months ago because I literally couldn’t figure out where all our money was going. While I’ve managed to get everything under control and in order, there’s always room for improvement. Which is why I regularly check Blogs like this and several others on a daily basis.
I find it interesting that others, while entitled to their opinions, choose to post harsh opinions rather than saying “wow, I can apply a couple things here in my life” or sharing what they choose to do and realizing that we all live according to our own beliefs and life style choices (ESPECIALLY since they’re also checking out Blogs like this as well)
Some people would find it insane that I spend almost $300 a week on groceries but it is what it is for our family because of certain factors. Lol, I’m totally challenging your statement by the way “Again, this is a non-income-producing benefit of having a stay-at-home spouse”.
Your wife may not have a direct deposit hitting the bank every two weeks but she produces income for your family in other ways. She helps to keep money in the bank by keeping grocery cost low and taking care of those kids. By doing that, you can choose to spend those savings on other things (not that you don’t know this of course).
And people for the love of all things, you can get protein from other sources just like you can get dairy from other sources etc. I highly doubt Dan would on the internet blasting what he and his wife choose to do nutritionally for their family if the kids weren’t being properly cared for.
And FYI, he specifically said “Snacks for our March Madness party that I would probably classify as “Entertainment” – $1.89 ranch dip, $1.05 Swiss rolls, $1.05 Swiss rolls, $0.99 Cheese curls, $1.99 Pita Chips, $0.79 Cheese Puffs, Potato Chips $1.49.”
So crisis averted, the kids aren’t regularly eating Swiss Rolls (there are worse things in life by the way than Swiss Rolls. And guess what, I buy a ton of Organic but who doesn’t love a good Swiss Roll?!)
Brandie – thanks for chiming in here and your kind words towards Dan and what our community is about here :)
Brandie wrote, “Personally I’d like to say Thank You for sharing….I find it interesting that others…choose to post harsh opinions rather than saying ‘wow, I can apply a couple things here in my life’ or sharing what they choose to do….Your wife may not have a direct deposit hitting the bank every two weeks but she produces income for your family in other ways.”
I would like to chime in here, too, to say that it was pleasant to read an upbeat response. This guy has essentially bared his family budget and diet, as an act of generosity sharing how we all might improve our own food budgets.
Call it “brainstorming.” It’s more fun to brainstorm with people who say, “Yes.” Like Brandie.
Life is hard-enough for each of us. If we can stay positive (while avoiding straying into Pollyanna Land), who knows how far each and all of us might go?
If only there were kroger and aldi in Mobile… Then we would be ok the grocery stores here suck and are expensive for no reason
Dan, Thank you for the explanation. It is hard to read the receipt.
“Wednesday: Roasted potatoes and homemade biscuits” ??? Actually, all five of the meals listed are extremely carbohydrate heavy. The only exception is Friday, where he and his wife are going out on a “hot date”…and apparently the children will not be eating anything.
The roasted potatoes and biscuits probably could use a vegetable like frozen baby lima beans to increase both protein and some vitamins. Also a glass of milk with it would be good. Other than that, I have only praise here for keeping the price of meals so low. I am sure if we looked at breakfast and lunch menus, we would see that their diet is much healthier than some posters think. Also if he and his wife went on a date, likely the mother brought, bought or fixed something for the children that night.
I had the same thought. I don’t see many nutritional items on the list. Plus I’m assuming that maybe the kids are gettin free and reduce cost breakfast and lunch at school (otherwise I have a difficult time believing that small amount of food lasts so many people an entire month).
I live in Indianapolis, probably a lower cost of living than even Cincinnati, and we spend 800-1,100 a month on food for 2 adults and 1 6 year old boy. We’re all of average weight, our son is on the thin side and eats nonstop. He’s home schooled so all his meals are eaten at home.
Just today (it’s 3:20 pm as I type this, so he will still eat lots more before bedtime) he’s eaten 1 pint blueberries, 1 container raspberries, 3 organic peaches, 1 peanut butter sandwich (organic peanut butter on homemade bread), 3 cups organic milk, 1 bowl organic crackers, and 1/2 can organic pumpkin puree.
I’ve eaten so far 1 cherry vanilla smoothie (2 cups frozen cherries blended with 1 cup milk and vanilla bean paste), 1 bowl vegetable beef soup (leftovers from dinner last night), and coffee with cream.
My husband packed leftover soup for lunch along with an apple.
Just the soup cost:
$3-1 pound frozen organic green beans
$1- 1 pound frozen peas
$3- 1 pound frozen organic spinach
$3- 1 pound frozen organic broccoli
$6- 1 pound grass fed ground beef (from local farm)
$1-1 pound organic carrots
$2- 2 cans organic tomato paste
$2- 1 jar Organic pasta sauce
$1.50- package of frozen peppers/onions
Spices- 50 cents
So that’s $23 which lasted for 2 dinners (1 bowl each for each dinner) plus lunch for each of us one day. 23 divided into 9 bowls of food equals $2.5 per bowl of soup, not including cheese. So just for lunches for my family were at $7.50. That’s not including my cherry smoothie and coffee for breakfast (about $4), and all the other food our son consumed (husband doesn’t eat breakfast). Plus dinner cost (homemade pizza and salad).
We rarely eat out, maybe once a month at a nice local German or italian restaurant.
Lots of food on those receipts are nutritionally void garbage. Cake mix, chips, etc. I don’t think it’s fair to promote a cheap grocery bill when hardly any of it is real food that you’re purchasing, plus likely not including the fact that if your kids go to school they are likely eating 1-2 meals there, cutting the cost at home. Heck 10 years ago when I was in school my dad was paying $30 a week for mine and my brothers school lunches. I’m not sure what the cost is now.
Aside from a nutritional standpoint, that’s just not much food. Heck, I have lots of kids in my family and they put the food away. My son and 2 nephews can put away and entire 3 pound bag of apples, box of crackers and 2 boxes of chobani yogurt tubes as a snack and their all on the thin side. (And only.visit once every few months so not enough to jack up our grocery bill).
I seriously wonder if the kids of frugal parents are eating enough, and getting proper nutrition with processed carb heavy diets thay lacks fruits and vegetables, and proper protein.
We buy maybe 60% organic, so that drives up the cost a bit, but even without it we’d save maybe $150 a month which is still far more than some people are claiming to spend on feeding their kids. I still call BS. There’s no way to eat a HEALTHY diet with enough fruits and veggies on so little money. It doesn’t matter if a kid is thin, if their not getting the proper nutrition then they will pay for it as adults. Weight alone does not mean healthy. The receipts posted above show very little nutrition.
You have several expensive grocery habits. That’s not bad, because everyone gets to choose their own budget and eating habits based on their own lifestyle. First, organic is costing you more than $150 extra a month. I would say it accounts for atleast 1/3 of your costs especially since it appears you are buying everything, including prepared snack foods organic. Your son’s food is awesome, he’s getting a lot of fruit! But pints of organic berries etc…are pretty expensive. Kids can be given healthy food without the same foods you give. We made veggie beef soup the other night for less than $3 for the pot of soup (contained 10-12 servings). We had a bag in the freezer containing some bits of left overs from the last few weeks (untouched leftovers, not from plates) it had cabbage, green beans, carrots, and a little meatloaf. I combined that with homemade bone broth, a large can of crushed tomatoes, and a bag of “soup veggies” from the store. We served it with homemade biscuits and topped with homemade Greek yogurt for more protein. Each person ate for less than 50 cents. It wasn’t organic, but I would say it was healthy!
Dee, I agree with the post below me, no way you spend $150 for organic (maybe in a week) funnier is you actually believe that it’s all really organic! I grew up in a poor home eating oncor and banquet meals or the $1 box of meat and noodle mixes. We ate veggies everyday. We also were allowed 2 snacks a day of fruits or veggies. That’s it no more .
I have always been average or below average weight for 41 years (now I am a truck driver so not anymore) I am 160-170 pounds, which to me is fat. But after almost 5 years as a truck driver and 50 pounds later I weigh in much lighter then your average trucker lol. I am also in menopause and think my thyroid may be contributing because I gained 30 pounds of that in 2 months recently. All health issues aside, I have always been small and hopefully after a doctor visit will remain small because of our eating habits as children.
Your son may be “active” now and yes fruit and veggie snacks are great in moderation. But you allowing your kid 20 snacks a day will ensure his nonstop eating ha bits into adult hood . This is why America is the most obese country in the world. Anyway, Dee, I can almost promise between your lacking as a parent and your “control” problem your son won’t stay slim into adult hood and I am sure he will thank you later for that!
I never starved as a kid either just as the people in this post don’t. The only health problem I have ever had was what I posted, menopause at a young age from nothing to do with eating normal as a kid. Too many comments on here anger me. Many are that we need MUCH more food. The only reason people think that is because they believe everything society tells them or that if I buy allllll organic it is better when half that stuff isn’t organic (spend more time reading labels Dee)
real example is, I had a drug test for work , saw a weight chart on the wall that read 130 pounds for me is obese. In high school 20+ years ago that weight was actually 115 pounds! Why does it say that now, because we as Americans are obese and believe everything we are told! Seriously, the charts were raised to make us look less obese, I was astonished when I saw that! Protein,carbs,seriously??? They never even had that on labels when I was a kid. There also wasn’t a requirement to do anything but eat 4 fruits/veggies a day I think it is.
All these people can judge, but seriously look at your own life first. Because I really don’t think wasting more then these people spend on food every week to have a sticker that says organic on it (which is the most moronic thing I have heard) gives you any kudos. People like you make the prices of everything go up, hey Dee I have this real nice swamp for sale……/sigh
I disagree about the organic thing. I’d much rather pay more for my child to eat a healthy organic diet rather than risk the exposure to harmful pesticides. So far I have yet to see any evidence that buying organic is a waste of money.
And using the excuse that “I ate unhealthy growing up and turned out fine”is ignorant. Many kids grew up fine without carseats, but would you deny your children of that one simple safety net? Many abused cHildreth turn out fune, but would you use those incidences to defend the right to abuse our children? Many intoxicated drivers never wreck but would you defend drinking and driving? The fact is, our diets matters, especially in growing children.
I think spending money on alcohol, tobacco and gambling is a waste…but a majority of Americans are fine with those purchases yet want to ridicule those of us who would rather put our money towards the health and well being of our family instead.
Organic produce still has pesticides, LMAO.
I agree…why is that child eating non-stop???…this will definitely result in poor eating habits. I know a lot has been said about Dan’s children & how much protein they are getting & this and that they are getting or not getting, BUT I think it’s far better to be monitoring the meals and what is being eaten at them, other than just giving children free reign to consume whatever they wish whenever they wish…organic or not. At least Dan & his wife are creating meal/menu plans and watching what the children are eating. Children don’t have the discipline or knowledge that adults (apparently some adults) have, and that’s why we are surpossed to guide them & teach them as children so that they don’t grow into adulthood with bad habits…including bad eating habits. We are not cows people, we don’t need to graze all day long.
Dee, I live just south of Indy and spend about $800/mo for our family of six–2 adults and 4 children ages 5-17, all homeschooled, so they eat all meals at home as well. I wish I could say we are all average weight, but not so. We have one seriously overweight and a couple of others struggling with weight, so we are definitely getting plenty to eat on our budget. I have recently reduced our food budget to $600/mo and we are doing well on it. I do buy some organics, but not all–it just depends on how much more it is per item and what all I may need to get that week. Our diet is mostly whole food and largely plant-based, though we are not vegetarians and I add a few “fun” foods in for the week. I spent $120 at Aldi last night for the week and I purchased milk (2), almond milk, cheese, tomatoes (2 bags), apples (4 bags), bananas (4 bunches), grapes, spinach (2 bags), spring mix (1 bag), iceberg lettuce (2), oats, spaghetti, ground beef, skirt steak (2), chicken tenderloins (2 packs), sausage, 2 boxes of cereal, a few chocolate bars for my kids, and a case each of diced tomatoes, corn, and mandarin oranges. I still will need to pick up a few things at Wal-Mart (tortillas, rice, jalapeno, curry powder, coconut milk, flour) but will not have a problem staying within my $150 budget. Some items we already have in our fridge and pantry (romaine, eggs, frozen veggies, rice, frozen fruit, canned veggies and fruit, soups, spaghetti sauce, potatoes, etc.) Our dinners for the week include Chicken Ceasar salads, Chicken curry with rice and steamed broccoli, Carnitas w/beans, tomatoes, lettuce, etc., Mashed potatoes and balsamic carrots w/green salad, Spaghetti with steamed veggies, Chicken broccoli casserole, Vegetable soup and homemade bread. Breakfasts include eggs and sausage, oatmeal and green smoothies, homemade granola with milk and fruit, green smoothies and eggs, Oatmeal and fruit, whole wheat pancakes with milk and fruit, pumpkin muffins with milk and fruit or green smoothies. Lunches include pasta salad, macaroni and cheese and raw veggies, veggie fried rice with a side of pineapple, salad with beans or chicken, baked potatoes with butternut squash soup, PB&J and fruit. Snacks include fruits and veggies, popcorn, leftovers. I do try to keep a stocked pantry and freezer by regularly buying in bulk and sale items which helps. Our diet is not perfect, but I feel overall it is reasonably well-balanced with plenty of fruits and vegetables and adequate protein. No BS.
Fruit is also loaded with sugar.. It may be organic, it may be natural sugar, but it’s still loaded with sugar. Your child is eating incredibly large amounts of sugar a day. Maybe try giving him more brown rice, legumes, veggies etc. Might help fill him up. Also, not everything has to be organic. organic is great but maybe try getting the necessities (dirty dozen, for example) organic and the rest not.
Exactly my thoughts. Sit the kid down and give me a more balanced meal that includes rice/potatoes and one vegetable. Snacking all day is never a healthy habit.
Honestly, it could be far worse than your presuming it is. I know my dad growing up who was on disability thought giving me and my sister $10/week for groceries with weekly grocery shopping was good enough since we ate free breakfast and lunch at school. It’s probably why I have such an emotional problem with food where if I miss a meal I was supposed to have (I only eat 2 meals a day but still) I wind up crying and feeling really stressed out. I wound up moving in with my mother who was very budget heavy and believed no more than $100/person was needed each month. She always had dinner made every night which meant a source of protein, a veggie, and a starch. Dessert happened next to never and no sugary drinks, but we did have lots of pancake mix, frozen sausage links, bread for toast, and milk for days when we didn’t have to time to get breakfast at school or simply didn’t have school. Now, I’m even better at budgeting than that and my husband who used to eat three meals a day plus had plenty of snacks around the house is comfortable with 2 meals a day with a $100 for two people a month budget. When we have kids we will increase the budget by $50 a person (we will likely packs our kids school lunches) and they will be fed breakfast, lunch, and dinner. However, breakfast and lunch are supposed to be small meals. Meaning a cup of yogurt and an apple counts as breakfast or 2 pancakes with syrup. A single PB&J sandwhich with 5 baby carrots or a lunchmeat sandwhcih with 1 piece of lettuce, 1 slice of tomato, and 2 slices of bologna also counts. Doesn’t add up to a lot of food on the whole and is pretty healthy for them, but for some reason americans think we need a lot more food than we do. So, I’m sure they are feeding their kids just fine.
It’s 10 pm in Missouri, and all I’ve eaten today is a small bowl of steel cut oats with butter and nutmeg, a vegetable stir fry made with extra virgin coconut oil, onions, garlic, kale, black beans, carrots, broccoli, quinoa, and hot peppers, with a spinach/blueberry salad on the side that was drizzled with a homemade dressing of apple cider vinegar and EVOO, plus lemon water to drink throughout the day. My grocery budget is between $60 and $80 a month for one very active older person. I save a lot of money by preparing and cooking everything from scratch, having a year-round garden, and practicing intermittent fasting on a high-fat, low-carb, normalized protein diet. Tomorrow I look forward to something similar, but with variations on the veggies and the fruit.
Yeah I agree…I loved the article and agree with the premise, but i agree with Jennifer and almost all I also see on the receipt is processed junk (on the top receipts: pretzels, chesse curls, mini muffins, chesse curls, boxed cereal… JUNK!!!) & not just one item either…but it is possible to feed one person for $1 per meal, but ONLY if you buy healthy (veggies/lean poultry & meats), cook from scratch & portion control…and Yes you can have meat and keep these costs at $1per person per meal. You have to shop the weeky “pound sales” on meat/poultry were it’s a lot lower per pound than you would typically pay. I think you and your family probably do eat for less than most people, but you just showed poor examples on the top receipts. People tend to overeat & overcook and this waste results in wasting and increasing food costs.
Yes, I agree that the majority of the foods on the list really aren’t healthy. I’ve been trying to cut my grocery budget for a couple of years now and there really is just no way around the fact that healthy food is more expensive. Even if you go canned or frozen with your fruits/veggies its still more expensive than the sales that processed food goes on.
Wow – that is some cheap milk. In New Zealand we pay around $3.50NZD for around half a gallon (2 litres). I still think your food budget is an epic achievement and lots of people can save money right now by cooking food from scratch and meal planning. Those 2 actions alone would cut at least 20% off most people’s grocery bill. I’d be interested to read some recipes you use – I just couldn’t fathom a life without steak but that’s where the old frugal vs cheap argument comes in (that you mentioned at the start) it’s all about prioritising the costs that are important and minimsing the ones that aren’t.
Yeah – that is one thing I didn’t realize until I spent some time in other parts of the country.
We actually have pared down our milk usage much – my wife believes that it’s actually not that good for you. She drinks almond milk (which is more expensive: $2.49 / half gal) and most of us drink water as our beverage of choice
I know a lot of people freeze their milk, which I personally don’t like to do. However, the milk advertised 10 for $10 would be a great opportunity to stock up if you go through it quickly or choose to freeze it. A big family could easily go through 5 gal. before it spoils. Look through the milk case to get jugs with the longest expiration date. We use a gallon a week for just the two of us.
Is there a reason why you don’t like to freeze milk? I’ve had great success with freezing half gallons of organic milk in the container but no such luck with the almond milk. Although I didn’t try putting it in a different container and then freezing it. I think I might have solved my own problem LoL!
I have to keep milk on stock otherwise I’m at the grocery store every other day it seems like so freezing it has been a huge help.
Almond Milk has a longer shelf life than regular milk…..Not sure but I believe it’s a month or two if you don’t open it…You can also find shelf stable almond milk that doesn’t need to be refridgerated until opened and I believe the shelf life on that is even longer?
Has your wife looked at making her own Almond milk? Still not cheap but cheaper and it’s not all that hard. http://ohsheglows.com/2013/01/24/my-favourite-homemade-almond-milk-step-by-step-photos/
My mom indulged my dad and me with prepared foods, but the stuff she made was just about as cheap as yours.
She’d make chicken, then boil down the bones for stock, which she then used for minestrone. That was just stock plus frozen veggies (the produce in Alaska is NOT great) plus noodles plus tomato sauce. Also homemade spaghetti sauce for our spaghetti, chili with a small amount of ground beef mixed in. The most expensive thing she regularly made was beef stew, which was still just browned chunks of beef, potatoes and carrots. So I’d say that if we only ate what she made, we would have been sitting around $2 or less a meal. (Everything is more expensive in AK.)
Love it. We follow almost all of these guidelines to a T. I think the three biggies are:
1) No eating out
2) Very little meat
3) Very few prepared foods/cook everything from scratch
We do spend more on produce as we eat a lot of organic fruits and vegetables every day (with every meal and for snacks). But, that’s absolutely a trade-off we’re willing to make. I think Dan and J$ are right that if you want to reduce your grocery budget (or any other aspect of your spending), you can. It’s often all about how badly you want it. We wanted it pretty bad, so we’ve made it work!
I completely agree with this comment. While we spend more (~$1100/mo) to feed a family of 7, I can see why – it’s the additional meat, fresh produce, and premium nuts that are staples for us. But it’s always good to see how we could make our grocery expenses lower.
A good reminder about homemade pizza – it’s cheaper and better than any pizza joint, and I don’t often think about making it.
Yep, If you can set those guidelines and stick to them then you are 90% of the way towards your sub $1/meal budget. In our house we dabble in many of these, such as buying a 1/4 of a cow at a time from local butchers and saving it in our freezer, making “meatless monday” meals to cut back on our meat consumption, and cutting our restaurant trips down to 2-4 times per month.
Hey J$, this post is complete value!
Although I’m from the UK and our prices may vary, I managed to buy a weeks food shop for a family of 4 for £30 ($45). It wasn’t easy and the variety of meals were slim but, it shows that if you are low on cash with your back to the wall, you can survive on very little money.
I actually wrote an article about it (including a meal plan) for a national newspaper in the UK.
If you fancy checking it out you can do so here: http://www.mirror.co.uk/money/turns-out-possible-feed-family-5067711
Have a great weekend!
Cool Ricky – what a nice media mention too!
Appreciate you mentioning me in your other interview as well – glad you’re a fan of the blog :) Thanks for always adding to the convo.
Ricky, I’m amazed! I always assume these kind of challenges are possible because food is cheaper in the US. As a single guy I would struggle to feed just myself on £30 a week. Good job :-)
Meat is our biggest weakness! How I wish my family would love to eat vegetables and lessen our meat intake. :(
That’s great budgeting on food! I would say however, that some people with food specific dietary needs can not get as cheap. I am pre-diabetic, so eating a high carbohydrate meal like pasta with sugary pasta sauce (they hide a lot of sugar in it!) and garlic bread only makes me gain weight, so unfortunately, I do have to spend more on food to purchase items that fit my dietary needs. While $1 meals are not possible in my case, I do follow the no-eating-out rule and I don’t purchase processed foods which helps keep the food budget as low as possible!
I think meat is fine as long as you buy it at the right price. It definitely has gone up though. Damn Wegmans and upping their pre-packaged (by the breast!!) chicken from $1.99/lb to $2.99/lb. That’s a whole dollar per pound! We would buy one or two packs (about 6-10 pounds each) and then cut them and freeze a bunch. Now, we may have to buy the cut but all in one package chicken and have to actually sort it and put it into zip loc bags ourselves. GASP!! But seriously, I’m not excited about this. At least increase it by $0.20 or $0.50 first. Not just a whole damn dollar. I’m having a existential crisis due to chicken.
Is bottled sauce, pasta and garlic bread a meal? Where’s the substance or nutritional value?
I recommend making your own sauce for a lot less and more nutrition
You can feed 8 people 2 meals with A 16oz box of spaghetti noodles, 2 jars of pasta sauce (or the big bottle of Ragu pasta sauce that we buy), and a loaf of garlic bread ?
Do you add veggies or something to it to make it go farther?
i was just about to ask the same thing. That is 1oz of noodles per person per meal, which is very, very little. It would probably allow me to lose a lot of weight fast though. :/
@Mrs. Frugalwoods – It’s always, like everything, a tradeoff. Whether it’s the kinds or amounts of food, or the time you’re willing to spend. There were lots of comments in Wednesday’s article about people realizing they were spending more money on organic, or meat or whatever and they were happy with it.
@Frugal Buckeye – I’ve always wanted to buy meat wholesale like that but we just don’t eat it enough. I have a few friends that keep chickens as well
@Clarisse – You can do it! Try doing what one of the other commenters did with “Meatless Monday” – start with one day of the week and plan something really good and gradually work your way down. There are TONS of tasty recipes you can make w/o meat, very much more so now that vegetarianism is more mainstream than it was 10-15 years ago.
Looking at his pasta meal example, it seems incredible that 16 oz of spaghetti provides “at least” 16 meals—that’s MAYBE 1 oz (dry) portions—very little for a meal that includes only bread, even recognizing that some of the kiddos are still very young. Also, not very nutritionally balanced—heavy on carbs, light on veggies. Maybe this was just a bad example.
I thought that was a little light too because a serving of pasta (if I’m remembering correctly) is 2 ounces and that has about 220kcals a serving, a serving of pasta sauce has about 75kcal but garlic bread probably has about 220kcal as well and I think each loaf is 8 servings. That would be about 400 calories (pasta – 110+ sauce – 75 + bread -220)per person for the meal but it’s extremely carb/sugar heavy and doesn’t have much nutritional value. I guess I’d have to judge a full day of meals/snacks to determine how far the nutrients & calories go? I personally could not eat like this. I think a lot of American kids eat like this, which I think is kind of unfortunate because they aren’t eating a giant variety of food and I don’t think a lot of it has much nutritional value. On top of being carb heavy, they are simple carbs rather than complex. I wonder if the kids are still hungry at the end of the meal, or satisfied? My parents cooked like this – one serving per person sized portions – we rarely had leftovers, and if my brother and I were still hungry at the end of the meal, we were allowed to have a bowl or cereal.
We do something similar – if we eat out it comes from either mine or my husband’s “allowance”. This cuts down on frivolous spending, because one of us will have to want to eat out badly enough that we will pay for it from our own private stash of cash. Eating out has diminished drastically since we started this several years ago. The only time we eat out from our ‘entertainment’ budget is for our anniversary.
Great counter-point. Dan supplies a real nice example of how it can be done, now its up o you if you are willing to make these type of changes/sacrifices within you eating habits to accomplish it.
There are several takeaways from this post that touch on my process and one that is obvious-BUT WASN’T MENTIONED and I think that one is the most important one. It’s obvious to me that Dan and his family have a well stocked pantry and that when they are shopping for groceries they are supplementing what they already have. Then, actually USING what is in the house with the groceries that they purchased as a top off. In fact, this is very similar to what I do. Similarities in my process include the following:
1.) Meal planning-I usually have a plan for what I’m going to eat for the week. It just makes things easier
2.) I make things from scratch-Pasta sauce is not pre-purchased. I get a jar of passatta (strained tomatoes) have a pan going throw in the following: garlic, red pepper flakes, anchovies, cook those down, add the passatta, capers and some broth made from Better than Boullion-delicious! And, takes about 10 minutes. What was in my pantry? Everything but the garlic-that’s in a different place. And, this recipe eliminates added sugar that you will find in many pasta sauces. I also make: hummus, whole oatmeal (with butter/sugar/and cinnamon)
3.) I really don’t eat out that much-when I do, I eat really well and at this point that’s under entertainment because usually it’s a 3-5 course specialty meal
I think ultimately regardless of if you’re in a high cost of living location or not you can cut your grocery budget….but….
1.) Everyone in your family would have to be on the same page
2.) You would have to meal plan (there is just no way around this one)
3.) You would have to go to the grocery store just once a week-on the weekend without your kids. They will help you stray from your list (that’s just what kids do-Every kid did this… Lucky Charms was my thing as a kid LOL!)
4.) You would have to have a working knowledge of different awesome recipes using what’s in your house. For example if you had a bag of frozen peas, an onion, some broth, garlic, and frozen spinach or kale-how would you reimagine that? I would make that a green soup and then puree it in a Nutri Bullet or with a hand blender and then have chicken/lamb/ or steak paired with it.
5.) You would have to have a well stocked bad ass pantry! I usually just go once a week to the grocery store to top off what I already have. So, every few months or so I do a big shop and then eat down the food utilizing what’s in the home.
6.) Snack less or change the snacks-Dan has kids which would explain a lot of the snack food items on his list. So, I found that to be very normal. I tend to eat a lot more organically, but if I had kids in the house I am sure that I would have to accommodate some of their snacking requests to keep things calm in the house. LOL.
7.) Household Items-I don’t understand why people are constantly buying these items. What I mean is things like: toilet paper, toothpaste, toothbrushes, etc. are things that you should have an enormous quantity of in a nice pantry and then just use them. I returned from being overseas in the middle of February and I haven’t had to purchase any household items yet because I keep a very nice supply of that in the house. I just think that every time you pop into the store to get a household item, you exit said store with 10 items that you hadn’t planned on.
8.) BUT-if you’re enjoying your process, and you don’t feel like changing your habit-then maybe there’s a different way to save money that has nothing to do with groceries that you could explore.
I should also say that I live in a high cost of living area but my groceries are very reasonable given that I shop almost exclusively at Whole Foods and Albertsons-I spend no more than $250 a month and that’s now what I consider a high month for me. I eat very healthy, but I don’t eat packaged foods and I don’t own a microwave. Meals include: chicken with artichoke hearts, capers, olives, garlic, and preserved lemon over couscous, oatmeal or eggs for breakfast. Fresh coffee, high end tea, Spanish chorizo, lamb and fennel salad, green soup as mentioned before, beans and rice, slow cooker meals, steamed fish with salad. Nom Nom!
Good points! Especially #4 above – being able to see what you have and combine with what’s on sale by knowing recipes, looking up recipes, or just trying something new based on what you know works together well is really helpful. I love trying new things and would consider myself a foodie, but hey, cabbage was just on super sale post St. P’s day and cruciferous greens are good for you and full of fiber. Why not try a few soup recipes using that instead?
One other thing I didn’t see on the list but I think really applies to us Americans – um, try not eating as much. I’m not saying we should under-nourish our kids, but those of us adults that are ‘over-nourished’, shall we say, could do much better with smaller meat portions, less processed food (which tends to be more expensive), and less non-water beverages. I’m speaking as someone who struggles with my own weight, so no judgments! But, when I’m watching what I eat, my grocery bills are always significantly smaller. Which leads to smaller health care bills in the long run too, right?
I actually mentioned that Americans eat too much in my comment on the original post LOL! We’re on the same page.
This is great Michelle! Thanks for taking the time to drop it all on us :)
I love food and I’m on a mission to get people to eat better and spend less LOL!
I just took a screen shot of your comment because I think it’s got so many good points in it!
Your comment made me happy :) I love food…so I think about it a lot LOL!
I have been following this debate and wanted to add this link to a cookbook that a woman made to show how you can eat WELL on a S.N.A.P. Budget (for those that aren’t familiar with SNAP, it is the US’s food stamp program):
Here’s an NPR article on the cookbook – which has the PDF version embedded:
It’s really fascinating and has AMAZING recipes. A lot of eggs & beans as protein. Honestly, there are great, interesting, complex-tasting recipes in here. I would recommend it to anyone who wants recipes that are a bit more foodie than jarred pasta sauce/pasta, but still wants to keep the budget low. It is eating well on FOUR dollars a day rather than three, so be prepared to have a bit higher budget ;)
Yes! Such a great resource!
Erin – thanks for this link – what a fabulous story and wonderful recipes.
I want everyone to see her “idea book.” I think it’s incredibly useful, worldly, and a great gift to people who have to (or want to) eat on a budget. I especially love the popcorn page! It’s also nice because it has a lot of good vegetarian recipes. Here’s the actually PDF link to the cook book: http://www.leannebrown.ca/good-and-cheap.pdf
I love Leanne Brown’s cookbook. Gorgeous amazing recipes that combine frugality and healthy eating, and make your mouth water. I especially love her dumplings, veggies on crusty bread toast, soups (mmm French Onion!), Mexican street corn, and leftovers recipes.
It started as a school nutrition project on eating healthily on food stamps, and became a best-selling cookbook. She provides it free of charge as an online PDF, to serve the original intended recipients, and if one buys the printed book, she donates a copy to someone in need. The cookbook is heavy on respect and practical advice on stretching food dollars – No condescension or judgment, no junk food, just kind common sense and good food.
We don’t qualify for food stamps but if we did, it would certainly increase my budget and we eat very well. Lots of produce, dairy and lean meats for my family. Not much in the way of chips, crackers or soda. Just can’t understand why food stamps is considered starvation when it seems adequate to me under normal circumstances (like having a working kitchen and a few basic cookbooks).
I can understand your question, but stop and think for a second about all the hidden priveleges and advantages you may have, which make this seem so easy to you.
$4/person/day is not adequate for most people because 1) many people in general don’t know how to cook, 2) poor areas often don’t have grocery stores nearby (‘food deserts’) but have tons of fast food, 3) people who qualify for food stamps are often working long hours trying to make ends meet, and shopping/cooking from scratch often requires time, 4) With parent(s) busy working, food prep can fall to kids… Who don’t know how to cook, esp if a parent is always busy.
It’s not supposed to be adequate. There’s a reason it’s called the SUPPLEMENTAL Nutrition ASSISTANCE Program.
This is perfect for my vegetarian daughter in college! She is struggling with her food budget. Thanks!
Yeah great example and proof it can be done for under 1 dollar a day. The trick is staying on track month after month with no eating out, and actually cooking. (Something most people cant fathom doing) We also on occasion eat no meats, as you can substitute it out with so many other options. Beans, Avocados, Veggies, Nuts, Cheese, Eggs. The possibilities are endless. Good post.
Question is that famous Pizza night, – Prepared from scratch or do you get the frozen box? I need to learn how to make the dough.
Making dough is easy – simple recipe here:
It also freezes well so you can make huge batches and freeze a bunch of dough balls to save yourself a lot of time and money.
We make our dough from scratch. We also bake homemade bread from scracth (Kitchenaid mixer for both). Though we do supplement bread with some store-bought bread.
Everything I’ve learned about making awesome pizza dough I learned from The Frugal Girl: http://www.thefrugalgirl.com/2009/05/wednesday-baking-thin-crust-pizza/
And this: http://www.thefrugalgirl.com/2013/04/how-to-make-great-homemade-pizza/
The thin crust can go in the fridge until you’re ready, super easy! Learning how to make good pizza dough at home the right away can seriously save lots of money, because it’s honestly better than takeout.
Thanks for the in-depth post Dan and for sharing! Like J$ said, this is a great opportunity to look at the options that are out there if you’re not happy with where you’re at. That said, we follow a large majority of these with our grocery spending. We’re at $475 for our family of 5 and stay within that virtually every month.
We’ve actually found that we’re doing the majority of our shopping at Costco. They’ve added so many organics at ours over the past year or two we’re able to make it work and not really have much in terms of waste. I also used to be of the opinion that you HAD to have a meat with every dinner. Over the past year or so we’ve gradually made the move away from that and have meat (usually chicken or fish) 3-4 times per week and have found that we do just fine without having the meat. It took some getting used to, but is definitely possible.
Your milk price is awesome! We’re in Omaha and currently around $3/gallon. Over the winter we saw it as low as $2/gallon at some points and we bought quite a bit and put it in our deep freezer to bring out when we needed it. It helped save a little, which just goes back into the grocery budget.
Ok, I see and get the suggestions. Will agree that I find it cheaper when I had all my kids living at home, with the mom in law we had a family on 9 to feed, but buying in bulk was more cost efficient. Somehow down to a family of 5, picky 5 no less and the budget has not gone down yet I buy less. I think that bulk buying and bulk cooking was saving me back then.
Also,I admit I see many items I currently buy. But how I wish our prices were as good. That said, life is crazy and I have done lazy shopping lately. Pasta night is a huge $$$ saver and cook up extra for work or late night. Problem is meat-> meatballs and/or sausage ruin the cost savings!
Our grocery budget does include household supplies. Easier for me plain and simple. That is why I like Wal-Mart to buy food and supplies.
Coupons have become overly restricted at our local stores. Not worth my busy time.
·Thank you for posting a sample menu in the above comment! Do you buy the frozen pizza dough or make your own? I can bake but terrible cook lol!
Great article! Clearly it isn’t a one size fits all. Everyone needs to find what works for them. And sometime that changes. I recently went from one shopping trip a week to twice a week simply because everyone in our house has a job with varying hours and I never know when who will be here for dinner. This has cut down a LOT on waste. So we are actually using most of what we buy (we still get a fuzzy cucumber in the back of the fridge once in a while). I also keep a well stocked pantry and freezer and plan my meals the night before. As I am doing dishes, I decide what we will have the next day based on what I have available and what needs to be eaten before it goes bad and who will be there. This also eliminates waste. I have found that controlling the waste has helped immensly in keeping the grocery budget low.
That’s a great idea :) And easy to think about while you’re standing there in one spot thinking anyways! (Though if you ask me, the cook shouldn’t be the one cleaning afterwards! (Makes note to self w/ his own wife))
I LOVED reading this debate on Wednesday and love your summary of the over 100+ comments that came from it. At the end of the day, I don’t think it matters to the penny how much you spend on food but that you make a serious effort to make changes where your food budget is concerned. After our rent or mortgage, our food costs are the biggest monthly line item on our budget and while a rent or mortgage is a fixed cost, food is variable which means you get the most bang for your savings buck out of your food expenses which is why it’s so important to have control of them.
I think what’s most valuable about your post is that it is challenges us to look at our grocery bill and see if we can shop smarter. We may not eat like you, but we probably could cut somewhere in our budget and the exchange of ideas can help us come up with new ways to save.
It wouldn’t be fair to compare my grocery bill to others. I live alone, am retired and grow the majority of the food I eat. What little meat is in my diet is primarily given to me by friends who fish and hunt. This does allow me to splurge of having dozen different kinds of beans in my pantry and a spice cupboard with ingredients from all over the world.
I don’t spend money eating out. I like to cook and belong to a dinner club. Four times a year I cook for 12 friends, who also like to cook, the rest of the year one of them is cooking for me. Lunch served free at the senior center every day, and if I am there, I might eat something with friends.
While all of this works for me, I realize that a $9 an hour Wal-Mart employee is probably not going to have the time or space to grow their own food. Their budget probably won’t allow for all organic food. But if my knowledge that there are hundred different ways to fix beans helps them to see a meal plan that goes beyond ramen and box mac and cheese, then I am glad to help. Cooking isn’t as challenging as some people think. If you can directions on the back of a box, you can follow directions from a basic cookbook. Lots of home cooked food is easy and cheap.
“grow the majority of the food I eat. What little meat is in my diet is primarily given to me by friends who fish and hunt.” – cool!!!! I love the idea of that 100% even though my lifestyle is completely different and I kill anything I try to grow – hah. Perhaps I can get my kids involved when they’re a bit older and we can all try again :)
In regards to meat, we found it a lot cheaper and better quality to buy a half cow each year. We buy the cow from the farmer who coordinates with the Butcher and then we split with another person. We did invest in a freezer for all the meat but it has worked out great for us. The per pound cost is cheaper than the store and it includes steaks, roasts and hamburger.
I want to go to your house right now and eat it!!
Unfortunately for my wallet, I am unwilling to eat less food (get headaches if I do) or abscond meat for the sake of spending less on food. I already cook everything I make from scratch. I guess all that’s left is to ditch my fast food and restaurant spending. Goodbye, Chipotle, fare thee well! :(
I am assuming that you have a solid pantry and freezer situation, because the lack of fresh fruit and vegetables is pretty alarming to me. My spouse and I would consume that amount in two or three days.
That milk is insanely cheap! That’s fantastic for you folks :-) Both of us can’t drink milk, but I think it’s ballpark $6 a gallon where I live.
I really think a big part of it is where you live. I know it’s one of the factors he mentions above, but I think it holds a lot of weight. I can easily follow a $1/meal plan with lots of veggies/fruit where I live in a big city in Wisco, because I have an Aldi.
@Dawn – my wife just made the dinner calendar for April. Here’s what we have:
Week 1: Spaghetti, Taco Salad, leftovers, pizza, risotto, hot dogs in blankets
Week 2: crock pot mac and cheese, birthday pizza!, quesadillas, italian grilled cheese, pizza, grilled cheese with homemade tomato soup, stromboli,
Week 3: Crock pot curry, spaghetti, black beans and rice, roasted potatoes, pizza, baked mac and cheese, leftovers
Week 4: fancy pancakes, ravioli, quesadillas, potato soup, pizza, breakfast for dinner, red beans and hashbrowns and cornbread
Week 5: hot dogs and hamburers, pasta bake, taco salad, falafel
Hope that helps! I will say that Mrs. PWaC REALLY doesn’t like making a meal plan because she struggles with what to make but she does it because she knows how much it helps in both grocery shopping and answering the “What’s for dinner?” question
@Dan – great suggestion on buying a 1/4 or 1/2 cow – someone else also mentioned that. I think that can be a great idea for people that eat meat.
@DAwn – remember – spaghetti doesn’t HAVE to have meatballs / sausage. I mean it’s good, but maybe it could be a “sometimes” food. Up to you to decide what is best for you and your family
I’m not as hip to the blogging community and message boards as most of you seem to be. I make the occasional misstep in assuming that some acronym bears reference to an entirely different paradigm, but I will hold fast to my definition of a “troll”.
It is incomprehensible to define the commentary of an individual (little ‘ol me for instance) who willingly submits personal artifacts and information in rebuttal of the steadfast testimony of another, as a “troll”. A “troll” hides in the shadows, makes outlandish claims and has no feasible means to reply to an argument with facts and/or logical data.
You may define me as arrogant, wasteful and obese , Mr Miller, but a weasel, I most certainly am not!!
I will agree with you :)
I didn’t take it as he was outright calling you a troll (though he could have been) but more about the nature of the online world and how it’s easy to tear someone up with a few clicks. I don’t think you did that either (though there were some jabs in there – hah) as you were generally speaking your truth as many of us surely appreciate and agree with, but I am glad he put it in there just as a reminder of what it’s all about here.
I personally give you both mad credit for not only being okay with sharing your lifestyles and details of your lives here, but for KEEPING IT REAL. Whether people like that or not. That, to me, is what makes blogs awesome. People sharing ideas/questions/tips/rants as a normal human being vs putting on a face.
So from me to you both – I tip my hat and greatly thank you!
Braden – I don’t think you were trolling me and I’m sorry if it came off that way. I thought your post was hilarious.
I was mostly just nervous that I’d post my detailed grocery expenditures and I’d get a whole ton of people picking it apart and talking about how I’m a horrible shopper because
Many apologies, I may have had a rather Pavlovian / Marty McFly reaction to that term.
That being said, I do truly appreciate the candor and jovial banter this post seems to have elicited from most. It may pay homage to this blog’s particular readers (or maybe I’m too cynical with my veiw of the world), but I certainly thought more people would point to my gluttonous practices as the sole crutch for my overspend.
You manage a tight ship Mr. Miller, and in my case, loose lips are most certainly contributing to the listless buoyancy of my own craft (metaphorically only, we’re quite healthy financially – J Money’s fave, net worth, continually making gains!!). Though, I would contend that if you included each meal eaten, and not consider eating out to be without nutritional value, (or at least classify some portion of the food eaten out to be, well, food) your $ / meal would increase.
I for one, when we lived in West Chester, OH, loved dining, with coupons, at “El Rancho Grande”. Hopefully my favorite server from the one on Cin/Day road is still there. You should give the “Pollo Loco” a try; easily two meals for the price of, well, 9 of yours, but SO GOOD!!! You should take the Mrs to SMOQ over in Hamilton too! Oh My GOD the cheesy bacon grits. I know people from Cinci think they’re from the south, but those are better than GA grits.
So I guess, in summation, you win on $/Meal, but I score the victory on pleasure/meal? Maybe not, maybe you glean more pleasure from saving money than eating. In that case, phooooeeeeyy!!! I’ll see you at Grand Finale for a lobster crepe!!!
As one “wasteful and obese” person to another, let me say that I really appreciate your wit and writing style, and look forward to reading your blog. You DO have one, don’t you? If not, start one, darn it! NOW!!
You remind me of a person, (not me, unfortunately!), who writes on a completely different subject, (tropical fish and home aquariums), and whose prose I admire. I think his site is worth a look just for the way he uses words: http://www.skepticalaquarist.com/ .
Gosh …. I wish I could write as well as you guys!
As we know from the comments below, Dan wasn’t referring to you, but rather taking precautions against the inevitable wackos that come out of the gutters when you post anything of a personal nature in public.
I will keep these thoughts under advisement. Thanks for the kind words.
I think this is totally reasonable! We feed our family of 6 for under $400/month (I wrote about it here: http://moneyminiblog.com/save-money/healthy-meals-spend-less/). I think people have too much of a “it can’t be done” mindset, where we have a “how can we do it” mindset. We eat meat most days and serve healthy sides. Honestly, junk food is often more expensive than healthier options!
And for a quick tip: find a food co-op near you. We use one called Bountiful Baskets and we can get several weeks worth of veggies, bread and fruit for around $30.
I think people who have the “it can’t be done” mindset, have never had to do it. If you only have enough money to spend $1 per meal, you will find food in the store to fill your stomach for $1 per meal. With a little planning and research you can eat healthy with very little money. Might not be as gourmet or interesting as some would like, but if you only have a dollar to spend you will find a way to manage.
yup, or you just go in debt and slap it on the credit card as most would do instead ;)
Great list of tips! One week’s grocery list does not a full picture make, we often have items in our fridge/freezer that last several weeks of meals. I also agree that buying food in bulk doesn’t work for everyone, that 128oz jar of pickles is gone within a week at our house. Protein is one of those things that I feel has been over emphasised in importance. We get plenty of protein from our diet from many sources, a few ozs of meat when we do have it is plenty to meet those requirements. We also try to buy what is in season, no fresh tomatoes in the winter for us!
Thanks for sharing Dan….It seems you have “cracked the code” when it come to food costs. We are “semi-empty nesters” and our biggest concern is wasting food by it going bad before we use it. Perhaps you could share some strategies to keep this from happening… IMHO the biggest key to your success is Aldi. I started visiting Aldi about 5 years ago and now do most of my shopping there…yet I spent only half of my food dollars there last year. I was there yesterday and got flavored tortilla chips for 25 cents on deal! I’m with ya on the meat….red meat especially is so expensive it has basically become a garnish. Thanks again for sharing…..
Dan thanks for your tips! I definitely live in one of those high COL areas like you talk about (NYC) but that’s no one’s fault but my own. I am one of those people that can’t have a meal without meat. I guess it was just how I was raised, so that is one area I won’t cut back on. Going out for lunch while at work is definitely an area I know I can cut back on, but I haven’t yet :(
The point isn’t to live off $1 a day. The point is to live a healthy lifestyle. Food plans come down to only 2 things: Lifestyle and Money. If you have no or little money, you are almost forced to spend very little on food such as $1 a day. If you live on a farm or have a garden, you food bill will probably spend less because you are living a “grow my own food” lifestyle.
If you live a gluten-free, vegetarian, Paleo, or organic lifestyle, your food bill is ALWAYS going to be different food bill from a person who lives off of a regular American diet. Once again, the point isn’t to live off $1 a day. The point is to live a healthy lifestyle.
I would like to see someone write an article called “How To Eat Off $1/ORGANIC Meal.”
Here’s a post like that. I thought she made good points about how buying in a severe budget cuts out a lot of bulk savings. http://www.motherearthliving.com/food-and-recipes/cooking-methods/eating-organic-budget-zm0z14mazpit.aspx
I’m sorry, pasta and bread has little nutritional value. It just makes you feel full-for a while. Skimping on food is insane. I’d rather cut somewhere else.
Agreed. That food list looks horrible. Pay now or pay later. Health is your greatest wealth.
Where are the vegetables? I’d love to see a budget for someone who was eating the recommended 5 (1/2 cup) servings of vegetables daily.
We follow similar guidelines, although we’re not vegetarian. I was laid off about 5 yrs ago and have been a stay at home mom since. It’s amazing how much you can save when you have the time to shop around, meal plan, and cook at home. We eat meat at most every dinner, but it’s a smaller amount than many (including my husband!) usually expect. I tend to buy 1lb of meat, or 1.5 lbs of fish, for 5 of us. It helps that my youngest (almost 4 now) doesn’t eat much meat. Thanks for sharing your shopping with us!
If you shop for sales items each week, you would see at least a 20% drop in your grocery bill. And if you shopped for produce at a farmer’s market, you could reduce even further. [If you shop organic only, maybe not]
Couponing would help as well, but like the author I found I had less and less time to do it so I don’t coupon as much.
Thank you so much Dan, for all the info and tips. I can learn a LOT from you. We do have 4 adults who work out (I’m a fitness instructor teaching several hours per day). We eat all organic and paleo (lots of meat) and absolutely zero prepared foods of any kind – only fresh.
With menu planning and perhaps more meatless side dishes, I could bring ours down. At the end of the day, it’s about improving our budget and not necessarily changing or compromising out food values, so thank you so much for sharing and for helping us on our financial journey.
I have some good take-a-ways from the food posts this week:
1) Milk is expensive. We drink a lot. We can drink less.
2) Cereal is expensive compared to fresh alternatives. We should be eating oatmeal instead.
3) The cost of all the sandwiches we eat adds up. Can there be a good lunch alternative we can make in bulk? Coconut Rice with beans, maybe?
4) Bad habits creep back in. We went a couple months without ice cream…now we’ve been buying 3 containers a week. That can/should stop for more reasons than one.
5) Beer. I like it…I shouldn’t have one with dinner every night. If I do, that’s an extra $30 a month. I should only drink it socially…again, for more reasons than one.
6) An expensive part of our food budget is our morning smoothies. Mine is the full 24 oz large cup. We calculated that we spend a lot on this, much more than the $1 a meal that seems to be today’s baseline….but I figure I’m paying more now for a healthier future. We’ve been drinking them every morning for over 2.5 years and I won’t cut that out for budget reasons. Money isn’t the only deciding factor.
Our budget was RIDICULOUS. I made Braden look like a miser with my 2014 spend. We made some adjustments in December and we’re saving a ton. Year to date, we’ve spent $1,920 less than last year. Crazy…that’s more than most people’s total food budget here (although I’m a fam of 6).
That feels good to see! Especially when I have FIVE more takeaways that can help cut costs further without really sacrificing quality of life!
Glad you got a lot out of it, brotha! I have myself too!
Food is the budget category with the most wiggle room. You probably can’t negotiate your rent or your car payment, but you can do a LOT with the food bill.
My partner and I hardly ever eat out, either, and we make a game of frugal-hacking our food budget. (All our bills, really, but especially food.) As Abigail from I Pick Up Pennies noted, I did boil chicken bones for stock — and I still do, except that now DF and I save veggie and fruit scraps along with bones in a bag in the freezer, and make stock out of that:
The stock is different every time because the ingredients vary so widely. We add a couple of diced carrots and any other veggie we have (usually the kale and cabbage we grew and dehydrated, some turnips we also grew, and maybe a handful of frozen peas or corn), plus a little meat (if we want) and quinoa (which I get with free gift cards from Swagbucks). The result is a simple but wonderful meal, especially since DF likes to make bread (flour and yeast from Costco are incredibly cheap). It’s also an extremely inexpensive meal.
Or we’ll make a big pot of beans (also from Costco, no more than 60 cents a pound) with a ham bone, diced onion, shredded carrot and more of that dried kale, to be enjoyed (really!) with a skillet of cornbread. Part of the water used to cook the beans also comes from the freezer: We save any water from cooked vegetables to be used in later meals.
About that ham bone: Any time ham goes below a certain price point, DF will buy one or two, roast them, and slice and freeze the meat in quart-sized freezer bags for sandwiches and meals. One of our favorite fast meals is made by sauteeing onions and shredded sweet potato until cooked through, then adding diced ham, thyme and pepper; we call it “ham and yam” and eat it with a side of peas or green beans. The potato turns incredibly sweet and savory.
We buy ground turkey from the “manager’s special” (use or freeze soon) bin, and use it for meat loaf, burgers or a wonderful chili (sometimes beanless, sometimes not). When he finds ground turkey sausage at a reduced price he’ll mix it with the plain ground turkey, a combination that makes great burgers or a wonderful breakfast-for-dinner (he’ll fry a few of the potatoes we grew and scramble some eggs to go with the sausage). Red meat is rapidly becoming a thing of the past because it’s just so expensive.
When whole chickens or turkeys go on sale (99 cents a pound or less) we roast them and then can the meat in jars in our pressure canner. A quart jar makes two meals: a delicious stroganoff and then either a soup (see above) or turkey salad sandwiches. The liquid in the jars enriches the stroganoff, and we also use some of the whey strained from the yogurt I make each week (very easy and as cheap as 50 cents for a quart of Greek-style product).
The point is that we not only don’t waste food or let it go bad, we strive to get full use out of every part of it. We don’t even throw away pickle brine; instead, we mix it with a bit of mustard or horseradish and use it to enliven soups and stir-fries.
Last night my supper began with ham scraps (probably 1/4 cup) sizzled in a skillet with onions and shredded carrot until it caramelized. Then I added a cup of leftover lentils (very cheap protein and easy to cook) and some of that mustard vinegar, stirring until it was heated through, and finished by poaching an egg on top. The lentils alone delivered 18 grams of protein and cost about 26 cents (supermarket price; they don’t sell them at Costco).
Those are just a few examples of inexpensive but very satisfying meals. Sometimes we will splurge on a roast (usually pork) or a steak — but only if they’re on sale at a reasonable price or if they come from the manager’s special bin. We have a small chest freezer so we can stash stuff when we find it cheaply; we froze a lot of raspberries and rhubarb from the back yard, too. Then again, I used to store quite a bit in the freezer atop my apartment-sized fridge when I lived alone. Watch for the best deals and buy extras, and make it a point every so often to empty the freezer completely — great deals aren’t so great if they wind up freezer-burned and unusable.
Incidentally, we don’t have a farm or even a big spread — just a regular city back yard. You can grow a surprising amount of food in a small space. We’re looking to expand the garden and decrease the lawn a little more each year.
I could go on, but I’ve already done that. ;-) What I will say is that I’ve never had a bad meal with my partner. He says it’s because the food is prepared and shared with love. I’m inclined to believe him.
Thanks for sharing, Donna :) You and your guy are so freakin’ cute together – so happy for you two!!
You can also save leftover bits of peas, potatoes, meat, etc., in a jar in the freezer for soup. Lots of ways to be more economical. Thanks for the tips!
My husband and I have cut a lot of the meat out of our diet, but we balance it out with plenty of healthy fruits & vegetables, beans, and grains. You guys seem to eat a lot of cheese and bread products. I’m happy with our healthy diet, but it’s difficult to eat cheap with the amount of fresh produce we buy because that’s not something you can exactly buy in bulk (or would want to). I feel so much better now, though, that I don’t mind spending a little more for better-quality meals.
Also, just a personal opinion, I don’t really consider making spaghetti with Ragu “from scratch.” When I make it from scratch, I buy canned tomatoes and mix in my own spices (and not all the sugar that Ragu adds). A little more expensive, sure, but much better for you.
I’m not sure about my costs but I eat somewhat similar to you. I’m vegan so my cost for soy milk/almond milk may be higher than regular milk but I don’t eat cheese, butter etc. I only buy fresh produce seasonally and mostly from local farms around Austin.
I also make everything from scratch too and avoid eating out. For snacks I eat a lot of nuts and popcorn (bought in bulk at a community co-op).
From scratch we make beans, veggie chili, veggie hot dogs, veg burgers, veg Chinese dumplings, veg tamales, pizza sauce, stock, tortillas, pasta & pizza dough and keep the extra in the freezer for 15 meals.
It takes 7 hrs a week for everything cooking/cleaning related. We streamline time. I challenge the time I spend on food vs eating “fast food”.
What’s the point on eating this cheaply if you’re not getting ANY nutritional value out of your food?
The point of food is NOT just to keep going: it’s to sustain your health. Skipping lean meats (chicken!) for bad ones (pepperoni, bacon, hot dogs) is pure insanity. Cheese and pasta over veggies? No. Just no.
This is really a post about how little you’re willing to pay for obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. America, this is why you’re fat.
Great article. I have to comment because your designation of eating out as Entertainment is what I have always done. We do not have to eat out, and it is a luxury. My husband thinks I should count it as food, and he can go ahead and think that ;) I also do not have a category called Grocery; instead I have Food and Non-Food Grocery. My husband drinks a lot of milk, and I buy two gallons at a time to get the lower price. That translates to $7.38 and $6.98 at the last two stores where I shopped. I don’t doubt one bit what people can do when they apply themselves, financially or otherwise, because I have always had my own way of doing what seems impossible to “normal” people.
I liked that “entertainment” idea too – totally stealing that.
I’ve learned a few things from skimming the comments.
-People get emotional with food. It’s a topic like “buy vs. rent” or “bike vs. drive”…I think we all want to feel like we are doing it the right way, and it’s tricky to hear about someone doing it differently.
-It is easier to justify the way you’re currently doing things, than to honestly ask if there’s room for improvement, and to, you know, do the work of making improvements
-I eat healthier, and for less cost, than everyone else writing in this comment section. It’s true. My way of buying and eating vegetables, meats, and carbs far exceeds yours. Nah-nah-ha-na poo-poooh.
LOL – that was the point I was trying to get across with the “no judging” part at the top of the article.
I understand any time you kind of “put yourself out there” and give a lot of details about yourself, you kind of open yourself up, and I have been pleased with (most of!) the commenters who have responded in-kind
Yeah, you’re definitely catching some heat on this one, jeesh…. I had no idea people were so passionate about their food! Haha… But a huge thanks to you again for having the balls to put it all out for the world to see – I really appreciate that man. And have actually started really thinking about my *own* habits now because of you and Braden – something I haven’t thought about for a while. So thx brotha.
It’s great to hear how other people manage their food budget. It really depends on your family. We have smoothies for breakfast most mornings (buy frozen fruit when it’s on sale) and only eat meat once or twice a week. We do use a lot of dry beans. Mr. Tre is notorious for stockpiling cereal when it goes on sale so the kids get what they like :-)
It’s easy for your food spending to creep up. We’ve noticed ours has increased over the last couple months and are not sure if it is price increases. Guess we’ll have to track our receipts more carefully and find the culprit!
1 lb of pasta feeds a family of 8…twice??? My family of 4 eats that once…and MAYBE we have enough to have a lunch serving the next day. Sorry, that doesn’t seem like enough.
I was thinking the same thing. We make 1lb of pasta with sauce and a bag of broccoli, it feeds the 5 (2 adults plus 3, 7, and 9yo) of us plus one extra serving for my husband to bring for to work for lunch one day. They must be very, very light eaters!
This has been very interesting to read! I really appreciate you taking the time to break down how you eat and show a weeks receipts, etc. I always see these frugal claims and wonder how they actually do it. It doesn’t seem like that much food but I imagine you have a stock pile at home. It’s easy to criticize others diets but to actually see what you eat and how your prices are much lower then where I live helps me realize why we spend what we do! Thank you-
While I may not necessarily agree with the types of meals Dan is preparing, I can definitely agree on some of the principles to reduce spending. Particularly, I have found meal planning to be a huge time and money saver.
Recently, for about a month I prepared a weekly meal plan for myself and my husband. Every Sunday or Monday I would plot the meals I planned on making and made sure the meals used similar ingredients so I wouldn’t waste any food. Not only did it help cut down on my grocery bill, but it saved so much time. One trip to the grocery store per week, as opposed to popping in several days on my way home to grab one or two items, and I came home in a great mindset knowing exactly what I was going to cook that night and I always made extra so I could have it for lunch the next day. Some people may look down on leftovers, but as long as I’m cooking stuff that I like, then I love my leftovers! :)
Alas, sometimes I get burned out planning all those meals, but when I feel the need to start cutting back on food expenses I know exactly how to do it.
Interesting tips! Haven’t gone the “no meat” route but have started to cook more and eat out less. It has definitely saved a lot of money and forces me to eat healthier. Thanks for sharing!
Great post! I keep my grocery costs pretty low, but no where near that low. I spend $120/month on food for me (I’m single) plus I do feed guests about 2-3 meals week on average.
I find it endlessly fascinating to learn about how other people/families eat on a day to day basis. Anyone can dream up one or two exceptionally inexpensive meals, but to achieve both economy and variety over the long haul requires a great deal of creativity and commitment.
As I suspected, Dan’s monthly meal plan reads like it was written by a 6th grader. I just don’t see much there that I would make part of my family’s meal plan on a regular basis, though I’m sure Dan’s children love it! Most of the meals on the April plan are things that we incorporate into our own meal plan maybe once a week, as a bit of a treat/break. Ain’t nothing wrong with some pizza, or some spaghetti, or some tacos on occasion, but all three in one week? Can’t/won’t do it.
Quite honestly, this is kind of the weirdest “vegetarian” meal plan I’ve ever seen. I mean…where are the vegetables? Potatoes and tomato soup don’t really count, IMO. The only green thing I see across all of this is iceberg lettuce.
Sorry. Totally judging.
This is a cool little back-and-forth between Braden and Dan. I hope that Braden doesn’t feel he has to catapult to Dan’s level of frugality in order to be validated in his efforts to be more frugal. One step at a time, Braden : ) It’s not a competition between you and Dan. If you need to make it a competition, make it within your own self. We used to spend over $200 per week on groceries. Then, we went down to $175. Now, we’re at $150. I can’t compete against Dan, but I can be inspired by him. And I feel like I’m winning in the pursuit of greater frugality. You can too. Just start from where you are. Good luck!
Some good tips throughout, but honestly the thing that blew me away is how much cheaper the cost of food is for you. A gallon of milk for $2? The loss leaders around here still bring it to $3.79/gal. Cream cheese for .89 cents? Unheard of. While mindful that our family eats much more organic and non-processed food than the receipts indicate, even if we bought exactly the same items, we’d be at close to 2.5x your costs. We eat more too – perhaps that’s a down side to living in the north country. Both parents work in our family so there’s a fair amount of foods we purchase which can be prepared quickly – e. g. stock plus greens plus frozen dumplings for a quick healthy and hearty meal. The stock is often homemade, the dumplings from a nearby ethnic food store (a good place for budget prices) and greens can be from the store, our CSA or the garden in summer. We use the local co-op combo traditional market, Costco, CSA, garden & Trader Joe’s to optimize prices but still couldn’t get close to what you pay. Your cereal prices are stunningly low (and our family eats a lot of it). Thanks for the great blog and nice group of commenters!
Wow, so many good ideas. I started reading them all then had to switch to skimming. I just wanted to add that I am still one of “those” couponers, long before the show and not what they would consider the extreme type. This budget is definitely doable. My budget also divides out the eating out that I do rarely and also see mostly as entertainment. I live in a very expensive area in Silicon Valley as a single person, that does eat meat, and keep a monthly budget of $25 a month for fresh things and $85 a month to restock all pantry/frozen items, health and beauty aids, as well as, household consumables such as paper products, cleaning, laundry, light bulbs etc.
One of the best things I ever did while learning the coupon game was to make my own price book. I tracked the prices up and down each week in a little notebook at my favorite stores for a number of months to see what the rock bottom price actually was, and then and only then, would I buy. This was the number one behavior change that saved me so much money. Yes, I have an pantry that I keep stocked and “shop” from that each week. I have a stand alone freezer and buy fresh fruits and veggies in season to freeze and have through out the year.
There’s only 2 of us but we still do a lot of Costco shopping, though we’re nowhere near $1/meal. Maybe we need to take the challenge and track the grocery shopping in detail for a couple of months.
Long time ago — at the end of my freshman year in college, I was down to $10 to last me for four weeks — exam period, no less — and had too much pride to ask my parents (or anyone else) for a loan…I remember I spent 2 hours at the small grocery store that served campus, trying to figure out how to best spend the $10. I ended up with oatmeal, two big jars of spaghetti sauce, and spaghetti noodles. I made it through, passed my exams, and could not wait to get back to my parents’ home for the summer for a real meal. When I got home, my Mom served spaghetti for my welcome home dinner . . .
When, many years later, after a career in which I made much more money than I needed but had tons of stress and ate almost all of my meals out since the job demanded (or I let the job demand) long hours, 7-days/week, I went back to graduate school. When I was accepted into a PhD program, an academic mentor said “The best thing about doing a PhD is that you learn that you CAN leave on $15,000 a year.” I thought he was being ironic, but he was sincere, and I later found he was right. Only this time, I was more interested in health, and over the course of the PhD I developed a great repertoire of healthy, inexpensive meals. I make my own bread (both soda and yeasted) with whole grains, and make two or three vegetables the center of my week’s planning. And I always have on hand the makings for Indian daal (spicy lentil soup), which I love, is very healthy, and is crazy cheap to make. The good bread helps me to feel satisfied, and is not very labor-intensive once you have your routines down. I learned to make a whole chicken go very far, thanks to my new-found love of homemade soup.
Back in the world of the gainfully employed, I now live in one of the most expensive cities in the US, but my graduate-student experience in healthy, frugal eating has been a lasting gift. I eat better than I ever have — both in terms of taste and health — now that I have all these go-to recipes that are healthy and relatively quick, now that I have the skills. I buy as little processed food as possible — Diet Pepsi habit was one of the first things to go, when faced with the reality of my grad-school budget. And, I keep a well-stocked pantry of basics (grains, dried beans, spices, boxed tomatoes, canned beans, canned tuna/salmon/sardines, garlic, onions) to minimize the temptation to eat out “because there’s nothing in the house.”
What connects all three of these stories: it is kind of fun — a challenge — to make a tight budget work. Good memories, really, of these times of frugality. The fat years, where I didn’t have to pay any attention to money at all, are largely a blur of forgettable meals and junk food. Last week, I went to dinner with a friend at one of the high-end chain restaurants (burgers, craft beer, flatbread pizzas, etc) here. I had looked forward to it, but everything tasted *meh* to me. On the way home, I thought: I used to eat like that all the time.
Good luck everyone with your budgets and your joie de vivre!
Fascinating story!! Thx for dropping it!
Love this comment, Kay. I had a high-stress, let-it-demand-long-grueling-hours kind of job for the better part of 5.5 yrs. As I let the job take over my life, my eating habits grew increasingly atrocious (lots of fast food and higher end restaurant food, those shockingly bad Homestyle Bakes meals at 11:30 or 12:30 at night, etc.). It’s a wonder my husband I married mid-job didn’t file for divorce over what I put us through. He got home earlier than I did, but his idea of supper wasn’t all that great either – typically, he’d just eat a bowl of Captain Crunch or Honey Nut Cheerios or Frosted Flakes in milk. O.o
We’re over 15 yrs out from my having to leave that job due to my health. The decline wasn’t solely due to the diet, but it didn’t exactly help mitigate the damage from previous teen-years cancer tx. And in the years that followed, at first I maintained my old bad habits…but gradually, out of budgetary needs and honestly sheer boredom, I began cooking. Making up meals. Even throwing chicken breasts and bottled bbq sauce in the slow cooker felt like victory after McDonald’s and Homestyle Bakes, esp when I started adding corn on the cob and sometimes bagged salad with it. And no, it wasn’t exactly a health food meal, but it represented a real improvement. When we moved to a smaller city with a much lower cost of living, the difference between eating in and eating out became more pronounced, plus there were fewer tempting dining-out options, etc. And I was discovering that not only did I like to cook when energy allowed (I have fatigue and pain issues), but my husband, who started out life in the kitchen setting papertowels on fire, making burgers raw in the middle and burned outside, etc., was really reasonably teachable. :) And in the past five or six years, I discovered (gasp) menu planning, and realized that I love making menus and lists for us almost as much as I love making them for ficitonal characters when I write. :)
We still have a long way to go on budget shopping and cooking, and scratch cooking, etc., but we’ve done a lot of things I never dreamed possible. Making our own spaghetti sauce from scratch instead of relying only on Prego. Making our own pizza sauce (though I will admit Muir Glen, while a litlte pricey, is great when I just can’t even). Making pizza at home (which I now love 5000% better than pizza from out, though we’ve not tried making our own crust yet). Making teriyaki chicken with a homemade rather than bottled sauce. Unless we’re doing a more complete meal (like spaghetti with protein and veg in sauce), often our pattern is protein + starchy veg + nonstarchy veg or two. It’s easy for the nights I just can’t handle anything more, and it’s reasonably semi-healthy (we do lean proteins several times a week, like skinless chicken). I’m diabetic, so I try not to rely on super carby meals every time we eat. Even a bowl of cereal and milk is not something I can do every day safely. We’ve tried low-fat whole-foods plant-based but didn’t cope all that well with it; we’ve also tried low-carb, but that gets pricey and tiring. Where I’ve ended up is just basic common sense moderation. I know I still have a lot of work to do both in terms of budget and health, but when I look at where I’ve come from – how much I used to eat, what I used to eat, etc. – I really feel proud. And yes, like you, my best times in food have been on tighter budgets, and I don’t enjoy the higher-end places as much as I once did. I’d rather have a home-cooked pizza I made with shredded mozz and homemade sauce with crushed red pepper flakes and crushed fennel seeds and mushrooms and finely chopped little tidbits of orange and yellow and green bell peppers with maybe some pepperoni minis or turkey pepperoni if I really want meat. Sooooooo yummy and so much more satisfying. I go easy on the cheese and heavy on peppers and mushrooms. Sometimes I might cook and drain and sprinkle on some Italian sausage as well; one of our area grocery stores makes wonderful salsiccia we really like, and it runs on sale for $2-3/lb fairly regularly.
I credit my improvements, past and ongoing, to several things. (1) Time becoming available. Granted, the collapse of my health was an awful way to get the time. But since it happened, I figured I might as well use it to give us better food sometimes. (2) Health issues.. My health issues have forced changes which have turned out to be better for our wallet and our tastebuds and eating experiences. Again, awful way to get there, but if that’s what it took for me to learn that homemade pizza really is yummy, and I can actually make real soup that didn’t come out of a red and white or blue can, then at least I’ve gotten something happy out of the bad stuff. (3) My own interests. Fortunately, while I’m no upscale “foodie,” I am definitely fascinated by cookbooks and all things food. I love the simpler stuff, but b/c I have such a penchant for reading cookbooks, we’ve learned we can make recipes that are about a page long with a list of 20-odd ingredients, when time and energy and budget permit, so of course the simpler stuff is less daunting now. I’ve no doubt we’d still be living on those boxed dinners if not for my interest in reading recipes and poring over cookbooks with enraptured delight and utter fascination. :) And, importantly, (4) Not long after we moved from a major city to a little city, someone from my church selected me for a women’s mentoring program which, during the first half of the evening session, offered us cooking lessons from the most talented home chef I’ve EVER met. This lady could cook year-old cardboard and make you beg for thirds. She’s AMAZING. And she cooked all kinds of things, and gave us the recipes, showed us how to make pizza dough and had little circles ready for us to dress our own pizzas, etc. And after cooking lessons and the lecture lessons, we’d sit down to an evening supper of epic proportions. And these were very balanced meals. There were always nonstachy veggies and nice starches involved. No canned cream of soup here. No jarred sauces. Scratch food. For the last meeting, we were invited to a lovely formal dinner with our spouses, and they taught us the tricks of how to make that showy company dinner the week before they did it for us. I’d never had strawberry spinach salad with poppyseed dressing before, but turns out I really like it…and at that time, I didn’t think I liked any salad dressing that wasn’t some variation on French (the American French, the orange or red stuff, not the classic French oil and vinegar or vinaigrette style). I wasn’t sure about a lot of the food we had, but our teacher wanted us to try everything, so I always did…and it turned out I liked a LOT of stuff I didn’t think I liked, even garlic. (I know. I like spaghetti but not garlic, wink wink giggle nudge.) I believe a lot of my adventurous spirit in the kitchen comes from my beloved teacher, who is still in my life and who tells me that she is very proud of me and how far I’ve come. :)
I wish our society didn’t put so much emphasis on being driven and immersed in your job. I think it’s responsible for a lot of the poor nutrition and low amount of cooking among today’s young adults. (I’m not all that old yet, so I can say that.) We can’t spend as much on food now as we did when we were working full-time in a high COL city. But we eat BETTER, and HAPPIER, than we did when we had more income. Go figure. And I really wish everyone could have the kind of teacher I did. I never realized people really did make pizza at home when it wasn’t from the store freezer unless they were real chefs. I started going to extension office freebie classes and learned to make homemade soups. Then I started making up my own recipes for soup. Having good training was like a gateway drug for me. It led to so much more.
I’m betting your food, Kay, is waaaaay tastier (and far healthier) than anything from those restaurants. :) I want to experiment with lentils and beans ,as I don’t have a lot of experience with them. Got some promising recipes and think I might have to try them this winter. My slow cooker is my buddy. :)
-“Frodo” :) (I told you I was all about food…my husband says I’m totally a hobbit)
Oh gosh this post back and forth has been the best read this morning!
Dan, thank you for sharing! As a recovered vegan ;) I do find myself doing mostly vegetarian for my husband and I. It is easy for me obviously, and I am lucky that my husband has an open mind to meals without meat. Honestly I typically find that if you cook a yummy and filling meal, people usually don’t notice the absence of meat. My advice to anyone wanting to try this but convinced their family will complain… is to just try it without calling out there is no meat. Tacos for example are AMAZING made from sautéing black beans, kidney beans, and red onion with taco seasoning. I add rice and quinoa and honestly rarely even add cheese. My husband will eat the filling on its own! I have had only one person ever notice my meatless meals… but he is just a picky eater determined to be picky. In which case I can’t do anything about that lol.
I do shop 100% at Costco… which means meals are pretty redundant in our house. I have 4 dogs that I make all of their food for… so I buy whole chickens from Costco to do that with. They act as kind of my garbage disposals for veggies about to turn as I grind veggies up into their food. I rarely have items go bad unless I forget them hidden under a bag of kale.
I find that when I am being good about budgeting, I can do $400 a month for me and my husband and all 4 of our dogs. This includes no eating out unless it comes from our allocated spending budget we each get. It is admittedly higher for 2 people, but feeding my dogs fresh food vs kibble is not something I’m willing to sacrifice! The hardest part for me is having a lot of single or married friends with no kids who only like to go out for dinners. And happy hours. God the happy hours. My work is rampant with happy hours and I struggle with the “women need to network” concept and being strict about our budget. Hence most of my other spending budget for me typically gets allocated to network type events. I could write a whole other paragraph about that… but I’ll spare you all. :)
Braden, thank you for your wit and hysterical note in sparking this debate. I giggled the whole way through.
I think the biggest savings come from not going out to eat and not eating meat. I already try to not dine out as much as possible, and while I’m not ready to give up meat at this point I would think that would be a way to get the cost per meal down significantly. Your location definitely helps too, as milk and other goods are not nearly that cheap here on the East coast!
Even if people aren’t able to match your $1/meal goal I think the important part here is that it is possible to drive down your costs to a level you a comfortable with. There is always some additional room to optimize.
I have really enjoyed this discussion. It has given me a lot of food for thought about our grocery costs. Last year both my Mother (January ’14) and brother (April ’14) moved in with me. By myself I ate a lot of pasta, eggs and veggies. They were eating a lot of prepared foods and feel veggies should be the smallest part of their diet. After a year we moved to more home cooked food and meal planning. I’m still working on less meat and more veggies. We also cut way down on take out.
Great discussion. I love all of the ideas!
Glad to hear Lynn :) It’s been an interesting series to put together to say the least! Who knew we’d be having a food battle on here? I rarely talk about food, haha…
Some may wonder if that is possible. I could do that with no. 1 no eating out and no meat. However, I tend to crave more during this time. So what I do is I go to my parent’s house to get what I am craving for. LOL Instead of getting it in the market.
I’ll be the first to say that food costs should be kept in control. My family tries very hard not to eat out, buy when things are on sale, etc. However, after thinking about this whole $1.00 a day thing…I don’t want to sacrifice my family’s nutrition. I’d gladly pay a little more for food that is fresh, not processed, and actually nutritious versus just “cheap.”
On the subject of budgeting for food: recently I combined all spending for things that go in the mouth into a master food category. Sub categories are pantry, school and work snacks and lunches , coffee, restaurants, date night, celebration meals, and alcohol which is zero most of the time but a budget buster when it shows up. Very surprising. For one thing now I can see what we actually spend eating and what the trade off is for packing lunches and groceries. Also cheap burger night doesn’t affect my total bill but saves my mind. Also no mind games about entertainment, which for us is limited. The total blows my mind.
I have really enjoyed both of the email and rebuttal! The comments have all been great too! I do have a question about supplementing your meals with beans. I will be upfront with this… It causes terrible gas so I stay away from them. Does no one else have this problem? Is there something about the preparation that can decrease this? Thanks all.
Hah! Oddly enough I just taught my 2 y/o about beans and gas.. He really enjoyed that one – my wife did not ;)
Several things can help with this.
First, avoid using canned beans. Instead, soak the dry beans yourself then THROW AWAY the water they were soaked in and rinse them off a couple of times before adding more water for cooking. Some people also rinse again after cooking their beans, but I haven’t personally found that to be necessary.
Second, start eating just a few beans every day, or nearly every day. Even if it’s just a spoonful thrown in with your salad or scrambled eggs or whatever. After a few weeks (or maybe even sooner) your gut will adjust and be able to digest them easier. Keep eating beans a few times a week after that.
I have heard that freezing the cooked beans to reheat later can also help with digestion, but I don’t know if that’s true. Soaking & cooking a large pot then freezing in portions can help with convenience, though, for sure.
The meal plan is awful. This is more about mental neuroses than saving money. Don’t cheat your kids out of a healthy lifestyle so you can brag on some blog. If you live in poverty it’s one thing, but you don’t.
I have 9 kids at home and our grocery budget is $700 a month, in Idaho. My husband and older boys hunt, so we eat deer meat and chicken bought in bulk from Zaycon. I buy a ton of “blue band” bananas, some of which are eaten fresh, but most are frozen and used in banana bread, muffins, or smoothies. We go through lots of spinach and frozen fruit in green smoothies. There are always apples and carrots to eat, and usually celery, broccoli, and other veggies. The kids love “ants on a log” and dipping mini “trees” in ranch. I also buy canned veggies in bulk when they go on sale. In late summer/fall, we glean like crazy from the farms and orchards around here and can the food we get. We can usually glean enough potatoes and onions for most of the year and lots of peaches, applesauce, . . .. We do a garden and fruit trees/bushes as well. We eat LOTS of eggs for cheap protein. I buy whole wheat and grind it and make my own bread, cookies, etc. At Thanksgiving time, I split up our regular grocery shopping into $100 orders and can get several free turkeys. Cooked down, bagged and frozen, those go a long ways. I do trade a good deal of time to be able to still have good balanced meals for cheap, but for me, it’s worth it!
Yes! All of the above! We have a family of 8 and we feed them for $600-700/month, no coupons. It’s not brain surgery but it does take patience, practice, and a lot of planning. And we rarely eat out, maybe 3 times a year. We pack our food when we go out, every time.
And we don’t suffer! We rarely repeat a meal in less than two months and we don’t eat much pasta :)
Wow the comments are fascinating. I loved reading about everyone’s opinions, Dan’s budget and menus, and the tips that were shared.
We spend more than Dan’s family for a family of 6 (two teens, two adults, two elementary aged kids). We spend roughly $1,100-$1,200 per month on food, personal care items, paper products, and cleaning items. Some months we spend more, others we spend less, but that’s roughly our average. We live in a high cost of living area-milk is about $4/gallon and organic milk is roughly $6/gallon here.
Even though we spend a lot we managed to cut thousands off our food budget in the last 3 years (even while our kids got older and eat more) by sticking to a year long menu plan I developed (http://www.thecentsiblelife.com/2015/01/2015-menu-plan-save-1000s-menu-planning/). It’s essentially a repeating meal plan with some slight adjustments for seasonal changes. It saves so much time and money! We also eat at home most of the time, and that is a huge cost savings for a family our size (fast food is like $40 for 6 of us!). Additionally, I have a ‘clean out the fridge’ night each week. This keeps us from wasting food which accounts for about 20% of most people’s food budgets! We end up with weird combinations of food like taco meat with a side of pasta, but it works. Last week I used half a container of spinach that was slightly wilty to make green smoothies for everyone.
While I’m sure our grocery budget could be lower we have a few things that make that a challenge. I have some dietary restrictions (gluten and dairy free) and we avoid sugar (aside from special occasions) and we eat mostly organic foods. I’m willing to spend more on organic milk we get delivered from local farmers and organic meats because that’s important to me. While it may not make sense to other people we have found the best balance to our family’s diet (likes, dislikes, food intolerances, etc.) and that means we spend slightly more.
The things we spend the most on are organic meats (we serve it at one meal a day and find it necessary for our family), organic, grass-fed milk and butter (from local farmers), and organic fruits and veggies. While most people think of this type of diet as really expensive we’ve been able to balance it out in other areas.
In the end you have to find what works for not only your budget but for the amount of time you have to plan, prep, shop, cook, and clean up after meals. With both of us working we split all those duties, but shopping several markets like Dan’s wife does is no longer an option with our schedules.
There are a lot of ways to save on groceries, but like Michelle above I’m passionate about sharing that you can eat healthy and organic (or even with food restrictions) on a budget that fits your needs.
Thanks for dropping by Kelly – this is great :)
Love this post, it shows that with a little bit of planning, great strides can be made to reduce costs. I had to do a complete overhaul of my food budget after I noticed my expanding waistline was causing my wallet to shrink.
I employ many of the methods mentioned in the post and in the comments. Meal planning has become crucial element to saving, especially on busy days. There are days when I work late and I have to get home and shuttle the kiddo off to soccer, before I would just run by the drive thru. Now having a plan for dinner before I get home keeps me out of that cycle.
A couple of ideas to add:
1. Check out local farmers markets and Ethnic grocery stores. I’m in AZ and the Mexican markets often have the lowest priced produce. We also have a few Asian grocers that have great produce deals. Another plus is that they have produce not found in the big chain stores.
2. Price Match. The ethnic grocery stores may not be convenient, grab the ad and take them to any store that does price matching. You can also price match the big chains while you’re there. 1 store to get 5 different store deals.
3. Coupons/stock up on the sales. No, not extreme couponer style. Like Dan I used to be one but it was a pain, used up too much time. Many of the big grocers have coupons on their websites/fb/twitter etc that you can load to your shopper card. I use those and I print them from sites like coupons.com. I primarily coupon for non food items like toiletries and household products. I spend at most 30 mins a week on coupons. Generally once I have my grocery list put together I check in online to see if there are any coupons for what I need, print them, and go. See if you can find a local coupon blog, I have one check in on to tell me if there are any great deals. Every now and again we get a “hey guys, free toilet paper this week!” post (those one are my favorite). The blog I use also posts a weekly price match list, they go through all the ads and provide one list that you can take to reference so you don’t have to do the work.
4. Plant a garden or find someone that does. Grow you own veggies if you can, or at least an herb garden. Having fresh basil on hand at all times is awesome. I haven’t really gotten the hang of real gardening so I just stop by my moms and grab a few of her tomatoes.
I looooove the garden idea!! And also the idea of raising chickens which I know absolutely nothing about but would be elated to have fresh eggs every morning!!! This back to back food stuff we’ve been posting here reminded me how much I used to love eggs and how good they are for you. Which times with Easter REALLY well since now I can eat all the colored ones :)
Not having the time to read all of the comments here, I did read the first 2-3 and these girls commented on the unhealthy choices your buck menus are getting you. Without getting too judgy, (my mom fed an army of 9, I get it) my main thought to opine here is that the super cheap food choices in this country are downright dangerous! Dollar meals in this country are laden with sugar and sodium and GMOs. Being a rockstar with your food budget is awesome, but only when it factors in the hidden costs. A diet like this leads you on the road to diabetes and the like, which leads to very expensive regimes down the road, (prescription drugs, dr visits, etc). (Check out ‘Sugar, the Bitter Truth’ on You tube). Anyway, the most worthwhile food budget for a family is to factor in Real Nutrition and the ‘No Meat’ rule is a great start, but so, too is the portion size reality. In this country, we have a very distorted view of how much food we actually need, (yes even kids). Anyway, thanks for sharing your budget, I’m sorry to judge, I simply wanted to throw that in to help.
We are a family of 10 and we include pets in our totals. I stay home so we are also working on one income.
We spend about $240 a week. I have a different dietary philosophy than the authors wife so honestly, their dinners look a lot like our lunch menus. This is a run down of our dinners:
Sunday: 2 dozen eggs for dinner with mushrooms and peppers, homemade hash browns about 2 lbs, pancakes with Aldi syrup or homemade jam. Mixed fruit.
Monday: Spaghetti sauce with noodles or spaghetti squash. Breaded pork shop. Broccoli and homemade bread. There is homemade bread on our table in some form every night.
Tuesday: Tacos made with ground turkey. Homemade guac and pico and bulk purchased cheese and sour cream on the side. I will cook one pound of pintos in the crockpot and make “refried” beans and mexican rice. This will give leftovers for lunches.
Wednesday: Soup night. $7 chicken that I roast on Tuesday will give me broth and meat for a huge pot of soup. There will be leftover chicken. I will serve rolls or cinnamon buns also.
Thursday: Usually leftovers. Often a casserole or meatloaf depending on the schedule. Sometimes a fast meal of fish with mac and cheese on the side.
Friday: Pizza. Three homemade. Two with meat. Salad with toppings or fruit salad.
Saturday: Hot sandwiches. Sloppy joes or the kids favorite BLT’s. Chicken sandwiches on english muffins, grilled ham and cheese are some ideas. Fries or chips (it’s the weekend after all). Some sort of veggie just so we can say we did.
Breakfast: Cereal, eggs, l/o pancakes or homemade granola bars. Milk/juice.
Lunches: Pb&J, deli ham lunchmeat, soup. Refried beans with tortilla chips (my teens get a little junk and tortilla chips are a favorite).
I spend more on Tide because it works on greasy restaurant clothes. I feed 4 cats and a golden retriever puppy that EATS. I also feed a few kids that appear around dinner time because my kids know there will be homemade food and plenty of it. We drink lots of coffee and I actually buy produce by the case from the restaurant supply house. My $240 include feminine products for 4 girls, shampoos, razors and the cans of AXE that middle school boys drench themselves in. I also let myself have one can of diet coke at dinner every night. I could go lower but I think $27 per person a week is realistic and we can afford it. The authors meals would seem very skimpy to us. My kids are all long and lean and they go to school and play sports so they are very active. Dh and I could drop a few but…
Axe – hah! I probably would have drenched myself in that if it were around when I was a teen too…
Besides coupons, join Checkout51 and Savings Star. Both are free. I have 2 online savings accounts with both & save even more $$ on groceries I buy anyway. Savings Star also has 20% off every week on various produce items & freebies (buy the freebie item & whatever you spent on it will be added to your online savings account with them).
That’s pretty cool! Thx for the tips.
This is really sad, man. You have the potential to feed your kids a wonderfully healthy vegetarian diet and instead you just shovel carbs into their mouths while they’re still too young to choose differently. Buy them some actual food, man. It might cost a little more but at least they won’t grow up with nutrient deficiencies.
I don’t generally read internet comments because they tend to be ugly negative and pushily opinionated (Like Reema above me) so if this is all ready mentioned please forgive me. I noticed early that Dan mentioned buying in bulk is better for a larger family and I just want to say that my husband and I will buy a container of that Ragu, advertised for $6 and divide it into glass containers and freeze it, so that we probably spend less a year on sauce than Dan. Same with the cheese and many other Sam’s or Costco items.
To clarify, we give a friend who has a membership money for our items to be purchased, so it is not costing us a full membership.
We eat an all organic diet, I try to keep it under $500 for two adults+baby. That rarely happens unless I am being “gazelle intense” as Dave Ramsey says.
I like the accounting tricks. One of ours is when we have people over for dinner that percent of the meal goes to giving. Also, if we take beer to someone’s house we insist they keep it, so it can also go under giving. I won’t forsake quality of food for lower cost though. I guess it depends on what you consider to be the most important use of your money. Feeding my family the healthiest food available is my top priority of my dollar. I think people would see a huge decrease from just cutting the “crap” out of their diet.
I like those giving ideas!
Wanna come over with some beer? :)
Haha, yes. As long as I can leave it at your house.
It’s obvious from the info that the author really does only spend about $700/mo for food. I really try to be positive and not judge others, but reading the grocery receipts and meal plans all I can think is how poor their diet is. While I prefer to have more protein in my diet I realize that is a personal choice and one can eat very healthy without eating much meat. I also don’t eat the amount of processed food they purchased. Evidently some was for a party, but there was a lot of pasta, crackers and other packaged food that I would not feed my kids every day. There just isn’t enough information to tell how healthy the kids day to day eating is.
The big issue I have is with the lack of produce. There is very little (some, like apples, strawberries and bananas) but not nearly enough. The only vegetables I could see were baby carrots and iceburg lettuce, which has virtually no nutritional value. I could be wrong, I did see other comment where people missed things because of abbreviations. Maybe I did, too.
Three types of fruit and some carrots will not provide an entire family of 8 with 5 to 6 servings of vegetables and fruit a day. Its true that they may have some frozen veggies, canned veggies or leftovers at home but enough for 8 people, 3 or 4 more servings per day for 7 days? And if so, how is that factored into the budget? It had to have been paid for at some point. If they didn’t already have a bunch of produce at home and this is all they bought, then this is not a budget that is realistic or healthy.
I hate to be negative, I appreciate sharing and I agree with the author’s first paragraph about judging and putting yourself out there. And I do believe we can learn something from everyone, even if we disagree with them.
Thank you (and your friend) for being so open about your food budgets, I know it leaves you open to all sorts of nastiness, especially because it is only a snapshot…If some one looked at my shopping receipt this week they would see: cake flour, bakers sugar, confectioners sugar, Dutched coco, cream cheese, buttermilk, butter, and sweetened shredded coconut. They can either come to the conclusion that all my family eats is homemade cupcakes, or they can realize that we had a special occasion and the only shopping I needed to do was to get ingredients for a cake (which was delicious!). I love all the snide comments about fresh veggies/fruits and the apparent moral superiority that comes with spending money on them. I did not realize that every time I purchase fresh kale and purple carrots I am that much closer to being canonized upon my death ( I am assuming that because kale and purple carrots sound snobbier I get more moral points for them).
I am going to try this food budget thing and see how far well we do. I have a garden of fresh veggies going and ducks (I’m a CHEATER!) so it might be an easier transition. I’m going to try to figure the actual cost of my little suburban farming experiment and see if it results in any savings or if it is actually more expensive then buying store bought.
My family’s biggest problem when it comes to food budgeting is that I am a spoiled and excellent chef and “god for bid I make the same meal twice and that there is no fancy cheese”, so wish me luck!
hah – good luck! always fun to experiment no matter which route you’re going :) no shame in learning and hopefully finding better tricks/habits/monies hiding!
Oh my gosh! Thank you for saying exactly what I was thinking when I was reading all of these comments! I just have to say, people have become so rude! This man was just offering what he does to save money on food. Who cares what he feeds his family?! Why did they even read this post if they only eat expensive organic food? They already know they won’t be eating organic nonGMO fruit and vegetables, grass-fed beef, cage-free/free-range chickens for less than $1 a meal, so why bother reading it? And then to take the time to comment to tell everyone what they eat??? As if anyone cares! If they can afford an all organic, on-trend diet, and don’t mind paying that much, then good for them. It seems to me that everyone needs to get off their high horse. Sorry. End of rant.
I have just started to really track our money, and food is the easiest to control or not control. We are comfortable, but with my retirement coming up, the plan is to do away with all nonessential bills so that my retirement – which is going to equal what I currently make on an annual basis of net – will be even more comfortable.
Our food budget, for now, is $50 / week for two adults. We eat meat almost every day, but love breakfast for dinner. We seldom eat out. We buy meat in bulk about every 2 months from Costco and parcel it out. Chicken breasts from Trader Joe are a weekly standard. Nearly all meals are made from scratch, and while, yes, we could make our own bread and pasta (which we have done, and still do on occasion), we don’t; these count for our “premade” foods. We make our own bacon.
Food where we live can vary in price. In town, there is Whole Foods, Sprouts, Vons, Trader Joe’s. Out of town, a large local ethnic grocery with great prices – and it is on the way home from work, which is a great thing to have.
To me, eating out falls in the area of entertainment. I’m not sure where I will put TP and paper towels and laundry detergent – these are not food, but usually part of a grocery bill, so most likely under “household goods.”
I do think it is possible to eat for $1.00 / person / meal if thought is given to what you eat. Freezing, bulk purchases, and so on, do add to savings. You would think it nuts that a couple will buy tri tip in bulk, but we do – and save a lot. We are even thinking of buying a pig and a cow, but we haven’t gotten there yet. There are times we come home with 10-15 lbs of meat, in the form of chicken, ground turkey, pork, and beef. It lasts, and the costs, if memory serves, are about $200.00, and, like I said, lasts 2 months, but it could also last longer. So, maybe once I get to adding up figures over time, we will be eating on more than $50 / week, but that is a future number.
Anyway, to me, the key to saving on food is bulk purchases and cooking at home. I don’t use coupons because I don’t want to run all over town – I don’t have the time. But, what I do have, is the discipline to know what things cost, and know what we are going to use and need as staples. Then, a few spot purchases, and all is right with the eating world . . .
Anyone can eat for a dollar a meal when you buy processed garbage food… I believe the question was how do you eat “HEALTHY” for a dollar a day…
your wife is definitely NOT vegetarian.
A couple of things I do to cut grocery spending: Buy blocks of cheese and shred what I’m going to use, then reseal the remainder of the block. Buy family packs of meat, divide it into servings, and freeze. Of course buy bulk when possible and buy seasonal. If I have grapes, strawberries, watermelon past their prime, I put it outside for my fur friends! I do spend a LOT on my cats! My husband always asks why they never have to cut back – LOL!
The best item I ever received was a FoodSaver from my FIL. I don’t have to worry about my cheese or lunch meat drying out, or my frozen items getting freezer burnt. Also, they now have a portable product that uses the resealable bags – just wonderful! I just wash the bags out, hang them up to dry, and reuse multiple times. I also freeze left-over soup, spaghetti, beans in glass Mason jars. I use the pint jars for work and just pop in the microwave. No extra bowl required. I don’t buy plastic spoons/forks, I just keep silverware in my lunch bag.
Another thing, keep an inventory of your pantry. I use the app, Out of Milk. You can scan the barcode on a product, and even enter the quantity in your pantry and what you paid for it. There are also links for the stores you frequent and the items they have on sale. There’s lots of amazing ideas and resources out there if we’re open to suggestions. If it’s not for you, that’s fine, but I really like the opportunity to get a look at alternative spending/budgeting ideas.
My parents were very frugal but we ate very well. We always had a garden and fruit/nut trees and saved everything! My mother made everything from scratch. That’s one thing that takes food to a whole new level! It’s not about the money you have, it’s about what you do with it!
Thanks for dropping in and sharing, Debra!! Very cool to see :)
A lot of meals and ingredients come from stock items that most people have in their pantry/freezer already and wouldn’t necessarily be included in the weekly budget. I might be wrong, but when calculating a weekly budget, staple items (flour, meal, sugar, rice, beans, etc.) aren’t included. Same goes for oil, butter, etc. How literal do you get with this?
5 people, 3 kids, ages 10, 7, and 4 and a bottomless pit husband. $400 a month but that isn’t just food, that’s everything we purchase from a store including allergy medicine, toilet paper, or litter/cat food. I have gone over by $20 or less a few times, usually around birthdays/holidays. Usually it’s under. We always have baskets out with fresh produce but we also use a lot of frozen too. We use meat a few times a week if its on sale (I make part of the meal meatless as I can’t eat it), if not we use beans. We always have milk and soymilk on hand, my kids enjoys snacks regularly, and my husband is a big fan of potato chips. If you plan accordingly and pay attention to grocery ads, a reasonable, healthy, and enjoyable grocery budget can be had. I thank the author for this post, I was actually looking up recipes when I came across this page and now I have a few more meals I can play around with. We also do not eat out, ever. I feel like its a waste and I am able to replicate fast food favorites at home like “chicken nuggets and french fries” that are just as “cheap” but a heckuva lot healthier and my kids love it. The only reason I am even posting a comment, which I rarely do, is to show another example that a grocery budget doesn’t have to be outrageously expensive to be nutritious and tasty. I know food prices vary from place to place, and I imagine that can make it difficult to always eat healthy but that’s where it gets fun for me, you get to be creative in the kitchen! I hope even the people posting to nasty and judgemental comments were able to at least take one small positive from this post, even if it was the funny emphasis on pizza Thursday, which at our house is Wednesday : D
Agreed! Thanks so much for taking the time to share – I love it that you did :) And oddly enough we now have weekly pizza night too! that we make from home together – it’s fun. For us it’s on Fridays.
I love that you are giving people ideas on eating cheaper! I have some additional ideas. I shop almost exclusively at the Hispanic and Asian markets for produce, chicken, beef, lentils, rice and beans. Ethnic markets go through these items much faster than mainstream chains. Produce goes on special every week as does many meats. You won’t find any organics on sale, but the quality is better than domestic chains. For example, I bought 4/$1 avocados today. Last week, cantaloupe was 5 lbs/$1. Recntly, broccoli was 5 lbs/ $1! They always sell bulk carrots at 25 lbs/ $6. There are always at least 5 yummy fruits and veggies on sale. Also! Chicken legs are frequently 39 cents a pound. Chuck goes for $3/ lb several times a month. Both of these items can be made into sauces, soups, and stews. My last tidbit, use your crockpot to make stock for soups and stews, tomato sauces, beans, etc. Anything prepared, that you buy canned, can be made in 8-16 hours in a crockpot. It cooks itself! Freeze it in portions to store it. :)
What a great tip!!!
That’s only a half gallon of milk for 2.00, not a gallon. 2 1/2 gallons @2.00 each=4.00 per gallon of milk which is more v realistic.
Uh, I think you’re reading it wrong. It’s 10 for $10, which works out to $2/gallon. Redo your math. :)
I love reading stuff like this, its so encouraging. I just feed me and my husband, with moderate food prices. (Milk is $3 a gallon here) . But we dont have an oven – we have a griddle, a coffee pot and a microwave. And our fridge is 2 feet high. But i like a good challenge.
If it works for you fine but honestly I would rather spend more on Non GMO and organic foods and grass fed meat because my health is more important to me. What good is having money if you are too sick to enjoy it? Of course not everyone gets sick by eating foods that aren’t Non GMO or organic but then again how do we know? People are getting the strangest of diseases and ailments (non cancerous tumors for ex) for no known reasons. I firmly believe it’s caused by the crap foods the USDA approved as being good for consumption
Now that I’m broke, I average $0.62 to $1.20 or so per meal,
and I don’t produce from scratch. I was averaging $5.00 per
meal for fast food and $2.50 per meal at Kroger when money
was plentiful. Preference cans and boxes to jars and frozen.
Buy in normal sizes for the product since odd sizes hide high
prices per ounce/pound. Buy from a grocery store, especially
a hard discount grocer. Buy when on sale in bulk. Watch for
coupons, loss-leaders, sales at other stores. Buy powdered
drink mix which is artificially sweetened. Aldi is the cheapest
for that. Kroger has the lowest cost store brand soda. Take
into account your gas cost. E.g., Kroger stores are closer
usually than Walmart. Call the extra $5.00 in gas to drive
to Walmart the Walmart tax …
The articles’ author needs to throw Dollar Tree into the mix.
E.g., regular non-sale prices for flour Tortillas:
Aldi Casa Mamita $1.19
Kroger p$$t $1.19
Meijer Meijer $1.19
Dollar Tree Neuvo Leon $1.00
Walmart Great Value (unknown)
E.g., world’s best burrito is sweet corn and black beans.
No meat needed. Just add a pinch salt to the beans.
Dollar Tree sets a price cap on items. I.e., if
you can buy for less than $1.00 at Aldi or Kroger
do so, otherwise, spend less cash for smaller
quantities at Dollar Tree. This increases the
variety of items you can consume.
Since your family makes things from scratch, you
could always buy Walmart’s tortilla 4lb mix.
It seems the author is not taking full advantage of Aldi.
E.g., Aldi is far cheaper here than anyone else for
0.0413/oz $0.99 24oz Aldi Reggano
0.0440/oz $5.98 136oz Sams Club Ragu (from article)
I monitor six grocery stores including two hard discounters,
four department stores, three dollar stores, three pharmacies,
and one hardware store for food prices. I don’t monitor the
two warehouse clubs. CVS has also had some great food
E.g., typical non-sale prices for standard-sized store
brand macaroni and cheese box:
Aldi Cheese Club $0.39
Kroger p$$t $0.44
Big Lots Fresh Finds $0.60
Menard’s Parade $0.64
Kroger Kroger $0.69
Walmart Great Value $0.72
Target Market Pantry $0.72
Meijer Meijer $0.75
Spartan/VGs Spartan $0.75
Aldi is generally far cheaper than most, e.g., bread,
milk, cereal, cheese, peanut butter, frozen burritos,
etc., but Kroger, Walmart, Meijer’s under-cut them
on a handful of regular items, and will offer good
loss-leader sales and low regular sale prices,
e.g., Walmart hot dog chili sauce $0.50 10oz,
Walmart Great Value mushrooms $1.25 13.25oz,
Walmart Great Value sauerkraut $0.58 14.5oz,
Dollar Tree Pagasa spaghetti $1.00 24oz,
Bar S hot dogs will have a regular sale price
of $1.00 16oz at one of the national or regional
grocery stores, while Aldi’s Parkview is always
$1.00 16oz or $0.79 12oz.
Sorry, I haven’t read the comments of others yet.
P.S. Postmaster, please submit since I don’t use email.
Thanks for stopping over and sharing! Sounds like you have a killer system going on :)
How do you get 16oz pasta, 2 jars of Ragu(gross btw), and a loaf of garlic bread to feed 8 people 2 meals? I need double the amount of pasta to feed 5 people 1 meal.
I’ve always been a skeptic when people say that they can feed so and so members of their family on the cheap. I’ve been trying very hard to cut our food budget down, we’re just 2 people in our household and I spend nearly as much as this person for his family. But this includes what you would consider “household” like cleaning products, dental, hygiene etc.; as well as things like supplements that the both of us need for our health and dog bones which I just can’t make at home (highway robbery at $7.99 a bone)…I wish I could get it down to half what I budget but I’ve found it impossible in our area. We have to buy our water too because of iron content in the well. Both me and my bf have some major digestive issues and food allergies. I can’t eat a lot of things that are considered inexpensive, and he has trouble with certain items that force us to buy expensive substitutes.
I still like to read tips on everything, but I have an issue with people saying they spend so and so, and yet not mentioning they have a stocked pantry for back up that doesn’t somehow make it to the $700 final bill. (Like the OP said he must have had certain items already on hand).
Kudos to everyone who can reduce their food bill though. I don’t buy organic because I simply can’t afford it; but I will not buy anything processed to save a few bucks either. I do everything from scratch as well, the only pre-packaged food I buy is coffee grains and maybe some Panko.
Another thing to mention is that most people live pay to pay and really can’t afford to buy in bulk. Sure, I’d love to save that kind of money, but I don’t have the money to begin with. Lots of people don’t have the space or a canner or deep freezer either, which should be mentioned does help when stocking up.
Thanks for your tips.
Thanks for adding to the convo, Fran :)
i know it was only an example, but dousing spaghetti in ragu is NOT cooking from scratch….it so easy to make pasta sauce better then that in the crock pot…why does no one seem to know that!
As a teacher I work with students who don’t eat properly. This causes problems like attention deficit and hyper activity. If a child eats Cinnamon Toast Crunch or packaged mini muffins every day before school they will be full of jittery nervousness energy and unable to concentrate. How about a banana instead? Or oatmeal is much cheaper than the boxed stuff and it is much healthier! That would save u even more money:).
I wish I could budget for meals. I have an extremely picky son. We are talking eats no pasta what so ever.. No vegetables.. only Granny Smith apples. He will eat meat, block cheese(Specifically Cabot brand Cheese) lunch meat, chips.. I can’t even get him to eat a baked potato or and egg. He will eat French toast even though he knows It is prepared with an egg. Heck I love to eat raw potatoes and other veggies raw. My two oldest who are grown were never this picky. It was easier when there were more mouth’s to feed.. Thank you for your information!
Mine are that way too :( Hoping they get better with age as they’re only 2 and 3 right now, but man – def. makes it harder to keep them healthy and filled. Good luck to you!
My goal is making nutritious meals for $1 to $2 a day per person………….
1- Choose nutritionally dense foods
2- Use meat sparingly and cheese sparingly
3- Buy food on sale only, and in bulk when price is right
4- Keep meals more to the simple side
6- Cook from scratch and make own bread
7- Give up cold cereal for breakfast, it’s very expensive and not much on nutrition
8- Snacks are fruit, vegetable, pretzels, tortilla chips or nachos (we don’t buy potato chips, cheetos, crackers, ice cream, etc.)
Interpretation of our family rules, here’s what some of our meals look like:
>>Brown rice n’ raisins / milk / boiled egg
>>Blender whole wheat pancakes / fruit
>>Oven pancake / fruit or juice
>>Oatmeal pancakes with applesauce
>>Oatmeal with craisins / milk / boiled egg
>>Cooked blender cracked wheat with butter n’ honey / fruit / boiled egg
>>Scrambled eggs / whole wheat toast / juice
>>Hash browns / fried eggs / fruit
>>Green smoothies / toast
>>Blueberry muffins / yogurt / banana
Main Meals………we often include homemade whole wheat/whole grain bread, rolls, or muffins (our favorite muffins are oatmeal muffins), every so often I’ll bake french bread or make homemade refrigerator crescent rolls or sometimes popovers, and for cornbread and corn muffins we use stoneground cornmeal medium grind……..
>>Homemade pepperoni pizza / veggie tray with homemade ranch dressing OR salad (romaine, shredded red cabbage, homemade cream italian dressing)
>>”Chicken-Fried” dinner patties / mashed potatoes / creamy gravy / green peas (the pattie is made from oatmeal and eggs, tastes like a chicken pattie)
>>Baked yams / siraccha deviled eggs
>>Siraccha egg salad sandwiches / green salad
>>Frittata (eggs, potatoes, spinach, green onions, cheese)
>>Lentils n’ eggs / sous vide carrots
>>Italian sausage stew (has lentils, cracked wheat, sausage, onions, garlic, tomatoes)
>>Lentil tacos with lime, cilantro, sour cream, salsa (family fave, sometimes we add chorizo purchased at a local store where they make their own very decent chorizo, not the awful junk found at grocery store)
>>Tuna salad on whole wheat / roasted potato chunks with kale
>>Crusty tuna patties / garlic mashed potatoes / green beans
>>Chicken noodle (homemade) soup with vegetables (onion, carrot, celery, cabbage, potatoes, kale)
>>Mom’s chicken tortilla soup with crushed tortilla chips and cheese
>>Italian tomato bread soup (cubed leftover homemade french bread croutons) The soup is made of home canned tomatoes, garlic, onion, home grown basil (grown year indoors)
>>Chili (with ground beef) / corn muffins / salad or celery sticks
>>Southern pinto beans / cornbread / carrot sticks
>>Burritos / mexican rice or cilantro-lime rice / radishes or cucumbers
>>Creamy mac n’ cheese / steamed broccoli n’ carrots
>>Spaghetti (has ground beef) with homemade oven sauce / steamed broccoli / homemade french bread
>>Bacon fried rice / steamed carrots and peas
>>Black beans over rice with cheese (black beans, sausage, onion, oregano, tomato sauce)
So, if we have spaghetti, sauce, broccoli, bread……here is cost breakdown, 5 adult servings:
extra fiber noodles, yearly sale: 50 cents for 14 oz.
1/2 lb. ground beef (on sale for $1.99 lb)
2 cloves garlic, minced, 3 cents
1 yellow onion on sale, 8 cents (every fall 25 lb. for $4.00, some of them we dice and freeze)
2 cans crushed tomatoes, 40 cents per can on case lot sale
1 can tomato sauce, 20 cents per can on case lot sale
dried italian seasoning / fresh basil, 2 cents
fresh broccoli on sale, 1 and 1/2 lb. 89 cents
french bread made with unbleached flour, 36 cents per loaf
Total: $3.48 / about 70 cents per each of 5 servings
OKAY………now let’s say we have oatmeal n’ craisins for breakfast and baked yam/deviled eggs for lunch:
oatmeal per serve, 4 cents
craisins, 1 T. , 8 cents
milk, 1/2 cup, 8 cents
Total: 20 cents
yam, 1 person, on sale, 38 cents
butter, 2 T., 4 cents
3 halves deviled eggs, 21 cents
Total: 68 cents
DAILY Food Total for that menu would be: $1.58 per person
This is of course based on prices/sales/bulk that I bought recently. But shows you the idea in action. If we chose…….. brown rice n’ raisins / lentil tacos / chicken noodle soup……the total for one person that day would be: $1.10
Again, my goal is for the meals to be one day/per person, under $2.00 and to get daily cost as close to $1.00 per person as possible
Holy crap, that’s incredible! Thanks so much for sharing this – I think it’s going to help a lot of people :)
Thank you J.Money……..that is what I’m hoping also
Oh, I forgot that I wanted to include a few recipes for those interested……
I make my patties a bit different, but wanted you to see this site, she has some frugal recipes that might help a few people [although I think there’s a lack of protein to address in some of her recipes]:
Blender Wheat Pancakes
1 and 1/4 c. dry whole wheat kernels (also called berries)
1 and 1/4 c. milk
2 large eggs
2 T. oil
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 T. baking powder
1 tsp. salt or sea salt
Put dry wheat, milk, eggs, oil, vanilla in a blender. Blend on low until smooth, about 5 minutes. Put mixture into a bowl, add baking powder and salt; stir until mixed. Cook pancakes on medium high. Makes 12 to 16 pancakes.
This is the only way some of my family will eat oatmeal for breakfast……I like that these pancakes have very little flour, just mostly oatmeal, yet they turn out light. Can easily double or triple this recipe.
Mix in a bowl, let sit, covered, about 30 minutes or longer:
1 c. quick oatmeal
1 c. buttermilk
1 T. oil
1/4 c. unbleached flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. sea salt or table salt
Add egg, oil, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix well, adding some water as needed for batter consistency (it usually takes up to about 1/2 c. water). Cook smallish pancakes, 3 or 4 at a time: spoon batter onto heated (medium heat), oiled, fry pan or skillet. When top is bubbly and puffed up, and underside golden, turn pancake, cook until done. Serves up to 4. Top with syrup or applesauce.
This is where our first lentil tacos came from, but we ended up adding more seasonings after we tried these:
Favorite Oatmeal Muffins
These muffins are great with soups, salads, or for breakfast……..our family favorite……..
1 c. dry quick oatmeal
1 c. milk
1 large egg
2 T. sugar
1/3 c. oil
1 and 1/4 c. unbleached flour**
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. baking powder
Preheat oven to 400°. Grease a 12-muffin tin. In large bowl: mix oatmeal and milk; let sit a few minutes. Then add egg, sugar, oil; stir. Add flour, baking soda, salt, and baking powder. Stir all with a fork JUST to moisten. DO NOT over-mix. Spoon batter evenly in greased muffin tins. Bake 15 to 20 minutes. Done when tops bounce back to touch. Makes one dozen.
**I like to use 1 c. unbleached flour + 1/4 c. whole wheat flour for more grains/nutrition.
Desserts for us are not everyday and I like to base them on fruits or vegetables:
Low fat and delish! My most requested recipe……
1 c. brown sugar
2/3 c. sugar
1/4 c. oil
3/4 c. milk
1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin
1 and 1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 c. flour (or 1 c. flour + 1 c. whole wheat flour)
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cloves or ginger (or 1/4 tsp. of each)
Preheat oven to 350˚.
Grease a 15x11x1 pan.
Mix eggs, brown sugar, sugar, oil, milk, pumpkin, vanilla.
Add flour, baking soda. salt, baking powder, spices. Mix until
smooth. Spread evenly in prepared pan. Bake 20 to 25 minutes,
until bounces back when touched.
Let cool after baking until *****COMPLETELY cooled, not even a bit warmish.
Cream Cheese Frosting:
6 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 T. butter, softened
1 tsp. vanilla
3 c. powdered sugar
Milk to dilute (as needed, 1 T. at a time)
Mix ingredients on low speed until smooth; add milk if needed, then beat on high
to fluff, for 30 seconds. Cut into small bars.
*****Make sure to COMPLETELY cool the bars before frosting (if they are frosted
when even a little bit warm, the frosting will slide). Also, these are moist bars, so
when putting on the frosting, be gentle and drop in dollops, the moist top can make
it tear easily, but if you use a light hand, it will not tear.
oh, yes, the best french bread I have ever found…….I think most people could learn to make this:
[have not made the spread so can’t comment, but the french bread we’ve made 4 times in the last few months, one time for company and they raved about it]
In all reality, if you are eating a meal greater than $5.00… This could explain why debt is so easy to come by. I’m talking a steak meal here for $5.00. Now, first know, this is assuming you have “shopping list money”. If you don’t, it becomes more expensive and is equal to eating out! By spending more, being smarter on how you spend it, will save you lots of $$$$. I.E. How much does a single potato cost? 5lbs cost what… 2-5 dollars depending on specials?! Say 20 potatos cost 5.00 leaving it as 0.25 cents a potato. Okay, 12 sticks of corn at 2.00 equals 0.17 cents rounded up. Steak, 6 pieces for 12.00 dollars is 2.00 dollars a steak. Granted, most likely it’s not a top end steak here, but it’s freakin steak. So at this point, this meal is going to cost you a total of $2.42 cents if my math is correct. The Key is, the more you can make at home / from scratch such as sauces, pasta, even cheese, the more your going to save. Look at it this way, invest in saving money. It cost money to make money or it cost money to save money… If that makes sense?!
“we put pepperoni on one of our homemade pizzas (Pizza Thursday!!) and we’ll occasionally have bacon as part of a breakfast for dinner, and sometimes we’ll have hot dogs and hamburgers (and veggie burgers!) for dinner, but we almost never buy chicken or beef.”
Your wife isn’t a vegetarian. She’s fussy.
We are a family of nine and I feed my kids frugally but I rarely make high carb processed food because it seems to cost me more in the end since kids need a hearty snack after a bowl of pasta with cheap sugar filled pasta sauce! If I make pasta I will do chickcen breasts with homemade sauce and plenty of cheese over whole grain noodles so it has more filling power and kids aren’t cleaning out the cupboards all evening! For snacks we have a full fruit bowl and always popcorn on hand. I shop at farmers markets and buy only in season to save money. I don’t think you have to eat junk to save money, it costs you more with constant snacking in the end.
9 – wow! Impressive! :)
If forced to feed human prisoners on my hobby farm it would be possible for them to eat on one dollar a meal, if they were starving and had no say in their meals.
Single people or homes with less than 12 people don’t count buying 200kg bulk buy cheese as “budgeting”.
Yes you proved you’re point now stop wasting peoples time reading your head in the clouds RUBBISH.
SIMPLE FACT: $5 A MEAL IS A REALISTIC BUDGET FOR A GROWN ADULT BUT IF YOU WANT HEALTHY ENJOYABLE MEALS MAKE IT $10 A MEAL.
EXTRAVAGANT MEALS HOME PREPARED CAN COST UP TO $20 PER HEAD PER MEAL.
PROCESSED AND NON PERISHABLES ARE NOT “FOOD”.
FOOD IS FRESH AND HAS NUTRIENTS.
THANKS FOR THE MEAL IDEAS ON FEEDING MY INVOLUNTARY HUMAN CAPTIVES ON ONE DOLLAR A DAY!
seriously…. don’t eat meat?????
I CAN EAT FOR ABSOLUTELY ZERO… JUST STOP EATING ALTOGETHER WHY STOP AT MEAT???
total waste of time forum.
My husband and I spend $100/month for the two of us with only eating 2 meals a day on average. Granted, he gets free food at least once a week from work. So, usually it’s just a matter of planning out dinners for us with a little extra food to cover either a snack, breakfast, or lunch for us. Plus leftovers always work great for lunches the next day! Even if we wanted to eat three meals every single day (too much food for us) it would be doable with a budget of $150 a month. I usually start out by figuring out how many days I need to be feeding us for before we go shopping again. Essentially how many day sin our month. I actually write out the numbers on a sheet of paper (oh how much paper planning actually takes for this). I will then decide which days to do meals that can last for several days like soups and casseroles and which days to do meals that will only last for a single day barring any leftovers like pasta dishes and what I like to classify “nice dinners”. I like to mix it up so that I can have enough one day dinners mixed in with several days dinners to feel like I’m not constantly eating leftovers or just soups and casseroles as that could get boring. So, I could wind up needing 6x nice dinners, 5x pasta dinners, 4x soups/stews, and 4x casseroles and feed us dinner for the whole month. If I did only soup I’d need 10 different soup recipes. If it was all casseroles it would be 15 different casserole nights. The “nice dinners” and “pasta dinners” again only cover one night each. So, technically soup and casserole dinners would be cheaper than the other kind, but, again, I like to account for variety since we don’t go out to eat but once in a blue moon. (Once every couple of months) This, of course, still leaves money leftover for what I call the “essentials” which include any milk, bread, eggs, or butter/margarine that isn’t necessary for the recipes I decide on. Plus, there will still be money for either baking goods or breakfast/snack/lunch items depending on what I decide I’m interested in for the month. Anyways, the reason I figure $50 is all I’d need for 3 meals a month is because I usually have an extra $25 leftover for all the essentials and extra stuff. Plus, breakfast and lunch stuff is usually cheaper since it’s a smaller meal usually. I could get lunch meat for $4/lb at krogers and pancake mix for about $2-$2.50 for 2lb. Now, back onto this whole dinner planning thing. Once I know how many of each category I need I just decide which meals of each type to make. I, of course, always have a few meals I go back to again and again, but I also like to try a new recipe or have seasonal recipes that depend on what’s on sale in the sales flyers. (I shop at Aldi’s, Kroger’s, and Meijer’s) For example, this month I’m doing chicken & rice soup, chicken noodle soup, roasted garlic, parsnip, & white bean soup, and an italian winter soup. Usually I do beef stew, a pork based vegetable soup with homemade stock, or a potato, ham, and corn chowder. However, chicken is on sale and I was wanting to try some new recipes this month. However, my casseroles are tuna noodle casserole, shephard’s pie, pot pie, and taco pie, which are all classic recipes that I’ve done again and again. Now, maybe you’ve got kids and think you can’t eat things like subs or chicken nuggets and fries with my budget. (If you’re feeding more than two people I’d add $50 per person but that’ll also be more than enough and so you’ll have more money for breakfast/lunch items) However, for my nice dinners, I actually have Salisbury steaks, chicken nuggets & fries, and salami, bologna, and cheese sandwiches planned. Now, of course, you can do this from scratch for a similar price, but I’m getting pre-made stuff this month as I shouldn’t always have to make everything from scratch because I deserve a break sometimes. As for my pasta dinners, I have planned homemade ravioli and chicken alfredo. (I’m repeating the ravioli and doing it three days this month, but will only make it once and will freeze the rest until it’s time.) As for what I decided to do with the rest of the money this month I’m getting pancake mix, bacon, a sausage roll, eggs, bread, milk, butter, peanutbutter, jelly, and cereal. (I did baking goods last month and still have plenty leftover.) Personally, I think it’s great to hear stories like this one, but I wish I could hear some that are some what more relatable and go into detail about how you buy whole pork and beef roasts and have to break them down yourself and pack them into sandwich bags to freeze for later. Plus all of the going through weekly ads and writing down lists of prices for stores you frequent just so you know what things cost when you go to plan. Or how you have to make sacrifices in some departments to have nicer things in other ones. Or how you can eat real food not just rice and beans all of the time. Or how you buy ingredients that sound like real food.
Thanks for sharing! $100/mo is incredible!
Hmm…..I came here looking for ways to decrease avg cost per meal. Household of 8 (6 adults 2 children…legally speaking lol) with a grocery budget of $400 a month (this includes cleaning supplies, toiletries, cat food/litter).
We have apples, oranges, bananas, grapes, and the occasional berries, available for snacking at all times. Meals are loaded with broccoli, spinach, corn, peas, green beans, cauliflower, carrots, celery, avacado, beans….and MEAT. That’s right meat. So many people, from what i’ve read here, seem to think you have to sacrifice meats/veg to eat cheap. It makes no sense to me, we ADD veg to eat cheap. Add meats to meals to satisfy uncontrolled cravings. Spaghetti is an expensive junk meal in this house, but when I make it (maybe 1 every 3-4 months) I use 16oz noodle, 46oz sauce, 32oz meat and a 18″ length of garlic bread. Feeds 8, 3 of us typically go in for second helping, and there is almost always 3+ servings left over. And before anyone says portions must be small I am 340lbs, not a feat attained by eating like a bird. I was nearing 400 lbs before budgeting the food bill 6 months ago, and ending the eating out for half the meals, so I don’t want to hear any crap about my current choices making me fat, i’m losing weight without even trying and eating just as much as ever.
I don’t know what kind of food you guys are buying but meat is cheap. Chicken thighs are $.75/lb and come with bones and scraps when done! Lean ground turkey is $1.50/lb! Yeah i see those $15, 1 person, steaks but when i think about literally being able to buy 20# of chicken thighs for the same cost, it’s an easy choice. I am one of those that NEED meat, I can skip it a couple days a week, but going full veg is not an option for me. That said, no one needs 3lbs of meat per helping per person. 2 lbs in a meal to feed 8 is absolute max anymore and 1/2lb is better. Use fresh veg when you cook, everyone seems to stay full longer, while fruit is a available at all times, very little (of anything) is actually eaten between meals.
Use meats sparingly, using a the term, paleo diet, to excuse shoving 8#s of meat down your gullet is crap. There is a reason curing processes were developed. There’s a reason we discovered edible plants. Just learn portion control. I adjust meat usage by eating. If I am getting a chunk of meat more often then 1 of 4 bites I back off next time a bit. I find I appreciate that beautiful meat flavor WAY more this way.
Learn to say no to kids. I absolutely take them shopping with me EVERY time. So I can explain why fresh omelets and toast is a better (and cheaper) choice than Frozen or Minion cereal and when they’re not staring at the box on the shelf, they can admit the omelet is better. Why fresh fruits are a better choice than a bag of chips and dip (my kryptonite), for a snack. It’s not enough to shove veg down a kids throat and say, “here it’s good for you.” You’ve got to teach them the benefits of the vitamins in the various veg. The older child hates any green veg but understands the import of the vitamins found in them. And when it’s a particularly bad veg like broccoli I find if I chop it small enough it goes down just fine. Example, another rare meal is “mac&chz” 3 small boxes feeds 8, when I add, fresh, an entire head (or more) of broccoli, 16oz of peas, 8-16oz carrots, 2-3 cans of tuna. The broccoli is blended which gives the whole meal a light green color, call it “mermaid mac&chz” and the kids have 2nd and 3rd helpings. Cauliflower with tweaks of spices has an insane flavor range. Carrots, celery, peas and green beans (and just about any bean) are wicked cheap and have a mild enough flavor to be added to just about anything. Or use all of that add some mushrooms for a meaty flavor, some tomato and make a veg chili.
The one thing mentioned so much in the comments that I found odd is milk/chz/Gen dairy products. Super rarity in this house. Cheese may be part of a recipe maybe once a month, but milk is a rare adult treat. I’ve bought maybe 1/2 a gal in the last 6 months. There is nothing in milk that I can’t get from better sources. (For fun, 1 gal milk in my area is $1.50-$1.80 for the cheap stuff). We drink water here. Tons and tons of water.
Meal planning is vital to cheap meals. Also keep it simple, it’s easy to be tempted into bad habits if every time you cook you make it more complex then it has to be. Stop making juices! Yes an apple or orange is healthy, but drinking 10 at once in a cup of juice…? Not to mention the fiber loss, whether veg or fruit juice if you cut all the fiber out making your juice you’ll still be left hungry 20 min later. Eat the carrot don’t juice it.
Last thing I have to say, for those who don’t like to veg up…look at your choices, look at the healthiest of those choices then repeat my mantra (and RULE at the dinner table) “if you don’t want it, you’re not hungry. Walk away.”
Thanks for the tips! Love seeing this thread continuing to grow – so many people will be helped from it :)
Thanks for sharing what works for your family. Everyone is entitled to do what works for them. I just wish some people were nicer about it. You have courage!
Does anyone get food from dollar stores? We have Dollar tree near us but my hubby is afraid to buy food there, thats processed in other countries that dont have thesame regulations as the US. thoughts?
I get freaked out by it too :)
The most notable on the receipts for me was the lack of sales tax apparently on groceries where you live. Wish Oklahoma would do that. All items are taxed at the rate of 8.417% in my town. I’m a little jealous of that. Lol. Thanks for the article.
Ahhh good eye on that receipt! I didn’t even catch that!
I have fed THREE people for $1 MANY times, For Breakfast you can have an banana and a bowl of oatmeal or a few pancakes and some coffee or some lowfat milk or some juice.
For Dinner you can have a box of Mac N Cheese and a can of Spinach or Beans or whatever is on sale.
For Lunch you can have a peanut butter sandwich and a bowl of homemade vegggie soup.
To save properly you have to look at what you are wasting and throwing out.
Why you need garbage bags? We use the free plastic bags from the store. Wtf you need dryer sheets…. or a dryer. We dry stuff outside and take it in if it’s too cold. Smells better anyway. I could go on… Wtf you need electricity? I mean, ALL the time?
I loved this article! Every family is different and eat different styles of food. I’ve never calculated our price per meal, but we shop exclusively at Sams club. Our budget is $600/month for a family of 4 and that includes diapers. And we eat meat! So it can be done!
That’s pretty good… the diapers alone could bankrupt you :)
It can be done, Proper meal planning is the key and of course family involvement.