I work out a lot–usually 6 days a week, weightlifting and cardio–and eat as well as possible to support that. I also eat 6 meals a day with plenty of lean animal protein (120-160 g or the equivalent of 6-7 three ounce chicken breast portions a day), a minimum of 5 servings of fruits and veggies, and almost no processed foods.
My grocery bill to eat twice as often as most people (and a great deal healthier) when I was living by myself was $100-$120/month. My dining out budget was $25/month in case I wanted to splurge on a huge lunch special at the Chinese restaurant near my office once a week. The portions were so huge that I could easily get three meals out of one $5.50 special. (1: Hot and sour soup, 2: 1/2 of entree and rice, 3: 1/2 of entree and rice).
Now that I’m married and shopping for two of us, the groceries usually run $250/month with another $100/month for dining out.
This isn’t the lowest I could get the food bill (check out my grocery receipts from last year’s Cheapass Challenge), but I find that I now have to make a few concessions in the name of marital harmony–like boxed cereals, a reasonable variety of foods, the occasional carton of ice cream, box of granola bars, premium cut of steak or seafood or bag of tortilla chips, and a couple of bottles of fruit juice (light/low sugar versions) each week.
– Keep a price list of commonly purchased items. (I keep this on my Treo phone, which also has a handy calculator.)
– Read the grocery ads each week and go for loss leader items ONLY if they are things you would buy anyway.
– Skip the coupons. They are almost always for processed name brand foods anyway, and the equivalent generic or store brand for the same thing often winds up being cheaper than the discounted coupon price of the name brand.
– Buy frozen vegetable mixes when fresh isn’t on sale; the Wal-Mart Great Value stir fry mixes are only $1.50 or so for 6 servings and include some premium veggies like asparagus and sugar snap peas
– Shop for greens at the Asian market
– Buy only produce that is in season or always cheap (like bananas and iceberg lettuce)
– Bulk purchase boneless, skinless chicken breast when it drops to $1.99/lb or less and freeze the extra
– Buy whole chicken (can be as low as $0.50/lb in the Orlando, FL area) when B/S chicken breast is not on sale
– Buy frozen tilapia filets in bulk for seafood.
– Buy larger cuts of beef when it is on sale and slice it up yourself. Freeze excess.
– Use eggs as a protein source. And stock up when they are on sale. Eggs can last weeks in the fridge if you check the expiration dates on the cartons before you buy.
– Drink filtered tap water instead of soda, alcohol, juice, bottled water, etc.
– Buy those big canisters of plain oatmeal and use them for hot cereal and in lieu of nutritionally-deficient white rice and white flour (grind it up in your blender)
– Minimize processed foods and liquid calories
– Buy nuts in large packs from the baking aisle or a warehouse club instead of the snack aisle and roast them yourself in the toaster oven
– Buy basic seasonings at CVS, Walgreens, or Big Lots. Seriously…these places will often have big bottles of dried herbs that retail for $3.50+ at the grocery store for $0.50-$0.99 each.
– Learn how to make those restaurant entrees yourself. I guarantee that it’s easier than you think.
– Plan meals ahead of time.
– Amass a small collection of staple recipes that are healthy, filling, and cheap to make in bulk.
Dining Out Strategies
– Don’t dine out so much.
But if you just can’t give up restaurant meals…
– Divvy up your meal into 2 or 3 portions and box up the extra serving immediately.
– Split an oversized entree with someone else at your table.
– Get an Entertainment Book for your town.
– Visit the web sites of your favorite restaurants (if they have one) to check for printable coupons or an email sign up for specials
– See if the restaurant is part of the Restaurant.com network. You can often get a $25 dining certificate at Restaurant.com for $3-$5.
Remember, when it comes to restaurant dining, full price is for chumps!
– A middle of the road solution I’ve been experimenting with recently is using a meal assembly kitchen like Dream Dinners or Super Suppers every 6 weeks to bulk prep 72 meals in less than 2 hours that I can throw in the freezer and just thaw and cook as needed for lunches and dinners. The entrees are on par with what I’ve had in restaurants or cooked myself from scratch, so the temptation to go out to eat isn’t as strong. I use a local meal assembly store that takes $25 Restaurant.com certificates (that I get for $4 on average), so 72 servings runs about $194. SS and DD will cost $230-$275 for the same amount of food. You can always extend the amount of food you get from these places by purchasing your own (sale priced) meat to add to the bags of ingredients before you toss them in the freezer, too. I still have to pick up fruit, beverages, eggs, and cereal each week, but that’s pretty much it.
For even more tips on how to save money on food, check out this post at GetRichSlowly:
Ask the Readers: Tips and Tricks to Save On Food