How to eat on a shoestring

“Worries go down better with soup.” – Jewish Proverb

On Monday, I wrote a post over at Queercents asking readers about their monthly food budget. The comments were varied and surprised me so I wanted to do a quick synopsis here and toss in what other bloggers have posted on the same topic. Of course, the whole point is to hear what you have to say so feel free to chime in below.

Back in May, Ben McGrath at The New Yorker wrote about Eric Gioia, a city councilman from Queens and his Food Stamp Challenge. What’s the Food Stamp Challenge? According to McGrath, it’s eating only what someone could afford on a week’s worth of food stamps, or the equivalent of twenty-eight dollars. He writes:

Here are the groceries that Gioia brought home from a Food Dynasty in Woodside: two loaves of white bread, six ears of corn, five oranges, six bananas, three cucumbers, three cans of tuna, four packets of ramen, five boxes of Ronzoni pasta, one jar of tomato sauce, one bag of carrots (organic), one stick of butter, processed-cheese slices, one tub of pre-mixed peanut butter and jelly (Smucker’s Goober). Total cost: $24.44.

He gained 2 pounds that week but in doing so raised the awareness of the food-stamp program. He also proved how difficult it is to eat healthy when forced to economize.

Evan Steiner did something similar at Hungry for a Month where he spent only $30 on food for the entire month of November last year.

Those are extreme examples but Sunday in the LA Times, Liz Pulliam Weston answered a reader's question about how someone could reduce the money they spent on food each month. She suggested that a single person can survive on $100-$150 per month for their food purchases. She writes:

Is it tough to get by on so little? Good heavens, yes, but it’s not impossible.

Click over to see how she suggested they do it. Hint: it’s a pretty bland diet and heavy on the carbs.

My partner and I spend about $100 a week on groceries. That’s $400 a month – a far cry from above. We typically eat out one night on the weekend and then maybe one other night during the week – either something inexpensive or take-out. The rest of the time, we eat in. We like to cook.

I actually thought our budget was pretty good until I read the comments in this post over at Frugal Hacks by Meredith where families of four, five, six people were eating on $100 or less a week. She asked the question, “What is your idea of a comfortable grocery budget?”

Not everyone is as thrifty as noted by the college grad at Well-Heeled. She writes:

One of the areas that I can never feel sorry about spending money on is food.

If I felt just a bit more guilty about that $20 sushi dinner or $15 tea, scones and finger sandwiches or $10 fajitas or $5 cream puffs or even $3 lattes that my credit card bills would be so much lower.

But I don’t. I place a high premium on the eating/restaurant-going experience. And given that the best dish I can make is scrambled eggs, I guess I’ll have to go on paying for delicious foods that can only be found at my favorite places.

She’s young and single. Things change when you have a family to feed. It seems the going rate is $100 per person per month, but these seem to be from people who are uber conscious about budgeting. I’m curious what others think.

But before we get to your comments, here are two ways to trim the food budget:

Learn how to buy in bulk. The Mom at I’ve Paid For This Twice Already explains how she’s trying to incorporate bulk buying into her shopping.

Eat beans. Melissa Summers at Suburban Bliss went on what she coined the “BlogHer Black Bean Diet” in order to save money on their food budget. This was all in an attempt to get herself to the conference in California back in 2005. Call it a budget crisis! It’s a fun post and I like her blog.

So what is your weekly / monthly food budget and how do you stay within those limits? Love to hear your comments below!

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Nina blogs about money at Queercents.

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