30 Day Experiment: $100 Food Budget
A healthy, maintainable diet for the frugally minded
As someone who is insanely frugal, this experiment is near and dear to my heart. About a year ago, I mentioned to a co-worker how I had been tracking my food expenses and was spending roughly $300 per month on food. His response threw me for a loop: “my family of 4 eats for less than $300 per month and we eat pretty well.” I had no idea how he did it. Until now…
Surprisingly, I didn’t have a Costco membership. Even though I am legitimately the most ideal customer of Costco. I decided to go ahead and get a membership.
The purpose of my 30 day experiments is to see how much I can improve my life in 30 days or less. The goal of this experiment will be to see how low I can go with my food budget, incorporate a healthy diet, and ensure that this diet is actually maintainable.
Yes, I said a maintainable, healthy diet for $100 per month.
Many people are struggling financially, yet spend over $500 per month on food alone. Just following this protocol, yes it may suck, for a couple months can rid a lot of people of some unwanted debt. I know of people who have a $2000 balance on their credit card. Cutting back on food for just 4–5 months, which is a blip of time in the grand scheme of life, can remove the credit card debt, which indirectly reduces stress, anxiety, and the feeling of financial hopelessness.
Really the purpose of a majority of my 30 day experiments is to allow others to open their eyes to the possibilities of how quickly you can make positive life altering habits.
My Costco Executive membership is for $120 per year. Since I bought during a “special”, I will receive $60 store credit in the mail. The executive membership has a 2% cash back on all purchases perk, and in addition, allowed me to sign up for their credit card, which has additional perks. The $5 per month cost of this card minus the gas savings and cash back rewards will nullify the expense. I included this because the cost of membership is technically an additional expense; it wouldn’t be fair to exclude this note.
Meal 1 (12pm):
Rice and black beans. The most effective and efficient meal on the planet.
The rice was purchased in a 25 pound bag, which is 250 servings, for $7.99 == $0.03 per serving. The organic canned black beans were purchased for $13.58. 56 servings in total for $0.24 per serving. My first meal is 2 servings of rice and 2 servings of black beans.
Total: ($0.03 * 2) + ($0.24 * 2) == $0.54
Meal 2 (3pm):
Protein shake: Organic unsweetened almond milk, mix of berries, spinach, & kale, peanut butter, Optimum Nutrition Protein Powder.
The organic almond milk is packaged by 6 cartons of 4 servings each. 24 servings for $15.58 which is $0.65 per serving. For the sake of this experiment, I will use water on the 6 remaining days to make my calculations simple.
The frozen berry mix is quite the purchase. This mix packs quite the health punch. The mix comes equipped with strawberries, blueberries, spinach, and kale and is prepackaged perfect for smoothies. Each pouch is technically one serving, but half a pouch is ideal for the smoothies I’m making. The berry mix was purchased for $18.78, contains 28 servings, which comes out to $0.67 per serving or $0.335 per smoothie.
The peanut butter is creamy and delicious. Buying two at once cost me $9.99, but the containers combine for 84 servings. Using one serving (2 tablespoons) per smoothie costs me $0.12.
Me being a gym bro, you already know I had protein powder by the gallon. I had roughly 100 servings of Optimum Nutrition protein powder remaining in my pantry. When I purchased these gains gallons, the per serving cost was $0.75. I use one serving per smoothie.
Total: $0.65 + $0.335 + $0.12 + $0.75 == $1.86
Meal 3 (7pm & post workout):
Rice, black beans, oil, eggs, salsa. This delicious mix yielded a 5 star review from Gordon Ramsey — “Spencer sure knows how to make a simple, yet exquisite combo of spice and frugality.”
In addition to two servings of rice and two servings of black beans (mentioned above), I add in a serving of oil which is $0.08 per serving. The oil is bought in 2 x 200 serving containers for $29.99.
Eggs are bought in 5 dozen containers. 60 eggs for $8.39. Each egg is $0.14. Two eggs cracked into my dinner costs me $0.28.
I eye ball the salsa, but I have a hard time believing I’m using more than half a servings worth in each meal. The salsa was $7.79 for 72 servings which comes out to $0.11 per serving. I’ll guesstimate ⅓ of a serving per meal = $0.04
Total: .06 + .48 + .08 + 0.28 + 0.04 = $0.94
Daily Total == $3.34 which is $100.02 over a 30 day span
How to Optimize
Given I am right around the $100 mark, I successfully completed the challenge. However, there are a couple steps I can take to improve this even more.
When I bought my protein powder, I bought in bulk from GNC. The exact same product can be bought for $0.67 per serving at Costco. Another product, of similar quality, is sold for $0.55 per serving. If cost was the only metric, the $0.20 saved per day by buying protein powder from Costco would net a savings of $6 per month. Obviously not much, but we’re a little tight on the margins right now.
Also, I use spices and hot sauce to flavor my beans and rice mix. You can purchase spices in bulk for really cheap at Costco, and even your local grocery store. Including the costs of the spices, my total would probably increase around $5 per month which would nullify the difference in protein powder.
Healthy is subjective, but this diet still qualifies as healthy in my eyes. I eat more fruit and veggies than a majority of the American public, and combined with the almond milk, probably receive a majority of my daily vitamins and minerals just in my protein shake. I exercise regularly, consistently, and well. Plus I get adequate sleep. The trifecta of health is optimized for now.
I realized $100 is probably the bare minimum threshold for eating a healthy diet and not going insane. If health was the sole metric, I would probably eliminate the protein powder on some days and use the $0.75 for a banana and apple. Or cut out the almond milk and protein powder and buy more veggies that day. Keep in mind you don’t need to eat fruit and veggies every day to be healthy. Eating an adequate amount over a prolonged period is all that’s necessary.
This diet doesn’t take account for any other meals eaten within the month. Unless you enter complete monk mode, you will want to eat a pizza or cheeseburger at least once this month.
And this point reaches my conclusion. The point of this experiment is to provide an example for what’s possible. What if the $100 was a baseline and you allowed yourself a budget of $20 per month for splurge meals? Or just set the food budget for $140 and fit your social meals within that framework. Knowing the average food budget of a millennial is somewhere in the $absurd category, a $140 budget is still a drastic drop from the norm.
And for those thinking about the potential of losing muscle, I will provide photo evidence of the contrary..
Another experiment successfully in the books. This has been a life altering month as I thought my diet was optimized before. But I was wrong. The additional $200 per month saved in food expenses will be enjoyed in many ways. I hope this experiment opened up your eyes to what’s possible and hopefully allowed you to see the quick benefits of a frugal lifestyle.