When my husband and I agreed that for the month of May we’d spend no more than $100 each week on all of our food and beverages, I had no idea how it would turn out. This kind of budgeting was totally new for us, and I had no idea if it was realistic here in pricey Southern California.
So I was thrilled that we made it! Granted, we squeaked through last week with just $0.08 to spare, but we did it. And while it wasn’t always easy, I learned a lot.
Here are the Basics of the Challenge:
- We spent no more than $100 per week on all food and beverages for both of us.
- Anything we ate or drank counted- whether it was a quick pick-me-up from the coffee shop, groceries, take-out, or meeting friends for beers.
- Non-food grocery items (like charcoal, Pur water filters, aluminum foil) didn’t count. But anything we would eat or drink (tea bags, olive oil, etc.) counted towards the $100.
- Sales tax didn’t count.
How We Made it Work:
- We eliminated eating out. The most illuminating experience of the challenge? Seeing just how much we saved by cooking at home. Even simple Chinese take-out costs $15, which would make several meals worth of chicken and vegetables to eat at home.
- Shopping stores that promote high-quality, low-cost products like Trader Joe’s and Fresh & Easy. Thanks to a friend’s suggestions, I also found a local Armenian market and was amazed by the savings there. In my experience, exploring non-traditional sources for groceries is the fastest way to trim your food budget.
- Buying whole foods. I’ve always heard that each time a food item is chopped, cooked, or otherwise prepped for you, you’re adding cost and calories and subtracting nutrients. Buying non-prepared food items helped us get the most for our money, and we never felt deprived.
What Was Hard About the Challenge:
- I have to be honest, it cramped our social life a bit. People kept asking us out for drinks or dinner, and we kept having to explain. We actually entertained at our home a couple of times and were able to offer drinks and hors d’oeuvres for well within our budget. One night out, though, would have totally thrown us off track.
- Not having a fully-stocked pantry made cooking more challenging. I couldn’t always dash out to the store for missing ingredients, so I often had to get creative, which was fun- but also time-consuming.
What I Hope We’ll Keep Doing:
- We were definitely over-buying at the grocery store. Because we started shopping “smart,” it actually took very little to feed us all week long. I plan to continue focusing on whole foods, fresh vegetables, and versatile items (like rice, peas, lentils, and eggs).
- We were way too dependent on dining out. It had become a crutch. While I certainly appreciate a well-prepared, well-served meal (and can’t wait to visit some of our favorite local places), we now know that we can often eat better if we eat at home. I hope we’ll save our dining out dollars for special treats and places that really deserve them.
- Our social life apparently revolves around eating and drinking. I guess getting together with friends is simply synonymous with going out for dinner, but I wish we had a more expansive view of socializing. I’m still working on this one, so I’d love to hear your suggestions. How do you spend time with friends outside of restaurants and bars?