A typical night as we are ready to fall asleep:

*faint glow from Al’s side of the bed*

Me: “Sweetheart, what are you doing?”

Husband: “Oh, just thought I’d check our budget before we go to sleep.” (carefully scrutinizing his highly sophisticated budget spreadsheet on his phone)

Me: “Um, do you think that’s the best thing to think about right now? You might not sleep well.”

Husband: “No, this makes me feel good! Did you see our electricity bill? It’s half of what it was last month. And did you notice that this month we were able to put an extra $2500 towards the mortgage!?”

Me: “Oh yeah?…..” (yawn)

Husband: “Oh my, and look at how much we spent on food this month!”

Me: “What?! Did we spend a lot? Are we over from last month? Let me see that!” (phone suddenly ripped from husband’s hands)

And so proceeds our relaxing evening in bed. After a few heated moments trying to decipher the situation with our food expenses and whether the returned item to Costco was accounted for, we are both finally able to fall into blissful sleep. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all about saving money. But it’s not until we get to the food budget column that I’m wide awake and anxious to see how my money-saving efforts are changing our financial picture.

How interested are you in your food spending? Food costs are ongoing, month after month, year after year, and can truly make or break your finances. When Al and I got married, we started making small efforts to save money on food. And when we finally stepped back to look at how much we were actually spending, we were shocked….pleasantly shocked! A few consistently held principles had saved us thousands of dollars a year and dropped our food budget to 90% less than an average American household.

Average Monthly Food Expenses

* These are the USDA food cost plans for Jan 2014 for 2 middle-age adults. Interestingly, the “thrifty” plan is the basis for maximum food stamp allotments.

So our average monthly grocery expenses of $57 in 2013 is about 10% of the $608 USDA Moderate Food Plan for 2 middle-age adults.  Yes, you read that correctly.  That is 90% less.

In fact, if you were to divide our $57/month average by 30 days in a month and by 2 people eating 2 meals a day, you would get an average of about $0.50/meal/person. Now, before you start thinking that every meal we eat, every day of the year, costs us only $0.50, remember that like many people, our year includes out-of-town visits to family, potluck and other church activities, business trips, free birthday meals, consumable gifts and other random things that help our food budget and consequently affect our yearly average.

But our analytical curiosity was piqued, so Al and I sat down and crunched some numbers to determine approximately how much we really spend for a typical homemade meal/menu. We found that although our average meal does not usually cost $0.50, it does usually range between $0.50 to $1.00. So if we took the average of that ($0.75) and multiplied it by our 2 meals/day for both of us, our monthly food costs would come out to about $90. Still under $100!

Below we list the monthly amounts we spent on food over the last few years.

Breakdown of Monthly Food Expenses

  Jan Feb Mar April May June July Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
2011  n/a $98 $157 $108 $88 $62 $76 $44 $108 $75 $52 $39
2012 $93 $124 $104 $67 $26 $127 $68 $85 $50 $76 $67 $67
2013 $53 $75 $138 $0 $48 $25 $23 $136 $41 $56 $26 $59

Is This For Real?

You’re probably thinking, “What do these people eat?! Do they starve themselves? It’s crazy to think you can eat for under $100 a month!” Well, those are good questions, because if I were an outsider looking at our food budget, I would probably think the same thing. So to clear some of your doubts and answer a few of the questions you probably have, here is some info about us:

  • We shop economically – More on this in another post about what we buy, but our routine is shopping at ALDI every other week where we usually spend between $20-40 per visit (read our full series on ALDI). In the between weeks, we may pick up a few necessities at Walmart (usually with an ALDI price match). The months where you can see we went over $100 (*gasp!*) usually are special trips to Atlanta where we stock up on Asian food or to Costco to resupply things like soymilk. The month where we spent $0, was probably because we stocked up so much the month before.
  • We eat healthfully – We’re vegetarian and do our best to eat simply yet wholesomely. We avoid junk food, snacking, eating out, and try to make as much as we can from scratch (read more about how we cook here). In the future we hope to share a few recipes and sample menus so you can see and try it for yourself! (UPDATE: Here’s a recipe for easy creamy vegan alfredo, quick and easy vegan cornbread, and our easiest cheapest granola recipe ever.)

    Vegetarian Asian noodle soup - simple, healthy, yummy, and cheaper than the restaurant!

    Vegetarian Asian noodle soup – simple, healthy, yummy, and cheaper than the restaurant!

  • We eat more than sufficiently – Being Asian, we love food and mealtimes, so although we try to keep meals simple, we love food that is tasty, colorful, and cultural. In fact, as opposed to starving, both Al’s and my weight have increased over the last 3 years as our monthly food budget has decreased!

    Homemade vegan inari sushi and California rolls

    Homemade vegetarian inari sushi and California rolls

  • Yes, we are strange – I’ll admit it. Compared to most of American society (and a lot of our friends), spending under $100/month for food is definitely strange! But in today’s society, so is paying off your mortgage, not being a slave to credit card debt, and even standing up for principles and morals you believe in. So, I’m proud to be “strange” when it comes with living healthfully, being wise stewards of the Lord’s money, and living by principles that have made me happy and content.

Of course, sharing our experience isn’t meant to make you think that your family has to be like ours. We know that our way isn’t best for everyone and that every family has their own special circumstances and needs. However, we do hope that it will convince you that it is possible to live on less. We are living proof!

In this post we mainly wanted to open up, let you inside our personal budget, and hopefully inspire you a little. However, it probably made you curious as to how we did it. Keep reading our next posts to find out how:

How We Eat for Less Than $60 a Month: Part 1 – Our Philosophy
How We Eat for Less Than $60 a Month: Part 2 – What We Buy
How We Eat for Less Than $60 a Month: Part 3 – How We Cook
How to Plan a Menu On a Budget