Frugal Whole Foods Challenge
I’ve run across a few folks lately who are talking about reducing their grocery bills, both for the health of a household budget and as a personal challenge: i.e., how frugal is it possible to be while maintaining a whole-foods diet? (Note: this is not a “Whole Foods” diet. Whole Foods, while lovely, is not exactly the best place for frugal.) I’m intrigued by this idea, and thought I’d create a challenge of my own.
My current habits regarding food spending and consumption are a little embarrassing. I don’t have a food budget, or an accurate idea of what it costs for me to eat each month, though I’m vaguely aware that aside from rent, food is my largest expense. As someone on a non-profit salary (Yes, there is such a thing. Non-profit means my company makes no profit, not that I don’t. Technically.), that ignorance is a luxury I can’t really afford. I do plan my meals, and most weeks I’m pretty good about sticking to my plan. But I don’t think twice about grabbing something (or lots of somethings) extra at the farmer’s market or in the cheese aisle, and there’s always food that goes bad in the fridge. This rubs me the wrong way for a few reasons, and it’s a habit I’d like to train myself out of.
I’m also becoming more and more aware of just how much waste every take-out meal creates. Don’t get me wrong – I love take-out. But when I look to places in my habits where I can trim the most spending and waste, take-out is right at the top of the list.
All of this is a long way of saying that for now, I’ve set myself a grocery budget of $40 per week, to feed just me. (Chris and I mostly eat our own meals – it’s a little complicated, but it works for us.) My plan is to eat whole foods whenever possible, which is what makes me feel best in general. I may reduce the budget as I get more acquainted with how much I actually spend and eat each week; $40 is a jumping-off point. I live in the San Fransisco Bay Area, where food prices are among the highest in the country. I’ve set my starting budget a little higher than others I’ve seen to accommodate that, but I do hope it’s unnecessary. I’d rather not set a timeline for this – I think I’d like to practice the grocery frugality indefinitely, though I of course recognize that some weeks will be more expensive than others.
– $40 is for everything: 3 meals a day, including takeout, after-work drinks, and weekend coffee treats.
– If work travel necessitates eating out that the office will pay for, awesome. Who says there’s no such thing as a free lunch? Also, if Chris wants to take me to dinner, I’ll be shining my date-night shoes and leaving the budget at home.
– I will avoid processed food whenever possible. The point of the challenge is too see how frugally I can eat according to what I feel is important.
– We’re at the end of prime food-preserving season; since it’s important to me to eat local foods year-round, I may buy the occasional flat of sauce tomatoes to can outside of this budget.
– I work outside the home, full-time. Often a lot more than full-time. This challenge isn’t something to fill idle hours; making it fit around my work and personal schedule will take some finesse. Bear with me.
– I like to cook. A lot. Cooking from scratch can be quite time-consuming, but since it’s something I enjoy and find relaxing, I prioritize it. I know many people don’t feel the same way; food is deeply personal, and it’s not my intent to demean anyone else’s needs or priorities.
– I have a well-stocked pantry already. Too well-stocked, really, and I’m hoping to whittle it way down in the coming weeks.
– I’m mostly a vegetarian. I know meats are expensive, and that’s one line item I can pretty much write out of my budget right from the start.
I’d like to check in here about my successes or challenges, maybe once a week on Fridays. I’ll post my week’s menu, with recipe links when I have them, and let you know how things went. Wish me luck!