It was about two years ago when things starting going under that a lot of people like myself starting tightening their budgets and cutting down on their expenses. A few of my friends in the same line of work as me got laid off and then suddenly it seemed the whole economy took a nose dive. Not just any single industry was being affected but everyone. So in the fall of 2008, Paul and I made a conscious decision to make a food budget and spend only $200 a month on groceries.
At first, $200 was pretty strict. We found ourselves struggling towards the end of the month with only a few dollars enough for fresh fruits and the basics like milk and cereal. If it was really bad, we had days where we took things from the cupboard/freezer and whatever was in the refrigerator and made it work. It was like being in college again. And admittedly at first we sometimes padded the the budget with an extra $20 to make it through the month or just ate out, which wasn't taken out of the $200.
But as the months passed, looking for sales became almost a game and was actually fun. If a gallon of milk was $2.19, it was a deal. (Trader Joe's has the cheapest milk and without hormones.) We knew automatically where to go for the best prices for our weekly staples. And instinctively, we would check out the what was on sale at our local food market online so we could plan our meals in advance. We've become so good at it that sometimes we have $40 leftover at the end of the month.
Why $200? I read a story last year on Slashfood about a CNN report. Sean Callebs chose to live on $176 a month on everything he ate or the equivalent of what a single person on food stamps lives on. And he documented it. So we took it as a personal challenge to try to see if we could do it ourselves. It's a great exercise in reducing impulse buys (hello Doritos) but of course, we have the advantage of traveling to comparison shop as opposed to many people do who live in inner cities.
Now your turn: do you have a food budget you adhere to? How much a month do you allot for groceries? It it separate from your dining-out budget? And what caused you to start it?
You can read about Sean Callebs' account of living on $176 a month here.