Tuesday, January 22, 2008

What Can I Buy With a $200 per Month Grocery Budget?

I have mentioned in a couple of previous posts that I plan on a grocery budget of $200/month this year. This budget needs to fit the following parameters:
  • It is for one person only (I am not trying to feed a family on this budget)
  • It must include as many whole foods as possible and minimize prepackaged "food products"
  • It must include funds for household supplies (toilet paper) and toiletries (shampoo etc.)
  • It must include funds for occasionally eating out.
Is that a tall order? I don't think so. I have come across a number of posts and forums where people claim to feed a family of 4 on under $200/month (I'll have to hunt around for those links and get back to you). Some resources that have been recommended are the Grocery Game and Coupon Mom. I haven't used either of the services so I can't say how useful they are.

So how do I intend to pull this off?

  1. I know my eating habits and preferences.
  2. I am willing to put in the time to prepare my food at home (I think!)
  3. I am not an impulse snack shopper; I shop with a list.
Here's the breakdown for the month:


Meats: $50
Chicken/red meat: $20
Fish: $30

Vegetables: $40
Salad greens: $15
Onions: $5
Tomatoes: $5
Potatoes: $5
Misc. Seasonal Vegetables: $10

Grains/Beans/Lentils: $15 (super cheap stuff and can provide the bulk of your calories)
Rice: $5
Lentils and beans: $5
Oatmeal (old fashioned): $5

Fruits: $20
Berries: $10
Seasonal fruit: $10

Dairy: $30
Cottage cheese: $15
Plain yogurt: $15

Desserts: $10

Oil/Condiments/Spices: $10

Household Supplies: $10

Dining Out: $20

No alcohol, cigarettes, or recreational drugs needed.

When I lay out the numbers like that, it doesn't look like that's a lot of food. However, these numbers are based on actual prices from my local grocery store, and a skeleton menu plan. I didn't do any comparison shopping to find these prices.


I find a skeleton menu plan very handy. I decide how to balance my meals and then just do slight variations over the weeks. Here's what a typical day would be like for me:

I cup slow cooked oatmeal (takes 5 min in the microwave)
I cup cottage cheese
I cup chopped berries

3-4oz meat/chicken/fish (takes 5 minutes to grill in the toaster over, or I can stew up enough for the week)
salad greens
cooked vegetables (spinach or potatoes etc.)

3-4 oz chicken/meat/fish
rice (bless the rice cooker)
a spicy condiment

Ice cream or a piece of chocolate

There are usually some left-overs from the meals so I can have a couple of snacks during the day as well.

Possible Hurdles
  1. Laziness (ahem!). If I'm not careful about planning sufficient time to prep my meals, then I will be sorely tempted to resort to using prepackaged items.
  2. I may want to hang out with friends at restaurants more often than I am planning. I will have to come up with strategies to deal with that.
  3. I've been reading The China Study and am wondering if I need to rethink the amount of animal protein that I have in my daily diet. After I spend some time mulling that over, this whole menu might change. Hmmm.
Household supplies
I am not a big consumer of household products. My biggest expense in this category is toilet paper. I don't use use chemical cleaners or paper towels. Shampoo and toothpaste last quite a long time. I really don't have to lather, rinse, and repeat. Laundry detergent also lasts a long time. Which TV ad convinced moms in the 1950s that you can't wear your clothes a few times before you wash them? How absurdly wasteful!


Anonymous said...

This sounds very similar to my food budget setup (same amount of money, feeding 1 person). The major difference is that I budget out restraunts under mad money instead of food budget.

The trick that makes it work for me is that I plan out my menus for the pay period prior to going shopping and try to stick to it as much as possible. It lets me know aproximatly how much of what to buy, and to put off buying certain veggies, for example, until right before I cook a dish. (Mushrooms -- you can't store them worth anything.) This cuts down on waste. I also try to stock up on staples when I've got a little bit of wiggle room, so I can throw something together if I really don't feel like eating what I planned to. All in all, I end up cooking about two or three times a week, since I make big batches at a time. It works out really well.

Monroe on a budget said...

Before you sign up for a web site advertisement flier / coupon notification service, check the list to see how many stores you shop at are actually in the database.

When I punch in my zip code to one such service, 5 stores pop up ... but there are 4 other grocery stores that I can, and have shopped, at that aren't listed.

moneychallenge said...

Crighter, glad you pointed out the need to plan meals in order to prevent spoiled produce. I struggled with that for a long time before I finally figured it out!

Monroe, excellent point about making sure that the online services have all your stores in their database.

If you haven't already, read this article at the Simple Dollar: The One Month Coupon Strategy

Anonymous said...

The way you lay those numbers out is not realistic since it's based on the entire month.

On a $200 a month grocery budget, divide this by four weeks. You'll spend no more than $50 every week.

Now try to cram all those items on your list into $50, good luck with that one lol.

moneychallenge said...

Anonymous... Actually $50 a week for food for one person is a LOT of money. I did it for under $25 for years. The items I have on this grocery list are in the quantity needed to last a whole month.

you should check out some of the other blogs out there that outline ways to feed a family of four or more on $200 a month and ask them how they manage.

Anonymous said...

Hi there :) Very interesting blog! My husband and I live pretty comfortably on $200 for groceries every month (not counting eating out twice a month--big splurges), so you'll be ok for sure! I would say though, you need a LOT more carbohydrates in your diet.. MUCH more rice and breads (these can add up, I know), but maybe buying a 10 lb bag of rice (about $15 for really nice basmati rice) which lasts almost two months for us and we are BIG rice eaters (from Afghanistan) :) Carbohydrates is where you're gonna get most of your energy and you can make a LOT of food with flour water and rice :) Non-canned beans and a pressure cooker is a big saver for us also as well as not eating a lot of meat (maybe 3 oz each of whatever meat 3 times a week), most of our protein comes from beans (but you need that complex protein from meat, so not everything).. Well, I hope this helps and I look forward to reading more! ~Haley (Nutrition student) :)

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grocery list for one said...

yep, I think it is possible to live under 25$, of course, it depends on other factors but definitely, the basic grocery list can be done within this budget.