My monthly food/grocery bill comes to about $2/day, or $60/mo.
Apparently, this is highly unusual, even among frugalistas.
What's more is that I don't even particularly try very hard. I mean, I "try" to get my grocery bill to $50/mo, but even in the past, before I started watching my finances, I've never gone above $75.
(The only exception was when I was stocking up my kitchen/pantry from zilch when I first moved out on my own. I hit the neighborhood of $150 that first month due to my decision to buy all of my nonperishables in bulk. That cost me up-front, but won't in the long run.)
So how *do* I pull this off?
To answer this question, I'm going to carefully analyze my food buying and eating habits, and present my findings below.
All right, here goes.
I buy nonperishables in bulk.
I know this is pretty standard practice for frugalistas, but I'll describe it anyway.
After I first moved, my colleague (and now roommate) took me shopping at Costco. I used this opportunity to stock up on bulk nonperishables at wholesale prices.
I bought standard staples such as butter, sugar, oatmeal, canned tomato products (crushed and diced), cereal, pasta, rice, olive oil, soy sauce, ketchup, and others. I knew it'll be a hard initial hit on the wallet, but the favorable unit price is ultimately worth it, as I won't run out for months and months.
I mostly buy fresh, seasonal produce.
After that one-time stock-up of nonperishables, my regular shopping took over. I shop weekly, and I mostly buy fresh produce (fruits and vegetables). I buy small amounts of each produce so that it won't spoil before I eat it, and I shop often to ensure a constant influx of fresh produce.
I also make an effort to be aware of what produce is in season. I do this for two reasons. The first is that the quality of the produce is highest during its peak season. The second is that sales are very common when a produce is in season.
So, for instance, you will never catch me paying more than $1/lb for tomatoes during the summer, because I *know* that tomatoes are in season, and that each week, at least one grocery store *will* have them on sale.
I usually end up spending a little over $10 a week on produce, or about $40 to $50. The rest of my expenditure consists of items like dried/canned beans, eggs, sauces, and the like.
I do not buy junk food.
Going from what I do buy to what I don't buy, we come to junk food. This one is actually a tough one that requires discipline on my part, because I actually really like junk food.
I consider any food that is high in fat and/or sugar without being rich in nutrients to be junk food. So candies, chocolates, Doritos, cookies, and ice cream are all junk food, but sugary cereals are okay because they are vitamin fortified.
I avoid them because they are unhealthy and generally more expensive per unit price than the raw ingredient they are made out of (see the end of this post for a sample analysis of potato chips).
Occasionally, however, I do break down and get something. Usually ice cream, because I do have a weakness for it. I tell myself that at least it has calcium.
I do not buy processed foods.
I think this one is implied by what I've written above, but I'll say it explicitly. I stick with the rawest form an ingredient can get, and avoid processing whenever possible.
So, I get potatoes instead of frozen french fries or tater tots, strawberries instead of strawberry jam (I'll buy peanut butter, though; don't know how to make peanut butter), flour/sugar/butter/etc. instead of premade cake mix, and I've never bought those pre-made dinner package thingies before. Honestly, I've never even had them, because my family never shopped at American supermarkets, and I never ate pre-made food from a package.
Which brings me to...
I cook from scratch every single day.
And I don't give myself a choice in this matter, because I simply do not keep ready-to-eat foods around, with the exception of fruit.
For me, food is *made*, not unpacked and heated. Or maybe I'm just a snob. But I stew all of my own soups, I mash my own mashed potatoes, and I bake my own my cakes, cookies, and muffins. Yes, it takes a lot of work, but I actually really enjoy cooking, and it doesn't have to take more than an hour.
I am a vegetarian.
I haven't mentioned meat or fish at all for a reason. I've been vegetarian for the past four years. It's probably another reason why I don't buy pre-made foods--most of them are meat-based, and I can't eat them. I don't think stores sell much in the way of pre-prepared vegetables.
I get my protein by eating a wide variety of grains, beans, and vegetables--and supplement with tofu for complete protein. I don't know really what meat costs, but tofu, at $1/lb, is probably much cheaper than most meats. Actually, picking up a circular, the only meat I see that's around $1/lb is raw chicken.
I base my meals around carbohydrates, and supplement with vegetables and tofu.
When I look back at my menus, the main course, so to speak, is almost always a starchy, carbohydrate-rich food, such as pasta, rice, or potatoes. Occasionally, I'll base a meal around beans. The remainder of the meal consists of vegetables and tofu.
Some examples of meals are pasta with tomato sauce, topped with sauteed garlic, onion and bell pepper. Or fried rice with broccoli, celery, squash, and tofu in soy sauce. Or vegetarian chili with home-baked cornbread. Or avocado and cucumber sushi rolls with miso soup. Or mashed potatoes with mushroom gravy with steamed sweetcorn on the cob with butter.
This generalized meal structure ensures that I get the bulk of my daily caloric intake from very cheap sources (both pasta and rice have around 1700 calories per lb, and 1 lb of either rice or pasta can definitely be bought for under a dollar), while my nutrient intake is covered by my fruits and vegetables. And I've done nutritional analyses on my diet--I'm covered very well, with the possible exception of Vitamin B12.
I never eat out.
I stopped being able to justify it once I realized how cheaply I could eat on simple, raw ingredients. It's also hard to ensure that your food is vegetarian when you eat out. So I only eat out when I'm taken out.
So that's about all. I'm not familiar with how most Americans approach food, so I dont really know how I compare/differ.
Maybe you can enlighten?
So what the heck am I eating on only $60 a month?
My monthly food/grocery bill comes to about $2/day, or $60/mo.