Every day, I hear at least one person complain about the cost of food which admittedly has been going up in no small part to the increasing gas prices. And, more often than not, I hear someone complain about having to choose between buying something they want or need and eating. This last statement, to me, is ridiculous.
I currently have a family of three and my typically monthly food costs run about $150. That’s about $5 a day and less than 10% of my monthly budget. In fact, I probably spend more on luxury items. And, I don’t do anything most people can’t do. And, even though I’ll admit the prices will vary some depending on the size of your family and your location, I am convinced most averaged sized families (5 people or less) can survive on under $10 a day simply by using some common sense.
First, eat home cooked meals. While the occasional trip out to eat is OK, it should be considered a luxury and saved for special occasions. One common theme from the people complaining about food prices is they usually have just made their third trip to McDonalds that week because they didn’t have time to cook or didn’t want to cook.
This is where planning ahead is important. If you know you’re going to be busy during the week, plan your meals. Either pick something you can cook in a crock pot during the day or make your food in advance so all you have to do is pop it in the microwave.
When you do cook, cook in bulk. When I first cooked spaghetti for my wife, she couldn’t believe how big of a pot I made even though there were just two people. She gained new respect for me when she saw me take the leftovers and turn them into my own variation of a TV dinner; enough for a week’s worth of lunches. So, for roughly $7 in ingredients, I made 6 meals. Now that there are three of us, I’m making enough for 3 meals on that price.
Use Pasta whenever possible. Carbohydrates might be the enemy of most diets. But, pasta fills you up quickly and you end up eating less. In fact, when I make chili (another dish that I can cook for under $10 and have enough for several meals) I add macaroni to it for this very reason.
Buy generic or store brands. Unless there is an obvious difference in taste (which isn’t usually the case) there is no reason to spend as much as double your money for a brand name. In fact, I’ve learned that, even if there is a difference in taste, you can usually doctor it up so nobody can notice. One hint: when shopping, look at the bottom shelf first. This is where most stores hide their cheapest products; their more expensive brands are always at eye level.
Grow your own vegetables. Tomatoes cost roughly $2 a pound here. I can buy a packet of seeds for about $1 or some starter plants for about $3 and grow my own. I also grow common staples such as potatoes, lettuce and beans. And, before I get a lot of people complaining that they don’t have the land to do that, before buying my house last September, I lived in apartments. My last place had a small front yard and I grew quite a bit in a 5’x 2′ box garden. When I didn’t have a yard, I still managed to grow things like onions, lettuce and even cherry tomatoes on a small table next to my window. One of the things that attracted me to my new house is the apple tree in the back yard. Apples are currently going for $2.35 a pound.
Another hint: if you do grow an outdoor garden put buckets, old cans and pans around it to collect rain water. That way, you should be able to keep it well-watered without having to run up your utilities.
Invest in a fishing license. There’s an old saying, give a man a fish, you’ll feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and you’ll feed him for a lifetime. That’s still true. I went fishing four times last year and caught roughly 20 pounds of perch, the equivalent of what we eat in a year. Next time you’re at the local grocery store, check out what fresh perch costs. Fishing licenses here cost about $12 and I was able to find a fishing pole for under $10. The bait was free; I just needed to dig in my garden for it.
If you can’t grow it, buy it locally. We have a farmer’s market here every weekend from May through October. Yet, you rarely see anyone go to it. Since the produce is all grown locally, you aren’t paying for the cost of shipping it and can get quite a bargain. I usually pay half as much at the farmers market than I do at the grocery stores.
The fact that I am now walking daily in an attempt to lose the extra few pounds I’m carrying should tell you I have no problem getting enough to eat. And, I’m able to do that without spending ever penny I have. In fact, I don’t even need to budget; I just make sure I’m not overpaying for the items I need.