Is it possible to feed one person on $27 a week? That’s what reader Christiane asked me after I wrote about trimming my grocery bill on this blog and for my Friday column in the N.J. Star-Ledger. Christiane was flabbergasted.
I read your column at Star-Ledger every week with the greatest of interest. It is fantastic to see that there are people in this country conscious about their spending. But, I am amazed: $27 per week for groceries???!!!?? What do you eat and how many people do you feed for $27 per week?
And my next question would be – do you honestly like the food you buy for such little money? And does the $27 include warm dishes every day? I really cannot believe it.
I would consider myself very conscious about spending, but when it comes to groceries, unfortunately I only like the expensive stuff and I am not willing to substitute anything I like with something I don’t like. I also would never substitute fresh and healthy food with canned or otherwise prepared stuff and may face the bill later in health care costs because of unhealthy nutrition. And when you drive around to get the weekly offer in each grocery store in your area, did you consider your time and the fuel you spend on this?
I am really, really interested in what your secret is! Thank you so much for revealing it (I bet a lot of people are asking the same question)!
I’m happy to share more details about my grocery habits if it helps other save!
1. I aim to feed one person (myself) on $27 a week. Some weeks I go over.
2. I eat mostly fresh food and a lot of home-cooked meals. I almost never get take out but I do occasionally graze for dinner if I don’t feel like cooking.
3. I love the food I eat! In fact, I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about what I am going to have for my next meal. I really like food.
4. Yes, my meal plan includes warm dishes everyday, though sometimes that means re-heating leftovers.
5. I eat canned food, but usually only for tomatoes, beans, and occasionally corn. I also save and clip coupons for groceries.
6. In terms of cheap v. expensive food, I seek out value. In other words, I don’t equate expensive food with quality food. There are a lot of great values at off-the-beaten path grocers, Trader Joe’s, and mainstream chains.
Tip 1: The main thing I do to keep my grocery tab down is to shop by price and quality, not by a pre-set list. For instance, instead of putting down “brocolli and asparagus,” I’ll put “vegetables-2” on my list. Buying in season produce is usually the best bet. When I get to the store I’ll see what looks like the best values. I do the same thing for fruit and meat. Then I put together meals and snacks based on what I purchase.
Tip 2: I shop at different stores. I stock up on nuts, wine, and butter at Trader Joe’s one week, then buy fresh produce at my favorite local grocer. I try to only buy groceries one day a week, but if I run out of produce I’ll make a food run with a pre-determined spending limit of $5 or $10.
Tip 3: I try to only buy 1 or 2 bread products each week so that I eat everything before it goes bad. Instead of buying pre-made snacks I buy healthy food that makes great snacks, like nuts, fruit, or veggies and hummus.
Tip 4: I don’t buy junk food because if it’s in the house, I’ll eat it. That means no soda or pre-packaged cookies. When I break down it is to buy candy or ice cream.
Tip 5: I follow my mother’s rule on sweets: if you want cookies, make them.
Tip 6: I eat from the garden. Instead of buying orange juice I eat fresh oranges off my tree. Same with lemons, limes, herbs, and lettuces.
Tip 7: I have pantry where I can stash bargain-priced canned goods, onions, potatoes, and yams.
Tip 8: I eat starches that cost almost nothing, including potatoes, yams, and rice.
Tip 9: I get a lot of my protein from non-meat sources like beans (hummus), eggs (boiled ones make a great snack), and nuts.
That’s all I can think of for now. I hope this helps you trim your grocery list. If you have another way you cut your food bill, please leave a comment.
UPDATE: Pam shared her secret for low-cost breakfasts:
I have a cheap, healthy breakfast every day at work. I purchased big containers of oatmeal, frozen blueberries, and raisins from Costco, and a 2 lb. bag of brown sugar and wheat germ from a grocery story. Then I make my own oatmeal (it is healthier, tastier, and has less sugar) in the microwave at work. One day it is a raisin oatmeal, one day blueberries, and sometimes I’ll put in mixed oats from Trader Joe’s or a bit of cinnamon for a twist. I’ve been doing this for years, and it saves a lot of money and calories!