How I Halved My Food Budget to $600 a Month

A millennial takes six months to draft new habits to halve her food and entertainment budget -- so she can have enough for her other desires.

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Cashier smiling at customer on checkout line in supermarket, close-up
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By Kali Geldis

I opened up my budget tracking tool last November, and my jaw dropped -- I had spent $1,200 on food that month. That's when I knew I had to make a change.

Now, a few notes about that total: That includes groceries, restaurants, bars and fast food. Also, I prepared Thanksgiving dinner -- $125 for couple of pies and a turkey for six people. However, that $1,200 number stuck with me -- I needed to cut my spending on food.

It's no surprise that food was a big budget-breaker for me -- it's one of the most common expenses on which financial planners see clients spending too much money. I definitely felt like I was throwing money away. There are so many other ways I could use that money -- paying for a vacation, investing more money in an individual retirement account, saving for a down payment on a home, paying for a wedding.

It was when my now-fiancé proposed over Christmas that I knew needed to buckle down and cut my food spending by a lot. Weddings are expensive, and the money that was going toward nights out and nice dinners with friends was wrecking my budget. While I wasn't going into debt, I realized it was just a matter of time. And debt is something I strenuously avoid. (I never carry a balance on my credit cards and am constantly monitoring my credit scores for free on Credit.com to make sure my credit utilization level is low.) If I was going to start cutting my food spending, I needed new rules for myself.

How I Cut My Food Spending in Half
  • Pack lunch for work. A simple step, yes, but I realized that I don't need to pack a lunch every day for work, just pack supplies for lunches once a week. I realized I could get a big supply of baby spinach, some dried cranberries and some salad dressing, and have enough to last me for lunches the entire week. It made packing a lunch less of a hassle, and helped me avoid ordering lunch delivered to the office on Seamless on a daily basis. (I still let myself order in every once in a while.)
  • Make grocery shopping a priority. I'm a New Yorker, so stocking up on groceries for the week is more difficult than hopping in my car, filling up my cart and heading home. I have to carry all my groceries from the store to my apartment, and a week's worth of food is shockingly heavy. I've opted instead to use Fresh Direct to order groceries every week. Even though I know I'm not getting the best deal on every item I buy, I know that by regularly filling my fridge, I'm not ordering a $25 meal from an online food delivery service. The savings adds up.
  • Just say no. Part of my food spending problem was that I would go out with friends and feel pressured to order another round of drinks, splurge on dessert, or get a bunch of appetizers for the table. I deserved it, right? I had to learn some self-control and think about the bigger expenses I really wanted -- owning a home in a few years, saving money for my upcoming wedding (and the awesome honeymoon we want), and planning for a fully funded retirement. (Yes -- I'm a millennial who is thinking about retirement -- we do exist!)
I looked at my food spending in May -- it's down to about $600, a huge accomplishment. It took me about six months to really get into a groove with these new habits, but the payoff is big. My fiancé and I are on track to save more than $1,000 a month for our wedding, and we're hoping to have a little left over to save for the other big costs down the road.

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27 Comments

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Craig Bean

My wife and I have tracked all of our expenses, even cash, down to the $ for many years. Our last 7 year average is $266/month on food. Again, this includes groceries, fast food, and dining out. From what I gather, we'd have to increase our spending to go on food stamps! We don't eat out much, and like making good food at home. We don't waste much of anything, and eat all leftovers. In fact, we cook to make leftovers, so we don't have to actually cook every night. Pork ribs, baby red potatoes, and cherry cheesecake yesterday, so we're not suffering either! This is a simple place to save lots of money if you really want to.

June 16 2014 at 11:58 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
clexfox

We are a middle class family of four trying to stretch our budget on $400 a month on groceries that also includes things like diapers and dog food. Let me know when you face a real challenge.

June 10 2014 at 9:03 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
chyeh557

do u know that food stamps are less than three dollars a day? also they are hard to use and embarrassing when you actually try to buy food most places refuse to take your card so you cant get readytoeat food and who says you have the money or time to carry groceries and cook them at home

June 04 2014 at 3:38 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to chyeh557's comment
Craig Bean

Government info shows the average per person per month is $153. Some will be higher and some lower of course, but that's more than my wife and I spend per person per month on food now, and we can afford it.

June 16 2014 at 12:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
dragonphly00

you spent how much a month on food just for yourself? good god woman. My husband and I spend about 350.00 every 2 months for our food. Where in the world do you go to do your shopping? Neiman Marcus?

June 04 2014 at 2:25 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Socho Ekon

This chick is an idiot.... I bet she buys organic crap to have a food bill that high.

June 04 2014 at 1:42 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
sebattok

I can't imagine spending that much on 1 person and thinking of that as cutting back. We feed a family of five (two teenager boys) for that much

June 04 2014 at 12:11 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
gbri153373

The article was useless. I was hoping to learn something new that would be of help to my family, I feed four adults on $600 or less per month. Feel like I could teach Kali Geldis a few things about budgeting. The article makes me wonder how much she is spending on clothes, shoes, hair cuts, etc., per month.

June 03 2014 at 11:43 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to gbri153373's comment
Socho Ekon

the cost of living in New York City is high... $600 a month is about right. $1200 isn't, but $600 is.

June 04 2014 at 1:43 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Ileneaa

I have been tracking my foodbudget since I started to live alone 30 yrs ago. I also do it by catagory;sometimes i can see there's too much dessert and not enuf frresh veggies. I keep a weekly record of all spending because month by month changes with needs. Food shop is easy to compare indiv items also. I used to be in retailing years ago; this is the way stores always figured their "OPEN-TO-BUY $$$ for the next month's shelves and in many cases stuff for new seasons (Halloween, Xmas,Val.Day etc. Try it--you'll like it!

June 03 2014 at 11:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
wallamalloo

And she is probably going to contribute to the gene pool.

June 03 2014 at 7:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jpfmtka

Kali Geldis is a moron. AOL even more so for publishing what could actually win some type of award for the most useless money saving article ever composed.Even the academically handicapped could arrive at the conclusions and recommendations suggested here.

June 03 2014 at 7:35 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply