Why We Don’t Meal Plan
Today I’m participating in a grocery cost comparison study with a number of other bloggers hailing from different parts of the country, led by the fabulous Kayla of Shoeaholic No More. Our goal was to evaluate prices for the same grocery items in our respective regions.
Reporting in for the Boston area, I did my price checking at a local New England chain of discount grocers, Market Basket, which is where Mr. Frugalwoods and I conduct the majority of our food purchasing.
Below are the foods each blogger price checked. Kayla compiled our individual reports into this table, which provides a nifty comparison of prices in Pittsburgh, PA, Brooklyn, NY, Minnesota, Kansas, and of course, Cambridge (yours truly).
|Item||High Price||High Price Location||Low Price||Low Price Location||Average Price|
|Gallon of milk||$4.19||Pittsburgh, PA||$2.59||Cambridge, MA||$3.50|
|Loaf of white sandwich bread||$2.19||Pittsburgh, PA||$0.99||Kansas & Cambridge, MA||$1.33|
|1 lb of stick butter||$5.79||Pittsburgh, PA||$2.49||Kansas & Cambridge, MA||$3.79|
|1 lb of 90% lean hamburger||$6.99||Brooklyn, NY||$4.99||Kansas||$6.01|
|1 box of Cheerios (price per ounce)||$0.48||Brooklyn, NY||$0.19||Cambridge, MA||$0.30|
|5 lb bag of potatoes||$3.47||Minnesota||$1.99||Cambridge, MA||$2.65|
|1 dozen large eggs||$3.79||Brooklyn, NY||$1.79||Cambridge, MA||$2.42|
|12-pack of Dr. Pepper||$5.50||Brooklyn, NY||$4.98||Minnesota||$5.09|
|1 lb of boneless, skinless chicken breasts||$4.99||Pittsburgh, PA||$1.99||Minnesota||$3.19|
|1 lb of chicken (whole chicken)||$1.59||Pittsburgh, PA||$1.09||Minnesota||$1.33|
|5 lb bag of flour||$2.79||Pittsburgh, PA||$1.49||Brooklyn, NY||$2.01|
This was a fascinating exploration into the divergent costs of food across the nation. You can check out additional details on each region at the following participating blogs as well as everyone’s tips for saving money at the grocery store:
Femme Frugality from Pittsburgh, PA
Laurie of The Frugal Farmer from Minnesota
Natalie of Budget and the Bees from Brooklyn, NY
Kayla of Shoeaholic No More from Kansas
I was delighted to see that Market Basket clocked in at the lowest price for 6 of the 11 products despite Cambridge’s notoriously high cost of living. I fervently believe you can live frugally anywhere in the world (though some spots are certainly easier than others), so don’t be using your high COL city as an excuse to not frugal it up!
We don’t shop at Whole Foods or even at the standard grocery store—by perusing the not-so-scenic aisles of Market Basket*, we reap savings. And we don’t buy junk either, our produce is mostly organic and the rest of our food is on the healthy end of the spectrum.
In case any of you frugal grocery store-obsessed connoisseurs are curious, we do indeed have an Aldi’s, but it’s not walking/biking distance from our house and, the prices are almost identical to Market Basket’s. To round out our thrifty pantry, we do a monthly Costco run to stock up on bulk staples.
*Everyone who lives in New England nodded along as they read this. Market Basket may not be pretty, but boy is it cheap.
In The Frugalwoods Pantry
Something that struck me as I scurried around Market Basket conducting my experiment (in addition to wondering if anyone was going to yell at me for photographing food and writing down prices) is that Mr. Frugalwoods and I don’t buy very much packaged food or meat. Like almost none.
It’s a central tenet of how we keep our grocery expenses at around $330 per month for the two of us and still manage to eat delicious, nutritious meals. The high prices of the soda, cereal, and meats on our comparison list all made me realize just how much we save by not buying those things.
Furthermore, all of our food is homemade, by which I mean Mr. FW cooks from scratch using raw ingredients. There are no mixes or packaged foods in our panty, expect for the odd bag of tortilla chips to accompany our homemade guacamole (some things in life are sacred).
We Don’t Meal Plan
Another core element of our low grocery costs is an extremely simplified, efficient meal plan. We basically eat the same things on repeat. And we’re totally OK with that. More than OK, we’re elated. Why? Well, dear frugal friends, it’s easier and it’s cheaper.
To expand, we don’t eat the same things every day all year long, rather, we get into jags of certain foods and we’ll eat them on rotation ‘til we’re sick of them and then we move onto something different. At present moment, our weekday menu involves oats for breakfast, rice-n-beans for lunch (along with a salad of mixed greens), apples and bananas for afternoon snack, and a steady oscillation of homemade hummus with veggies or a salad with salmon or a lentil stew or quinoa with veggies for dinner.
Since Mr. FW and I both work full-time jobs, manage Frugalwoods, and in-source everything from haircuts to dog grooming to home repair to house cleaning—we have scant extra time. And meal planning takes time.
In much the same way as we fail to budget—and instead live on frugal autopilot—we also fail to meal plan. Yes indeed, we’re basically the worst frugal weirdos ever: no budget and no meal plan. But hear me out, folks.
The Frugalwoods approach to most things in life is frugal efficiency. In pursuits as diverse as brushing Frugal Hound’s fangs to mapping out our intake of vittles, we crave systematized optimization. We prefer to operate on a system whereby we don’t have to waste brain power thinking about what we’re going to buy (hint: as little as possible) or what we’re going to eat. Hence, having a set rotation of meals is right in our sweet spot (terrible pun definitely intended).
The Benefits of a Simplified and Repeated Meal Plan
Allows us to buy foodstuffs massively in bulk because we know we’re going to use every last drop.
- Leads to budgetary and time efficiencies. Mr. FW pares recipes down to their essence in order to omit costly, time-consuming steps. For example, he discovered he can make our homemade hummus sans the most expensive ingredient: tahini. Neither of us misses the flavor, and the lack of tahini drives the price per portion waaaayyyy down.
- Making the same meals on repeat enables you (or your home chef) to hone recipes for max speed. For example Mr. FW’s $0.39/serving rice and beans, which I shared last week, yields every single one of our Monday-Friday lunches in just 35 minutes of cooking time.
- We whip through our grocery shopping at top speed because we buy the same things each week and thus know where they’re located (we’re a total mess when we have to go to a new grocery store. Woe betides the grocer who dares move our cheese).
We have the skill of price-comparing in our minds (not unlike Jedi…) since we’ve memorized the costs of our frequented foods.
- No food goes to waste—we eat everything until it’s gone. We have no qualms eating the same dinner two or three nights in a row in order to use it all up. Mr. FW has already put in the effort to cook it, we’ve already spent the money on the ingredients, and so we’re darn well going to eat every morsel.
- If you want to be a true frugal maven, you’ve got to eat your leftovers. No excuses. If you can’t stomach immediate leftovers, you can try freezing things or organize a food swap with a fellow frugal friend (yet another valuable reason to seek out thrifty buddies).
- It removes the stress and time of laborious weekly menu planning. Frankly, Mr. FW and I both prefer to otherwise engage ourselves—with the noble pursuits of hiking, yoga, and… oh who am I kidding, we just need more time to devise new ways to dress up, photograph, and otherwise torment poor Frugal Hound (homemade greyhound costumes don’t come out of thin air, people).
But in all seriousness, this last reason is perhaps the most important to us. We value our time and guard it fiercely—anything we can streamline, we do. Mr. Frugalwoods genuinely relishes the art of cooking, and he’s an incredibly talented and inventive chef; but, he only indulges his passion when he has the time.
It is decidedly not enjoyable for him to come home from a long day of work and face the prospect of an elaborate 3-hour recipe (not to mention the revolt Frugal Hound would stage since she has to wait to eat until we eat).
On weekends, with the luxury of time, he pursues complicated and scrumptious experiments. But as a weekday cook, he needs a format that enables him to slap a healthy dinner down in record time. Since we never eat out or order in, the pressure is on Chef Frugalwoods for every meal we consume. That’s a lot of meals! If you’re not down with munching the same meals every week, come up with a two-week rota of options.
I remain a deeply grateful wife for his culinary exploits and, his thrifty cooking is a crucial aspect of our ability to save 71% of our incomes. Food is expensive and, if purchased carelessly at the grocery store, eaten in restaurants, or thrown in the trash due to over-buying, it will absolutely consume your budget (ridiculous pun intended, naturally).
What do you spend on groceries every month? What are your tips for keeping food costs in check?
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Interesting post regarding the price comparisons in different parts of the country. Your menu “plan” sounds a lot like ours. We eat basically the same things (or the same catagories) on their respective days; for instance Tuesday is TexMex Tuesday (so quesadillas, burritos, etc.). Makes meal prep a lot easier and everyone knows what to expect so no great surprises. We have several low price grocery store options, including several grocery outlets. I mostly shop Aldi and Price Rite, filling in with loss leaders from the chain stores.
Oooo TexMex Tuesday sounds delicious! We definitely enjoy the ease of routine meal planning–it’s just so nice to maximize the efficiencies of our food. Woohoo for Aldi’s!
I’m really impressed with you “no-meal-plan” plan! My husband already makes small complaints when we repeat dinners twice in a row haha so I think I got to let him read this article.
Hahah-yes, definitely pass this along to him 😉
I don’t meal plan either. However, I don’t make things for leftovers. My husband doesn’t like leftovers and most of the time things will go bad to fast. So what I do is I make a different meal everyday but I find recipes for leftover ingredients as I go. For instance I’ll make like ground turkey tacos and the leftover meat will be used for a Mediterranean hummus bowl recipe I found on the internet. So I still get two meals out of it but I don’t make it til that day.
I forgot to say that I also cut the recipe down to just two people as there is only the two of us.
We basically eat the same meals on repeat too. I would say about ten of them- that way we’re having the same thing every two weeks. My kids like eating the same things over and over since they are toddlers, and it makes it easier for me because we mostly just keep the same things in the house. Every once in a while I’ll feel creative and try a new crock pot dish or something- but not very often!
Ten meals is impressive! We don’t have quite that many, but hey, we’re OK with that. I’m glad we’re not the only ones who eat on repeat 🙂
I went through one of those chili pastes in about a month and half. It’s just so damned tasty. I feel like I use the thicker hot sauces more often. I buy Frank’s by the gallon and then re-distribute into smaller bottles (one at work and one at home) as needed.
I wish my wife would get on board with the “no variety” meal. I eat the same breakfast every day (eggs with peppers/mushrooms in it) and can eat the same thing at lunch (meat+egg+nuts+sweet potato+apple) and I’m thrilled with it. When I go off the wagon, I never feel good about it the next day, but I do enjoy it while I’m eating!
We moved from Philly (we had a GREAT Hispanic/Asian grocery store where we could get produce crazy cheap – but don’t touch the meat there) to Maryland and the prices are similar.
One of the best deals we found for chicken was at Wegmans – it is always $1.99 for boneless chicken breast and each breast is already sealed by itself! You can just cut in between so they stay sealed and then throw them in the freezer. Such a great deal and convenient too!
We go through our chili paste pretty quickly too :)! It really is delicious. I keep hearing about Wegmans, but we’ve never ventured out to the ‘burbs to shop there. I’m intrigued by this promise of cheap chicken though…
Holy chili paste, Batman! 🙂 Seriously, though, packaged food is indeed the nemesis of the frugal grocery budget. We stay away from it too. And, it’s generally horrible for you. Glad to be participating in this great series with you, Frugalwoods family! Hugs to Frugal Hound from us.
So true on the packaged food! That stuff is just not cheap! It was wonderful to participate with you too, Laurie! Frugal Hound wants to give you a houndy-kiss in thanks (but you might not want to take her up on it… 😉 ).
I spend about $800/month for a family of 4, including things like diapers (daycare won’t accept cloth), toilet paper, etc. I’ve tried bringing it down but I’m severely challenged by the nearby grocery store choices (only two nearby, with one of them being quality-challenged Walmart). I’m also the primary cook and we waste a lot of food when the baby is too sick / teething / needs to nurse and I have to skip and idea and ask hubs to whip up something quick. Any fresh ingredients usually go to waste. That said, we rotate standard breakfasts and lunch and even our dinners are a small list.
That seems like a pretty reasonable amount for including household supplies too. And I’d say you get a pass entirely with your sick baby! I hope she’s doing better and that the tubes are working for her.
For food we mostly do the auto pilot thing, too! Our income is variable, so we do budget religiously, but our meals are pretty set until we get sick of them.
Woohoo for food autopilot! Truly makes life easier and thriftier 🙂
We have about 10 dinner meals or so that we repeat often, with minor variations. Breakfast and lunches are fairly standardized also. Meat and dairy are our biggest expenses, so we tend to see what is on sale and then build our meals around that. We are tying to spend around $500/month for our family of 4, but typically we are over that by $50 or so.
Sounds like you’ve got a pretty good system going on! We found meat to be so expensive that we’ve eliminated it almost entirely. But, I think shopping around sales like you’re doing is another great way to combat the high price.
I only started tracking our expenses a few months ago (gulp). Needless to say, it was an eye-opening experience! I was spending a shocking amount on groceries for our family of three some months. Now, I’m happy to stay under $400 per month. I minimize processed foods, and cook all dinners from scratch. I use coupons when I can, but I’m not extreme about it. For me, using what we have has become an important tool in saving on groceries. And like Mr. FW, I eliminate ingredients from some recipes to avoid paying for something that’s not truly necessary, or that I won’t easily use up in other recipes.
Way to go on getting your bill under $400–that’s awesome! Expense tracking is always eye opening ;). I remember being shocked when we first started really tracking our grocery expenses! And, good call on using up ingredients that you already have. That’s been integral to Mr. FW’s frugal mode of cooking.
We used to meal plan a lot, but now we don’t so much either. A lot of that goes back to us eating a lot of the same things on rotation like you and Mr. FW do. Our grocery budget is $500 for a family of 5 and we usually get goofy looks when we tell people that…especially when we tell people we have money left over in it each month and that’s with 2 growing boys. We eat a lot of organic and have very little (save for the obligatory box of mac & cheese for the kids) processed foods. It just comes down to priorities for us and wanting to put our money elsewhere while also eating good.
Wow–$500 for 5 people is incredible! I am impressed! Totally agree with you on prioritizing thrifty, healthy meals. Couldn’t have said it better myself!
how about gardening? I have four plots at our local community garden and I live in San Diego…sp I have fresh produce all year. The plots are $24 a year each. This year I will only have two plots..in a effort to reduce my budget. I dehydrate extra tomatoes and peppers which I eat in salads now.
Gardening is a wonderful option! We’re on the waiting list for our community garden here as sadly, our house is literally surrounded by concrete. I’m very much looking forward to gardening on the homestead!
That’s great that you’re able to grow your own produce year round–I bet it’s delicious. Thanks so much for sharing!
We don’t meal plan, but typically eat repeat meals as well. This makes shopping and cooking meals much easier.
Absolutely! Glad to hear we’re not the only ones 🙂
We spend about the same for our family of three ($70/week, so $303 a month) but we do the whole budget/meal plan thing. We also purchase junk food and eat unhealthy packaged stuff. A lot of our meals do rotate, but we throw some variety in there to mix things up. I think the reason our groceries are so low though is because we get fed twice a week at the in-laws. So we cheat.
Hey, that is an awesome deal with your in-laws–not cheating at all :)!
Was it just me or was that an intentional “Who Moved My Cheese?” reference thrown in to keep us on our toes? 😉 I know people who simply refuse to eat leftovers, so every meal has to be made fresh. Then they wonder where all their time and money went… Yup, we run the eat-the-same-thing-on-repeat-until-we’re-sick-of-it meal planning routine at our place too. 🙂
Nice catch! That was a totally intentional cheese reference :). I swear we’re like frugal twins! Hooray for leftovers 🙂
I’m pretty stunned by the Cambridge prices. Market Basket for the win! We do actually have an Aldi here, but I’ve never been; I keep passing the sign. This seals it: this weekend I’m going over there to see what their prices for nuts and dried fruit are like, because I’m running low on the walnuts I like in my oatmeal and I’d love to get them for less than $7/lb (what they normally run at my store.)
Aldi’s! Aldi’s! Aldi’s! Hahah, I’m excited for you! Be forewarned: it’s a bit odd and some of the food is not so great, but the prices are awesome. Sadly, their produce is usually slightly tragic, but, sometimes they have OK stuff. Let me know what you think of it!
For health reasons I stopped with most prepackaged foods and was pleasantly surprised by the cost savings. I have also referred to myself as an economic vegetarian. When I was struggling financially I avoided most meat, now it is habit. I walk right past the meat counter but when I catch a glimpse of the price of a steak or chicken breast I am shocked. I can make a full dinner for my family for the price of one steak.
SO true about meat prices! We too are economic vegans/vegetarians :). It’s an excellent way to save money and eat better!
I’ve fallen into the habit of making up a large batch of stew or beans and rice on Sunday nights, which we eat dinner off of for the rest of the week. I take soup or salad for lunches while my husband takes sandwiches. Our grocery bill is around $400/month.
That’s awesome! Batch cooking is really the way to go–makes life so much easier and thriftier 🙂
Rats! You headed off my “why not shop at Aldi?” comment. 🙂
Our two nearest Aldi’s are a mile or two away (on the other side of 8-10 lane roads), so not quite walkable, especially when carrying serious cargo (and for a family of 5, it’s always serious cargo). So I’ll occasionally skip the car trip to Aldi and visit the neighborhood Food Lion (probably similar in defunctitude to your Market Basket). I might pay $0.52/lb for bananas instead of $0.44 and maybe a tiny bit more for other items, but it’s pretty close and I’m saving travel time and getting in a 10-15 minute round trip walk (free exercise!!).
We don’t meal plan either. We shop from our fridge, freezer, and pantry. First up on the menu are those items nearing the expiration day or loosing their freshness. Maybe it’s bell peppers, potatoes, and yogurt going bad, so we’ll pop out some frozen chicken and make a curry. We always have the staples like rice, pasta, bread, flour, canned or frozen veggies, soup bones, frozen beef, pork, chicken, etc on hand, so we can whip up plenty of dishes even if our fridge is “empty”.
I also do the batch cooking for the freezer and make “hockey pucks” of taco beans, taco beef, taco chicken, etc and ice cubes of guacamole, lime juice or other smaller serving size items. So if all else fails, I’m having some version of nachos/tacos/burritos/enchiladas with “fresh” guac on the side. These also come in handy when you have random hungry visitors. They be like “woah, instant tex mex meal from the freezer AND it tastes good??!?”. 🙂
Aha! I KNEW somebody like you would ask about Aldi’s ;)! My in-laws live in Charlotte so I am familiar with the defunctitude of Food Lion, but Mr. FW says Market Basket is worse. TBD, they’re both pretty bad, by which I mean awesome.
We have the random “using up ingredients” meals too, which I think keep life interesting! And I’m very impressed/intrigued by your frozen tex mex items. That’s a great idea!
I can see how your process works for you – we tend to put a little more emphasis on eating a more varied diet because a.) we love food – preparing food and eating great food is sort of (in a weird way) entertainment for us b.) we have kids and if we ate the same thing all the time we’d likely have a revolution at some point. 🙂
Makes total sense! Mr. FW does enjoy the process of cooking when he has more time on the weekends and I enjoy eating whatever he cooks, so it’s all good in the end. We’re lucky that Frugal Hound eats the same kibble for every meal ;).
I see a Costco membership in my future someday. For now, I’m not hauling bulk items in the subway or storing them under my bed. It would be tough to transport things and we have very little storage in our apartment. I eat a lot of oats, and that would be a great way to buy them.
Costco is awesome, but I definitely didn’t have a membership when I lived in Brooklyn! You really do need a car (or an epic bike trailer) and ample storage space. Their stuff is cheap but usually gigantic. The toilet paper alone would not make it on the subway 🙂
We have lots of repeat meals, too. Sometimes though I just can’t take it and make something brand new. Our monthly food costs for a family of 4 are around $500, however I’d really like to lower that over the next few months.
Yeah, Mr. FW usually spices it up a bit on the weekends, which somehow makes the weekday repeat meals all seem new and tasty 🙂
Wow. I can’t get over how cheap the food is in your area. A gallon of milk here is $8.34, a carton of eggs is over $4 and chicken breasts are $8.99lb. Now those are the regular prices. I can get milk at $7 a gallon, eggs for $2.29 and chicken breasts for $4.99lb if I watch the sales.
I don’t meal plan either but I pretty well stick to the same meals all the time. Breakfast is always eggs, Lunch is one of two recipes that I batch cook and freeze in advance. I find this allows me to do the same as you, buy in bulk and waste very little if anything. I’m famous for slipping other things in to my grocery budget so I can’t tell you exactly what I spend but I budget $350 a month for myself and my cat.
Wow! Your food is killer expensive! That is rough! You’re wise to batch cook and freeze in advance–such a good way to save.
There are only two of us in our small condo (plus a cat) and we work totally different schedules, so meal planning can seem too much like hard work. I’m kind of like Travis, eating and cooking (and occasionally dining out) can be entertaining for us. I have health problems and my tastes and dietary requirements have changed , so the same old same old might not work too well for me.
As to shopping here in Central VA: Kroger (good sales), Trader Joes, Whole Foods (their house brands and bulk foods are competitively priced) and Big Lots and Ollies. We also sometimes go to the local Asian and Hispanic stores. We don’t have an Aldis or Market Basket. Wegmans is due to open sometime this year. In season, we go to the Farmer’s Market or outdoor produce stands. We go to Costco for certain things such as milk, organic eggs and chicken., etc. We get gas at Kroger on Kroger points or at Costco.
We don’t have a big freezer or pantry or room for such so we can’t do too much stocking up, freezing, etc.
The good stores in this area are waaaaaaaaaaaaaay out in the ‘burbs and accessible only by car. Nothing good and cheap near the city or on public transport lines. Some good stores are nearby but Fresh Market and Southern Seasons are tres expensive (over-priced!) and gourmet. Otherwise you get the lousy cheapo stores in the city area.
I once did a study in college that showed that the supermarkets and bargain outlets with decent foods tend to locate near affluent areas and the less affluent areas get less variety of healthy, affordable foods and staples.
Accessibility of cheap, healthy foods is definitely a challenge and there’s certainly a disparity in many parts of the country. It’s too bad that better food options aren’t more evenly dispersed across all neighborhoods. Thanks for stopping by and sharing!
Very interesting. We eat a lot of the same stuff, but we do meal plan. We are such planners that we’d go insane not knowing what to eat for dinner on a given day. But yes, lots of the same stuff.
For us the repetition is key. It allows us not to plan each meal, but always to have the stuff needed to make one of our standard meals on hand. Plus then I can get wild on the weekend and try to cook something I haven’t before. 🙂
I honestly can’t imagine if Mr PoP expected to eat something different for every meal. I’m pretty sure he would either need to learn to cook or we wouldn’t have gotten married. =P
We batch cook on the weekends and then eat that for lunches and often times dinners during the week. Maybe when we are FI and aren’t at work 40+ hours per week we’ll have the patience to throw a little more variety in there, but for now it’s not only thrifty with our dollars to eat repeats, but it’s also thrifty with our time which feels equally (if not more) important.
Sidenote – Our prices are definitely closer to the high end of the table than the low (though I wouldn’t have any idea for the packaged foods), but for some items we buy lots when on sale and are able to get the costs lower on the list. ie – I never buy butter for more than $3/lb because it goes on sale for that low at least once per month and it keeps well enough that stock ups are fine. But if I just bought it when we ran out it’d easily be $5/lb. Similarly for meat stuffs, Mr PoP only gets chicken when it’s BOGO, bringing the cost from $5/lb down to $2.50.
Ya’ll are so similar to us! Saving time is a big reason why we do things the way we do. Time, and the cognitive burden of deciding what to make for the next meal on a regular basis. It’s more fun for me to be culinarily experimental on the weekends if I haven’t been stressed about getting meals on the table all week.
We use the same formula for meals but don’t actually eat the same thing on repeat. So for example, we’ll eat a beans and rice meal, but one week it’s pinto beans and the next it is black beans. My taste buds rebel if it is too repetitive. First world problems, I know. But it turns out pretty inexpensive regardless.
That’s a neat idea to switch it up a bit without the cognitive load of completely changing recipes! May just have to try that, thanks!
I think having that go to meal is important, your breakfast for example this also helps in making sure you don’t buy a coffee and bagel at the shop by your work.
Yep, instilling a frugal routine makes saving money on food nearly effortless. Habits are powerful… we might as well make frugal ones!
I used to think that a meal plan was a critical part of sticking to a budget. I also thought it was a critical part of my sanity. If you were to ask me what is the worst part of my day, my answer every single time will be deciding what we are having for supper. Not actually making it, just deciding what it will be. BUT I have recently started shopping at Sprouts. I avoided it for a long time since I thought it was a fancy store, similar to Whole Foods. And a lot of their packaged foods are rather expensive. But the produce is outstanding. By shopping the produce sales each week, I can get fresh fruits and veggies for the week at about $20-25. We keep a variety of other staples on hand – meat, starches, frozen foods – and I do my best to make meals from the staples with the fresh produce. For the most part, we also rotate meals, although the list is just in my head – I’d prefer to get it on to paper for quick reference. And it helps that we plan for pizza every Friday night. It requires a bit more effort, but Mini Maroon #1 loves to help and watch. It has become part of our entertainment.
Huh, I’d never heard of Sprouts. Looks like it’s a AZ only chain? Pretty neat!
You are so right that keeping a decent amount of staples on hand is sooo key to making a flexible, frugal meal plan work! With the proper stuff at home, I can turn just about any on-sale produce into a delicious meal.
I kind of meal plan in that I take lots of salads or baked chicken breasts to work for lunch. So I scan the grocery circular 5min before I go to the store and see what is on sale that could go well on a salad to work 🙂 Your rice and beans look delicious, but I have food allergies (tomatoes, peppers, citrus) and am on a low carb diet to loose weight, so that knocks out many cheaper meal options 🙁
Having a salad as a base is smart! As you say, just about anything can be put on top of a salad and turn out delicious!
I look forward to meal planning the same way most people look forward to vacation planning. It rivals cooking and eating as my favorite part of the week (thankfully I have been blessed with a furnace of a metabolism).
I’m always trying new recipes, but I read them very carefully, and think through my substitutes ahead of time, so that I only have to shop once per week at Aldi.
I _wish_ I had a furnace of a metabolism! Mines more like a wheezing camping heater! 🙂 Aldis does have some awesome deals. We’re constantly amazed, especially with random stuff like cooking spray. $1! I mean wow.
We spend about $1,000/month on all expendables. This means food, dog food, dog haircuts, toiletries, prescriptions, etc. We tried splitting it up but it was too much hassle. We also have a normal rotation that the kids have grown used to. Taco Tuesday, homemade pizza on Friday, etc. My schedule was all messed up last week with MLK day and I forgot it was Tuesday … boy, did I hear about it;0) We had Taco Wednesday last week. Two of us eat gluten free for the most part and I am a vegetarian. We also eat organic and are okay with spending to eat well. It’s better to spend on good quality food than to pay the doctor;0) That being said, we buy in bulk at Costco, buy staples at Winco once a month, and purchase our fresh produce and gluten free items at Fred Meyer (unless Costco carries it).
Nice work with the schedules! I bet that makes planning, shopping, and cooking a lot easier!
Interesting comparison. I can’t really compare too easily since I’m in Canada, but everything in the list seems so cheap compared to what I normally pay!
I am always so impressed with how you can manage to eat so cheap without planning… If I don’t have it planned, it ends up with me buying take out instead… Maybe I’ll get better at it with time and be able to do as you guys do… I can dream…
I really appreciate all your tips though, I’m going to need them as I try and get my grocery budget under control.
Glad it was helpful! One of the keys we’ve found to keeping us away from takeout is to always have a “takeout-ish” alternative in the house. Whether it be a frozen pizza, the makings of hummus, or even a decent pancake recipe… having a treat meal that can be whipped together in less time than it would take for delivery to arrive goes a long way towards making it less of a go-to option.
We don’t have much choice for grocery shopping, at least in the winter. I do envy some of those prices, but I don’t think ours are outrageous for the most part. I think buying real food is a key to keeping costs lower, but I do admit to buying some processed foods, mostly for the kiddo. Somehow the boxed mac and cheese if better than homemade when you’re 7! We also spend quite a bit on milk, and I buy organic at $6.79 a gallon. I go back and forth if it’s worthwhile, but it’s a choice we’ve made. I always like to see how much food costs around the country so thanks for the report.
Glad it was interesting! I did subsist mostly on boxed mac and cheese during some of college, so I totally understand where your 7 year old is coming from! 🙂
Last year we focused A LOT on minimizing our grocery bill and discovered many great meals along the way, so we are kind of like you now where we don’t necessarily meal plan, but we stick with efficient meals that keep our grocery bill in check. We lowered our bill last year from $700 per month to $400 and we plan to shoot for $300 in 2015; which for a family of four (my mom lives with us) in New York, I think is great.
Dang Shannon, $300 for four people would be wild in Wichita KS. In New York… pretty amazing.
First of all, let me say that I love your blog. I happened upon it a week ago and have read it from beginning to end.
We live outside of St. Louis, MO…on the Metro East side (so Illinois), and enjoy a pretty low cost of living. I’ve been buying my boneless skinless chicken on sale for $1.79/lb, but last week with the opening of Fresh Thyme Market, I was able to stock up on boneless skinless for $1.57/lb. I was elated. I also purchase our weekly gallon of milk for $1.99. I’m not sure what a lb of 90% lean ground beef is, but the grass fed organic 85% lean was just on sale for $2.97/lb. I regularly buy a dozen eggs for $0.99 and the last 5lb bag of potatoes I bought (which was last week) was also $0.99. If I could get my husband on board with taking his lunch in to work everyday (I just recently won the breakfast battle), our food budget would be around $250 a month for a family of three, but his lunch out with coworkers blows that out of the water. Instead, he eats out and our food is up around $400/month. Not crazy, but we could be doing so much better.
As a side note, I have worked out a deal with my aunt and my daily breakfast (M-F) is free! I pick up various groceries for her at sale prices while I’m out shopping for myself and deliver them to her the next time we meet up, and in exchange she bakes cinnamon raisin bread from scratch which I take into work and toast for breakfast every morning. This doesn’t take into account the cup of coffee that I drink. (I love my coffee and brew my own every morning…)
As far as meal planning…I don’t partake in this either. My cooking is reliant on what is on sale for that week…so I’m flexible. I was planning to make snap peas in my dinner last night, but when I got to the store, fresh green beans were on sale for $0.88/lb, so that’s what I got (and boy where they good!)
Thanks again for the blog…and for allowing me to share a couple comments. I look forward to your next post, and wish you well in your endeavors for financial independence and early retirement.
Hey Beth! Sounds like you have a great thing going with your Aunt… and she gets so much out of it too!
I totally know what you mean when you talk about serendipitous meal planning vis a vis what’s on sale. I’ve had that very same internal conversation… “so we were going to have lentil soup, but overripe avocados are on the sale rack so guac it is!” 🙂
We spend less now that I’m off sugary snacks. Unfortunately, my husband has a sensitive stomach. He never knows what he wants until he’s hungry (and even then sometimes…) and if something doesn’t sound good, he’ll literally get sick trying to make himself eat it. Yuck.
So we don’t really cook — a major budgetary downfall — because I mainly only know how to make things that yield leftovers. They inevitably go to waste. Plus, my fatigue/depression makes it tough to gather the wherewithal to plan what to make and cook it. Sounds silly, but everyone has his or her own roadblocks.
Unfortunately, this means that I’ve gotten spoiled about having a certain amount of variety. I grew up eating like you two do. Mom had a certain number of recipes she made: spaghetti sauce, beef stew, minestrone and a few other things like occasionally just cooking and eating chicken by itself. (Though she always saved the carcass for stock, of course.) So I got used to eating on auto-pilot. It’s much cheaper that way. And easier because I hate figuring out what I want to eat. Which is one of the main reasons I have protein bars and shakes during the daytime. It’s just easier.
I need to get back into eating my Healthy Choice frozen meals. They’re not as cheap as cooking, but I can generally get them for $2-3. They’re low in sodium and calories. Plus they have vegetables which, left to my own devices, I never eat.
Hey Abigail! Just taking life one day at a time can sometimes be enough of a struggle.
One tip for finding receipes that are made for a couple who can’t do leftovers: Do a google search for “foodname for two”, for example, “pancakes for two”. I occasionally do this for something I know I don’t want leftovers for, and it usually puts me on the properly measured path.
We fall off and on the meal-plan. Some weeks are way better than others. Cleaning out the cupboards, fridge and freezer will be using a lot of my cooking creativity muscles, but I’m not opposed to a lot of the same things for breakfast and lunch. Dinner, I like variety 🙂
I still laugh at the size of that chili paste. Like, that’s bigger than my head, and that’s a pretty big measurement of volume (I have a big head, if this reference doesn’t make sense to you :P)
Yeah, we draw the lack of variety line at dinner too :-).
Best thing about that chili paste? It’s pretty much gone. I transferred the last of the reserve paste into my smaller container and the giant plastic bottle went out with the recycling a couple weeks back. We’re going to need more soon!
We do meal plan just so it’s easier to shop for grocery. Mrs. T doesn’t like going to the grocery store every day just to pick up items that she needs. I like your idea of rotating meals so you know exactly what you’re eating. We’ve been eating either oatmeal or berry muesli for breakfast for a long time now. It’s really lunch and dinner that we plan our meals.
Yum, berry muesli! Can we all agree the muesli is perhaps the least yummy sounding name for a delicious food ever? Severe branding issues there… 🙂
Hummus sans tahini that still tastes yummy? Can you back up that bragging with a recipe? S’il vous plait?
Well, it’s more of a chickpea dip than “hummus” but it’s still pretty tasty. Shocking no one, I’m sure, the secret ingredient is chili paste. But it’s just chickpeas, good olive oil, chili paste, salt and garlic spun in the food processor until creamy. I go pretty heavy on the heat, which makes it even more awesome the next day chilled.
Well, chilli solves almost everything LOL.
But just in case: do you know that you can make very easily your own tahini for fraction of the price? Tahini is very easy – basically you just blend sesame seeds with bit of olive oil – they will look like fine spread (seeds can be briefly roasted beforehand for darker version). You can also add a little extra flawor (lemon, salt etc), but there is no need for it – the basic is just the seeds and the oil – google the recipes and find what version suits you. I don´t know how much the unprocessed sesame seeds are in the USA but in my country they are very cheap…
BTW: Thank you for your website, it is fun and interesting, I am glad I stumbled upon it 🙂
P.S.: Any luck with homemade beans and chickpeas? 🙂 Have you tried already in a pot or a pressure cooker?
We have spent $325 so far this month. This is for me, my husband, and our three year old boy who eats as much as I do. We live in urban NC. I need to pick up another gallon of milk, so that will be another $7. But I don’t need to do any food shopping other than that for the rest of the month. Our grocery bill does fluctuate bc we have a lot of dinner guests and we also make and bring meals to people through our church. We eat out two or three times a month, usually, for a total of about $100.
We do eat meat and dairy and eggs. I buy fancy organic cage free grass fed animal products because of the animal treatment standards. Though, hey, the animals would probably prefer to not get eaten at all, right? But because it is pricey, we don’t eat a lot of it. We also like beans and vegetables a lot.
I did a lot of reading about organic pesticides and regulations and studies of organic vs conventional and came to the conclusion that our money is best spent buying conventional produce. I do try and buy local produce, and they do grow a lot in NC, so this isn’t so hard. My ideal would be to buy everything from a local family farm, but we don’t have this in our budget right now.
I do meal plan. But it’s really flexible, bc I have come to love meal planning. I check and see what we have in the fridge, freezer, and pantry and see how many meals I can come up with from that. Then I check the sales flyers online and plan around those. Then I go to the store and see what is on managers special, etc.
I love to cook and I try new recipes regularly. We all love to eat. My husband loves to go out to eat, so I try and keep the food at home really delicious and interesting for him. We do eat leftovers for lunch and as part of different meals (what C@thesingledollar refers to as “laddering.”) At this point, I would say that we are very good at not throwing food away. It just really bothers me to waste food. Part of this is me planning when we will eat it all, so I write that down, even though it seems silly sometimes.
Wow, that’s an amazing spending level for a family of 3! You are amazing.
It really bothers us to throw away food too! Almost to the point of physical pain. Which is weird, because neither of us grew up with any food insecurity… we always had good meals on the table. Though both of our mothers definitely impressed the importance of avoiding waste!
Every evening as I’m getting dinner ready, I always take a quick cruise through the fridge just to make sure there isn’t any food on the edge of going bad. If there is, it’s automatically part of dinner! Makes for the occasional odd combo, but it also means we rarely need to throw something out. Frugal _and_ good for the soul 🙂
It is refreshing to hear that a budget and meal plan are not necessary to being frugal. We don’t spend much on extras so we know where our money goes. Due to health concerns, I need to eat organic and need meat. I have moved more towards soups and stews to cut back on meat consumption. Our health food store actually has most items below the cost of our regular grocery store. We buy pretty much the same items each week and find different recipes to use the same ingredients-substituting what we have instead of buying extra items. I am hoping I can grow veggies this summer from seed to reduce our bills more.
Good idea on the veggie planting. Do you know what varieties you are going for yet? Seems like the best bang for your buck are in herbs, tomatoes, and other relatively expensive to buy fare. We do herbs every year but don’t have the space for much else. Wish we did, but someday… 🙂
We don’t meal plan in the traditional sense, either. I take my grocery shopping habits directly from my mom – take inventory, write down list of what we need, look at circulars, see what’s on sale, write prices down, bring list to store, go shopping and stick to said list. I have a “limited” number of meals I make, so we’re usually buying the same things as well, and I also know the price of everything I normally get. Efficiency is the way to do it! (And I hate visiting new grocery stores and getting acclimated…)
Getting to know the grocery store is one of life’s great efficiencies. For example, our local Market Basket has a hidden Popcorn and Ice Cream aisle, only accessible through the bulk potato section. (their idiosyncrasies are made up for with their low prices)
When we finally discovered where the bulk popcorn lived… it was like we’d found the holy grail.
Wow, I have really enjoyed reading the comments here! Like Mrs. Maroon, I spend way too much effort on deciding what to make for dinner, and I would LOVE for this part of my life to be on auto-pilot. Reading this today has inspired me to create a two-week rotating menu that my family of two loves to eat and that is relatively easy to make.
We just started budgeting, but we were spending over $800 per month for the two of us on groceries last year. That does not include eating in restaurants which does not happen too often but it does happen. Needless to say, we have a lot of room for improvement! I am vegetarian, and I cook only vegetarian food at home, and I pack lunch for the both us every day. This month we are on track to be around $550 on groceries, so I am happy with the progress so far!
Woohoo! That’s great progress! Autopilot not only makes the cook (me!) happier during the week, but it also means that I’m more likely to feel inspired when it comes to our weekend meals. It’s a win/win.
Go get ’em! 🙂
We’re in the middle of a paradigm shift right now with our eating. We’re moving more toward whole foods and trying to weed out the processed junk. But, of course, eating that garbage for our entire lives has had its effect and we’re still caught in the middle. We’re also still trying to figure out a way to eat better food without making our grocery costs go through the roof.
Good for you! Whole foods is like a safe space for decent eating… as long as you stay away from their packaged junk food, the rest of the store is decent.
We actually find that we can get better deals on organics elsewhere though. The produce markup at whole foods is intense! And since we eat mostly produce… that matters a lot.
The biggest change we made to make a healthy diet affordable is reducing the amount of meat we eat. We used to eat meat all the time, at least once a day! But buying good meat is _really_ expensive.
Oops, I totally forgot about Whole Foods the store! I actually meant just unprocessed foods in general. I’ve never actually shopped at Whole Foods haha. I do like Trader Joe’s, though, and we found another market nearby that offers affordable meals without chemicals and additives.
We should also consider cutting back on meat too. We haven’t eaten much beef at all since my wife’s been pregnant, but we do eat a lot of chicken (although I guess if you’re going to eat animal flesh, that’s not too bad…)
Hah! Totally had me fooled!
Wow I really need to stop shopping at Whole Foods and start going to Market Basket instead.
Girl please ;), yes you do!
I don’t really meal plan either. I just buy only the on sale things and then I kind of base my meals around what I bought that week.
That is definitely a good strategy! Thank you again for organizing this project :)!
Yeah, but you have to go to Market Basket… That place is pretty gross. I did it once and couldn’t go back.
Oh come on, it’s not that bad. The produce is really fresh. The meat area does look a bit sketchy… but no worse than a stop and shop.
Yes, they do clean up spills by throwing some sawdust on the floor. But I find that kind of old school. 🙂
We don’t meal plan either, but we are certainly aware of what we buy, and make sure we don’t waste. Gardening and buying local foods in seasons is sure to lower the price tag. As is aiming toward less animal products. Great post!
Thanks! Buying seasonally is something we should have mentioned. There are times in the summer when it seems like every meal involves at least 2 fresh tomatoes! 🙂
Super loving your blog and comments here. I came from Mad Fientist blog and just discovered yours. Awesome work and so glad you are living your dreams now it seems due to your frugal ways and encouraging others to do the same! Your comment made me think of my quickie meal you might like. I love it because it’s so tasty and easy to throw together. Just dice a tomato and add chickpeas and a little olive oil and red pepper flakes (or your paste, maybe!) a little lemon juice and Italian seasonings. toss in a diced avocado and mix. Serve over toast. You could make a batch and just add the avocado at serving. I don’t even peel it, just halve it and cut into dice in the skin, then I just sort of squeeze it out of each half skin into the bowl. I love saving time and not having to wash extra dishes! anyway, love your blog. Subscribed! 🙂
I love these ideas! My husband and I recently moved to the Western mountains of Maine (my hometown) after several years of intense focus on paying off 100% of our debt. My husband retired early and I have decided it is way too much fun around here to have a real job. Our largest monthly expense is food. I try to keep our monthly groceries under $400 but most months are at $500 or more. I am a fresh juice fanatic so the mountains of juicing produce do add to our expenses.
We have 3 dogs (border collies) that had full time work on the farm we just sold so they require a lot of physical activity (which we are happy to accommodate). We have connected with new friends who share our passion for winter hiking, climbing, snowshoeing and ice fishing so although we do have time to plan and cook, we often are too exhausted to actually do the cooking and end up eating a bowl of cereal for dinner. Living in the heart of lake region Maine and on the doorstep of the White Mountains leave us very little time for indoor chores. We also throw away more spoiled food than is acceptable.
My sister has put me in charge of the large family garden she has at her farm which usually runs to weed every summer because she is so busy in the summer and can’t devote enough time to it. We don’t have to buy meat because we always have venison and fish in the freezer year round so really it’s mostly the produce that drives our food expenses. That should change as soon as the garden is in full swing.
I love your blog and have started using many of your ideas to help us keep our expenses as low as possible. Thanks for sharing and good luck finding your dream homestead!
Hi Sharon! Sounds like you are living quite the adventurous life! How cool!
I bet that garden will make a big impact. Do you do anything special to lengthen the growing season? Seems like up in the Maine Mountains spring may come late and winter early?
You are correct about that! There are many ways to extend the season. We only use species that are adapted to this area, specifically Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Johnny’s test gardens are the same growing zone as we are. We are big advocates for row covers and have come up with some clever ideas for using them. We use fabric row covers for all of our greens throughout the growing season. It protects plants from frost AND from heat, plus our greens are edible right out of the garden (or right in the garden) without being covered in soil from rain-splash.
Huh, neat! Thanks for the info… I’ll have to do some research into those row covers.
This is very impressive! We typically spend around $300 for the two of us, but that includes only my lunches, and it’s often in addition to several takeout/restaurant meals. I’m trying to cut that last bit out entirely for a little while, so it’ll be informative to see the difference in my increased grocery spending compared to the cost of dining out. We are unfortunately limited to pretty much just Shaws and occassionaly Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, unless we want to spend hours on the train heading to Market Basket and the like. Next time we move (which won’t be for a while) I need to take a closer look at grocery options!
$300 for two people is pretty darned good! Also keep an eye out for ethnic markets. I’ve scored some pretty delicious and cheap produce from indian markets (not to mention the bulk spices!) but other ethnicities can have similar bargains.
It sounds like some of your core elements to your food budget are some of the cheapest (bananas, rice, beans, oats). I think growing your own food can be especially rewarding (as you get the added health bonus of exercise). Perennial food design is the king of all frugality, plus offers some tasty rewards (apple, peaches, nuts, berries).
Yeah, we tend to build our meals around frugal staples and then enhance based upon whim or season. One of the reasons we’re excited to move towards a homestead is the option to grow more of our food. Right now, it’s mostly herbs in pots.
I absolutely adore this blog, and I’m totally hooked on your lifestyle! My boyf and my food budget is waaaay high, and although we batch cook and freeze, we still end up with a lot of waste. I love the idea of simplifying right down to just a few meals to cook and fund. Groceries in my part of Australia are astronomical, so hopefully this sees a positive financial change!
Simplifying definitely helped us reduce our food waste. We used to throw out a lot!
I have never considered rotating the same week of dinners. Might be an interesting experiment! I would say our meal planning is a part time job. It can get exhausting thinking, planning, buying, and keeping track of food for the house (so we don’t waste) all while eating fresh and cooking from scratch. I do have lots of different dinners I rotate out (which means a lot of variety in our lunches – leftovers). A couple get repeated each week. We go through a lot of calories (hubby is an ultra trail runner on top of regular outdoor hobbies), so it’s kind of dangerous when he and I are only 1 pound difference! Time to feed that man! Veggies and hummus sound yummy and would be a great après ski snack here! Going to try it without tahini.
I browse Pinterest too in hopes of finding that new awesome, cheap, filling amazing dinner that gets added to the rotation.
I do plan our meals. My theory is that it will be quicker for me come dinner time. Here is how I start: write down 6 or so dinners to make (lunches are dinner leftovers). Throw in a new recipe or two. I don’t use sale ads. Add to the list what is needed to make dinners. Anything that we ran out of goes on the list too. I shop weekly. Dinners go on white board when I return home (because I will literally forget everything I just bought). I don’t assign meals to a day of the week though. If I see a sale in store, I do stock up (long ago I had a printed price list comparison, but I’m not that ambitious anymore!). We have fish/meat/chicken/pork maybe 1-2/week. I can stretch 1/2 pound of ground Italian sausage on 4 pizzas. I love one dish meals like ramen stir fry (which is different every time I made it) or red lentil curry over rice. New for us: chicken breasts + spices + crockpot = bagged frozen shredded chicken. Fast, easy and on hand when I feel like adding it to soups, stir fries or fajitas, etc.
Without much restraint, here is what we have been spending historically for 2 people (mostly organic produce, all local/pasture raised meats/eggs – no CAFO): $520 for groceries (most household supplies bought on Drugstore.com, but may contain a few items in that $); $284 for eating out; $117 on booze. So yeah that’s kind of high! Now for the month of January so far (aka year of increasing retirement contributions by 46% percent more!) with some effort applied, we are down to $289 for groceries; $94 for eating out; $58 for alcohol. And there are still plenty of menus left on the white board! I think I will consider more repeats. I already do batch, but maybe double batch is necessary!
D’oh! I didn’t update my spreadsheet completely. Groceries at $438; Eating out at $135; Booze the same. Not as low as I originally thought. But I did apply some effort at least!
Wow, congrats on increasing your retirement contributions so much. That deserves a high five!
Your budget before wasn’t terrible, but you are doing great in January! Cutting restaurants in half in one fell swoop is great. And the very fact that you are tracking it and aware puts you ahead of 90% of folks.
The salmon dinner looks delicious. I pretty much only eat fish and salmon is one of my favorites! I eats lots of veggies, which is definitely cheaper than most meat and so good for you. I have to confess that I’m not entirely sure that I could eat the same meal every day (my boredom would set in the next day or possibly two), but I admire your ability to do so.
It’s not so bad, especially since lunch at work for us is usually eaten at our desks while hard at work. Food is fuel in that sort of situation (at least for me) so as long as it fills me up… I’m good.
I would up my egg game if I were you. The chickens who lay the “cheap eggs” are treated like garbage. A few years ago I started buying Nellie’s eggs from Vermont. They might be available near you. They cost only twice as much as the no-name eggs ($3.50 a dozen) but they are from certified humanely raised chickens, who can roam wherever they please all the time. And the taste is much better. It’s worth it. Marge says she feels good about eating these eggs, but not about eating meat, although we still do.
I’m not a PETA member, nor is Nellie’s paying me to write this comment. But if a few dozen eggs suddenly appeared on my doorstep, I wouldn’t mind.
Huh, interesting. We’ll have to check it out. Figuring out the optimum level of ethical food is something that I’m always pondering. While I don’t need my chicken to have shiatsu massages and cucumber water… I do think we can do better than the standard eggs.
I’ve tried to meal plan on and off but it never really works for me. I do have several recipes that I know I can quickly make in the evening and rotate based on what’s one sale and what we have on hand. I still feel like there’s a more efficient way to do things though.
Yeah, I was more intense about it the first couple years of our marriage when the full weight of feeding two people on a regular basis really hit me 🙂
Then I figured out that Mrs. FW would eat anything I put in front of her and meal planning got a lot less stressful!
I tentatively meal plan. Mr. FP doesn’t like to eat the same things too often and neither do the tots, who, of course, have to be exposed to a wide variety of foods. I try not to box myself in too much–I am also a Sprouts lover and sometimes revise based on what looks delicious! I can’t always cook dinner–I often work until 6 or even 8–so a key component of my meal planning is leftovers. Or we don’t feel like cooking sometimes, and will just all have scrambled eggs or PB&J or something.
Lunch and breakfast are both rotations of a few kid-friendly selections, like oatmeal with peanut butter or overnight oatmeal (soaked in milk and yogurt–sounds gross to me, but the kids love it) with perhaps grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch with fresh broccoli and homemade hummus, or a homemade pizza. But dinner could be anything (although there’s about a 50/50 chance it will include beans). Our grocery spending has been hovering around $600/month, but I keep trying to get it down.
I know how it feels to get home at 7pm (starving, usually) and look around in panic for something to put on the table before Mrs. FW starts gnawing on Frugal Hound’s tail. 🙂 A salad with “whatever is within reach” on top is my go to meal in that case.
Breakfast for dinner is also yum, and something we do when I’m not feeling fancy. Nothing shameful about scrambled eggs for dinner 🙂
Since we just moved from Texas to the east coast, I’ve had to adjust my grocery budget higher and higher to make up for how much more expensive food is here. It really bums me out. I was managing to get by on $50 a week back home! But I do make meal plans, because I am not a creative chef and it’s easier for me to get home at the end of the day and already know what I’m supposed to make.
I bet TX was cheaper for a lot of things! Make sure to shop around, I know in the Boston area different supermarkets can have wildly different prices. It took us a while to find a store that consistently had decent prices on everything.
Great tips Frugalwoods! During this blizzard, it really pays off that we do meal planning. We have enough supply of food and got everything we need, hopefully. It’s been a practice of ours that we plan every meal we’re having and it lessens stress over what to eat.
During the blizzard I baked bread and made our lunches for the week 🙂 Frugal hound morosely looked out the sliding glass door and wondered where her front porch went! She was not a happy hound when the snow got to be over her head.
I’ll be the hippie frugal weirdo in the thread, I guess.
Our nominal grocery budget is $600 for a family of 5, but our average is closer to $500, and this month we will be under $500 for the first time in recent memory that wasn’t a holiday month despite doing nearly all of my shopping at the local yuppie hippie co-op.
-(good) meat is good for you. Humans can’t survive on vegetables alone, nor can the earth. Tillage slowly destroys soil fertility. Pastured meats are incredibly satisfying and supply excellent fat balance, b vitamins, and other nutrients lacking or otherwise sparse in plants. I wouldn’t have believed it until I tried it. Factory meat IS bad for you, but !=all meat is bad.
-I meal plan each week, but my plan is usually “stir fry with x seasonal veg, burrito to use up beans, pork steak from freezer plus whatever the market has, etc.” Eating seasonally means the produce is always at its freshest, most nutritious. I’ve been shocked at how full I get from a small bowl of the stir fries with predominately local ingredients (supplemented in the winter with limited imports or preserved stuff from my larder) I’ve been doing because the food is just that chock full of nutrients.
-I hate non-compostable and non-recyclable packaging. Even Costco is a huge offender. The packaging is bigger, but it’s usually just as landfill-oriented. I’m holding myself over by buying from the bulk bins at the co-op while saving up for a grain mill so I can buy whole grains direct from farmers or from a friend’s buying club (incredibly shelf stable) and grind as needed.
I could go on and on but I really wish frugal people would rethink some of this attitude. Much “cheap” food is only cheap because all of the environmental and health costs are hidden.
Agreed that the true cost of cheap food is being subsidized by unsustainable production methods.
As for the meat… I have a hard time getting over the prices. We’ve gotten a local, free range, whole chicken a couple of times and I stretch it into several meals, soup, and stock. But at $9/lb… that’s some expensive chicken!
One of the things I’d love to learn once we’re on the homestead is deer hunting. It seems like such a win/win. There are too many deer (and they eat your garden) and I love making chili and stews. Plus, it’s hard to get more free range than that!
Packaging bothers me, but not as much as it used to. Most stuff is recyclable, and even the plastic produce bags get re-used to pick up Frugal Hounds leavings around the neighborhood.
Neat idea on the grain mill. Would you use that primarily for flour, or for cracking / preparing other grains?
I do all the shopping, and I mean all. I grocery shop once a week and if it comes to pass that I need an ingredient for something, I either use something else from the pantry or I do not make that recipe. We don’t eat a lot of meat, leftovers are our friend. We go out to lunch once a week, mostly to connect as we work opposite shifts. I spend $40-50 a week on groceries, the one week a month that I am buying in bulk, I spend $100. Trader Joe’s weeks, which are probably every eight weeks (mainly because it is too far to go every week) run us about $75. A Whole Foods just opened up less than a mile from our house and I’ve been, mostly to their bulk section, buying flours and ingredients to cook for my sister, who is gluten intolerant.
Whole foods bulk section is their best section!
Streamlining grocery shopping into one trip a week is impressive! We do one main trip a week but we often need to stop by to get one or two things later in the week.
I’ll join the “frugal wierdo” club with a proud – I revolve the same meals also! It’s cheap, it’s easy, and it works.
Aldi has recently expanded into my area (Florida Gulf Coast), and it is AWESOME! While I can’t get everything there – I can get my stapes, very cheaply – sugar, flour, rice, oats, almond milk, ground turkey, steam in bag broccoli.
You are correct Mrs FW regarding their produce -it’s hit or miss.
Hooray for joining the frugal weirdo club–we’re so glad to have you :)! That’s great that you now have Aldi’s. The produce can be a miss at times, but the prices are sooooo good when it’s a hit!
I don’t meal plan either. I tried it for a while, but it just resulted in me buying too much food and it going to waste. Now I just know what I have in the house and use that to make meals, and buy fruit, veggies and meat when I need to. It’s a lot easier, but I have to make sure I don’t hoard food to much.
So much easier! If you know what you like to eat and you have it on hand, it makes meals a much simpler affair. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting 🙂
We don’t really meal plan or budget either. Those are too time consuming. Tried it and failed 🙁
We spend on average about $250 for a family of 2, including eating out and Costco food items. Our meals tend to revolve around sale items at our grocery stores, but we also keep a large supply of frozen meat at all times. We shop at Whole Foods and specialty store sometimes for free or almost free items 🙂
Nicely done! That’s an awesome food budget. Way to go on hitting the sales!
I put way too much pressure on myself to have better and more variety for dinner over the last 2 years. Something about being a newlywed made me feel like I need to be a culinary master as well. Pinterest was the source of my demise. Thankfully, Hubs knocked some sense into me. It’s just dinner! Nothing to stress over!
Now I write out the evenings for the week on a mini white board on our fridge. If one of us will be gone, we are both on our own for food. If we have something together, it serves as a reminder for what we have planned. But if we are both home, the meals of the week are listed. Hubs pulls out anything that needs to be thawed when he gets home and I whip it up without thinking when I get home. It has been such a stress reliever. Our food waste and food spending is way down since we started doing this. Its also nice to think about dinner once, plan and buy all the ingredients and not think about food dinner for the rest of the week!
Now I need to talk to him about streamlining, or doubling up on certain dinners over the week. I have a feeling that he doesn’t care and I’m the only one concerned about adding variety. .. when I only care for his sake. Time for a talk!
Sounds like you’ve got a great system going on! The lack of variety really does make our lives easier, I must say. Good luck with “the talk” 😉
We spend about $400/mth on average, including toiletries and our splurge months where we buy 50+ lbs of meat. We’re nominally feeding two adults and one pre-schooler, but there are two other adults in the house that use our food purchases without telling us. We don’t really meal plan either – we whip up 1-2 months of food to put in the freezer, then just take things out and thaw them when we need more food. The hard part is remembering to thaw things (or having to force thaw them later). We always have frozen veggies on hand for sides, and most of our grocery shopping is for fresh stuff for during the week. We almost exclusively shop at Costco, WalMart and Aldi’s, with the occasional run to the local outrageously priced Giant Eagle. I cannot wait until we’re in our own house, with our own freezer, and not running out of things at the last minute because someone forgot to mention that they used something….
That’s a great budget for 3 people–I’m impressed! Too bad that other people are eating your food though, that’s not cool. Hopefully you’ll be in your own place soon!
I’m surprised you guys don’t do the Haymarket!
You know, we’ve gone there a few times and weren’t terribly impressed with the quality of the produce or the prices. It’s also a fairly long T ride for us (not to mention the $8 in T fare). But, we honestly haven’t been in years, so you’re motivating me to check it out again 🙂
We didn’t meal plan before baby and had a very similar diet to yours. Now that our son is one I am forced to meal plan to ensure that he is experiencing a multitude of flavors and textures. When he’s a little older I’m sure I’ll go back to my old ways which typically involves, chicken thighs, wild salmon, kale, apples, walnuts, and tacos. My husband is Mexican so tacos are a way of life. : )
Did I mention I have incognito braces? It makes eating so much harder….really can’t wait to go back to our way of eating. Y’all are an inspiration and now I don’t feel so weird.
Yay–another fellow frugal weirdo :)! Thanks so much for reading and saying hi! Braces really are a pain, I remember those days well (now I just wear my retainer every night, which is much easier to manage!). Your ‘old ways’ rotation of foods sounds perfect to me–I love all of those things… yum.
Did Mr. Frugalwoods use something else in place for the tahini or just eliminate it all together? That’s good to know because I know I would never use the tahini for anything other than hummus so knowing that it can be eliminated all together makes me want to try and make homemade hummus. I keep trying to do a meal “rotation” and either do the same thing or have a variety. I just have to get better about deciding what our 5 or 10 meals are going to be
He just eliminated the tahini altogether. It gives the hummus a slightly different flavor, but we really like it. And, it’s a heck of a lot cheaper :). Yeah, the meal rotation strategy works really well for us–mostly, it’s just really easy :).
Nice post! We are in Mass too, but we aren’t close enough to a Market Basket to make it worth it. We have every other store possible within a 5 miles range (not Aldi) so I do the best I can by hitting the sales and planning our meals. My main go to is probably Stop and Shop. It is not cheap, but I am careful. We are feeding four people that includes two adults, a nine year old girl and a six year old boy. We both work full-time and, I pack four lunches a day. We do buy some packaged food, but I try to limit the junk. I spend $600-$800 a month for the four of us. I am trying to keep it closer to $600, but that is tough. Wish we had a close Market Basket.
You may not see any difference in price between Market Basket and Aldi for the foods you buy, but that doesn’t hold true for everyone. I love both stores, but for ground meat to use in chili or spaghetti sauce, nothing at MB can beat the $1.89/lbfrozen turkey from Aldi. Last month, I also bought grapefruit at both stores, and the grapefruit from Aldi was both cheaper and yummier.
Hi, this is swell! Thank you!
My planning skills are really bad and this could make it much easier. I am already having oatmeal for each breakfast.
Question, how do you ensure you get all your nutrients?
We don’t meal plan either but for a totally different reason. We like a great variety of foods, all ethnicities. My hubs and 14 year old mountain of a son both like their “comfort foods”. They rebel when we don’t have them around.
I spend $800 a month, this includes food for 4, dogs & cat foods & litter, prescription drugs, TP, soaps, shampoos Etc, of all kinds, all household cleaners, any alcohol & soda and every other Friday night we host a teen gamers group for Pizza, soda and gaming. Coffee stand stops and any eating out we do.
But I also belong to a gleaners association and we get alot of fresh fruits & veg from them. We get occasional protein thru them (usually fish, sometimes a whole chicken). The thing is, you never know what they will have.
Before Xmas, I got a new set of sheets. This week, I got an old Costco picnic table, once I got 3 months worth of the diabetic testing strips that my hubs uses. This fall, I got 30 full sized Salmon which are currently smoked and in my freezer.
Anyway, I have a working pantry & freezer and I don’t plan because I never know what I am coming home with. But there is always plenty of foods and it allows us to use some of the food money when we have other disasters, (Last month I bought 2 new tires).
Hi! I started following your blog recently and I just love it. I read the most recent blogs and enjoyed them so much that I went back in your archives to start from the beginning. Mrs. Frugalwoods is such a great writer and I appreciate the humor! However, I must say that I take issue with your description of Market Basket. The stores north of Boston are actually quite nice. I mean, they’re not as glorious as Whole Foods with their wooden produce display cases and hardwood floors, but definitely not a place that I would call ugly. I will agree with you that the older MB’s are a little on the sketchier side, so your locale was probably in that category of stores, but the newer stores are a-ok. I have never loved a grocery store (or any store for that matter) the way I love Market Basket. I nearly died when they were on strike back in 2014! Just had to set things straight here.
I look forward to reading about the next 3 years of your journey to get myself up to speed! I’m inspired by your family and hope to become more conscientious about my spending. Thanks!
For my husband and I, meal planning did not always work because we felt too obligated to make the planned meal. We would often “swap” the entrees and sides from different days. Or, if a day was busy/frustrating for some reason, we would just make an entree that was easy, and not bother with the sides or all of the ingredients. Some items would stay in our cabinets or fridge for weeks, because we never felt like including them in a meal.