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Old 01-05-2010, 11:26 PM   #21
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Originally Posted by NW-Bound View Post
I was going to ask if Shawn works for Google. In case you do not know, Google main campus has several cafeterias, all serving restaurant quality food prepared by chefs (not cooks), and each having a different theme such as Oriental, Mediterranean etc...
No, I don't work for Google. While I got a few freebies at work (one woman always brought in cookies on Tuesdays, with me being first in line), I bought 99% of the food I ate (and drank). My $2.42/day average for 2009 was a 1 year experiment. I normally spend about twice that much.

I changed my eating habits a little, but not very much. Mostly, I was just very careful about where and when I bought food. I shopped mostly at WalMart (a regular WalMart with a few aisles of food) and a local discount grocery in the San Francisco area known as the Grocery Outlet. They have produce. I also went to a local fruit and vegetable stand.

Why spend $1.25 for a 1 pound bag of lentils at Safeway, when I can get the same bag for $0.99 at the Grocery Outlet. A $0.26 savings may not seem like much, but it is when integrated over an entire year (i.e., saving 25% on food just by shopping at a different store one block away).

Timing was important too. The Grocery Outlet was selling cantaloupe for $0.25 each in November, so I ate a lot of cantaloupe in November. They were selling pineapples for $0.99 each in December (who would of thought), so I ate pineapples in December. Their deals weren't always this good, but I always took advantage of them when they were.

I saved almost all of my receipts, so maybe I'll post them when I have a free week (or two or three). Typical evening meals were things like sandwiches two times a week (loaf of whole wheat bread for $0.99 at the Grocery Outlet), lentils once a week, rice once a week (20 pound bag for $9.99), soup once a week, and some sort of processed food twice a week (TV dinners at WalMart were $0.88 before they went up to $1.00). There would be fruit and vegetables thrown in (e.g., mixed in vegetables with rice or lentils). I would get cereal at times. Non-fat milk was $1.99/gallon at the Grocery Outlet. Orange Juice was $3.49/gallon at WalMart. It may not have been organic seaweed, but for the most part it was reasonably healthy.

Like I said, I did buy too much junk food (about $0.50 of the $2.42/day was spent on junk food or soda). And when it was clear I would easily meet my goal of spending less than $1000 for the entire year, I bought a "value pack" of 3 steaks in November (about $9 each).

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Old 01-05-2010, 11:53 PM   #22
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Wow, thank you Shawn for the detailed breakdown. I was really perplexed with $2.50 per day thing and I calculated what my minimum requirements were and it still came up to be about $4 per day.

I guess the difference between what you were doing and what I did with my $4 per day is you buy what's on sale and I just cannot - I have certain needs (?) - I like a huge serving of salad each day (plus more cooked veggies with dinner etc) and I want my Activia or DanActive every day (I calculated with $4 for 8, which is the price when they are on sale) and I want some kind of citrus every day. I have to get the omega loaded eggs which cost more. Not flexible enough; hence $4 per day (this is minimum really, with no fish or beef (only whole chicken with $.69/lb.. I only buy Foster Farms) If I added mushrooms and alfalfa to my salad which I like, it would have been even more.)

You have some discipline (or I am just way more into food than you are.)

so you didn't eat much meat (beef, chicken, fish) the whole year?

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Old 01-06-2010, 12:17 AM   #23
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One of the best ways to bring down the cost of vegetables - and often fruit and meat, too, - is to shop at ethnic markets. When we lived in Seattle several years ago, we used to make weekly trips to the ID to stock up on groceries at the vietnamese and chinese-run grocery stores there. We would walk out with twice as much food at 1/2 the price of the grocery stores in our neighborhood (which had decent prices to begin with compared to some other parts of town). Did the same thing in NYC, and actually partly chose the neighborhood we ended up in (Jackson Heights) based on the prevalence of ethnic markets (Indian, Chinese, latin american -- I miss it still!).

And as someone else mentioned, small vegetable stands can also offer great deals on produce.

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Old 01-06-2010, 12:23 AM   #24
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Eat a lot of rice, beans, and ramen noodles. Grow what you can (we grow blue berries, tomatoes, lettuce, herbs, etc.). Drink water, especially when you dine out.

Hunt if you can. Squirrels and deer are abundant in my area. Buying in bulk at a warehouse also helps.
Retire date sometime in 2017
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Old 01-06-2010, 07:02 AM   #25
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Wonderful information - thank you all.

We make most meals from scratch. We make our own granola and yogurt, and sometimes bread. We eat a lot of vegetables, fruit, dairy, grains, beans, lentils and some fish & meat, and never throw away left-overs.

We recently joined a food coop for fruits & veggies. It costs about $50 every 2 weeks. The produce is organic, really fresh and is enough for 2 weeks. The only canned foods we eat are beans, tomatoes and an occasional can of sardines or tuna. We buy some frozen veggies and freeze fish/meat/bread.

While I'm not willing to compromise on the kind of food we eat, I think we can do better on shopping for value.

We use a shopping list and avoid the expensive grocery stores. I don't think we do a enough comparison shopping and using coupons. We use them, but not consistently. I shop at ethnic stores, but usually for items that are either too expensive or not available at the supermarket. Freezing food is another thing we should do more.

We don't expect to get down to $2.40/day/person, but I've read a lot here that can help reduce the bill. Yesterday, I started a list of items with their prices so that we can buy in bulk when cheap. I don't want this to become all consuming, but a little effort may go a long way.
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Old 01-06-2010, 08:04 AM   #26
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You can get fresh air, plenty of exercise and eat well for less just by focusing on the four major food groups:
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Old 01-06-2010, 08:37 AM   #27
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We rarely eat out, perhaps once or twice a month. If you're working, always bring lunch from home (unless your employer pays for lunch). In 1983 I spent $15 on an Igloo "Lunchbox" cooler and it paid for itself in less than a week. A sandwich, an apple or pear, and a bottle of tap water was lunch at work for two decades.

We also make most meals from scratch, I can't remember the last time I bought a frozen dinner. I also eat a lot of rice, some beans, chicken, tuna, etc. Red meat rarely seen here although I enjoy it when we do.
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Old 01-06-2010, 08:42 AM   #28
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Things that others have already said.

1. Superwalmart - low prices on almost everything all the time. Occasional clearance items that are 40-75-90% off (bread, cakes, meat, staples). Some stuff is just really cheap, like loaf bread labeled "WHITE" or "WHEAT" for $0.75.

2. Ethnic asian and mexican grocery stores. Cheap bulk rice, exotic veggies and ingredients that they don't sell at Walmart and would cost 5-10x the price if bought at Fresh Market type store; sometimes buy cheap meat at Mexican grocery. Buy mexican spices and different types of peppers, limes, tomatillos, cilantro etc at mexican store for 1/2 the price of walmart.

3. Aldi (discount grocer) - we haven't actually been in a while, but lots of stuff for even less than walmart, but not quite worth the time/effort to tack on another store

4. Trader Joes - if you want to eat well and have variety, this rounds out the shopping pretty well

5. Free food from family/coworkers - from their gardens, they have too much to eat. We return the favor however if we cook a big batch of something

6. Take food home from work - following a big catered event or party, don't be shy to take a to go plate since it will end up in the trash shortly anyway

7. don't waste food - eat leftovers. Freeze what will go bad before you eat it, then eat it later (if it can be frozen).

8. Don't "stock up" on stuff that will end up being donated to the food pantry or spoiling before being eaten. Think Sam's club and buying 5x what a family could reasonably eat, then throwing out half of it. It's only cheaper if you save money.

Not sure our exact per person cost because we buy other stuff at Walmart like clothes, shoes, auto parts, electronics, toys, sporting goods, household goods, toiletries, medicine, rx, etc. Stripping all that stuff out and adding in dining out around 25-30 people-meals per month, and adding in trader joes and other food purchases, we probably average out to $4-5 or so, per person, per day for the four of us. That includes the dining out and alcohol, and entertaining for parties and family gatherings, and feeding a bunch of nieces and nephews every week.
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Old 01-06-2010, 09:33 AM   #29
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Thanks JJ and Shawn for the detail. This topic fascinates me even though food is a small fraction of most budgets - it gets into the "How cheaply can you live?" category.

I'd always figured the keys were getting off the top of the food chain and buying ingredients, not prepared meals. I think you've added that focusing on sales and seasonal bargains can really help.
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Old 01-06-2010, 09:58 AM   #30
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I eat a vegan diet about 99% of the time. Avoiding processed foods makes the diet pretty cheap. Raw fruit for lunch and a combo of raw/cook veggies for dinner. The expensive part of my diet is buying about 100 lbs of carrots a month for juicing. The carrot juice (with other veggies I grow from my organic garden for juicing) are generally what I have for breakfast and in between snacks. I also supplement with barley grass juice (cold processed powder form mixed with water) and I grind my own flax seed. I buy all this in bulk.

However, my wife is not as disciplined as I am and she feeds the kids animal based products and some processed foods. So my food bill is probably about 2/3's of a typical family of 5. After they all leave the nest, my wife swears she'll convert to veganism like me for health reasons and to save $.
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Old 01-06-2010, 05:54 PM   #31
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I find this interesting. I do a high protein, low carb diet most all the time. I echo the thing about Trader Joe's; they have high quality veggies, meats and good quality stuff like mayo and peanut butter that are not that expensive. I also shop at Aldi's which has ground turkey for $2.49/lb every day and (sometimes) good cheap fresh veggies. I watch out for their sugary, starchy cheap stuff, but they do canned tomatoes and garbanzos very low priced, along with batteries and chicken broth ($1.29/32 oz. vs. Trader Joe's $1.99/32.oz).

I also shop Big Y (don't know if that is national or only east coast) for sales only - I just got 25 oz. of imported Italian extra virgin olive oil for $10.99 - buy 1, get 2 free (that is, 75 oz. for $10.99), Oil of Beauty (similar to Oil of Olay) buy 1, get 1 free ($5.49 for 6 oz). I have been scouring sales and coupons and have saved quite a bit shopping this way.
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Old 01-06-2010, 08:04 PM   #32
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Our budget for household/food items is minimal.

I pay next to nothing and sometimes make money on non-perishables by combining sales, coupons and store promotions (Extra Bucks at CVS and Register Rewards at Walgreens). I have a lot of storage in my home and stock up on everything that we will use that will not go bad for a very long time. So when we use the end of the bottle of laundry detergent, we do not need to add it to the shopping list. We simply open the cabinet in the laundry room and grab a bottle of All Small and Mighty that cost $.50 after coupons and store promotions. The same applies when we need a bottle of shampoo, a razor for shaving, shaving cream, body wash, etc. or other items like cleaning products, bath tissue, facial tissue, etc.

I buy meat on the last date of sale at Safeway for a deep discount and freeze it if we aren't going to use it that night. I buy bread at an Oroweat outlet. I buy fruits and vegetables at a fruit stand and pay a fraction of the cost that is charged at Safeway. Sometimes it's not as pretty (waxed and all), but it is good quality and delicious. I usually buy eggs and milk at CVS with Extra Buckss. I also stock up on many food items when they cost pennies on the dollar by combining sales with coupons and additional store promotions. Examples would be egg noodles, pasta, spaghetti sauce, refried beans, canned veggies (primarily green beans, corn, yams, and tomatoes), mustard, ketchup, maynaise, pickles, olives, tuna, beans, microwave popcorn, dry cereal, salsa, peanuts, coffee, creamer, sugar, etc.

Like Shawn, I check out the Grocery Outlet regularly. They do not take coupons, but sometimes the deals are so good that you don't need them. In the late fall they had personal watermelons for $.50 ea. It's hit and miss there and sometimes the quality isn't all that good, so you have to be careful.

It does take time and energy, but I'm the CFO or our household so hey, it's part of my job.
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Old 01-07-2010, 03:09 AM   #33
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Oh yeah -- bakery outlets are great! We used to hit the orowheat outlet a couple of times a month and fill the freezer with bread and bagels. Really cheap and no different from what you got in the store for 2-3x the price. Our downfall was those 99c packages of cookies -- loved the peanut ones! Do they still have those?

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Old 01-07-2010, 08:52 AM   #34
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Doing a quick estimate looks like I spend roughly $2,700/yr or $7.40/day(not including liquid med's). That includes eating out. Being single, it's just easier to let someone else cook for me at a restaurant. But I do plan to eat a better blend of foods this year. More veggies and fruits and less sugar. Need to drop 10 lbs. Most people say I don't look over weight, but I want to get back to what I weighed back in my 30's, around 175lbs.
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Old 01-07-2010, 09:08 AM   #35
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Originally Posted by Dawg52 View Post
Doing a quick estimate looks like I spend roughly $2,700/yr or $7.40/day(not including liquid med's). That includes eating out. Being single, it's just easier to let someone else cook for me at a restaurant. But I do plan to eat a better blend of foods this year. More veggies and fruits and less sugar. Need to drop 10 lbs. Most people say I don't look over weight, but I want to get back to what I weighed back in my 30's, around 175lbs.
Dawg, that is pretty good. I spent a lot more than that on groceries alone, much less eating out. I know what you mean about singles eating out a lot, too! I do, anyway.
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Old 01-07-2010, 09:22 AM   #36
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This is what we do:
We avoid restaurants and bring our own lunch to work at least 2 times p.w.
We try hard not to buy more than we really eat. We plan our meals carefully in advance and buy according to our plan to avoid waste. Our home is not a restaurant with a big menue.
We avoid pre-processed food and soft drinks and are cooking from scratch (and "scratch" does not mean pancake mix).
We try not to "snack" but will eat a good meal if we are hungry. Then the need to snack disappears.
We avoid artificial sweeteners. They make us feel hungry soon again, much more than a little bit of sugar.
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Old 01-07-2010, 04:39 PM   #37
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Originally Posted by lhamo View Post
Oh yeah -- bakery outlets are great! We used to hit the orowheat outlet a couple of times a month and fill the freezer with bread and bagels. Really cheap and no different from what you got in the store for 2-3x the price. Our downfall was those 99c packages of cookies -- loved the peanut ones! Do they still have those?

I usually only buy the bread and don't pay too much attention to the other stuff that they have. I used to buy the cookies and cakes, etc. but it was getting harder for me to keep my "girlish figure" so I stopped buying them.

I also get pre-made and baked, thin pizza crust at Wal Mart. They are usually $2.50, but they mark them down to $1.50 on the last date of sale. I buy them all up and put them in the freezer. Whenever we feel like having pizza, we take one out, cover it with free Bertolli spaghetti sauce, cheap canned mushrooms and black olives, a little thinly sliced onion, and some pepperoni from the dollar store. Then I smother it with grated Motz cheese (5 lbs for $10 something at Costco) and we've got a pizza that is so much better than any of the less expensive take out pizzas and the cost is probably no more than $3-3.50 ea.
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Old 01-07-2010, 04:54 PM   #38
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Originally Posted by harley View Post
It's so easy! Just wander through the retiree's buffet at your local Costco a few times/week. All sorts of variety, you get to eat processed foods (no suffering through on cheap fresh veggies), plus you get the exercise of walking all the way around the warehouse 2 or 3 times as you fill up. No problemo!

Harley: I happened to go into Costco today at 1:00 to pick up a bag of shredded Motz cheese (needed for tonight's dinner) and remembered what you had posted and had to LOL!! There were a lot of elderly people going from one sample table to another. On today's Costco menu: iced green tea, Hansen's soda, chicken egg rolls, beef tamales, pasta with Italian sausage, organic lentil soup, Progresso beef soup, little ham and cheese sandwiches made out of those new flat bread/bun things, and cheese pizza. By the time I sampled everything (seconds on the ham & cheese sandwiches, and the pasta and Italian sausage), I was quite satisfied. I was thinking of your post the entire time!!
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Old 01-10-2010, 08:28 PM   #39
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Here's our strategy:

I take my lunch to work, no eating out.

We buy the stuff that doesn't matter at Wal-Mart, the stuff we can get cheaper in bulk at Costco, the stuff that does matter (meat, produce) at Raley's (nicer but more expensive grocery).

We rarely eat out, but as we live out in the sticks its easier to resist.

We buy on sale. If we see a staple on sale, we buy as much as we can.

We use coupons and look through the circulars when planning meals.

We buy store brands, especially cereal!

We keep the meat to a minimum and buy it on sale and freeze it.

A few specifics:

Bulk popcorn, paper bags and a few seasoning are great, super cheap snacks. Just put about a quarter cup of kernels in a small paper bag, roll it up tight and pop as you would a snack size microwave bag. use a little Butter Pam to get the seasoning to stick or eat it plain.

We buy a whole chicken, potatoes, mushrooms, celery, onions and some kind of starch (barley, rice, etc.) Roast the chicken on you oven's broiling pan (the two piece one that comes with moist ovens and is designed to catch drippings) and put cut the potatoes up into wedges and place in the pan under the chicken. The drippings keep the potatoes moist while roasting. When done slice the breast meat, and serve it and the drumsticks (our kids love them) with the potatoes. Spice them up for variety. When done, plop the chicken carcass into a pot with water and make a stock. Refrigerate overnight, then cut off any meat , put it back in the pot with the stock, and dispose of the carcass. Add seasoning and bullion cubes to taste, the veggies and starch and simmer till done and you have chicken soup for days. Maybe 10 bucks and we can feed four of us, including our two teenage boys for three of four nights.
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Old 01-10-2010, 09:04 PM   #40
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Lots of good suggestions in this thread. I often hear people say that eating a diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables is expensive - one thing I've found to help with this is choosing the nonstandard or "poor man's" types of vegetables. Collards, mustard greens, cabbage are all reasonably cheap at even the high-end grocery stores. Fruits are more difficult: usually bananas or seasonal produce. Ethnic grocery stores are also great for fruits and veggies.

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