I thought I'd post about food expenditures, since I enjoy reading other people's personal stories on their blogs.
C and I are on a specific diet (Body for Life if anyone's interested). This means that, ideally, we eat six small meals of roughly equal protein/carb portions with a healthy fat at each meal. One day a week we get to eat however much we want of whatever foods we want -- a "free day". We have budgeted NZ$65 for the two of us weekly, this includes cleaning and basic hygiene supplies. We keep an eye on our food throughout the week and add things to a list as we go. On Thursday we plan out our menus, and make a grocery list. We shop once a week, on our free day, which is Saturday. We shop at two different stores: the Cheap Supermarket and the Frozen Goods store. Eggs and chicken are bought at the FG, everything else is bought at CS.
$15-20 of our weekly budget goes towards chicken breasts. We both lift weights, and need lean protein. I don't eat any red meat, C eats steak or lamb 1-2 times per week. Because meat is such a large part of our budget, we try to keep the rest down as much as possible.
Things we do
-- The closer to the way God made it the better it is: Most of the food we buy is unprocessed, which we feel is much healthier. We'll choose popcorn over crackers, etc. I am able to make many of our foods such as biscuits and bread rolls from scratch. I have found that it doesn't take too much extra time and you can make the exact amount that you want rather than eating the rest of the packet because it's there. Which brings me to my next point...
-- Eat off the margin: The idea, gleaned from Tightwad Gazette, is that the first couple bites are great, and after that you experience less pleasure with each bite. So what will satisfy you? We used to buy a large bag of potato chips, and then we'd feel obliged to eat it all on that day, so there wouldn't be any left over to tempt us on non-free days. We enjoyed them, but they led to mindless munching. So we tried just splitting an individual bag of potato chips. We found that that satisfied us, we felt as though we had a special treat and we didn't actually miss the mindless munching.
-- Generics won't kill you: We buy a lot of generic stuff. However one thing we buy brand name are baked beans. C tried the generic ones and feels there is a notable difference in quality. So we wait until the brand names are on sale and stock up. That's the rule of thumb for generics -- try them once before you make a decision about brand names. If you don't like them don't use them again.
-- Weigh the cost: We carry a calculator with us which allows us to calculate unit prices. We don't actually keep a price book because we have most of the info in our heads.
-- How many stores? We shop at two that are only a couple blocks away from each other. We do this because of significant savings: At CS chicken breasts are $14.95 per kilo and eggs are $6.95 for 30. At FG chicken breasts are $9.20 per kilo and eggs are $4.95 per 30. Of course if CS is having a sale that beats those prices we won't go to FG but as it is, we save more than the cost of the used petrol. Plus, ahem, FG happens to be next door to our favourite bakery... We do keep an eye on sales at the two other store in the area, but overall CS is best on staples.
-- Treats: We buy everything on the list first and if there is money left over we get one treat each, a chocolate bar or trail mix, or such. After that, any free day food we want comes out of our discretionary money. An exception would be if we are hosting friends or attending a potluck or something like that.
Things we would do if we were living in another country
-- Buy hormone/antibiotic free meat and dairy products. Regulations in NZ mean that I don't have to worry about that here, but I definitely think it would be worth it if hormones and antibiotics were routinely added. I don't really worry about pesticides either, but I do need to do more research on those areas.
-- Taxes: In New Zealand, tax is included in the price of the item. However if you shop in a country where sales tax is not included in the shelf price, subtract the percentage of the sales tax from your grocery budget and figure out how much you really have to spend. For instance if NZ tax was 6% on top of the shelf price the formula I use would go something like this: 65*.06=3.9, 65-3.0= 61.10. So if I've budgeted $65 for groceries I really have $61.10 to spend before I get up the counter.
Things we don't do
-- Put cost before health. We could live off two minute noodles and stay alive but our health is important to us. -- Beat ourselves up for deviating from these rules once in a while. If one of us is PMS-ing and has no discretionary money left, we're not going deprive her of ice cream. If someone has a cold, we might run to the store for fresh-squeezed OJ. If there's a really good sale, we'll go over budget and take it off next week's grocery allowance. We do allow a certain amount of flexibility.
-- Deviate from these rules on a regular basis. We've set a budget and we generally stick to it.
Things we want to try in the future
-- Eating more vegetarian meals after the weightlifting period slows down
-- Living off the 'Pantry Principle' a la Tightwad Gazette
I'll end this with one of our favourite frugal recipes -- it uses five ingredients that we always have on hand, and is soooo good.
Balsamic vinegar chicken and couscous for two
200 grams chicken (8 oz)
½ cup couscous
1.5 tbs balsamic vinegar 2 tspbs olive oil
Crushed garlic to taste (2tsp for us)
Cut up the chicken into stir-fry pieces and put in a closed container with the vinegar, ½ olive oil and garlic. Shake to thoroughly coat then leave in fridge for an hour or so.
Heat ¾ cup water and remaining oil to the boiling point. Take the pot off the burner and add the couscous, making sure it is all submerged into the water. Cover the pot and let sit for five minutes.
Cook the chicken mixture in a pan sprayed with non-stick spray or on a counter top grill like the George Foreman. Fluff the couscous with a fork and divide it into bowls, putting the chicken on top. If you like, add more balsamic and a veg, such as broccoli.