I really, really love food. I enjoy growing vegetables, cooking, eating, and most anything that has to do with the cultivation and enjoyment of good food. I could easily make food a non-frugal indulgence in my life. Thankfully, I also love the mental exercise of practiced moderation, giving in to temptation only occasionally, and living a healthy life. I want to make sure that my food spending is in line with my other values, and I enjoy the challenge and balance required in lowering my food spending while avoiding deprivation or extremism.
One of my goals for 2013 is to achieve an average cost of $2.50 per meal. As my budget stands today, I am allowing myself the following amounts for food in 2013:
- $160/month for groceries
- $30/month for food “out” while at work
- $40/month for restaurants
This gives me a total of $2,760 to spend on food this year, or an average of $7.56 per day. Using a standard number of 3 meals per day, this allows me an average cost of $2.52 per meal. I hope to be slightly under budget at the end of the year, for a total food cost of less than $7.50 per day.
Within these budgets, I’d also like to eat more fruits and vegetables and improve my overall health with good food choices.
Because I didn’t separate groceries from household goods in my financial tracking last year, I can only give a rough estimate of food spending in 2012 (these are my numbers from Mint):
- Approximately $196/month for groceries
- $38/month for food “out” while at work
- $48/month for restaurants
This puts my total for 2012 at about $3,384 spent on food, an average of $9.25 per day, or $3.08 per meal.
While I’ve always been pretty frugal when it comes to groceries and eating out, 2012 was the first year that I really put an effort into sticking to a budget for each category and lowering my average food costs across the board. While $3.08 per meal is a shockingly low number to some, I know I can do much better.
The Low Cost Food Strategy
In order to continue to lower my average food costs, I hope to employ a wide range of strategies:
- Continue vegetable gardening, increase yields
- Eat more seasonal fruits and vegetables
- Prepare larger meals for dinner that can be easily portioned for lunches
- Utilize more coupons & “bargain” strategies
- Eat smaller portions, eating more frequently when necessary
- Prepare recipes that have high protein/low cost ingredients
- Avoid preparing recipes that require exotic ingredients I don’t already have
- Eat less meat
- Regularly eat a very low cost breakfast of oats and fresh fruit
- Bicycling more frequently will burn more calories, and increase my demand for food
- Planning & preparing food in advance is not always easy – life gets in the way
- Camping, hosting barbeques, and socializing more are all goals I have this year that could easily increase food costs
- My co-workers frequently eat out, and the temptation is always there to join them
I’ve casually shared my food cost reduction goal with a few people, and most of them don’t believe I’ll succeed (or think I’m a nut); I know I will because I’m not too far off from the $2.50 amount already, I am now budgeting more closely than I ever have in the past, and I’ll probably have fun doing it! I know my numbers aren’t as low as they could be, but as I continue to tone my budgeting & frugality muscles, I will hopefully continue to achieve new lows.
What is your average food cost? What are some strategies for lowering grocery costs that I’m missing? What threats keep you from reaching your food budget goals? What are some awesome low cost/high protein staples? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.