IS EATING HEALTHY REALLY TOO EXPENSIVE?
Whether you’re living the keto life or just eating healthy, one of the challenges is doing it without breaking the bank. As a mom of six, you won’t see me running around in upscale grocery stores buying organic mushrooms handpicked by unicorns.
I’m looking for deals, and I’m looking for tasty meals I can cook for the family. And, yes, on weekends or Friday nights when I’m exhausted, I’ll grab a pizza or In-N-Out burgers.
It adds up, especially if you live in a high cost of living area. In July, my monthly grocery expenses were up to $1500! Whoa. What? Looking at my bank statement, I questioned why I went to grocery store X eight times and grocery store Y five times when my “official” schedule is supposed to be once-a-week grocery shopping on Saturday mornings (with 1-2 extra trips if I’ve forgotten or run out of something).
What happened? What did I buy? And why are my husband and I practically paying the equivalent of a mortgage in food?
I know feeding a family of 8 isn’t going to be super cheap, but I’m also convinced it should not be costing this much. You might feel the same way. Maybe you’ve realized you’re eating out too much, or that constant trips to the grocery store is draining you financially.
This is why Melanie Anderson’s story over at her blog, Six On A Budget, intrigued me. She lives in Southern California, like me, and managed to go from spending $1500 a month on food to $233 per month–and she manages a family of six. I kid you not. HOW did she do this, and where can I sign up?
Melanie was gracious enough to entertain my questions, and I’m sharing her answers and insight in the interview below. Enjoy!
INTERVIEW: MELANIE ANDERSON, SIXONABUDGET.COM
Thanks so much for joining us today, Melanie. What was your previous monthly food budget, what is it today, and what inspired you to start reigning in your food expenses?
What we’d been spending on groceries to feed our family of six in California was $1500/month.
Now, each month it is $233/month. Last month, it happened to be a couple dollars under that in fact, but usually it’s about $233/month.
What motivated us was two-fold: my husband was switching jobs and we didn’t want to fear the change. We’re debt free, but wanted to have more cushion. And secondly, we fell in love with travel as a family. We recently went to Rome as a family of six (kids ages 1-10 at the time). It was one of the most unforgettable ways to spend money.
Why do you think it’s tough for many of us to cut down on our food budgets?
We’re busy, and convenience therefore appears to be our ultimate sanity saver as we rush, rush, rush. But, I would argue that with a small amount of effort, you can transform your grocery spending, eat even tastier, and drastically increase your savings, even if the only spending you changed was how you purchase food.
What did you do to save money on groceries?
Reverse meal plan. Hands down, that is primarily what took our monthly grocery budget from $1500/month to $233/month. We did NOT ask, “What do we want for dinner?” We asked, “What do we have for dinner?” And what we have available is what we buy on clearance a few days before it expires.
I called our local grocers and asked what time of day they clearance their meat, bakery, and produce items. I’m getting loaves of bread for 59 cents each, 99 cent per pound of bacon (I recently got 27 pounds of it and froze it).
Can you elaborate on “reverse meal planning”?
Reverse meal planning is what I credit almost entirely for reducing our grocery bill each month from $1500/month to $233/month. We didn’t take up gardening. (Unfortunately, I’ve been abysmal at it every time I’ve tried.) We didn’t move to a lower cost of living area. We live in Southern California. Also, we didn’t start going to many grocery stores during the month, chasing deals.
Instead, it’s all so simple–I began going to only one grocer for about 95% of our grocery needs. The other segment is for Smart & Final bulk vegetables (once per month) and Walmart’s eggs (twice per month).
This is how reverse meal planning works:
- First, I called my local grocers and asked what time each day they clearance their meat, fish, vegetable, and baked goods. With that empowering knowledge, I began stopping at the store two to three times per week. They were quick in-and-out visits.
- Check the clearanced fruit and vegetable stand. Most often they have organic options, an entire bag of apples or pears for 99 cents. Next, I check the deli meats and cheese section. Then [the] canned goods clearance section. Those are generally the cosmetically damaged cans that are marked down 50-75%. Then bakery goods–I grab my loaves of bread, baked goods, bagels, if I know what else I could serve with them to make them into a tasty meal, and finally the meat area.
Whatever they do or don’t have is fine with me because I didn’t arm myself with wants and expectations as I enter the store. I went in asking, what do they have?, not what do I want? When I get home, there are plenty of sites (like supercook.com) that will help me create a great meal with the ingredients I have. The site will give me recipe options. I choose one and I cook. This way, I’m eating for pennies on the dollar.
Even a date night in recently, I snagged a bottle of wine (with a rebate that made it buy one get one free), a discontinued flavor of Cheesecake Factory cheesecake from the freezer section at my grocery store, which made it cost 50% less, and a clearanced rib eye steak (usually $33 marked down to $7.68). We rented a movie from the library and also some books about our upcoming family vacation, a vacation which can be easily cash flowed by our monthly savings on groceries.
The leftovers from the rib eye steak I fried with soy sauce and rice in our cast iron skillet the next day, and it fed our entire family for lunch.
This is the financial power and magic of reverse meal planning.
What was the most surprising or challenging part about this journey?
The most surprising aspect was we ate tastier food than ever before. I thought we’d be doing beans and rice every night in order to decrease the spending by this much. But instead, we eat phenomenal food. Organic fruits and vegetables are my go-to now, as opposed to non-organic before (I just make sure that those organic fruits and vegetables are from the clearance section).
When people say that eating healthy is “too expensive,” do you agree or disagree? Why?
Heartily disagree. Before working on our grocery spending, I bought many more packaged, convenient foods. Now we cook so much more from scratch and pack those leftovers for lunch at work or school the next day, meaning, again, for the following meal, we’re not eating packaged foods nearly so much. For a few weeks, we did a challenge to feed our family of six for a total of under $3. It’s possible. We did it.
Also, organic foods, natural foods are clearanced just as often as non-organic foods are. For example, grabbing a pound of organic ground turkey for $1.99/pound is just as doable as grabbing regular ground turkey for $1.99/pound. It just might not be on Tuesday when you’re in the mood for it. That’s where the sacrifice comes in, and why I stress the importance of not asking, what am I in the mood for, but rather, what do we have?
Also, I buy many canned vegetables when they are marked down for cosmetic reasons–the can is dented, or the label is torn. Organic canned goods are just as likely to get cosmetic damages as regular canned goods, so I stock up when I see them.
What are some hacks or hidden gems that we overlook every day that can save us money on food/groceries?
Certainly there are coupons, certainly there are ways to reduce costs in tiny ways, like clicking Like on your grocer’s Facebook page. Many of the main chains offer certain days of the week when they give away free items. I recently bought four delicious packages of items from a nearby Stater Bros. and received them all entirely free. They were offered on the grocer’s website, I clicked on them on my phone; when I went to check out, I entered my phone number and it removed the charges, essentially giving those items to me entirely free. No purchase necessary.
But my favorite means of savings is the clearance rack! Organic vegetables and fruits are clearanced every day at my Kroger chain store, [as well as] meats and bakery items. This is the biggest money saver.
Where are your top 3 stores to shop at?
Kroger chain stores. These are the names of the specific ones: Kroger, Ralphs, Dillons, Smith’s, King Soopers, City Market, Fry’s, QFC, and Harris Teeter.
Walmart. I go there only for eggs.
Costco for wine or large quantities of food when entertaining for a party.