Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My Cash Only Food Plan

When you pay cash for everything, you really feel your hard earned money leaving your possession. Knowing that I have much better things to spend my money on (like paying down debt), I hate the feeling of parting with money for frivolous and unnecessary things. While food is quite necessary, I see many ways that people can take this line item in their budget and blow it up into a whole bunch of frivolous spending. Here is our basic food plan which allows us (the hubby and I) to spend less than $200 per month on food for two people:

  • We grocery shop once a week with a list of absolute necessities. These are the things we absolutely have to have (like eggs if we are running low) but it doesn't include things we would "like to have" like steak or caviar.

  • We shop loss leaders religiously. Sometimes we do have steak, and lots of it, if it is bargain-basement priced. Some weeks the highly discounted items are cheese and milk, other weeks chicken is on sale and we end up eating a lot of chicken for the next couple of weeks. Our meals revolve around the sale items in each week's ads. Note that these items need to be relatively healthy items and not sale-priced junk food.

  • Junk food is made at home. Things for dessert are so easy to make--cookies, cake, pie--that these and many other items are made at home from scratch instead of being purchased already made.

  • We make lots of things at home out of raw ingredients. Yogurt is so simple to make and so cheap to make when you make it at home. We also make soups, chili, granola, fried rice, pizza, spaghetti, hamburgers--basically anything that is considered 'processed food' in the store can be made much cheaper, and actually healthier, at home.

  • The bakery outlet store has amazing prices so we do shop there weekly. Different outlets have different prices but there is one outlet with day old goods in our city that has amazingly low prices like bread for 50 cents a loaf.

  • We don't eat out. Although we love trying new restaurants when we travel and make this expense part of our travel budget, when we are not traveling we almost always eat at home.

  • If we must eat out, like after a long day out that we didn't plan for, we will either split a $5 Subway or hit the $1 menu at Wendy's for a snack to tide us over.

  • If we will be out most of the day (ie: at work or at events) we bring our lunch from home. Each night's meal usually includes enough leftovers for the next day's lunch which, depending on our schedule, we either eat at home or pack up and take with us.

  • Beverages come from home to. I finally kicked my daily Starbucks addiction and now coffee, tea, and even water are brought from home in a cute Starbucks bottle.

  • We only shop Costco a couple of times a year (on a card provided free of charge by my employer, otherwise we wouldn't purchase enough to justify the expense of the membership). Just wandering through Costco makes me want to shop but we limit our purchase here to a couple of times of year when we stock up on grains that we use year-round. 200 pounds of rice, ten boxes of oatmeal, a 25 pound sack of pinto beans...basically if the item has a good shelf life, we eat it regularly, and we can purchase it in bulk for less than we could buy it for at the regular grocery store, we buy it at Costco.

  • We buy and eat produce in season. Produce in season is usually also a loss leader at our local grocery stores so instead of eating watermelon in the middle of winter, we eat apples which are much cheaper. Asparagus are quite tasty, and less expensive, in the spring, grapes are eaten mostly in the spring and fall, and although we use a lot of tomatoes year round, we try to eat more of them in the summer when they are in season and use fewer tomato recipes in the winter when they are out of season and cost more.

Saving money on food can be very rewarding both financially and health-wise. The typical American family eats out maybe a half dozen times a week which can really blow your budget (and your waistline!). By making simple meals at home based on in-season, loss leader groceries, you can really stretch your food budget thereby allowing you to save more of your hard-earned money.


  1. We eat out once a week. Eating out can bust a budget for sure.

  2. And shopping with a list is key, too. Even if I just need "one thing," I write it down on the back of a receipt or scrap of paper. It keeps me accountable and helps me stay on track.

  3. There is no better dessert value than a homemade cake (from scratch or a cheap mix). I love cake that does not require icing.