247 comments

Killing your $1000 Grocery Bill

A few years ago, I was at a party eating some amazing food at the potluck buffet. In my area, there seems to be a friendly competition among the 25-40 crowd of trying to out-chef each other. It’s a contest I heartily approve of and I am happy to be both an underdog competitor and a judge.

Anyway, the topic turned to how good we have it in our lives, with such plentiful food that we can afford to spend hours combining exotic ingredients just for the sake of overfilling our bellies. “Yeah.. I know it’s a bit over the top”, I said, “but I probably spend 80 bucks a week on food. I think it’s worth it if you can afford it”.

“Eighty dollars a week on food for the three of you? That’s IT??”, said a friend, “We spend more than three times that amount!!”

“Whoa”, I thought, “I guess I’m not as spendy as I thought”.

Of course, the person telling me about her high food bill was more of a typical high-income spender in many ways. Her family also took out loans to buy new cars, had at least one $2500 road bike in the garage, and hired out the household chores to allow them to conveniently work a double-career-with-kids while still taking plenty of short vacations involving air travel. Looking back, I probably could have predicted a non-Mustachian grocery bill. But the experience still reminded me of the amazing variety of spending levels we all have available to us here in the United States. It is simultaneously one of the cheapest industrialized countries in the world to live in, and the most expensive. It all depends on the choices you make in your shopping, because everything in the world is available right here for your buying convenience.

When you look it up, the average food cost for a family of four in the US is actually quite high, at $944 per month. But to call it “food cost” makes it sound like it’s out of your control. I would call this the average food spending. Just like the average family’s transportation cost is not some fixed punishment that the cruel world imposes on them.. it’s a measure of the amount of driving that they have designed into their lives, multiplied by the level of inefficiency of the vehicles they have chosen for themselves.

Instead of shooting for the average, you can design your own food cost. Let’s say a family of four wants to spend only $365 per month on groceries, saving them $579 per month over the USDA average family. Investing this savings would compound into about $102,483.00 every ten years, which would obviously make a pretty big improvement in the financial health of the average young family.

To hit a monthly grocery spending target like that, you first have to understand what you are buying. There are four mouths to feed, each consuming three meals a day or 91.25 meals per month. Let’s say they all need adult levels of calories, so about 2000 per day.

To meet this level of grocery spending, each meal needs average out to about $1.00 per person, and provide about 667 calories. Of course, there can be plenty of variation in the cost and calories, and you might eat 6 smaller meals and snacks instead of three big 667 calorie blasters. But these are the fundamental numbers we’d need to hit.

Can it be done? Coincidentally, this is about the level of my own grocery spending when I’m in semi-frugal mode (if you scale it down to 3 people and $273/month), and in the non-frugal mode mode we currently shop in, we spend closer to $365/month for three people, resulting in a cost per meal of $1.33. So the answer is a definite Yes.

All of us eat very well, with a fair amount of luxury spending thrown into that amount – the grocery spending includes gourmet coffee every day, a lot of organic and gluten-free specialties, food for parties, and other things that you buy when you’re not worried about cashflow at all. Plus I consume far more than my share of calories due to all-bike transportation and physical labor, my son is growing about six inches a year, and Mrs. Money Mustache does crossfit workouts three times a week, increasing her food needs as well.

“But damn, a buck for a whole meal? “, you might say. “That’s the price of a shitty Burger King dollar menu mini burger on a soggy white bun – BEFORE TAX!”.

Luckily, I don’t eat at Burger King, and neither should you. But let’s see how much it costs for 667 calories of some actual food staples that should be part of your diet:

Cost per 667 calorie “Meal” of common foods:
Basmati Rice: 25 cents
Spaghetti noodles: 28 cents
Black beans (uncooked): 49 cents
Natural (peanuts only) Peanut Butter: 53.36 cents
California Raw Almonds: 80 cents
Bananas: 92 cents
Potatoes: 57 cents
Canola Oil:  14.38 cents
Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil:  57 cents
Cheddar cheese: $1.09
Apples:  $2.79
Organic cage-free eggs:  $2.85
Organic boneless skinless chicken breast: $8.00

Aha.. now things are sounding much better. Although not all of the foods above cost less than $1 per meal, they certainly average out to less than that. And when planning your menu to meet a certain budget, averaging out is exactly your goal. You still want to be able to eat apples, organic chicken breast, or whatever your heart desires. You just have to not eat entirely those most expensive foods.

Canola oil is the ultimate example. It is packed with calories,  costs 17 cents per 667 calories, and it is very good for you. If you’re one of those Canola Oil Conspiracy Theorists, move up to Olive oil. That’s a higher-end alternative for even fancier people, and yet you can still get one third of a day worth of calories for 57 cents. Every time you dump these oils into a frying pan, or mix them into a recipe or a salad dressing, you’re lowering your food cost – the oil provides calories that your body might otherwise get from cans of Coke, Filet Mignon, or Burger King dollar menu burgers. And contrary to the 1990s low-fat-diet fad, the human body loves oil. It’s yummy, clean-burning, good for a giant range of body functions, and it is satisfying to eat too. I eat a fairly high-fat/low-carb diet these days, yet I’m leaner than ever, because the oily food doesn’t cause spikes of fake appetite like bread does. I’ve even been known to bring containers of pure olive oil in my backpack, taking spoonfuls straight from the jar to supplement calories on an extreme hike or high-energy work day.

Similarly, you can mix other foods from the under-$1.00 list into meals, freeing up space for expensive garnishes. Chicken and rice recipes with oils, spices, and vegetables are delicious and can be made in many different styles (Asian,  Mediterranean, Indian, Mexican) while still coming in at under $1/meal.

For snacking, I usually eat handfuls of raw almonds combined with fresh fruits and vegetables. The almonds provide most of the calories, while the fruits provide the various nutrients and healthy stuff.

But What about Protein?
These days, the high-protein diet is back in style, especially among followers of the “Paleo” diet/religion.  I am also a big fan of the nutrient, since it’s handy as part of strength training and exercise. Unfortunately, most people equate “protein” with “meat”, which is the most expensive way to get protein by any measure.

An average person might want to shoot for about 75 grams of protein per day, while an athlete might consume 150 grams. When you eat beans and rice in the same meal, you’re getting complete protein at virtually no cost. Nuts and especially peanut butter are also a good way to mix high calories with built-in protein.

Protein from high-quality meat and fish costs about 4 cents per gram, which would already put the Paleo-eating athlete over $6.00 per day just for his meat intake. But whey protein powder from Costco or an online source like Swanson Vitamins runs about 2.5 cents/gram which is a reasonable midpoint.  The key is to look at the protein content already in your basic staples before deciding how much you need to supplement it, and then do so intelligently based on your own activity level.

The average American diet is actually quite oversupplied with protein, due to the fact that most people eat meat with every meal, even while most are not competitive weight-training athletes. The opportunity for savings is enormous!

Where to Get your Food

Not Here

To research this article, I biked over to the health food store in my town, a place called Natural Grocers that attempts to imitate Whole Foods. It seemed like a friendly place, where the customers are unsually slim, the bike rack is unusually full, and everyone brings their own cloth grocery bags.

But Holy Shit, were the prices ever ridiculous there! In one quick tour of the store, I observed a package of four  “Bison hotdogs” priced at $11.85, a two-pound bag of plain Tilapia filets at $25.00, and jugs of organic milk at $11.00 per gallon.

All of these prices are more than double the levels of the nearest Costco, which is one of the best places to shop for your calories and protein, unless you have even better options in your area. The prices I quoted in my $1.00 meals table above were Costco prices, and unless you already have unlimited money, you should stay miles away from Whole Foods or any of its cousins.

At a more community-oriented level, there are also good deals to be had in Mexican, Indian and Chinese grocery stores, Community-supported agriculture groups (CSAs), farmer’s markets, your own vegetable garden, and other old-fashioned sources. When the parking lot is not full of hybrids, there are international phone cards on display in the window, and the cashiers also stock their own shelves and do not speak much English, you are probably onto something good.

What to Eat
Finally, the fun part! As the wise people of India have proven beyond all other cultures*, amazing food is all about preparation and spices, rather than starting with costly ingredients. Once you know which ingredients make good staples, you can easily poke around on the Internet or in any cookbook to find an infinite number of good recipes that use them.

At the simplest “bachelor” level, you’ve got recipes like:

Fancy home fries:
Slice up about five big potatoes into thick french fry shapes, mix them around in a giant bowl along with a huge amount of canola or olive oil (maybe 1/3 cup), garlic, black pepper, cayenne pepper, paprika, and/or any spices you like (even curry!). Cook at 400F for 25 minutes on a metal tray.

Ding! You’ve got thousands of calories of deliciousness to use as a side dish, snack, or even combine with a salad to make a simple main meal.

At the next level, you can move up to something Mrs. M. has started making regularly:

Thai Curry and Coconut Butternut Squash Soup:
1 large butternut squash, about 2.5 pounds
1 tbsp oil
1/2 an onion, chopped up very small
1 tbsp freshly grated ginger
4 cloves garlic
2-3 tsp Thai Red Curry paste
4 cups chicken broth
1 13-14 oz can unsweetened coconut milk
1 tsp  salt
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice

Fancy optional things:
Some toasted coconut for garnish
A few kaffir lime leaves, chopped up a bit

Cut the squash in half, take out the seeds, brush it with oil, and bake it for an hour at 400°F. Then scoop out the soft squash with a spoon when it’s done.

Fry the onion, ginger and garlic in some oil for a few minutes. Add the curry paste and cook for a few more minutes. Stir in the chicken broth, coconut milk, salt, squash and shredded lime leaves. Simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the lime juice.

Finally, blend up the contents of the pan in a blender or a bowl with a hand mixer. Serve in colorful bowls with the garnishes.

This soup is extremely filling due to the deliciously high fat content of coconut milk, and so good you will not believe it came from your own kitchen. It also stores well in the fridge and freezer, and can be brought to work or on road trips and reheated anywhere.

Those are just two simple recipes. The key to frugal eating is to have at least ten good things you know how to make.

There are many chefs among the readers. Maybe we will get to hear some of their best low-cost and easy-to-make creations in the comments section below!

Further Reading:
Grocery Shopping with your Middle Finger – an old MMM classic on this same topic, where I first started thinking about cost per calorie. But there I  was dealing with food stockups and sales rather than thinking of it on a per-meal or per-month basis.

* According to the strong opinion of my own taste buds

 

  • Brad March 29, 2012, 6:46 am

    This is a fantastic article. I’m generally responsible for our family’s grocery shopping since I do the dinner cooking. Our budget is $185 for a family of four per two weeks (two boys are almost 4 and 16 months). Some two-weeks are tight, but it’s been worthwhile for our bottom line to keep the budget set. We also budget $20 for restaurants per 2 weeks. Yes, I know we can’t go out on that, but if we save it up, we can go out once a month or so, or order pizza one week, or some combination. I’m sure our budget will increase when the boys get older, but by then, we should be bringing in more money, so we plan on being able to absorb the increase. Eating healthy and abundantly doesn’t have to be expensive, but it does require work and creativity.

    Reply
    • Tamara March 30, 2012, 8:20 am

      With Groupon or similar discount website deals you definitely should be able to go out for $20, including tax and tip. I just bought several $10 Groupon deals yesterday for two restaurants near us – one features “healthy” Mexican (whatever that turns out to mean) and the other serves Italian. We’ll get $20 in food for each $10 Groupon, request free water as our beverage, enjoy the free chips and salsa or bread, depending, and leave an additional $10 for tax and tip.

      Reply
    • Islandgirl May 20, 2014, 7:17 am

      my husband and I make pizza once a week (because we love it)… it is so much cheaper than buying it, and if you make the dough in your breadmachine or kitchen aid, it is really quite easy. This is my favorite dough recipe (found via Pintrest): http://www.annies-eats.com/2010/04/29/perfect-homemade-pizza-crust-tips-and-tricks

      Reply
  • Executioner March 29, 2012, 6:57 am

    Amen to the whole “Protein is not just meat” statement. Nearly every time someone learns I am a vegetarian, they inevitably follow up with a question about how I get enough protein. Protein is in just about everything, in some quantity. I would argue that as long as you are eating a variety of whole (not processed) foods it would be very difficult to not get enough protein if you are feeding yourself enough calories, even without meat.

    http://www.buzzle.com/articles/vegetables-high-in-protein.html

    Reply
    • Tamara March 30, 2012, 8:24 am

      Amen to your Amen. I’ve never had someone as fit as I am, or fitter, ask that question. It always comes from someone less fit. Not sure if it stems from ignorance or insecurity about their own lifestyle choices, but I don’t even bother responding any longer other than with a brief, “I feel wonderful, thank you.”

      Reply
      • Marianne May 16, 2014, 4:14 pm

        The question you want to ask there is “which amino acid were you most concerned about?”

        Reply
  • riley March 29, 2012, 7:07 am

    Thanks for this timely article! In the midst of the March Challenge; was trying to determine the next item to tackle- and groceries was it! How’d you know it was $1000? Hmmm….psychic.

    I FINALLY updated all the spending on Quicken last month to make myself stare it in the face. No surprises; not ugly, but not very pretty either. The most valuable outcome of the exercise was showing my husband that his hard efforts are appreciated, and I’m stepping up!

    First thing- reduced insurance by $600 with increasing the homeowners deductible from $500 to $1000, and switching providers. Be warned- was not informed about the “unannounced 3rd party” that would be knocking on my door, as well as the additional cost to reappraise some items- but still overall a reduction. Second- dropped the gym membership ($131/month). Now don’t have to feel guilty about not going. Enjoy the outdoors more anyhow. Third- scaled back on vacation. I’m actually “on vacation” everyday, as even with all the expenses, we’re at FI.

    Now, I’m doing a “Spring Clean” starting with the kitchen. My first thought was to challenge myself to stay out of the grocery store as long as possible, and use up the items we currently have. Time to defrost the turkey. After I’ve rotated thru the stock, I’ll use your advice for replacement. Thanks again!

    Reply
    • Geek March 29, 2012, 10:48 am

      speaking of stock, don’t forget to make some with the leftover turkey :)

      Reply
    • riley April 5, 2012, 8:47 am

      Turkey 101 Follow-up

      Thought I’d share how my freezer “spring clean” is going. In an attempt to reduce the number of trips to the grocery store in April, I’ve taken on the challenge to use up what I have first. Here’s my first attempt at staying away from the deli-counter:

      Day 1- After anxiously awaiting the 3 day defrost, ready to cook turkey! Easy enough. Since I usually overcook meat (just to make sure it’s dead), decided to cook it breast side down; using gravity to my advantage, resulting in big, juicy breasts (just like my hubby likes). Save dark meat for later. Freeze some white meat, slice some for sandwiches, make broth from carcass.

      Day 2- Use broth and dark/white meat for white chili. Bonus by product- enough methane for alternative fuel. Keepin’ it green.

      Day 3- Make more broth from dark meat. After, place dark meat in 9X13 pan, add a can of cream of mushroom soup and line edges with broccoli. Realized was out of bread that day, so tried an experiment and made some from scratch. Verified 4 year old yeast is past shelf life.

      Day 4- Morph yesterdays’ meal into a turkey pot pie. Thankfully, pie crust does not require yeast….I think. Decide to skip the 99 cent pre-packaged spice mix, and make my own taco seasoning?! I don’t have any maltodextrin, modified corn starch, autolyzed yeast extract, or caramel color (sulfites) in my cupboard; so hope it turns out okay. Cook up the remaining meat for turkey tacos, and freeze half for later.

      Day 5- Enjoy eating leftovers.

      Day 6- Act like you’re enjoying leftovers. Happy that tomorrow’s Easter and a new challenge awaits…..ham! (Okay, technically I do have to buy the ham first; goes against my initial goal. But, I used up the Thanksgiving Turkey?! There’s only so many holidays you can fit in your freezer. ) Oh, the excitement that awaits….ham sandwiches, split pea and ham soup, green eggs and ham, I am a ham….

      Reply
      • Penelope April 18, 2012, 5:04 pm

        LOL! You oughta start your own blog.

        Reply
  • Normal March 29, 2012, 7:10 am

    Spot on. As part of my Maximum Mustache March challenge I decided to start tracking our family’s spending on groceries and how we used those items. Shortly thereafter my wife and I stopped going out to eat and even started a blog to share with family and friends (and whoever else) the trials and adventures of cooking in a small kitchen. Our goal is to learn how to eat normal food without going out all the time without having to be a master chef to cook something worth eating. What can I say but that we have caught the Mustache-bug and are looking for all the best ways to eat without breaking our budget? The caloric breakdown you’ve provided is great for the counting obsessed and really shows how you can get the good stuff you need without buying the most expensive product.

    Reply
    • truboyblue March 29, 2012, 8:10 am

      hi normal – do you mind throwing your blog address out there? my wife and i are always looking for simple, workable recipes online and having another resource that’s pragmatic (economical and healthy) would be great!

      Reply
      • Chris March 29, 2012, 11:53 am

        His blog address actually linked into his reply name. Click on “Normal” in the top left corner of his comment.

        Reply
      • Sean March 29, 2012, 12:11 pm

        truboyblue – I think you can follow his blog by clicking on his name.

        http://www.normalfoodfornormalpeople.com/

        Reply
  • Lindsey March 29, 2012, 7:20 am

    I understand the logic behind killing your grocery bill, and I want very much to decrease my grocery spending. However, where my food comes from and how it is produced are really important ethical issues for me. For this reason I rarely eat meat and if I do it comes from a local farm (this is expensive though, which is why it is very rare). I also cannot justify shopping at Rainbow or Cub, seeing as most of the produce there comes with the requisite pesticides and non-fair-trade labor. I’ve started supplementing my shopping at the co-op with twice monthly trips to Trader Joe’s, where things are much cheaper, but still not nearly as cheap as Costco. However, it is a bit farther away so I still buy produce from the co-op. For one person my grocery bill is usually $200-$300, but eating in an ethical way is really important to me.

    Reply
    • ultrarunner March 29, 2012, 9:27 am

      If you buy the meat in bulk, it’s pretty reasonable still. I buy 1/4 and 1/2 grass-fed (and grass-finished) cows from a neighbor of a friend. I know where the meat comes from, know how they are raised, etc. The final cost comes out to about $2.50/lb or so… very reasonable. Of course, you’ll need a large deep freezer, but they are pretty reasonably priced, and the one I have is Energy Star rated and uses 0.6kW/hr per day… more than worth the low cost (less than $0.07/day).

      Reply
      • Dan March 29, 2012, 11:06 am

        Great point. I tend to just buy grass-fed ground beef from my grocer for around $4-5/lb at most. Cheaper than chicken and way better for you.

        Reply
      • rjack March 29, 2012, 11:29 am

        Is that $2.50/lb the fully processed/packaged cost per pound? I’m paying more like $6/lb in the Philadelphia area working with local farmers.

        Reply
        • Heidi March 29, 2012, 11:37 am

          Here in MN, I know people can buy their beef for that same $2.50 lb price. My guess is that the farmer’s prices depend on land values which would be much cheaper here than in the Philly area. Also, there may be more competition from wholesale restaurant buyers which would make it more of a seller’s market.

          Reply
        • ultrarunner March 29, 2012, 11:43 am

          Yes, that is fully processed, but I went back and checked my last purchase and it was $3.15/lb processed/packaged, so sorry I stated too low. The $2.50/lb was a non-grass-fed beef we purchased before that one, so it was cheaper.

          Out here, it’s a hanging weight per lb + processing per lb fee (I’m in Colorado, though this beef came from Kansas). Half cow is cheaper, so we always get at least a half, then split it with friends.

          Cows and grass are pretty much all we have out here on the plains, so they are cheap. :-)

          Reply
    • Jordan October 20, 2014, 11:56 pm

      You can absolutely eat for less and eat ethically if you buy items that are ethical but not marketed to green washed consumers. Where I live, in boulder, there is an over abundance of health food stores and ethical farm to table restaurants. You can pay absurd amounts of money for your food if you shop at these places. One alternative is to seek out local farms that you can have a relationship with, decide is your ethics align and then buy produce, eggs or meat from them. At our farmers market eggs are 5 or 6 dollars a dozen but you can get them for 2.50 a dozen from other local farmers that don’t have a booth at the farmers market. Usually if you offer to purchase a dozen a week (or however much you need) it offers the farmer stability and you get a good price. You can also do work trades. I worked at a farm 3-4 hours a week in exchange for all my produce one summer. It was a great deal for me since I could eat for free, spend my afternoon outside and learned the skills that I now use to have my own productive garden.

      If ethics and price are important to you nothing beats establishing relationships with those producing your food.

      Reply
  • Teresa March 29, 2012, 7:21 am

    I really enjoyed this article. We are a bit higher in the food category. For three of us we are closer to $500 a month and have found this is a really comfortable level for us. We could spend less, but we love to have lots of ingredients on hand to whip something up in a flash. The $500 also includes all toiletries and dining out. We rarely eat out as the value is so poor for what you get.

    I will say that we happily shell out more for organic and non-gmo oils as many of the oils sold today contain gmo products and have been heated to high temperatures making them quite unhealthy (we like cold-pressed). Many olive oils are mixed with other sub-par oils and called olive oil even though it is not 100% olive oil. We have found coconut oil to be a great oil to fry with and bake with and it is incredibly nutritious and does very well at very high heat without degradation of oil.

    We used to try to meal plan, but found that to be very expensive. We have found it better to have lots of basics on hand and understand the fundamentals of putting a meal together with ingredients on hand.

    Also, we try not to waste anything. Vegetable scraps are tossed into a freezer bag and bones are tossed into a freezer bag until we have enough to throw it in the crock pot all day to make our own broth which later gets frozen until we need it. We never buy broth.

    We cook and bake most everything we can from scratch, but add in the occasional convenience food too. When wee make a meal and eat one half and freeze the other half for another week. We have several meals sitting in our freezer ready to right now and are constantly rotating our selection.

    We also live in a rural area and make a trip to go grocery shopping every 3 weeks or so. We tend to buy enough as a trip to the store for a forgotten item is not feasible with gas prices as they are. If we run out of something we make do or eat something else.

    We are very fortunate to have an abundance of food in this country, however, much of what it in the supermarket has very low nutritional value. As they say it is best to shop the outer aisles and stay away from the boxes.

    Reply
    • Heidi March 29, 2012, 7:54 am

      This sounds similar to us–budget, rural, working with basics.
      How do you find out about the mixed oils?

      Reply
      • Teresa March 29, 2012, 11:56 am

        Not sure if MMM will allow a link here, but there was a UC Davis study. This site details it pretty well I think: http://www.oliveoilfarmer.com/

        I believe the Davis study links through to what oils they tested to be 100% pure.

        Reply
    • mary October 12, 2012, 1:51 pm

      Hi Teresa.
      You have truly got your shit together. You know exactly what you are doing to keep yourselves happy and healthy. Good for you!!!!!

      Reply
  • Dwight March 29, 2012, 7:23 am

    My mom used to make “Peas & Rice”. Cook a bag of green peas until they turn to mush, pour over a plate of rice, and sprinkle with curry powder. Add a little milk at the edge of your plate.

    It tastes much better than it sounds. It’s fast, easy, and healthy.

    Reply
  • abitha March 29, 2012, 7:30 am

    Man, I thought I was pretty frugal on food spending, but at approx £150/month (just for me) I’m close to the US average! Bit of improvement needed there I think…

    I guess it is /slightly/ easier if you’re cooking for several people rather than just yourself (I end up throwing food out more often than I’d like, because I won’t have used up a whole pack of something before it goes off – I’d probably do that less if I was cooking for a family). But I guess I could “cook for four” and save the remaining three portions for subsequent meals, a bit more often. Planning my menus a bit more in advance (rather than just going “hmm, it’s dinner time and I’m hungry, what do I feel like cooking today?”) would probably also help!

    I think I feel a challenge coming on.

    Reply
  • Heather March 29, 2012, 7:47 am

    Thanks for this.
    I do a lot of the cooking, and buy a lot of the groceries, and my family happily eats pretty much anything I cook, so this is an area of our family’s budget that I have lots of influence over. I work 4 day workweek (spread over 5 days), so have a little extra time for cooking. I will invest some of that time trying out some cost-efficient recipes.

    Reply
  • Jimbo March 29, 2012, 7:47 am

    Geez, we spend 100 to 120 per week on groceries for two, and I honestly feel we eat like royalty. Kings and queens royalty. This includes pharmacy AND restaurants, by the way.
    I often think this is a very unmustachian section of our spending as we do loooove food, and seem to always be cooking, but we are nowhere near US averages. Good news!
    Our trick is to always have a quick recipe in hand, something we genuinely love and takes 5 minutes to prepare, meaning when we are hungry and don’t feel like cooking, we have a plan B available quickly. We even indulge in frozen pizza sometimes. Nobody’s perfect!
    Also, we KNOW what’s in the fridge. This makes a big difference. When we know the avocados are about to go bad, they become priority number one. It’s a matter of building the menu around what you need to be eating.
    Finally, beans, rice, all types of squash, carrots, these are your friend. They are yummy AND they never go bad, so they are always there to be added to a recipe. If you have steak everyday, you must be bored by it by now. Time for variety!

    Reply
    • GregK March 30, 2012, 11:06 am

      Umm… I wouldn’t pat myself on the back so quickly… The $944/month is for a family of four. Divided by two, you’re spending EXACTLY the U.S. average, of $462/month, or $109/week.

      Reply
      • thegoller June 22, 2012, 12:59 am

        Don’t let Greg bring you down, we spend around $2000 a month on food for two of us… Embarrassing!

        Reply
  • CptPoo March 29, 2012, 8:07 am

    You didn’t mention dumpster diving!

    My wife and I spent about $70 this month on food, and we are eating a wider variety of healthy food than we did before we began diving on a regular basis. Most of the food I purchase anymore is cheap, non-perishables such as pasta and rice, and if we wanted I bet we could cut our grocery bill in half from its already low level.

    Reply
  • Kristin March 29, 2012, 8:10 am

    I recently found this blog and love the food. It is so tasty, usually spicy, and she breaks down her cost per meal. Lots of Indian/Asian recipes!

    http://budgetbytes.blogspot.com/

    The naan bread and the black bean quesadillas are amazing!

    Reply
    • A Simple Thing March 30, 2012, 2:15 pm

      I second Kristin’s nomination of Beth’s blog; http://budgetbytes.blogspot.com/ is amazing. I’ve been eating the black bean quesadillas for the past two weeks and they’re brilliant.

      Also, the price costs will also be a lot more relevant for you since you actually live in the U.S!

      Reply
  • October MacBain March 29, 2012, 8:12 am

    Groceries take up more than 50% of our spending (outside of mortgage and utilities). Unfortunately, the nearest Costco is over 50 miles away, as are any ethnic grocers. We ran the numbers and concluded that the time, drive, and cost of membership would outweigh any savings we might have by going to Costco once a month.

    Our local grocers are Wal-Mart, Meijer (just like Wal-Mart), and Aldi. Sometimes their selections aren’t the greatest, but we make do.

    Reply
    • Gerard June 7, 2012, 7:53 am

      If you have a decent ethnic grocer 50 miles away, the math might work on 2 or 3 trips a year to stock up on long-lasting staples like rice, legumes, flour, spices, and condiments. You could freeze ginger, lemon grass, tortillas, etc. And you could eat really good fresh stuff in the week that you make the trip!
      I just got in last night from a plane trip to Toronto, and I brought a big backpack full of food back with me. Some of it’s getting shared out at work today. Big suggestion to anyone who tries this: no bottles of soy sauce with loose lids.

      Reply
  • aNGULO March 29, 2012, 8:16 am

    It bothers me intensely to see these amounts for groceries..they seem so
    unrealistically low.
    I shop at Publix In Miami..not the cheapest but not Whole Foods either.
    My Publix is just about 1 mile away from me and I just cannot justify the extra
    gas and aggravation of Miami traffic to try to find another store.
    I’m a single man;my grocery expenditures(food and the ocassional non-food items like laundry supplies and toiletries)just does not go below $500/month.
    I NEVER eat out or order in or buy fast-food…very rarely buy cooked food at the store(Like rotisserie chickens),nor do I buy processed stuff(Don’t even own a microwave).I live alone and I don’t have pets
    Not a whole lot of red meat( Just ate my first ground beef since February…Cooked one Lb and will make 4 meals out of it);no alcohol,nothing that comes out of a box and I eat a whole lot of fruits,vegetables,beans and nuts… no bread,potatoes white rice,dairy,eggs or regular pasta.
    The price of the food that I buy just seems high when compared to what many claim they spend on food on this and many other personal finance sites.

    For example,from last week’s receipt:

    $3.99 for an avocado
    $4.82 for 5 little vine tomatoes($1.38/Lb)
    $6.79 Publix brand 1 Lb Peanut Butter(Month’s worth)
    $2.00 canteloupe(On Sale)
    $2.00 pint of strawberries(On sale)
    $3.65 5 Lb Pkge Of Iberia Brown Rice(3 weeks or so worth)
    $9.40 1 Lb Of Boar’s Head Turkey Breast(Week’s Worth)
    $5.99 1 Lb Of Publix Brand Sweet Ham(Week’s Worth)
    $4.99 12 Oz Can Publix Brand Natural Almonds
    $3.59 16 Oz Jar Publix Unsalted Peanuts
    $8.99 16 Oz.Can Diamond Walnuts(Will last a month)
    $7.99 2 Oz Badia Pine Nuts(Will make 3 Batches Of Pesto Sauce)
    $2.99 Bag Of Kale
    $2.49 Publix natural sunflower seeds
    With the exceptions noted I tend to buy the same stuff every week….
    Am I just eating too much good food?(I’m not slim but not grossly overweight either)

    Another thing that annoys me is those who claim that they go shopping once a month…Do you eat fresh fruit and vegetables at all?
    My produce usually becomes compost by itself If its not eaten within a week of purchase,

    Reply
    • Jimbo March 29, 2012, 8:53 am

      When all you have available to you is 3.99 avocado and 8 $ for pine nuts, you do either of two things:

      1) Do not buy such overpriced products and do without
      2) Find another place to shop.

      You’re in Miami… LOTS of groceries there. Many accessible on foot and on those neat public bikes you guys have everywhere…

      Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache March 29, 2012, 9:20 am

      Thanks Angulo, for the interesting comparison with the Miami Publix chain!.

      I don’t think you should be angry at this article for sharing the good news about the availablility of cheap food throughout the US. You should be angry at your local Publix for jacking up their profit margins in a gigantic ocean-port city where most things are available very cheap! (I’ve done lots of grocery shopping in Miami and some of the keys at always-reasonable prices).

      You can also share just a bit of the frustration with yourself – you don’t take a car to the grocery store in city traffic.. you take a BIKE!! (with a backpack or bike trailer depending on the size of your order).

      Anyway, Avocados should be around a buck each, peanut butter about $2/lb, almonds $3.50/lb, and so on, if you check out the Costco article.On the positive side, your tomatoes and strawberries are cheaper than I usually see around here. And yes, I definitely eat lots of fresh food – I get groceries about twice a week on average, although for the big Costco staples that don’t go stale, I go only once every three months, since the costco is almost 20 miles from my house.

      Reply
      • Fangs March 30, 2012, 3:14 pm

        Oh, PB $2 a lb? Not anywhere where I live–you’re talking 2.59-4.00 or more for peanut butter that is natural–peanuts only. Almonds run 5.99/lb. I live in a small rural area in MI and I wish sometimes that people on this list could see the cost of food in the Midwest. The nearest Costco is 45 minutes away and it’s simply not economically feasible. Three grocery stores and we live in the ‘big’ town in the area. I’d love to have the markets some of you must have. Angulo’s prices are like ours. Right now one green pepper in our stores is $2. And the only peanut butter I see for $2 or less is very cheap, sugar saturated PB. And that’s on sale.

        Reply
        • Mr. Money Mustache March 30, 2012, 10:22 pm

          I definitely feel your pain – not living close to affordable groceries. In that situation, I’d still go to Costco, but only 1-2 times per year. You might even be able to combine it with other errands.

          Making a 1.5 hour round trip costs about $40 in a car at standard mileage rates. But I calculated that for every $400 I spend at Costco, I save about $290 compared to my local Safeway prices (i.e., the same food would cost $690 at Safeway): http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2011/09/30/is-a-costco-membership-worth-the-cost/

          Since your Costco is even further than mine, simply make $800 shopping trips there twice a year, which will save you close to $600, minus the cost of driving. Very worthwhile! You just have to really go hardcore on the bulk purchasing. Dozens and dozens of cans, bags, and boxes of non-perishable healthy goods, especially nuts and oils and freezable things.

          Reply
        • BDub March 30, 2012, 10:23 pm

          It’s not all of the Midwest. We live in Minneapolis but our families live in central/western MI (GR/Lansing areas). The groceries in MI are about 20% higher than here in the larger areas, 30% higher once you get 25 miles outside of these areas.

          Our grocery items cost roughly what MMM shows, maybe 10% higher (although our Costco doesn’t have quite the selection his does).

          Reply
    • Teresa March 29, 2012, 11:29 am

      We go shopping about every three weeks or so and this is how it goes:

      We eat highly perishable fruits and veggies the first week. This is your bananas, cucumbers, berries (if they are on sale – otherwise frozen is the best), spinach, lettuce, etc.

      The following two weeks we eat lots of root vegetables (carrots last an incredibly long time in the fridge), cabbage, apples (we live in apple country – best apples around), oranges, onions, squash, frozen veggies and fruits.

      The way I think about it none of the produce in our supermarkets are “fresh” where we are at in the New England area during the winter months. Tomatoes? Try $3.99/lb in the supermarket in the winter because they have to ship that “fresh” tomato all the way here from California. Guess we don’t eat a lot of “fresh” tomatoes in January, but in the summer we have so many tomatoes that we grow, neighbors grow, sales at the stores we can easily have our fill of seasonal produce and preserve for winter months. Rinse and repeat for a number of other fruits and veggies. Food preservation and eating as much in season as you can will save a load of money.

      Even when we lived in Southern California the produce at the big chains never really tasted “fresh.” Farmers markets, and growing what you can will add a lot of flavor for a fraction of the cost.

      Also, nuts and meats are quite pricey so we don’t usually eat them as a snack or an entree portion. Instead we use them a condiment or flavoring and can stretch our dollar much further.

      Boar’s Head Meat – I know people love their Boar’s Head, but here I could easily get fresh sliced deli meat from the deli counter for $6 – $7/lb not on sale. We are in a very rural area so we routinely pay much more than we ever did when we lived in Southern Cali.

      Anyhow, the less time we spend in the stores the better chance we use up what we have and make less impulse purchases.

      Would I like to buy fresh veggies and fruits every week? Of course. Does it make sense in the region and locale that I am in? No.

      Reply
      • Teresa March 29, 2012, 12:26 pm

        One more item – we tend to stay away from roasted nuts as they go rancid quite quickly. By the time roasted nuts are purchased in the store the they are most likely rancid, but there are plenty of extra ingredients added to make it palatable such as salt. It is best to roast a batch in the oven and eat straight away.

        Reply
    • Richard Van Manen July 8, 2012, 3:23 pm

      You need to check out SouthernSavers. Stick to the BOGO deals with printable coupons. Here in TN we consistently save 60-70% at Publix (used to live in SoFla, never shopped at Publix since we always thought it was the most expensive). We are also blessed with an Aldi’s which has dirt cheap produce (Just this past week: 99 cents for 16oz Florida Strawberries, 1.49 pint blueberries, 1.49 3-pk multi-colored peppers, 69 cent local mushrooms (I think 8oz)). That website also covers CVS, Walgreens, Rite-Aid, Winn Dixie, and a ton of other stores. A couple other sites I recommend would be IHeartPublix and Time2SaveWorkshops, google for the sites.

      Not the absolute healthiest way to go I would imagine, but we are never hurting for fresh produce and frozen bagged meals for 2.

      Reply
    • Sarah August 12, 2012, 8:36 am

      I also LOVE pesto (I have been known to eat it by the spoonful), but I hate the high price of pine nuts. We always replace the pine nuts with walnuts, which you can toast at home in a pan. You still get delicious flavor and they are plenty oily enough, but 1/4 to 1/8 the cost.

      Reply
    • Lisa Wysocki August 17, 2013, 8:34 am

      I also live in the South (outside of Atlanta) where Publix and Kroger are the two major grocery chains. I moved here from California 6 years ago and was surprised at the high cost of food at these markets! I lived in a resort town in CA where the food prices were very high. The prices in Georgia at these supermarkets were just as high as CA, if not higher. Lucky Trader Joe’s and Costco are in my area. I now only shop at these stores. Almost all my food comes from TJ’s. They have the best prices by far on all their foods and wines. All TJ’s labled food is preservative free, no dyes or colorings, no MSG, ect…. Costco has been stocking lots of healthier products also. My food bill has gone way down.

      Reply
    • Slimfender September 10, 2014, 8:01 am

      Hey aNGULO, I was noticing also you like to make pesto, and I thought I’d give you a helpful tip. I loooove pesto too, and instead of using expensive pine nuts, I substitute in raw walnuts! It looks like you already have those on your list, and they are definitely more affordable, and offer a very similar nutty taste for the pesto. You should try it!

      Reply
  • Jackson March 29, 2012, 8:27 am

    Great advice. Grocery spending for my wife and myself comes out about $35 a week at the grocery store, and averages maybe $15 a week with Costco, incidental trips to pick up more milk, etc…

    Love the advice for shopping at “ethnic” stores, a couple weeks ago I went in to a local Asian grocer and got a ton of fresh produce for 5 bucks; I always feel a little guilty carrying heavy bags of food that cost almost nothing.

    One thing I’ve been working more at is acquiring chicken/beef/vegetable broth. I used to make and freeze a batch of chicken broth whenever I had bones, but otherwise I’d just buy broth at the store. Then I was at Costco and found the chicken & beef base, and I only then realized I was buying mostly water when buying broth. So I bought a jar each of beef and chicken base, and now I freeze any vegetable peelings, and I’ve found myself not having to buy broth. The beef/chicken base costs about $5 a jar, and makes about 20 gallons of broth. All you’re paying for with broth is transporting a bunch of water that you can otherwise access through the tap.

    I don’t know what you do for pizza, but over the last year or so, I’ve been improving my home pizza technique (thanks to seriouseats.com), using no-knead pizza dough, cheap canned tomatoes picked up every fall, and a block of cheese I shred myself. Build on a cheap wooden peel, top as desired, and slide onto a cheap pizza stone (I paid $10 for mine) in a hot oven, and a couple minutes later get a hot, fresh, delicious pizza for a fraction of the cost of ordering out. Just takes some preparation (the dough has to sit out and develop flavor for at least 8 hours, in my opinion).

    Love the blog, hope at some point you’ll see the allure of burning firewood for heat (and I’ve even used it for making pizza). Gives you more control over your fuel, and saves a ton of money (~1500/year for our 1300 sq. ft. new england house)

    Reply
    • et March 30, 2012, 9:36 am

      “I always feel a little guilty carrying heavy bags of food that cost almost nothing.” And what do you do about this guilt? Consider the externalized costs of cheap food – poor wages, miserable conditions for farm workers, any and all shortcuts taken every step of the way, farmers under too much pressure to invest in improvements etc.
      Once you think about it your bag becomes heavy indeed.

      Reply
  • Kara March 29, 2012, 8:28 am

    My mother in law got me into the habit of cooking for four, freezing for two. Meaning I’d cook dinner for four, we’d eat two servings and freeze or refrigerate the other two for dinners or lunches later on. It worked well when I had a freezer that wasn’t attached to my fridge and could put on the menu “scrounge in freezer”!

    Now I use the extra two as lunches for me and DH for work. They’re set aside in one spot in the fridge marked “lunches” so he knows where to look. I buy my meats in bulk and have been known to stretch 2 chicken breasts for 3 meals. I’ve also been known to include leftover rice into our quesadillas (instead of just the usual refried beans -from a can, I love em!-, cheese, sour cream and whatever bits of meat are leftover) to help stretch things. I’m not a big rice fan but DH is so we have mostly a 60/40 split between pasta and rice based dishes in our meals.

    I tend to shop at one of our big name Aussie grocery chains for everything (their store loyalty program links to my QANTAS frequent flyer account and every bit of miles gets me closer to a free ticket home to the US) and I’ve started shopping at Aldi and our local butcher. Both have some killer specials that have really saved my hide during the periods of lean paychecks and “how can I stretch this for another few days until we’re paid?”. I’ve also started stocking up on things when they’re on sale and when I have a spike in my pay to help things along.

    I’m not under a budget but I aim for about $300 a month for the two of us (including stocking up on things that will keep for a while).

    Reply
  • et March 29, 2012, 8:30 am

    I refuse to support CAFO which I assume is where most whey powder etc come from.

    Look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concentrated_Animal_Feeding_Operations. Do you still feel good about your food choices?

    I’ll stick with organic yogurt, cheese and butter. All from farms I respect.

    Reply
  • Dave March 29, 2012, 8:38 am

    Thanks for the article Mustache man! As with other readers who have recently discovered your blog, I’ve been on a tear going through the archives. Also, being an engineer (I know we are overrepresented here) and living on the Front Range, I find many of your posts hit pretty close to home. I know this won’t fit with everyone’s lifestyle, but after converting to a diet that is mostly vegetarian (we still eat meat about once a week) I find our grocery bill to be substantially lower and our diet has a lot more variety now. The added bonus is that it takes quite a bit less water and energy to eat this way (depending on the source of your meat). P.S. I recommend The Omnivore’s Dilemma to anybody who eats.

    Also, we are all about Costco for stocking up on bulk stuff about once a month but use Natural Grocers for more frequent purchases. I had always found their prices to be more competitive than WFM but maybe I should be checking out King Soopers organic section as well. Have you done any “apples to apples” (cheesy pun intended) comparisons of local grocery chains?

    Reply
    • CNM April 11, 2012, 1:52 pm

      I also find that my local Natural Grocers usually has the cheapest organic fruits and vegetables in town. I live in Santa Fe, NM. It doesn’t have an exhaustive selection and most of the fruit/veg are already ripe (meaning, it won’t keep well for more than a few days.)

      Reply
  • Steve D March 29, 2012, 8:46 am

    My food spending (eating out and cooking at home) is around $1400/mo. I’m only feeding myself. This is by far the least mustachian thing I do. By Far… It’s the one big area I really find it difficult to change.

    All of my friends and colleagues are even worse, and spending time with friends involves eating and drinking. This is a terrible excuse!

    Thanks for the article MMM, this will renew my drive to reduce that cost!

    PS, getting my costco card this weekend!

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache March 29, 2012, 9:24 am

      WOW!! $1400 per month! I could easily eat and drink for a YEAR on that amount if I stopped eating so luxuriously.

      It is important to note that I’m writing this article from the perspective of a retired man with unlimited money and no need to conserve, other than the fact that I enjoy being somewhat efficient.

      For anyone who is in debt or in a rush to get closer to financial independence, these food spending numbers I’m putting up should be viewed as the theoretical maxiumum, rather than some crazy frugal minimum. When you look at some of the other comments now coming in, you can see people with MUCH lower food spending than the MMM family.

      Reply
      • Steve D March 29, 2012, 10:46 am

        It’s definitely my focus area of improvement for the future :-)

        I’d love to hear more about Mr/Mrs. MM’s epic recipes… and other readers also!

        to the forums I go!

        Reply
    • No Name Guy March 29, 2012, 10:49 am

      Steve: You HAVE run the numbers I hope.

      $1400 / month divided by 30 days / month = $46 a DAY for food. At 3 meals a day, that’s about $15 a MEAL. Pray tell how one can manage to spend this much.

      As MMM mentioned in a previous article, spend time with friends at each others home, eating and drinking there. A $8 6 pack of Fat Tire would cost triple that if you go out for beers. Vino has the same 3x price mark up when going out. $5 in steak at the grocery store, plus a baker, plus a bit of veggie will run about $7-8 tops when all is said and done, in lieu of a $20+ tab for the same thing going out (and that isn’t even a very MMM meal).

      Oh and MMM – HECK YA to olive oil shots on the trail. I carried a 8 ounce flask of the stuff on a thru hike – I’d pour a shot into each and every dinner to bump up the calorie count (needed when you’re burning 5 to 6k a day while pounding out 20+ mile days, day after day). At 160 calories per ounce, it’s a weight efficient way to help increase the average calories per ounce carried.

      Reply
      • Steve D March 29, 2012, 10:56 am

        Breakfast is usually just a granola bar, so it’s more like 45/day for lunch and dinner.

        It’s mostly eating and drinking socially. As a fairly new ‘convert’ to the idea of FI and frugality, changes are coming a bit slower than I like, but they are coming.

        If you think 1400/mo is insane, I know people closer to the $2000 mark per person for food and drink (mostly expensive drinks…). If you can imagine, among my social group I’m considered the frugal one by even shopping at grocery stores!

        discipline and planning is the key, but I am simply a young MMM padawan

        Reply
        • Shanna March 29, 2012, 2:17 pm

          You are smart to work on this! This is where my entire paycheck went when we didn’t have kids and were constantly out with friends. It was easy to spend $300 or more on food and drink in one weekend!

          Well, I have nothing to show for it and do not even hang out with any of those people now. Not to mention how unhealthy that type of thing is!

          Just from this habit and mindless shopping done every weekend we could have paid off our first house in 5 or so years. I would go back and slap my self silly if I could!

          Reply
        • Dave March 29, 2012, 2:52 pm

          Don’t feel bad Steve. I’m in the same boat. So far in March we’ve spent $1043 on food almost $500 of which was spent at Restaurants. Turns out Feb was about the same as well. All told the food category is my second largest expense every month by far with mortgage being the first. This is definitely something to work on… right after I punch myself in the face a few times for spending so much at restaurants!

          Reply
        • No Name Guy March 29, 2012, 5:59 pm

          Ouch. Glad you’re moving in the right direction. The first step in changing the situation is awareness that there is a problem. It sounds like your 2k a month friends don’t even know they have a problem.

          Here’s a suggestion for having tasty, easy and inexpensive lunch: Start doing some of the Rachel Ray 30 minute type meals (they’re pretty easy to make, usually taking only bachelor level cooking skills and basic equipment). Pack ‘em up in those little Glad reusable containers and bring them to work for lunch. Nuke ‘em to warm and yum. It also takes far less time than going out for lunch – letting you blow out of work earlier in the day.

          Reply
      • Heidi March 29, 2012, 10:59 am

        Wow. I never thought about oil on hikes. I usually eat a spoonful of coconut oil when I open it up to bake but I just never thought about packing it out of the house. This is going to go to the park with me this summer.

        Reply
        • Heather March 29, 2012, 12:07 pm

          I take maple syrup diluted with water in my mini water bottle, on long runs. It’s my secret Power Shot. Of course it’s only a frugal solution if you are fortunate enough to have a whole lot of maple trees at home.

          Reply
          • Nikki May 1, 2012, 12:28 am

            Do you make your own maple syrup Heather? What does the process involve? I would love to try my hand at home made syrup and nut butter. Best waffle toppers in my opinion :).

            Reply
    • c March 31, 2012, 9:58 am

      Our spending used to be around that. One year I worked out we spent $13,000 on eating out and bars. In reality is was more than that because we always tip in cash. It was strange that it just crept up each year. We used to eat out all the time, but at $1 taco hole-in-the-walls in Queens. As I started making more money we started eating out in more expensive places.

      The worst part was that I wasn’t even enjoying the meals out, it became a chore

      I could never understand why we never had any money, even though I made a great salary. A year on mint.com was very enlightening (and more than a bit shocking).

      It has been a long, long journey, but we now cook mostly from scratch and eat and drink out *a lot* less.

      We live in a HCOL area and groceries are expensive, but far less than eating out. I’m always surprised at how little food costs in other parts of the country. We shop at the farmers markets in the Summer and the prices there are the same or higher than in the higher-end grocery stores.

      Now I take my breakfast and lunch to work almost every day and we try to only eat out on the weekends. Right now we’re making brunch at home with stuff we already had, whereas before we would have dropped $70 at the restaurant at the end of our street.

      For me being aware of where my money was going was the first step. You’ll be able to cut that amount without too much effort. Personally I found that once I started cutting, I found more focus on what I wanted to do and further cutting came easier.

      p.s. we were in South Beach last week and shocked *shocked* at how much more expensive food and drink was than NYC.

      Reply
  • Melissa March 29, 2012, 9:23 am

    Hey there, just wanted to chime in and stick up for Vitamin Cottage. I have been shopping almost exclusively there for over 6 years and my grocery bill is about $80 every two weeks at the most for a family of 2 with 3 pets (we also get a CSA share for winter and summer). Yes, the animal meat they sell there is expensive but that is because it is locally sourced, and the most ‘humane’ and sustainable that they can find–more so than Whole Foods which is also expensive. We are vegan so we don’t buy the meat or dairy but that store has everything we need to be healthy, eat extremely well, and local/fresh.

    Please take another look at VC–their fresh fruit and produce is really cheap and always 100% organic. Also, they have aisles of bulk flours, beans, grains, nuts, seeds, spices, teas, baking ingredients, etc. This stuff is so cheap, I’m talking $1.50 for a 1 lb. bag of beans–that will be over 4 lbs. once you’ve cooked it. Plenty of protein to be had there for pennies.

    I love your blog and we are working hard to get to early retirement–it probably sounds funny but being vegan is helping us get there :) And buying bulk ingredients at Vitamin Cottage is part of that! Anyway, just wanted to throw some love out to this awesome local business (and no we are not affiliated with VC in any way, just shop there).

    Reply
    • Bella March 29, 2012, 2:25 pm

      I second the Vitamin Cottage recommendation – it’s MUCH cheaper than WF. And they have the best prices on spices – which once you start cooking everythign from scratch – becomes a significant part of the budget…

      Reply
    • Dave March 29, 2012, 3:00 pm

      Yup Agreed! We find produce to be much cheaper than WFM and I like that they only stock Organic stuff. Keepin’ it Real! I think the best deals are on the bulk items that you mention i.e. oatmeal and spices and tea etc. Costco also rounds out the equation by allowing you to stock up on staples as MMM mentioned and their Organic selection has been improving.

      I was wondering if you could say which CSA you use? We tried Grant last year but weren’t that impressed with the quality of some of their stuff. Looking for a different option this year. Thanks.

      Reply
      • Melissa April 9, 2012, 8:08 am

        Sorry–just saw this. We have used Monroe Organic Farms for our CSA for six years now and they are awesome. They also have a winter share that will get you through March (we just finished the last of the winter items last week). I think they still have a few memberships left if you’re interested. Hope that helps!

        Reply
        • Shirley October 12, 2013, 3:41 pm

          New to this site. Question, what is a CSA? Thanks

          Reply
          • GregK October 12, 2013, 10:44 pm

            CSA stands for Community Supported agriculture. Essentially, you pay upfront for a “share” of that year’s harvest. They’re all a little different, but for ours, you get one large bag of in-season produce each week from June to November for about $300. It works out to under $1/lb. Most weeks we pick up our bag at a home walking distance from our own, but once a season, we go to the farm a 45 minute drive from us to pick up the 30 bags for our pickup site.

            We love it, and recommend it to everyone who asks!

            http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community-supported_agriculture

            Reply
  • Dancedancekj March 29, 2012, 9:32 am

    Thank you MMM for not only writing about buying groceries on the cheap, but also buying healthy stuff. I have found myself to be effortlessly losing weight since adding in a lot of polyunsaturated fats from avocados, almond butter, olive oil, and even butter, half and half, and oily fish. I also have been cutting out my carbohydrates, since they only serve to make me hungrier (that helps a LOT in terms of cutting consumption and my groceries)

    My rule of thumb is that the closer it is to it’s original form from harvest, the cheaper it is. A whole fryer chicken is less expensive per unit than cleaned and individually packaged chicken breasts. A bag of dried beans is cheaper per unit than canned ones, which are still cheaper than buying a frozen dinner of channa masala from TJ’s. If you supplement the labor and the creativity for the recipe, you can save soo much money.

    Reply
  • ultrarunner March 29, 2012, 9:49 am

    Another thing I’ve been doing lately is shopping the “loss leaders”. These are the things on sale, usually on page one, of the grocery store circulars. Being in Boulder, we have an INSANE amount of grocery stores, and the competition is pretty fierce. All of them come out with a weekly flyer on Tuesday, for sales starting on Wed. A couple of them (Sprouts and Sunflower) allow double-saving… ie, last week’s and this week’s flyers overlap on Wed.

    My wife works a block from a Sunflower, a friend works a few blocks from a Sprouts. We email each other what we want, and shop on the way home… then settle up. I fill in the blanks with bike trips to King Soopers, Safeway, and Costco (all within easy bike distance).. I then base the next week’s cooking/recipes on what is on sale. Google “red pepper and eggplant recipe”, for example.

    Not only are we eating meals that are usually less than $1/person/meal, they are INCREDIBLE and VARIED!

    Another thing I do: I buy my beans and grains in very large bulk. Being very close to Utah and Idaho, which both have very large Mormon populations makes this very easy (they are required or supposed to have a year’s worth of food on hand, or something similar). Since I’m already over there doing running races a couple times a year, I stop at one of the various places geared towards Mormon food storage and pick up 25lb and 50lb bags of various beans and grains (mostly rice, oats,etc since I’m allergic to gluten). I usually go in with friends and do a sort of “co-op” bulk buy and we split stuff up.

    Also: A pressure cooker is your friend!

    Reply
    • Jimbo March 29, 2012, 9:53 am

      That’s what I ‘m talking about! good work!

      People spending 120$ per grocery trip think we all spend so little on food by having free money magically falling on our lap. It takes a little effort, but the rewards are great:

      Insane savings, and extremely tasty food from the sheer variety.

      Kudos.

      Reply
    • Heidi March 29, 2012, 10:12 am

      Our situation is different but your post illustrates an important part of saving money on food-like health, it takes work.
      If a person is only willing to shop at one store they will likely not save money.

      Our system includes veggies from my husband’s job as farm manager, veggies and fruits from our own gardens, fruits from a food-buying club, Amazon subscribe and save for gluten-free flours, and bulk orders of teff and rice. I also split deals 3-4 times each year with my mil for Costco items and nuts orders.

      Have you tried Maskal Teff? Ethiopian runners eat this teff, I’m told. http://www.teffco.com/

      Reply
    • Dan March 29, 2012, 11:25 am

      Very well said.

      Reply
    • Debbie M March 30, 2012, 10:33 am

      Our Asian grocers also sell rice and various kinds of beans in bulk.

      Reply
  • Randall March 29, 2012, 9:54 am

    MMM,
    Why not talk about growing/producing some of your own food? I’m not talking a extreme eco-hippy lifestyle but having a simple garden combined with some easily learned food preservation skills (canning, dehydrating, etc) to supplement your pantry. I think giving up using the automobile is more of a challenge and foreign to most Americans then having a food garden. Just some “food for thought”! ;)

    Reply
    • Bella March 29, 2012, 2:30 pm

      MMM lives in Colorado – the amount of water required to sustain a home garden makes it only price competitive against fancy pants organic foods. As a rare and precious resource on the front range water is super expensive…
      For people living places like MA or Jersey or OR – great recommendation – when you live in a high plains desert – not so much. Yes, the quality is better – but it’s not cheaper.

      Reply
      • Bella March 29, 2012, 2:31 pm

        Sorry – not to speak for MMM – but that’s why a lot of people I know in Colorado don’t garden.

        Reply
      • Dancedancekj March 29, 2012, 2:59 pm

        Gardening traditionally in the ground, perhaps. I use subirrigated planters for my plants, and get great productivity with very little water consumption. In fact, with the exception of certain perennial plants, most of my crops do far better in these containers than in the ground, and are lower maintenance. These might be of interest to people who live in areas with water restrictions.

        https://docs.google.com/document/d/1aMnRDwLIKAtaXvydGjDzX-DYn3K4U3cgl2q8zsEYVsU/edit?hl=en_US&authkey=CNKR2tQL#

        Reply
        • Mr. Money Mustache March 29, 2012, 3:25 pm

          Yeah, I’m with Dancy. Gardening isn’t too expensive here: water is 0.5 cents/gallon, and it doesn’t take much to grow vegetables as long as you use some form of drip irrigation rather than just spraying the water over top of them. Plus the relentless sunshine makes things grow really fast!

          Big lawns, on the other hand, can get expensive. Many baby-boomer-with-a-half-acre-lawn-on-the-golf-course types spend $400 per month on water just to keep their ridiculous Kentucky bluegrass from burning off and turning to cracked soil, which it would do in about a week in a Colorado July :-)

          Reply
      • ultrarunner March 29, 2012, 7:16 pm

        I live in Colorado and garden. That statement about people not gardening due to the cost of water is utter bunk. My gardening adds about 1,000 gallons a month (drip irrigation) to my usage. I get flat-rate-billed $11.25 for anything under 10,000 gallons. Normal usage w/o the garden is about 3,000 gallons a month. My garden watering costs me exactly zero dollars more than no garden (and a lot less than if I was irrigating a ton of non-native Kentucky Bluegrass like most of my neighbors).

        Other cities may bill differently than the one I live in, but water along the Front Range isn’t that expensive. Not nearly expensive enough to offset the expected $1000 in veggies I’ll grow this year (I spent about $120/yr in water for ALL usage).

        I think less people garden here because our growing season is so short and our soil sucks. Takes a lot of upfront work to get the soil ready, and with snow in early May and late Sept/early Oct a possibility, coldframes and starting seedlings indoors is pretty critical.

        Reply
        • Bella March 30, 2012, 10:50 am

          I must admit – I’ve been schooled and I’m impressed. I also know people who garden – but I know A LOT more that have failed at a hobby garden in CO (like me). I long ago realized that it would be better for me to patronize a local farm than to try to overcome the aforementioned short season, late snow etc challanges that come with gardening in CO. But for those who have been succesful – I would love to know how much time you spend on your garden, or if you have ever worked out your hourly wage at it – most people I know who garden do it because they like it – and the time doesn’t feel like work – for me it feels like work.

          Reply
    • Kimmie March 29, 2012, 4:35 pm

      @ Randall…I agree… I love having a garden and it really cuts costs in the summer/fall time and it’s something that most people can do (even in a small area). We enjoy an abundance of spinach, swiss chard, radishes, onions, carrots, beets, cabbage, potatoes, tomatoes and various squash. I always freeze a portion of the squash so it doesn’t go bad and we enjoy it in the winter months by adding it to soups, or making muffins or zucchini bread. We have neighbors that always have LOTS of apples that they send our way because they know we will use them up. While, we eat the majority of them, I also preserve them by making them into applesauce, which then turns into muffins, or added to lunch boxes, or I even make fruit leather for snacks out of it. Having a garden is a great thing to keep you away from the store and to enjoy the freshest fruits/veggies.

      Reply
      • Randall April 3, 2012, 9:16 am

        That’s awesome, Kimmie. Keep it up.

        Just to clarify, I was suggesting to MMM about an article on how a garden could fit into a Mustachian(sp?) lifestyle, not necessarily his own situation.

        Reply
  • BigRob March 29, 2012, 9:56 am

    “Canola oil is the ultimate example. It is packed with calories, and it is very good for you”

    Absolutely worst thing you could put in your body is this stuff. Agree with you on the Olive oil and fat in general.

    Polyunsaturated fats in the form of Industrial seed oil is the worst thing you can do for your health.

    Good fats are Extra virgin Olive oil, Extra Virgin Coconut Oil, Butter. Cook with the coconut oil and with clarified butter. Use the Olive oil for salads and what not.

    Reply
    • Bella March 29, 2012, 2:41 pm

      I learned a lot today about Canola Oil – I doubt I will buy any more of the stuff – though it takes about 6mo to go through a bottle (maybe more), I use olive oil unless it’s something that olive oil won’t taste good in – like pastries. I guess it’s time to try out coconut oil.

      Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache March 29, 2012, 3:28 pm

      Big Rob, you’re stating some pretty fringe nutritional theory as if it were a well-tested scientific fact. Last time I checked, the mainstream scientists still had the opinion that butter and other highly saturated fats were actually worse for anyone at risk of athersclerosis. Active people, on the other hand, seem to get off easy and can eat almost anything they want, although excessive refined sugar is generally regarded as pretty bad.

      Reply
      • Praxis March 29, 2012, 4:55 pm

        Hi MMM,

        You’re correct that mainstream scientists still repeat the advice to avoid saturated fats. However, this hasn’t ever been backed up in clinical trials and observational studies manage to routinely contradict each other, as is the nature of observational studies. The lipid theory (fat intake and cholesterol cause heart disease) has been actually pretty soundly disproved through any scientific measure, in fact, and was originally based on a poor observational study/

        Inflammation seems to have the strongest link to heart disease. Sugar and omega-6 fats are inflammatory. Exercise, berries, red wine, fish, etc are anti-inflammatory. If you think of different cultures this seems to be very consistent. The Okinawa eat little fat, little sugar, and lots of fish (omega-3 fats). Virtually no heart disease. The Eskimos eat an all-fat diet of meat high in omega-3 (seal fat and fish). No heart disease. The Dutch eat tons of saturated fat (cheese galore!) and walk a lot, and have very little heart disease. India has the highest rate of heart disease in the world, but also the highest number of vegetarians in the world, and lots of poor people (i.e. low quality processed food).

        tl;dr? Don’t stress about eating fat, exercise more and have more fish and fruit if heart disease is a concern.

        However, canola oil is loaded with inflammatory omega-6 fats, so…it should definitely be avoided compared to olive oil.

        Reply
        • Scott March 29, 2012, 7:59 pm

          I completely agree . . . nice response.

          I also believe that around 90% of the canola (in the states) is genetically modified. Sure, you can buy organic canola, but I just buy organic coconut oil / coconut butter in bulk and try to avoid all of the rancid, omega-6 laden alternatives.

          Awesome article though MMM. I’m a recovering +1K per month spender (single lol), and dropping it down to 350-400 has done wonders for my savings.

          Reply
        • Sri April 16, 2014, 12:32 pm

          Hi guys, nice post just got to reading this now. I think one of the points being made here by MMM is how to eat tasty interesting food with the use of spices , going meatless without having to spend too much.
          BTW, Spices are known to be healthy. However what is not healthy is all the veg oils, including i would say canola, too much of processed foods and sugar and in India you can be vegetarian and still eat all this causing all kinds of health problems. For the poor, they rely on whatever is cheap which means all of the above – bad oils, processed food and sugar – unfortunately! Fruits and vegetables are way beyond the poor because what is healthy always costs more in todays world. People who are middle class and upper middle class can afford of course but then they cannot resist a good samosa(an Indian snack), say just like somebody in the uS cannot resist a good cheese burger. The people who have th ebest ealth eat home cooked food keeping the oil ,sugar and processed content to a minimum. To add to this the best fats i know of are coconut oil, butter, ghee(clarified butter) and olive oil if eaten moderately.

          Reply
      • Clint March 30, 2012, 8:28 am

        How about vegetable oil? Isn’t that basically from soy beans? As good or better than canola? I haven’t compared.

        And another question in case anyone sees this and will respond. These food estimates are just for food, right? I’ve been lazy about breaking out things we buy in a grocery store–food, soaps, tp, etc.Does anyone have a thought on a good monthly average for all this stuff combined? Or should I just stop being lazy and start breaking it out?

        Reply
        • Kimberly V January 21, 2013, 9:55 am

          I can’t produce as through of a response on Vegetable oil as the one given on Canola, but my reasoning for not eating it is basically the same. High in Omega 6’s oxidizes easily and virtually all soy in the US is GMO. I stay away from the stuff these days and stick with Olive oil, coconut oil and (when I can fit it in my food budget) Grass fed butter.

          Reply
  • Leslie March 29, 2012, 10:26 am

    I recommend the blog Poor Girl Eats Well for money-saving recipes that are also delicious.

    http://www.poorgirleatswell.com/

    I also recommend learning how to make different kinds of soup – it’s a healthy and usually inexpensive meal. The New York Times had a great soup matrix article last year: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/06/magazine/06eat-t.html

    And finally, I recommend going vegetarian! A lot of people seem unwilling to try it because they feel so attached to meat, but to me that seems anti-Mustachian, much like car addiction. Don’t write off vegetarianism til you’ve tried it!

    Reply
  • Taylor March 29, 2012, 10:29 am

    Great Post MMM!
    This is one of the areas of spending I have had a lot of fun CRUSHING in the past 3-4 months. Went from spending around $200 on food for myself per month to around $100 (I do get a leg up being a vegetarian). I’m learning quick and easy recipes, and learing to make things from scratch, freeze it, then de-frost to dazzle friends :) Some things I’ve learned how to make:

    -fresh bread
    -pizza dough
    -Kale and potato meal
    -fresh pasta
    -killer tacos
    -array of soups with immersion blender (any veggie+broth+spices+whiz!=soup!)

    Other things I’ve done to help make delicious food cost-friendly:
    -invested in good tools (immersion blender, stand mixer, food processer)
    -grow fresh herbs for seasoning (no more expensive sauces)
    -discovered dirt cheap but amaingly good Indian Grocery in my area
    -learned frozen veggies are cheaper and sometimes better than fresh (especially here in Colorado)

    I’ll have to wander over the the forum and add some recipes to that thread.

    Reply
  • Matt March 29, 2012, 10:58 am

    What if you need more than 2000 calories per day? Should you lower your per-calorie cost, or increase your cost target proportionally?

    I probably average about 3500 calories per day, maybe closer to 4000. I’ve always naturally had a big appetite, and it’s only gone up since I’ve been doing regular strength training. (And I’m probably around 15% body fat, so not a lot of room for weight loss.)

    My parents once told me that when I moved back home after college, their grocery bill literally doubled.

    If you have a family of four that each needs 3500 calories a day (a stretch, I know), that monthly bill goes from $365 to just under $640 (i.e. increase by a factor of 1.75)!

    Reply
    • ultrarunner March 29, 2012, 2:24 pm

      I run a lot (about 100 miles per week), which also drives up my caloric needs significantly. I just increase my costs proportionally, focusing on eating a wide variety of healthy food. I spend a lot of time and money on training and racing, so I’m not going to compromise either by skimping on poor quality calories… and luckily, I don’t have to. Some of the best food is the cheapest. :-)

      Reply
  • No Name Guy March 29, 2012, 11:02 am

    My devoted GF recently switched up her diet to a near vegan one for health reasons. A side benefit of this is that the cost is a lot lower and I’ve lost weight without trying. I’ve cut my meat consumption quite a bit and haven’t really missed it (now, I’ll STILL do the occasional bacon with breakfast on the weekend, and meat with dinner, but it’s not nearly as much as before.)

    A couple things we’re doing a lot of are soups and stir fry’s.

    A real yummy and satisfying soup is both inexpensive and easy to prepare (it came from an Italian cookbook). Saute carrots, onion and celery. Add vegetable stock (or even water). Meanwhile, you’ve cooked up about a cup or two of dry white beans in your pressure cooker (dry beans are FAR less expensive than canned). Puree about 2/3 of the beans, mix the resulting “humus” into the soup base, then add the remaining beans. Season to taste with thyme, salt and pepper and simmer to let flavors come together. It’s thick, tasty and satisfying. With some home baked bread…..YUM.

    Stir Fry’s: All the veggies you have in the house are candidates. We’ll do this one for a quick, easy meal and to use up what’s left of the veggies in the fridge. Broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, red / green / orange bell peppers, asparagus, sugar snap peas, carrots, onion, celery – you name it. Sauce to taste and serve over a bed of brown rice (pressure cooker saves a lot of time with this). If you must have meat (which I still do some times) a little grilled chicken breast cut into small pieces adds a nice flavor at minimal extra expense – the meat is like a condiment.

    Reply
    • Marcia @Frugal Healthy Simple March 30, 2012, 11:34 am

      Stir-fries, soups, and skillet pasta are my go-to meals in the winter. With the varied veggies I get from the CSA, I can use them in any of the above.

      Reply
  • Glenn March 29, 2012, 11:02 am

    Thanks for the great article. Reminded me of Great Depression Cooking on youtube:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yREFkmrrYiw

    Reply
    • T-Lou March 30, 2012, 10:05 am

      Thanks Glen for the reminder of this series. I watched most of her videos a few years back and enjoyed them all. She has a dandelion salad episode that is great. Turns out that dandelions are far more nutritious than any lettuce we can purchase, or grow for that matter. I’ve always meant to try it as I have an abundance growing in my pesticide free lawn but haven’t yet. Very mustachian concepts came out of the depression and this lady is a wonderful, wise grandmotherly type. Also, at age 91 to be cooking and starring in videos suggests she’s done something right.

      Reply
  • James Meyer March 29, 2012, 11:22 am

    I’m quite jealous of the food costs in the USA. In Canada the costs of everything are so much higher. We struggle to keep our food spending below $190/week for a family of 5 (soon 6), and 3 (soon 4) of those mouths are children under the age of 6. Not looking forward to the grocery bills of the teenage years.

    Reply
    • Shanna March 29, 2012, 2:48 pm

      I fear the teenagers. My oldest (7,girl) just moved up to an adult size meal on our eat out night. My neighbors son can out eat his parents at age 9. These kids are very fit and muscular and my daughter hasn’t even started a sport yet!

      I am already planning to have lots of cheap filler for them as teenagers (rice, pasta, beans) in the fridge as I would rather have them home with their friends than off somewhere doing God knows what.

      Reply
      • An Exacting Life April 7, 2012, 4:35 am

        Yes! Always allow your teens to have friends over and have lots of food for them! My kid used to invite friends after school to bake cookies and brownies. Worth it to have them socializing at home.

        Reply
    • Gerard March 29, 2012, 4:53 pm

      I feel (and share) your pain, James. But at least in many parts of Canada we have the advantage of ethnic superstores like TNT, or at least large ethnic supermarkets. Large containers of things like flour, rice and other grains, beans, peas, and oil, cheapish seafood and meat (especially pork), cheap very fresh spices and herbs, and decent often-local often-crazy-cheap produce can take you a long way toward saving your stash. My two teenage sons were surprisingly feed-able, as long as I kept them away from cheese.

      Reply
  • Dan March 29, 2012, 11:23 am

    CANOLA OIL IS HORRIBLE FOR YOU AND NOT FOOD!!!

    There, I said it.

    I’m really surprised by this article… Food should be the last place to be cutting every possible corner. Between the extremes of $1,400/mon/person and $100/mon/person, there is a vast chasm that includes enough space for eating ethically, healthily, and moderately-inexpensively.

    The US (even at average non-MMM levels) spends less per-capita on food than any other country…and we have the health and environmental wastelands to show for it.

    Food is the one place where MMMs should probably be spending more, but spending more wisely.

    A couple recommendations:

    1) grass-fed beef instead of chicken – it is much, much better for you, generally more humane, and less expensive (available on-line if you don’t have a natural grocer in your area).

    2) coconut oil – buy a gallon tub of it on sale and use it liberally in place of olive oil, which should not be used for stir-frying or over-heated

    3) lard – that’s what you want to fry in, but you’ll have to search it out from a farmer’s market if you don’t want mystery chemicals in it

    4) indian food – lentils, chickpeas, rice – done in the pressure cooker – make for good staples eating for 4-5 meals/wk – but you don’t want to live exclusively on that long term or you will have deficiency issues

    5) greens – collards, spinach, kale, cabbage – whatever’s on sale, cooked in butter

    6) raw milk – yep, it’s $11/gallon – but it doesn’t have pus and blood in it, it isn’t homogenized or pasteurized, and unlike the chemical crap you get at costco, it’s actually good for you…and for the farmers…and for the cows.

    7) farm eggs – yep, $7/dozen – but…see (6), insert chickens

    And finally, I think you are WAY off on Vitamin Cottage. They often had great deals on bulk foods and organic stuff when we lived in Boulder. Sure, they have some Whole Foods pseudo-health-food (packaged organic crap); but if you know what to shop for, you can find great deals there too.

    To sum this all up; you should be advocating that people buy the best food they can afford as long as it is whole-foods (not processed) and cooked themselves. Find other areas to pinch the nickle; food is too important for your overall health (and your kids) for you to be skimping in that area.

    Of course, there are people who “only have $200.mon” to spend, but even those could probably find a few more bucks to buy good food if they really wanted to…cut out booze, movies, etc. This is one of those areas where we can make a difference by voting with our dollars to make a better world.

    Reply
    • Shanna March 29, 2012, 3:00 pm

      Totally! I am physically unable to buy the non organic stuff for my kids! I feel bad and I want more organic stuff grown please! I want them to have fresh fruit every day even if I spend $8 on organic strawberries! It is important to me they have berries every day, another fresh fruit, and whatever vegetables they love or I can sneak into them. Sometimes they have 15 servings of fruit/veg a day. Their cells need to be armed EVERY day to fight off the continual production of cancerous cells throughout their bodies!

      On #1 I was just reading that beef should say “grass-finished” or it can still be fattened at the end with ground up candy and other dead bovines. I often wonder how suddenly there is so much organic stuff-how could it all be converted so quickly? You will definitely get what you pay for and their are probably lots of loopholes and sneaky tactics.

      Reply
      • Dan March 29, 2012, 3:26 pm

        The best way to know you are getting good beef, humanely raised and slaughtered, is to find a direct-buy program from a local farmer. As others here said, if you have freezer space, you can buy a “1/4 cow” for less $/lb. than pink-slime meat at Kroger. I can’t believe people feed that sh*t to their kids.

        On the continuum though, even buying some form of “organic” beef is a step in the right direction…but showing your badassity by hunting down the real stuff is worth doing…and you’ll save money in the long run that way too.

        Reply
        • Erik Y March 29, 2012, 3:51 pm

          I imagine actually hunting for your meat would be even cheaper. My aunt and uncle in Alaska get a lot of their meat this way.

          Reply
          • ultrarunner March 29, 2012, 8:22 pm

            I’ve been trying that for a few years. I’ve learned that “Vegetarian” means “bad hunter”. :-)

            Reply
          • Chris March 30, 2012, 7:28 pm

            My wife and I do a subsistence caribou hunt, once a year in Alaska, it provides lean meat, mostly hamburger, to be used the rest of the year. Is it cost prohibitive-Hell no, it’s expensive, but the experience of procuring your own food excites a primal urge and feels good every time I take a freezer bag full of meat out to make spaghetti with.

            Reply
            • Mr. Money Mustache March 30, 2012, 10:16 pm

              I’m down with that Primal Satisfaction too, Chris! When my friends and I caught about 40 pounds of fish in Lake Tahoe last month, then learned how to slice it up ourselves, donated some to some locals and then cooked and ate the rest of it in one night, it was the highlight of my whole trip.

              Reply
          • Lindsey September 15, 2012, 2:05 pm

            I live in Alaska and we joke about free meat really costing $50 per pound, when you take into account the gear and travel costs, plus the beer most consume while sitting around the fire. The only time hunted meat was cheap was when I lived in Barrow and you could walk less than a mile and shoot a caribou…anywhere else it is really hideously expensive if you look at the cost of your hunting trip.

            Reply
      • Heidi March 30, 2012, 8:07 am

        15 servings! You rock.

        Reply
    • Nikki May 1, 2012, 12:45 am

      coconut oil is a cheap and versatile health food, which I use everyday and spend about $10 for a jar on every 2 months. It’s one of the safest oils for cooking at a high temperature, so great for browning meat in the skilet. I also use it as a facial moisturiser; adding olive oil on my super dry skin days. I also love using it in baking mixes as a butter substitute.. in particular we love to use a half coconut oil-half peanut butter mix, where chocolate chip cookie recipes would normally call for butter.

      Reply
  • Matt March 29, 2012, 11:28 am

    At the risk of being blatantly un-Mustachian, I think there’s a case to be made for sometimes spending a little more for convenience. One of the underlying mechanisms of this post—and many similar food-frugality tips—is trading your time for cost savings.

    I know the stereotypical zero-free-time “career family” is often somewhat mocked on this website. But, sadly, it’s a reality for a lot of people until they actually reach FI. Using myself as an example: I work 60 hours/week, so have little free time, and am often exhausted. You might suggest getting a job that only requires me to work 40 hours/week (or less). But though I work 1.5x a standard full-time job, my pay is easily 4x or more than what I could get at 40 hours/week. So the increase in pay is dramatically more than the increase in hours. I do it because it means FI will actually come that much sooner, and in the long run, will be achieved that much more efficiently.

    At least in my position, it makes sense to relax a bit on frugality tactics that require an increase in my “time expense”. Not that I eat out every meal or buy only convenience foods! But we try to do as best we can with shopping around sales, preparing big bulk meals, having a standard recipe cache from which to draw on, etc. But, because of our hectic schedules, “life” happens, and we get to a point where we don’t have the *time* to pay for some frugal ideals.

    I hope that didn’t come across as disparaging to this post—that wasn’t my intent! This is good stuff, and without a doubt where we *want* to be (and certainly not without a few takeaways). But if nothing else, sometimes it’s frustrating because it feels like a lot of this stuff would be easier if we just had more time. (Is all this just a long-winded way of saying waaaa waaaaa?)

    Reply
    • Fawn March 30, 2012, 7:29 pm

      Matt–so sorry, can not relate.

      I am a single mom to four kids (three still at home–YEAH!) and have met a food spending goal of $320/month even while I worked 55 hours/week and the three kids still at home are teenagers–one who runs competatively (Yeah! Patrick state and more…) and one who grows 6 inches per year for past two years (Yeah! Michael)

      ..and we have been spending less than the “Food Stamp Allotment” for a family of 4 for…..I don’t know……10+ years.

      You can follow our success at singlemomenough.wordpress.com

      if MMM and the software allow it.

      Reply
  • Dan March 29, 2012, 11:31 am

    One last thing; another good way to cut costs is to experiment wth intermittent fasting –

    AKA. skip breakfast and just eat two larger meals

    It helps your digestion, improves your blood sugar sensitivity, and gets your body more in tune with how the ancestors ate. Saves you time on cooking extra meals too.

    I have green tea or coffee w. heavy cream (no sugar) in the AM and eat a decent size lunch at 11-12; then a big dinner around 6.

    Reply
    • Dancedancekj March 29, 2012, 3:02 pm

      I do the same. Coffee with a splash of half and half in the morning, decent lunch, and large dinner late at night, although I find myself eating non-stop from 8-10 PM sometimes if I had a light lunch that day.

      Reply
    • Heidi March 30, 2012, 8:06 am

      I think it might depend on body type and age. In my early 20’s I forsake breakfast for a latte and loved it. But after 2 kids, no way. I feel best when I fast with green tea or eat a hearty leftover stew. But, the fast is an occasional day or I get really exhausted running with my kids.

      Reply
    • Emmers April 7, 2012, 5:15 pm

      Does that *actually* cut costs if you’re consuming the same number of calories, though? Or are you saying your metabolism actually *slows down* when you eat in this manner, requiring you to consume fewer calories to stay alive?

      (I’m not a person who could do this – I have something resembling hypoglycemia, where if I fast, I feel terrible, then disoriented, then I faint – but even if I could, I would be skeptical of this.)

      Reply
  • Joe March 29, 2012, 11:46 am

    What a phenomenal article and follow-up comments! I just discovered this site a few days ago and have been noodling where I can best begin to “attack the beast”. I think it is quite clear now. Thanks for enlightening me!

    Reply
  • Bella March 29, 2012, 11:49 am

    Timely post – I have to be honest – this is one area that I struggle with that I genuinly WANT to do better at – we spend approximatly $600-$800 a month on grocery food (technically that number includes diapers and tp). In Feb I did a scorched earth approach to my eating out habits – and saved $200 – without really raising the grocery bill. But I can’t seem to bring the regular month to month expenses down. We don’t eat out very much at all anymore (that $200 was eye opening), I suspect that we’re just eating too much food. I think I need to start working on tracking my grocery catagory spending for a month – to see what it’s all being spent on – is it veggies, staples, dairy (we buy our meat in bulk so this doesn’t even include the beef – just chicken)? Any suggestions for an easy way to do this other than entering all the items by hand from receipts?

    Reply
  • Dark Sector March 29, 2012, 11:54 am

    People spend more money at fancy grocery stores partially because they think that the expensive wares in the earth toned, organic stamped packaging is acutually picked and processed by workers who earn more, but not necessarily enough, for their hard labor. If you look a little closer, most of the stuff is the same you find anywhere else, but some factors of 2 more expensive.

    If you really want to support ethical farming and food processing, patronize the farmer’s market, which will bring you much closer to your farm workers, or your own garden. Unless there is some sort of clear guarantee by either the supplier or the store about ethical farming, you are very likely just paying more money for the privilege of shopping at a chic store.

    Chick grocery stores with haute prices won’t guarantee food ethics. Yes, they are possible not just economically, but also agriculturally,

    http://motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2011/11/organic-ag-more-productive

    but you’re going to have to provide your own initiative,

    http://www.foodandtechconnect.com/site/2011/10/06/danielle-gould-on-hacking-the-food-system-from-proprietary-to-open-design/

    Is that not the essence of Mustacian intuition?

    Reply
    • Dancedancekj March 29, 2012, 3:05 pm

      I think that you meant chic grocery stores, although one could possibly construe the argument that there are certain stores that advertise heavily to the female consumer :)

      Reply
  • Kimmie March 29, 2012, 12:28 pm

    Such another amazing post!! LOVE your recipe suggestions and I have “pinned” them to my recipe board on Pinterest and can’t wait to try them as I have a butternut squash that I need to use before it goes bad and the baked fries sound yummy as well!

    First off, I LOVE breaking down the cost of things as well….I love buying something coming home, measuring it out and finding out how much each serving costs. It’s a passion of mine and I love that you shared your “costs” with us!!

    Regarding protein…eggs are wonderful for this. We actually have 5 chickens that give us plenty of eggs for cooking and eating. Boiled eggs are a wonderful addition to lunches for protein. Today my family took Egg Salad Sandwiches on homemade Onion/Cheese buns for lunch.

    I also buy whole flax seeds and grind them up in a coffee grinder that we use to sprinkle on our morning oats, or add to bread recipes, or energy bars…flax seeds are a great source of Omega 3’s.

    Also, you are correct that making sure you add a grain (like rice, cornbread, 100% whole wheat bread) to your bean dishes, it does make a complete protein. It drives my husband crazy every time I tell him that when we are eating bean dishes.

    Along the lines of your comment about using spices, the majority of the things I make use a “Mirepoix” of onions, celery and carrots which really adds LOTS of flavor to whatever we’re making. I go through a 10 pound bag of onions, a few bunches of celery and pounds of carrots every 2 weeks because they are the base for almost every meal I make. I’ve never really tried Indian cuisine, it sounds yummy though. I’m learning new things every day about cooking and spices!

    My family of four spends $300.00 monthly on groceries and that includes buying toilletries (TP, soap, shampoo/conditioner, paper towels, cleaning supplies, etc…), We make pretty much everything from scratch, including bread, tortillas, baked cookies, energy bars, we even make homemade fruit leather and dehydrated fruit as an option to “fruit snacks”.
    http://pinkcookieswithsprinkles.blogspot.com/2010/12/hats-fruit-leather.html
    http://pinkcookieswithsprinkles.blogspot.com/2011/07/kimmie-in-real-life-week-8.html

    What makes our monthly food budget work is I stock up on things when they are sale, like buying 25 lb. bags of unbleached flour for $6.88 (which I put in a 5 gallon bucket) I also buy 4 pounds of butter for $7.88 at Sam’s Club, and I buy large bricks of cheese and freeze them, so we always have yummy cheese to add to dishes…to me cheese and butter are comfort foods.

    I also stock up on NUTS and I have large bags of a variety of nuts that I buy for great prices that we enjoy for snacks, OR, using them in our recipes, http://pinkcookieswithsprinkles.blogspot.com/2011/07/kimmie-in-real-life-week-8.html

    I think the best thing to keeping your food bill down, is to have a supply of the BASICS that you use for your recipes and that way you can cook more from scratch AND it makes it so you free up money to be able to buy LOTS of fresh produce so everyone in your home can enjoy fresh fruits/veggies for each meal! It also makes it where I can purchase fresh salmon to enjoy weekly. That is really why we are able to keep our grocery bill very low, is because we cook from the staples that we buy in bulk for LOW costs. Beans/legumes are eaten weekly:
    http://pinkcookieswithsprinkles.blogspot.com/search/label/beans%20and%20legumes

    I also buy in season…in the winter months we eat LOTS of oranges because you can get a case of them for around $13.99. We went through 4 cases of oranges since Christmas…
    http://pinkcookieswithsprinkles.blogspot.com/2012/03/delicious-orangesso-many-yummy-uses.html

    In the fall-time we have local honey farmers that I stock up on honey, and I buy large boxes of frozen berries for a very inexpensive price that we keep in the freezer to have to pull out make smoothies,or to top yogurt, OR, to make frozen fruit pops for the kids in the summer-time.

    POPCORN is very economical to have on hand for a snack (1/2 cup costs .23) and when you’re craving chips, you can pop up a batch, sprinkle on some dry ranch dressing mix and enjoy a yummy alternative to chips.
    http://pinkcookieswithsprinkles.blogspot.com/2012/02/carmellolove-at-first-bite.html

    I SO enjoy all of your posts and I learn SO much from them and the comments that others offer. You and Mrs. M, are such wonderful sources of inspiration to all of us!! It’s SO nice to have couples out there that think the same as my husband and I do, that have realized that frugality brings FREEDOM, happiness, peace and contentment!

    Thanks for all you share and I’m excited to have 2 new recipes to try out. Have a wonderful day!! (sorry, my comments are always SO long…I just love to share information and hopefully it’s helpful to others),

    Reply
    • C March 30, 2012, 9:40 am

      Kimmie I found your blog through this site and enjoy your recipes. Looking at the things you cook I think you’d really enjoy Indian food. My flatmate in London was Indian and she taught me how to cook. For years Indian was the only food I cooked. Once you get the base spices down the rest is easy and you can use most if the stuff you currently do.

      I eat mostly vegetarian and flirt with vegan usually over the summer, so Indian food is a really easy choice for me.

      Keep up the blogging!

      Reply
  • Mr Mark March 29, 2012, 12:52 pm

    http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/canola-oil/AN01281

    Canola oil: Does it contain toxins?
    I read an article on the Internet that said canola oil contains toxins that are harmful to humans. Is this true?
    Answer
    from Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D.

    Health concerns about canola oil that are being circulated on the Internet are unfounded.

    Misinformation about the safety of canola oil may stem from the fact that, years ago, oil was produced from the rapeseed plant. Rapeseed oil contains very high levels of erucic acid, a compound that in large amounts can be toxic to humans. The canola plant was developed by natural crossbreeding from the rapeseed plant. Canola oil is produced from canola plants, not rapeseed plants. Canola plants have very low levels of erucic acid.

    Canola oil is generally recognized as safe by the Food and Drug Administration. In fact, canola oil is very low in saturated fat and has a very high proportion of monounsaturated fat, so it’s a healthy and safe choice when it comes to oils.

    Reply
    • TLV March 29, 2012, 1:11 pm

      Interesting to know the difference. I’ve noticed that some peanut butter brands still specifically list “rapeseed oil” as an ingredient.

      Reply
  • Mike D in NJ March 29, 2012, 1:01 pm

    It’s also about 18% omega 6 polyunsaturated fatty acid. 1) omega 6 feeds into inflammation, 2) it oxidizes very easily when eating, resulting in lipid-peroxides, not good stuff.

    And before someone says it’s high in omega-3, it is it’s long chain ALA which must my metaboliclly synthesized into short chain omega3 (EPA-DHA, the stuff you actually want that comes from wild caught fish and pastured animals).

    Since the metabolic pathway for omega 3 and omega 6 is identical meaning they competitively inhibit each other. Therefore if you take a big bolus of omega-6 and some omega-3 (like in canola oil) you’re conversion from ALA to short chain omega-3 is somewhere around 1-3%.

    I’d rather recommend folks eat olive oil as it’s a bit lower in omega-6 (About 10% of total fat) or stick to butter and lard from pastured animals. Though that can get expensive. Another alternative is coconut oil, tropicaltraditions.com sells it in bulk for about $.21/oz (a bit more than my $.08/oz olive oil) but they usually have sales and free shipping which brings the cost down even more.

    Ok that’s enough bio-chem for today.

    BTW I love the site and it’s completely changed my life when it comes to saving/spending/goal setting.

    Reply
    • Shanna March 29, 2012, 2:34 pm

      Oh that’s great- mine is 31 cents/oz bought at the store by the gallon (the kind that doesn’t taste like coconut). We only have coconut oil in our house, I even use it mixed with salt in a jar for “butter” on toast. It actually tastes better than butter and doesn’t leave that sour milk smell behind. For baking I just melt it to liquid. It has a wonderful silky texture.

      I think it is the only safe oil for heating and we use it for popcorn. If I ate olive oil I would certainly never heat it!

      I was going to comment on the whey protein, as I have read that cancer cells have a big party when people eat casein.

      Reply
      • Debbie M March 30, 2012, 10:31 am

        I’m compromising on walnut oil. Much cheaper than olive oil and stays liquid in the fridge. Don’t know how it compares to coconut oil.

        I’ve found that sesame oil is pretty affordable if you get it from Asian grocers, though it has a very strong flavor–awesome for salads and some cooking, but maybe not so great for cake and cookies and pie. (I know dessert is not mustachian, but at least I make it myself out of real food, which means I eat it a lot less than if I didn’t have to make it myself first.)

        Reply
    • Fangs March 30, 2012, 4:54 pm

      You have to research your olive oil brands, too.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olive_oil_regulation_and_adulteration

      Your olive oil should be greenish, not golden yellow, and actually smell like fresh olives. If you can buy it in a clear bottle, it’s probably not real EV olive oil.

      Reply
  • Frederick Ross March 29, 2012, 1:03 pm

    I have real problems with the organic and non-GMO movements. These are massive over simplifications. You don’t want your food soaked in pesticides, but a little bit of a very water soluble pesticide on your zuchini isn’t going to do you any harm. Similarly, unless you’re foraging wild plants, you don’t eat anything that’s not already massively genetically modified by man. Corn, wheat, rice, beans, fruit…you name it. The problem with Monsanto and its ilk is their complete ignorance of ecology. So know where your food comes from and how it was produced, and don’t put your trust in simple labels. And if you do insist on abandoning modern agriculture, understand that we cannot support the world’s population with organic hobby farmers.

    We’re easily under $400/month, and probably well below (haven’t run the numbers recently, and we’re still dropping as we try different things).

    If you eat breakfast cereal, you’re being gypped. Here’s a recipe for homemade granola: Take 3 cups rolled oats, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup butter, 1/3 cup honey. Combine oats and brown sugar. Melt butter, stir in honey. Combine with dry ingredients and stir until oats are coated. Spread evenly on a cookie sheet with foil. Bake at 325F for 13-20 minutes (until just lighter than golden brown), stirring every 5-7 minutes.

    I mostly eat steel cut oatmeal when I want carbs in my breakfast, and have eggs, bacon, salad, beans, or whatever else springs to hand besides that.

    And here’s energy/granola bars: Ingredients: 1 cup peanut butter, 1 cup honey, 3 cups old fashioned oats, 3.5oz dark chocolate (>70%; I use 1 bar of Lindt 85% or 90%) chopped coarsely, up to 1 cup additional filler (chopped banana chips, dried dates, cherries, etc.)

    1. Combine the peanut butter and honey in a saucepan that can accomodate all the ingredients over medium heat. Stir until fully mixed, and let heat until it’s not inflexible to work.
    2. Fold in the oats. When they are evenly distributed, fold in the chocolate and filler. Continue folding until the chocolate is evenly distributed and has melted.
    3. Spread the mixture in a 9″x13″ pan lined with baking parchment, smoothing it until it evenly reaches all the edges. Put in the refrigerator until fully cool.

    Aside from that, buy your onions, carrots, potatos, and yams in bulk and learn how to store them so they don’t rot. We buy 20lb bags of onions for a couple dollars. If they start getting a little old, we make French onion soup out of what remains.

    We also roast a chicken twice a month. It provides meat for snacks, the drippings are an amazing sauce or sauce component for putting on legumes or grains, and you get a bunch of nice stock. My roast chicken this month cost me 88 cents/lb, so about $5.50. Here’s my roast chicken recipe, which is both the simplest and the tastiest one I’ve yet found:

    1. Preheat the oven to 350F.

    2. Wash the chicken in cold water, pat it dry, and rub the inside and outside with olive oil, salt, and pepper.

    3. Take two lemons, roll them back and forth on the counter while pressing down on them with your hand to smush the inside a bit, then puncture them all over with a sharp, pointy thing. Put the lemons in the bird’s cavity. You can sew up the cavity if you want, but I don’t bother.

    4. The bird breast side down in a roasting pan. Put it in the oven for 30 minutes. Then turn it over, put in a meat thermometer, and put it back in for another 30 minutes.

    5. Turn the oven up to 400F, and cook until the meat thermometer registers 180F. Take it out, and let it cool until you can carve it without burning yourself.

    I did a chicken yesterday. Today the stock went into a couple quarts of French onion soup that my girlfriend is currently snitching from downstairs.

    Buy your cheese in bulk. We’ve got a 5lb brick of Monterey jack and a 5lb container of ricotta that I need to parcel out and freeze, and a hunk of blue that isn’t going to last long enough to parcel out. Ricotta and mozzarella lose texture when frozen (doesn’t matter if you’re cooking with them), and the others are completely unaffected.

    Don’t buy corn tortillas. You’ll be embarrassed that you ever did when you find out how easy they are to make. Get a bag of fine ground cornmeal (by the way, if you like polenta, it’s just the Italian word for coarse ground cornmeal — if you buy it under the English name in the USA, you get the same thing for a fraction of the price). Put some of the cornmeal in a bowl, and start adding dribbles of water, working it in, until you have a dough that is just slightly too wet to work by hand comfortably. Lay out a layer of saran wrap on the counter, take a piece of the dough a couple inches across, and put it on the saran wrap. Then lay another piece of saran wrap on top, and smush the piece of dough/saran wrap sandwich flat with your hand. Get a flat bottom pan or plate or something and push down on the dough/saran wrap sandwich with the flat bottom of your implement, working it in small circles as you push down. You should end up with a nice, thin round tortilla.

    Meanwhile heat up a frying pan (I used my cast iron) on medium heat. Don’t add any oil. When it’s nice and hot, peel the top layer of saran wrap off the tortilla, and use the bottom saran wrap to place it face down in the pan. Peel off the last of the saran wrap, and let it cook for a couple minutes, basically until it starts to look like a finished tortilla on the bottom and you can easily flip it. Flip it over and cook it on the other side until it’s ready. Repeat with the next tortilla. To really turn them out, have one person flattening tortillas, and the other one juggling two pans.

    My final suggestion: baking bread isn’t hard. Really. Kneading? It’s easy. Buy decent yeast in the jars when it’s on sale and put it in the freezer. Go ahead and pay the little extra for King Arthur brand flour, which provides a much more reliable product. Here’s my family’s bread recipe. It makes four loaves. When they’ve cooled, shove them in plastic bags or containers with a dry towel and freeze them.

    Ingredients: 8 cups flower + some for kneading, 7tsp of yeast, 3Tbsp olive oil, 4tsp salt, ~3 cups warm water.

    1. Put 7tsp of yeast in 1.5 cups of warm water. Let sit for 5 minutes.

    2. Add 4 cups of flour. Form into a ball and knead. Cover with a warm,
    damp towel and let rise for 1.5h.

    3. Remove the bread from the pot you were making it in. Put 4 cups of
    flour in, the bread back on top of it, then add 3Tbsp olive oil, 4tsp
    salt, and 1.5 cups warm water. Knead. Cover again and put on to
    rise for 1.5-2h.

    4. Cut the bread into 4 equal pieces. Knead each of them into a loaf,
    brush the outside with water, and slice the top. Preheat the oven at
    some point earlier, then bake the bread a total of 45 minutes, first
    at 450F, then 350F (I do 20 min at 450, 25 at 350).

    Let sit for ten minutes after you take it out of the oven.

    Hopefully that helps someone. I’m going to go have a bowl of soup.

    Reply
    • Kimmie March 29, 2012, 4:51 pm

      @Frederick…Thanks for the tip on Corn Tortillas…I make flour tortillas from scratch, but haven’t attempted the corn ones. I’m going to add that to my list of things to try making. Your family does things quite similar to our family….We eat steel cut oats each morning topped with raisins(we buy a 25 lb. bag for $20.44….it come out to .50 to feed our family of 4 breakfast each morning) we also buy large containers of cottage cheese and sour cream and make a a chicken or roast up once a month and it stretches for several meals. Thanks for the helpful tips you shared….I enjoyed them greatly!! BTW…here is a yummy recipe for making your own homemade hamburger/hoagie buns: http://pinkcookieswithsprinkles.blogspot.com/2012/03/homemade-onion-and-cheese-buns.html

      Reply
    • Dan March 30, 2012, 9:59 am

      Fredrick’s comment: “And if you do insist on abandoning modern agriculture, understand that we cannot support the world’s population with organic hobby farmers.”

      While certainly true, we also can’t deny the hard-limits of our finite planet. The green revolution of Monstanto, DOW, et. al. will not last forever…it was a con-job from the beginning and will not work as top-soil is degraded further, we run short of water and oil, etc. In short, something has to give; either the population contracts slowly to meet the real availability of support (food, water); or we continue to deny those limits and experience a fast-crash in population. I’d prefer to see us transition towards more sustainable farming practices over time to avoid the pain and misery (especially in the developing world) that will come if we don’t. Certainly there are still economies of scale to growing staple crops through more intensive (organic or not) farming; but the more we can support local farmers growing locally viable non-staples (greens, fruit, herbs) as well as milk, eggs, meat, the better. It may be too late for us to rid the world of Monstanto GMO crap; but the more we can support farmers who are still trying to grow “real” plants, the better.

      And I imagine you know all the stuff I said above…so think of it more as a follow on comment.

      Otherwise, I think you punched it in the face pretty well on everything else…really good recommendations all the way around.

      Reply
  • Connor March 29, 2012, 1:07 pm

    I sure hope you are making your own stock for soups/risotto etc. It’s a double dip for your beer kettle. At least that’s what I told my wife..

    We batch up 20L of veggie stock at a time.
    -throw some veggies in a pot, leeks, onion, celery, etc, salt it
    -fill with water and boil away.
    – once ready strain it out into 1-2L plastic containers and throw it in the freezer.

    probably about 10-50c per L in food costs.

    Reply
  • BlackBirds March 29, 2012, 1:07 pm

    Great Article! I feel that for me food costs have been overlooked as “essential purchases” and not as ways I can further cut my costs. My average food cost has been right around $150 per month, but for whatever reason I was able to only spend $120 in the month of March. This article has given me the drive to really pay attention to what I’m buying on a cost per calorie basis, as well as pack a lunch when I go to work instead of buying overpriced food at our in house cafeteria.

    Thanks MMM!

    Reply
    • Shiznik March 29, 2012, 1:20 pm

      I feel the same way. Food costs can easily be overlooked because everyone needs food right?! Its up to the Mustachian to dig deeper into their food costs to find out if some of the “fat” can be cut out!

      Reply
  • kiwano March 29, 2012, 1:43 pm

    Here’s a favourite winter staple of mine (when my rate of food consumption skyrockets, as I my metabolism aims to keep me warm while biking through the snow and ice):

    Really cheap pea soup

    – put about 1/8-1/4″ of oil in the bottom of a large soup pot and begin heating it
    – chop up a couple of onions and toss them in the oil
    – smash a couple of cloves of garlic and toss them in the oil
    – chop up about half a dozen to a dozen shiitake mushrooms and toss them in the oil
    – fry up this whole mess,stirring a bit, until the mushrooms look well-cooked
    – add a little pepper
    – toss in about a pound of split peas
    – stir the pot contents until the peas are all wet with oil
    – fill the pot about 3/4 full with water, covering everything, and add about a teaspoon of salt
    – crank the stove up to full and cover the pot, to bring it to a full boil, and then turn down the heat to sustain the boiling as a gentle simmer.
    – for the next couple of hours, uncover the pot every 15-30min to stir the soup, and add more water as needed
    – the soup is ready when the peas have disintegrated, and are only slightly lumpy when stirred
    – add more salt and pepper to taste before serving

    Typically, a pot of soup like this will last me for an entire week of dinners, often sharing it with a couple of friends over the course of the week. In the end, I have about 8-10 meals for around $2.50 in ingredients (those mushrooms are relatively spendy), so $0.25-0.30/meal

    I also keep a few tasty cheeses that I add to mine when serving it out, in order to avoid getting completely bored with it over the course of the week (a modest slice of old cheddar is one of my favourites). Sure it increases the cost of the meal by as much as 50%, but I still view it as an affordable luxury.

    Often times, I make this soup, and a pot of my own tomato sauce (which, along with noodles also provides roughly a week’s worth of ~$0.30c meals) on a Saturday and a Sunday, and then alternate between them for the next two weeks.

    Reply
  • Mr. Money Mustache March 29, 2012, 2:39 pm

    Wow! At this rate, it looks like this article may end up popping up in that box on the right sidebar as one of the most commented posts of all time. That’s a good thing.

    I wanted to address some of the comments about ethical/organic vs. industrial agriculture: I think that like anything, this should be a balance for a person that is saving for financial independence. Organic food is an optional luxury, and I like to think of it as a form of environmental charity that I contribute a couple thousand dollars a year to by voluntarily paying more for my food. That’s why I specified organic food in my comparisons above. And it’s why my grocery bill is $350-400/month instead of $250-300.

    But there are OTHER things you can do with your money. You can choose to save and invest more of it. You can give it to other charities or environmental causes that may have a bigger impact. Some pretty hardcore scientists actually question the value of some organic farming because of its increased land use/deforestation and the increased nitrogen runoff from manure fertilization. So it’s not a cut-and-dried thing where EVERYONE should buy this expensive food, regardless of how wealthy they are.

    My own personal suggestion of a balance is: buy cheaper (but still healthy) food while you are saving for financial independence – ESPECIALLY if you are in the under 75k income bracket. Once you have the ‘Stash you need, feel free to scale it up. Assuming we all need this new organic fancy food is just scientific misunderstanding. It’s a luxury good, so treat it that way.

    Also, remember that we are talking about some Goddamned Healthy eating in this article by US standards, even if you buy everything straight out of a ConAgra factory. Most people eat white Wonderbread, Coke, Hungry Man TV dinners, and McDonald’s. Seriously. If you even pick up a piece of raw broccoli, you’re already in the top 1%. If you combine this with some bicycling, you’ll be blowing right off the top of the life expectancy chart.

    So let’s start FEELING GREAT about our healthy eating habits, instead of splitting hairs over canola oil and which farmer has the best grass-fed beef!

    And don’t buy grass-fed beef if you’re still DRIVING to the grocery store or otherwise cheating yourself out of at least an hour a day of exercise. Put your effort into where it will get the biggest reward FIRST. Use the 80/20 principle in all areas of life.

    Reply
    • Dan March 29, 2012, 3:49 pm

      1) Grass-fed beef, even top-sirloin steaks, is cheaper and healthier than the chicken you cite. If you’re going through 3-lbs/wk, that’s a savings of $36/mon.

      2) Not all your veg has to be organic, but through flexible MMM-type shopping, you can get certain “heavily chemical’d” items organic at the same price as most pay for non-organic. Let’s call it $0.00/mon.

      3) there’s simply no reason to use canola oil when clarified butter (ghee), lard, coconut oil, or even peanut-oil can be used instead at a de-minimis impact to the overall food budget…maybe $5/mon.

      4) even if you’re going through 2-dozen eggs a week and 1 gallon of milk, you’re still only talking a delta of $50/mon at most (roughly) to buy farm eggs and raw-milk instead of costco versions.

      5) cutting out wheat products like bread and pasta is a no-brainer – that sh*t is toxic too and should be punched in the face…stat. Switch to rice, probably save a few bucks a week, or $12/mon.

      Add that all up, and the changes amoun to: $7 total increase per month!!

      See, it’s just not that hard (or expensive) to make a couple small changes that can remove a LARGE amount of toxins and un-ethical-ity from your life.

      Reply
      • Heidi March 30, 2012, 10:05 am

        Nice analysis.

        Reply
    • BigRob March 29, 2012, 4:22 pm

      Wow! We disagree on the use of industrial seed oils, but what a great comment.

      Thank you for your insight about starting to eat healthier before tweaking all the things that can help.

      Reply
    • Kimmie March 29, 2012, 4:55 pm

      @MMM…you always make me laugh with your comments and I always enjoy your choice of words you use!!!

      Reply
    • Peter Lyons June 1, 2012, 11:10 pm

      I for one am tired of the faux sense of accomplishment and self-worth that comes from comparing ourselves to the “average American”. Who cares? Like MMM, I live close to the Boulder, CO bubble. 9 out of 10 baristas here are triathletes. I want to be compared to my own potential, not average. I do not care that in some places in this massive country people drink Mountain Dew exclusively (or at least I’m led to believe. I personally never see such things). Like Derek Sivers says, http://sivers.org/kimo, there should be no speed limit. Let’s get off the “pat yourself on the back for eating 2 vegetables this week” bandwagon and set our sights on people worthy of emulation, like MMM.

      Reply
  • Praxis March 29, 2012, 2:40 pm

    Unfortunately, your comments on paleo betray a lack of understanding of the diet. I got excited when you brought it up because I’m on a keto / ketogenic diet, which has a ton of overlap with paleo, but none of the advice you gave is applicable. (I’m doing it for health; I’m down ~45 pounds in three months just eating different)

    I’d really love some suggestions on shopping that I can use while I’m doing this if you would be able to.

    Some corrections so you’ll understand: Paleo (and keto) are not high protein diets. They usually end up being high in protein just due to the type of foods eaten, but there is absolutely no reason anyone on paleo or keto would want to add protein to their diet by using whey protein! That’s not a suggestion I can imagine anyone using (except maybe the most hardcore bodybuilders).

    They are both low carb, high fat diets; both ban sugars, refined carbohydrates, and grains, and encourage fat intake (the realization that fat and cholesterol intake do not cause heart disease is the key here). Keto emphasizes more fat and is even stricter about carbs (bans even the incidental carbs from sugar in fruit or the low glycemic index carbs in sweet potato), and is more about weight loss. Paleo focuses more on eliminating refined carbs and grains, and allows people to eat either fat or low glycemic index carbs for energy.

    Neither diet calls for added protein unless you are bodybuilding. Keto’s pretty strict about trying to be 65/35/10 fat/protein/carb ratio, and paleo’s pretty lax as long as you’re avoiding the refined carbs and also avoiding processed vegetable oils (i.e. everything that isn’t olive oil or coconut oil).

    My point?

    A person on paleo cannot eat these things:
    Basmati Rice
    Spaghetti noodles
    Black beans
    Potatoes
    Canola Oil

    A person on keto (like me) cannot eat the above, and also cannot eat the Bananas and Apples.

    Neither diet would have any reason to take protein powder; that’s way too much unneeded protein, they’ll be getting more than they need from the foods they are eating anyway!

    I tend to eat a lot of eggs, cheese, meat, fish, and green vegetables (spinach, kale, broccoli). I shop at a local outlet store to get them cheaply. That’s about the best I’ve been able to come up with but it’s still a lot more expensive than beans, rice and potatoes. :(

    Reply
    • Gabrielle March 29, 2012, 4:31 pm

      @Praxis: Our family of 3 eats paleo and yes, grocery costs have gone up now that low cost grain fillers are no longer on the table. I use the tricks (buy locally and seasonally, stock up on sales, use variety of marketing locales, optimize food prep & storage, etc) so although my food bill has probably gone up close to $80/mo I’m still below $400. Just replacing grains and potatoes with vegetables was a net increase in cost. And the price of nuts is enough to cause a Mustachean shiver! Buying whatever veg is on sale (which often parallels nicely with buying local or seasonal or both) and being open to a wide variety of produce has been working for me. I like slow cooker recipes to use less expensive cuts of meat, eliminate cooking oils and to prepare bulk recipes for lunches and later use.

      I’m making a deliberate choice to forgo grocery savings for the health benefits I perceive from this way of eating. I can afford it and it is worth it to me. I’m not sure it can compete with other diets for cost.

      Reply
      • Crystal August 3, 2013, 4:32 am

        I’m a Paleo-er too, and I’ve been working on hacking this lately. I did a bunch of research about meats and have been buying meats from local farmers and ranchers. I have cut down on nuts and chicken because they are higher in omega 6 and that throws me out of balance. I think the key to keeping Paleo under control budget wise is to up your fermented foods (which you can make water kefir and sauerkraut very inexpensively at home) and fat intake. Yes, Paleo is more expensive, but your body and health will thank you. I was very sick last year after being a vegetarian/vegan for many years. I went Paleo and healed. My medical bills are less this year.

        Reply
  • Erik Y March 29, 2012, 2:56 pm

    Thumbs up on the ethnic grocery suggestion. We have quite a few in my area, but the one I favor is a middle eastern market with the absolute best prices and selection on produce around.

    Staples in our house are rice (mostly jasmine), beans, pasta and potatoes. We also tend to eat a lot of fruit in season. I’m not sure what our monthly grocery bill is exactly, but it’s probably about $800-$1000 per month (including the occassional meal out) for a family of eight. A favorite snack is pop corn, which we buy in ten or twenty pound bags from Smart and Final and pop in a popper we’ve had for about six years. I think our most expensive single weekly item is milk for the kids. They love the stuff and we go through about a gallon a day. At least it’s cheaper than gas.

    Reply
  • poko March 29, 2012, 3:22 pm

    Funny that you mention the popular paleo diet. That is exactly what my husband is on now. No grains or beans of any kind — so this has greatly increased our food costs. Especially since before, he was vegan.

    I’m more or less vegan still, so I can keep my part of the food costs down for the most part, but I’d love to hear any ideas for getting cheaper meat. He buys all his meat at Whole Foods which I know must be the most expensive place possible to get it, but buying factory farmed meat is totally out of the question.

    I will have to drag him to Costco with me to see what he can find there (I generally skip the meat sections as it squicks me out). Sadly, we don’t have the room for a chest freezer in our small home, I’m unsure buying in bulk from a farm would work without one? I may look into going in with a friend who has more space than we do.

    Reply
    • Dan March 29, 2012, 3:34 pm

      There are plenty of websites aimed at doing paleo on the cheap:

      1) eggs
      2) beef
      3) coconut oil
      4) cabbage / greens
      5) any other veg on sale
      6) raw milk / homemade yogurt

      But also, you need to weigh out the improvement on his health and overall benefit against the money spent.

      $400/mon (max. I’d say someone needs to spend to be pure-paleo) on outstanding healthy food is much more palatable budget-wise than $400/mon on crap restaurant food.

      Especially if that $400/mon means he’s able to drop some weight and enjoy life…not to mention the savings in medical bills and insurance rates as he gets older.

      And I’m guessing you were already spending in the realm of $250-300/mon on vegan vittles, so really, we’re talking a pretty small incremental change to make a big positive benefit. That is badassity for sure.

      Reply
  • Lindsey March 29, 2012, 5:39 pm

    Sometimes you can reduce your food bill by looking at what you throw away.

    For example, when I was a kid, we ate the carrots one day and within a day or two, I would see the greens floating in a soup or adding bulk to a salad. When I was on my own, I branched out into using them in stir-fries, omelets, smoothies and quesadillas. And that was before I knew that carrot tops are rich in vitamin K, among other things. If you want more information or recipes, look up the World Carrot Museum (www.carrotmuseum.co.uk/carrotops.html). Some folks are allergic to carrot tops, so be sure to start easy to make sure you are not one of them.

    I constantly see people throwing away the bottom slices of scallions, the white part with the roots attached. Peopl! Scallion bottoms can be used to grow more of them. Next time you shop for scallions, look for a bunch where there are some healthy roots still attached to most of them. Using a sharp knife, cleanly slice off the green, leaving most of the white still attached to the roots. Eat the greens, but plant the white rooted pieces in a pot of soil—you can place them close together, so you don’t need a very large container. .

    You’ll soon see green shoots coming up, stronger tasting than the ones they replaced. Harvest them whenever you want and more green shoots will keep appearing, although the plant will begin to fan out more each time. You can do this for months before the original scallions begin to show signs of fatigue, putting out fewer and thinner shoots. When that happens, pull out and cook up the entire group, refresh the dirt with a bit of compost or commercial potting soil, and plant a new crop of scallion ends. You can do this with store bought or garden scallions, in your garden or a container.

    Another valuable thing people throw away are celery ends. Why? You can boil the bejebbers out of them and used them to make soup stock, or use them like the scallion bottoms—as the hosts for new celery stems. Instead of devoting a lot of room to growing celery, you could plant fewer but have them regenerate.

    When you bring a celery plant in from the garden (or the grocery store), cut the bottom two inches or so off. Put that piece in a bowl that has enough water to cover the bottom inch and let it sit on the counter for a few days. Then plant it and wait for more stalks to show up—you can bury it completely, or leave a bit of the stalk showing. Go to http://chickensintheroad.com/farm-bell-recipes/re-growing-celery, for a longer description and plenty of pictures of the process.

    But seeing celery butts in people’s garbage or compost is not as shocking as seeing the roots and stems of cabbage plants. Cut the cabbage, yes, but leave the stalk and roots and by fall you’ll get a litter of little cabbages. About the size of Brussels sprouts, you’ll easily harvest enough for another meal. Ditto for broccoli—cut the head but leave the rest of the plant in the ground and you’ll be rewarded with side shoots that look like miniature heads. The stems are thinner, so more tender.

    Other things all too frequently tossed: Beet greens; you can eat them raw, boiled and fried. And nasturtium leaves, those can be added to salads as another type of green, or used in a pesto recipe when you don’t have quite enough basil.

    Cantaloupe seeds and pulp can be used to make a tasty drink. For directions, visit http://chowtimes.com/2009/06/16/cantaloupe-drink . Watermelon rinds can be turned into a kind of pickle (http://oneperfectbite.blogspot.com/2009/08/sweet-and-spicy-watermelon-rind-pickles.html ) or jelly, candy, relish or a cinnamon watermelon rind milkshake (http://www.watermelonrind.com).

    You can save money by buying less, but also by completely using up what you purchase.

    Reply
    • Shanna March 29, 2012, 11:24 pm

      Thank you for this info! Celery and g onions are about $7 a week for me right now.

      And I always pick beets by the most beautiful tops for smoothies!

      Reply
    • Jeremy March 30, 2012, 10:07 pm

      Beet greens are a staple here. Beets are easy to grow in the garden, even in Colorado – they are very hardy with weather swings and watering mistakes.
      When you grow beets, you’ll end up with a lot of crowding and will have to thin the row. Pull every other out and toss it, stems and all, in a salad. As they grow, keep pulling every other and whether or not the root is worth eating, you’ve got hardy greens for stir fries, soups, or salads again.
      The best part, even if the leaf is ugly or gets hit by hail, even the stems are useful. We chop the thick ones into bite size pieces and freeze them. Toss them in a chili at the same size as the onions. The have a nice texture like celery, but with a bit of sweetness. (They might turn things red.)
      For twenty bucks, we bought seeds for ten heirloom beet varieties. We planted half of the seeds in an 8×16 foot plot that would have been wasted by lawn, and STILL have beet parts floating around the freezer. The other half of the seeds are in a cool place for this season.

      A couple of our favorite recipes, beet or not:

      Chili
      First, make a ton of beans in your slow cooker.
      Next cook a little meat in a big pot. If the meat is lean, throw in some bacon fat to lubricate (you do save your bacon fat, right?)
      Add as much onion and garlic, chopped, as you can handle. This is where I also throw in things like beet stems for nutritious filler.
      Once that sweats, add a few tablespoons of ground chili pepper (not chili powder, which has salt, etc in it) and cumin to taste.
      Add tomato, straight from a can – really cheap from Costco, organic. This is where I throw in tender veg filler – beet greens, cilantro (which grows like a weed and freezes fine.)
      Lastly, stir in some of your pre-cooked beans and salt to taste.
      The proportions are great with a pound of beef, an onion, a can (two cups) of tomato, and the equivalent of a can (two cups) of beans. But I’ve been doubling, tripling and even quadrupling everything but the beef to save meat, and it’s so flavorful that you can’t tell the difference.

      Stir Fry
      Make a bunch of Lentils (so cheap, so nutritious, and our preference to rice for weight control)
      Stir fry meat, preferably in more bacon fat.
      Add an equal proportion of vegetables, clamp on a lid until tender.
      Stir in an equal proportion of lentils.
      Season – soy sauce and red pepper flakes are great. Other salty/spicy options – whatever you have – abound.
      This is another one where we triple the recipe but not necessarily the meat, and you’d never miss it. Beets are an awesome addition for flavor and color.
      Adapted this one from the stone soup blog, a nice blog for adaptable recipes.

      Reply
    • Karawynn @ Pocketmint April 7, 2012, 11:33 pm

      Lindsey, thank you! I knew many of those things but not all. I’ll definitely try the cantaloupe drink when they’re in season again.

      Reply
  • George Carlson March 29, 2012, 6:02 pm

    I have a loose “nothing but oatmeal before 6:00pm” policy. Its not a hard and fast rule but I stick to it probably about 5 to 6 days per week. Typically I get roughly 2000 calories per day from oatmeal… in my opinion it is the healthiest, leanest, and cheapest food ever “invented.” I’d go so far as to call it a super food.

    Reply
  • Linzi Murray-hendry, March 29, 2012, 6:25 pm

    Jezzzzz…we have six in our fam, me my husband, both slim to average build, one 16 year old boy, 6ft 4in, eats like a horse, plays rep soccer and badminton, one 9 year old boy, built like a sh*t brickhouse, eats anything, one 6 year old boy….no fuss, and one 4 year old girl, healthy eater, all we’re over 9lbs when born…intact my lightest was 9lbs 3oz that was my girl……anyway, we et organic, I cook from scratch every night, I’m a stay at home mom. We don’t eat out, I watch the usual nasties, colors, artificial flavours, preservatives, gmo’s, sugars, dairy, gluten…… Wheat a lot of raw, veg, whole grain foods….for a young fam with ranging age groups my children r fantastic and eat everything I put I front of them…….however they r big eaters and th pack lunches r getting bigger every year…..we spend 400 bucks a week roughly on food, including shampoos, soaps, showers gels, cleaning products…..but really, I need, need, need , need to know who to feed my family on a smaller budget…..help me! Anyone…….

    Reply
    • Gabrielle March 30, 2012, 12:13 pm

      There are so many good tips for shopping and cooking here they don’t need repeating. But one (slightly off-topic) tip is to watch the other consumables you mention: soap, cleaning products, etc. Instead of cleaning “products” try baking soda and vinegar for everything; it’s much cheaper, better for the environment and less wasteful on packaging, especially if you can get the huge packages from costco. I’m sure there was a MMM topic previously on savings in other house-care arenas, at least in the comments section, that are great for savings tips for non-food shopping needs.
      As for filling up ravenous children, I just try to stuff my son full of nutrient dense foods, lots of protein, and when he’s eaten all the good stuff and is still not satisfied, then he’s allowed to go for volume like rice and air-popped popcorn.

      Reply
  • Brooke March 29, 2012, 6:32 pm

    Budgeting forced me to become a good cook! I managed to live on 14 bucks a week for groceries while paying down my debt and ate very well indeed. A crockpot makes enough soup or stew to last for days. Making sure to always buy fruits and veggies and drinking lots of water is crucial too because it fills you up so you aren’t so hungry to eat overpriced junk foods. Learning the joys of gourmet cuisine helps you create super flavorful meals so you actually eat the food you cook and nothing goes to waste. And when you’re eating this good you don’t feel like you need to eat out because your food is better than anything you could get at a restaurant! Debt free this year and my tummy is happy. :)

    Reply
  • SunTzuWarmaster March 29, 2012, 6:42 pm

    Reply
  • jessica w. March 29, 2012, 6:43 pm

    I also love this article! The hubs and I spend 40 a week,but this is higher than it used to be. We upped our budget to this when we had a double in our income and decided to try eat more fruits, veggies, and better quality meats.

    Reply
  • Cindy March 29, 2012, 7:25 pm

    As MMM is a financial badass, I consider my self to be a clean eating badass. I find that most of the arguments about healthy food being more expensive are mostly trite and unfounded. Yes, a pound of organic potato chips are, what, $8? But organic or not, processed food is crap and needs to stay on the shelf at the grocery store. The key to eating a clean, cost effective diet is to put a little thought (gasp) and work (double gasp) into it. So here is what my family has done. For the majority of our groceries, we have cut out the middle man (the grocer). We have a CSA for our fruits, veggies, and eggs. We get quality organic food from these folks for less than what I would pay at the store. The quantity every week is nearly overwhelming, but that is gold for the winter months, as I spend some time preserving and putting away what we don’t eat for later. For our meat, we get it from directly from local ranchers, again, cutting out the middle man. Raw milk comes from the dairyman down the road. I make my own yogurt and buttermilk, which we all enjoy. My tomato seeds are hanging out in their mini greenhouse in the laundry room waiting to sprout and be planted in my garden. A day of processing the harvest will result in enough diced tomatoes, salsa, and tomato sauce to last a whole year. Another key is to realize that in order to eat clean while eating cheaply, you have to be willing to eat seasonally. Grocery stores have created an unrealistic expectation for us, that we should be able to eat whatever we want, whenever we want. Yes, you can eat a peach from Argentina in the dead of winter, but it will cost you big bucks and taste like crap. Buy what is in season, enjoy it until you are sick of it, preserve a bunch of it, and move on. We don’t really buy much of anything that comes in a jar, a can, or a box. I make my own vinaigrettes instead of buying the junk that comes in jars. Just made my own BBQ sauce this weekend and it is the bomb! Don’t buy prepared breads, as I make my own. For dried staples like brown rice, I buy it from the bulk aisle or head to Costco. It’s possible, with planning and work!

    Reply
  • Trevor March 29, 2012, 7:41 pm

    I live in downtown Toronto and I ride my bike pretty much every day. But for some reason I’ve never owned a pannier or any other way of carrying things on my bike. But then a couple of weeks back when the weather got nice, I bought a clip on basket for the back of my bike for about $20.

    As a result, I decided to ride my bike about 10 minutes west of the place I normally walk to to get my groceries, to a chain called “No Frills”.

    Holy S**T!!

    I can’t believe what huge in difference the prices were with the combo of being a little further from the city core and going to a place like “No Frills” versus one of the nicer grocery stores.

    Now I ride over there to pick up most of my food stuffs.

    Reply
    • Gerard March 30, 2012, 4:55 pm

      What I like about No Frills, too, is that each outlet responds to the needs of the neighbourhood. So the one on Dufferin (Portuguese) has great fish and bread, the one on Coxwell (India Bazaar) has naan and yogurt and dal, and so on…

      Oh, and thanks for that bit about putting together complete proteins. I always wondered about that.

      Reply
  • Trevor March 29, 2012, 7:51 pm

    On the protein issue, many people used to believe that it was important for vegetarians to eat “complete proteins” for at least one meal per day. And to do this, you would combine foods that together were complete proteins, such as eating rice and beans together. This can certainly be yummy, but several large scale university research projects have shown that in fact it only matters that you eat all protein types over time. It actually appears to make little or no difference if you eat them together or not.

    Reply
  • Marcia @Frugal Healthy Simple March 30, 2012, 3:48 am

    Wow, this was a great post. I got interested in being frugal with my food around the same time I realized I was fat and needed to lose weight. I both decreased my food intake and changed WHAT I was eating (and learned to cook, to boot). This was in 2002.

    When I was single, I could easily spend hundreds a month eating out. And when I was married and first in Cali, I easily spent $850/month for the 2 of us. I managed to cut that down to $400 or less for several years (even when we went from 2 to 3 people).

    But as I’ve gotten older and my budget less-tight, I have moved along the way of more organic and sustainable. I am an 11 year member of a CSA. I buy organic milk now. Most of the meat that I buy is local and organic/free range. Same with eggs.

    But I do cut myself some slack with a roasted chicken from Costco or some pre-packaged products too. While I love eating locally, it can be a real chore to do that and watch your budget and it gets to be stressful. Absolutely I agree that if you are on a budget and you can’t work organic dairy or meat into it – then don’t. Just buy it where you can afford it.

    Living in Cali, you can get organic veggies for not much more than non-organic. The farmer’s markets can be a real deal. I also find that grocery spending is highly area-dependent. I see what people can get in the midwest for prices (especially grass fed meats!) and I remember that there’s a lot of overhead when you live where I do.

    The Complete Tightwad Gazette was my introduction to my grocery bill, shopping strategies, and a price book. It was a HUGE help.

    Reply
  • Jeff March 30, 2012, 6:13 am

    WholeFoods-ish stores have good quality food, but it will cost you. Just got back from Wegmans and spent 10$ on a small loaf of gluten free bread and 6 gluten free english muffins. Their clientele can definitely afford it.

    My advice – stock up on bulk items (cereal, toiletries, pasta, sauce, salsa, etc) at Costco and limit specialty items like produce or gluten free at Whole Foods.

    Reply
    • Shanna March 30, 2012, 2:10 pm

      For any GFs out there. I just saw this simple bread, 1 cup of rice is pretty cheap, I’m not sure about the millet but it has to be cheaper than store bought GF bread. I love how it’s not a bunch of wierd hard to find flours and ingredients and it’s sprouted!

      I am trying it for my husband this weekend to replace his Chebe bread mix that costs 3.69 for 2 sandwiches.

      http://www.nourishingmeals.com/2012/03/gluten-free-flatbread-recipe-made-from.html

      Reply
      • Heidi March 30, 2012, 3:18 pm

        I second this blog. Its our go-to blog and we’ve found the recipes to be completely reliable but that is not the case with all GF recipes. Check out her teff recipe for a great everyday bread.

        Reply
  • stagleton March 30, 2012, 6:51 am

    if you’re in Oslo check out the grocery stores on the ‘wong-side’ of town. They have the most interesting food and are insanely cheap compared with Coop, Rimi or whatever b.s.

    Reply
  • Gerard March 30, 2012, 7:39 am

    I’m a penny-pincher, so it’s taken me a while to wrap my head around this idea: food is so cheap in North America that spending an extra 20% on it actually does very little damage to my overall budget. But it drastically improves the quality of my life. Real parmesan, basmati rice, good soy sauce, fresh local produce… they’re light years better than the cheap equivalents… and still cheaper than processed convenience food. And I can pay for that extra quality fifty times over by not having a car, and/or not smoking. Damn, life is good.

    Reply
    • Dan March 30, 2012, 9:55 am

      Bingo. The incremental difference in spending to get something worth eating and good for you is not that much; if you can fit it in the budget, do it. If not, then do what you need to do to get by, try to improve your debt/income situation, and upgrade to better food as you can afford to.

      I realize some of my comments have been pretty stark and critical; but I really want to point out that what MMM is advocating really just needs to be split into two categories:

      1) if you’re on a subsistence diet, in debt, or in a tight-spot – then by all means, do what you need to do to cut your budget to the bone while still filling your kids and your stomachs…use the resources here as well as food-banks and whatever else you can get to

      2) but if you’re making enough to afford an extra $50-200/mon put into your food cost-center by cutting corners elsewhere, then spend it, and spend it wisely; learn how to cook from scratch and make good use of the higher-quality milk, meat, eggs, veggie.; doing so is worth is for many, many reasons…

      Reply
      • Marcia @Frugal Healthy Simple March 30, 2012, 10:52 am

        I agree with you here. Dietary restrictions aside, I’d rather spend a little extra on organic milk or chicken from the farmer’s market (at $15 a chicken) and learn to stretch it (sandwiches, stir-fry, homemade stock). I can save money by baking my own bread or eating oatmeal for breakfast.

        Reply
      • rjack March 31, 2012, 5:20 am

        “doing so is worth is for many, many reasons…”

        Not the least of which is that you will likely reduce your medical insurance co-pays because you won’t make as many trips to the doctor.

        Reply
  • Sarah March 30, 2012, 7:58 am

    Just wanted to recommend http://www.brokeandhealthy.com for WONDERFUL, frugal meal ideas!

    We LOVE good food and had a nice, small budget a few years ago ($400/month for a family of 4, including local summer veggies, a garden, and free venison) – but it was always difficult to stay in that budget; then we started a paleo-like diet last year and the spending went a lot higher (we decided just to see how much it would be) – possibly over $800/month last fall on average.

    Now I am trying to get it back down to maybe $500? for 5 of us, while still eating well (and having time for other things) – but that “cost of food” table from the USDA seems to think I can’t do it for less than $700 (thrifty plan, based on the 2 adults + 3 children’s individual numbers). It is so hard to decide what is a realistic goal, but I do believe I can do better than the government’s idea of thrift!

    Reply
  • Tamara March 30, 2012, 9:47 am

    Although it wasn’t our intention going in, moving to a 100% vegetarian and 90% vegan lifestyle has resulted in a 15% savings on our grocery bill. We were spending $100 a week for the two of us and are now at $85. Here in California we have the good fortune of being able to buy the bulk of our produce at Sprouts, which has both organic and non organic options, and fantastic prices. This week’s Sprouts circular shows the following on sale:

    Vine tomatoes – .88 cents a pound
    Romaine lettuce – .88 cents a head
    Spinach – .88 cents a head/bunch
    Bartlett pears – .88 cents a pound
    Green beans – .88 cents a pound
    Red bell peppers – .49 each
    Avacados – .88 each
    Mangos – .88 each
    Italian squash – .88 a pound
    Gala Apples – .99 a pound
    D’Anjou Pears – .99 a pound

    We round out our shopping at Trader Joes. We rarely visit “normal” grocery stores anymore. Too expensive and too many processed items.

    We also plan our menu around sale items. Here’s whats on our vegetarian menu this week:

    -Boca Tacos, Cilantro Salad & Sangria
    -Vegetarian Chili, Cornbread & Romaine Salad
    -Spinach Salad w/faux bacon & Rosemary Sourdough Bread
    -Cilantro Ravioli & Ceasar Salad
    -Pumpkin Sage Spinach Ravioli & Italian Blend Salad

    I love coming home with bags of fresh produce . . . it looks gorgeous on the counter and in the fridge when I unpack.

    Reply
    • Fangs March 30, 2012, 3:27 pm

      Ah, California. No wonder your food is so cheap!

      Reply
      • Marcia @Frugal Healthy Simple March 30, 2012, 8:21 pm

        But only fruits and veggies! If you want grass fed beef or organic eggs or chicken, you’ll pay through the nose!

        Reply
    • c March 31, 2012, 10:07 am

      I’ve never seen an avocado for less than $1.99 here. I grew up in South Africa and they grew everywhere, we almost never paid for them, here they’re a “luxury”.

      Reply
  • Brian March 30, 2012, 9:17 pm

    It astounds me how much some people spend on food. This is a huge area of potential savings. We are a family of two and spend $200 per month on groceries. We eat healthy, balanced meals aand don’t pay much for it. Completely agree it can be done!

    Reply
  • Joe March 31, 2012, 10:26 am

    Wow. This post is the gift that keeps on giving!! Does anyone have any good resources (book or internet) on canning and preserving? We belong to a CSA and I feel if I could learn to can I could reap some HUGE rewards. For example, our CSA had so many tomatoes last year, they made them unlimited. Pick all you want. If I knew how to can and preserve I would have had sauce, salsa, and tomatoes for a year I think.

    Reply
    • Hanah March 31, 2012, 4:26 pm

      Canning isn’t hard – just pick up a reputable book and follow the instructions and recipes, or look at the USDA website. There’s a bit of upfront cost since you have to buy the jars and a little bit of equipment (funnel, jar lifter, lid lifer). But it amortizes over a few years. You can’t can everything in a simple boiling water bath but you can do a lot, including tomatoes. A big batch of tomato sauce is a full day job though! However, everything you can yourself will taste 100% better than what you buy in the store. It’s safe provided you follow modern recipes and techniques.

      Reply
    • Hanah March 31, 2012, 4:30 pm

      Another possibility is just freezing stuff. It’s easier and nutrition is better. Not sure how the costs compare to canning – running the stove on high for long enough to process all that sauce takes a lot of gas, and it might be comparable to running a modern small chest freezer for a year.

      Reply
    • et April 2, 2012, 9:36 am

      Here’s a reliable source of food preservation information:
      National Center for Home Food Preservation
      http://nchfp.uga.edu/index.html

      Reply
    • Erik Y April 2, 2012, 1:54 pm

      Check out Sharon Astyk’s blog. I think a lot of her writing will appeal to the MMM crowd.

      http://scienceblogs.com/casaubonsbook

      Reply
  • Rob March 31, 2012, 2:02 pm

    OK, this is where you lose me (and I’m sure a few others along the way)

    I get the paid off house, old cars, avoiding gadgetry. Check, check, and check.
    But there is no way I can espouse a 200 a month grocery bill, vegan lifestyle, or drinking olive oil.
    I am a distance runner and very thin, so weight is a non issue.
    I enjoy eating expensive cuts of meat-buffalo, grass fed steaks, high grade sushi, nice fresh fish, etc.
    I have tried the cheap route, and I really feel eating well (for me) must include these items.
    Most of this stuff is consumed at home-I am not a foodie spending 300 a pop each weekend going out, but the sacrifice to me in order to save that last bit of cash is just not worth it.
    We all have our mustache sizes. I guess mine will have to stay Clark Gable, cause Rollie Fingers is just too much for me.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache March 31, 2012, 3:56 pm

      Sounds reasonable to me!

      But I personally feel I am eating like a huge gluttonous king – I’ve got meat and fish and spices and oils and loads of organic food – even fair trade organic coffee – packed into the budget above. It would be hard for me to spend any more than this, now that I’ve developed the habit of shopping this efficiently.

      A stripped-down diet, like I’d do if I woke up with credit card or car loan debt or some other horrible affliction one day, would cost about half this amount. Vegetarian, beans-and-rice, no coffee, etc. And I’d still probably end up just as happy, since luxury eating is surely subject to hedonic adaptation anyway.

      Reply
    • Tamara April 1, 2012, 8:40 am

      The choice to give up meat and dairy was actually about IMPROVING our quality of life, not diminishing it for frugality purposes. Meat and dairy are not the end all and be all of nutrition, and in our case, our energy levels vastly improved when we gave them up. The resulting drop in grocery spend was simply an unexpected benefit.

      And I’m a long distance runner as well – 15 years and still running strong – currently preparing for what I think is my 17th half marathon. :-)

      Reply
  • TwoPupsOnACouch March 31, 2012, 2:08 pm

    Great article! Thanks MMM! I have your soup in the crockpot right now. Maybe you already know this, but you can soak the squash seeds in salt water, then toast until golden. A great source of FREE protein.

    Reply
  • Enzo March 31, 2012, 3:38 pm

    I am definitely a MMM’er and have been successful at it what with a paid off home in my early 30’s and spend under $1500 per month typically. I have however failed on the eating out/grocery end of things. I am wondering if people are including eating out + toiletries + cleaning supplies, etc in these totals as well????

    I track every cent i spend and average about $425 per month on eating out/groceries however my gf and i split everything when we go to the store or eat out so that tells me we are spending over $800 for the two of us. Yikes – I admit I don’t have a good handle on this and have been meaning to actually track everything we eat for two weeks and figure out cost per serving.

    We do also live up in Alberta where things are fairly expensive though I think. Examples – $2.99 for one litre of milk, about $4 per good quality chicken breast, $30 for bag of Costco frozen salmon (about 10 pieces), large tub of Activia yogurt is $4 on sale, etc.

    We also don’t eat out “that often” by average standards. Maybe 2 times per week on average and considering there are 21 meals in a week that is only 10% of the time. Typically we eat at a nearby “dive”, Boston Pizza but sometimes The Keg which is of course $100 easily with alcohol. I’m wondering what others are spending in Western Canada for this category…….

    Reply
    • Kika May 20, 2013, 7:41 pm

      I live in AB and for a family of five, including two athletic teens, we spend an average of $1000/mos but sometimes spend more when buying a quarter beef or big organic grain order, for instance. We shop around: Grainworks is an organic buying club from which we buy 25-50lb bags of dried beans, quinoa, rice, popcorn, spelt , sunflower seeds,etc; the nearest costco is 2 hs away for us but we head there every few months, etc. As an example, I can buy tubs of organic yogurt on sale at Sobeys for around $3 but will spend about $10 for a gallon of organic milk there; I buy oranically raised (local) chickens to freeze rather than breasts and organic local eggs at $10/3 dozen. I don’t eat meat but do cook some once or twice a week for my family. There are some items (like organic tofu) that I have to buy at Planet Organic and other organic items I buy at Save On Foods when I’m in the city for appointments. Anyways, totally agree that food here is expensive and while I do feel the need to cut back on our food spending I cannot sacrifice our health in the process.

      Reply
  • Gabe April 2, 2012, 9:48 am

    Glad other folks jumped on you about the Canola Oil. Most people in the US get way too much Omega-6 oil in their diet, leading to inflammation, heart disease, auto-immune diseases, etc. Canola is about 20% Omega-6, which is better than the 65% Safflower in potato chips, but is still proportionally more than I would consider ideal (~10% at most across diet). Many people will argue that the results aren’t “definitive enough” yet, I suppose thats something each should decide for themselves. Grains, grain-fed animals, and oils derived from grains and seeds are all packed with Omega-6 so they should be eaten sparingly in my opinion if you want to maximize your health. Re: the pasted info about “toxins” in Canola oil, Omega-6 isn’t a toxin unless it makes up a large percentage of your fat intake. And if the FDA is your go-to for nutrition information…..well, good luck with that.

    http://chriskresser.com/how-too-much-omega-6-and-not-enough-omega-3-is-making-us-sick

    Also interestingly, reducing your Omega-6 seems to be correlated with a reduction in violent and aggressive behavior.
    http://www.fabresearch.org/779

    Reply
  • DDD April 2, 2012, 8:12 pm

    Food in Canada is much more expensive, but there are still deals to be had.

    Costco is the best. Rotisserie chicken for $7 (I know you can get cheaper chicken, but who wants to bother with rotisserie at home) provide dinners for 3-4 nights augmented with rice, mash or salad.

    Ground meat from Costco ($16 or so for pack in Canada) mixed with choped onions, garlic, parsley, pepper, salt etc, makes for 12-15 burgers that can be frozen and then cooked from frozen in 25 minutes.

    Rainbow trout for $25 provides about 12 servings and all you need to do is to salt it, coat it in cornmeal and fry on oil and you have awesome meal.

    Or salmon – wrap in some aluminum foil with some olive oil, salt, basil or rosemary, frozen carrots and other veggies… Poke couple of small holes with toothpick on the top side and cook in the oven for 10-12 minutes…

    Another family favorite – cut small potatoes (you know, those small ones that are left on the bottom of the bag) in halts with skin on. Mix in a big bowl with some olive oil and coarse sea salt (garlic powder optional) line up on a cookie sheet, pour leftover oil and salt from the ball on top, and bake at 450 until tops are brown. Eat with sour cream or feta cheese, pepper, chives… Goes well with Costo steaks (which are big enough for entire family to share).

    Reply
  • carolinakaren April 3, 2012, 5:28 pm

    Here is a great inexpensive recipe:

    Roasted Cauliflower, Chickpeas, and Olives

    5 1/2 cups cauliflower florets (about 1 lb)
    24 green spanish olives, pitted and halved
    8 garlic cloves coarsely chopped
    1 can (15oz) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
    3 tbsp olive oil
    1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
    1/4 tsp salt
    3 tbsp fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

    1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees
    2. Combine all ingredients except parsley in a roasting pan and toss well to coat. Bake at 450 for 22 minutes until cauliflower is browned and crisp-tender, stirring after 10 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley and serve. Yields 6 servings approx. 2/3 cup each.

    * We think this is really good with black olives instead of green, since those are our favorite.

    Reply
  • Oelsen April 4, 2012, 6:26 pm

    11$/gallon way too much? Hm… we pay for the cheapest milk there is 2 Swiss Francs for two litres. If organic and locally (non-mixed with milk further than 100 km away) produced, the price climbs to 1.60/L. Still not 11$/gallon, but this is Walmart-style “organic” food. Lately I saw goat milk for about 2.50 for a quarter liter. Yes, a quarter. Yesterday we bought special cheese for 4.50 Swiss Francs per 100 grams. So a kilo costs around 50 Dollars. The rationale behind this is just like the thing you do with almonds and a fruit. We buy some three hundred grams of four different cheese and combine that with a cheap but whole grain bread, butter, one or two anchovies, olives, a handful of grapes and dinner is ready. The next day the cheapest salad possible. Then the day after there is a more diverse meal again, but combined with leftovers from the intermediate day. This averages out food spending.

    But still. If living in a high wage country, the task to spend less and buying better becomes a science.

    Reply
  • Bryce B April 4, 2012, 8:07 pm

    Love the Curry Butternut Squash Soup! Delicious!

    Reply
  • Natalie April 13, 2012, 4:35 pm

    Great Article! Yeah, down with whole foods, and add bristol farms to that list too!

    When looking for recipes, I often find that so many websites have about a million oddball ingredients to make a simple dish. Here’s a site I found that uses a minimal number of ingredients, and because the author is eastern european, she uses a lot of potatoes, onions, carrots, and other cheap veggies in her recipes. They are delicious and easy to make with step by step instructions:

    http://www.enjoyyourcooking.com/

    Reply
  • stove April 22, 2012, 2:58 pm

    For those of us weight-training athletes…

    I am running a 3000+ calorie per day diet with 200g of protein per day, as a 190lb male. It is pretty tough to get all the required calories and especially protein in on a cheap budget. Truenutrition.com (this isn’t a plug!) will let you mix different varieties of protein to optimize the dollar cost of your proteins – you can add whey protein, soy or pea protein, etc in the amounts you choose. Soy and pea proteins are often a lot cheaper than whey, and still complete. Getting the most ideal whey protein (isolate vs. concentrate vs. casein vs. hydrolized …. the list goes on) is something only highly advanced athletes really need to worry about. It also helps to search around for mass-bulk deals. For example, I recently found a 44lb bag of whey protein concentrate (80%) (unflavored) for $230. Compare this to a typical 5lb tub for around $50. Granted, you will have to provide the flavor.

    For the record, here is a tip I picked up about rice/beans – you don’t HAVE to eat them at the same time to get the ‘complete protein.’ You can have rice at one meal and beans the next, or just beans one day and just rice the next. Your body is smart and knows to use or store all of the amino acids it does get, and wait for the rest to show up. I cannot provide a source, as I don’t remember specifically where I read this. But along the same lines, many weight lifters will supplement with pure BCAAs (branched chain amino acids) before a workout – this is an ‘incomplete protein’ but the most necessary ones for muscle repair and recovery. Point is, as long as the proteins are complete in the long run, you don’t have to worry about making every meal have a ‘complete protein’ source.

    My local grocer also puts ‘instant discount’ coupons of packages of meat that are nearing the end of their shelf life – on $3-7 packages of beef these instant discounts range from 75 cents to 2 dollars. I almost always go for these discounted packages. Cook all of my meat for the week on Sunday and store it.

    I am down from almost $120 a week in groceries to about $70 now, without changing the places I am shopping – just by slightly modifying the grade and type of foods I buy. Still looking for ways to cut it down though. This gets a lot easier in bulk-mode when I eat more carbs.

    Also nobody has mentioned frozen vegetables – I always pick up big bags of whatever is on sale. They keep forever, are quick to prepare, and taste a million times better than the canned equivalents.

    Reply
  • Mikayla April 28, 2012, 3:41 pm

    The fries are in the oven now!

    We will try your soup this week. We have to make a Costco run tomorrow and thus, we have written down more spices that we need to make our food extra yummy. We are busy people and thus, it is “easier” to go out to eat but also much more expensive. Left overs need to be yummy for us to be motivated and not so tempted to eat out.

    The other thing is that we have a daughter who is picky with her food. She eats staples such as cashews, bananas, homemade tortillas, raisens, carrots, etc. She is definitely on an innate diet but doesn’t eat any meat. I guess that is better for the price.

    Thanks for your blog post – it has helped us!

    Reply

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