Updated on 03.13.13

# The \$21 Food Week: Is It Possible? Is It Healthy?

A while back, I read a fascinating article about the governor of Oregon and his attempt at eating for a week for just \$21. This concept wormed around in my mind for months until recently, when I realized that this provided a pretty sharp frugality challenge.

Can I feed myself for one week on just \$21? Since I have a wife at home and also a toddler (whose food costs would be roughly half of an adult), could I actually spend just \$52.50 on food for the three of us for an entire week?

I didn’t want to just load up on carbs and fats, either – I wanted healthy stuff. So I headed over to the USDA’s interactive food pyramid to find out what I should be eating in a given day, along with what my wife and I should be eating.

My nutritional intake for a day should be:

Grains – 9 ounces
Vegetables – 3.5 cups
Fruits – 2 cups
Milk – 3 cups
Meat & Beans – 6.5 ounces

For my wife:

Grains – 7 ounces
Vegetables – 3 cups
Fruits – 2 cups
Milk – 3 cups
Meat & Beans – 6 ounces

For my son:

Grains – 3 ounces
Vegetables – 1 cup
Fruits – 1 cup
Milk – 2 cups
Meat & Beans – 2 ounces

I decided that over the course of a week, it was fine if I exceeded the recommended amount of food one day and dipped under it the next as long as it averaged out to the recommended amount.

Thus, over the course of a week, I need to serve my family:

Grains – 133 ounces
Vegetables – 52.5 cups
Fruits – 42 cups
Milk – 56 cups
Meat & Beans – 101.5 ounces

Can I buy all of that for \$52.50? That’s what this challenge really boils down to. Let’s break it down piece by piece.

First, the milk. There are 16 cups in a gallon, so to get 56 cups of milk, I would need 3.5 gallons of milk. Three gallons of skim (for myself and my wife) and one half gallon of whole milk (for my son – whole milk is what is doc recommends). An average gallon of milk costs \$3.79 and a half-gallon is \$2.09, so we’re spending \$13.46 on milk for the week, leaving us with \$39.04 for the other stuff.

Next, the grains. You can buy three loaves of whole wheat bread for \$0.99 a piece to get 48 ounces of the grains. The rest can be picked up by two containers of Quaker Old Fashioned Oats at 42 ounces at \$5.39 each. Thus, we’re spending \$13.75 on grains for the week, leaving us with \$25.29 for the other stuff.

What about meat and beans? You can buy two pounds of hamburger at \$1.99 a pound (80/20 beef, just fine for grilling), plus get two 32 ounce bags of mixed beans (for burritos and soup) for just \$3.99 a bag. Thus, we’re spending \$11.96 on meats and beans, leaving us just \$13.13 to spend on fruits and vegetables.

The fruits and vegetables are the trickiest part. If you stick with what’s in season, you can get many different kinds of fruits and vegetables for well under a dollar a pound, and on average a pound of fruit or vegetable adds up to about three cups. The USDA recommends that our family eats 94.5 cups of fruits and vegetables in a week, which is roughly equal to 31 pounds of fruits and vegetables (remember, a family of three for a whole week). We have \$13.13 to spend, but even if we found fruits and vegetables for \$0.50 a pound, we wouldn’t quite make it.

Even given this, I don’t think the experiment is entirely a failure.

First of all, one can take advantage of sales, bulk buying, and comparison shopping. I used some average prices in these calculations – and I know from experience that the milk, at the very least, can be found cheaper, particularly in dairy-rich regions. I also didn’t factor in sales or smart shopping, both of which can trim more off of the cost. Also, you can buy some of the items in bulk, like the beans and oatmeal.

Secondly, I focused strongly on healthy options, since I prefer to put only healthy foods on the table. If you open the door to less healthy substitutes, it’s easy to drive the cost down much further than what’s presented here.

Those two factors alone could potentially drive down the cost of these meals in practice to below that magic \$1 per meal number.

What can we really learn here? The biggest thing I learned is that one can eat healthy at a very inexpensive price, and thus it often leaves me with questionable feelings when I find that I’ve spent astonishing amounts on other meals. It also shows me that if you stick with the nutritional staples and basic ingredients, cooking at home can be incredibly cheap. If you’ve dropped \$20 or more at a meal recently, recognize that you could have fed yourself for a week on that bill, including breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.

Of course, you could just go for the “three \$1 double cheeseburgers from McDonald’s a day” plan (which adds up to \$21 in a week), but that might not be the best choice either.

1. Laura says:

Wow, a good article and thank you for the pyramid link. my husband and I would need more than \$42 to eat well. We both enjoy a variety of vegtables and my husband loves fruit. It’s definately a good exercise to do. I’ll be using the charts when planning next month’s grocery list.

2. Alexis says:

Just a couple of problems. Look a the list of food you bought. (Milk, bread, beans, veggies/fruits, oats and hamburger) These items alone do not make up meals! What are you going to put on the bread, or will your family just each milk and plain bread for lunch with some fruit on the side? You could probably get away with some meals, like oats with milk/water for breakfast, but how will you make a weeks worth of meals out of these items? Thus it is less likely that you will feed yourself, even on these items, for \$21/week. Not to say that it should take a \$100’s more, but you are not truly getting meals out of your shopping list.
Secondly, if your wife is nursing the newborn, her food intake needs to be more than what you have listed. Her body needs more in calories and nutrition to be able to support the baby. I understand that this is just an exercise in capability, and not practicality, but still – something to consider.

3. Jean says:

Since you are focusing on eating healthy, I hope you are buying organic milk, especially for your son.

4. Starting with an empty pantry I doubt the \$21 a week concept would work well, but assuming you have a nice collection of spices, condiments, and other base recipe ingredients I imagine it could happen.

I managed to spend less than \$200 for two people on groceries in the month of September, but I was starting with a good bit of food already on hand and a full pantry. I am working at cutting that cost down ever further so it will be interesting to see if I can get close to the \$21 number.

5. Oh, and the Double Cheeseburger plan will work until the ol’ heart gives out. :)

6. !wanda says:

I’m suspicious of the USDA guidelines, since they are heavily influenced by the food industries.
1) Milk: Most of the world’s adult population is lactose intolerant (this is our species’s ancestral condition). You can be perfectly healthy without milk. If milk were cheap I wouldn’t be picking on you, but milk is taking up a significant proportion of your budget. Cut it out, particularly for the adults.
2) Meat: Is hamburger the cheapest kind of meat? Also, meat of any sort is not cheap. You can cut this out entirely and replace it with beans. You do have to be a little more careful with your meal planning- meat provides all the essential amino acids, while you have to eat rice and beans to get them in a vegetarian meal. But rice and beans are dirt cheap.

With those two changes, you can go a long way towards buying those fruits and vegetables.

7. Daria says:

Does making your own bread/soaking and cooking your own beans help? Likely that amount was negligible given that you were over the number, but I was just curious, especially since I know you make your own bread.

An interesting article, even I would cut back a lot of things before I would cut back food to that level.

8. Trent says:

Wanda, so who should you believe when it comes to a healthy diet? There is no universally accepted definition of healthy out there – every single diet you propose will have some critics.

9. Johanna says:

I agree with !wanda – it is not necessary for an adult to drink 1.5 gallons of milk a week. The dairy industry lobbies the USDA to say that it is.

I think you probably ought to be counting servings of beans and grains by their cooked weight, not their dried weight, which means you can buy less of those items. Also, beans, oats and other grains are available for much, much cheaper than the prices you’ve listed here, if you get them from the bulk bins at a health food store. Not everybody lives near a health food store, but if you can drive to one, you can get away with making a trip every six months or so, since dried beans and grains keep for a long time.

10. Amy K. says:

Worth a read: the Emergency \$45 Menu at Hillbilly Housewife. The author includes a shopping list with prices for her area, a daily prep plan, and all the menus.

It’s a well thought out meal plan, starting from a bare cupboard, and though I would not follow it myself (from a personal taste perspective, not nutrition) it did get me interested in United States food policy and keeping a price book. And brought to light exactly how much work I could be doing to make my food, when instead I buy my bread/tortillas/canned beans.

11. kevin says:

Trent,

Did you write this post before your most recent baby was born?

from the article=============
Since I have a wife at home and also a toddler (whose food costs would be roughly half of an adult), could I actually spend just \$52.50 on food for the three of us for an entire week?
=============================

12. Rob in Madrid says:

Interesting, I was about to link to the hillbilly housewife as well. Best part is she starts the week off with pancakes!

13. sean98125 says:

You can save a lot by getting your oats in the bulk food aisle. The local grocery here in Seattle has oats in the bulk bin for 79 cents a pound, which would only be about \$2.00 for 42 ounces.

You can dump the meat entirely if you are on this strict of a budget. The amount of money isn’t meant to give people enough to have meat every night, but enough to enable them to survive.

14. When I was in grad school (which was only about 6 years ago), I fed myself on an average of \$29 a week without even trying. And I love to cook. I did not eat Ramen noodles. I had healthy, nutritious meals with a balanced and varied diet. Like Trent said, the key is buying sales. I also bought 100% of my meat from the “reduced for quick sale” section of the supermarket. At the time, the market I lived next to had great deals there. Shopping at night helps you find those deals easier since they are usually put out just after the meat counter closes.

15. Lana says:

Going back to the frugal vs. cheap conversation, I think if a person can afford it, they shouldn’t skimp on healthy foods. Buying an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, lean meats and whole grains is an investment in health.

Of course, there are always situations where expenses are tight, and food shopping may have to be done scrupulously. But somehow I don’t think the majority of Americans are overspending on spinach and carrots.

To me, being frugal means spending more at the grocery store to feed myself well and according to the health guidelines I follow, and eating out less. Eating fresh, healthy foods also affords me the energy to get exercise daily, so it’s a win-win situation.

16. 42 says:

second the notion on milk. it is unnecessary (and a bit unnatural) for adults to drink the milk of another species. it is not a significant source of nutrition, and no other mammal consumes milk past the age of weaning, except for cats and that’s only because we give it to them ;)

as has been pointed out, the USDA food pyramid thing was largely paid for by Big Ag and there isn’t a person on earth who follows it to the letter.

another place to save is finding a store that has a large bulk-foods dept. you can get organic rolled oats (my usual breakfast, with raisins) for 99 cents/lb and a huge range of dried legumes for cheap compared to packaged versions. even expensive yuppie-chow palaces like Whole Foods have cheap bulk depts.

17. Carlos says:

I usually spend around \$15 for my breakfasts and lunches (which I eat at work) for the week. Of course, I make the same sandwich every day for lunch, drink the water from the water cooler (lots of it), and my breakfasts consist of one thing of yogurt and a banana.

Tack on the dinners and I’m doing pretty well. The trick, of course, is to get through the boredom of it and actually stick to it for a month straight—not an easy task.

18. !wanda says:

@Trent: You’re right; there are many sources of nutritional information. I suspect that people can live under many nutritional regimes and be healthy; just compare a traditional Inuit diet vs. an agricultural, grain-based diet. My goal was to highlight two pieces of your plan that are both expensive and not clearly necessary for a healthy diet. Milk *cannot* be necessary for adult health if most adults can’t drink it! That doesn’t mean it isn’t good for you in moderation- it just means that you might not want it if you have \$21/week for food.
Meat is probably not absolutely necessary either- I personally know many healthy vegetarians, and from a theoretical standpoint it’s possible to get all the protein you need from vegetarian sources if you’re careful. It’s also cheaper.

19. sfgal says:

Wanda makes a good point about the USDA allowances. I don’t eat by those guidelines – I try to eat a little bit of every food group. And I’ve done it on \$30 a month. Granted I did have the basic staples already. The key to saving money on groceries is to only eat until you’re reasonably satisfied. You don’t need to feel full or stuffed after a meal. I eat just enough and it works wonders.

I think each person should go by their own guidelines and lifestyles. They should match their meat, dairy and cheese consumption based on their own health and dietary needs.

20. Susy says:

I think eating healthy is actually cheaper than unhealthfully. The key is to buy things that are minimally processed. Have you ever compared the cost of the big cans of oatmeal per serving compared to cereal? Also not eating meat is a huge moneysaver in the grocery department and in the health department. I can buy a bag of dried beans for \$1 and it will feed my husband and I for many meals.

My husband and I eat incredibly healthy, including organic milk and organic eggs for around \$40 a month. We eat a lot of fresh produce and a lot of beans & brown rice.

A great read for a healthier food pyramid and for cheaper better ways to eat healthier read, “Eat, Drink, and be Healthy” by Walt Willett.

21. Sora says:

My monthly food budget for my family of 7 (two adults, one of whom is pregnant, 5 children between 12 and 21 month, all but the youngest eat as much or more than the adults) is \$600 / month, which is very close to \$21 per week per child.

Milk: With 5 kids, we go through a lot of it. Instant powdered milk at the grocery store mixes up at a cost of \$2 / gallon. Whenever milk is being used in a recipe (ie. pancakes, muffins, cheese sauce) you can’t tell the difference between powdered and fresh. (It also never goes bad). In our area, major grocery chains offer milk as a loss-leader for \$1 / half gallon about every 2-3 months. When this happens, we put as much as we can fit in our deep freezer. A local gas station (which coincidentally usually has very competitive gas prices) offers up to 2 gallons of milk for \$2.39 / gallon with the purchase of 8 gallons of gas. We buy our gas 8 gallons at a time and get the milk every time.

Beans and whole grains: find and join a food coop. I buy oatmeal in 50 lb bags for \$23.29 a bag. This savings (2 cents per ounce vs. your 7 cents per ounce) allows us to serve the kids oatmeal with raisins, brown sugar and cinnamon, making it much more palatable. :-) A 50 lb bag of wheat is \$21.61. The electric grain mill we bought 5 years ago has paid for itself many times over in savings on our whole wheat bread: I figure my cost per loaf with yeast, honey, electricity, etc. is about \$.35 — but my loaf of bread is about twice as heavy, and twice as filling, as whole wheat bread from the grocery store. Savings on dry beans and lentils (very easy to cook in the crockpot) are significant when bought in 25 lb bags from the food coop instead of 1 lb bags at the grocery store.

We rarely find fruits and veggies other than bananas, carrots, and potatoes for less than \$.50 a lb, but the savings on staples makes it possible to spend more here.

22. Susan says:

I used to live on a plan I called the “\$1 per meal plan” when I first started my job. All my coworkers made fun of me, but those early years of savings helped me fund my Roth. And as we all know, saving wisely for the first 10 years of your career results in more money than the next 25. Now that I’ve sacrificed during those 10 years, I can now eat at \$20 per meal if I wanted without worrying about retirement.

23. Andrew says:

I agree that the USDA guidelines are suspect, at best. Out of all the federal bureaucracies (including the Food & Drug Admin., the Dept. of Education, and Health & Human Services) why should the Dept. of Agriculture determine a “healthy” diet? By definition, they should be regulating the production of food, not the consumption of it.

24. Great article! Be careful of the \$0.99 “whole wheat” bread. Check the ingredients. Chances are you are just getting enriched white flour instead of whole wheat flour. Real whole wheat bread should have 2-3 grams of fiber per slice.

25. st says:

I’m with the others who question the wisdom of adults drinking (or at least, needing) milk. No other mammal in the animal kingdom drinks the milk of some other mammal, and only juvenile mammals drink milk (except when it comes to humans). Think about that for a minute. Milk just isn’t meant for adults.

26. Alex Knapp says:

Here’s a really good article by two people who lived off of less than \$3 a day, and it looks like they did pretty well. (For better clarity, it’s best to start from the bottom and work your way up.)

27. D. A. says:

I liked the reference to the governor who tried to eat decently on food stamps, and for your research as well, Trent. It would be a tremendous challenge, however, for spouse & I to live on so little. The spouse has diabetes, and I’m wheat intolerant, so finding foods to replace the usual inexpensive fillers (pasta, bread, white rice, other easy starches) would take much effort. Regardless, we continue to explore how to make our dollar stretch further, and I’m grateful to this site and the commentors here for the inspiration!

28. suz says:

I just came here to say that seems like a LOT of milk to have daily but I can see lots of people have said this already. There are other foods with plenty of calcium out there for less \$.

29. vh says:

What an interesting post! Gotta try this out.

Did you check out frozen veggies and fruits? Sometimes they’re cheaper than fresh, depending on where you buy and what store has them on sale.

Agreed, with other commenters: If milk tastes good to you and doesn’t upset your stomach, then by all means enjoy it…but you sure don’t need that much of the stuff.

Hamburger is cheaper & far tastier if you watch for chuck and round roasts on sale & have the butcher grind it for you. Today Safeway again had chuck roast for significantly less than hamburger. Grabbed two packages, “saved” (hah) \$12, and now have meat for many, many days of grilled burger, tacos, curry, and chili. Yum!

30. !wanda says:

@st: It’s not that simple. Certain populations of humans have the mutations necessary to digest milk as adults. These populations were the ones that raised dairy cows. In those populations, drinking milk as adults was so favorable to survival and reproduction that the mutations that allowed milk-drinking rapidly ended up in every member of the population. One of those populations was northern Europeans; that’s why the US has a dairy industry and USDA guidelines that promote milk consumption.
Trent’s ancestors depended on dairy for calories and protein. But Trent is not a wandering cow-herder. If he wants to really save money at the grocery store, he can replace milk with cheaper forms of protein and calories that are still healthy.

31. Mariette says:

Cutting back on the foodstuffs is hard – for so many people food=comfort. Now we know that isn’t true really, but it’s a very difficult habit pattern to break, both for your wallet and your waistline. I know I could spend a lot less money on food and still eat well – even organic – and these posts and comments are a great reminder of that and an encouragement for me to continue working harder on it. So thanks everyone!

32. Jen says:

While this is a pretty good post, this can certainly be done. I have a family of 3 (my husband, my 2 year old son and myself) and I’m expecting my second child next March. My grocery budget is \$50 per week and I stick to it. OK, I mostly stick to it. Last week I went over a few bucks because I was craving chips and salsa. :)

I do have a pantry full of staples and that helps considerably. We eat a fairly healthy diet. My husband and I aren’t big on drinking milk, so 1 gallon easily gets us through the week. I make my own whole wheat bread and, when he ate baby food, I made that for my toddler as well. While I do shop sales, I also do a lot of my shopping at a local Aldi, and then pick up whatever they don’t have at the regular grocery store. When there is a sale on meat I will buy more then I need then freeze it servings for later meals. The key for me is sticking to my list and not shopping hungry (which I’ll admit is harder these days).

33. Steve W says:

This is the BEST article I’ve read on the subject of diets, food and human health (“Unhappy Meals” by Michael Pollan):

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/28/magazine/28nutritionism.t.html

Here’s the opening:

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

That, more or less, is the short answer to the supposedly incredibly complicated and confusing question of what we humans should eat in order to be maximally healthy. I hate to give away the game right here at the beginning of a long essay, and I confess that I’m tempted to complicate matters in the interest of keeping things going for a few thousand more words.”

34. Sharon says:

Okay, This is a small issue with me. \$21 a week is an AVERAGE. If you have such a low income that you have no other money to spend on groceries then you will receive more. So the likelihood of you only having \$21 a week is slim. I suppose that if you have some income and a large lease/mortgage because you are in a temporary situation, it is possible. But then you more likely to have a few things in the pantry, which hopefully frees a few pennies up for sales.
Check out this randomly picked website with the maximum amounts of food stamps for PA

http://www.dpw.state.pa.us/LowInc/FoodStamps/003670291.htm

35. Monica says:

My family and I live off with less than that. It can be done. Having a pantry and buying in bulk helps a lot. And like Trent said, sales really do make a difference. I shop at three different stores buying only sale items from two of them if I NEED them. I think most of our money savings comes from buying from sales, in bulk and cooking from scratch. Most of peoples grocery money goes toward convenience foods like already made and prepared burritos, waffles, breakfast sandwiches, already cooked bacon, chicken tenders…etc etc. Those are super expensive when you look at how much it costs to make it yourself.

I’d recommend reading Miserly Moms which focuses a lot on how to save money with your grocery shopping. There is even another recipe book called Miserly Meals where everything is less than 75 cents per serving. These are healthy meals!

36. Mary says:

From my price book, let’s see how I can fare using the lowest prices:

I would probably follow Trent’s wife’s plan:
Weekly:
Grains -49 oz
Vegetables – 21 cups
Fruits – 14 cups
Milk – 21 cups (168 oz)
Meat & Beans – 42 ounces (appx 21 servings)

My best price for whole grains is about \$.06 cents/oz for oatmeal (dry), so 49*\$.06=\$2.94

Milk is something I don’t really drink or need in my diet, but for the sake of comparison I’ll add it in anyway. I can generally find a sale on a gallon of milk for about \$3.10 a gallon (128 oz), which is about \$.024/oz, so .024*168=\$4.08

Similarly, if I use dry milk instead (\$.020/reconstituted oz)is \$3.36.

As for fruit and vegetables, it’s a combined total of 35 cups, which I’ll estimate is about 2 cups per pound. If I can find bulk carrots or other similar veggies for \$.50/lb, that totals \$8.75.

As for meat and beans, I don’t generally like to cook meat so I eat more legumes, generally canned (I don’t have a kitchen). I’m gonna go by servings on this one, since otherwise we’d be comparing dry to cooked beans, so I estimate about 21 servings per week. Each can of beans costs \$.69 and has 3.5 servings, so I’d be eating roughly 6 cans of beans per week. So, 6*.69=4.14

Now add it up:
Grain: \$2.94
Milk: \$4.08 (fresh milk)
Produce:\$8.75
Beans: \$4.14
=19.91
Plus 8.5% sales tax (it’s California, what can I say)= \$21.60

With dry milk, I’d come in just under the cutoff at \$20.70
I guess it can be done, but there’s no way i’d be eating a meal of oatmeal and canned beans for days on end. But it does go to show how much money goes towards produce, and how much you can really save if you grow your own.

37. kazari says:

wow,
i didn’t know the governor did it, but the idea of a \$21 challenge has been floating around at Simplesavings.com for a little while. You can hear a bit about it here:
http://www.moneytv.co.nz
The concept is slightly different though – can you eat out of the pantry for a week, using only the supplies you have? we all stockpile food (to a lesser or greater extent) and the challenge is to make as many of your meals from your stockpile as you can. then use the \$21 for milk, bread and other fresh stuff.
it’s a great tactic when an emergency happens and you really need to tighten your belt for a week or so to get past it.

38. s says:

This is a great post, but as with the other people, I see some flaws in the presentation.

First, you only include half the money for your son, because he’s young, but the government bases the amount you receive on the number of people, regardless of age. Also, the \$21/week amount was based on the “average benefit received”, which is based on a maximum amount minus a portion of your income. The max amount is what they actually expect eating to cost. That is \$426/month for a family of three. My point here is they don’t expect you to eat for \$21 — the \$21 is just subsidizing your actual cost.

Food stamp issue aside (since that isn’t really the “point” of the article), there are still some issues with your “plan”.

The milk issue: This used to be called “milk and dairy” and would be more appropriate names “calcium sources” or “calcium and extra protein” since that’s the real point. Milk is a reasonable way to get this, but not the only way. Other people have addressed this.

Prices: A lot of your prices seem high (this has also been noted). The oatmeal seems the most ridiculous. But you did note it was for name brand oatmeal. I would have liked to see some brown rice on there. It’s super cheap, and a healthy addition to the beans (which also sounded expensive).

The “ground beef only” meat plan is silly. Not healthy if nothing else. I’ll leave it at that. There are other meats for the same or less. And alternate protein sources for the same or less. But for an “example” it’s fine.

And whoever commented on the spices and staples thing: most of those things can be bought “in bulk” if you want, in which case you can really just buy what you need. I can buy enough spices for a batch of soup for pennies. No need to buy 5 years worth.

While \$21/week isn’t really what food stamps imply you should do, I think it’s doable. Doable while eating “enough” and still eating healthy. Just stick with the food buying rules you always preach: buy seasonal fruits and veggies, avoid processed foods, and looks for generics and sale items.

39. s says:

PS. This was the site with the info on food stamps:
http://www.fns.usda.gov/fsp/faqs.htm

40. Jim says:

In grad school (10 years ago) I ate for \$20 or less per week. nowadays it is more like \$50 per week, but I eat out once or twice a week, and buy more convenience foods. I estimate that I could cut it down to about \$30 a week and still eat healthy.

I never drink milk (no longer like the taste), I only eat meat one or two times a week. I tend to splurge on fresh fruits and vegetables.

\$20 a week is probably doable, but like most americans, I am spoiled by the variety and convenience in my diet. Eating oats and beans all the time would get old quick.

41. Marcus Murphy says:

I have personally studied and trained with doctors, nutritionists, dieticians, etc. on the subject of nutrition which is fascinating. I have a 8′ by 5′ bookshelf dedicated to just nutrition (roughly 120 books most of them thick). I have read about every diet you can think of. There are diets based on blood types, and metabolism types, raw food diets, vegan diets, vegetarian diets, indigenous diets, asian diets, european diets, low-carb diets, low fat diets, etc.

I’ve found in studies (personal, controlled ones), that the best diet is a combination of eating for your blood type and metabolism and keeping your food selection simple based on the foods available from your region. when I say simple, pretend you were a caveman living in the region where you are now before civilization. What grows there and what game resides there. 75% of your diet would probably consist of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. The rest would be delicacies as you would be able to hunt them: meats, eggs, milk, and all other forms of dairy. I also found that a balanced amount of carbs, proteins, and fats give the right mix of nutrients your body needs to stay in tip-top shape. That means 1/3 of the pie goes to each category of healthy carbs (fruits, vegetables, grains) healthy proteins (vegetables, beans, grains), healthy fats (nuts, seeds, olive oil, coconut oil, beans). Proportionally balancing those categories and avoiding foods in your do not eat lists from respective blood type, metabolism type diets will result in sound health.

For one week I would need 2 lbs vegetables, 2.5 lbs fruit (non-dried), 2 pound beans, 2 pounds rice, 1 pounds trail mix (raw), 1 lb quinoa.

My farmers market will have sales during the last half an hour of the market.

I can fill the fruit and veggies requirement for about \$9.
Beans and rice are available from bulk bins at my local grocery store for about \$1.50/lb.
Quinoa is \$2.50/lb. Trail mix is \$3.50/lb.

Grand Total =\$21

Ofcourse this does assume a full rack of spices, oils, and the like already in stock.

Mission complete.

42. Lauren says:

Last week I bought a week’s worth of meals for three people for \$50, at Whole Foods no less. Granted, breakfast was not included (we buy Cheerios in bulk at Costco), and lunch will simply be leftovers, but it wasn’t difficult at all.

Our two biggest savers – none of us drinks much milk, so we only had one gallon for the week, and one of us is a vegetarian, so we tend to cook veggie meals most of the time — things like chick peas, black beans, and lentils can be REALLY cheap and are incredibly delicious and healthy. For those who say they need variety, there are so many different grains and legumes, it’s hard to get bored (try quinoa, it’s great).

43. Mary McK. says:

This is a very interesting discussion with a lot of great ideas. I will be keeping all of this in mind at the grocery store (or rather, at the time of meal planning, since most of the decisions should be made at home).

One semi-relevant point: I was an evolutionary biologist in my previous career and I don’t buy the “people aren’t meant to drink milk” argument. While it may be true that lactose intolerance is the ancestral condition for adult humans, there’s absolutely no reason why an adult should not drink milk if they want to and tolerate it(most mammals are not monogamous but that’s not an argument for us to model our relationships on the rest of the Mammalia. I’m just sayin’). Milk is a great source of calcium and protein.

No need to overdo the stuff though as it is indeed expensive (why IS that??).

44. sunny says:

Great post, we may try this next week, I’ve been looking to trim some fat in our budget and this may be the place! One trick I learned years ago is to use TVP (textured vegetable protein) crumbles in place of hamburger. I used this stuff for years in spaghetti sauce and my kids were never the wiser. You can find in in bulk bins at health food stores or Bob’s Red Mill makes it prepackaged.

Also buy your oatmeal from the bulk bins – I pay 39 cents a pound. Or 89 cents for organic.

45. Steve W says:

Bulk, dried beans/peas/lentils etc. are a great, healthy value. Here’s a tip (OK, several):

1. The Slow-cooker is invaluable for cooking dried beans.

2. Try to cook Indian. I.e., learn from a culture that has spent centuries (millennia?) perfecting the cooking of vegetables.

3. I’ve mentioned this before: The Joyce Chen Microwave Vegetable streamer is a \$12 miracle (and no, I’m not on Joyce’s payroll, but I should be).

46. Mrs. Micah says:

Mr. Micah and I eat on less than \$35/ea per week. We budget about that for food and also drugstore stuff.

With the milk, see if you can find less expensive powdered. Then mix half hydrated powdered and half normal, using your previous plastic milk bottle. It’s lowered our bill a bit.

47. Erin says:

It doesn’t look like anyone has yet mentioned buying a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture)share for your fruits and veggies. My husband and I get a box of organic produce from a local farm every week from mid-May to the end of October, and the price averages out to about \$10/week. The variety is great; this week we got melons, radishes, broccoli, romaine, baby greens, collars, kale, basil, eggplant, kohlrabi, and a pumpkin. It’s usually more than we can eat in a week, but it keeps well since it’s so fresh.

48. Marsha says:

Wow, what a great discussion!

I feel so blessed that (a) I am not lactose intolerant and (b) I love beans and rice. :D

\$12 seems like a lot for a vegetable steamer. I got one recently at Ross for Less for about \$3.

Thanks to everyone who provided links – LOTS of interesting reading here!!

49. Raymond says:

I’ve tried saving through strategic grocery shopping and cooking, but being cooking-challenged, I end up eating out too often. Food – my biggest savings challenge :(

50. Sharon says:

My husband and I happily eat on \$40 per week with no extra money spent on lunches out or coffee on the go and including our spices and oil, etc. It is really quite easy and I would attribute it to being vegetarian and living near Trader Joe’s which sells very healthy food for very reasonable prices. The only time we spend more on food is with our “fun money” which we occasionally use to supplement meals for dinner parties. I’ve also gotten good at cooking Indian and Mexican dishes, they are hearty and healthy (when eaten in proper serving sizes). That said, without Trader Joe’s and bulk bins, our manner of eating would likely be impossible on this budget. I couldn’t do it in Chicago, that much is certain.

51. Siena says:

I think this is totally possible if you know how to cook, which I think you do. If you buy convenience foods and ramen, you will fail. I’d recommend whole chicken (on sale), roast it (eat as meals), then you can make soup with the leftover carcass, and eat that with rice and veggies. Also just buy whatever fruits and veggies are on sale. I can get fresh apples or nectarines for as low as 50 cents a pound and recently got whole eggplants for 50 cents each. I can make an eggplant stirfry from one eggplant that’ll last 2-3 meals. Also consider using tofu–cheap protein. And eggs are also great cheap protein. Dairy is tough–I would cut back on dairy/cheese for this experiment. You can get protein and calcium from other foods besides milk. And I’d also keep using coupons if you can. Finally, try and find a store that sells spices/dry goods in bulk. That way you can only buy what you need and not a whole bottle (at an expensive price) for this experiment.

One of my pet peevs on other experiments of this nature is that the focus is on how difficult it is to eat on this amount without resorting to beans and rice or ramen. I’d like to see someone do this experiment and show how well one can eat on so little. If one cooks and buys fresh food I think this is very easy to acheive.

52. Interesting post and comments. I notice that the phrase “bulk bins” kept popping up. Am I the only one that is concerned about food contamination under these conditions? I recently visited a Henry’s which has good prices and an interesting selection on items which they sell in bulk from semi covered bins. (The customers lift the hinged lids and scoop what they want into plastic bags.) So dirty hands are probably going in there, including those of little kids who aren’t too fussy about what they touch. And since the lids are not tight, I’m thinking insects pests too.

My prejudice against bulk bins is perhaps colored by an incident early in my housewifely career when I bought a lot of oatmeal at a health food store with bulk bins. I stored it in an air-tight, bug proof container. Despite my good intentions, I didn’t get around to using it for some time. When I finally opened the container again — you guessed it: bugs! I had to throw the stuff out, so it was no bargain.

53. annie says:

Bananas are usually a good source of potassium and are found relatively cheap 3/\$1.00, bread store brand 2@\$1.00, instead of ground beef, try whole chicken legs at 2/\$1.00, and fresh vegetables bunch of broccoli at .99 cents a pound. how about making your tortias a whole 5 pounds of mesa for 1.99 cents and rice is always cheap, I buy the parboiled store brand at 5 lbs for \$1.99.This usually will last for a week. Eggs are a good source of protein as well as dried beans for a buck a pound. I usually only shop the outside perimeter of the store. follow the walls, produce, dairy and meats are all on the outside walls of the supermarkets. Leave the pre-boxed stuff alone, I feed a family of 44 for less than \$75.00 each week. I also buy in bulk and split up meats into portion sizes. Bulk rice’s, bulk frozen vegetables and bulk dairy/cheeses and butter. And sales, make use of online shopping lists that you can put together online from most of the supermarket circulars

54. Margaret says:

Speaking of bulk bins — I was at a store and saw a little kid standing by himself. I thought he might be lost, so I kept an eye on him. Well, he was standing by the bulk candy and eating the smarties. His mom came by a minute or two later, and I thought he was going to get a scolding for stealing. Nope, turns out that is where his mom had him stay while she shopped so he would snack and be out of her way.

55. Johanna says:

I’ve bought lots of things from the bulk bins at lots of different stores, and I’ve never had a problem with bugs. What’s more, there was a story on the news a few weeks ago in my area about a regular large grocery store that was stocking packaged rice with live bugs in it. Buying your food in sealed plastic packages is not a 100% guarantee against contamination.

The one type of bulk-bin contamination I do see sometimes is cross-contamination from one bin to another – something gets spilled, somebody uses the wrong scoop, etc. If you have food allergies so severe that you’ll get really sick if there’s a wheat-flour residue in your brown rice, then maybe you should avoid the bulk bins. Fortunately, that’s not something I have to worry about.

56. Louise says:

Start looking towards ethnic cuisines such as mediterranean, asian and indian to learn how to add flavour and variety to your meals. After all there’s nothing boring about minestrone, falafel with tahini, moroccan chickpea and pumpkin stew or a thai green curry made with whatever veggies are cheapest (use powdered coconut milk, cheaper and lower in fat). Buy pasta – preferably wholemeal – to replace part of the bread and provide variety. This is normally a very cheap item to buy.

No one mentioned just how cheap, delicious and filling soups and stews can be, plus you can make them in bulk and freeze them saving time and money by taking advantage of bulk produce and using less electricity or gas per meal. If you’re doing this you’re less likely to be stuck with just sandwiches for lunch. Freeze the stews/soups in individual serves to take with you to work. If you don’t have a microwave at work to reheat them, you can simply heat them at home and take them in wide mouth thermos.

Also you don’t have to be stuck with just oatmeal for breakfast. When on sale, other grain cereals can work out almost as cheap per serve, plus creamed rice makes a tasty and very healthy breakfast when made with skim milk (powdered of course), brown rice and just a small amount of sugar and vanilla essence. Once again, make it in bulk and freeze individual or family sized portions. Or simply make extra when you have it for dessert so there is left over for the next mornings breakfast. Some mornings have a smoothie and toast instead of cereal, and on weekends make your own pancakes. Baked beans on toast for a savoury breakfast (make your own baked beans in bulk or buy ultra cheap tinned at supermarket). Scrambled eggs with stewed tomatos when you have the time. Just saute some chopped onion, add either fresh or tinned tomatos (pick whichever fits your budget) and cook until thick. Variety is the spice of life so make sure you add to the number of dishes you know how to cook so that you won’t get bored. Try different grains and beans for variety and also extra nutritional benefits.

Budget cooking doesn’t just mean ramen noodles and oatmeal.

57. Frugal Goose says:

I think putting such financial limits on one’s nutrition is more a matter of being cheap not frugal. Theres really no reason you can’t spend an additional \$10-15 to get most of the nutrition you really need. I guess its upto the person but diet is one area I think one should not skimp on.

58. Johanna says:

There are “good” and “bad” reasons to increase your food budget.

On the good side, you can pay more for:
– higher quality
– greater variety (including things like heirloom varieties that don’t take well to large-scale industrial agriculture)
– environmentally friendly agriculture (including organic)
– a decent standard of animal welfare, if you choose to eat animal products
– supporting small farms or businesses that treat their workers well (including fairtrade products)

On the bad side, you can pay more for:
– extra processing
– extra packaging
– extra advertising for name brands versus unbranded
– extra transportation for out-of-season produce flown in from South America or wherever
– wasting food or eating too much

So it’s not really a matter of saying “the cheapest diet is the best” or “the most expensive diet is the best.”

59. Jon says:

I’m also against the argument that drinking milk is bad because “other mammals don’t do it.” It’s obvious why adult animals don’t drink milk — it requires too much technology. Domesticating other animals, maintaining grazing land, building fences or otherwise controlling movement of predators and the milk producers, etc. Good luck getting a lion to protect and tame a buffalo rather than just eating it.

Biologically, they don’t produce their own milk because they don’t have enough surplus energy. It would take a heck of a lot of extra energy for a species to produce its own milk in a large enough quantity to provide substantial nutrition. Imagine if adult cows drank milk. Well an adult cow could drink a lot more milk than a baby cow, so cows would have to start producing 10 or more times as much milk as they currently do in order to feed themselves — impossible.

60. Lisa Knight says:

Great article!!!
I spend an average of \$500 a month on food items. That includes the bulk buying & pantry stocking I do so really I feed us for longer than a month on that amount. And I can go a few weeks only needing fresh stuff like milk, eggs & fruit. I cut a lot of milk out of my diet, instead I eat yogurt to get dairy. I also add milled flaxseed to my baked goods, it’s worth the extra \$. BTW there are 4 of us, so my per person per week is \$31.25. Best I can figure the only nutrient we are lacking is fiber (besides what we get from veggies & bread), I just saw something that said kids should get 7-10g of fiber in the morning, even the “whole wheat” kids cereals don’t have that much!

61. Steve W says:

Marsha — the \$12 Joyce Chen vegetable steamer (and rice cooker) is specifically for a microwave. It’s very different from the inexpensive stove-top steamer. And tremendously faster and no loss in taste or texture. Trust me, I’m an good amateur cook & baker and avoid the microwave as much as possible (I didn’t have experience with them until my son was born and my wife insisted on having one), but the microwave steamer works great.

62. DD says:

I order several different sprout seed mixes online, and have a big jar of them growing on my kitchen window shelf at all times. They’re delicious, packed with vitamins, and couldn’t be fresher! I use them in salads, sandwiches, tuna mixes, omeletes, etc.

63. Andrew Stevens says:

I’ll just add my two cents to the milk debate. If you believe that it is not part of God’s plan for humans to drink milk, then I’m fine with that. If you’re lactose-intolerant (as most people are), then of course you shouldn’t drink milk. If you’re an animal rights activist, then I sympathize with your anti-milk opinions.

However, I am quite annoyed at pulling evolutionary biology in as a justification for the anti-milk cause. Evolution has been very clear. In those societies which bred dairy animals, the ability to drink milk constituted such a survival advantage that the lactose-intolerant were quickly eliminated from the gene pool. How does this happen if milk is such a bad thing? In fact, milk is very close to Nature’s perfect food. The reason humans (and most other mammals) evolved lactose-intolerance was to aid weaning them off their mother’s nipple so she could bear more children and not have so many demands placed on her energy. (By the way, virtually all cats are also lactose-intolerant. Milk should be given to them sparingly as it gives them diarrhea.)

Of course, the anti-milk people are quite correct that we don’t *need* milk and if it’s straining your budget, you can certainly cut it out. Other than milk, the best source of calcium and vitamin D is fish, though you can also pick it up from other sources. By the way, most Westerners don’t eat enough fish.

64. Mr. Nickle says:

There’s a great book on this subject called “Eat Well for 99 Cents a Meal”. Some of it is definitely a bit out there, but there are some very interesting tips/ideas in it, such as buying grains and oats in bulk from a feed and tack store (which are often higher quality than what is packaged and sold for humans). I don’t practice most of what is in this book, but I found it a very entertaining read.

65. Mr. Nickle says:

Also, consider powdered milk. I switched to it recently and haven’t really noticed much of a difference. Plus if you make it in small batches, spoiling never becomes an issue.

66. Vicki Davidson says:

Thank you, Andrew and Jon, for your “cow milk support.” I was beginning to feel like a freak of homo sapien nature. I love milk and have never had an allergic reaction to it (although some shellfish gives me hives and my daughter is allergic to fresh cherries). I drink at least 8-16 oz daily, and at age 50, still have strong teeth and fingernails and have never had a broken bone. Coincidence or genetics, perhaps, but my daily balance of food intake has always included dairy products PLUS milk. Firmly stating that “other mammals don’t drink milk” as the definitive argument against drinking it seems to be fallacious argumentation. In the “they-don’t-do-it-universe,” other mammals also don’t cook and refrigerate fish and other meats, don’t wash fruits and vegetables, don’t simmer beans and rice, don’t husk corn, don’t have clambakes, and don’t mill grains – this “they don’t do it” list can go on and on. Carnivores and herbivores have distinctive nutritional requirements, whereas humans and a handle of other mammals are omnivores – ne’er the twain shall meet. While milk may be a bit costly compared to other sources of calcium, it’s one area I choose to not eliminate. I will continue to make my own bread and shop “bargain stores” and sales to afford my naughty indulgence. Love that milk!

Fabulous article and equally great posts. A wealth of information is here, and while I know that spending just \$21 per person per week to feed my family of four will be a challenge (my athletic son is 14, so does he count as two or three people? LOL), I am excited to give it a try.

67. Siena says:

I buy bulk a lot and usually it’s cheaper–especially spices cause I can just buy what I need for a recipe (vs. a whole bottle). My grocery store (Winco on the west coast) has a large bulk section and it looks very clean and neat. It has the overhead spout bins that you pull a lever and food falls into a bag. It also has a place where you can churn peanuts or almonds into butter. So far I’ve had no problem with bulk buying even from bins. There are “no sampling” signs everywhere and it’s right next to the deli section so employees from the deli area have a clear view of us bulk shoppers.

68. Andrew Stevens says:

I’m actually taking no stand on whether milk is good or bad for us in the long term; evolution only selects for us to get old enough to breed. I’m just pointing out that the evolutionary arguments *against* milk make no sense. If evolution is telling us anything at all, it’s quite the opposite, given the elimination of lactose-intolerance in many sub-groups of humanity.

69. Margaret says:

Put me in the pro-milk camp — LOVE IT. I took an anthropology course once, and the prof actually discussed lactose intolerance in adults. He used to say the “northern european pastoralists” were okay with milk. On the other hand, if you have a limited budget, then milk is definitely one place you can cut down, as long as you are getting your calcium elsewhere. I personally would cut out a lot of other things before I would cut out milk. And yes, I am totally grateful that I have the ability to make the choice. As I tell my 4 year old, we are SUPER RICH compared to most people in the world.

70. Lori says:

I love bulk bins and save a lot of money buying from them. All packaged and bulk dry goods have the potential to be infested with bugs. Most of the grain you buy has larvae in it- that’s just how it is.

If you put your grains and other dry goods in the freezer for a couple of days after you buy them, then you kill the larvae. Then store them in airtight containers and you won’t get bugs. I highly recommend doing this for all flours, grains, cereals, etc., whether you buy in bulk or packaged.

As for germs, well, there probably is a greater potential for germs in bulk items, but not more than you would encounter everyday on doorknobs, grocery cart handles, handrails, phones, keyboards, etc. Germs are everywhere. If you’re cooking it anyway, what’s the big deal?

The best part about bulk-bin buying, apart from the price, is that you can buy a tiny portion of something you are buying for a special recipe or experimentation, that way you aren’t stuck with a pound of an exotic grain that you will never use again.

71. Robin says:

My husband and I have a food budget of \$160 a month for food. That coincidentally works out to be \$20 per week per person. We don’t buy shrimp or expensive fresh fruit and vegetables, but I love to cook and we eat pretty comfortably.

72. Rena says:

Wow this is a great challenge. I have a copy of the Bare Bones Grocery Challenge book (I’m a member of the Cheapskates Club) that gives ideas and recipes to feed a family of four for under \$20 a week which is a lot less than \$21 per person. The thing to remember is that most households have some basic pantry and fridge/freezer staples on hand to help stretch the \$20.

I have followed it with my family as a part of a pantry challenge for two weeks and it was good. I didn’t actually have to spend the \$20 a week, most weeks I only spent about \$15 to top up the meat and fruit/veg.

You can also grow your own vegetables which saves heaps and even if you don’t have a yard for a garden a balcony with pots will do the job.

Milk powder is cheaper than fresh milk too, and that cuts the cost down considerably. Bulk grains and legumes are cheap and of course can be substituted for meat. I serve 4 meatless meals a week and it really helps to keep our grocery budget low.

Menu planning on such a limited budget is fun and you can serve some really creative meals. Eating well and healthily doesn’t have to cost a fortune, it’s just what we have been conditioned to believe. Most of us over-eat and eat all the wrong foods anyway.

73. LawVibe says:

Wendy’s dollar menu is always a good choice. Chicken nuggets are the cornerstone of any nutritious meal.

74. yvie says:

Well I’m grew up on a farm with Bessie the cow, and that’s where we got our milk.

Today I love not having milk products. My stomach is sure happier and so is my budget.

Kudos to those who know how to take inexpensive, otherwise boring veggies and beans and, through the use of spices and sauces, make them very tasty. You can eat very well and very cheaply if you have the skills.

75. danielle says:

I think all of these ideas are great IF: you live NEAR a Whole Foods (which I don’t)…there IS a farmers market nearby (which there isn’t)….if milk did NOT cost 4.50 to 5.25 a gallon, which it does…..and if I COULD cost comparison shop at other grocery stores…not an option. I have two option for cheap grocerys, an HEB and Walmart. There are other local mom and pop grocery stores….cheap veggies and fruits…expensive everything else. And I personally don’t like beans…but that’s me. I have cut down on costs of our grocery bill, but keep in mind be/c of the TWO options for fruits and veggies….I tend to pay too much money for those items…I refuse to take a toddler or myself that matter to 3-4 different stores….but in general, where I live grocery shopping IS expensive! No matter how you cut corners. Yes I do buy in bulk, if I can and it makes sense, b/c not all bulk saves you money! The only bulk stores I live within a 45 minute drive is Sams and Costco! Oh…and I rarely buy convenience foods, I cook dinner every night! I don’t buy pre-packed/pre-cooked meat like chicken tenders or anything like that either! So any other ideas?

76. eric says:

I am the father of a family of five. My wife buys in bulk for the most of our shopping. We have a budget set of 80/wk without taking into account the USDA recommend servings. Using just a calculator (80 divided by 5 =\$16/week/person) that’s just \$2.29/person/day. This includes buying diapers, personal care, and household items. We make almost everything from scratch, buying for convince is expensive. We all eat well with complete meals and snacks.

77. SunshineD says:

I think it’s odd that some people think it’s crazy to live on a diet of basics, like beans and various grains and vegetables and fruit. That’s what we are supposed to be eating! In fact my boyfriend and I eat a pretty basic diet. It only gets boring when the food is cooked into a dish or spiced properly. We do that out of laziness However, it is edible. Vegetables and fruits provide their own flavoring for dishes. We also buy organic, but it does not cost \$21 a week pp! I wish! But it’s not that expensive. There is so much to distract when trying to eat healthy: fast food, restaurants, unhealthy processed foods. And some of them taste good too. I believe though that home cooked food is superior in taste, nutrition and cost! So it’s a win-win!

I have a tip for Danielle: learn to like beans! They are very cheap and nutricious. There are many types and they don’t taste the same: chickpeas, black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, etc…

78. Xias says:

Great Article, I always love to read about eating on the cheap!

79. efficacyman says:

Note: You could use dried powdered non-fat milk and cut your milk bill in about half, which would give you plenty of money to spend on vegetables (at around 80-90/c a pound). Additionally you could buy canned vegetables or can your own to significantly save on cost.

80. Terese says:

We are the ONLY species who drinks off of another animal’s teet after we are babies. How nasty. http://www.milksucks.com Milk is bad for you and actually makes your bones weak and give osteoperosis to people. Research it. Meat… we don’t even mess with it period. Red dyes they put in it give kids ADD/ADHD symptoms and the dye has also given lab rats cancer. Nobody needs meat or the antibiotics the government allows in it– http://www.goveg.com or http://www.allcreatures.org and http://www.spice-of-life.com

Think of the animal suffering you will stop.

81. Jeremy says:

This is insane. My food bill is easily \$50 a week if not more. Then again, most of you are couch potatoes and can live off low caloric intake. Milk is not bad for you. If you think its bad for you, you are retarded.

Animal suffering? I support PETA.
People for the Eating of Tasty Animals.

82. Artemis says:

I enjoyed the article but would like some sample menus from the author and some of the posters who have low weekly food budgets.

One gap I noticed was in bread. Our day old bread store has two 10 percent off days a week as well as reduced cost for higher quality breads and other items. They also have a further reduced cost shelf. Then there is home made.

Staple items I have to reduce serving cost are old-fashioned oatmeal, whole grain bread with high fiber content, peanut butter, honey, spaghetti, and tuna fish and noodles.

Stock up purchases on reduced prices. Every items seems to have increased in price by 30 cents from fuel price increases getting goods to markets.

83. Annie says:

Okay I just stumbled onto this article today while researching ideas for frugal ways of living. My husband and I are both retired with health problems, I am 57 yr, he is 64 yr, we have our 22 yr son still living at home and working at a part-time job, we live in Michigan which is currently one of worst states for employment and foreclosures.

We live on a fixed income and yes I can feed our family of three adults on \$63.00 per week and eat good meals with a variety each day. In fact I actually do feed us on around \$250 to \$275 per month, I am fortunate to live near Aldi’s and can save 40 to 60% on groceries, we have a small upright freezer and I buy bulk meat deals from a local butcher, this includes pork and beef cuts and depending on the bundle I choose it can also have some luncheon meats and/or hot dogs. Depending on my decision to buy 43 lbs or 62 lbs bundles it can range from \$1.45 per lb to \$1.54 per lb., or I can go higher too all the way to the side of beef bundle at \$1.59 per lb and spending \$509.00…………that I can never afford. But my point is by shopping around, avoiding name brands, eating healthy and good meals does not have to cost a small fortune. I cook from scratch, I do not buy pre-package foods, such as Rice-A-Roni when I can make it myself cheaper and better. I make my scalloped potatoes from scratch, not a box mix. We don’t have to eat meat at every meal three times a day.

Remember back to how your grandmother cooked and how good it was. My grandparents who lived on farms, very rarely bought anything at a grocery store, but both my grandmothers could whip up some delicious meals from their home canned veggies, smoked meats and neither one owned a freezer!

With a freezer or a pantry area to store canned foods you can save money by shopping local farm stands in summertime and freezing or canning your own veggies, jams and fruits for the year.

I make a big turkey dinner every November, a big ham dinner every December 25th and again on Easter. Those are when our daughter, son in law and 3 teenage grandchildren come and eat with us. Leftover ham bones and cut up ham makes wonderful seasoning for good old fashion bean soup the week after the holiday dinner.

I also use my crock pot often to cook, you would be surprised at how a cheap tough cut of meat can become so tender it is falling off the bone when cooked in a crock pot. I have never paid for “stewing beef” at the store for soups or stews, I cut up my own from cuts of beef I have purchased for a much cheaper price. Couple times a month I toss pinto beans into the crock pot and a ham bone for seasoning, we have bean soup, use some of the beans for burritos, I never buy a can of refried beans when I can make my own with some of the pinto beans I have already cooked myself.
Then another day I cook a beef roast or maybe pork steak, take some of the leftover meat, add some pinto beans and we have meat and bean burritos, if I have gravy, I add some salsa, hot sauce, little cheddar cheese and we have wet burritos. It just takes a little planning, but no food goes to waste or gets tossed out. I learned from spending my childhood summers with my grandparents on their farm how to be a spendthrift and it is serving me well in today’s high cost of living.

And eggs are just not for breakfast folks………….we have breakfast supper sometimes, eggs, fried potatoes, or pancakes and if the budget permits a little bacon, sausage or ham slices also. Summertime omelets with fresh veggies are wonderful!

Hillbilly Housewife is a wonderful website for ideas for cheap meals, the prices have gone up since she put the menu online but you can still see how to feed your family cheaply and serve a variety of foods.

Oatmeal for breakfast is cheap, quick to fix and can have many different flavors depending on what you add to it, it is filling, besides it is high in fiber, and good for lowering cholesterol.

It amazes me how so many folks today have no idea how to budget their food bill and cook inexpensive meals for their families……….they all seem to think inexpensive meals means hamburger, macaroni with a can of tomatoes tossed in………..nothing wrong with that meal, but there are so many other meals to prepare on a small budget.

Fact is if we would all eat less, cook more of our foods from scratch, stop spending on high fat convience foods we would be healthier, skinny and have more energy and most of all less likely to have some of the health problems we have in todays society. Learn how to store your produce properly, wrapping your celery in foil will keep it fresh longer, drink more water, use more storage containers instead of plastic storage bags and wraps. Figure out how many different ways you can serve one large cut of meat to your family so you can have more than one meal from a roast, ham, or whole chicken. And trust me if you do your homework and research they won’t even realize they are eating leftovers.

84. Sam says:

To cut down on the high cost of meat, we recently bought a quarter (side of beef). In addition to the cost savings, which added up to approx. \$1.50 per pound (yes you read right), it is organic beef without the hormones and antibiotics and is grass fed. How healthy is that?! We were able to specify how much hamburger, roasts, steaks etc. we wanted. And it came individually wrapped and frozen, freezer ready. Imagine having T-bone steaks for that price! Well worth looking into, even if the cost is somewhat higher in your area.

85. steve says:

Always put newly bought containers of grains or beans into the freezer for a couple of days before moving them to the pantry, unless you will be using them soon. This will kill any grain moth larvae that are in there. And there almost always are grain moth larvae in grains.

As to contamination in bulk bins, well I cook most of my food anyway.

86. J.O. says:

The calcium in milk is necessary for strong bones and teeth, and to help muscles and nerves work properly. Milk is one of the few cheap sources, and provides vitamin D at the same time (for folks who live in northerly climates and can’t get enough D from the sun). Yes, there are other sources of calcium, but they are pretty expensive (salmon, tofu, fortified rice or soy milk, for example). Use all or half powdered milk and the cost goes down. I suspect those who are saying milk is not necessary are too young to have reached the years of osteoporosis. Bone loss starts around the age of 35, so build your bones while you can.

87. Brittany says:

For \$20 a week, I eat at least two servings of fruit, 3-4 servings of veggies, 2-4 servings of milk, 1-2 servings of protein (tends to be cheese, tofu, beans, nuts… very occasionally meat), and 3-4 servings of rice or pasta. Since I got a new roommate who eats similarly, it’s dropped to \$12-\$15. What’s unhealthy about that?

88. Elaine says:

When my husband and I were first married we had a food budget of 10.00 a week and we survived. We ate a lot of spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, stews, soups, casseroles and stir fries-anything that could maximize the ingredients we had. We bought bread from an outlet store or made it from scratch. We drink a lot of milk but found the cheapest store to buy it from. Cookies and sweets were bought on sale or not at all and most were made from scratch. You can have a healthy diet on a surprisingly small amount of money if you do your research and use a little imagination.