Frugal food budgets: cut costs, eat healthy

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Most Americans are saddled with unsecured credit card debt, spending far more than what they earn. In fact, the average American household has over $16,000 in credit card debt and counting. But there are many costs that most don’t realize they can drastically cut without feeling deprived.

You could save $3,000 or more every year just by cutting your spending in a single category: your food budget. According to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditures report, individuals spend on average $7,196 on food each year: $4,101 on groceries for meals prepared at home and $3,095 on food from restaurants and fast food joints (including tips).

So, want to pay off your debts quicker? Stop eating out and prepare more home cooked meals instead. If you want to go a step further, reevaluate your grocery spending. You could potentially slash your grocery budget by $1,500 or more per year by using the USDA Food Plans guide as a benchmark to set a realistic food budget.

The USDA Food Plans guide is based on consumer expenditure data collected from 2001 to 2002 that has been adjusted for inflation to reflect current food costs. They break down budget plans according to spending levels: a thrifty, low-cost, moderate-cost, or liberal plan. And they don’t base their budget plans on empty calories, such as high-fat, high-sugar junk food. Instead, all plans are based on nutritious diets as recommended by the Dietary Reference Intakes and other nutritional guidelines, such as MyPyramid.

Based on our calculations using data in the USDA report, men and women 18 years or older that stick to a low-cost food plan can eat a nutritious diet for about $218.34 per month or $2,620 per year. The truly frugal can eat healthily with about $168.70 per month or $2,024 per year. If you stopped eating out and cut your grocery spending, you could be saving up to $5,172 every year. Forget about loose change!

Aside from observing federal food plans, here are some extra tips to cut your food costs and stick to your budgets:

  • Make a list.
  • Do not deviate from this list.
  • Shop at farmers’ markets. Cutting out the middle man (i.e. grocery stores) significantly reduces food costs. The added benefit of farmers’ markets is that they are a pleasant experience rather than a chore, so bring the family!
  • Eat fruits and vegetables that are in season. Plants grown outside of their normal growing season will have lower yields and require higher inputs to promote food production and protect from pests, thus leading to inflated costs.
  • Shop items that are on sale or that are buy one get one.
  • Make a list of priorities to remind yourself why you’re trying to cut costs in the first place. Are you trying to save for retirement, put a down payment on a house, or get out of debt?
  • Instead of eating out, host potluck-style dinner parties instead. It’ll be cheaper and your home is far more intimate than a pricy outing.

Bonus tip: Whenever temptation strikes, think on this: for the cost of one meal at a casual restaurant, you could feed yourself for about four days!

Eating a healthy diet rich in whole foods is not impossible. It just requires a little planning and will power. Don’t think of a budget as a constraint; rather, know that budgeting allows you to secure your financial independence by living within your means.

If cutting your household expenditures isn’t enough to break free of your financial burdens, please contact our team at New Era Debt Solutions or get started with your free debt analysis! Since 1999, we’ve helped hundreds of clients resolve over $200 million in debt.