Let’s just put it out there. I LOVE to eat. I love to cook, I love going out to eat, I love thinking about, talking about, and reading about food.
And yet, when it comes to getting thrifty, I identified food early on as an area where we have lots of room for improvement. But remember — this journey is about being both more frugal AND happier. So, given my love of food, my goal is not to hit an absolute minimum of food spending. To do that, I would have to sacrifice both food quality and life enjoyment, and until I’m forced to do that by necessity, I won’t be doing it. Besides just loving good food and lots of variety, I care about food quality — I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma and strive to eat foods that are raised healthfully and sustainably. I’ve read countless articles about the health and environmental benefits of eating naturally produced/organic foods and grass-fed beef (and I especially care about the quality of dairy, certain produce, meat, and fish).
Yet, although those high falutin food standards can lead to a very expensive diet, I remain convinced that there are plenty of ways to spend less while eating better.
We now have a full calendar month of data since we started trying to reduce our food spending (we started around March 22, and now April is done!), so time to check in and see how it’s going!
First, the background. We’re talking about feeding 2 adults (1 pregnant lady and 1 guy), 1 child (under 2 years old), and 1 cat. Before we started this experiment, we would grocery shop at some combination of (1) our walkable (non-frilly, but not discount) grocery store, (2) a higher-end nice big store that we have to drive to, (3) Whole Foods, (4) local specialty high-end food stores. We ate lots of lunches out (usually fast food, like sandwiches or salads), and, since we were harried working parents, didn’t shy away from getting takeout dinner fairly regularly (maybe once a week). We would go out to a nice restaurant meal from time to time — maybe a few times per month.
Our strategies for improving have been:
- Cook more of our own food. This would mean shifting spending from more expensive, prepared/restaurant foods to less expensive groceries. It should also mean we waste less because groceries we buy will be less likely to spoil if we’re consciously using them up.
- Buy more food in bulk. We had a COSTCO membership we weren’t using much because COSTCO is pretty far away, and also, I admit, I find the COSTCO shopping experience to be pretty overwhelming. Buying huge quantities of things gives me anxiety that I’m not going to be able to use them, and I’m going to wind up with a massive amount of stuff that either goes bad or just takes up lots of space in my pantry. But, for this experiment, I decided to try and get over it. I started by identifying some nonperishables that we could get in bulk and are things we normally use anyway. Like rice, flour, sugar, frozen fruit, paper products, cleaning supplies, toothpaste, etc. (I realize some of these are more like personal care/home goods than groceries, but they’ve all been lumped together for budgeting purposes since we normally buy those things at the grocery store). Then I branched out to slightly-more-perishable items that still have a pretty long shelf life, like dried fruit and eggs.
After one full calendar month, I’m happy to report both lifestyle and budgetary improvements! Let’s get down to the numbers. At the beginning of 2017, before we turned our eagle eyes onto food spending (let’s say January 1 – March 31, although we really started working on it March 22), we were spending between $1300 and $1600 PER MONTH on food! That’s way! too! much! Yet, in April, we already dropped down to about $1100. Still too much, but I expect the cost to keep dropping in the future, because we have now stocked up on bulk purchases of many staples which should last us a good, long time. Let’s take a look at this snazzy chart I made for the breakdown:
As you can see, our spending on “other food” (which includes fast food and nice restaurant meals) has steadily declined each month, dropping from $561 to $263. And, our ratio of groceries to other food has increased.
Meanwhile, on the quality of life front, things have gone up, up, up. No longer do we have that moment at lunchtime where we’re both overly hungry, unenthused about what we might grab to eat, and too busy to both go out for a walk to pick something up. Instead, we have been eating amazingly delicious home-cooked foods. Home baked bread and fancy overnight oats with organic almond milk, fruit, and chia seeds, or yogurt with berries or almonds or granola or some combination of those for breakfast; home-cooked chicken, fish, and veggies for dinner, and all the same for lunches while at work. I’ve made homemade quiche with organic free-range eggs, french onion soup in the crock pot, some delicious Indian lentils, split pea soup, and tons of other concoctions; my husband has made homemade ice cream and chicken Provencal, among other things. We have not sacrificed on food enjoyment in the least. In fact, we get excited every time we dust off an old kitchen appliance we’ve been neglecting, or try out a new recipe.
Not to mention the fact that due to all of our bulk shopping, our refrigerator and cabinets are brimming with stores for the future. This normally would overwhelm me, since we’re just a little family of 3 right now and I hate to over-buy food we won’t use, but since most of the stuff isn’t going bad any time soon, it’s actually quite enjoyable. When I want to make something, I don’t have to run out to the store every time, because we have tons of stuff to work with already in the house.
So yes! With a some start-up costs to buy in bulk and some habit shifts, we’re already seeing improvements, and I’m expecting to see more in the months to come. Stay tuned!