Trying to Budget Food Stinks

It is so much cheaper to eat this:

subway 400x309 Trying to Budget Food Stinks

Than it is to eat this:

2 planet platter Trying to Budget Food Stinks

I have recently been trying to be a little more “budget” when it comes to my food choices. Did you know that two pounds of food from the Whole Foods hot bar comes in at close to $20? That is an expensive dinner. A macro plate with tax and tip usually ends up around $15. Desserts (muffins, scones, etc…) are a few more bucks. Starbucks and other coffee shops are a few bucks a drink.

It all adds up. While I haven’t exactly had a problem yet with overspending on food, I do feel a bit guilty for it. Growing up we ate out rarely and I know that our food bills were low. I like eating well. I like cooking but I have very little time these days. I also have difficulty keeping food in my house without eating it all at once. (Groceries end up being just as expensive as eating out because I have to buy fresh groceries every day. When I buy treats or even just veggies they disappear way too fast. This is an issue for another post though.)

Anyway, I’m struggling to find cheap healthy options. The Subway footlong is great, but I can’t have it for every single meal. I’ve tried – it gets boring. I am finally understanding how difficult it is for people who are on a budget to eat good, whole foods.

Food Budgeting that I’ve done so far:

  • Stopped buying gum (this is over $1 a pack)
  • Stopped buying drinks at coffee shops except for rare occasions (like if I’m on a date with Bobby)
  • Eating in for brunch on the weekends
  • Sandwiches for lunch and/or dinner – Subway footlongs, grilled cheese, bagels, etc…
  • Fewer WF prepared foods bar purchases
  • Fewer snacky/treat purchases

But I still miss my macro plates and gigantic salads.

How do you save money when you’re buying food? Does anyone else have my problem of grocery shopping but eating up all the food before you had planned?

(I hope I am explaining that properly. It’s not like I’m trying to eat less – I just have difficulty saving food for later. Instead of eating something like an extra cup of brown rice at dinner and lunch I will instead eat lots of the stuff that I just bought. Does that make sense?)

40 Comments on Trying to Budget Food Stinks

  1. Alina @ Duty Free Foodie
    17 November, 2010 at 1:51 pm (3 years ago)

    I have that problem, especially with fruit!

    Fruit is expensive, and I snack on it all day long when it’s in the house. At points this summer, I was spending $30 a week on organic green grapes.

    I have no solutions. Except to replace some organic grapes with bananas. And to plan meals, but I haven’t succeeded with that yet. Maybe I’ll issue meal planning as a December blog challenge to myself – I am sure it would be a great skill to develop.

    • Maggie
      17 November, 2010 at 2:23 pm (3 years ago)

      @Alina: Yes, fruit is the worst! I could eat literally 5-6 apples in a day. 5-6 organic apples is probably $8 at least! I am bad at meal planning. Maybe i should try it too. I just commented below that I should probably write notes to myself and stick them on things like, “don’t eat this now, it’s for XXX on Monday” or something.

  2. Emily @One Sweet Vegan
    17 November, 2010 at 1:54 pm (3 years ago)

    Yes, I can relate to the food going faster than I’d planned. BUT, it’s not me who does the eating–it’s my husband. If it’s in the fridge, he’ll eat it. He’s my little garbage disposal. I have to put notes on items that I’m planning on using in a recipe. Right at this very moment, I’ve got some leftover mashed potatoes that say “Save for shepherds pie!”. :-)

    • Maggie
      17 November, 2010 at 2:21 pm (3 years ago)

      @Emily: Maybe I should make notes for myself!

  3. Abby
    17 November, 2010 at 2:09 pm (3 years ago)

    I get where you’re coming from, as I want to have enough at home, but not too much. With that said, I never eat out and don’t have a Whole Foods or Trader Joes within three hours of my house, so that temptation is gone (it’s bittersweet.) Of course I go out once in awhile, but I prefer to eat at home :)

    I do go to the store a few times a week for fresh produce and a majority of my staples are relatively inexpensive on their own–rices, beans, fish, veggies, oats, eggs, avocados etc. The “other” things like Amy’s frozen meals, Greek yogurt, tahini, treats, etc. are just factored in for me. It can be a pain, but I make big batches of brown rice, beans, etc. so that I can throw stir-frys or my own version of macro plates at home. It only takes a few minutes and saves me lots of money.

    Being a single gal, that always helps!
    P.S. I don’t have a food budget planned out, as I figure I only really spend money on the good stuff I want–food, for example–and not going out clubbing or whatever. Boring? Maybe, but it works for me!

    • Maggie
      17 November, 2010 at 2:21 pm (3 years ago)

      @Abby: I don’t really spend that much aside from food and the occasional shopping spree, but I still feel a bit guilty when I spend upwards of $20/day on food. It hasn’t been a problem yet, but I still feel like I *should* be saving it? I guess it’s just a hard-wired restricting thing. I don’t go clubbing or on extravagant vacations or anything else, so I do have enough to spend on food… I just like to save it for a rainy day.

      I definitely agree that making big batches saves time/money – but that is my issue of eating something bc it’s there. If I make a bunch of brown rice it will disappear in a day!!

  4. Abby
    17 November, 2010 at 2:26 pm (3 years ago)

    I understand!I’m the biggest penny pincher out there! Because I don’t eat out and eat a lot of the same boring stuff, I don’t really notice a huge spike in my food bills. (However, it sucks during winter, as fresh produce is expensive and hard to find.)

    I suppose it’s the balance between having what you want, what you need and keeping yourself in check about both of them ;) We like our quality food and dammit, we’re worth it!

    • Maggie
      17 November, 2010 at 2:28 pm (3 years ago)

      @Abby: Yes, we are! I was just chatting with my friend about this issue on gchat and she said we SHOULD spend more on food. If it makes us happy it’s worth it. We were both trying to be cheap, and started feeling like crap because of it.

  5. Katie
    17 November, 2010 at 2:42 pm (3 years ago)

    I try not to pay for convenience. I don’t buy anything precut which just means washing & cutting my own fruits & veggies. I don’t buy anything preportioned, either. I buy bigger bags or boxes and divide them up into smaller sammie bags.

    We dine out very, very rarely. Maybe 1-2x per month. I know some people have a need to eat out more frequently so cooking at home every night and/or packing lunches is impossible. That’s definitely our biggest savings, though.

    • Maggie
      17 November, 2010 at 3:09 pm (3 years ago)

      @Katie: Unfortunately when I am working 50-60+ hours a week convenience is a major factor =/ I definitely want to go back to cooking at home and packing lunches more though!

  6. Beth @ To the Fullest
    17 November, 2010 at 3:01 pm (3 years ago)

    We belong to Costco and, because I eat so much fresh produce, buying it in bulk is SO much more thrifty. That’s where I buy my gum and canned goods, too. Also almond butter at Costco is a STEAL. Seriously. It’s a massive jar for like $12ish.

    Also, I brew my own coffee. If I want to go to a coffeeshop to write or whatever, I make coffee at home and pack it along.

    • Beth @ To the Fullest
      17 November, 2010 at 3:03 pm (3 years ago)

      Ooh Costco is fab for buying bulk frozen veggies (stir fry) and fruit (smoothies). And liquid eggs! And cooking spray! And plain nuts!

      I’m a Costco fangirl. :)

    • Maggie
      17 November, 2010 at 3:09 pm (3 years ago)

      @Beth: I love Costco! I used to belong when we lived in California. I miss it.

  7. Sagan
    17 November, 2010 at 3:17 pm (3 years ago)

    My solution would be to buy all of the ingredients to make your regular meal from the Whole Foods bar at home – WAY cheaper!

    A favourite meal of mine (it’s vegan and gluten-free and I think maybe macro too?): cooked millet mixed with steamed veggies (from a frozen bag), beans (from a can; I SHOULD be using dried but oh well. I make a point to rinse and drain mine :D ), Bragg’s soy sauce, black pepper, and nutritional yeast flakes. Mix it all up and mmmm tastiness!

    Buying a bag of frozen veggies, a bag of millet, and a couple cans of beans will last me for many meals. Subway isn’t cheaper, when you think about the long-term… say it’s $5 for a sandwich that lasts you one meal, whereas it might cost $15 for the ingredients to make my plate which makes, oh, let’s say five or six meals. Definitely worth it! It just takes some restructuring :)

    P.S. I cook BIG batches of this at a time and put them into smaller containers and freeze them – homemade frozen meals ready to go.

    • Maggie
      17 November, 2010 at 3:34 pm (3 years ago)

      @Sagan: Yeah, but then I have that issue of eating it all at once! If I prepare it I can’t not eat it, unfortunately. Your fave meal sounds deLISH.

      • Abby
        18 November, 2010 at 10:34 am (3 years ago)

        Could you put them in pre-portioned containers and put a note on each one, like “Tuesday lunch” or “Wednesday dinner.” A lot of stuff like that freezes well too, which can save you the hassle of making it each time or eating it all at once ;)

        • Maggie
          19 November, 2010 at 1:15 pm (3 years ago)

          @Abby: I may try this :) But I tihnk I may just keep eating out, haha.

  8. Molly
    17 November, 2010 at 4:06 pm (3 years ago)

    Do you belong to a warehouse store like Costco or Sam’s Club? You can save so much money from buying in bulk! If you have trouble not eating stuff you just bought, maybe you can only buy in bulk basic things that you will eat everyday regardless, like oatmeal or bananas or rice. Then you will have more money to spend on special or fancy things.

    • Maggie
      19 November, 2010 at 1:15 pm (3 years ago)

      @Molly: I don’t! I can’t really – I live in NYC and we don’t have much room in our apt for buying in bulk.

  9. Gaby
    18 November, 2010 at 12:14 am (3 years ago)

    You know I have this same problem! I have a tendency to ALWAYS want to have more than enough food at home so I’m always grocery shopping. Then I go out too. And when I do cook, I try to be thrifty or make larger portions, but I do the same thing- I get all this anxiety about having to eat it before it goes bad or…I don’t know why, but I feel like something bad will happen if I don’t eat it right away. It would also make so much more sense to cook meals to last me the week, especially when I’m working and getting home at 8:30 and just want something quick. I have tried so many times to make several servings worth of something and then I end up eating way more than what I thought would make one meal, then I think oh well, it won’t be enough for another meal so I just finish it. Baking is bad for me, I love doing it, but I end up eating entire batches in 2 days. One strategy I’ve worked out is portioning out cakes and stuff before hand and freezing all of it. This way I know it won’t go bad, though I still sometimes feel like eating it all so I can make something new. This can also work with things like beans and rice. I do ok with these if I portion it out and put it away, but the sweets give me a hard time. I frustrate myself a lot!
    I also need to stop going out so much, all those coffee’s and cookies and snacks add up quickly. It’s hard to strike a balance, because on one side, I’m happy that I can be carefree and go out and have fun, and know that I can buy whatever from wherever if I’m out. But on the other, I’m out or traveling all the time, and I might have to accept that I’ll need to plan better in order to save money, but still not go overboard or let it stress me out.
    For groceries, I’m pretty good at checking all the sales flyers before shopping and deciding where will be the best as far as prices and options. I shop in season and on sale. Sadly, this usually rules out Whole Foods, but I get lured in still. Mostly when I have long busy days of running around and I justify it as a “business expense”.

  10. Anne @ Food Loving Polar Bear
    18 November, 2010 at 1:07 am (3 years ago)

    I’m trying meal planning at the moment and it’s pretty much working.. since I don’t actually have to buy cheapers ingredients but I just don’t go to the store everyday and buy something I don’t need :)

    • Maggie
      19 November, 2010 at 1:16 pm (3 years ago)

      @Anne: Nice! Keep us updated :)

  11. Eden
    18 November, 2010 at 2:11 am (3 years ago)

    I totally understand, and hate to admit Im at some grocery store once a day! But I buy different thing in different places. For example produce is super cheap at ethinic and jewish markets and they aren’t bad quality! I got granny smiths for 35 cents a pound! I buy canned tuna and beans in bulk from warehouse stores. That way I always have some sort of protein in the house. I think the silliest thing I buy is diet soda. I dont buy tons but I love it and its bad for me. What I guess it better and cheaper than cigarettes.

    • Maggie
      19 November, 2010 at 1:17 pm (3 years ago)

      @Eden: Yeah! I love Chinatown for groceries. I gave up diet soda about 2 months ago but I used to buy it all the time. True about cigarettes vs. diet soda though, haha.

  12. Kath (Eating for Living)
    18 November, 2010 at 5:59 am (3 years ago)

    I know that problem! And I have the food budgeting “pleasure” most of the time. :( I make almost everything myself (cooking, almond milk, want to try nut butter now) and have also stopped getting some hot beverage from the coffee shop. Instead I take a thermosbottle with tea with me. I buy a lot at the local fruit and veg store, and mostly seasonal produce which is less pricy (and doesn’t come from so far away). When it’s a really bad month money-wise, I don’t buy any fresh herbs but use dried instead, and I don’t buy expensive meat and fish (beef, prawns) but eat more chicken, eggs, and white fish. I buy a lot of frozen veggies, and I stick to rather few kinds of products because it’s often cheaper to buy a big bag of something than single pieces, so I get a big bag of apples instead of different kinds of fruit.

    • Maggie
      19 November, 2010 at 1:18 pm (3 years ago)

      @Kath: These are great tips. I really liked your last post btw, I will comment on it soon!

  13. Krista
    18 November, 2010 at 8:46 am (3 years ago)

    We’re a family of 4 so I try very hard to keep my food spending at a minimum. I’ll often buy cuts of meat that will last a dinner or 2 and a few lunches. We don’t eat out very often at all and when we do it’s typically Subway on our way to/from one of Noah’s hockey games that falls over the dinner hour. Even at that I try to plan by baking meatballs the night before and assembling homemade subs at home for the road. All that being said, there are times where I just want someone else to do the cooking and clean up for me!! ;)

    • Maggie
      19 November, 2010 at 1:20 pm (3 years ago)

      @Krista: I hate clean up!!

  14. Tiffany
    18 November, 2010 at 10:29 am (3 years ago)

    I honestly don’t think too much about what we spend on food in my household… Granted, multiple trips per week to the grocery DO wear on our nerves, but I don’t really sit down and actively try to limit what we spend. I’m so “controlling” in other areas of my life that I am more forgiving of myself (and Blair is of himself, too!) when it comes to buying food. :) That said, I’d probably spend much less if I were single–living with a hungry man who is over 6 feet tall naturally means we’re buying more food. ;)
    I give you credit for really working on cutting back on what you spend on food, though, Maggie!

    • Maggie
      19 November, 2010 at 1:20 pm (3 years ago)

      @Tiffany: I think that is a good strategy. I also live with a 6’1″ man so he does eat a ton.

      • Tiffany
        19 November, 2010 at 1:45 pm (3 years ago)

        See, so we totally have an “excuse” for spending more! Ha! ;)

  15. emily (a nutritionist eats)
    18 November, 2010 at 2:28 pm (3 years ago)

    Yes, I sometimes run out of groceries mainly becuase I get so excited about all the new food that I feel the need to “sample” it all :) Ridiculous, I know!
    I plan out all of my meals and try to only go to the store 1-2 times/week (ok, probably like 3 times) but everytime you go to the store you are going to spend money…

    • Maggie
      19 November, 2010 at 1:21 pm (3 years ago)

      @emily: Yes, it’s all about the excitement! I think I’m just going to keep eating out, but try to be reasonable. It makes me happy so why stress over being really frugal if it’s not necessary!

  16. Stephanie
    18 November, 2010 at 3:33 pm (3 years ago)

    I get how you feel about budgeting. At one point I was going to 3 or 4 different grocery stores to save money but it is tiring. I’ve decided that if I’m going to spend money, the most important thing is to buy the good stuff–my body deserves it. So I try to get lots of veggies and not too much packaged stuff.

    Regarding your feeling that you want to eat all of the groceries at once: I wonder if you practice and work on some of the ideas above (portioning, etc.) and just get used to it, if you would actually like it more than going out all of the time. I guess I’m a control freak but if given the choice, I will always choose to make something rather than go out.

    • Maggie
      19 November, 2010 at 1:22 pm (3 years ago)

      @Stephanie: Yes we do deserve it!! I think for me it’s best if I don’t have control over my food, oddly enough. I used to have TONS of food rules and when I start preparing all my food they start creeping back in.

  17. Kim
    18 November, 2010 at 7:38 pm (3 years ago)

    I’m budget-conscious in general (though my shopping habits lately would not attest to this), but not so much with food. I try to allow myself to get whatever I want. If we have a tough financial time, I figure I’ll worry about it then. I know I spend a lot on food, but I LOVE eating how I do! At least Trader Joe’s is pretty inexpensive! Also, aside from vacations, we really don’t go out to eat THAT often. We bring lunches to work and I usually make dinner at home. That saves money. I mean, a good meal out can be really expensive!

    • Maggie
      19 November, 2010 at 1:23 pm (3 years ago)

      @Kim: I love eating how I do now too. I think I will just try to be reasonable since I do eat out a lot, but not stress too much when I spend more than I had planned on. I don’t spend much money otherwise anyway!

  18. maya
    19 November, 2010 at 3:25 am (3 years ago)

    i have the same issues with keeping food in the house… but can’t afford to eat out much, so i do cook at home mostly. i am working really hard to not go overboard with things and eat intuitively. if i restricted what i kept in the house, i know i would just see it as a disordered eating behavior.
    like you i went through a period of time where i restricted my intake too much and worried about every single thing i put in my mouth, and i believe that a lot of this desire to eat more than i need to (and a fear of food going bad used as an excuse to eat) is a natural response from the restriction.
    instead of thinking “i am bad with food around” i try to steer my thoughts towards “i restricted my diet and my body is afraid i will do it again” rather than saying that i am at fault it allows me to take a look at why things came to be this way and also helps me to work on my outlook as well as my habits as i continue to develop healthy eating patterns.

    • Maggie
      19 November, 2010 at 1:25 pm (3 years ago)

      @maya: Yep, we have similar situations. I like your way of thinking though – I’m not “bad”, my body is just scared of what I may do to it! I have to help reassure it that I won’t do that again.

  19. julie
    30 November, 2010 at 10:38 am (3 years ago)

    I don’t quite understand what you’re saying about cooking at home. Eating at Whole Paycheck is NOT the way to go if you’re trying to save money. I go in there once every 3 months or so for an ingredient I can’t find elsewhere, and end up spending $40. I’m not on a budget, but I’m amazed at my two-tiered food costs. Veggies, beans, grains, spices are cheap, especially if you can buy in bulk. Processed food, meat, fruit, is very expensive. Shop the ethnic markets, things cost half as much (and not much choice for processed)

    I eat a LOT of produce, and I hit the farmers market every week or two. The key is good storage, good tupperwares.