362 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 thirtysomething outdoorsy tech worker 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 replied, “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. Eggs contain the highest quality complete protein of all (6 grams per egg), so I enjoy three of them every day.

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. Eggs come in around the same protein cost, although at lower environmental cost and with a lot of good calories and other nutrients as a side benefit. But plain old milk, or whey protein powder from Costco or an online source like Swanson Vitamins provides protein at about 2.5 cents/gram – cutting the bill by 40%. So to hit my own 150 grams during a period of heavier training, I include the eggs, nuts, cheese, a lunch or dinner that includes some meat or fish, and throw in a mid-morning protein shake (banana, milk, yogurt, whey protein powder, pure cocoa and maybe some ground flax or whatever is lying around) for an extra 40 grams of protein.

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 sees frequent use, 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

 

  • 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

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  • 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
    • James December 27, 2014, 3:25 pm

      Check out Food Basics. We find it is a little higher end than No Frills (have better bread/meat sections) and the costs are generally the same or less than No Frills.

      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.

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  • 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.

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    • 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.

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      • 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!

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  • 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.

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    • 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
    • Mandy January 7, 2015, 7:59 pm

      I just tried it out tonight….SO good :) Thanks Mr. M. Mustacho

      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
    • Mackenzie April 10, 2015, 9:51 am

      There is one other situation besides “highly advanced athlete” where you care about which whey protein: lactose intolerance.

      Whey protein isolate is very very low in lactose. Whey protein concentrate will have you running to the bathroom at top speed.

      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
  • Justin May 26, 2012, 1:58 am

    Wow, this frugal spending on groceries is really inspiring. I’m a single guy, I eat quite a bit to fuel myself, as I work out pretty hard almost every day of the week. This includes heavy weight training, CrossFitting and martial arts for hours upon hours each day. I’m a pretty big guy, and I just simply eat a TON. I want to switch to a more veganish diet, for health, moral and frugal reasons.

    Most of my cooking though, is really rudimentary. Grill a steak, steam a bag of broccoli. Bake a bag of frozen chicken, steam a bag of green beans. Add some brown rice. Drink almost a gallon of whole milk a day. I’m pretty lean so it seams like this is a good amount of calories and the proper macros for me, but I want to eat simpler (more simply?). Unfortunately the only way I could imagine to combine all of this awesome organic produce into a healthy, simple (I’m horrible in the kitchen), quick (again, hours a day, sometimes I don’t get home from training until 11pm) meal is by eating it raw and either juicing it or blending it or both. It’s tempting to get a good juicer just so I can fit this healthy eating into my lifestyle, but they aren’t cheap!

    Is there a good site for quick, simple, cheap, healthy, vegetarian(ish) recipes out there?? Most of them have some combination of those features, but not all or most. Even just a few recipes to help me out would be great! I normally cycle eating protein and carbs on heavy training days, and protein and fats on my primarily martial arts days, so it may be asking a bit much, but some idea of what to throw together with those macros would be awesome. It feels like a lack of education in this field is what is really holding me back from making the jump to this diet. Even a guide on how to prepare produce would be great, I wouldn’t know where to start with a raw turnip or head of broccoli, other than taking a clever to it and adding it to fire.

    For those of you in this type of lifestyle with these constraints, have you found an investment in a juicer or blender or food processor to be worth it (as far as making the transition easier, meals quicker and easier to come up with considering ingredients on hand)?

    Reply
    • Heidi May 26, 2012, 8:11 am

      I assume you have enough money to buy a blender. We use our Vita-Mix every single day and it is now lowering food costs by preparing our own hemp milk, peanut butter, etc… Time is a factor and we often make a smoothie that is a whole meal which is fantastic. We eat closest to Paleo but no eggs.

      Reply
      • Justin May 26, 2012, 11:07 pm

        I do, but just wanted to make sure that people found it a wise investment, and it sounds like you have! That’s great to hear, thank you :) Where do you get the recipes for that stuff!? Sounds like I could do a lot with a blender!

        Reply
    • KimB September 11, 2012, 7:03 am

      I recommend http://happyherbivore.com/blog/ for great tasting, easy, healthy vegan recipes. She also has 2 cookbooks that are really good too, but on the website there are recipes listed. Also, I have a Vitamix which I love and I use it at least 5x weekly. Before I discovered MMM, I was quite the consumer of high-end kitchen helpers! I still have to fight this urge, lol. One of my very best investments though has to be my Zojirushi rice cooker. I use it every single day, sometimes twice a day. I primarily use it for brown jasmine rice and steel cut oats. I love that it has a timer and I can have my oatmeal ready for when I wake up. Hope this helps you!

      Reply
    • Kristina Walters May 14, 2013, 1:55 pm

      Crock Pot Oatmeal

      1 cup steel cut oats
      2 sliced apples
      1 tsp cinnamon
      4 1/2 cups of water
      1/4 cup pure maple syrup
      more calories? 1/4 peanut butter or top with almonds after cooked!

      Coat crock pot with a little bit of butter so oatmeal doesn’t stick
      Mix ingredients in crock pot and turn on low for 6-8 hours. Perfect to put on when you go to bed and wake up to the delicious smell of baked apples, cinnamon and maple syrup!

      Reply
      • Ashley Sturgeon May 28, 2013, 8:08 pm

        Steel cut oats in the crock pot is a go to recipe in my busy house. We buy real cinnamon sticks and throw one of those in there and discard before eating. We also add a few raisins when it is finished cooking. And you are right the smell of apples in the crock pot overnight is amazing!!

        Reply
  • Cindy June 8, 2012, 8:42 pm

    Another great thing about Costco is their snack bar. Recently, my Mustachian-minded extended family members and I have started meeting there when we want to get together to “go out to eat”. We enjoy visiting with each other just as much as if we were at a traditional restaurant, and it feels like a treat, for a fraction of the cost.

    Reply
  • Kaydee August 8, 2012, 2:09 pm

    I just wanted to add that I’ve gone berry picking a few times this summer (living in the PNW) and I got berries for $1.10/lb and loaded up my freezer. Now when I’m at the grocery store and see the tasteless, flown from half-way around the world berries for $5 I know I can just go to my fridge and get the berries I paid $1 for instead :)

    Reply
  • Phae October 11, 2012, 7:35 am

    There are many many great suggestions in this comment thread! I’m eager to start implementing some of them.
    One of the things we include in our grocery budget is toiletries, paper towels, makeup (for me), diapers, etc.
    Are there any suggestions or tips somewhere on this blog about these items?

    Reply
    • Richard Van Manen October 11, 2012, 10:58 am

      Check out iheartcvs or southernsavers website for your toiletries, paper towels, diapers, etc. Drugstores are where you generally want to pick these items up as they are pretty close to free once you get the hang of how CVS, RIte-Aid, and Walgreens bonus bucks works.

      Reply
  • June Pagan October 14, 2012, 4:44 pm

    with the current trend of food inflation on the rise, in addition to the adulterated and less than optimal (nutritionless) agricultural products reaching our shelves. I believe it is time to cut out commercial red meat (and most dairy) and start shopping at the farmers markets which are popping up in most urban areas. If you are on limited funds, try to get to the farmers market just before closing. Many farmers will drop their prices, happily. Plan our your daily menus based on less animal protein and more vegetables and whole grains (fiber) It’s time to “eat to live” instead of living to eat.

    Check out the Urban Survival Kitchen on my site JunePagan.com Anyone interested in advice or recipe suggestions, i would be happy to help.

    We all need to FACE the future of food that is Flavorful, Affordable, Clean and Eco-Conscious.

    Reply
  • Carly November 3, 2012, 11:32 pm

    Another Canadian (with the attendant higher food costs) here. Personally, I think that if you can afford it without going into debt, spending more to eat really well is worth it, for health, environmental, and ethical reasons. Different people probably have different ideas on what it is to eat well, but my own personal rules are:

    -No processed foods. Exceptions made here for a few Asian spice mixtures which my husband likes and I don’t know how to replicate, good quality dark chocolate chips to enhance the morning oatmeal, and mayo (homemade mayo has such a short shelf life, and we use so little of it, that I always end up having to throw some of it out).

    -Organic when available, local when available, small-scale farmers when available. Good local sources for wheat, rye, and meat of all kinds are relatively easy to find here, but I end up paying through the nose for fruits and vegetables, even in season. It is what it is, and I accept it as a fact of life in this climate and location.

    -Use meat sparingly (perhaps 2 or 3 times a week, for us) and as a small part of a main dish. This means that large hunks of meat like pork chops or steaks don’t tend to appear at table, but it’s really not an issue. And it has the very Mustachian benefit of cutting grocery costs significantly while also being better for the environment and (most likely) our waistlines.

    So my grocery bills are mainly for organic fruit, veggies and grains, with a small amount of meat and dairy. It’s expensive ($600-$700 per month for two adults) but I make everything that we eat from scratch, I’m satisfied that it’s healthy, and we’re not wasting any of the food, so I’m fine with spending more. Hopefully we’ll be able to cut costs once we have a house, though *starts dreaming of elaborate vegetable garden*.

    Reply
  • Patricia November 6, 2012, 12:25 pm

    Hey there! I have to say that I came across this post when I Googled “eat meat about once a month” just to see what came up. I live in NJ and just got through the aftermath (much of it) of Hurricane Sandy and had to toss out a bit of meat that didn’t make it through the power outage we endured. I opened up my cabinet to see what I’d prepare for dinner and found a few bags of beans I hadn’t prepared (love bean soups) after discovering I only had frozen smoked sausage and a little chicken left in the freezer. I paused for a moment and thought about how good I’ve been feeling after having no power. I lost a few pounds after eating a bit lighter the last few days and feel more energetic having adopted an Amish sleep pattern since the darkness lulled me into bed earlier than my normal wee hours in front of the computer normally allow. It’s high time I start planning my meals better and why not now just weeks before Thanksgiving?

    So, I pulled out the smoked sausage I will use in my lentil soup tonight. I’m so glad I found your post and you have a new follower. It just reinforced my natural frugality. I’ve often “afforded” myself a bit more extravagant cuts of meat due to the fact that I am single and so I’d rather have filet mignon once or twice a month rather than chicken or ground beef every single day. Now, however, I’m thinking I’d rather “afford” myself something even better. Yes, those occasional splurges are fine but I’d rather be smarter about how I eat on a daily basis and afford myself more money in my pockets and and a healthier body to boot.

    I love to cook and I am genuinely looking forward to being smarter about what I select for my dining pleasure and my overall health. When I think about how many times I’ve said I can’t visit my best friend in AZ because I don’t have “extra cash”, I can easily calculate what I’ve overspent in “lazy” food (aka fast food) and convenience foods (frozen instead of fresh) and see how I could have visited quite a few times already, with a new laptop to boot.

    Really looking forward to redirecting my money in 2013 and enjoying it more. Should be pretty easy for a single, frugal, smart girl like myself!

    Kudos on the article!

    Reply
  • brenda from ar November 17, 2012, 5:29 pm

    I loved this post. And the comments too. What an amazing collection of resources. And so interesting how we all look at food so differently.

    Reply
  • Emc December 22, 2012, 8:13 am

    I’d like to see your spreadsheet and sources. Our calculations don’t match by about 5x. Cheers

    Reply
  • Briana January 9, 2013, 6:05 pm

    This is one of the most helpful and practical posts I’ve ever regarding grocery budgeting. Not to mention the very balanced and health minded advice from those commenting. Thanks all! I am aiming to lower our grocery costs for our family of four with a concern to keeping it as clean and organic as possible. I have a very hungry teenage boy, a husband works out frequently and eats a lot of meat, and two of us are on a gluten free diet. I’ve been budgeting $175 a week for groceries with toiletries but often have gone over that (closer to $210). I think that it mostly boils down to poor planning. However, we don’t eat out as a rule, with the exception of the occasional trip to Chipotle or the local taqueria on the weekend, and a monthly date night. My game plan is (1) Save a bit each week to join a CSA this summer (2) Start batch cooking on Sundays – soups, stews, breakfast burritos and mini frittatas (3) Start making my own granola bars (thanks for the tip Fredrick) (4) Buy a vitamix to start making smoothies again for my breakfast – way cheaper and more nutritious than juicing. Things we already have been implementing to save are soaking and slow cooking a large batch of beans for the week, and eating breakfast for dinner once a week (eggs and potatoes), and making stove popped popcorn for snacks for the kids. Hopefully we can trim this budget substantially :)

    Reply
  • Segmond January 20, 2013, 9:34 am

    Just found this site, right on! My grocery budget is $100 a month. It’s the 20th, and I’m $35 in! Anyone who is willing to cook and eat out can do it! My friend was buying some $7 sandwiches yesterday, he told me they were great. I told him that’s cool, he bought two, and told me to buy one, I told him that I only eat what I cook at home. He looked at me funny and asked what that was about. Then offered to buy one for me. I kindly declined.

    Reply
  • Stephen February 28, 2013, 3:00 pm

    @MMM… discovered your blog a few days ago, and loving every bit… you’re putting an articulate voice to that little guy in my head that always yanks my chain about spending too much!
    My wife and I are in crazy student loan debt, hundreds of thousands… but digging hard and thankfully the shovel keeps growing. You’ve inspired us to get hardcore about cutting spending… no restaurants, no more “miscellaneous”!!! I even added rolled oats to my special K this morning, what a WINNER!

    Thanks dude… hey if you ever want to come visit the Appalachian mountains and even do some sailing, maybe we can do a house swap or something!

    Reply
  • Esther March 4, 2013, 7:40 am

    Hi there! Thanks for a great article! I just discovered your blog and like the commenter above am really loving it. I grew up in the very low-end of the economic spectrum (for example my mom once turned her nose up at the fact that I bought slightly more expensive red potatoes over the standard brown ones) and have spent most of my life struggling with what to me has always looked like overspending, especially on food. (By which I mean that when I was living with my boyfriend during the last year, I was spending $80 on food for the two of us every two weeks and we were eating lavishly and gaining unnecessary weight.) But still I find myself overspending on lavish items like high-end desserts, not buying carefully, buying out of season expensive items, etc. I’m going to take some of your suggestions here and see if I can’t implement them into my method. In the meantime I’d like to share with you a pretty cheap but delicious and lavish recipe that I happened to make up last night when wondering about dinner. In fact I’m eating the second portion of it right now, so I can testify that leftovers are just as tasty! And as an added bonus, this took me no more than 20 minutes to make.

    Asian-inspired shrimp with rice, for 3 adult portions

    1 – 1.5 cups of Basmati rice
    1 pound frozen shrimp (peeled or in-shell makes no difference, choose whatever cheaper option is available)
    2 cups, or 6-8 sections, of frozen spinach
    2 tablespoons grated/crushed/finely diced garlic (about 6 cloves)
    2 tablespoons plus juice of ginger (about 1 inch, peeled)
    2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
    3 tablespoons soy sauce

    Defrost shrimp and spinach but do not drain the spinach. Cook rice according to package or to personal preference. Combine oil, soy sauce, garlic, and ginger in a deep pan over medium heat and cook until garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute. Add shrimp and cook for about 5 minutes, until pink and curling into circles. Add spinach and its water, cook for about 2 minutes or until heated through, mixing as it cooks. Serve over rice.

    Reply
  • Kate March 15, 2013, 9:39 am

    I agree it is possible to eat well and healthy whole foods diet on a budget. Currently our family of five spends $600 a month on food, drinks, diapers and household items. That works out to $1.07 per meal or snack (4 ‘meals’ a day, though the kids eat at least 3 snacks a day)

    All our grains and bulk staples are organic (Azure Standard company, we can afford this because of free shipping if there is a truck route nearby) We buy organic or natural meats (Costco, local butcher, other grocery stores) Eggs and dairy are sometimes organic. Last summer we were able to buy day old produce from an organic farm. We eat a lot of fresh fruit and veg daily. So while everything we eat is not 100% organic, it is high in whole foods.

    Four things that I do to make our budget affordable is we got a second hand bread machine and make bread (instead of $3.50 for a healthy loaf at the store, I can make a healthy one myself for about .50), make yogurt at home, bulk cook snacks for the freezer (cookies, muffins, sweet breads, smoothies) and make homemade laundry soap.

    Even though I cringe at the ever rising costs of food, it is possible with a little creativity, to still eat well on a tight budget.

    Reply
    • Paul April 17, 2013, 5:21 pm

      I know this thread has largely extinguished itself by now, but I only found this (excellent) article today.

      Lots of people have lamented the fact that they struggle to find well priced local produce close to their homes and that the nearest Costco is some distance away and so can’t be visited on a weekly basis. I just wanted to point out that the emergence of the Costco type stores is a very key reason why your local stores aren’t there anymore, and why the ones that survive have to try and charge more to make the most of reduced foot traffic.

      If we all made more effort to shop locally (albeit at a higher cost) then local communities will flourish, business will succeed and prices will start to become more competitive because the local stores will be able to get better wholesale rates due to their increased trading volumes. I know this thread is about saving money, and I know that shopping at Costco is a very cheap option, but it does also come at a cost. The cost of gas to make the trip is really only a small part of that; the cost to our local communities in terms of amenity, casual employment, convenience, social interaction, property values are all much greater.
      I know MMM is a big fan of sustainable living – I just want to remind everyone that if we obsess about penny pinching at all costs, then the local store will become even more a thing of the past and that is ultimately not sustainable for anyone.

      cheers

      Paul

      Reply
      • GregK April 18, 2013, 6:36 pm

        Right on! We joined a CSA this year. That’s about as local as it gets for produce. Since we’re vegan, produce is the majority of our diet, so I feel pretty good about the good we’re doing for our community, the environment, and for our health.

        Stay away from big box stores if you can help it!

        Reply
      • andasbackpack November 17, 2015, 8:39 pm

        I am coming to this party really late, but I just discovered MMM and am making my way through all the posts. Sure, I like CostCo and I stock up on some things when I manage to make it there every 3 months or so, but my neighborhood stores are where I do most of my shopping. My local grocery store’s prices may be slightly higher than the larger stores, but it’s so convenient, being only 10 blocks away from my house. Thanks to MMM, I just got my bike tuned up, and I am committed to getting my groceries by bike. This particular store offers a program called Bicycle Benefits, where you can purchase a sticker for $5 to put on your bike helmet, then get discounts at area businesses when you ride your bike there. The discount is 5% off groceries. That sticker will pay for itself within the first month, easily. I can also get a free donut at my neighborhood donut shop, but that doesn’t seem very Mustachian…but mmmm…donuts…. I love doing business in my neighborhood, where I can walk (or now, bike), I can support neighborhood businesses, and not waste my time driving to the burbs, and even if some things cost a tiny bit more, my time and not having to drive is worth it to me. It should also be noted that groceries ARE the bulk of the business I do, as I am not a shopper and getting to be even less so the more I read MMM!

        Reply
  • Gerri April 20, 2013, 2:47 pm

    Your butternut squash soup recipe is great! I’ve made it a number of times. I’ve also made a vegetarian version and it worked out beautifully as well. I’ve had requests for the recipe and sent them to this page. Highly recommend it.

    Reply
  • Melissa April 21, 2013, 8:18 am

    Love it. And love all the recipes as well! I generally enjoy the comments section just as much as the article itself – and am so pleased people included recipes! It’s so fun to try new and healthy meals on the fam!

    Reply
  • Christian April 30, 2013, 8:23 pm

    I highly recommend learning to use a pressure cooker. A stew which may take several hours using traditional methods cooks in 15 minutes in the pressure cooker. Carrots, potatoes, beef, pork, beets, anything; they’ll be tender in just 15 minutes in a pressure cooker. Learn to use one. Then cook in bulk; eat the left overs.

    Use a pressure cooker for any stew recipe, I’m not joking… cook a stew in 15 minutes and it’s amazing. I use ingredients from my garden plus wild game for protien

    Reply
  • BC May 21, 2013, 3:41 pm

    I know this post is old but these are a few fantastic resources for inexpensive quality food:
    Bountiful baskets is a co-op you can order from weekly you just have to go pick up at the pickup location. This is a great winter produce option if you do a garden or CSA in the summer. If you volunteer to coordinate or sort boxes then you get a cheaper (free?) box:
    http://www.bountifulbaskets.org/

    I haven’t ordered from Zaycon but have a handful of friends who do. They do sale events and you have to pick it up. I think the quantities are fairly large so either split with another family or put it in the freezer in smaller packages.
    https://www.zayconfoods.com/products

    Someone mentioned Azure Stadard. I second that; great prices on some things but not all. Just price shop. Lots of good bulk and organic options.

    One local CSA lets you trade 4 hours of your labor for a CSA box. Who knows, maybe your local farm would do something similar. Last summer I milked someone’s cow once a week and got the milk in exchange; we had more than we knew what to do with so we made a lot of yogurt, ice cream and cheese. And I learned a new skill. There are a lot of local food producers that could use help but can’t “pay” someone for it but you can learn a lot and have a ton of fun doing a trade/barter and both come out ahead.

    Reply
  • Tim Buist May 27, 2013, 5:38 pm

    good article, I am looking to cut my family of 4 grocery bill down and these tips are great. One point I disagree with though… is that most people get enough protein. Depends on the quality of protein. Most people get way more carbs than anything else.. when they sit down to a meal with meat and potatoes… the potatoes are usually gone before the meat. Protein is the ONLY macro-nutrient with an RDI. High protein isn’t the answer it’s adequate protein, with a reasonable level of carbs and fat… that will result in optimal health.

    Reply
  • AA June 20, 2013, 4:52 pm

    How do you consume olive oil straight?! I’ve tried it, it hurts my throat bigtime.

    http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2011/01/19/133050281/how-olive-oil-and-ibuprofen-can-make-you-want-to-cough

    Reply
  • Doosh July 13, 2013, 2:53 pm

    raw rice (that you cook) and black beans -> that is key yo.

    Reply
  • Jenifer July 18, 2013, 8:24 am

    A lot of the advice on this is silly. Food sourcing is important for a lot of reasons — flavor, nutrition, environmental factors, and cost too!

    We have been whole foods locavores for the last decade. We have been paleo for two years.

    We do spend more money on food than most people, but I’ve managed to get that down to $140/wk for 3.

    Here’s how I do it:

    1. low costs meats — straight from the farms, I get whole chickens, and the various cuts of animals that people don’t like such as shins, necks, shoulder, tail (oxtail!), and offal, as well as a skirt steak (it’s our treat), and some mince.

    offal is extemely cheap — particularly liver — and I usually make pate for us twice a week to carry in our lunches. It’s such a great, filling lunch and *so* cheap.

    the farm that we order from will also mince heart for me, which I mix with the mince, and it is just great. Tastes like regular mince — seriously cuts the cost of the mince.

    after the meat is eaten off the bones, I typically make bone broths. From this, we make a lot of soups or use it to steam veg and drink the broth as part of dinner. An average dinner is some meat dish, plus soup and salad or steamed veggies and broth.

    Bone broth is a really cheap, great snack. It’s typically DS’s afternoon snack. He usually has bone broth with a bit of seaweed in it.

    2. produce — seasonal, local, as well as staples like onions, carrots, and sweet potatoes. squash can be good too, in season. all of these make great stand-alone soups which we will have without meat for dinners. Made with our home-made bone broth, you really can’t go wrong.

    3. oils — we go for coconut, and asian markets have it really cheap. it’s healthier than canola, and while I prefer olive (and we do use some), coconut is so much cheaper to use, so that’s what we use. we also get high-end cod liver oil, which is actually really expensive all things considered — but it’s really good for you. :)

    4. fruit — again seasonal is key, and then go ahead and buy in bulk if you can and then process it in some way. because a second freezer costs money to run (and to buy), we decided to pantry-store our items. so, we ferment. Fruit compotes, salsas, various kinds of kim chee, and we also like to make digestive (naturally fermented) sodas. I love making orange soda in the winter to have in the summers!

    5. nuts — knowing that actual nutrient profile of nuts is really helpful here. Brazil nuts are king because of the selenium, for example, and tend to be a pretty inexpensive nut relatively speaking. buy them at bulk stores with your spices, and you’ll save a bundle. don’t eat a lot of them. two brazil nuts a day are enough.

    6. odd bits — the asian market is your friend. not only is the oil cheap, but so is the sea weed! talk about a nutrient rich (and delicious) food. You might also find some really interesting (seasonal) fruits and veg for a great price, as well as things like your fish sauce and what not for recipes. we also get coconut cream at the asian market, where it is quite inexpensive. And of course, all of our thai needs.

    Menu planning and keeping a running list and price booking also help a lot.

    Reply
  • cousimarc July 23, 2013, 5:25 pm

    Hi there MMM. Love your blogging and have been following now for a few months. I am working on lowering our family food bill but would love to get some feedback/data of costs for groceries here in Canada. I live in Ontario and we are a family of 3 kids (8,6 and 2.5) and they eat!

    As an Ontario expat, do you think $1/meal is achievable here?

    Also, how do you account in your budgeting for friends and family that come over quite often for meals?

    Where in your budgeting allocation do you place items that support meals, like aluminum foil, baggies etc (even though we try to go liter-less as much as we can??

    I would also love to hear from others on the Canada/Ontario experiences in getting to the $1/meal budget. I am not willing to sacrifice quality food like lots of fruit and veggies and we avoid as much a possible packaged food and we are gluten free and mostly organic.

    Given my circumstances, I would be looking at around $466/month on pure groceries… we currently sit at around $1,100/month! (that does include all things at the grocery stores like toilet paper, cleaning supplies, garbage bags etc..)

    Would love feedback/advice…

    I shop primarily at a chain called Freshco as most of the others are too expensive and I am very conscious about shopping for the best deal on a cost/gram and I gladly buy no name products over name brand options when ever possible.

    Marc

    Reply
  • Karl August 16, 2013, 2:13 am

    My food bill is around AUD $60p/w on average for me alone for three square meals a day and snacks in between. I’m in Australia though and food (and everything else) is a lot more expensive that the US. I eat pretty well too. Lots of fresh, healthy, high quality produce (including meat) and a tiny amount of processed goods or junk/non food on rare occasions.

    I also avoid drinking alcohol as that is a major expense, e.g. $60 for a 24-pack of quality brews or $45 for a 700ml bottle of spirits. I’ll buy the occasional beer if it’s on sale, but it’s not a priority and I’d rather save the money for future investment, useful gear/tools and/or travelling.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache August 16, 2013, 12:41 pm

      Wow, I had no idea booze were so expensive in Australia! Microbrews around here are still only about $26 for 24 bottles if you shop around, and the harder stuff is $10-$20 for 750mL. Luckily there is always homebrewing in every country – and your non-drinking idea is obviously a practical choice too.

      Reply
  • bob werner September 25, 2013, 12:51 pm

    Try canned mackerel. 1.40 per can. 500 cal. Very high in omega 3. You proably know that most of the protein in plant foods is not bioavaolable.

    Reply

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