How much do you spend on food in a month?
November 29, 2013 12:23 PM   Subscribe

I just downloaded the app and found to my absolute horror that partner and I are spending $1300 a month on food (!!!) Surely this cannot be right. What does your budget look like and what is an average spend for you?

OK, so my breakdown this month is $620 on groceries (still seems ridiculously high for two people?!) $320 on eating out together at weekends, and husband spends $350 on lunches when he's at work. I can see he's going to need to pack a few lunches from now on, but that still seems SUPER high to me. I'm in Vancouver BC, and food seems very expensive here ($8 for a block of cheddar, $4 for a loaf of bread) but still, this kind of spending cannot go on. It's equal to our rent! Please help!
posted by everydayanewday to Home & Garden (79 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
I am in Toronto, also expensive :)

We are both vegetarians and spend $50 a week on groceries for two people. We also eat out 3-4 times on the weekend (we like brunches) and spend 60ish a month on laundry stuff, toilet paper and household goods.

With that said, we do eat plain, simple stuff for the most part---I eat oatmeal or toast for breakfast, he eats muffins (we buy a mix). Lunches are usually soup, sandwiches or crackers and dip, with grapes or apples, maybe some chips. Dinners are pasta, pizza, stir-fry and rice etc. plain, simple stuff---we are not fancy cooks.

I do like the occassional fancy organic treat at the health food store, and he can eat tons of cheese. But since we are vegetarians, we seem to be able to keep it fairly cheap and simple.
posted by JoannaC at 12:31 PM on November 29, 2013

Best answer: I am in SK, and yes, food is more here than in the states (where I am from). For just myself, I am spending about $150 a month on food groceries. When my husband was home, we spent about $400 - He ate about twice what I do, and a lot more snacking. This is for older, retired, people, who do not eat out.

We were snowbirds, and our grocery costs were at least 35% less in the states when we were there.
posted by batikrose at 12:31 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: We have a groceries account which has $125 deposited into it once a week, which is all we are allowed to spend. We both have debit cards tied to this account, so either of us can stop to pick up dinner. When it runs out, we scrounge leftovers and pantry/freezer items. (Family of 3, we also buy things like cat food and household goods from this account as needed, US.)

We also have $50 per week spending money, in separate checking accounts with debit cards ($50 per week each, I don't have access to his account and he doesn't have access to mine). Sometimes we use this money for eating out, with the knowledge that means we get to spend less on things like beer, books, music, clothes, etc. There are some weeks, when I haven't been good at planning and packing lunches to bring to work, that some of my allowance goes to lunches out (but even then, I get an entree at the Thai restaurant which is $8 and eat half of it one day and half the next, so lunch is only like $4.)

So, depending on whether the month is 4 or 5 weeks, we're spending $500-700 per month or so (USD).

It's worth noting that the reason we moved to strict budgeting like this is precisely because it is SO EASY to spend a ton of money at the grocery store and just walking around. Easily over a thousand bucks without even thinking about it or feeling particularly indulgent.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 12:33 PM on November 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: This is the USDA's report on average food expenditures in the US. Link is to the October 2013 release, the most recent that has been made available. There may be an analogous study made in Canada--here's something.

By way of data points--my wife and I live in Boston, a pricy US city, though I don't know how it compares to Canada. We average about $500 a month for groceries, which includes virtually all lunches. We spend, on average, less than $200 a month dining out.

Bring your lunches.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 12:34 PM on November 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

We are a family of 3 in Toronto - as JoannaC mentions, pretty expensive as well. We spend around $400-450 a month on groceries, and probably up to $100 a month on restaurants/take-out, which includes work lunches. We usually pack a lunch at least 4 out of 5 days a week... eating out for lunch is a very easy way to waste money.

We used to spend less (around $75 per week) before the baby was born, but now we tend to eat healthier and/or more convenient food, which is more expensive.
posted by barnoley at 12:36 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Well, I spend about $175/mo for just me in groceries plus about $50/mo in eating out. I don't eat much cheese, but bread at least is a bit cheaper than that for me when I find it on sale, but the decent stuff is about that much normally, yes. I mean, you're talking about $4/mo being a lot for bread, but if you spent your whole grocery budget on bread, that'd be 155 loaves a month, or about two and a half loaves per person per day and this totally aside from lunch. I don't think you eat that much of anything. So the price of bread is not the problem. Stuff I'd look at: How much are you spending on alcohol? Meats? (Especially if you eat organic/free range, the price can go up a lot, but maybe you want to still do that and just eat less meat, for example.) Prepared foods that you could make yourself? How much stuff in your fridge are you throwing out because leftovers sat too long, or because you didn't eat all the lettuce before it went limp?

Restaurant-wise, aside from packing lunches, are there times that a fast food salad for $5 could do just as well as a nicer place for $20? That kind of thing. If he works five days a week and never packs lunch, if you say an average of 4 weeks of lunches, that's like an average of $17.50 a lunch. There are lots of places you can get lunch for less than $17.50 even if you're still eating out.

Either way, yeah, I don't think the trouble is that your bread is too expensive. You just need to start examining what exactly that $620/mo is buying.
posted by Sequence at 12:38 PM on November 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

We spend €100 (about $150 CAN) each week on a grocery delivery for two people, which also includes goods like laundry detergent and other household items. That includes lunch items. It does not include alcohol. The key for me is that I shop meat on sale that week, meal plan around that, and have learned where paying for top-brand items is a waste of money. I also have a standard normal fridge freezer so if I can get items in our standard shop Buy One Get One Half Price, I always do.

For comparison, we pay €1.75 ($2.52 CAN) for a loaf of bread and €2.80 ($4.04) for a 400g block of cheddar.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:42 PM on November 29, 2013

Response by poster: hmm yeah... the problem is that husband often works six days a week, and during Mon-Fri will work 10-12 hours, meaning that he will sometimes buy two meals out per day instead of one. That's why work lunch expenditure is so high. We really need to get better about packed lunches.
posted by everydayanewday at 12:42 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I am single and cook most of my own food, and I'm from a Canadian city with a lower cost of living, although 8$ for a block of cheddar and 4$ for a loaf of bread is similar to our non-discount grocery store prices. I never ever buy those at full price, though - sale prices are more like 5$ for cheese and 2-3$ for bread.

My average monthly groceries are about 200-300$, which is unusually high for my peer group, but I eat well and have a very high metabolism. I spend less than 100$/month on eating out and fast food, usually about 50-75$. Total is about 350$/month on food (+/- $100).

Your real question seems to be "what part of this $1300 is unreasonable spending that I can cut" and I think you'll get the most mileage out of avoiding impulse buys at the grocery store, planning meals so things don't go to waste, and eating out less, especially for lunch.
posted by randomnity at 12:43 PM on November 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Toronto; $60-$80 per week plus going out food for my single-person multi-cat household.

My darling is very tall and needs much more food than me, so he's $100-120 per week on his own. Together it's probably a little less.

$1300 is an insane amount. Eating out at lunch will kill your budget ($320 per month is $16 per lunch, which is how much good food is in a restaurant.) Plan your meals ahead and follow these other tips.

Yes, healthy bread is like $4-$5 out here. It's a crime.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:44 PM on November 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm in Toronto (spendy) and I'm married. I also buy some food for work-related things. We rarely eat out or even get snacks from coffee shops, perhaps once a month. We spend $700 on groceries monthly, including work-food and non-food items (like cleaning supplies) and probably $50 on takeout or restaurants. My husband packs his lunch and I work from home.

For treats, we buy pastries from the grocery store once a week for Saturday breakfast, and we make a diner-style big breakfast at home on Sundays (bacon, eggs, or eggs Benedict, plus fruit salad, etc.) We vary the amount of dinner cooking we do - some weeks, we eat a lot of pre-prepared dinners, other weeks, I do a lot of cooking from recipes. I try to cook one big pot of something (stew, rice and beans) on the weekend to freeze into lunch portions for myself during the week.
posted by Ouisch at 12:44 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I live in Victoria. If you think food in Vancouver is expensive...

We don't eat out (I brown-bag lunch) at all.

$620 seems a little high for two people, but it's not unreasonable. Where do you shop?

Places like Safeway and Overwaitea are generally more expensive for a number of things, notably produce.

If you can, try to go to a T&T Asian market for vegetables. Vegetables are cheaper at Asian markets and they are sourced locally.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:47 PM on November 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

How do you even manage to spend that much? Assuming he's eating out _every_ day of the week at work, $10 a lunch would be $200 a month. To get to $350 you have to be spending an average of $17.50 a lunch which is utterly insane. I'm not saying that you should only buy $5 foot longs at subway, but even a pretty decent lunch can come in under $10 or right at that for takeout. I would have to actually try at most places i'd get lunch at near my work(which are all overpriced, including several fairly pretentious hipster-y "local small business" type food places) to spend more than $10. It would probably involve getting two entrees instead of one or something.

I'm in seattle, and i've been to vancouver. It's true that takeout is more expensive there, but it's not that much more expensive. It's more like the average lunch entree cost starting at $10 instead of $7-8 like it does in seattle. I'm just... not getting this. I ate out every single day like that when i lived at a place where the kitchen was unusable for almost a year, and never really spent more then $200-250 a month on takeout.(and $250 was if i got takeout on weekends). And yes, as per your update i often work late and would randomly end up buying a second takeout meal some days. There were no mcdonalds/fast food type lunches in here either. All burrito trucks or local cafes etc.

I also, yea, don't understand how you're spending that much on groceries. a brick of cheese is $8 here too, and a loaf of bread is $4. Me and my partner still spend around $200 combined on groceries, and maybe $50-100 on going out to eat on top of that. I myself might spend an additional $50-75 on takeout a month. I'm not just eating crap from clearance stores or anything either. It's lots of fresh stuff from the farmers market, and mostly goes in to home cooked meals. I buy nearly no prepared food, and nearly nothing frozen.

To constructively answer your question though, i feel like we'd need a breakdown of what you actually buy for that much. I do, however, think that would turn in to a thread of people arguing over what's justifiable and what you really need and probably a lot of threadsitting and threadshitting. I personally would love to see though, because i don't understand how you can actually spend $620 on groceries. Even my parents growing up would spend maybe $400-450 a month for three people.

$320 eating out on weekends though isn't too crazy. That's $80 a meal, so $40 a person. If it's fine dining that's just not that bad. I usually average $30-50 for two people a meal, but i only hit happy hours at fancy places and places that have a really high price/quality of food ratio. And brunches, lots of brunches.
posted by emptythought at 12:48 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

We also rarely buy any packaged or prepared foods (pasta sauces, canned soup, salad dressings, box cereal) and make our own bread.

Bread is very expensive (about $5 a loaf) and is also full of salt (as are most of the things above).
posted by KokuRyu at 12:49 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: >How do you even manage to spend that much?

By living in Canada.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:50 PM on November 29, 2013 [19 favorites]

I live in Chicago, not cheap, but not as expensive as some cities, and I spend about $150 on groceries a month. I also only eat out about once a week, and all my other meals are made at home, even if I take it with me if I'm out for the day. That includes some staples from Whole Foods (whole wheat tortillas, bulk lentils and quinoa, etc), lots of stuff from Traders Joes, and some stuff from the small independent grocery down the street. I also buy a big bag of basmati rice from the indian grocery. I make most of my food "from scratch". Lots of grains, beans, lentils, veggies, and seafood maybe once a week. I am appalled at how much money most people seem to spend on food. We never ate out growing up and I still think the way people I know eat is shocking. They eat out almost everyday, if not everyday, and then buy lots of expensive prepared, or semi prepared foods for their groceries.
posted by Blitz at 12:50 PM on November 29, 2013

Um, the 620 on groceries: could you tell us a little what it is that you buy, like, provide an average this-and-that per week? Huge savings can be made by avoiding processed and prefab.
posted by Namlit at 12:51 PM on November 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

If the eating out is covering two meals a day, that looks more reasonable, but then the actual grocery prices look even less reasonable if you're not cooking dinner every weeknight. I would definitely keep your receipts for a month or two and start looking at what you're actually buying, because it's definitely very high, but there could be lots of different reasons for that. By the way, I didn't mean to imply anything particularly bad by bringing up alcohol, I realized it could sound like that, it's just that if you have decent taste then if that's included it can bring the total up a lot. (And might not be that unreasonable if you start thinking of it separately as your monthly wine budget or whatever and a separate sort of entertainment expense.)
posted by Sequence at 12:51 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: i don't think your expenditures are high for 2 people who weren't paying attention. i think that's right about in line with buying brand name doritos and shopping at the most convenient store and eating out lots (between you two AND his worktime meals)

so you can pare down from there, but it's not like you will have to start fasting or having water and beans for lunch. small subtle changes like packing 50% of his lunches anb being slightly miserly when shopping - think coupons and discount stores and you can probably shave quite a nice chunk off of your spending.
posted by chasles at 12:53 PM on November 29, 2013 [6 favorites]

I can't spend less than $400/month on groceries, and that covers 3 meals a day. When I try to spend less, I end up running out of food and having to buy meals while out and about. I shop mostly at Trader Joe's, and only buy organic veggies (same price as conventional veggies at other supermarkets in my city), and frozen meat, and organic eggs (same price as conventional eggs in other supermarkets in my city). I eat very little. I can't imagine how people can spend significantly less than this per month, but people are saying they spend $150 per *month*! So I don't think your numbers are insane. Food is seriously expensive in the US now.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 12:59 PM on November 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I'm in San Francisco, and my first thought was, "Whoa, your rent is only $1300!?

You might want to rethink including your weekend restaurant meals as food, and call them entertainment instead. Someone else cooks for you, you eat in a leisurely way, the quality of your conversation is different in a good way. What you're paying for isn't the food. Ask yourself if the pluses of those restaurant visits feel like they're worth the cost. If you mostly appreciate not having to cook, you can get the same benefit by making extra of some meals and freezing it to have on a night when you don't want to cook. I'm not suggesting that you artificially "shrink" your food budget by re-designating the restaurant meals... only that you judge the expense differently than you would your meals at home.

It took me a long time to realize that some foods are just much too expensive for the amount to nutrition and/or pleasure they provide. Fish can be ridiculously high, so I buy half as much and we have some cheaper protein in addition to it. Some moderately-priced cuts of beef are so disappointing that we just quit buying them entirely. Now and then we go out of our way to buy a really fine steak and enjoy it a lot. Where we live, the mediocre one is 12 bucks and the fabulous one is 24, but 3 or four times a year it's worth it.

Beans have loads of protein and fiber. If you don't eat them often, you probably haven't discovered the wonderfully delicious ways they can be prepared. And they're dirt cheap.
posted by wryly at 1:02 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nth-ing the requests for a description of what you're buying.

I'm in Winnipeg, and my brother's in Vancouver, and this is pretty out of line with even my fancy butcher meat-buying, imported salt, etc. budget. Almost everything I eat is from scratch, and I pack multiple lunches every day, and I still don't hit $310pp, even including laundry supplies, etc.
posted by Kreiger at 1:02 PM on November 29, 2013

Another saver trick - if your husband must eat out at lunch, have him buy it at a grocery store. You can get great pre-made sandwiches for $6-7. If he also brings fruit to work then he's got a meal.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 1:03 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Ok a few things...

As I said, husband works six days a week three out of every four weeks. He buys two meals out about half the time, when he's working 12 hours. He also buys coffee from Blenz or whatever in the morning, but that only comes to about $2. We eat out twice at the weekends, which is a lot, but there's not a ton of cultural stuff to do here so it gets us out of the house. So our meals aren't really fancy, but we eat out more than we normally would.

As for the groceries, I am pretty stumped, although as Kokoryu said, Canada, she is not cheap. I always found groceries far cheaper in Seattle. I eat a pretty spartan diet, no-name porridge for breakfast every day and a sandwich for lunch, then a proper meal later on. I have tons of stuff in the freezer and bulk-make my own soup. We do not eat processed food at all. Some things that might be hurting our budget is still eating european food from the euro shop, husband is half polish and likes his saurkraut and I like buying english stuff. But no more than $30 a month goes on this, I think. Husband goes out drinking with workmates about once a month, I don't want to stop him doing that because his social life is so thin as is it with overwork, and almost all his new job offers have happened in the pub. I don't drink at for health reasons.

I'll be watching the groceries like a hawk this month because I'm having a hard time accepting that amount of money on food is normal (?) and I'm not sure where the grocery money is going.
posted by everydayanewday at 1:06 PM on November 29, 2013

Response by poster: Oh and I shop at No Frills and sometimes Your Independent Grocer when I'm desperate - it's too expensive normally.
posted by everydayanewday at 1:07 PM on November 29, 2013

Best answer: We have at times spent as much as you--when we were both buying lunch out every day (so the same as your husband buying two meals), eating out a lot, and buying all kinds of Whole Foods-type groceries with no regard to cost. So I do understand.

The thing I don't want to compromise on is quality of food, so I continue to buy only organic/pastured/local etc. type foods, and savings have to be made elsewhere. My husband is now the only one buying lunches and has a budget for that of $8/day. Usually he makes a big salad from the salad bar at the food co-op, which is a very nice lunch indeed and healthful, too. If we have leftovers then he brings those and can spend his money on something else if he likes. We eat out only once every two weeks or so. And I have also found that a really easy way to drastically cut expenditures is to limit the number of ingredients I'm cooking with for at least a few meals a week. Every time I go on a cooking bender and start buying ingredients for new recipes, I'm astonished at how much I spend. So I make up for it by having a few very simple meals on the order of baked sweet potato and sauteed kale. Truly it's amazing how much you can save this way.
posted by HotToddy at 1:10 PM on November 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: He buys two meals out about half the time, when he's working 12 hours. He also buys coffee from Blenz or whatever in the morning, but that only comes to about $2.

It all adds up, though. 2$/day six days a week is 50$ a month, just on coffee. Which is fine if you love it and it's worth it to you, but maybe you could bring nearly-free coffee from home and enjoy it just as much. Similarly, you could probably pack lunches that you like nearly as much as restaurant meals, for much much cheaper. Tons of great threads for ideas around here!

I'd be less concerned with the groceries ($600 sounds high but not too crazy for 2 people in a very expensive Canadian city, although maybe not when you're eating out a lot), and focus for now on making more of an effort to bring tasty lunches and snacks so restaurant food isn't so tempting.

And maybe make more of an effort to find things to do for fun other than eating out on the weekends. Take up a new hobby, meet up with friends, take a walk in the park, etc. Eating out is more fun if it's an occasional treat than a routine anyway. At ~$80 a weekend for the two of you, you're spending about $15-20 each to eat out twice at probably a mediocre restaurant. You could try going out to one really nice place a month instead of 2 ok places every week, and do something else fun on the other weekends.
posted by randomnity at 1:28 PM on November 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: $620 for groceries that yield only dinner some of the time from bulk- and whole-food scratch does seem kind of crazy to me, unless you guys eat a lot of grass-fed meat, out-of-season fruits, fancy cheeses or other luxury items. Or if you guys shop for specific recipes without meal planning and throw out unused food.

Also, note that Mint isn't always very accurate - it takes a guess at what category a merchant is in. Before you panic too much, go in and look at all the transactions in the food + dining category and be sure there aren't any random purchases hiding in there (conversely, you may have some transactions that AREN'T accounted for, too).
posted by peachfuzz at 1:29 PM on November 29, 2013 [5 favorites]

I would say we spend roughly $1500 on groceries and another $600 or so eating out each month, maybe a bit more. NYC, Manhattan.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:34 PM on November 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

My fiance and I get good mileage out of (formerly EEBA). From the sound of it your biggest problem may be that you're not keeping close enough tabs on things. I'll agree with others about not calling eating out "food" -- that's luxury/entertainment. Peachfuzz also has a good point about Mint.
posted by Decimask at 1:35 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

(There are only two of us, but we eat mostly high end, organic stuff)
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:35 PM on November 29, 2013

When single I easily spent $400 on groceries a month (mostly packing lunches), and that did not include at least an equal amount on eating out on weekends.

The question isn't so much whether this is normal, it's what you guys would like to save. It sounds like it'd be a great first step to work on packing a few more lunches and continuing to track expenses. There are a bunch of meal planning programs out there that will help you save money, if you're interested, too. But your expenses don't seem profligate to me.
posted by ldthomps at 1:41 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: We're in Ontario, and a family of 5 (3 boys, ages 10-16). We work to make sure our budget doesn't go above $350/week for groceries/cleaning products/consumables (~1400/month). This includes $23 of take-out pizza on Friday nights (almost there!). Any other eating out comes out of the "entertainment" budget. Adults brown bag it, or use their allowance. If adults go out drinking, it's entertainment budget, or allownace (and yes, the two adults get an allowance). That said, the adults don't get the same allowance, so if you wanted there to be more money for your husband to go out for the occaisional drink, that can be accomodated.

We plan the menu for the week, and buy what's on the list to make the food (along with lunch/breakfast supplies, and occaisionally pre-purchasing items we'll use because of sale prices). Gets and adults get some snacks additionally. We aim for no wasted/unused food. Occaisionally we dedicate a few weeks towards trying to use up what's in the pantry/freezer, and then groceries come out to half or less our normal.

Cheese here is usually $8-10 for a 1 lb block when it's not on sale. But who buys cheese on not on sale? It will easily keep for a few weeks, and some store almost always has cheese on sale for $5 if one checks the flyers. Grocery stores in our area do price matching by just bringing in the flyer. I doubt that I've paid more than $6 for a 1lb block of cheese in the decade+ I've lived here. There's a lot of other higher cost staples that keep and go on sales enough that paying full price is only for the people who officially have too much money (or too little money to buy more than they need (see: life sucks)).

Eating out will generally kill your budget. It's 1/3 of a day's food, but if we went to a restaurant, usually "low" is $100, and even fast food is $40-60. There's no way our budget could survive eating out all the time. I drink 2-4 coffee's a day. We make coffee at home for cheap, or I drink the crap coffee for free at the office. I remember as a kid that the job my dad worked at for the first 8+ years of my life didn't offer coffee at the office. So he brought in a giant thermos of it to work to pour out glasses in the morning. And this is in the days before $5 frappachinos. I *hate* it if I need to spend money on food during a work day.

6 years ago before we had kids (yes, the math doesn't work out the way you think), my wife and I alone were pretty easily handling $200/week for groceries/etc with the same brown-bagging it to work. Granted, I think milk was $2.79/gallon, and the cheese sales were $3.50-$4. It feels that the grocery store has outpaced "core" inflation in Canada these last 6 years.
posted by nobeagle at 1:46 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Bringing lunch saves time as well as money. However, he may need to make himself go outside in the middle of the day if he doesn't have the excuse of driving to a restaurant. That's fine - just take a short walk or something, or go outside and make a phone call.
posted by amtho at 1:52 PM on November 29, 2013

Probably about $150-200/week for this couple on Toronto, not including the travel costs to get to the huge superstore. Much depends on how often we eat out; I could easily sink $100/week on lunches when I worked downtown.

I still marvel at how cheap food is here compared to Scotland, though.
posted by scruss at 1:52 PM on November 29, 2013

Best answer: In addition to checking the categories, is there any chance you're taking the "cash back" option on a debit card at the grocery store? If so, that will inflate your grocery total on mint.
posted by bilabial at 2:07 PM on November 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

Living in charleston, SC. My fiance and I spend around $1,000 a month eating out then $400 on groceries. We have fun.
posted by sandmanwv at 2:12 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: We can hit $600, but we're primarily low-carb so our groceries are almost entirely meat and produce - about half of that fresh and half frozen - and no bread/rice/pasta, and we do indulge in some higher-end stuff that we don't require for survival. But then there's the stuff that looks like daily food but isn't: wine, cleaning supplies, 1-2 potluck/game night contributions a month, cook-and-freeze stuff (but that tends to work out over time, and I usually do that with sale items), 30lbs/week of hippie dog food.

But we barely eat out, which racks up so fast. And especially if I'm working two-meal days, I can't eat two fast-food lunches a day, so at least one meal ends up being something like an actual restaurant meal. The Mexican sit-down place up the street from my office charges $13 for a carnitas caesar. They have stuff that's cheaper, but you don't necessarily want enchiladas and rice and beans if you need to work another couple of hours.

And I know it's supposed to be better to do frequent "small shops" but I find I just spend more money and buy more crap doing that. If I meal-plan and shop to the plan, our grocery bill goes way down AND I end up throwing out less stuff that's gone feral in the vegetable drawer.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:12 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: $620 for two people sounds high to me. I would suggest you put restaurants/cafes into a separate category called "entertainment". If you are eating out so often, though, and your groceries are still $620, I wonder what you are buying. Are you buying all organic meats and veggies, artisan beads, fine cheeses and non GMO products? There is nothing wrong with that, but it will cost more. Do either of you have specialized diets? You could probably bring down costs by using in season items, cheaper cuts, and perhaps changing what you are eating. Meal planning and a thermos might help you stop eating out. Also, are you buying laundry detergent and other items at the grocery store? Check to see what is actually food.

As for eating out, I think it is one of the great perqs of living in Vancouver. If you enjoy it and you feel you are making healthy choices, I don't care if you spend a few hundred on a month on it, if you can afford it. Is this also including drinks or alcohol? That might push the cost higher.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 2:13 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Family of 4 (both kids preschool)

We do all grass fed meats, wild fish (frozen, however), and probably 70% organic veggies. We eat out twice a month, and probably order pizza or a similar kid-friendly dinner a second time each month. I pack my lunches when I have to go into the office. The kids don't eat much, but we keep with the same higher quality food habits with them. We don't coupon beyond what is convenient. We do tend to make things from scratch.

Groceries run about $200-$225 a week (excluding household supplies like dish liquid, paper towels, diapers and what have you) Eating out is about $70 a night out - (taking kids out to fancy restarants is not a particularly fun experience - so we're in the land of Texas Roadhouse and a few local family restaurants. Pizza is $30 a pop. My wife doesn't drink, and I'll order a beer with dinner when we go out... that means in 28 days we spend roughly $1K - 1.1 for a family of 4.

My bet is that you either have expenses on the cleaning end that are bleeding into your food budget, or you are increasing your restaurant costs by your alcohol habits.

A few things, as a family of two, you may want to count cleaning supplies as a separate line item, and consider alcohol to be 'entertainment', then recalculate your numbers, and figure out if you are spending too much for cleaning, entertainment and/or food.
posted by Nanukthedog at 2:19 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

I spent $450 in the grocery store this month, 3 adults and a food-centered holiday. That includes my average monthly food bill for one of the (young) adults at college, and almost always using my debit card & getting cash back. Plus maybe $200 max/month in work lunches, dinners out, convenience coffees/dietcokes, etc. US non-major-city.
posted by headnsouth at 2:19 PM on November 29, 2013

Best answer: I've lived in Vancouver, Victoria, New York, and currently between Toronto and Boston. For North America, this is grocery hell (though anyone who has been through Northern Europe has some perspective on how bad bad can be). The simple things I do to keep it under control:

1. The Big Vat o' Leftovers. On Sunday you can make a one-pot meal that will get your husband through 5 lunches no problem, and in the time it takes to make one dinner. Chilis, stews, Indian or Thai curries, big Costa Rican rice and beans...for the current $17.50 he's spending for one lunch, you can make a week's worth of (possibly better) meals.

2. Make those big vats heavy on vegetables purchased at cheaper grocery stores. In Toronto, there's good produce to be found dirt cheap in little markets on Bloor. Vancouver is harder, but there's still Chinatown and Donald's. Or you can do like my parents in Burnaby do, and make a weekend trip to Bellingham.
posted by Beardman at 2:28 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'd be interested to know where you live in Vancouver such that eating out is the only reasonable entertainment.

I think you as other have said should separate your grocery bill and your "eating out" budget, but your husband's work lunches should be considered part of your grocery bill.

I would also suggest that you stop eating out. It's a waste of money, unless you have money to burn (and it does not sound like you do). It's at least 4 or 5 times as expensive as making it yourself. For the price of two beers you can buy a sixpack at the Liquor Store and have money leftover.

But like I said, where do you live in Van? From the perspective of an Islander, Vancouver has endless cultural opportunities, especially if you don't have kids and you live on a Skytrain route.

Also, if you are anywhere near Richmond or Metrotown there is T&T with cheaper food.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:35 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I asked a similar question last year and got a lot of terrific answers. We live in Melbourne (very expensive city) and eat out a lot, but we've managed to reduce our grocery and food budget over the last 10 months.
posted by third word on a random page at 2:35 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Don't forget that food is also health insurance and a fundamental physical pleasure. It is not a virtue to eat cheap lousy food for years if it takes a toll on your health and your general outlook.
posted by zadcat at 2:38 PM on November 29, 2013 [10 favorites]

Best answer: This last month, I spent $550 on groceries in Marin (outside of San Francisco, and probably the highest prices in the Bay Area). That includes coffee out twice and one breakfast out, and then about $45 in Sunday breakfast from the Farmers Market each week for me and my roommate.

So if you just count strictly groceries, it would be about $475.

I am gluten-free for medical reasons, which means that I buy really expensive flour and lots more produce. In fact, I spent $40 on gluten-free flour this month. Oh, and Thanksgiving food was probably an extra $75 this month that wouldn't normally be included.

That means for about $350 a month, I get:
--enough soup for two people to have 5-6 lunches each week (roommate tradition: make soup on Sunday afternoons...which I finance)
--dinners for about 3-4 nights (other nights I don't eat)
--snacks like rice cakes, popcorn, yogurt, hot chocolate
--dessert for 20 people every Sunday night (weekly community potluck dinner. I bring dessert)
--cat food (wet and dry) and litter for three cats

1/3 of that total is farmers market produce and eggs, another 1/3 is Safeway, and the final 1/3 is at independent markets and convenience stores.

I agree with what others have said - packing lunches is way cheaper...even if he has to pack two lunches. Or you could theoretically half that if he only ate out for one of his lunches a day. I wouldn't count his trips to the pub in your food budget - that sounds like it's entertainment/working expenses that shouldn't be sacrificed.

The other budget killer is having specific recipes in mind that require lots of stuff you don't have on hand. You can spend $50 on a recipe easily if it requires buying something unusual, or special spices/seasonings. I usually start with the produce that looks best in the farmers market, then if I want meat of any kind, I'll get what looks best or is on sale (usually: whole chickens, pork shoulder, ham shanks, or salmon)

And again: wastage. If you're consistently throwing away food, you need to figure out what you're likely to throw away and adjust your shopping habits accordingly. Like, I don't buy lettuce anymore at the farmers market because I will come home, eat one salad, then promptly forget about it until I find it wilted and dead a week later.

Now that you're aware, I would imagine that alone will lower your food costs. Knowing what's going out helps a ton.
posted by guster4lovers at 2:43 PM on November 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

I spend an ungodly amount on groceries. I also have a bigger family- 4 kids (2 exchange students and 2 of my own kids) Here's what I have done to cut costs- I bought myself a very nice espresso machine and I don't ever buy coffee out now. I actually bought a second used machine for work too. I also have a mini fridge at work, and I stock up on prepared meals and other food for work (I go to Trader Joe's to buy meals). I also now meal plan for real and have set nights where we eat the same thing (Taco Tuesday for instance- I vary the meat or bread options) we only get take out once a week, and it's generally pizza. In addition I just had to stop going to the grocery stores that either had too many temptations like prepared meals (Whole Foods is a big no-no for me). Finally I got a big chest freezer and I buy in bulk as much as I can and that makes me avoid going to the store weekly. I even freeze milk and bread.
posted by momochan at 2:52 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

I just did our weeklyish shop for a family of four in Montreal and it came to $180. We spend about $1000/month. I'm not super thrifty but I found that buying a chest freezer was essential to save money. I hit Costco once a month or so for bread, canned goods, fresh meat, stuffed pastas, sandwich meat, lunch snacks like yoghurt (we have kids), juice boxes and so on. The meat, bread, cheese and pastas go in the freezer to be taken out as necessary. I divide the meat into meal sized packages.

When I cook dinner I cook enough to also make lunch for four the next day. I never buy lunch at work. I have a microwave, mini fridge, coffee machine and kettle in my office. My partner works next to a Loblaws so she'll sometimes buy lunch there, but it's a grocery lunch not a restaurant. We eat ALL our leftovers. We've been a bit more flush with cash (we both have short term second jobs) lately so we've been eating out with the kids about once a week at mid-range restaurants, say 70-80$ for the family.

I also grow our veggies in the summer though I'm not convinced that saves much money to be honest.
posted by Cuke at 3:04 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

I spend $700-1000 a month on food (this includes fast food) for three adults. Average prices of things I buy a lot:

- Whole chicken, $15
- Ham (as in for roasting) $20
- Kilo of pasta, $7
- 1.5 kilos of brown rice, $8
- 4 litres skim milk, $4
- whole wheat bread, $2-4
- 2 kilo bag of potatoes, $8
- Box of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, $15
- Kilo of french fries, $5

All Canadian prices, all rounded off. I enjoy a few luxuries like sweet potato fries and club soda - a LOT of club soda - because I can't drink the city's water. Remember that you are also buying toilet paper and cleaning supplies at the grocery store, which account for a surprising percentage (in my budget at least).
posted by Nyx at 3:12 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

We pack lunches for my partner by leftovers and 'box lunch' - aka frozen meals. Cheaper than takeout and convenient.
posted by geek anachronism at 3:16 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: KokuRyu, we live in downtown Van, moved from London two years ago. Its a real shame but most of the positives of living here are wasted on me because I don't have any interest in outside sports and don't care at all about nature and scenery. I'm a real city mouse. There is VAG, which we were able to walk around in 90mins, MOA, which is really cool but once you've seen it, you've seen it... Shopping is difficult here compared to London, not enough competition or variety so clothes are overpriced. We go to gigs every now and then, I joined the ukulele group but it only meets once a month, when I suggested hosting a new craft night in town acquiantances were actually offended and thought I was criticising Van and there was a round 'we do all our crafting and painting at home!'. No one was interested in a book club. I don't want to go paddleboarding or canoeing and I'm not interested in pilates. I'm finding things here to be very quiet and slow so eating out is one pleasureable thing we can do, aside from seeing the odd new film at the cinema every other week. I'd be really happy to learn of any other stuff going on though.
posted by everydayanewday at 3:18 PM on November 29, 2013

Best answer: I would say we spend roughly $1500 on groceries and another $600 or so eating out each month, maybe a bit more. NYC, Manhattan.
posted by roomthreeseventeen

Wow. That's 25,000 a year just to eat for two people. I could be wrong, but I'm guessing most of the answers you're going to get on askmefi will come from people that really don't have to watch the bottom line like maybe, I would. I know families of 4 that make less than that and still eat fine (and of course, they don't live in NYC, and I know that makes a world of difference).

While I couldn't spend 25,000 a year on food if I tried, I know from experience that it's easy to spend a lot simply by not paying attention. My gf and I got our food spending down by paying attention to what we were spending, and making several changes.

1. Knocked out junk food. It's super expensive, ignoring how bad it is for you.

2. Started counting calories and getting healthy. It's amazing how little you need to fill you up. What use to feed us for one night now usually covers dinner plus tomorrow's lunch. Some people don't like left overs. We love them.

3. Eat out much less. I LOVE eating out, but for us it's quality over quantity. We make sure that when we eat out, it's a conscious choice, at a place we love. Not a 'we have no food in the house and we're too tired to cook' so we eat at some crappy restaurant choice.

4. Drink more water, eat less meat. I use to believe that if a meal didn't have meat, it was a snack. We started out slow having one day a week without meat, and now we have several. And I use to drink coke and tea constantly. Though it took a while to get use to it, I now reach for water without thinking about it.

We made these changes because our budget required them, but even when we're better off I doubt we'll change much. I love eating, and eating out, but there's also plenty of other ways I love spending money.
posted by ratherbethedevil at 3:21 PM on November 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

When I was unemployed and had all the time in the world to do careful shopping, I had the grocery budget of our household of two (excluding beer) down to about $100/month. And that wasn't eating poorly... that was shopping for discounted, about to expire meats and veggies, doing a lot of from-scratch cooking of things we might have bought pre-made, and generally working hard to only buy things on really good deals.

As soon as I started working, our food budget doubled. Living cheaply takes a lot of time and energy.
posted by hippybear at 4:05 PM on November 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

I am in Washington DC and I spend about $200-300 a month on food for myself including both groceries and dining out.

Typically when I buy groceries I get: bread, eggs, milk, butter, cereal, yogurt, sliced meat and cheese for sandwiches, pasta, shredded cheese, one or two kinds of vegetables, beans, rice, something for a snack/dessert, and whatever household products I need. Then I'll buy ingredients for one larger dish, like a casserole, stew, or meat. This usually costs about $35-45, and I usually do grocery shopping once every ten days or so. I make the large dish on Sunday, then during the week I cook pasta or beans at night and I eat either leftovers or a sandwich for lunch at work.

I really enjoy dining out, and it's one of my preferred ways to socialize, so all the rest is spent on restaurant meals. I could easily get my food spending down to under $200 a month by avoiding most dining out, but I'd be miserable!

I save a lot by freezing portions of dishes so that I don't waste things by having to throw them out.
posted by capricorn at 4:12 PM on November 29, 2013

Depending on the time of year, we spend between $360-440 USD on food for SIX people, three of which are teenage boys!

Then again, if you're buying name-brand products and ignoring sales... but that's still an insane amount of money to be spending on food for two people - especially if you hadn't noticed!

It's the "not noticing til you tried Mint" that puzzles/amazes me, but with thought, it indicates that you're in a much higher income bracket than we are, one where you're not worrying constantly about whether or not you can pay the bills, so you simply don't pay attention to how much your random purchases are.

I live in the PNW, and yes, the name brand's cheese is about $8 for a brick of cheddar, and the $4 loaf of bread - that's why we don't buy them! The generic cheese is just as good but a dollar cheaper regular price- and we usually buy a bunch when it's on sale for $4.49-$4.99. For bread, paying over $2 (on sale name-brand) or $1-1.50 generic would be too much. That's likely a huge chunk of the difference.

Everything else pretty much follows the same routine. About the only thing we buy that doesn't go regularly on sale is milk, and the price is thankfully pretty stable at $2.49-2.79/gallon, because we use a lot. (Those four kids, plus I think my guy could live on cereal... which, again, we stock up on when it's on sale.)

My apologies if I sound incredulous. It actually shocks me that people manage to spend that much on food... but at least now I understand why, when government officials try to "live for a week/month on food stamps", they think they're suffering at $21/week - when in our experience, it's always worked out to $14-17 per person per week. (Yes, that's using our actual real-life numbers over the last decade or so.)
posted by stormyteal at 4:12 PM on November 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

I find that it's simpler to budget for all necessities each month in one lump sum. That way I don't go overboard buying this novelty and that whilst shopping at my 'grocery superstore.' I spend about $600 each month for a single female vegetarian. When I eat out I don't spend more than $20, and I probably do that 2-3 times a month. It's all within the $600 budget for necessities. In the past when I've far exceeded my budget for necessities, it's been because I've eaten out too much. That really adds up. For the $20 I spend eating out, I can buy a ton of veggies, quinoa, soup mixes, seasonings, etc. and make about 7-10 meals with it vs. that one meal. It's easy to cut back and still eat well, you just have to get creative.
posted by OneHermit at 4:20 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: stormyteal, yes (for the moment - but that could change anytime) we are out of the 'worrying about making ends meet' bracket, for the first time ever. I got into the habit of not checking the account over the past year (it just felt so nice to not be constantly worrying all the time) and just going by what I think is reasonable to spend in one visit to the supermarket. I was really shocked to find this was our spending because at home I was queen of living awesomely on hardly any money and this is far, far more than I'm comfortable with.
posted by everydayanewday at 4:50 PM on November 29, 2013

Best answer: I spend about $1300 at grocery stores (nb. not just on groceries; that includes alcohol, dishwasher detergent, socks and underwear, clothes, etc) for four people, one of whom is on an extremely limited diet that precludes legumes (as well as many other things). When I find my expenditures creeping up, it's on stuff like wine, fancy cheese, charcuterie, etc. If you really want to see where your grocery money is going, build yourself a spreadsheet with food categories (meat and seafood / dairy / bakery / deli / produce / dry goods / process and pre-prep / treats & junk / non-food / booze is my suggestion, something else might work better for you) and enter everything on the receipt into the spreadsheet along with the cost, every time. That will let you see if you're just spending too much overall, or if there's one category that absorbs most of your overage. Also, if you're used to "just shopping," there may be stuff that you're picking up where you aren't even really registering the price -- the line-item entry will really force you to confront what you're spending.
posted by KathrynT at 5:50 PM on November 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I also live in Manhattan, am single, only eat twice a day and rarely eat out and I still spend an ungodly amount of money on food.

I think everyone who lives in different places with larger families with perhaps one person at home with the time and energy to cook and cut costs and the ability shop (cook, and store) in bulk can't really feign so much shock over the OP's (or anyone else's) totals.

But anyway, just recheck Mint's categories, make sure nothing is mislabelled and put your restaurant visit's under entertainment.

It doesn't sound like you particularly love Vancouver...are you maybe shopping or eating more as a result?

Anyway, if you can afford it, don't stress it too much. Make gradual changes and immerse yourself into your new city and lifestyle. Food is supposed to be a source of nourishment and pleasure anyway!!
posted by bquarters at 6:18 PM on November 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

We live in rural Australia miles from town, work from home and spend about $1000pm for two on groceries and another $400 on wine (yikes!). We might eat out once a month for a total bill of $50. We don't buy any prepared food but we do like quality produce and eat a lot of veggies and quality meat. I'm the budgeter in the family so when I shop, I am always looking for sale items or stuff for quality stews etc. Hug-buddy is more like just to pick something off the shelf if it's what he wants without considering the price.
posted by Kerasia at 6:49 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: London is particularly expensive for food, so were you shopping in Waitrose or M and S, solely, when you lived here? Otherwise your comparison to London doesn't make sense, you are still spending an insane amount on food each month.

We get organic fruit, veg, yoghurt and eggs delivered each week for ~£100 per month, and spend another £300 per month on other groceries (including nappies and cleaning products, etc) for two adults, a cat and a toddler. Another £100 on eating out. You need to look for the pound shop equivalents in Canada for cleaning/ paper products and find your local ethnic grocers for cheap staples - there must be many in Vancouver. Are you both new to the city or does your husband know Vancouver well?

It sounds as though you moved to Vancouver and it's not living up to London as a major world city with all of the accoutrements you enjoyed? That sucks but... that's what happens when you move from London to Vancouver. Van is great (from what I hear, I've not been) but it will never be London. Your second-to-last follow up kinda indicates you're a bit depressed by the cultural /crafty scene there compared to London, which is totally normal, and it sounds as though your husband works a lot and you're pretty isolated in your new home. Perhaps you would spend less on food /eating out if you had more fun stuff to do? I don't have any answers for you, apart from maybe asking a question next week about fun and crafty, welcoming to newcomers things to do in Vancouver, or going on or reddit, or IRL metafilter to meet some people. Are you working? Can you meet people through work? Good luck to you, I know how lonely it can be to move across the world - I wish you the very best.
posted by goo at 8:47 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: We spent the same amounts as you do when we lived in downtown Vancouver. Food costs are much more than other parts of Canada (excluding the North) and vastly more than everywhere in the US. I now live in the Bay Area (expensive) and think its crazy that butter is only $2.50 a pound and cheese is crazy cheap! At our Vancouver Safeway/IGA the big blocks of cheese were $12 (as low as $7 on sale) And Milk was almost $5/2L. I totally understand how 2 people shopping downtown and eating out on weekends gets to be $1500/month.
posted by saradarlin at 9:49 PM on November 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: goo - lord no, I was a Morrisons girl all the way! (peppered with a bit of Iceland for Linda Mccartney sausages, mmm). I just meant that at home I knew where to go to get the most for my money and here I need to re-learn that skill. In London I used to spend about 20-30 pounds a week and ate very well. Eating out was cheap in Hackney too, and the standard very high.

Van is a nice place to live if you are outdoorsy and into nature but not if you want things big cities have to offer, which unfortunately is what I prefer. I do scour the local papers and websites for stuff to do, and have talked to other europeans who've commiserated that you have to look harder here and accept that there is not as much going on. I work from home so that is pretty isolating. I think I did underestimate the difficulties of emmigration, especially as there was no language barrier. I am trying though, I'm going to a few plays and classes soon hopefully, and there's a craft fair this weekend we can go to instead of a meal. Thank you for being so kind.
posted by everydayanewday at 10:56 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm in Australia, which from your examples seems to have similar grocery prices. My husband and I spend around $700 a month on groceries (we use a money tracking software too, so I know this for sure), and another $150 on non-grocery food (after work drinks once a week, and pastries from a bakery on Saturday mornings).

We eat healthier than average, but not fancy food. We always buy the no-name brands except for coffee, cheese and bread. We bake about 1/2 our own bread. We only drink coffee at home (and we bulk-order the beans online because it's cheaper), and mostly we buy what's in season and on sale. About half our meals are vegetarian and based around beans and lentils, which we buy in bulk. We snack on things like oatmeal and fruit. We grow our own herbs, tomatoes, and berries. About half our grocery trolley is full of fresh fruit and vegetables, which is where the real expense seems to lie, sadly. And also my husband is big guy who does serious weightlifting and easily eats twice what I do. When he's away, my weekly grocery bill drops to about $40, although that isn't counting the stuff we buy less frequently in bulk, like coffee and wine.

In your situation, the only thing I'd see as the real culprit is the eating out and the bought lunches. Personally I hate sandwiches and would be resistant to bringing a packed lunch to work if I thought it had to be that. But at night we usually cook enough for several meals at a time, and also package up a few single servings to take for lunch. We both have access to a fridge and microwave at work, which helps, of course. But it means my work lunches are usually more delicious and definitely healthier than anything I could buy nearby.

I've been travelling a lot lately, and having to collate receipts for reimbursement from work, so I've paid a lot of attention to how much I spend on food when I have to eat everything from cafes etc. On my last trip, I averaged $25 a day on food, and that was only eating twice a day (I don't really do breakfast), and with almost no snacks (fruit from the markets at like $2 for a bunch of bananas that lasted me all week). Drinks are what really pushed the total up, I think. If I just grabbed a sandwich from a deli and no drink, that's a meal for about $6. If I sat down in a cafe and ordered a sandwich ($10) plus a juice ($4), and then a coffee afterwards ($3), that's suddenly $17 where I could have spent just a third that much. If your husband really wants to keep buying food, maybe at least persuade him to switch to drinking tap water or bringing a waterbottle from home. Similarly when you eat out at the weekend, maybe try just having one course and no drinks. You can have a glass of wine at home before you go out, and dessert when you get home if you really want it. Those extras are where the restaurants really make their money, and I find I don't feel like the restaurant experience is diminished by skipping them. Especially if you are mostly going out for the social experience rather than the food itself.

Finally, you might be underestimating what you spent in London. I would never have guessed that I spend as much as $700 a month on groceries until I started using money-tracking software, and I was pretty horrified at first too. (Mostly because my mother used to have a book called "Feed a family of four on $100 a week" and that kind of sticks in my head as a benchmark of what is normal. But that was from like the 1970s, and I have to keep reminding myself that.)
posted by lollusc at 11:25 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm lucky enough to live in a really cheap city in the southwestern US. That said, my spouse and I are not all that thrifty about food. We do about 50% of our shopping at Whole Foods (for most of our fresh bread, dairy, and produce), about 25% at Trader Joe's (snacks, juices, lunch foods), and the rest at "regular" stores like Safeway.

I always pack a lunch for work. I go to Whole Foods and get some amazing salami, pick up a freshly baked loaf of bread, get a couple kinds of veggies, some good snacks, and I have a killer lunch for a few dollars a day. And that's with a sandwich that uses salami that is $15-20 per pound, and with fancy bread, an organic piece of fruit, a probiotic drink from Iceland, and a few fancy cookies... you get the idea. Still much cheaper than spending $8-10 on some fast food meal. Maybe your husband might like that approach- taking lunch to work becomes more fun when it's fancy, fun ingredients (and it'll still be much cheaper than going out).

My spouse eats at food trucks for lunch a few days a week, but that's usually only $5-10 each time. It's a big social thing and it's still a fairly cheap lunch.

Neither of us drinks coffee. I drink water all day from my work's water coolers. Occasionally I'll bring a fun bottled soda to work... but that's still far cheaper than Starbucks.

We go out to eat about twice a week, but often we like to go places where we will have great leftovers. Our rule is to limit ourselves to $20-30 per week in dinners at restaurants. There's this amazing asadero run by a Salvadoran family, that will sell you a whole mesquite-roasted chicken, with tortillas, beans, guacamole, salsa, and taco sides, all for $11. It's two dinners worth of food for us and we love it. Not sure if it's impossible to find places like that near you, but we have loads of amazing cheap "ethnic" food places (Salvadoran, Lebanese, Afghani, and Greek are our main standbys, not to mention tons of great Mexican places).

Occasionally we'll go out for a more expensive dinner with friends or family, but we never really go out to drink- I prefer to make my own cocktails at home (again, same story as before, I can pay $10 for a mediocre bar cocktail laced with corn syrup and artificial flavors, or I can make my own with top shelf liquors and fantastic ingredients for $3).

All told, we eat really, really well, and we spend maybe $750 a month on food. Our biggest solution is to spend our money on great stuff at the store, and only go out for cheap dinners. Maybe that approach will help you!
posted by Old Man McKay at 12:42 AM on November 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Paris, France checking in with around 700 Euros ($950) on average monthly for mostly organic groceries for two adults. Dinners out average about 150 Euros ($200)/month. I decided a while ago not to skimp on what I put in my body.
posted by Paris Elk at 4:22 AM on November 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm in Melbourne, Australia, and from your examples I'd guess food prices are pretty similar here. My SO and I average about $600 a month for food. About $200 of this is my SO's lunches at work, which we could reduce by quite a lot if either of us were organised enough to make food he could take with him.

We don't really worry too much about spending on food, we generally buy whatever we want to eat, but:

- I am vegetarian, and my SO eats very little meat.
- We don't eat out all that often, maybe once or twice a month we might spend $30 at a favourite local burger joint.
- We're both (barely) occasional drinkers, so our alcohol expenditure is very low
- We do a good amount of our grocery shopping at local Indian and Middle Eastern groceries where staple items like rice, lentils, beans etc, as well as spices, can be had for very good prices.
- At the supermarket, we pay attention to specials and stock up on things we use regularly when they're on sale. We buy very little at full price.
- Fruits and vegetables are whatever's in season. Except tomatoes, which I buy year round because I can't live without them.

Given your updates about how many meals your husband buys at work, $350 a month doesn't actually seem excessive to me - although certainly if you two agree you could probably save a lot of money if he takes food with him. $320 a month on eating out on the weekends does seem like a lot to me, and I would take another look at your entertainment options if it were me. But then we come to your grocery budget, and while $620 is not in and of itself a super high grocery budget, it does seem too high given how many meals it apparently doesn't include.

So, I agree with the advice above that you probably need to try and sort your food spending into more fine-grained categories in order to see where the money's actually going. It may well be that there's some luxury category that you don't really think about and is a much bigger part of your food budget than you think. I work part-time at a supermarket and I can't tell you how often I idly wonder, as I'm checking someone's groceries, if they actually realise that they've got $80 worth of cheeses in their trolley.
posted by lwb at 5:32 AM on November 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've usually spent around $150/month for groceries. Never lived anywhere super expensive though... This is for Indiana, Chicago, Rhode island- cheap or middle of the road places to live, in terms of budget. Not including alcohol. Pretty basic food.

Another $100 or so eating out/going to bars.

I'm pretty sure you couldn't spend as little as me in Canada, nor do you probably want to. But packing lunches and buying stuff on sale will cut that budget. Do you have stores primarily serving immigrant populations near you? Those are a lot cheaper in the us
posted by geegollygosh at 6:05 AM on November 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

My magic bullet is to use my calculator on my phone as I shop. I am a horrible list maker and only shop when hungry (after work) or snacky (after kids are in bed). The calc and sticking to the walls and not the aisles helped me a lot.

Side note: when we lived in Manhattan we found that eating out late, like after a movie, was a triple whammy - more likely to order more booze, busy room so we'd order apps to weather the wait -- then we'd be buzzed and full and late and take a cab home. We cut those back by reversing the series, meeting right after work for food then walking home or to a movie.
posted by drowsy at 6:05 AM on November 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: When I first started using Mint, I was shocked to discover I was spending $800/month on food, about half on eating out. This is for a single person in Seattle, which has really, really high food costs for the U.S., mostly shopping at Trader Joe's or QFC (nice supermarket) and eating out primarily at cheaper ethnic places.

At first, I started focusing on cooking more, but that didn't help - I wasn't being efficient, so whatever I cut out of my eating out spending, I was making up for with overspending on groceries that I didn't always use.

Finally, after months of trial-and-error, I hit on a meal-planning sweet spot that works for me: every week, I eat one thing most days for breakfast and lunch. I prep that thing on Sundays - for breakfast, this usually means just buying cereal and milk, or maybe making a big thing of oatmeal. For lunch, it means making something that I really like, and that works well as leftovers. I portion it out on Sunday and then I just have to grab a container on my way out in the morning. I also try to keep my snacking to things that I buy on my weekend grocery shop, and I bring them to the office on Monday morning so I don't have to remember the rest of the week.

It sounds like you're actually already sort of doing this, but maybe your husband needs to start, too. I wonder if part of the issue with him is that he's working so much (6 days a week) that he doesn't have the mental energy to do anything but his eating-out habit - it might also feel like a nice "treat" for him on his long days. But if you guys put in an hour on Sundays to make something he will really like and look forward to, then that will take caree of one of his meals.

One thing: if I have a busy week and don't have time to cook for my week's lunches, or just don't feel like it that week, I will sometimes just go to Trader Joe's or Whole Foods and buy a week's worth of good-quality frozen meals. It's a bit more expensive, less healthy, and less tasty, but it's cheaper and healthier than eating out for all those meals so it's a decent compromise.

The other thing I started doing was using You Need a Budget instead of Mint. I prefer You Need a Budget because it feels more proactive to me, whereas mint is more like "here's what you're doing wrong!"

FWIW, I now am down to about $500/month on food. Some people would probably see this as extravagant, but hey, it works for me. This is with spending about $50/week at the grocery store, on top of a trip to Costco every few months to stock up on things that freeze well or are shelf-stable (meat, fish, coffee, corn tortillas, granola bars, cereal, frozen veggies, etc). I spend about $50/week eating out these days, which typically involves one meal with friends and maybe one or two take-out meals.
posted by lunasol at 7:34 AM on November 30, 2013 [5 favorites]

Single person in Central Mass. I spend about $100 a week at StopNShop including dog food, cat food, paper products and soapy things. That is, non food items are pretty much "set".

Because I love to cook, I make all my own meals. I eat meat only once a day.

I think if you can keep supermarket purchases to $100 per week per person you are doing fine. For each meal you eat out you should spend X amount less at the supermarket.
posted by andreap at 11:41 AM on November 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It sounds like you've got some ideas for how to help your husband bring down his at work food budget, but you really need some more interesting things to enjoy on the weekends. You mentioned wanting a book club, Vancouver Public Library has a number of them. Do you like the symphony? How about the aquarium? It looks like there are some arts and crafts meetups. There's also a lot of artists on Granville island, you may try wandering through and seeing if there are classes or anything you're interested in there, or if you want to go to some of their events. There are also more art galleries and also the Museum of Anthropology.

It's always hard to figure out what things you like to do in a new place, but hopefully you'll be able to find a few more things you're excited about.
posted by Margalo Epps at 12:26 PM on November 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

Wife and I are in Toronto and certainly in the same bracket, with an awful lot of that money going towards organic veggies and berries, nuts, cheeses. No kids, we drive old cars and don't drink, so we figure that blowing money on nourishment isn't the worst thing.
posted by bonobothegreat at 3:34 PM on November 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

We usually run between $400-$450 for 2 adults and a child (though said child is only with us every other week), which includes little to no eating out and making lunches instead of buying them. We eat organic veggies/fruits but tend to do buy everything else at the regular supermarket due to cost. All of us like to eat the same thing almost all the time; I can have the same lunch all week and not be bored (I realize this isn't very normal) and we make sure we finish everything in the house (use up leftovers, etc).

One thing that often helps us stretch the food budget is making a big pot/casserole of something and we eat it frequently throughout the week. When I do drink coffee, I just drink the free stuff at work as it seems like buying coffee is often ridiculously expensive. We also don't drink or eat meat (or very rarely), so I realize that cuts down on a lot of the food costs too.

Also, if there's a hospital nearby, their cafeterias often have super cheap food that is good. We do relax our budget a little around the holidays re: buying more things to make special foods, but it all seems to work out in the end since we're fairly strict other times of the year.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 5:34 PM on November 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

can i ask a question? when people discover they are 'shocked to find out how much they were spending' - what is the baseline by which you are shocked? i mean, everyone knows that if i pay 3,000 for a pair of shoes that it's shocking, and that if i buy a car for 200,000, it's alot, but how do people know the 'average' price for groceries in order to be 'shocked' by spending 800 dollars? just trying to understand here, not being sarcastic. i mean, either you are spending what you can afford or you are going in debt? how do people decide how much money they spend on food?
posted by poots at 11:25 AM on September 16, 2014

When I have been shocked by our monthly food expenditures, it's been because all those little trips to the stores are just $40 or $50! Except I don't think about the fact that it's several times a week, plus that special run for TP/PT/laundry soap, and then the dog food, and the monthly Costco trip, and damn I spent $800?

It's definitely a surprise of privilege, to be able to spend $800 when in your head you're spending half that. Or when your brain is still living in 1999 and $50 was a week's food. Sometimes it's just, you know, getting old: $1.25 for a vending machine soda? Why in my day, it was a quarter! And nobody used seat belts!

Sometimes it's just perspective. I mean, I know how much our rent is monthly but it still kind of makes my head explode to think about it in an annual number.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:20 PM on September 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

People do go into debt by spending too much at the grocery store. This is a really common way for credit card debt to accumulate: you spend more in a month than you're bringing in, you pay what you can and carry a little balance, same thing next month but now the balance you're carrying is a bit higher, etc., etc. until you realize you've got a lot of credit card debt. Very easy to do, if you are not paying attention to how much things cost.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 4:19 PM on September 16, 2014

Aha, very good explanation, thanks Lyn. All very good reasons :-) i guess i just never understood the whole adding things up and coming up with a big number - same for annual spending. someone once asked me "if you did not own a car, at the end of the year, you would have XXXX dollars more" - my answer was, Yeah, and i would go out and buy a car with it! i just never got the whole converting things to how much you spend annually. people say ohhh, 800 dollars a month on food is 9600 dollars annually... AND? i mean, i suppose if you earn 9600 dolllars annually there is a problem but if it comes out to 11% of your salary then that's apparently the normal amount you should spend on food. another example, i bought curtains for my kids room a long time ago and a friend said "That's a day's pay" (for her, not me) - And I said "AND?" where is it written how much of one's salary one should spend on curtains? i guess that's my point - it's not 'written' anywhere. i know people who earn 35K and buy Louis Vuitton purses (dumb in my mind and i earn a lot more) and then i also know people who earn 350K and don't have a car.
posted by poots at 7:59 AM on September 17, 2014

Mod note: Hi poots, moderator here. Just a heads-up, AskMetafilter is pretty strictly focused on the question asked by the original asker, it doesn't really have a place for side conversations to happen like this. You can check out Chat instead, if you'd like a more open-ended space for discussion of any topic. Or if you have any questions, hit us up at the contact form.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:28 PM on September 17, 2014

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