For the last few months I’ve been getting a few questions from curious friends and readers as to how I keep my monthly grocery spending so low.
After all, for the entirety of 2018 I averaged spending just under $135/month on groceries, which was the lowest it’s ever been for myself since I started tracking my expenses in 2015.
I knew this was a low number, but just how low is it?
To put this in perspective, the Official USDA Food Plans for January 2019 lists the “Thrifty Plan” (lowest cost plan) for a Male 19-50 years old as costing an average of $186.50/month. How did I get my grocery spending over $50 lower than the “Thrifty Plan” presented by the USDA?
I was also a little curious to the answer, seeing as with most of my finances, I don’t view myself as doing anything special.
During the month of February, I decided to actually get to the bottom of this, and tracked every single grocery purchase I made.
While the foods I eat, or the prices I get them at may not be applicable to everyone depending on a whole host of factors, I hope this sheds a little insight into how this is possible!
Before we hop in to the actual purchases, I figured it may be helpful to go over a few ground rules that lay the basis for what I eat and other things that have helped me.
First: I go grocery shopping once per week, and sparingly go anytime else. That one time per week is at Aldi, which has the best prices in the area by far that I’ve noticed. Going one time helps me to avoid decision fatigue, stay disciplined, and not pick up things I don’t need.
Second: I don’t follow any diet, and eat pretty much whatever I want. My weight fluctuates between 185-200 lbs which is not food related and really depends on how much I’m working out (it’s been closer to 185 recently since I’ve been bad about this 🙁 ) I try to eat relatively healthy with lots of veggies and fruits, but there are plenty of “cheat foods” I eat as well.
Third: I do Intermittent Fasting (IF) during the week, and most weekends. I’ll typically do a 16 hour fast: eating no later than 8pm, skipping breakfast (just have coffee/tea and water), and eating lunch at Noon.
I’ve been doing this for about 3-4 years so I’m pretty used to it. I typically don’t get hungry in the morning which really helps me do this. One reason I think helps me out is that I drink a lot of water, around 100 oz a day, which keeps me hydrated and not too hungry throughout most of the day.
Fourth: I have eaten pretty much the same lunch every day since I started my full time job over 4 years ago. I’ll describe it in detail further below, but this lunch is very convenient, cost effective and leaves me satisfied afterwards.
I save my dinner leftovers for dinner some other night. Since I usually get home late I love those nights when I don’t have to cook!
Fifth: My meals are extremely basic. While one day when I have more time on my hands I’d like to explore cooking more, for now I keep my meals very simple and boring to save on time. I’m no foodie and pretty much will eat anything (minus celery… gross!) so I don’t mind.
So there you have it! Now let’s finally see line by line what I spend my grocery money on! 🙂
As told above, I do IF which pretty much eliminates the Breakfast category. The times I do have Breakfast on the weekends I’ll usually make it a late one and combine it into a brunch.
I’ll have some combination of cereal, peanut butter toast, eggs or pancakes when I do.
The coffee/tea I have in the morning during weekdays are supplied for free by work, which is a nice little incentive.
The lunch I’ve had pretty much every day of my working life consists of the following:
- Sandwich (some kind of deli meat, peanut butter & jelly, or tuna)
- Greek Yogurt cup (varying flavor everyday)
- Granola Bar
- 2 other fruits (mix it up every week, includes apples, blueberries, grapes, oranges, strawberries, etc)
Aside from the deli meats, which I try to get the healthier, low sodium versions, I think this is a relatively healthy lunch to have daily. If you are reminded of the lunch of an elementary school aged kid… guilty!
This lunch is so easy to put together, it literally takes 2-3 minutes, and is very cost effective!
I rotate deli meats and will alternate between chicken, turkey, ham and roast beef to get a mix in and to ensure I don’t get sick of one type of meat.
For the fruits, Aldi has a weekly sale so I will usually pick up whatever is the best deal! I love all kinds of fruit, so I’m not picky and will get the best deal I can.
As a side note, I was getting wheat/whole grain bread for a while, but recently switched to white bread as I think the whole grains weren’t getting meshing too well with my body.
As mentioned previously, my dinners are very basic, and can be put together very quickly. I get home late from work, and the last thing I want to do is spend a lot of time cooking and cleaning many dishes, as that cuts into my unstructured time and relaxation before bed.
As you can tell, I am very much a meat eater, and usually center my dinners on a meat with a side of veggies and sometimes other grains. Salads are a common side and sometimes main course when I add chicken, which I’ll also mix in with avocados/peppers/carrots and other toppings.
Perhaps someday I will go a couple weeks, or a month with no meats, just to try out the vegetarian side of things, but for now it’s a rarity when I don’t have any meat at some point during the day.
Standard weekly meals consist of chicken/pork and veggies, tacos/burritos/quesadillas, pasta with meat sauce, pulled pork, burgers, chicken + avocado salads, and kielbasa, among others.
When I’m really feeling lazy, I also keep some quick meals handy (such as the cans of Spaghetti-O’s and frozen pizza). I try to keep these to only a couple times a month since they are unhealthier options, but if I’m going to be unhealthy I’d rather do that on the cheaper side than be unhealthy ordering more expensive food from a to-go restaurant!
This consists of pretty much everything else under my grocery line.
I usually end up snacking a decent amount during my IF eating window so here’s where a bunch of these expenses go.
I also have a sweet tooth, but usually keep that at bay. This month however, was the annual discount chocolate day (Feb 15th 🙂 ) so I totally had to take advantage and grab chocolates for my girlfriend and I to enjoy!
I don’t drink alcohol nearly as often as I used to, and pretty much will go through a six pack every month or so which is good enough for me as I don’t drink on weekdays at all.
Lastly, I never even realized that the Virginia sales tax on groceries was only 2.5%. I thought that was great until I saw that the DC sales tax on groceries was 0%! (I work in VA and shop there on my way home from work).
A few other miscellaneous items are also occasionally included in here too but did not show up this month, such as laundry supplies and other personal grooming stuff (deodorant, body wash, shampoo, etc).
Grocery Spending Summary
Adding this all up and the total comes out to $132! (Which ties out to what was shown on my spending report last month).
This was actually slightly above average for a 4 week shopping month, but I can confirm that my pantry, fridge, and freezer are well stocked and anticipate a lighter few spending months in the future because of that.
So there you have it, pretty close to that $135/month on grocery spending from last year.
As you can see, I don’t think I’m doing anything super different here (aside from IF) and keep to a somewhat healthy eating schedule/routine.
I understand it is not realistic for everyone to have grocery expenditures this low. Everyone has different eating habits/styles, and most people would not want to have similar meals everyday/week like I do.
Hopefully you have gained something from this post (even if it’s just that you should try to find an Aldi or other low-cost grocer near you!)
If not, or if you can’t relate to my eating habits, check out these two other posts that were released recently by two other bloggers I follow: A Purple Life and My Money Wizard who also have very low cost grocery habits, but different styles than my own!
Let me know what you think in the comments, and whether this is realistic for you (or perhaps on a per person basis for a family). I’m always open to learning more about the types of food we eat and how they affect our lives!