Trimming the Average Budget: Food at Home

Food – food at home – $3,465/year

Another $300 a month component of the average family budget comes from merely eating at home. This does not include food eaten outside the home, nor does it include household cleaning supplies, toiletries, and other items that typically are bunched together in a family’s budget (since they’re often purchased together).

I like cooking at home – in fact, I’d go so far as to say I’m passionate about it. As a result, I often talk about cooking and food on The Simple Dollar, so for you regular readers, many of the tips below will seem old hat.

Five years ago, though, I rarely cooked at home at all. I could barely fry an egg and most meals just seemed ridiculously hard. Instead of putting out all that effort, I’d just go out to eat – and that became an enormous money leak in my life.

Here are twelve big things you can do to reduce your food spending at home, regardless of whether you eat out a lot or if you eat primarily at home.

Cutting Down Your Grocery Budget

Learn how to cook at home

The actual ability to cook real food makes it much easier to simply make the choice to eat at home instead of eating out. If you have difficulty boiling an egg, eating out seems like a vastly easier and less time-consuming choice. It’s not. I recommend checking a copy of How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman and just start at the beginning, trying everything suggested in there. It’s the closest thing I’ve found to a “teach yourself to cook at home” book that doesn’t overwhelm you in details right off the bat.

Make grocery lists

Keep a list on your refrigerator with a pen dangling from it. The simple way to do it is to take two cheap fridge magnets, a notepad, a pen, and a piece of string, and homebrew it. Just glue a magnet to the back of the pad and hang it up. Then, glue one end of the string to the other magnet, tape the other end of the string to the pen, and hang up that magnet. Whenever you notice something you need, write it down immediately. Then, when you go to the grocery store, trust your list. Buy only what’s listed. Don’t wander aimlessly and buy a bunch of impulsive things.

Make a simple price book to determine which stores have the best prices

The easiest way to do this is to identify the fifteen to twenty-five most common things you buy at the grocery store, then shop at a bunch of different stores and compare the prices on these items. The store with the lowest average price on the things you buy should be the store you shop at regularly. I was surprised when I did this test myself, because I discovered that the store I thought was low priced was far from the least expensive option on the stuff I actually bought routinely.

Make a meal plan

Plan out what you’ll eat a week in advance before you leave for the grocery store. Know the next seven breakfasts, lunches, and dinners you’ll have, then make sure you have all of the ingredients for them. If you don’t, add that ingredient to the shopping list (it’s right on your fridge, right?).

Use your grocery store flyer

The grocery store flyer can be a great extension of the meal plan. You can use the flyer to see what items are on sale that week – particularly the fresh produce. Plan your meals for the upcoming week around these items. This will reduce the average cost of each meal because the meals are centered around an ingredient or two you got at a deep discount.

Buy fewer convenience foods

I don’t just mean frozen meals (I’ll get to those in a minute). I’m talking about things like pre-bagged lettuce and pre-cut apples. If you actually sit down and compare the prices on such prepared foods, you’re essentially paying $5 or so for about three minutes’ worth of work. Get some reusable containers, go home with the raw lettuce or apples, and do such things yourself.

Make more convenience foods

Instead of stopping each morning for breakfast, make your own breakfast burritos in advance and freeze them. Instead of just buying a premade mediocre overpriced casserole, make your own casserole in advance and freeze it. You can make your own convenience foods – and you’ll find that they’re both tastier and less expensive than the convenience foods you’ll buy elsewhere.

Drink filtered tap water as your primary beverage

Water from the tap is the least expensive beverage available to you – take advantage of it. Make it into your primary beverage throughout the day. You don’t have to give up whatever your favorite beverage might be – mine is vegetable juice, actually – but if you replace the majority of your intake with water, you’ll reduce your spending, reduce your calorie intake, and view that drink you like so much as a treat rather than a mundane requirement.

Eat (and enjoy) leftovers

When you have food left over, don’t just push it to the back of the fridge and forget about it. Have leftovers for dinner once in a while – and make it more flavorful by amping up the spices in it. Use leftovers as the basis for future meals, like transforming pot roast leftovers into a pie. Even better….

Brown bag your lunch

Take leftovers when you can. Even if you can’t, a simple meal made at home and taken to work is far, far cheaper than going out with the gang. Try doing it one or two days more a week than you do now and you’ll be surprised to see how much money you can save.

Have potluck dinners with friends

Many people socialize by going out to dinner. Why not do the same thing at home with home-cooked food and a much, much smaller bill? Start a series of potluck dinners with your friends by hosting the first one – make the main course and ask your friends to bring side dishes. It can be a fun social engagement, plus it’s a big money saver when it comes to food.

Appreciate (and utilize) the low-cost staples

I love beans. They’re incredibly inexpensive, very filling, and provide essential protein in your diet. I use beans as often as I can in recipes. Rice is another low-cost staple (though not as low-cost as it once was) that can provide an essential element to your meals. Look in the produce section of your local store over time and note the ingredients that are very low-cost. Seek to grow intimately familiar with how to make these items – and you’ll find yourself saving a lot of money.

I want your help! In the comments, please let me know which of the tips you find most useful for trimming these costs. I’ll include the top choices in a comprehensive budget trimming guide at the conclusion of the series.

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  1. Johanna says:

    According to the graphic in the post the other day, this average household has 2.5 people in it, so $3465 a year works out to less than $4 per person per day. That seems really low already – I wouldn’t advise anyone to cut their food spending much below that if they don’t absolutely have to.

  2. AC says:

    I admit it, I checked as soon as this post came through my RSS to see if Johanna had posted. She did not disappoint!

  3. Kat says:

    Johanna, considering that “half a person” can’t possibly eat much, and that this isn’t including eating out, and that this is an average, so there are people who spend much less and who spend much more, and the whole point of the blog is to save money, not encourage extra spending, I’m at a loss of the point of your comment. I doubt any person reading this blog lives in a family of two and a half people spending $3,465 a year on groceries, but I bet a large number of those reading the blog would like to spend less on groceries.

  4. If your local store has bulk bins for dried fruit, rice, oats, etc., try bringing your own containers and filling those up rather than buying pre-packaged containers. Even though the pre-packaged items may not be overpriced per se, they may still have a significant mark-up over the stuff in the bulk bins. For 30 seconds of work (get out tin, fill it, put on lid) you can end up with an identical quantity of the same product as the pre-packaged stuff, but pay a few dollars per pound less.

    Not only do you save a few bucks, you cut down on the amount of packaging that your food comes in, and you can buy as much or as little as you need (which cuts down on waste, indirectly saving even more packaging and money).

  5. Jules says:

    I’m surprised that going vegetarian, even partially, didn’t make this list. You’d be surprised at how filling a good hunk of broccoli can be :-) In all seriousness, I bought a head of broccoli on Tuesday night and had it in a big bowl of hot soup (my apartment is so badly heated that hot soup is about the only thing that will get me warm) for three nights. Mixed it up a bit with noodles, or an egg.

    Also, if you’re in a major city, check out the ethnic stores for neat ingredients. If nothing else, at least the ramen is usually cheaper ;-)

  6. Molly says:

    And actually, this amount is about the USDA “thrifty” food plan for a family of 2. This is about what my family spends on food at home each year, and it’s a HUGE increase from a few years ago, when we were at about 2/3 of that. But it’s plenty of money for a generous, and healthy, grocery budget.

    I’d add “substitutions” to this list. I frequently make a grocery list that says things like “fruit, green veggie, bread,” and the cheapest thing in that category is what we eat.

    I also wholeheartedly agree with Jules’s idea about the ethnic grocery stores. Little Vietnam (Chicago) has the cheapest tofu around.

  7. steve says:

    I recommend eating closer to the bottom of the food chain. In most cases it’s much more affordable than eating out; in many cases, it’s exponentially cheaper.

    Not only that, but beans, grains, vegetables, and fruits tend to be much more nutritionally dense than processed foods, or even dairy and meat products (which are a bit further up the food chain). Basic foods pack a healthy punch; whether it’s vitamins, minerals, fiber, or other healthy nutrients, there’s a greater concentration of them in fewer calories when you go for the more basic foods–cooked or not.

    As a vegetarian and sometimes vegan, I admit I’m biased towards this kind of diet. But I still pass along this recommendation for basic foods–beans, grains, fruits, and vegetables–with a straight face.

  8. Mary W says:

    Another way to save money is to garden. Here in So Cal veggies can be grown year round. (I realize that isn’t true of most areas.) My 80 sf of raised beds grow most of the the veggies we eat. Figure out what gives you the biggest yield for lowest cost AND that your family will eat. Even if all you do is grow a couple of tomato plants in pots it can help.

    Adding on to Trent’s “eat leftovers” suggestion, you should come up with a couple of dishes that lend themselves to using up the type of leftovers you generate. Then eat those dishes a couple of times a week. Soup, chili, pizza, frittata, salad are some versatile dishes that lend themselves to using up varied small amounts of leftovers.

  9. gardenurse says:

    I agree with all of the tips and would like to add another. Utilizing a freezer.
    We purchase meat in bulk (or raise it ourselves, as we live on a small acreage) and keep it in the freezer.
    I realize not everyone has the abilty to do this, nor may want to, but it saves a lot of money when you can buy your processed meat for under $3 a pound including steaks and the more expensive cuts.
    You can also double (or more) your meals, and freeze the extra for a later date. With a newer freezer (our old one was over 40), this save time and money.

  10. Noadi says:

    I think the amount quoted here as the average says somethign that Trent didn’t address. Joanna is right that the average here is about $4 per person per day on food at home. I don’t think that means people eat that little but only that they are eating far too many meals outside the home, nearly half the money spent on food in that graphic was away from home.

  11. Des says:

    @Kat

    Huh? I am at a loss to understand your comment. $3465 a year for 2.5 people works out to be $115 per person per month. That seems reasonable to me. I find it hard to pend much less than that and still include fruits and vegetables in our meals. What was the point of your comment? Are you saying that people ought to try and spend less than $115 per person per month?

  12. Gretchen says:

    I don’t understand Kat’s comment either.

    I also took it to be as #10 did, that no one eats at home anymore, therefore that part of the budget is quite low.
    My personal “eating out” budget is about $40 a year, so certainly spend more money on food at home.

  13. Nick says:

    “In the comments, please let me know which of the tips you find most useful for trimming shelter costs.”

    For some reason it’s incredibly annoying to me that the “shelter costs” typo is on every single one of these. This isn’t a post about shelter costs.

    I bet it’ll be on the next one too…

  14. Johanna says:

    The point of my comment is that even on a blog about saving money, not all ways to save money are equally good ideas. Food is unique (or almost unique, since alcohol is a separate category) among the categories here in that the things you buy become a part of your body. Shopping for food on price alone can mean (among other things) eating a lot of the quasi-food byproducts dumped on the market that nobody else wants, eating lower quality fruits and vegetables that don’t taste as good (and therefore, usually, eating less fruit and veg and more junk food), and supporting systems of animal agriculture that cause tremendous suffering to the animals involved.

    Even the seemingly “good” ways of saving money, like avoiding convenience foods, can have negative consequences. If avoiding pre-washed lettuce or pre-cut apples means that you’re eating less lettuce and fewer apples, that’s not necessarily a good thing.

    That’s why I think that if you’re spending $4 per day per person or less on groceries, it’s a bad idea to even consider trying to trim that unless you absolutely need to cut your spending somewhere and there’s absolutely nowhere else that you can cut.

    (Also, @Gretchen and Noadi: The “food away from home” number is less than $3 per person per day, which doesn’t even get you one cheap fast-food meal per day. So the $4 per person per day in groceries is still covering 2+ meals.)

  15. beth says:

    All debate aside, we found that one of the best ways to cut our food costs was to buy a mini-fridge for work. (My hubby and I work in the same office, so we are fairly unique in that we eat lunch together at work most days.) I have a total handicap for remembering to brown-bag lunch and don’t want to waste the gas to go home multiple times a day. So we stock it every week or two with lunch staples, frozen leftovers, and my main caffeine crutch (Dublin Dr Pepper), and we have barely been out to eat or stranded without food since.

    So, mini-fridge @ work, deep freezer @ home w/ bulk-bought meat, bulk-bin buying at the local healthy grocery store (where they don’t sell much tempting junk food anyway), and meal planning have salvaged our food budget. We’re far from efficient with it so far, but getting better.

  16. chacha1 says:

    I think these were all good tips. I do a kitchen survey, make my grocery list, then plan meals for the week and add anything else I want to get. Then and only then do I go to the grocery store.

    I follow all these tips except the price book/flyer. We aren’t, fortunately, on a strict budget so I buy the food that we like and not what’s on sale. Rewards cards help!

    I think the single BEST tip is about the meal plan. If you have a plan, everything else falls into place.

  17. cv says:

    Depending on where you live and your family size, a CSA (community supported agriculture) subscription can be amazingly economical. We split a share with another couple, so for $11/week for 8 months out of the year we get almost more veggies than the two of us can eat, and it’s all local, organic and seasonal.

    Also, I agree with those who recommend eating lower on the food chain. I’m already a vegetarian, but I’m sometimes shocked at how much I can spend on cheese.

  18. Susan says:

    I have a husband and three sons and we live in Alberta, Canada. We spend much more than $115 per person per month on food. I am very glad that we have the opportunity to do so.

    The blog The Prudent Homemaker provides excellent ideas on how to eat at minimal cost. The author’s personal/family story is interesting as well. Disclosure: I have never met the author nor share her religious background.

  19. You are so right about the ways to feed the family economically. The same family could waste twice that much or more by not “shopping” sensibly.

    John DeFlumeri Jr

  20. Kat says:

    I’m not saying people should spend less than any particular number on food. I’m saying it is ridiculous to say that this article should have been about spending more on groceries or that because of what the survey said, Trent shouldn’t advise spending less on food (or give a warning/disclaimer maybe? this article only for people who spend $10 a day or more on food!).

    This survey isn’t what the average person spends, it is what the average family spends. As soon as you find a family with 2.5 people in it, of which 1.3 make money and all of them are 48 years old, be sure to tell them to spend more on groceries. In the meantime, this blog is targeted at people who are trying to be smart with their money, and that includes not overspending on food. None of the suggestions were to stop eating so much (which, considering the overconsumption of calories of the typical American, may be a good idea) or to buy lower quality foods, the tips were to save money by not paying for convenience foods, to shop sales, and to not waste what you have. I agree that people should not cut their food budget to the point of malnutrition in order to save money, but that wasn’t any of the suggestions. I am not sure what the suggestion that you should spend more on food means, as more money does not necessarily mena healthier food.

    This survey is supposed to be of all Americans, including the broke college kid eating ramen and spending $1 a day on food and the socialite who only eats out and spends $0 on groceries as well as the family with 10 kids that only eats at home and spends much more than this average and the single person on a self sustaining farm and the young family buying organic groceries in an expensive metropolitan area. There are plenty of blogs, books, TV shows about eating cheaply, and a good number of them also focus on eating healthy food for cheap. It is completely possible to spend less than $7 a day per person on food (including the eating out category). Interestingly, this number is just about what the government gives in food stamps (no wonder the government survey didn’t want to make it look like you needed to spend more than this on food!).

    The majority of Americans own a pet and yet pet expenses are lumped into miscellaneous. The average American does not smoke, and yet tobacco was a category. Trent’s job is not to tell us why this survey is flawed, he said he was just using it for the categories to show how people can save. It is perplexing then why people are implying he should instead tell why people should spend more.

  21. karyn says:

    I’ve found that I have saved the most money by only shopping once a month (we’re paid once a month). Yes, we end up eating frozen veggies and canned, dried, or frozen fruit by the end of the month but I plan my meals better, I don’t make as many impulse buys, and I do a better job of using up leftovers and “cooking from the pantry”. We also buy bulk meat which is useful and cheaper. Finally, I would add the tip of doubling up your recipe and freezing the second meal. Make freezer cooking easier.

  22. Des says:

    Nobody suggested that Trent’s article be about how to spend *more* money on food. I think you may have misunderstood.

    And it is true that spending more does not *necessarily* mean eating healthier – but after a certain point spending less DOES. If I only budget 10 cents a day for food you can reasonably assume I am not eating much more than ramen and water. Obviously, that is an exaggeration, but you get the idea. Where is the line after which it is difficult to get proper nutrition? I think Johanna’s first comment suggests that $4 a day is getting close to it. Maybe it is $2 a day in some parts of the country and $10 in others. The point is still valid that it is not frugal to be so cheap on food as to compromise proper nutrition. As someone else noted already, this budget fits into the USDA “thrify” category, the lowest available.

    Trent has noted many times that frugality is not just saying “how do I spend less on groceries”, but rather “how do I get the best value for what I do spend.” In that light, I think the comment is completely appropriate for this blog.

  23. Sara says:

    There are several good tips here (although most of them are pretty basic), but I’d vote for “Eat (and enjoy) leftovers.” I live alone, and I often make a large meal with several servings so I can freeze the leftovers in individual portions. Then I can just reheat the home-made frozen dinners later. It’s a cheap alternative to fast food when I’m too busy to cook.

  24. Rosa Rugosa says:

    Just curious as to how budget-friendly grocery shopping accounts for seafood, unless there is a lobsterman in the family. Expensive! But also as good as food can get IMHO. And good for you. I’m reading The Tightwad Gazette for the first time, and Amy’s typical mealplans include the occasional tuna sandwich but no shrimp, lobster, haddock, scallops, etc. Our biggest budget buster in the wonderful Saturday night dinner at home, which almost always features a sea creature. And it’s never terribly cheap, but always money well spent as far as we’re concerned.

  25. KimC says:

    We feed our family of 11 (soon to be 12) on ~$600/month. That’s less than $2/day per person.
    We are hearty eaters, and we eat very well. We do it by following many of Trent’s recommendations:
    1. Cook from scratch – always.
    2. Buy in bulk when it’s cheaper, but always check unit prices.
    3. Try store brands.
    4. Drink milk or water. Tap water, that is.
    5. Buy produce in season – then purchase in abundance.
    6. Shop the sales and plan your menu accordingly. When we find a really great deal on meat, we often buy 50-100 lbs.
    7. Maintain a healthy diet without going overboard on expensive health foods: eat beans, not organic strawberries.
    8. Learn a new kitchen skill regularly: make bread, yogurt or kefir, grow sprouts, roll your own tortillas.
    9. Do the math and be aware of the costs of your favorite dishes and meals. Sometimes meals aren’t as cheap as you think – or something you think is expensive turns out to be cheaper than you thought. We did this on our blog more than once: Menu Math.
    10. My biggest and best tip: Use what you buy. There’s nothing frugal about waste, even if you got a great deal.

  26. michael bash says:

    Don’t go food shopping when you’re hungry. I learned this 1000 years when I was 24 and home with my folks. My mother’s “women’s magazine” had a piece on tips for food shoppers. This was one. My jaw dropped. I now understood why I would open my cupboard to find a jar of marinated artichoke hearts. I didn’t need it; I didn’t really want it, but after a day at work it looked really cool/delicious. Also much support the idea of listing.

  27. Lenore says:

    UNIT PRICE, Unit Price, unit price! I was so vulnerable to misleading ads and packaging tricks till I learned about that magic little number on the shelf. Now I won’t even buy food at places that don’t show some comparable cost per unit.

    Just recently I realized I can spend about 20 cents per ounce on M&M’s or only 14 cents per ounce on Brach’s chocolate-covered peanuts. As a bonus, I seem to eat less of the Brach’s per sitting even though they taste better. Seems the bright colors and crunchy coating of M&M’s entices me to gobble them down. Or maybe it’s those ads with the stupid animated M&M’s that make me want to obliterate them faster.

  28. Johanna, I can feed our family of 6 on $80-$100/week (two adults, four kids ages 10, 8, 5, and 3). I’m not a coupon queen, and we eat real food (fruits, vegetables, meats, homemade bread, homemade yogurt, etc). I just do a lot of things that KimC does, I watch sales, I shop at Aldi (I have a really nice Aldi, which I love), I buy what’s in season and so on.

    So yeah, I’d definitely say it’s possible to spend less than the recommended amount and still be feeding your body well. It just takes some thought and effort.

  29. I should add too that not everyone should spend the same amount. Some people do need to eat more than others. All six of us happen to be on the skinnier end of things, so we don’t eat as much as a family of football players does.

    Food budgets are not one size fits all, and Johanna should remember that that goes both ways (some need more to be healthy, some need less to be healthy).

  30. It is unbelievable how much can be shaved from your budget by shopping more “effectively”. I agree with all of the above, the biggies being drinking water, and cooking fresh. Add to the “flyer” part trying to use more than one flyer. I have adopted two local grocery stores into my weekly shopping to take advantage of the items that each one has for cheaper.

  31. deRuiter says:

    Cooking isn’t rocket science! Get a book and use it. Learn first to make easy stuff: French toast, scrambled eggs, to gain confidence. Ask your friends who cook how they make things. ANYONE WHO CAN READ CAN COOK WELL.

  32. Peggy says:

    I recommend buying in season. If you don’t know what is in season in your area, a quick trip to the farmer’s market will help you with that. Buying a $3 red bell pepper flown in from Holland because a recipe you’re making in February calls for it will hijack a budget in a hurry!

  33. Reinder says:

    Shop the pantry! Know what you’ve already got and use that before you go out to buy more stuff. That’s allowed me to spend EUR 7 on food this week and eat well from it.

  34. Torrilin says:

    The only tip on this list I don’t use is the price book.

    Why? Well… very few stores in town compete on price for the food I actually buy. There is *one* store where I can get 25lb bags of jasmine rice (or larger). I don’t buy smaller bags because we eat a lot of rice and the small bags are a *lot* more expensive. I have a choice of 3 stores for sushi rice, but there is far more price variation between brand and grade than there is between stores. For beans, I have a choice of about 4 stores, of which only two stock essential staples like red lentils. One store is cheaper but a 16 mile round trip on my bike, with a route that rules out combining trips. The other is marginally more expensive, and is on a route that lets me combine many errands on a 10 mile bike ride.

    Even on meat, there’s not a lot of competition. I’m very careful about what farms I’ll buy meat from and most stores in town source their meat from major meatpackers. If it’s a choice between buy from a major meatpacker or don’t eat meat, we’d rather not eat meat.

    For the way we eat, a price book isn’t particularly helpful. They’re most useful when you eat foods like boxed cereal or frozen meals that can have coupons.

  35. One great resource for me is BIG LOTS. The one near me often has organic Muir Glen tomatoes for $1.00/28 oz can and those Pacific boxed soups ($1.00/32 oz box0. When I see stuff like that I will buy 10-20.

    You do need to know your prices. Not everything at Big Lots is a good deal. And, if you are fussy about expiration date, check. My Kuir Glens will “expire” in April, for instance.

  36. spaces says:

    I think this is the most useful in this series to date, because it is well within the ability of most to implement some part of the suggestions and see an immediate reduction in spending.

  37. Rachel says:

    I saw a news report about a month ago that said that around 40% of edible food in the US is thrown away. I was horrified at that number, but even more horrified when i saw exactly how much we were throwing away. I’m trying to do better. There are right now three rice dishes leftover in my fridge, so tomorrow after church, I am lining them up on the counter and letting everyone fix a plate for the microwave. one is a chicken and rice, one is a mexican rice, and one is take out chinese. They all have a small amount of meat in them, and I can cook some extra green beans tonight to go with it. There is just no reason to be throwing food away. Food is high where I live. When I travel to other areas I am so amazed that the food is much less.

  38. Sarah says:

    @Johanna, Des, and Kat.

    We have to remember that this isn’t including eating out. When you include that in the average, it’s likely that the grocery shopping the ~$3000 pays for isn’t even for every meal, and probably includes alot of convenience foods.

    My partner and I spend about that much a year on total food (a little less actually), including eating out. Yeah we’re only 2 people, but we live in NYC where food prices are less than reasonable at most times, and eating out is not cheap. We eat very healthily and usually feel like we are splurging for exotic ingredients. We are able to do this because eating out is a smaller portion of our budget and we don’t buy much “convenience” foods that are already prepared, cut, etc.

    The $4 a day per family is a great amount to be spending – if that’s all. It’s the fact that the average spends quite a bit more on eating out. Trim that and there’s much more left for quality groceries, or to add to other areas of the budget.

  39. Paula says:

    We are a family of three with one cat. I spend roughly $100-120/wk on groceries and that includes pet food/litter and pullups (my son has autism and still wets the bed at night) as well as other stuff like laundry detergent.

    Unfortunately, my husband has recently been diagnosed with type II diabetes. We are adjusting our diet to include healthier foods now with more whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and fiber. This is increasing costs that I am trying to keep down, but we need to make these changes for our family. We rarely eat out and make lunches for work.

    Any diabetics out there who can give me tips on budgeting for groceries?

  40. Molly says:

    @Sarah (#38) –

    YAY! It’s so nice to see a similarly frugal city person! (My partner and I live in Chicago, we don’t really eat out, we feel spoiled when we buy good spices, etc.) :-)

  41. SLCCOM says:

    A great meal for using up leftovers is curry. Put in whatever you have, add the curry, serve over rice!

  42. Michelle says:

    I find that calculating the cost of a meal isn’t always useful because prices vary and fluctuate constantly. Also, if you use leftovers by only adding a couple of minor ingredients that means you are practically getting two meals for the price of one. I don’t have the time to figure out how much something costs only to find out later I have to recalculate it because the price changed or because I ended up using it for two meals!

    Instead I make sure I get the best value for my money by stocking up during sales, using coupons when possible, and buying in bulk when cost effective.

    Also, I buy only what I am sure I will use. And once I make something, I make sure it gets used up. That is why I like the suggestion about leftovers the most — it is one of my biggest areas for eliminating waste thereby saving money.

    Instead of throwing food away because it has spoiled or because no one wants to eat it, leftovers can easily become something different by adding new spices or by adding them to some other ingredients: meat from dinner the night before becomes a bistro-style sandwich with some melted cheese on it for my daughter (her favorite lunch) or a stir fry or even a soup along with whatever leftover vegetables are in the fridge. Or those same vegetables can go into an omelet or casserole…the possibilities are almost endless. And those things that no one wants to eat right now but can’t easily be adapted to a new meal — that is what the freezer is for. They can easily become part of another meal the following month that way.

    The result is that we have a healthy, varied, interesting diet but have virtually no waste. And because there is less waste, we buy less allowing us to remain within our budget without denying ourselves the foods we like best.

  43. Shevy says:

    Wow, I’m actually agreeing with Johanna! I’ve mentioned before that I buy prewashed/checked lettuce because it’s too hard on my eyes to check regular lettuce (for bugs) so I just don’t buy it.

    My family of 2 adults, 1 child spends more than $300/month, more like $110 to $150/week (although some of that is household products or cleaners) and we rarely eat meat (1 x per week, or less). If I used a lot of veggies and fruit (aside from the waste when very little was eaten) I would raise our costs significantly. We eat a lot of carbs (mostly whole grain), eggs, cheese and tuna.

    As for the .5 person, how about a totally breastfed infant? They are a person but don’t directly consume any purchased food.

  44. Amy B. says:

    A couple of tips from my house:

    1. Use the crockpot – you can cook cheap foods (like dried beans) and meats in a way that makes them really tasty. Plus, it’s ready when you walk in the door.

    2. Splurge sometimes to keep eating at home interesting. Someone previously mentioned good spices – but good cheeses and small portions of special meats and veggies can go a long way in creating fun, enjoyable meals at home.

    3. Have a few recipes up your sleeve to wrap up leftovers and minimize waste. One of my friends has a weekly “steak soup,” which is essentially meat and veggie scraps thrown in a pot with some beef broth. Round out with inexpensive ingredients (i.e. $.20 per pound potatoes).

  45. Amy K. says:

    I am with #23 Sara, my favorite tip not on the list is to plan leftovers. Knowing that I have something at home I can just nuke and eat make me much less likely to dine out – though this might be a comment for the “reduce your dining out expenses” post instead.

    Eating your leftovers/not wasting food is my top choice.

    Excellent examples from my life today: We had cooked salmon in the fridge and it just did not sound appetizing as a hunk of meat, but I used it as the bases of fried rice along with leftover rice, bell pepper strips, etc and it was fabulous. Also, I bought parsley to make falafel for a dinner party last night. I could only find it in huge bunches, and only needed 1/2c for the falafel, so tonight I found a Parsley Pesto recipe. Rather than tossing that $1 worth of parsley in the compost, it’s now sitting on $1 worth of whole wheat pasta, mixed with another $1 worth of walnuts, pine nuts, olive oil and parmesan to make 6 freezer meals at 50 cents apiece. When I don’t have time to cook I pay $2 a pop for Lean Cuisines.

    I guess that’s a vote for the “Buy fewer convenience foods” tip as well!

  46. Andrea says:

    @ #15 We love the Dublin DrPepper too (and it’s better-ish for us too with real sugar vs. HFCS), now if i could only find it regularly in Central TX… to dream.

    Trent asked for feedback on what we thought his best tip was: planning your meals and just buying what you need for those meals and nothing else.

    I once proved to a girl at work that she could feed her family of four on $75/wk. I gave her a menu plan and shopping list for seven dinners with plans for leftovers for lunch. She called me from the checkout line crying becuase she had done it! She had been spending $300/wk and was still eating out most of the time because there was nothing to eat at home.

    We eat meat with every evening meal, so I have a personal target of paying no more than $2/lb for any meat (very rare occasional splurge). Chicken is regularly on sale for <$1/lb (do i have feathers????) in my area. While we raise cattle also, we have not found it to be economical to eat what we raise at this point ($3/lb referenced above).

    Our family of three spends $475 a month on food at home and food at restaurants (mostly Sunday lunch after church). We use the cash envelope system so when that food budget money is gone, we have to look harder at the pantry.

  47. Andrea says:

    @ #15 We love the Dublin DrPepper too (and it’s better-ish for us too with real sugar vs. HFCS), now if i could only find it regularly in Central TX… to dream.

    Trent asked for feedback on what we thought his best tip was: planning your meals and just buying what you need for those meals and nothing else.

    I once proved to a girl at work that she could feed her family of four on $75/wk. I gave her a menu plan and shopping list for seven dinners with plans for leftovers for lunch. She called me from the checkout line crying becuase she had done it! She had been spending $300/wk and was still eating out most of the time because there was nothing to eat at home.

    We eat meat with every evening meal, so I have a personal target of paying no more than $2/lb for any meat (very rare occasional splurge). Chicken is regularly on sale for <$1/lb (do i have feathers????) in my area. While we raise cattle also, we have not found it to be economical to eat what we raise at this point ($3/lb referenced above).

    Our family of 3.5 (my son comes home from college enough that he gets counted as a half)spends $475 a month on food at home and food at restaurants (mostly Sunday lunch after church). We use the cash envelope system so when that food budget money is gone, we have to look harder at the pantry.

  48. Patty says:

    I thought we were doing ok. Not fabulous by trying to cook more at home, packing lunches, etc. I use coupons and shop sales to what I thought was a reasonable degree. Last night I sat down and tallied up the receipts for food from 2009. Cough cough, choke choke…are you serious!?!?!?! Ok, time to cut back on those expenses!!! Everyone should take a moment to reflect even if you think you are doing well because you might just be surprised in the end.

  49. Amy says:

    Most useful — “Use grocery store flyer.” This has saved me the most money over the past few years as I use it to plan meals & create a weekly shopping list. A price list (or just knowing good sales prices) seems 2nd most helpful for saving on the most expensive items — recognize a sale & stock up the freezer or pantry!

  50. Danielle says:

    I have a family of “2.5” so to speak. My husband and I are in our twenties, we have a daughter who is about 2, and we are expecting a baby in May. We also live in Southern California, with food prices that are sometimes great, sometimes downright rotten.

    We spend an average $5200 a year on food (or $100/week or $433/month). This includes all eating out and other consumables for the household, such as cleaning products, but NOT diapers, which are not as consistent of a need for us over time as those cleaning products will be.

    Our family’s own “wonder system” works like this:
    $150 every two weeks for groceries, household consumables, and eating out
    $50 every two weeks for a reserve fund for case lot sales, Costco, or other stores good for bulk food
    $? leftover from previous two week cycle

    The $150 covers all sales from our local grocery stores, the reserve fund gets used whenever we are out of town (since our nearest Costco, etc, is 90 minutes away), and we save whatever is leftover for better sales in the future.

    We also maintain a good sized food storage. We’re LDS and one of the things we believe is that it is worth it to have a year’s supply of food on hand. Without getting into the religious side of things, building this helps me to buy in bulk when a good sale is available… but ONLY on items that we know we will use. On average, about 50% of the food we buy each paycheck is not for that two week period, but rather stocking up on good sales. Much of what we do buy for immediate use are fresh produce and fresh dairy.

    So one of my top strategies is actually to buy what I don’t need right then… but in moderation, when it’s at a great price (and pairing coupons with sales whenever possible). And I allow myself luxury “impulse” purchases within limitations… the limitations of $75 a week budget that includes any eating away from home.

    And we still feel like we eat like kings.

  51. Frank Lee says:

    I looked ruthlessly at my “fixed” expenses and decided that in this day and age, land-line makes no sense so I just use my cell phone. Then I looked at that and decided to go prepaid. I tried T-Mobile but the service was quite poor. Then I got Net10 and struck gold. No contract and very good coverage.

    You don’t have to get net10. Whatever works best for you is what you need to use, but the point is to look hard at your expenses. You can usually find some place to cut!

    Blessings!

  52. Kevin says:

    We have a small family, at least 6 of us are small – 2 adults, 6 children 10 and under. We spend $300 a month on groceries, and we hardly ever eat beans and rice. We plant a garden and take great care to get the most we can out of the garden and freeze and can for the winter. The point is to do what you can with where you’re at. We cook from scratch and buy off brand when we can, and God certainly has blessed in our food budget.

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