How to cut back on food spending

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TheRedHare
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How to cut back on food spending

Post by TheRedHare » Tue Apr 09, 2019 2:04 pm

Ok, so I've been reading some people's expense breakdowns, and have noticed most people spending somewhere around $100-$150 range in grocery spending.

I've noticed that my grocery bill a month is around $250-$300. I'm not sure why, my bill would be so expensive as I don't buy anything crazy expensive.
The only thing I can think of that would be so expensive would be chicken. I buy a lot of chicken!

My typical meal selection is as such: (I mix and match these every so often)
Breakfast:
-A bowl of cereal w/ almond milk
-Bagel w/ cream cheese
-Protein bar
-3 eggs scrambled

Lunch:
-Protein bar
-chicken, jasmine rice, broccoli, carrots made from last nights dinner

Dinner:
-Chicken, jasmine rice, Broccoli, carrots
-pasta w/ sauce

These are my go to meals. I try to eat a heavy protein diet as I've found this to give me optimal energy and mood stability.

Also note, I live in the city and shop at my local Kroger. So it's not like I'm shopping at Trader Joe's, but still...how the hell is everyone able to eat so cheap? And it's not like i'm a big dude. I weigh 150 lbs and have a very lean physic.

Seppia
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Re: How to cut back on food spending

Post by Seppia » Tue Apr 09, 2019 2:23 pm

Meat is expensive.
Without any promotional planning, you can feed 3-4 people with pasta for $2.50 or so using very decent quality ingredients.
Using beans, soups* or rice you can probably spend much less.

Cheap chicken breast is $3 per lb minimum, and it reduces when cooked.
Cheap pasta is sub $1 per lb and it doubles in weight when cooked

*real homemade soup, not shit canned soup

chenda
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Re: How to cut back on food spending

Post by chenda » Tue Apr 09, 2019 2:28 pm

Cutting back on meat / go vegetarian is going to be the big saving. Dairy is also relatively expensive and I'm guessing the protein bars aren't cheap ?

Though if it's giving you optimal mood and energy then I would consider it a good investment whatever the price.

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TheRedHare
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Re: How to cut back on food spending

Post by TheRedHare » Tue Apr 09, 2019 2:35 pm

Yea, I'd like to maybe cut back on my meat intake even though it's tough. I'm not the biggest bean fan so I've generally avoided it as much as possible. But if I found a tasty recipe that's easy to make I'd definitely switch to that.

I also think it might be the Kroger I go to. It's a really fancy one that's in a pretty expensive part of town. So I think I'll try going to the local Aldi's instead to see what they've got.

I try to avoid anything frozen as I like to get healthy, but I've considered frozen veggies as an alternative.

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prognastat
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Re: How to cut back on food spending

Post by prognastat » Tue Apr 09, 2019 2:46 pm

Kroger's although not as bad as Whole Foods in pricing is still going to jack up your cost compared to many other places.

I don't know what kind of protein bars you are eating but those can be a costly way of getting protein/calories. Almond milk is also going to increase your costs over regular milk as long as you aren't intolerant.

One way I get costs pretty low is meal prepping and getting the ingredients in bulk this way.

I can for example get 80 oz of frozen broccoli cuts for under $5 which generally covers my vegetables for 6 days. Combined with chicken leg quarters which I can get 10 lbs(although for leg quarters only about 2/3rd is meat still far more affordable and tastier than breasts to me though) for under $5 too this means most of my dinner cost can be covered for about $1.66 per dinner with a little extra for sauce/add-ins you could still be spending less than $2.50 a day for dinner. For example make it with some cream cheese, cheddar, bacon and ranch seasoning and you've got crack chicken. Or you can simply season the chicken breasts with a variety of spices for different flavours and bake them in the oven along with the broccoli cuts on the side. Or shred the chicken, mix in some mayo and seasonings put it on bread for a chicken salad sandwich. Since you aren't eating low carb you even substitute some of both the chicken and the broccoli for cheaper carbs such as making it into a pasta dish or serving it along with some mashed potatoes or some kind of sandwich.

Pork can generally be had pretty affordably too f you choose the right cuts and wait for them to go on sale, but beef tends to be pretty expenses with even when buying the cheapest version(ground) in the largest of bulk quantities I can't ever find it below about $2 a pound.

Is the 250-300 including any eating out as those tend to get expensive no matter what you do.

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TheRedHare
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Re: How to cut back on food spending

Post by TheRedHare » Tue Apr 09, 2019 3:14 pm

prognastat wrote:
Tue Apr 09, 2019 2:46 pm
Is the 250-300 including any eating out as those tend to get expensive no matter what you do.
Nope, that's just grociers. Granted, there are a few other things that are thrown into the mix, but for the most part that's the majority of my grocery expense.

Eating out is a different story. I generally don't eat out unless I'm lazy, but lately I've been eating out a fair bit now that I've got a gf (although, she's down for home cooked meals at anytime.)

Last month was probably one of my worst, hitting about $400 for the month. I did treat my parents out to a nice meal which was about $80, but yea. It got a little out of hands this month.

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Re: How to cut back on food spending

Post by jacob » Tue Apr 09, 2019 4:41 pm

Almost everything you (OP) mention except chicken and eggs (depending on which kind of eggs of course) has a cheaper alternative. Those who spend $50-$100/person/month use cheaper alternatives (so regular rice in a 20lbs bag, not jasmine rice; water or regular milk, not almond milk). They go light on dairy (so not cream cheese but maybe jam or peanut butter) and generally avoid preprocessed food like protein bars and bagels. Instead they use staples which you half-way do already.---But those who spend less do it exclusively.

As a general rule, good food should cost less than $1 per pound and the way to do that is to shop at cheaper places (so not Kroger) and let the sales determine the menu.

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prognastat
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Re: How to cut back on food spending

Post by prognastat » Tue Apr 09, 2019 4:53 pm

Some examples for cheaper options on bagels would be that bread rolls are usually cheaper than bagels and sliced bread cheaper yet. Finally exchanging more time for savings you could potentially make your own bread for further savings.

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Re: How to cut back on food spending

Post by bigato » Tue Apr 09, 2019 5:00 pm

I find that tracking expenses in detail is enlightening and helps me spend less. Nowadays there are so many good apps for that which makes the process so easy. One thing that I do is that I break down food into three different categories since that helps me understand what costs more. In my case, the categories are:
1. In natura food
2. Processed food
3. Ready-to-eat food like snacks or eating out

The closer you are to the source of the food (category 1), the less it costs. In category 2, there are some added costs due to the processing. And then the worst offender is always number 3, where you also pay for the service of a lot more people. Those are the categories that are educational for my own tracking, but then I am vegan and so I don't need to worry about the costs of meat. If I weren't, maybe I'd had a separate category for everything of animal origin? I don't know. But overall, I find that tracking the details takes the guess work out of the equation. There's no arguing against the percentages once you registered everything. Some nice graphs also help, and most budget tracking apps will already provide them.

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Re: How to cut back on food spending

Post by luxagraf » Tue Apr 09, 2019 6:04 pm

Avoid chain grocery stores. Shop ethnic groceries if you can. I try to keep the food bills down, but at the same time you can pry the basmati rice out of my cold, stiff little fingers. :-) But at the Indian grocery, basmati is cheap (relatively speaking).

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Re: How to cut back on food spending

Post by theanimal » Tue Apr 09, 2019 6:08 pm

I shopped at Kroger during my college days and my monthly food bill ranged from $125-$150. I was vegan at the time. Focus on the loss leaders and the produce that is in season. The store branded pasta/flour etc was usually on sale and less than $1/lb. Buy in bulk when you can.

I buy my eggs 5 dozen at a time usually for $12. Do they offer bulk options where you live? It may also be worth looking online and seeing if you can find things like oats, sauces, peanut butter etc for cheaper on Amazon. I did that and found that I could find many of my staples available online for much lower prices (including shipping).

Nowadays I don't limit my grocery spending. This is one of the areas where I think it can be taken too far from a cost perspective. Without gardening/hunting/foraging/fishing, I find it hard to achieve what I consider an ideal diet. I don't garden currently, so I set no limit on produce. The only things I have to be disciplined about and watch myself are peanut butter and whip cream. I'm a sucker for both.

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Re: How to cut back on food spending

Post by Kriegsspiel » Tue Apr 09, 2019 6:41 pm

Almond milk and protein bars are expensive forms of protein, which is the most expensive macronutrient. Chicken can be, if you're buying the most expensive kind.

The standard (I think) 5 pound bag of frozen chicken breasts can be had for $1.50 around here, which is about 1.6 cents a gram. Lentils, at $1.49/lb are 1.4 cents/gram, but I haven't seen them below $1.79 here for a long time (1.8 cents/g). When eggs are on sale for $1/doz you're getting 1.2 cents/gram, which is about as good as I've seen.

So, frozen chicken, eggs, and lentils are the cheapest sources of protein, so keep eating them. I'd ditch the protein bar and eat more of the eggs and chicken you're already eating. The cheap ground beef and milk are the next cheapest around here (about 2.7 cents/gram). So if you averaged 1.8 cents/gram, and ate 150g a day, that's only $81 a month for your proteins. Fill out the rest of your calories with other stuff that's cheaper than protein (oats, rice, PB, etc) and you should come in much lower than $300.

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Re: How to cut back on food spending

Post by IlliniDave » Tue Apr 09, 2019 6:50 pm

Like theanimal, I've sort of given up on trying to win a prize for super low food spending, opting instead to strike a good balance between good nutritional variety and stuff I enjoy eating. I tend to be stuck around $300/month. I buy meat (less beef now due to the cost), seafood, and a lot of vegetables, both fresh and frozen. To really go cheap you need to subsist almost entirely on grains and beans/legumes. My metabolism doesn't allow me to do that.

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Re: How to cut back on food spending

Post by prognastat » Tue Apr 09, 2019 7:54 pm

I would disagree you need $300/month unless you resort to cheap grains and beans as I've managed to eat keto on about $100 in a month. It wasn't the greatest experience though in that once you optimise for cost that much without the option for carbs you get restricted down to a few very low cost options reducing your variety a lot which some people have no problem maintaining, but can be tough at times.It meant mostly chicken with some minor amounts of eggs, milk, cheese and sausage along with mostly broccoli. I would say for under $150 per person you could eat a low carb diet with a decent amount of variety allowing you to vary up your meats and vegetables quite a bit more still possibly down to as low as $100 if you severely restrict your options if you are able to sustain a monotonous diet.

Without adding cheap carbs getting below $100 has been practically impossible for me though. Of course the prices can differ quite a lot based on your location as Seppia has mentioned $3/lb minimum for cheap chicken when both me and kriegspiel have managed to get chicken for far lower amounts.(Though I've not managed to find chicken breasts that cheap,cheapest I can get is about $1/lb, but I tend to prefer leg quarters/dark meat in flavour anyway)

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Re: How to cut back on food spending

Post by C40 » Tue Apr 09, 2019 10:55 pm

Costco chickens rule. For me, well worth the membership price.

And cheap eggs. I buy mine at Walmart and it’s about the only generic Walmart dairy area food I’d buy. (Definitely not their milk or cheese, but chickens are pretty good at making healthy eggs even when they aren’t doing so well themselves. Those poor little birds all packed in the filthy cages though... If I go to hell it might be for causing that)

If I recall right, this subject is covered in quite a lot of detail in the ERE book.

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Re: How to cut back on food spending

Post by IlliniDave » Wed Apr 10, 2019 6:08 am

prognastat wrote:
Tue Apr 09, 2019 7:54 pm
I would disagree you need $300/month unless you resort to cheap grains and beans as I've managed to eat keto on about $100 in a month. It wasn't the greatest experience though in that once you optimise for cost that much without the option for carbs you get restricted down to a few very low cost options reducing your variety a lot which some people have no problem maintaining, but can be tough at times. ...
I don't think anyone has asserted that it's either $300/mo or beans/rice. I no longer optimize nutrition for cost, I optimize it for nutrition/well being and within that constraint try to minimize cost.

I also got tired of eating stuff I don't like to eat to save money (between time and money, time is now the item in shorter supply so increasingly I prioritize cost-conscious enjoyment over sacrifice). If a diet regimen is unpleasant it won't work. Chicken is a good example. A little chicken goes a long way for me. More than a couple times a week I'll about gag if I think about eating it again, and it's not cheap if you avoid industrial chicken house chicken. I have great admiration for the fortitude of folks who can load up on bulk frozen skinless chicken breasts and actually finish them all. :lol:

I agree keto is a cheaper low carb option, but it was a bad regimen for me, even when I wasn't scouring the area for the cheapest fat calories I could find.

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Re: How to cut back on food spending

Post by Nomad » Wed Apr 10, 2019 7:45 am

I advise ditching anything processed or premade including protein bars.
Design your diet using websites like cronometer and fitday.
Make everything in advance and in bulk when possible. Use your fridge and tupperware or similar containers.
Favour veggie over meat sources of fats and proteins.

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Re: How to cut back on food spending

Post by anesde » Wed Apr 10, 2019 9:25 am

Not sure which city you live in, and what other options you may have but I would look at some non-conventional purchasing methods instead of just trying to optimise your intake.

For example, I live in London and buy all of my meat at Smithfield’s which is a wholesale meat market targeted at large buyers (supermarkets, butchers, etc). It’s only open from 2am-6am but they’ll sell to you as long as you buy in bulk. One trip for about £100 is enough chicken/pork/beef to last me and the SO 2-3 months. And we generally cook meat 4-5 times a week.

Same for the fish market (similar hours, different location). Produce is cheap and either from Lidl or (in the summer time) from friends who have allotments that grow their own. I feel like we eat like royalty for pretty cheap (about £200-225/month for 2 ppl).

I’m from the US originally and know it’s a bit different, but check out if there are any options outside of the city for bulk purchase. For example a friend of mine from NYC would go in with a bunch of friends to PA for 1/2 side of beef 1x a year for about $2/lb (from a slaughterhouse). There is always ways to keep costs down but still maintain a really nice lifestyle.

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Re: How to cut back on food spending

Post by unemployable » Wed Apr 10, 2019 10:16 am

I buy all my groceries at a Kroger family store and my monthly food budget is around $180, which includes a fair amount of discretionary junk.

I find Kroger's prices quite competitive actually, certainly on produce and meat. Their sales can be quite good, and I suggest you study their frequency so you can time them better. A couple times a year you can pick up 18 eggs for $1 and a 10-lb bag or potatoes for like $2-3. (Re chicken breasts, frozen ones go for around $2-3/lb and the refrigerated local ones go on sale for $1.50.) That said grocery prices have a fair amount of regional variation, often not in the directions you'd think -- Kroger in Colorado is noticeably cheaper than Walmart in Alabama.

If there's a second store nearby -- this can include Walmart/Target -- try visiting it every so often to time its sales too. This was what I did in Chicago, with Jewel, Dominick's (now gone) and Treasure Island all within five or six blocks.

Get your protein from somewhere other than protein bars and almond milk. A 16-oz jar of peanuts can be found for $2.50 or less, whereas a single protein bar is like a buck. Milk isn't strictly necessary, but if you do drink it think of it like soda -- it's caloric and sugar content is quite similar.
anesde wrote:
Wed Apr 10, 2019 9:25 am
I live in London and buy all of my meat at Smithfield’s which is a wholesale meat market targeted at large buyers (supermarkets, butchers, etc). It’s only open from 2am-6am but they’ll sell to you as long as you buy in bulk.
I've been up and awake in that part of London several times, but always to visit the establishment across the street, and I don't think I've ever left before 7am or so :)

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Re: How to cut back on food spending

Post by Seppia » Wed Apr 10, 2019 10:38 am

In three years in Manhattan I averaged $226 per month (both my wife and I) and I shopped almost exclusively at Eataly and Whole Foods.
My wife had free lunch every day and I traveled for work approximately 70 days/year, so that is not exactly comparable to someone like Jacob who probably has 99% of his meals at home.
But my point is that, unless you want to really go low on cost, the retail chain is fairly irrelevant.
Even now in Italy I shop almost excluseively at Eataly and I spend about half what most of my friends spend shopping at Aldi or similar.
I could never buy most of my food in discount stores because the average quality is somewhere between "complete garbage" and "almost acceptable" depending on the items.
I know some claim that isn't true but believe me, I've worked in the food business around the world throughout my whole 15 years career.

The keys are really:
- zero processed foods
- eat meat and fish maximum once a week (we probably do twice a month)
- buy only in-season stuff
- let the sales dictate your menu
Do that and you're 80% of the way there

the above is good for the wallet and for the environment so it's a double win.

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