We recently examined how much you should spend on groceries and found that there is a large variation in what the same size families spend in a month. The USDA tracks food cost by family size on four different plans; Thrifty, Low Cost, Moderate and Liberal. Their current estimate for the thrifty plan for a 19-50 year old male is low 176.00 a month. So how did Andrew Hyde eat on $36 a month while attending college?
Andrew gives us his how to in How to Live (Comfortably) on $36 A Month for Food. Here are some of his meal tips:
Breakfasts: Oats with raisins or a banana works out to be about $.12 a serving. Milk or soy brings it up to about $.20. Lipton tea bags cost $.02 a piece. If you are on the run the oatmeal packets (the flavored ones) run around $.15 a piece. Eggs can run as low as .09, so a 3 egg omelet with peppers and cheese goes for $.38. I used to see English muffins go for $1 a pack of 8 on Sundays.
Lunch: Sandwiches are the cheapest route. PB+J can be priced at $.25, so doing two plus a banana ($.10) makes a pretty filling lunch for $.60. Leftovers from dinner are also an option. Rice cakes and cheese was a favorite. Bagels, fruit and salads are staples. Lunch was always my wild card. Leftovers were the norm.
Dinner: Rice and beans extravaganza is my favorite meal (still to this day I make it once a week). Rice can be found in 10lb bags for $5 at a specialty store. You can soak your own beans, add ground beef (a pound of 85% can be as low as $1.25) cheese and an avocado. You can make 3 dinners for around $.44 a serving. A big pot of soup can be ultra cheap (chicken broth, veggies, spices) with bread. Homemade bread can be time consuming, but can bring costs down to around $.80 a loaf.
Salads are cheap, buy from the bins and bag your own. Spaghetti can cost out to $1.50 with enough for three meals. Repeating meals saves money because you can share ingredients. Also, if you are really hurting to make due, ask your friends to cook for you. Bring what you can and help clean up.
So maybe you have no desire to eat that cheap, but what if you could save $200 a month on groceries while still being happy with you food choices? How much sooner could you reach your financial goals?
Follow these three rules to control your food spending:
Rule #1 Make a Plan
Trying to decide what’s for dinner at 6:30 when everyone is tired and hungry is a sure prescription for wreaking the budget. If your family is like mine, you are going to end up bringing in a pizza or going out to fast or quick service restaurant or getting something from the deli. There are two ways to do this:
- Make a Weekly Menu plan every week (or cheat like we do and get one from E-Mealz). E-Mealz is a very inexpensive service (1.25 a week) that provides a store specific meal plan for the week. You can choose from family plans or low-fat or vegetarian. You get a meal plan using mostly on-sale items for that store for the week and a shopping list.
- Do a Meal Rotation –This is a simple way to know what’s for dinner. I would not recommend it long term but it works especially if you have a houseful of kids or picky eaters. When I was young, we did a meal rotation for several months. My dad had moved to another state for a new job, my mom was finishing her degree and had to stay put until her graduation. Alone with school demands and four kids to care for, meal planning got very simple. Spaghetti on Wednesday, pizza on Friday – as kids we loved it.
Rule #2 Make it at Home
Generally the more processed and prepared a food item is, the more it costs. If you don’t cook – learn how. Go to the library or try one of these simple cookbooks How to Cook Everything or Better Homes and Garden New Cookbook (get the ring bound edition). If you don’t have time to cook, get a crock-pot. You can pick one up at a Garage Sale or Thrift Shop if your budget is tight. We frequently use recipes from Fix-It and Forget-It Recipes for Entertaining: Slow Cooker Favorites for All the Year Round when we have company. Use your grocery budget on staples, not processed food.
Rule #3 Treat Eating Out as a treat
When we started cutting our expenses, eating out for convenience was the first big change we made. Now we eat out only when we will really enjoy it. I get better meals at home than I do at most casual restaurants for a lot less money, fewer calories and without the hassle. We have not given up our social life; we simply have friends over instead of going out.
How do you control your food budget?