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Old 01-05-2010, 02:25 PM   #1
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How do members keep food costs down?

In another thread, Shawn stated that he spent $2.42/day on food - groceries, eating out - everything! And, he lives in the suburbs of San Francisco - not exactly a budget place.

2009 actuals v/s budget

And he's not alone. There are others who have also posted very low numbers for groceries.

I'm curious - how do you do it? What kind of food do you eat? where do you shop? Location could be important, so please provide if possible.
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Old 01-05-2010, 02:37 PM   #2
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Originally Posted by walkinwood View Post
In another thread, Shawn stated that he spent $2.42/day on food - groceries, eating out - everything! And, he lives in the suburbs of San Francisco - not exactly a budget place.

2009 actuals v/s budget

And he's not alone. There are others who have also posted very low numbers for groceries.

I'm curious - how do you do it? What kind of food do you eat? where do you shop? Location could be important, so please provide if possible.
Shawn probably only shops at Whole Foods once a week. Here are my 2009 annual numbers-groceries $4265, eat-out (food) $670. Since a few happy hour snacks for 2 can easily run $25 for the food only, I feel that I am doing as well as can be expected, though not spectacularly cheap. My youngest son moved out 10 years ago, and I was spending much more for food for myself only back then, so overall I have gotten a lot of control of grocery spending. Part of it is that I do less heavy work and so don't eat as much.

Ha
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Old 01-05-2010, 03:39 PM   #3
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More than anything, I think it mostly revolves around having a lot on self control when you are at a grocery store, and how much you feel comfortable eating. Going out to eat infrequently helps a good bit as well.

Excluding household goods, I spend about $900/year on food. While it is a lower cost of living area, I am a big guy, 6"3, 180lbs (about optimal). Based on the comments of family members/roommates, I seem to eat/drink a lot. When I "eat out", it is mainly while accompanying my roommate to the bar bi-monthly, which costs about $20/month.

As Shawn noted, if you are spending around $2.50-$3 on food, it is going to be mostly nutritious stuff. No candy, no soda/pop, no red meat, no liquor, no "premium" items. Other than that though, as long as you buy food on sale, there is a pretty wide selection.

I don't really budget anything. Instead I just set the ground rule of saving as much money as I am comfortable with, while only eating things I will enjoy and will support a balanced diet (I must have a certain amount of each food group on-hand at all times). This means using any coupons that apply, almost always buying "on-sale" items, stocking up (without overbuying, I've probably wasted $10 doing this), knowing prices well enough that you can automatically tell if something is a really good or bad price, and not getting into expensive habits. Being able to eat the same thing 2 or 3 times a week, is also extremely helpful as well. Being able to cook, somewhat, is essential. It is just about impossible to have an inexpensive and healthy diet with completely ready-made foods (I don't make anything that takes more than 10-15 minutes though). As with other purchases, you can eat just about "anything" you want, but you can't eat everything you want on the same day.
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Old 01-05-2010, 03:44 PM   #4
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We went from $425 a month on groceries to $350 just by shopping at a few grocery stores for their specials and coupon cutting .That is for two of us . We eat all meals at home except we usually go out to eat once a week to the tune of $35.00. We eat healthy meals lots of stir fry , meat on the grill , chicken , fish , etc..The grocery budget also includes all cleaning supplies and paper products . I don't skimp on groceries . I just read the adds and shop smart . I plan my meals according to what is on sale .
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Old 01-05-2010, 04:07 PM   #5
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I mentioned in another thread that we eat very little meat. We also buy minimal processed food, preferring fresh vegetables and fruits, especially from the farmer's market, in season.

We have dinner out about once a week, but prefer moderately priced ethnic places where dinner for two is around $20 -25.

I'm always amazed to see what others are buying at the supermarket - carts full of frozen TV dinners, soda, chips, candy and other junk food.
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Old 01-05-2010, 04:18 PM   #6
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I mentioned in another thread that we eat very little meat. We also buy minimal processed food, preferring fresh vegetables and fruits, especially from the farmer's market, in season.

We have dinner out about once a week, but prefer moderately priced ethnic places where dinner for two is around $20 -25.

I'm always amazed to see what others are buying at the supermarket - carts full of frozen TV dinners, soda, chips, candy and other junk food.
People always say this, but fresh veggies and fruits are usually right up there with quality meat for cost. True, veggies are cheap for 2 weeks in August, especially if you really like zucchini and don't mind spending a few dollars in gas to find a farmers' market that isn't just an outlet for $25/# sheep's milk cheese and eggs that the farmer has to go out and find on his off road bike. And fish is more yet, even living fairly close to the fishing grounds.

When I hear very cheap, or even moderately cheap food budgets, it tells me that there is a whole lot of starch being eaten. OK if you like that and your body does well on it, but it's not for me.

Ha
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Old 01-05-2010, 04:23 PM   #7
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Eat at friends or in the subsidized company cafeteria. Also road warriors have all their meals paid for. As a figurehead, I often get to take clients to nice restaurants. Hmmm, mmm, good!
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Old 01-05-2010, 04:41 PM   #8
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When I hear very cheap, or even moderately cheap food budgets, it tells me that there is a whole lot of starch being eaten. OK if you like that and your body does well on it, but it's not for me.

Ha
I haven't computed how much we spend on food, but ditto on this. The older we get, the more care we have to take with what we eat to keep our cholesterol and blood sugar levels healthy, and the bill goes up. Even frozen broccoli at Costco (cheapest broccoli available here) adds up when you eat it every day at lunch.
We used to eat lots of home-grown potatoes but can't get away with that anymore.
That said, it helps to buy dried beans, rice, oats, etc. in 25-pound bags. I cook a big batch of plain beans and freeze them in serving portions in plastic sandwich containers. We grow as much food as possible, and blanch and freeze veg for the winter. A chest freezer was a great investment.
Retirement is a lot more fun when your body is working, so I consider healthy food a necessity, like brushing teeth.
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Old 01-05-2010, 04:47 PM   #9
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Fresh veggies and fruits in my neck of the woods are outrageous. I passed on paying $3.99 per lb for seedless grapes and $5.99 for cherries today.
I chose apples and pears instead at half the cost.
In winter months, I eat a lot of canned fruit due to the cheaper cost and the quality of fresh fruit shipped here goes right down the tubes.
I have enough meat in the freezer to last 3 months easily. Dry goods are stocked up for the winter.
Just a different way of planning for food storage out in the country and subject to snow depth...
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Old 01-05-2010, 05:05 PM   #10
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Eating on $3 a day would have to mean lots of beans,rice, pasta and chicken. The chicken carcass would need to be used for soup. Not a lot of room for fresh veggies/fruit in that budget. Canned maybe.
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Old 01-05-2010, 05:14 PM   #11
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You can eat for quite a bit less than $3/day if you do it right !

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Old 01-05-2010, 05:18 PM   #12
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Can someone who can do with $2.50/day post an old grocery receipt? and what meals eaten the last couple of days? I am very curious because I don't think I could do it unless, like Ha said, I get full on starchy food.... (or beans and starch). For example, oatmeal/cereal with a little milk for breakfast, bread and sandwich meat (balogna in bulk?) for lunch, rice/beans, chicken/rice, pork/beans for dinner (but not meat every day - that would cost too much unless you only eat a small portion every day)? I think Shawn said he drinks sodas and juice too, but I don't know how these fit in unless he buys Cool-Aid. I don't see room for much veggies here either- maybe onions and carrots here and there?

A while back, I started a thread about this guy who decided to live on (eat on) the foodstamp budget ($176 /mo - $5.70 per day), and I thought that was quite do-able, but I cannot imagine getting nutritional meals for $2.50 per day.
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Old 01-05-2010, 05:30 PM   #13
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My previous posts was just me being silly... Now being a little more serious.

Quote:
Can someone who can do with $2.50/day post an old grocery receipt?
This gets into the simple living stuff. That's were (believe it or not) people choose to scale back their consumption for a wide variety of reasons. There are lots and lots of simple living websites showing how people can live well on very little. As with anything though some of the posters to these type forums are way over the top for an average person. However much can be learned form the simple living crowd.

here is but one website (of many) that discusses the concept of eating well for not a lot:

Saving on Groceries - Save at the Grocery Store, Picky Eaters, Cooking Tips
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Old 01-05-2010, 05:37 PM   #14
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I bow to Shawn for being able to spend $2.50/day on food. I guess if I really try I can do it for a month, but definitely not for one whole year and definitely not in San Francisco. At the same time, I wonder how others can spend $10+/day/person. Sounds like indiscriminate shopping and/or a lot of food waste.

My grocery expense for 2009 averages $10/day for 2 persons. But I eat out 4 or 5 times a month.

tmm99, I remember that thread. I thought that $5.70/day/person was easy to do then, and I still think it's easy today.
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Old 01-05-2010, 05:41 PM   #15
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I don't try to save on food. I figure it's one of the most important areas to spend money on quality in my life. Good ingredients, enjoyable meals. I just try not to buy too many groceries and focus more on in season ingredients (which are cheaper in season and usually better quality).

I save money by doing more fine dining at home rather than going out to eat. In most parts of the country, my home cooking beats most local restaurants anyway. There are some exceptions however!

Of course, I am retired (no longer saving) and our budget has ample room for food.

Audrey

P.S. IMO if you are spending super low amounts on groceries (and not eating out much), you are eating a lot of beans, grains, starches, and ground meats of questionable provenance.
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Old 01-05-2010, 05:43 PM   #16
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People always say this, but fresh veggies and fruits are usually right up there with quality meat for cost. True, veggies are cheap for 2 weeks in August, especially if you really like zucchini and don't mind spending a few dollars in gas to find a farmers' market that isn't just an outlet for $25/# sheep's milk cheese and eggs that the farmer has to go out and find on his off road bike. And fish is more yet, even living fairly close to the fishing grounds.

When I hear very cheap, or even moderately cheap food budgets, it tells me that there is a whole lot of starch being eaten. OK if you like that and your body does well on it, but it's not for me.

Ha
I agree. I cook everything from scratch, never buy frozen or processed food, no snack and yet my food bill is quite a bit higher than average. Quality fresh food is expensive.
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Old 01-05-2010, 06:02 PM   #17
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Eat at friends or in the subsidized company cafeteria. Also road warriors have all their meals paid for. As a figurehead, I often get to take clients to nice restaurants. Hmmm, mmm, good!
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...

And get this: It is all free! A worker who spends a lot of time at the office would be able to eat all 3 meals there. AND they have beer and wine too. AND they used to allow employees to bring in spouses and children to partake in the feast.

There's more. Google has a few adjacent acres where it grows some of the food for its own consumption!
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Old 01-05-2010, 06:50 PM   #18
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$2.42/day is a bit of a stretch, but for us at least, $3.50 - $4.00 per person per day is very doable. And we eat a very healthy diet, plenty of veggies and lean meat, whole grains, etc, - not all starch or anything like that. I think the keys for us are:

- make a shopping list before you go to the store, based largely on items in the store's sale flyer. Restrict your purchases to sale items as much as possible (i.e., don't buy an item for $3.00 this week if you know it's likely to be on sale within the next week or two for half that price). Know the typical price for items you regularly buy, and don't buy anything that is above that price. Buy whatever veggie is on sale that week......there is always at least one vegetable (broccoli, cauliflower, yams, etc) on sale at the stores I go to.

- as someone else said, buy very few processed foods (frozen dinners, stuff like that). Buy mostly whole foods, and learn how to cook. It's not hard......I rarely spend more than 30 minutes putting a good meal together.

- grow a garden if you can.....this can save you a lot of money. There's no need to buy lots of chemical fertilizer and things like that - start composting and use it to enrich your garden soil. I have not purchased fertilizer in years, and my garden is very productive. Freeze, can, or otherwise store as much of your garden bounty as you can each year, for the winter months.

-don't waste food. What you don't eat for dinner, save for leftovers the next day. If you don't want to eat the same dish, just make something different from the leftovers......I do it all the time, and actually look forward to what's leftover from the day before that I can work with.
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Old 01-05-2010, 09:14 PM   #19
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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!
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Old 01-05-2010, 10:44 PM   #20
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walkinwood, we spend on average (over the last 3 months since I've been tracking again) about $3/day per person/dog just for groceries (he weighs over 100 pounds, and eats more than I do). This is for a 44 y.o. female, 21 y.o. 6'1" male and a 9 y.o. very energetic boy. For eating out, we spend just under $100/month (or I do, I don't know what the 21 y.o. does).

This last week, our menu was:

Breakfast - the 2 adults don't eat breakfast - the 9 year old has a glass of milk, an orange and a cheese string

Lunch - leftover turkey sandwiches (turkey was $.99/lb at Christmas, I bought two) - about 2 meals; split pea soup (I bought a 10 lb bag some time ago) with ham and carrots and onions (I add blended cauliflower but don't tell my kids) - about 2 meals; grilled cheese sandwiches (cheese bought on sale at $2/24 slices) with snap peas (bought at 50% off - $4/bag) - 2 meals; baked potatoes with bacon, broccoli and cheese - 1 meal
Supper - spaghetti made with extra lean hamburger (30% off), 1 can of spaghetti sauce (on sale at $1.25), with 2 tomatoes (50% off) added - made about 3 meals; basa (2 lb bag on sale for $5/bag), tomatoes (50% off) and snap peas (50% off) - about 2 meals; chicken breasts ($4/kg so about $2/lb) with butter and cornflake coating (skin and all), mashed potatoes and frozen corn / frozen mixed veggies - 2 meals

Add about 3 servings of fruit per person per day, more for the kid, but I have a hard time paying over $1.29/lb unless it's pomegranates or cherries. I just shop very seasonally, like right now it's pretty much bananas, clementines/mandarins (got them at 3 lbs/$1.50) and apples.

The dog eats somewhat the same as we do as he will literally starve himself holding out for the people food. About once every 2 weeks, I buy a bag of frozen pork meat/bones for him for $10 for 10 pounds.

We don't drink a lot of pop, the kids drink milk (~$3.80/4L jug), I drink tea, coffee or water. And we usually have a jug of iced tea in the fridge in the summer.

I don't eat a whole lot of starchy foods (definitely not the 10 servings or whatever recommended on the food pyramid), but we probably eat a bit higher fat than the average person, we just watch the portion sizes. Or I do anyway, the boys don't seem to have to.

Other than that, I just really watch the sales and don't eat a lot of processed stuff, more because I don't like the taste of chemicals than any other reason. For example, there were beef steaks and pork tenderloin on sale at Christmas time at 1/2 off and I bought a ton of it and threw it in the freezer. Same thing with tomatoes, bananas or similar. I'll buy them on sale and throw them straight in the freezer and use them in recipes. When I bake, I'll often use home made apple sauce or zucchini in place of part or all of the oil in a recipe.

I don't think that if you looked at the receipts of someone who shops the way you would do if you wanted to maximize your savings would be very educational as to what they would eat on a weekly basis. I think those people (like me) shop in a very lop-sided way because they're often choosing stuff that's on for a good price, so one week could have no meat because nothing was on for a good price, the next week would have tons of meat and (like me last week) $30 worth of Christmas candy on sale.
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