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Update #2: How We’re Slaying Our Food and Dining Bill

Photo by Tammy Strobel

In March, I wrote an article about how we’re slaying our food and dining bill. Recently, a few readers asked me to post a status update about the idea. Today, I’ll share an informal update and a few observations about the project.

With that, let’s get started!

At the end of February, we started to plan our meals carefully, and we began to closely track our spending on food and dining. Doing so impacted our habits and spending.

Check out the difference in our food and dining spending over the past four months:

  • January 2017 — $1081
  • February 2017 — $970
  • March 2017 — $637
  • April 2017 — $700

The figures above include groceries for our home (the bulk of the totals), dining at restaurants, cafe stops, coffee and tea for our house, and alcohol.

Other observations about this project include:

1. Ideally, we’d like to spend $400 a month on food and dining. I hope we can make that happen by June. We need to tweak our budget and do a better job at meal planning and preparation to make that goal a reality. Instead of being hard on myself or trying to be perfect, I’m having fun with the process. Changing my habits takes time, and that’s okay!

2. I’m spending additional time in the kitchen cleaning and doing dishes because we don’t have a dish washer. When I’m in cleanup mode, I listen to podcasts, think about writing projects, or zone out. Also, I’m learning to let my dishes sit in the sink if I’m tired. There is no rule that says my kitchen needs to be spotless all of the time. Plus, letting things get messy is an excellent way to let go of my perfectionist tendencies.

3. When we lived in the tiny house full-time, I shopped for fresh food every few days because our refrigerator was very small. In our apartment, we have a large refrigerator, a freezer, and additional cabinet space in the kitchen. This enables us to shop once a week for food. Eating well in our tiny house wasn’t a problem. However, it’s nice to have a little more space in our cupboards. And speaking of storage, we’re purchasing more food in bulk (like almonds, walnuts, dried fruit, protein bars, etc.) because it’s less expensive. Hopefully, these purchases will lead to a reduction in our spending over time.

Are you trying to spend less on food and dining? If yes, what have you learned from the experience? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

With gratitude,

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Roxanne Malone May 9, 2017, 1:05 pm

    This is always an ongoing process for my family. I’m in the middle of divorce and am trying to cut costs while still feeding the kids and myself well. Life is constantly in transition!

    • Tammy Strobel May 9, 2017, 5:03 pm

      I wish you all the best Roxanne. 🙂 Thanks for reading and for sharing.

  • Angela May 9, 2017, 2:00 pm

    I budget $50/week for groceries for myself and my daughter. That includes packed lunches for both of us. $400/month is very doable. I plan my meals for the week, included packed lunches, and buy absolutely no more than what we need. That means I’ll buy one potato if that’s what’s needed that week. I don’t care that I can get a 5 lb bag for $2.00. I don’t do sales, coupons, or buy in bulk. We end up wasting food that way. Last week I bought one large carrot for $0.30 instead of the $2.00 bag of carrots and it was used in 3 of our meals that week.

    • Tammy Strobel May 9, 2017, 5:02 pm

      That’s awesome Angela!

      Buying in bulk can be tricky. So far buying items like almonds, walnuts, etc. in bulk has been a good move for us. I know we’ll eat them and they are much less expensive in bulk. However, if I buy fresh food in bulk it’s wasted. It’s so important to be mindful with food purchases. I hate wasting good food! 😉

      Thank you for sharing!

  • Dutch May 9, 2017, 3:54 pm

    Hi Tammy,
    I have followed your story since I saw an article about you and Logan in the Atlanta Journal over 10 years ago. Congratulations on your new pursue to save more money regardless who is our president. We realized how much money we spent in groceries and eating out while checking my annual CC expenditure years ago – talk about surprise!!! We have been keeping record of our groceries/eating out seriously since 2015. We simply use an Excel sheet for each month with a detailed list of items. Then gather each month total in a separate worksheet where we can compare by item, month, and year. We can see how many times a year we purchased an item and what items we purchased the most. Basically, do any analysis we want.

    We do not do coupons, buy in bulk (unless it is the best price of the year), plan our meals, budget, or pay cash exclusively. We do in store coupons, buy when items on sale, and buy what we need (easier said than done….). We buy quality more than quantity and go for fresh more than package/frozen food. It helps that we have learned what food we tend to eat more often. We try to make simple, tasty, quick meals that use items available around us – and make extra for lunch. We also have a running grocery list where we write what we need or if we want something special. This is the list we use for our groceries. Items such as beer, ice cream, chips, salmon dip do not make the groceries list but sometimes show up in the shopping cart. When buying something special, we make sure to have a plan for the remaining of the product. We also try to utilize all the food we have in the house. Our monthly average expenditure for last year was $510 and I am sure we could have spent a lot less but did not try (ice cream? beer?).

    I would also like to point you to the USDA Food Plans website (https://www.cnpp.usda.gov/USDAFoodPlansCostofFood) where they report the US cost of food monthly among other helpful tips. Very helpful website.

    By learning about your food habits, you will learn what to buy and how/where to save. Good luck.

    • Tammy Strobel May 9, 2017, 4:57 pm

      Thank you for following my work for so long! I’m honored. Also, thanks for leaving a comment. Your tips were super helpful. 😉

  • Vicky White May 9, 2017, 4:59 pm

    Thanks for the update. I’m actively working on reducing my food spending. Food here in New Zealand is a lot more than Canada and especially the US, and I choose to eat organic as much as possible. I also live in a bus , traveling around the country so spinach is about all I can grow on the go. I started off spending $700 a month just for me. Probably $850 a month if I include everything you include. I rarely eat out and don’t drink. But this is the one category of my spending that has the potential to be adjusted. It’s also one of the most important to me – to eat well. I started by not buying things unless I’d run out or was close to running out. At the same time I’m quickly learning towns and specific stores that sell my bulk items more cheaply so I stock up at those places. I also set the intention that people would give me fresh veggies as I travel about – and this has been happening more and more – many people grow their own in NZ. I think that along with being more conscious about my spending choices has really helped. I have my monthly spending down to $575 which I’m happy with, and perhaps it can go a bit lower if I plan meals more. One more thing, I recently gave up eating sugar and high sugar fruits and that’s made a big difference along with feeling a lot better in my body. I’ve been tracking my spending in different categories since I returned to live in NZ two years ago. That has made me much more conscious and I’ve made lots of adjustments so I’m spending on what’s valuable to me and not other things. I think if I kept track of what I’m eating each day that would bring a lot more consciousness to my food spending – and luckily I find this kind of tracking fun. I love the challenge. I look forward to more of your updates.

    • Tammy Strobel May 9, 2017, 5:11 pm

      Thanks for sharing Vicky. I’ll post additional updates as we adjust our food & dining budget.

      I’m not a big drinker these days. Not drinking often has been so good for my body and mind! I’ve also been thinking of giving up processed sugar.

      Good luck with your travels in NZ. It sounds like an amazing adventure!

      P. S. For tracking food, try MyFitnessPal. I’ve been using it and it’s super helpful. I’ve also tracked my meals in a journal. Either way works. 😉

      • Vicky White May 9, 2017, 5:45 pm

        Thanks for the tracker info – I meant to ask about that but forgot.

  • shanna May 9, 2017, 6:34 pm

    You two are killin’ it! With summer’s fresh bounty of fruits and veggies right around the corner, you’ll hit your target $400 soon 🙂

  • Annie May 9, 2017, 7:34 pm

    I’ve been using the Mindful Budgeting planner too and am struggling to stick to a budget for food and other things like toiletries but it’s getting better. If we do eat out we don’t order drinks and we try to share an entree or take half home if we each get one to stretch it into another meal, and we make sure to take any leftover bread too for toast the next morning. We make our own coffee and tea to take with us when we go out for walks or just sit in the park. I try to buy beets and radishes with the greens on them as sauteed beet greens are tasty and radish greens are good in a salad, it’s like getting two veggies in one. I save veggie scraps and meat bones in the freezer to make my own stock. Dry beans are cheaper than canned and easy to prepare and can be frozen. When fish or meat is on sale we buy at least two meals worth and freeze the extra in portions. Since I had to give up carbonated beverages we noticed our grocery bill has shrunk quite a bit so we both stick to water or homemade iced tea.

    • TrishD May 13, 2017, 1:07 am

      I find the best way to stick to a toiletries budget is to buy in bulk and decant into something attractive for the bathroom. Our bathroom is grey – what a hopeless colour scheme: nothing goes with it! So I buy toiletries in white bottles with a black top, use them up and then decant ultra-cheap shampoos, bubble bath, etc, which usually come in 2-litre bottles, into the nicer-looking bottles. I find the supermarket own-brand shea butter shampoo is better than any brand, while hair ‘mask’ lasts a lot longer than liquid conditioner – I don’t think I’ve bought either so far this year, as the big bottles last a long time. For makeup, other than mascara, which should be replaced regularly, if you decant 90% alcohol into a little spray bottle and spritz your makeup and brushes after every use, you can go on virtually forever. I’m a makeup artist for film, and that’s what we do. You can also prolong the life of mascara, if yours is expensive, by cutting greaseproof paper into 2x3in squares, cleaning off the mascara brush before use – then use (there is just the right amount left on the brush), then clean the brush with a mediwipe, pick up the extra mascara on the paper, and put the brush back in the tube. That will easily double its longevity.

  • robin May 10, 2017, 5:15 pm

    I do a big meal prep once a week…… This cuts down on food costs and time in the kitchen. Pinterest has tons of sites for this sort of prepping as well as the WellFed website. I prep out breakfast for the week; usually steel cut oats and coconut milk or an egg and veggie dish. Then every day I choose the toppings; either sweet or savory. Lunch: I make up quart mason jar salads or soup for the week, changing it up again with toppings. For dinner I cook up a chosen protein for a few days at a time for the week and just make a fresh veggie side every day. I bring my own coffee to work. I make most things from scratch, better tasting and no processed junk.

  • Ula May 12, 2017, 12:37 pm

    I’m tracking my spendings again. I’ve noticed that already the fact that you have to put your spending into Excel sheet, makes you buy more conscious and spend less. After spending 1000 in March, we’ve spent 700 in April (not USD). A part of it can be: less eating out, almost no alcohol and sweets, eating and planning more consciously – eating at home.
    I’m courious how your next months will look.

  • TrishD May 13, 2017, 12:51 am

    I live in rural France, where food is high quality but expensive. There are also no cheap meats because the French eat every part of the animal, including ears, tongue and feet. Food is important to us and I aim to feed the DH and myself for 1 euro per head per meal and usually have no trouble with that. We aren’t vegetarian but we eat mainly vegetable-based meals and might add a bit of bacon or chorizo for flavour occasionally: we eat Chinese, Thai, Moroccan and Indian cuisine, a lot of rice (bought in bulk), and a lot of pulses (purchased dry, then soaked, cooked and frozen – the cheapest are haricots, green lentils and chickpeas). Meals are based around rice, pulses, potatoes, carrots and onions, plus whatever’s in season and therefore cheap – last winter, for instance, a single pumpkin did us 27 helpings: it was the size of a house. Breakfast is usually porridge or fruit and yoghurt; dessert is usually Greek yoghurt with honey and fruit and I make our own ice-cream from frozen fruit and yoghurt; dinner is usually cereal, or crackers with a bit of cheese, as we don’t really eat in the evening. For lunch, we have vegetable tagines, curries, stir-fries, risottos, vegan bigos (Polish hunters stew), colcannon, etc and the leftovers get souped or made into fritters, so each meal does two meals. The slow cooker gets used a LOT! The dog gets more meat than we do – offcuts from the butcher’s counter, which are free, and frozen chicken thighs, which are fairly cheap. Fish, mainly salmon, is our big expense – we have it at least twice a week (I could get a licence to fish, but don’t like river fish, or scaling and gutting). We also produce a bit of our own food: our land is mostly bedrock, but I have a few soft fruit bushes and half a dozen fruit trees – apples, plums, a quince and a medlar. Fruiting is a bit hit and miss because we’re organic, but there’s more than we need and we give a lot away: our three apple trees give between 5 and 25 crates a year. So, we eat a LOT of apples – apple and cheese turnovers, apple and cabbage stews, you name it, and I freeze or process masses of it. I make apple juice, and pick grapes at a friend’s, pasturise the juice and we split it 50/50. I also make vinegars, cordials and ‘wine’ with roses, rosehips, blackberries, elderberries and elderflowers. Our neighbours all make calvados – the local hooch – illegally, so that’s cheap: a splash of it greatly enlivens a stew. Our big walnut tree carpets the courtyard with nuts every year (again, we give a lot away) and I also gather chestnuts from our lane, which I process and freeze for stews. It’s noticeable, by the way, how much the French glean from hedgerows – all the major roads are planted with hazelnuts and you see people up the banks, gathering nuts every year. Wine is bought annually, in the ‘foire des vins’ at the supermarket – it reduces the price from 2.39 euros a bottle to 1.69 euros: I drink about a bottle a week, so it’s not a major expense. The DH drinks beer and cider, which is more money – I can’t find anything cheap that he likes. The local discount store is a good source for dried and tinned food bargains such as chocolate, dried fruit, crosti breads or Swedish flatbread, wholemeal pasta, polenta, olives, couscous and tabbouleh. We buy one loaf of bread a week and never waste a crumb – stale bread is cut and fried for croutons to go with soup, or crumbed and frozen to make ‘brown Betty’, etc. The French say it is ‘a sin to waste bread’. And once a month, we don’t shop at all but only eat what we have in – again, to avoid waste.

  • Cat May 13, 2017, 3:54 pm

    Hi Tammy,
    We have four kids so I find meal planning essential and we buy in bulk where possible. Being organised generally is the key because when Im pushed for time (currently painting our house so lots of disorganisation) I make expensive short cuts. On a side note, I plan our meals weekly and we try to take a trip around the world – a Middle Eastern dish one day and South East Asian the next and Greek another. The kids love learning about the different flavours and cultures. Finally I run my eyes down the list and check that we have red meat a couple of times for the week, fish once and white meat too!! Cheers,

  • Jen Forest May 21, 2017, 10:53 pm

    I’ve been tackling this one for a while with my husband and daughter. Here’s what I’ve learnt so far – still learning!

    1. Online shop for groceries. I don’t know about the USA but down under in Australia we can order our weekly groceries from the major supermarkets – they deliver the whole thing to our door. Just this alone saved $50 a week by not taking me or my daughter into the shops.

    2. Cracking down on food waste – freeze leftovers, pickle vegetables, feed it to my husband 🙂

    3. Bake cakes, don’t buy from the bakery for birthdays and picnics.