390 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 unusually 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

 

  • Edith April 1, 2016, 4:21 pm

    A friend of mine who is a biologist gave me a great tip to keep fruits and vegetables fresh in the fridge: simply wash them and put them in a container with an airtight lid. My tomatoes before lasted for four days, and now they last for two or three weeks. I almost never throw away fresh produce.

    My biologist friend says this works because there is a lot of bacteria in the fridge (I thought bacteria died with the cold) and that bacteria rots veggies faster.

    Reply
  • FinanceSuperhero April 6, 2016, 11:17 am

    This is a comment thread worthy of a bookmark and a quick review each time you create a shopping list or weekly meal plan.

    I am curious where most Mustachians shop. Personally, Mrs. Finance Superhero and I aim to stick to Aldi and Meijer here in Illinois. The MPerks app from Meijer provides excellent savings opportunity, and Aldi is simply economical.

    Reply
  • Zandy April 10, 2016, 7:33 pm

    We have a family of 7 and only spend up to $180 a week on food, if we can cut this down even more without starving our children then I’d do it. I know heaps of people who have a family of only 3 that easily spend over $350 a week on food and still go and get more. It can be done!

    Reply
  • Vanessa April 25, 2016, 11:00 am

    Please provide an update! I too am following a low Carb/Paleo diet and it seems to be costing me a small fortune each month. Especially with the desire to eat Organic, Pasture-raised animal protein. I limit my fruit and veg. organics to the dirty dozen only, and shop at a local farm stand. I was able to save some $$ buying a whole organic, 100% grass fed lamb from a local farmer. I do use Costco as much as possible, but now that I no longer eat grains the cheap meal fillers are gone. Do you any wisdom to share on how to eat this way with the least amount of $$$? Thanks MMM!

    Vanessa

    Reply
  • peter stock May 2, 2016, 11:53 am

    I pride myself on my grocery shopping acumen.
    By my calculations Julie and I spent approx $1,550 USD on groceries last year, or $30 per week for two adults. And we eat quite well. Vegetarian now, so a lot of beans etc. But still, quite well.
    (Ed. $30 per week? that cannot be right. That’s coming of CC statements. I must have missed some cash purchases. But it is certainly less than $75 per week.)

    Anyway, whatever the number, to eat well inexpensively you have to do three things.

    1.) Shop frequently (like daily). If you only shop once a week, you will likely overbuy and a lot of stuff will go “off” in the refrigerator. Let the grocery store handle the storage and risk of waste.

    2) Shop the sale items. Either promotional items or close-to-expired items.
    Promo items is easy. Can of tomatoes at $1? I grab 6 or 12.

    Also, up here our grocery stores slap pink “50% Off” stickers on stuff that is near its stale date. Produce, cheese, dairy, bread, you name it. All have plenty of life left in them.
    Best Before Dates are ridiculously conservative.
    Warmed up (or toasted) day old bread is perfectly fine (heat releases trapped water molecules and brings it back to life)
    I frequently check out of the grocery store with 15+ items ALL of which have 50% Off stickers on them. I feel embarrassed sometimes, but I save a ton of money.

    3) Learn to cook. From raw ingredients. Knowing how to cook has two advantages.
    First, you don’t buy (and so pay a premium for) processed foods.
    Second, your menus are driven by what you find that’s interesting and good value rather than some preconception. You don’t plan roasted cauliflower when they are $8 a head (as they were recently here). When you see them back down to $1.50 per, you strike.
    This weekend all the Shitake mushrooms were… 50%off!. So I grabbed all I could carry (on my bike and 10miles from home) and it headed home to make mushroom soup, sauted mustrooms with (50% Off of course) beans and snow peas….
    Novice cooks cook from cookbooks and recipes and menus and are held captive to their shopping lists; Experienced frugal cooks cook backwards, from what’s available, fresh, tasty and good value and know how to turn it into something delicious.

    4) a few other guidelines help a lot too
    – Cut out the luxuries. No Chilean sea bass for example, at what? $20 per portion? That’s crazy. Even Whole Foods usually has some excellent sustainable fish on sale or … $5 per person.
    – Cutting out meat probably helps the budget a ton. Steak versus chickpeas? No comparison cost wise. (and I can make ’em taste better than meat)
    – Reduce waste. So much food gets thrown out.

    Reply
  • Rachel May 14, 2016, 4:25 am

    We’ve been trying to cut down too. My husband and I have government jobs that allow us to work all over the world. Our current job posting is in the UK and we are trying hard to cut down on the grocery bills. My husband’s jaw drops every time I do a shop. However, I’m contending with UK prices (VAT included) and they do not do couponing here, something I did in the States.

    I have found cheaper doesn’t mean better for the waistline. We’ve been trying to cut back on breads, rice, and noodles…they are the cheapest, for sure, but hubby and I have been gaining weight on a ‘high carb’ based eating plan. Saves us in the grocery department for sure, but does not save our waistline.

    Most Americans we work with have all exclaimed that the grocery cost has practically doubled since they moved here. We are having a hard time between balancing the cost of food with the exchange rate in the UK. I was able to keep costs down in the States, but not here.

    Another thing to mention is British houses have MUCH smaller fridge and freezers. The culture is we shop 2-3 times a week only picking up fresh food as we need it. The breads go moldy so fast, and storage space for canned/dry goods is very very small. In the States we would buy in bulk and keep much in storage. We cannot do that here. Our fridge/freezer is half the size of our US one.

    Reply
  • Rachel May 15, 2016, 9:47 am

    I thought I’d chirp back in with our weekly grocery bill in British Pounds.

    I stuck exactly to my grocery list. I struck off the total non-food items, such as laundry detergent, toothpaste, new toothbrushes for my kids, and the beer my husband wanted. My total was 89.63 GBP. At today’s exchange rate, the cost is: $128.72. My son has allergies to most laundry detergents, so we spend more on procuring one that won’t bring on a rash explosion. The total bill was 127.33 GBP, or $182.86 when items like toothpaste, toothbrushes, laundry detergent and other non-edible items are factored back in.

    I’m not sure what the US prices are for these items, but I did the exchange rate for these items:

    Coriander/cilantro: $2.01
    Corn – two ears: $2.87 (yes, I know, so cheap in the States, not so much here)
    Snap Peas: $2.29 a pack
    Soured cream: $1.27 (small container)
    3 pack peppers: $1.43 (green, yellow, and red bell peppers)
    Jalepeno pepper: $0.96
    Broccoli, two heads: $1.29
    4 Bakings potatoes: $1.43
    Small pack green beans: $2.15 (about 4 oz)
    Charentais Melon: $3.57 (we don’t have Canteloupe here like in the States, this is the season for melon too!)
    3 Leeks: $2.32
    Local strawberries: $2.87
    Icelandic Skyr: $1.75 (if you haven’t tried this, you really should. Europeans know how to do yogurt right. The American style yogurt does not even sell here because no one buys it)
    Small whole chicken: $10.91

    One thing I have noticed, is British chickens are MUCH smaller than the American counterparts and cost about twice as much. I looked it up and the same chicken at Wegmans would cost circa $6 for the same weight.

    I think I explained before that we had a hard time fitting our shopping into our fridge due to the kitchen and fridge sizes here. In the UK and most of Western Europe, the fridges are incredibly small and the culture is still to shop 2-3 times a week only picking up what you need. I’m still looked at for buying so much in a shop. My husband and I both work and since the UK grocery stores usually close at 5pm, we can’t get to most of them by the time we gather the kids and come home. There are a few ‘open until 10pm’ stores, such as Sainsbury’s but they are more ‘corner store’ style than full shop. The place you pick up the eggs, a few veg, bananas, bread, wine and beer.

    Reply
  • Kelley May 26, 2016, 5:35 am

    I have found, after about 25 years of doing it the wrong way, that the way to save money on groceries is to meal plan – and I don’t mean subscribe to a weekly online plan that requires you to buy new spices every week. I mean – really come to understand the 10-15 core recipes that your family eats routinely and notice overlapping ingredients. It then becomes a lot easier to keep track of what’s a good price (and even better, notice a sale price) on those few ingredients – rather than having an entire arsenal of recipes to manage.

    Reply
    • Brian April 27, 2017, 12:45 pm

      Could you please share with me the 10-15 core recipes that have overlapping ingredients? Or where I might find them?

      Reply
  • porkchucker June 21, 2016, 10:49 am

    I just stumbled on here and enjoy this website. My family of four spends approx $100 a week. I read that Kroger is going to battle with all the biggies on prices, and I think they mean it. Most of my shopping is at Fred Meyer. If you know your prices you can do ok there. We eat red meat about once every two weeks, and for that I’ll bite my lip and buy it at PCC (kinda like Whole foods). They are so expensive it’s amazing people go there, but their meat is competitive and I need to support their philosophy somewhat, So I buy my little packs of meat there. Weeee! Our food list looks amazingly similar to your initial list at top of page. All good stuff, healthy too. Though I am concerned about the high egg content, so leaning towards more grains at times. More beans would is nice, except the prep is time and resource consuming. We don’t waste. We try to finish what’s in the fridge before it spoils, then shop for more. These basic habits, I’m sure, carry over from my parents who had it rough in the great depression.
    When I buy stuff, I try to plan how it’s going to last thru the week in harmony with other foods. I don’t have a list or schedule, it’s just an innate sense of being careful, to get full use and not waste. We are not geniuses, far from it, but light years ahead of others who make double/triple our income. Uh oh, here I go…..this “carefulness” carries over equally to other things like car purchases, toys, clothes, whatever. Great site! Stay out of the rat race. Just ”cause your friends do it, doesn’t make it right.

    Reply
  • Leanna June 27, 2016, 10:25 am

    You should throw some of the leftovers from that curry soup over basmati rice! A good way to stretch a big batch of soup even further. This is a favorite recipe in my household, which we also put over rice pretty often: http://vegangela.com/2014/01/09/coconut-curry-lentil-soup/

    You can pretty much use any curry powder and it’s overall super cheap. I like to add extra vegetables to bulk it up.

    Reply
  • Lia August 14, 2016, 2:52 pm

    My tip is using leftovers creatively! My husband used to take leftovers (exactly as they were put away) to work for lunch the next day and that worked well but now his work situation has changed so I started something new. Use last nights dinner leftovers in a new dinner the next night. For example: if you have roast chicken and rice one day, you can make an entirely different meal like Asian chicken fried rice the next night using the leftover chicken and rice (including what my unpredictable eaters>> the kids, leave on their plates). I have to admit that I used to throw a lot of valuable food in the compost because I didn’t really know who would want to eat scrappy looking food the next day.

    Also I’m sure many other people have already said this one but, my favourite budget meal is Chilli- you don’t need to add a lot of meat either! Try half as much as you would normally and up the bean and veg content. I bet you will love it just as much :)

    Reply
    • Tracy September 18, 2016, 12:30 am

      Try epicurious.com

      you can simply put whatever ingredients you have on-hand into their search window (use the “include” filter) & it’ll spit out recipes which include them!

      ;)

      Reply
  • Tripp August 18, 2016, 3:53 pm

    I’ve checked your math on several occasions and it is usually solid. This time though unless I’m missing something your cost per day per meal is off by a good deal. You claim $1.33 per meal per family member at 3 meals a day, but your post about how much you spend per year (http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2015/01/16/exposed-the-mmm-familys-2014-spending/) suggests $2.12 a meal, or roughly 60% more, or more interestingly almost a whole extra person by your suggestion here. I used 2013 since this article was written in 2012. That is still a ridiculous impressive expenditure for food, but your math doesn’t seem to add up.

    Reply
  • Krys September 3, 2016, 1:13 am

    I lived for years off of $258 a month for a family of 6 (thanks food stamps!) so I’ve always been in a habit of eating cheaply. My best recommendations:
    – Buy one thing in bulk each month. Like, this month, buy a big bag of industrial-sized rice and take the time to seal it well into more useable containers. Flour comes a month after that, then oil, and so on. I include spices and things like chia seeds in this fund. I buy enough to last me quite a while when I purchase these, and never all at once unless a rare occasion calls for it like a deeply discounted rack.
    – Use cheaper options when able. Powdered milk goes into all cake and baking recipes because you just don’t need fresh milk in them and it’s cheaper where I am.
    – Discount grocery stores are the best things ever. Ditto for flea markets that have local farmers looking to off-load their small garden produce for an extra few bucks.
    – Have a fruit tree of some sort. We had a fig tree… it saved a lot of money for us considering we wanted sweet things all the time as kids.
    – Buy in season, always, and the freezer is the easiest and most convenient way to preserve things.
    – Eat leftovers. Repurpose them. I don’t just cook chicken every night.. I cook an entire chicken, eat the legs for a meal, and shred the rest… chicken salad and some chicken tacos, then the bones and fat are cooked in the slow cooker for a broth that will go into other meals. Nothing is ever not used.
    – Grow salad greens. Those are the most expensive and the first to go bad… growing your own is one of the easier things to do as well, and no guessing when they’re ripe for the picking.
    – When things got really bad, we made our own bread and such as well. I inherited a bad ass bread maker and I cannot tell you how many times it has saved me money to bring ‘a dish’ to a pot luck to have fresh warm bread. It’s cheap.. no expensive anything involved in adding some bread ingredients and hitting ‘start’. People love having fresh bread and they always think it’s so nice, it is my go-to small gift for get-well-wishes and congratulating someone, and it requires no work on my part really. It also makes pizza dough and other things of that nature, so making homemade things other than bread itself is actually pretty easy with a piece of technology that’s super free from anyone who had a wedding a few years ago and an attic.
    – Eat your fill and not much more. If you’re constantly eating more than your fill you’re spending more than your fill.
    – Have a hobby at lunch break. Most people use their lunch breaks to go grab a bite, or order out as an office, etc. Me? I have things to do that fill my time while I eat. No time to go grab Wendy’s or pop down to the cafeteria. I have a project and a finite amount of time to do it in.
    – Drink water before a meal. When you think you’re hungry, you may be thirsty. Drinking a whole cup of water before you start eating, and then enjoying one slowly while you eat, can help your stomach figure out which was which.
    – Convenience foods are sometimes just as cheap as a homemade dinner.. they won’t necessarily be healthier for you.
    – Only cook what you want to eat. No sense in cooking a fancy salad dinner if you don’t eat salad. Nothing is worse than leftovers and food rotting because you thought you were healthier than you really were. It’s a drain on the wallet. Don’t let the instagram gleam of a food detract from what you will actually eat that day. You know yourself better than that. You aren’t drinking Miso soup and having a light bowl of rice with an egg.. If you wanted that for breakfast, you’d have been long eating it. You want pancakes. Make pancakes.

    I’m sure I have more ideas stashed somewhere, but those are the ones off the top of my head. At the time of writing this, I make far more money than my parents did when I was a kid living off of less than $1.50 a day… But, my grocery budget for two? … $200 a month. I eat much better than I did, I can afford more fruit and some wiggle room for screw ups… but I never saw a need to expand my food budget. I eat well, I eat healthy, and I get a variety of food, and it’s enough.

    Reply
  • Tracy September 18, 2016, 12:18 am

    I like to hit up our local grocers here in AU at the end of each day, if possible.

    The veggie, meat, dairy, & fresh pasta aisles all get markdowns- which I buy & slip into our freezer. I sometimes get things up to 90% off (must be eaten or frozen that day). It’s insane & I LOVE it– because it makes the choice of what to eat- for me. It also allows us to occasionally “splurge” on the meats we don’t usually ever buy due to high, regular cost (good steak).

    RE: home made pizza: best crust I know (& sooo inexpensive) is to use flat pita bread & put it on a perforated pizza pan @ 200C for about 10 mins. perfect “thin & crispy” pizza!

    Cheap, good meat/source of protein– sardines on a nice green salad.

    I’m going to try out your yummy-sounding recipes this week!

    Cheers from Western AU

    And if you think YOUR groceries are expensive, you ain’t seen nothin’! Consider that, right now, the AUD against the USD is only worth 75 cents US:

    https://www.coles.com.au/

    You might want to sit down first- lol. ;)

    Reply
  • Krys October 3, 2016, 3:03 am

    I just did the math on my grocery budget.. While I’m sure I could trim some fat here and there, overall it is around $200 a month, which I think for most people would be pretty low, but for me it is a total luxury coming from a family of 5 with a food stamp budget of $130 a month for all of us–and 3 of us teenagers. (Thanks food stamps! As crappy as eating on $26 a month is, it’s better than nothing for sure.)

    Grand total: $182. Life isn’t perfect, and as cute as this looks there are some months where a pizza has slid in, or I didn’t make it out to the cheaper vendors and had to pay more for a similar item. I never go over by much though. give or take, I’ve never gone above $200 and so that is my budget for food for a month.
    This past month though:
    $4 – milk. I actually am the only one who drinks it, so I freeze half of it and then defrost it for the second week so that I don’t have to waste any. I buy whatever I can get for under 2 bucks. Some weeks I go without it.
    $10 – butter/cheese
    $4 – eggs. I eat a lot of eggs.. My signature breakfast is freshly cooked rice with an egg cracked on top and quickly swirled in.. Salt, pepper, eat.
    $1 – tea. I don’t drink coffee.. milk, tea, and water.. that’s about it for me. I buy a box for around $2-3 and it lasts me for about 2-3 months depending on the box. I usually use two bags to brew a huge batch, then heat it in the morning.
    $2 – rice. I buy this in bulk, so this is the average. I eat rice every single day for dinner.
    $60 on produce. This is the bulk of my budget. I re-grow kitchen scraps a lot, so green onions, lettuce, etc. will last me longer as a result, I buy a lot of ugly vegetables and fruits and cook them that day into something not-so-ugly like a pureed soup or saute, and I go to my local flea market where there are a lot of farmers/people who grow too much trying to cheaply off load the produce for a quick buck. I buy cherry tomatoes by the basket for $2, peaches for $4 a basket when they’re in season, and lots of zucchini for $2 a basket. The flea market vendors are fresh, and cheaper than any grocery store I’ve ever gone to. Pretty grateful for the abundance of cheap produce in my area, because this really does make up a vast majority of my diet and buying all the produce I buy at the grocery store would cost 2-3x as much.
    $4 bread and oats, I make my own bread so I just buy discount boxes that they always have near my house at the discount grocery store. I just throw it into the bread maker and have sandwich bread for the week, or sometimes breakfast bread, depends. The mixes only need water. If I need to bring a dish to an event, more likely than not it will be bread that I bring because people seem to super appreciate bread + it’s one of the cheapest things I can cook.
    $ 10-12 on meat. sometimes meat is deeply discounted at my grocery store, and I pick them up and freeze them (this is usually what blows my grocery budget over the $180 mark).. so this is the average per week.
    $20 convenience items.. crackers, a snack food item, bread crumbs, or a specialty item for a recipe, or an irresistible item I walk by.. This month pumpkin everything is at TJ’s, so I bought some pumpkin-y items to be festive.
    $20 pantry restocking.. running out of a spice, flour, or oil, or any gaps for needed but rarely-purchased items.
    Total: $137 for the grocery side of things.
    I eat fast food probably once a month because there is always some situation where I get stuck with no food on hand.. I budget out $5 for that. If I don’t spend it that month, cool, but if I need it I got it. I also have a date night twice a month.. my bf pays for one night, and I pay for the other. I budget out a pretty generous $40 for that, so a $30 set of meals and a good tip.. but we usually don’t spend this much when we go out.

    I don’t slave over an oven all the time, I do meal prep, plan my meals based on what’s on sale, and budget accordingly.. I cannot imagine spending $1000 on groceries without also feeding many many people. I do consider myself being very luxurious at $200 a month for basically me..

    Reply
  • Arno October 15, 2016, 6:58 am

    Here in good ole Germany I have spotted two more trends that are entirely alien to me, but they cause skyrocketing grocery cost:
    1) Wasting food. We do not throw away food at our house. Although we are not as badass as MMM, we do have a keen eye on what we really need. And that is being bought. Not a bit more.
    I see neighbors clearing out their fridges into the waste. Every calorie thrown still costs.
    (Google the movie “taste the waste” by some badass austrian filmmaker)

    2) Convenience food.
    Buying processed food is double trouble: First you outsource the processing to someone else and you are paying them. Even it is not as obvious as paying your garden worker. Second: The companies that process food tend to be big ones. Run (also) by accountants. This leads to cost minimizing. Invariably. So they throw in some seriously cheap dirt that deducts for the value of the food. But the stuff is advertised as “value-added”. Which is true: for the producer, not for you.

    Reply
  • MacKenzie November 2, 2016, 12:11 pm

    Don’t forget about dumpster diving! My fiancee and I started doing this weekly way back when we were both working very low wage jobs. We are unfortunately no longer able to do this due to a food waste law in our home state of Massachusetts which prohibits grocery stores from throwing away so much food (which is good for the state, of course, but bad for our cash saving habit). If we COULD still do it, however, I am certain that we still would. We did it weekly at our local trader joes, usually on the way home from a party or the bar, as you need to do it after midnight, when the store is closed and the nightly cleaning is done and the trash is taken out. By doing this, we were able to completely eliminate our grocery budget- we bought almost no food at all, beyond an occasional carton of milk.

    Contrary to what you might think, dumpster diving is actually a pretty clean habit. As pretty much everything at trader joes is already wrapped in plastic packaging, and the employees throw away whole packages of food into clean trash bags, we could simply haul out these bags and retrieve perfectly good, clean food- often without having to even get into the dumpster. The food that was thrown out tended to be food that was near it’s sell by date- usually the next day or within a couple of days. But like i’m sure you’re mom told you when you were a whiny little kid, the sell by date is not the expiration date! That food was always still good! Other things that seemed to be candidates for the dumpster were day old bread goods, “damaged” packages- boxes with bent corners, that kind of thing, and produce that wasn’t “pretty.” It seems that if one tomato in a bag of 5 had a spot of mold on it, the whole bag had to go- similarly if a single egg breaks, the whole carton is tossed.

    We never got sick from eating dumpstered food, and ate like kings the whole time. We ate bakery bread, whole chocolate cakes, tons of fresh organic produce, fancy cheese, and all kinds of other luxury items we don’t even buy now that we are both making high wages. Seriously I can’t recommend this enough- it’s perfectly safe, the food is free and amazing, and to top it all off, it’s actually a pretty good time. Every time we did it we felt like we were opening a treasure chest, never knowing what treats might be in store for us.

    Reply
  • TNuke November 19, 2016, 2:27 pm

    There is great stuff in this article and comments.

    One possible monkey wrench: Some of these recipes take a lot of time to prepare. MMM estimates the value of his, and our, time at about $25/hour. If you spend an hour shopping at the (probably non-local) ethnic food store and another hour cooking, well that’s $50 for a meal before you’ve even spent a penny on the food itself.

    Now you might say that that time is enjoyable and therefore should not count as a $25/hour cost. If that is how you feel, then fine. But it really seems a mistake to ignore the time involved in preparing some of these meals.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache November 20, 2016, 6:16 am

      Definitely true, T – you should always do the math. For me, it is about 30 minutes of shopping for 1 week of meals (21). Prep can take a while but I always cook larger batches, so you get maybe 4 meals for 3 people (12 total) out of one cooking session.

      Reply
  • Adam December 5, 2016, 12:26 am

    http://budgetbytes.com/ is fantastic, and very Mustachian.

    Reply
  • Rachel December 10, 2016, 12:20 am

    What the? We are a family of 3 and spend $175/week on groceries (including household items like shampoo, soap, laundry detergent, and paper towels. I’m a vegetarian, my husband is not, and my son has sensory sensitivities, so I make 3 meals every night. Some nights I can’t bear it and we go out to eat. I wish we had a way of getting around this, but….

    Reply
  • Carlos December 12, 2016, 5:38 pm

    We dropped our monthly grocery expense from ~$640 a week down to ~$440 by adopting a plant-based, whole food diet. Even with the cost of vegan ‘dairy’ and B12 supplements, we are still saving so much money by not eating meat or other animal products. Health and well-being has also improved. Better for our wallet, better for our body, better for the planet and better for animals. Winning!

    Reply
    • Carlos December 12, 2016, 5:40 pm

      Sorry, it should read $640 a MONTH down to $440. Imagine a $640 per week grocery bill! :O

      Reply
  • grisly_atoms December 12, 2016, 6:15 pm

    I made the Thai Curry Coconut Butternut Squash soup. It was AWESOME! Then I put a tablespoon of bacon grease into the leftover soup the next day. It was NIRVANA! I paired it with a tuna salad sandwich on Ezekiel Bread toast and couldn’t believe how good it was. Thank you, MMM!

    Reply
  • Tom February 5, 2017, 4:01 am

    I have to thank you for that coconut soup recipe (among other things) – I have been doing it every week for the last 2 months :) it´s the best thing I´ve found on the web recently. I really enjoy reading your blog, keep going! Carpe diem

    Reply
  • Joyce February 15, 2017, 11:20 am

    Our family of 2 adults spends about $200 a month on groceries. We do have a substantial vegetable garden, but even before our garden, we were spending about $250 a month. Here’s how we do it: A standard Joyce lunch / dinner is brown rice, chicken, and veggies. The rice comes from an Asian grocery store at $17 per 15 pounds. The chicken is bought from Aldi at about $2.50 per pound. Joyce only cooks 1-2 chicken breasts per week and cuts it up into small pieces. She adds about one ounce of chicken to each of her standard meals. The veggies come from either our own garden or from Aldi / Walmart. They are stir-fried. Only condiments necessary are some kind of vegetable oil, soy sauce, and garlic. Joyce’s husband, who we’ll call B, has a different set of standard meals. His standards are the following: noodles with canned tomatoes, noodles with some other vegetable or bean based sauce, and bean-tomato soup. He rarely eats meat–if he does, it’s usually some of Joyce’s chicken or an egg. He adds cayenne, garlic powder, or other spices to everything. For snacks, Joyce occasionally bakes delicious cookies, eats apples from the local orchard ($20 per half bushel which is about $1 per 3 apples), eats yogurt from Aldi with granola / fruit, or cheese from Aldi and crackers. Apples can be stored through the winter at just above freezing or 40 degrees and will keep for several months. She also has frozen strawberries and peaches from local farms that were picked in summer and stored through the winter. For breakfast, Joyce either eats toast with bananas and peanut butter or oatmeal. She adds an orange for fiber. Again, everything comes from Aldi. B skips breakfast most days or eats ramen with an egg. Occasionally, he’ll get bacon or fish from Aldi; we rarely eat beef. We also drink lots of milk. Other than water (from the tap) and milk, we hardly ever drink anything else. We don’t drink alcohol either, so no spending there. We get really high quality veggies from our garden and we still eat stuff like ice cream over the summer. We also occasionally eat frozen dumplings or steamed buns from the Asian grocery store if we don’t have time to cook (this is our fast food). Although not having time to cook is extremely rare as a Mustachian budget has allowed Joyce to not work full-time, but she basically ate like this even when she was in grad school. We basically only eat out as a treat because we really like a specific restaurant or to socialize with others. We love having people over and serving homemade gourmet food that I think is as good or better than restaurant food. Even though we eat very frugally and nutritiously, I still feel like we eat like kings. Honestly, I have meat every day and even if I didn’t, just having fruit every day in the winter is pretty impressive when you compare to what most people ate throughout history. I guess it helps that I was raised on pretty much the same food except more meat. My grandparents were born in China and know what it is like to starve, so I was raised accordingly.

    Reply
  • Cathy March 3, 2017, 3:18 am

    Just thought I’d let people know that if you’re paying less than $5-6 per doz for eggs in a grocery store they are most certainly not cage-free eggs. We have to pay $8 per doz.

    The industry is very deceptive in how that label eggs. For a while, organic meant what we now have to call “pastured.” Then it was cage-free, then free-range. But the hens are kept in an industrial pen and do not go out, even if the doors are open and there’s pasture available, which is generally not the case. If you’ve ever had your own chickens, you know why. They are imprinted on each other in these industrial “farms” and that means staying inside.

    It’s better to go to a local health food store or farmers market and buy from a small, local operator who you know. Then you will get genuine pastured eggs. The give away is the bright orange yolks and the taste, of course. Best is to have your own hens, of course. I love having chickens. They are easy to care for when given adequate space, a great project for the children, eat the ticks in the yard and give you wonderful eggs.

    Go to cornucopia dot org and read their report on the fraud in the egg industry.

    Bottom line: MMM, you’ve been overpaying for your faux “cage-free eggs.” For the quality, or lack there of, you might was well have paid $1.50 at Walmart for those 6 mos old stinkers. ;-)

    Reply
  • Krysty March 6, 2017, 3:54 am

    Great article, and I’m definitely going to be taking in some of these tips on all future meal planning and shopping! One minor point…all proteins are complete proteins. The whole “incomplete protein” thing is a myth. http://nutritionfacts.org/video/the-protein-combining-myth/ Sadly, many nutrition education sources are still spreading this myth, which was disproved back in the ’80s but still lingers. I mean, unless you’re eating Jello, you’re eating complete proteins!

    Reply
  • Jerry March 7, 2017, 7:52 pm

    I’ve been reading your blog today, and based on the locations you were describing I was like “I bet he lives in Longmont.”

    That picture you posted confirmed it for me hahaha.

    Reply
  • Raegan March 14, 2017, 1:39 pm

    My big criticism of this post is that vegetables aren’t really accounted for. I try to eat healthy and vegetables are an important part of my diet. I have found a way to stick to my meager grocery budget and still have vegetables. I usually do a crockpot full of lentils weekly and then I add to that frozen corn and peas (each~$1.38/bag that lasts about over a week for my lunches). Maybe I’ll add sweet potatoes/yams if they are on sale and I am ambitious enough to cook them. I loved the advice about the protein and how expensive it is. I am waiting for my husband to get his residency here in WY so he can bring home venison or at least some fish out of the Big Horn river. In the interim, we are hitting grocery specials and I only eat meat at dinner. I have a protein shake for lunch and breaky.

    Reply
  • Matt March 29, 2017, 10:49 pm

    Wow, 5 years ago today! I reference this article frequently and was checking it out again today. My wife and I developed a completely different mindset at our weekly grocery store visit based on the idea of buying food per 2,000 calories. Haven’t tried Mrs. MMM’s recipe yet, but always tempted.

    Reply
  • Sam April 21, 2017, 9:31 am

    Surely some of the ideas revolving around ketosis, general carb reduction (as you have demonstrated in your own diet) and overall decreasing consumption of food tied to reducing cancer risk have some place on the washed up island of Mustachia (I picture the sand to be made of pennies).

    Hopefully you know what I mean here, and again I will emphasize, if we need to consume less, this is better right? If not, I can piece together some of the above for you.

    Reply
  • david April 24, 2017, 9:40 am

    hello… I never really comment on things, but I just want to say I’m a big fan of MMM and anyone who tries to do better for themselves.
    I just want to say that Oil, be it canola or olive, or avocado or motor oil is NOT good for you in any way shape or form. If you want to have oil in your salad, make it yourself by adding a little vinegar maybe water in a blender and then add walnuts, cashews etc.. .this way your are getting the oily creamy taste without the harm, and you are getting ALL the nutrients, and benefits.. when you consume oil on its own, it is very harmful, your body does nothing to digest it and immediately stores it as fat. if your are extremely active like MMM is, then you can have the oil, but know, they are empty calories and does Nothing for you, there are zero nutrients. When you eat nuts, and grind them, you are getting ALL the benefits and and the great fats that you need. “What about Sautee?” well.. do it in water, or homemade vegetable stock… turns out THE SAME, no oil… actually, turns out even better, pure taste of whatever I am frying… As MMM did for his financial situation, I have started to do for my body, and have learned a lot, and I want to spread the word…. take the time out of your day to watch a presentation by dr fuhrman on super immunity, and watch forks over knives as well.
    All information capitalism will not want you to hear… hey, I’m all for making money, but not when it comes at the expense of my health…
    so far ive lost 80lbs in 6 months and counting… my psoriasis is almost gone and if feel amazing… (and I can eat for free for the most part of they year through my garden..) I live in Toronto… well north Toronto so I cant grow ALL year round.. .but I can grow and can as much as possible…
    anyway, just wanted to drop a line, and I hope you guys watch that youtube clip on Dr. Fuhrman Super Immunity, end of diabetes, end of dieting… its 1hr and 20 mins… P.S. I’m in no way affiliated, just great presentation and explanation, and it ties in well with MMM.
    good luck all!

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache April 25, 2017, 6:06 pm

      Hey David – I’m really glad to hear that you are having success with your new diet – that’s all that really counts.

      But those old assumptions about fat (which I subscribed to in my teenage years) are actually totally wrong. It’s good for you, and does not cause fat gain. The primary enemy is sugar, and secondary is refined carbohydrates. But everyone can agree on vegetables, and they are a huge part of my diet in raw form (salads).

      Check out “Why We Get Fat” by Gary Taubes – you’ll probably find out why your current diet still worked for you, compared to the one you had in the past that made you overweight. AND learn how a lower-carb / almost-zero-sugar diet can be just as good or even better than what you are doing now.

      I eat 150+ grams of fat per day now and am leaner here at age 42 than I was at 18 years old, on a zero-fat, 5-day-per-week strict weight training and running regime.

      Here’s the book: http://amzn.to/2p2hSy2

      Reply
      • david May 10, 2017, 8:59 am

        yup… I never stated that Fat is bad.. its the kind and where you are getting it from… I’m eating tons of it too….Avocado…nuts, seeds..i just stay away from highly processed oils…its manufactured, not natural. The problem is when you eat oil.. (processed) it enters your blood stream immediately, In matter of minutes…it shoots hormone levels up in your body, hormones like insulin.. same as bread…exactly the same as white bread or flour… believe it or not.. Meat does the same along with a lot of other meat and milk proteins and yes.. ALL MEATS including fish.. muscle is muscle, doesn’t matter what animal it comes from all of these shoot up insulin levels in your body, and insulin is a cancer promoting hormone. Nuts and seeds enter your blood stream very slowly… If you eat walnut oil… it immediately enters your blood stream… your blood stream cannot tolerate the rush of fat in the blood so it rapidly stores the fat, immediately. It makes your pancreas work overtime, insulin shoots up, diabetes, cancer risks, depression, anxiety, all these risks increase. If you eat walnuts by them selves your breaking down the fats, the sterols, stanols, fiber etc…allow you to absorb the calarios in many hours and not minutes and your body burns those calories as enery… doesn’t get stored immediately as fat….
        Olive oil is NOT good for you, its only Moderately better than butter…barely… but the oils naturaly occurring in nuts and seeds are expodentially better than all other oils….non processed…. not touched by capitalism…. one is a natural food, the other is a processed food so someone else can make money…
        Anyway, Its so cool you reached out to me, loved reading your comment. I’m 42 as well, Just wanted to say, I’m not really on a “diet” marketed by people who are trying to make a name for themselves. I just started to eat foods that’s are backed by non biased, scientific fact and studies conducted on thousands of people. And NOT to eat food that you see advertised on TV, or Social media etc… whens the last time you saw a commercial on romaine lettuce?? ;o) mY goal was to become healthier, not lose weight, that just came as symptom of the changes ive made. Kind of like, do what you love, and the money will come, Concentrate on only making money, and that will be much harder to achieve.
        Totally by fluke i saw your response, just ended up back in the comments here and saw your reply.. i hope to see another one.. .ill check the notiy me post… but either way, i definelty will check out the why we get fat by gary taubes, i hope you check out the Dr Fuhrman seminar!! science based as well.
        great eye opener…

        Reply
  • Jeremy Collins April 28, 2017, 10:11 pm

    I started reading your blog a couple of months ago, and since that time we have brought down our credit card debt from 24,000 to 5000, and that 5000 is being charged a 0% and we expect to pay that off in a month. Also I had a hell of a great bike ride with my 18-month-old toddler in tow earlier today! We are in Parker Colorado, so we had to get a good ride in before the snow fell.

    Reply
  • Andrew Mullen May 2, 2017, 5:24 pm

    Does anyone ever refer to you as Morpheus? Because that’s who you remind me of. You’re going around unplugging people from the earn and consume treadmill/matrix and I, personally, will never be able to thank you enough.

    Reply
  • EarningAndLearning May 8, 2017, 3:26 pm

    When I started reading MMM a few months ago, I decided to take a good look at what I was spending my money on every month. I had recently discovered our city’s new Whole Foods and had been leisurely shopping the aisles, reading labels and making impulse purchases. I am a single woman, not much of a cook (so partial to processed foods like frozen pizza & Eggo waffles), guilty of recreational eating when I’m bored (ie What should I do? I’ll make a snack!), plus I live in more-expensive Canada. But even with those excuses, I was horrified to see I had spent $729 on groceries in January 2017 and $704 in February (that doesn’t include restaurants or wine, but does include items I need in the kitchen like plastic wrap, dish soap, etc). I blame Whole Foods, my total lack of awareness around my food spending, and not having read any MMM yet! :)

    Man I’m so embarrassed to confess those numbers!

    The following month, March, I made an effort to curtail my monthly grocery spending to $400, but failed and ended up spending $458 (partly because I threw a party). April, last month, I made it down to $348 YAH! :) This month, May 2016, I’m going to aim to spend less than $300. No more organic veggies and organic meats & fish that’s for sure! And shopping WAY less, and when I think I ‘need’ to go shopping, I look really hard and can usually find something to eat, ie spaghetti or egg on toast, and put off grocery shopping for one more day (it’s kind of a fun game to play!).

    I know these numbers will shock Mustachians in the States, whose food and meat and dairy costs are way lower than in Canada. And I know I can do better by using my crock pot more, and cooking things in large portions and freezing them for later (I’m planning on trying lasagna for the first time!). And by snacking less while at home. And I’m eating out pretty much NEVER now that I’m obsessed with MMM, and buying a lot less wine. :)

    Thanks for the inspiration MMM and everyone else for all the great suggestions and shares in the Comments!

    Reply
  • Team Cooking Captain May 19, 2017, 9:22 am

    This was the perfect article for me to stumble on today. I woke up early this morning, full of motivation to clean out and inventory my fridge, freezer, and pantry. All three are stocked to the gills, and yet we never seem to know what to eat because we have no awareness of what we have on hand.
    So, on today’s to-do list:
    – take inventory
    – make a meal plan from that inventory
    – pick up a small dry erase board for the fridge so we can keep a handy list of what needs to be eaten before it expires.

    I do also love to freezer cook. I like Once a Month Meals for ideas for freezable meals. I also have a couple of flexible freezer staples we like to have on hand. One is Southwest Chicken which is cooked in the slowcooker and seasoned with tomatoes and chili in adobo, and then packed in individual portions in the freezer. Most often we will use this as a super lazy meal by throwing it into the rice cooker with rice, adobo seasoning, and frozen corn. Sometimes we add cheese at the end if we have it. Often the chicken get’s stretched, with one packet going in with two cups of rice, and easily feeding three of us with leftovers. It’s also great for enchiladas, tacos, panini style sandwiches, added to a southwest style soup.
    My second flexible freezer staple is ground beef in a basic gravy (precooked). This can be thawed and seasoned to become shepherds pie, sloppy joes, stroganoff, added to soup, topping for baked potatoes, or one recent hit with my son: seasoned and dumped over tater tots.
    And actually, a third flexible freezer meat is shredded chicken in basic gravy. This becomes chicken pot pie (sometimes just “chicken potpie filling” if I don’t have time or inclination to make a crust), chicken and rice, a casserole, creamy italian chicken with pasta….just add some seasonings, add some veggies, maybe some cheese, or pasta, or rice. I can buy my meats in bulk, and cook them all up at once, and stash them for later.
    The reason I prefer to cook the meat before I freeze it is because I don’t have to worry about thawing it when I want to eat it. I can pop it out of the fridge, heat it up in the microwave or the pan, and have dinner ready in no time even if I didn’t plan ahead.

    Also, as far as tracking food spending goes: I use You Need A Budget for my budgeting. I have a few different categories for food spending.

    – Groceries (food bought at the grocery store to prepare at home, for humans – not pets)
    – Convenience Dining (when we grabbed food because we were lazy, or out of the house all day.)
    – Dining Out (When we chose to go out to eat for the entertainment/social value of it.)
    – Team Cooking Night Groceries (Once every few weeks I host a dinner party where I plan the menu, and buy the food, and then I teach a bunch of mostly 20 somethings how to cook. Everyone pitches in a suggested $10 towards the costs, and we always send everyone home with leftovers, and have plenty of leftovers ourselves. I track this separately so that I can also track how much is reimbursed within the same category to see how I’m doing over time. Some meals are more frugal than others, some dinner parties have more guests than others.)
    – Pet food/supplies (obviously)
    – Coffee (because I have a beloved cafe habit, where I go and have some “me” time while getting some work done, and I want to be conscious of this specific spending)
    Cleaning supplies, paper goods, and bath and beauty products have their own categories

    I find it valuable to keep track of those different types of eating expenses separately, while also being able to add them all up and see what my total food spending is. It also helps me to be conscious of why I’m choosing to spend in certain ways, and how specific habits are effecting my bottom line.

    Reply
  • Justine May 31, 2017, 5:21 pm

    Hi MMM. Justine here, all the way from Melbourne, Australia! I saw someone comment about Quicken, and I looked it up. It seems to have a low rating. Is there any other money tracker that you would recommend, or could you direct me to an article you have written on something like this?

    Have only just discovered your blog, through Derrick Sivers, but am very much enjoying it!

    Reply
    • Party of 7 August 8, 2017, 3:47 am

      Does Mint work in Australia? I’m guessing it’s US based. I also use YNAB, before they made you pay by the month, I bought it for a one time fee, and it’s been a great way to track spending. You could ask in the forums also. I used to make my own spreadsheets, I also adapted a Google doc for awhile that some one else made Dave Ramsey style. That was nice, because it was made for me. Whatever you choose, just keep up with it, and track where your money goes. Otherwise it’s just a mystery.

      Reply
  • Hilda Corners July 19, 2017, 5:07 pm

    Wow! I feel like I deserve a medal for reading all the comments on this post! So many different opinions!

    I’ve been eating Mustachian for years … a few years back I had to submit financial statements to a government division every month or so, and *nobody* believed my food numbers. [Pulled directly from Mint.] They were so low! I was feeding myself and two teens at the time … and I’m on a low glycemic index diet so no cheap grains.

    In order to really drop your food bill, you have to look at some of your assumptions about eating. Do you need to buy organic everything? Or can you cut back to just buying organic versions of “The Dirty Dozen”? It’s possible to eat Paleo without grass-fed beef … factory meat isn’t the healthiest, but if you’re in a money emergency, it might be worth eating a bit of factory meat. I’m not saying you should eat repulsive food … but you should check your assumptions; they may be causing you to spend a lot more money.

    If you live in an area with several supermarket chains, check them all out. The market walking distance from my home is very expensive, the one a few miles away is so much cheaper that it covers my car expenses to get there. And the food’s just as good.

    When I was an at-home mom, I would study the food ads, buy the loss leaders and shop several stores. [I don’t have time now, I lost my stash in a crisis and am working full time to build it back up.] I didn’t clip coupons; most coupons are for brand name processed food that’s overpriced to begin with.

    I see a lot of advice to “shop the edges” of the store … but the flour, rice, beans, etc. are in the middle.

    Reply
  • Ggirl August 2, 2017, 11:09 pm

    Ok.. I know this blog post is 5 years old, but..we live in British Columbia, and it sounds like the best thing we could do for our finances, is move the frick out of BC! Food costs are insane here, and rising. Rents and home prices are also going through the roof. Good bread is 6 dollars a loaf (I guess I should start making it!) and free range organic eggs are upwards of 6 dollars a dozen. We shop at Costco for most of our supplies–and they have a decent selection of organic products, thankfully. We buy all our cooking oils, coffee, packs of tuna, free range organic frozen chickens, kalamata olives, etc, at Costco. Even with all that savings, our food bill is still high. This year our garden is hopefully going to cut down some cost, but food is still our number one expense besides rent.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache August 4, 2017, 8:41 am

      Yeah, if you eat bread you should DEFINITELY be making it – so easy and fun! Grab a bread machine off of Craigslist for $20 and get going today. $1 per loaf or less.

      Reply
  • Margin of Saving November 26, 2017, 12:24 pm

    We’re a family of 5 and we spend about $500 a month for food, which includes going out to eat. We save by using coupons and stocking up on items that are on sale. If you actually pay attention to your grocery bill, it’s easy to cut back on your spending.

    Reply
  • Mikey January 2, 2018, 10:31 am

    Hello, I’m trying to run a hypothetical budget calculation for a few years down the road:

    Parameters: Family of 5:
    Me (35 yr old male): 2500cal/day, Wife: 2000cal/day, 3 youngish kids: average 1500cal/day – total family consumption = 9,000/day
    Note: This is expected to only increase as I hope to have 6-10 kids eventually and they’ll probably have huge appetites eventually if the teenage athletic me was any indication
    Location: Kitchener-Waterloo, ON

    Is there a site that you know of that does something similar to what MMM has done in the article; ie: break down food expenses by Calories, but does it with geographic-particular statistics – preferably with future forecasting build in (although I can estimate this on my own if necessary)?

    This is just part of a larger Hypothetical I’m trying to run which includes everything else Cost-of-Living related. I’m trying to prove to my aunt (who is single and makes ~$85K/yr) that she has an overly exaggerated idea of required gross income needed to get by. :) Should be interesting…

    Reply
  • Bridget January 16, 2018, 8:41 am

    I am late to the party but this is a really good article. I shop around different farm stands to find the best price on winter squash. Last year I bought a 38 pound squash for under $5. I steamed it, pureed it, and froze it in ice cube trays. I put it into gallon freezer bags and it lasted over a year. I bake with it and use it in soups and smoothies. I miss living near Amish farms because I used to be able to pick up a 25 pound long neck pumpkin for $2-3.

    Reply
  • Chris July 11, 2018, 11:25 am

    We typically spent over $3,000 on groceries, but are now serious about getting out of debt, so we’re eating what we have while making sure we always have bananas and keeping our meat options to mostly bulk packs of chicken legs, which are very good because the cartilage is a good source of collagen.

    If you ate nothing but bananas and chicken legs, you’d be better off than many without spending much at all.

    As a bonus, the kids discovered we had about 100 ice pops (the kind you freeze/squeeze) at the bottom of the freezer from last summer!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

To keep things non-promotional, please use a real name or nickname
(not Blogger @ My Blog Name)

The most useful comments are those written with the goal of learning from or helping out other readers – after reading the whole article and all the earlier comments. Complaints and insults generally won’t make the cut here, but by all means write them on your own blog!

connect

welcome new readers

Take a look around. If you think you are hardcore enough to handle Maximum Mustache, feel free to start at the first article and read your way up to the present using the links at the bottom of each article.

For more casual sampling, have a look at this complete list of all posts since the beginning of time or download the mobile app. Go ahead and click on any titles that intrigue you, and I hope to see you around here more often.

Love, Mr. Money Mustache

latest tweets