Budget: A method for going broke methodically

It was about two years ago when things starting going under that a lot of people like myself starting tightening their budgets and cutting down on their expenses. A few of my friends in the same line of work as me got laid off and then suddenly it seemed the whole economy took a nose dive. Not just any single industry was being affected but everyone. So in the fall of 2008, Paul and I made a conscious decision to make a food budget and spend only $200 a month on groceries.

At first, $200 was pretty strict. We found ourselves struggling towards the end of the month with only a few dollars enough for fresh fruits and the basics like milk and cereal. If it was really bad, we had days where we took things from the cupboard/freezer and whatever was in the refrigerator and made it work. It was like being in college again. And admittedly at first we sometimes padded the the budget with an extra $20 to make it through the month or just ate out, which wasn’t taken out of the $200.

But as the months passed, looking for sales became almost a game and was actually fun. If a gallon of milk was $2.19, it was a deal. (Trader Joe’s has the cheapest milk and without hormones.) We knew automatically where to go for the best prices for our weekly staples. And instinctively, we would check out the what was on sale at our local food market online so we could plan our meals in advance. We’ve become so good at it that sometimes we have $40 leftover at the end of the month.

Why $200? I read a story last year on Slashfood about a CNN report. Sean Callebs chose to live on $176 a month on everything he ate or the equivalent of what a single person on food stamps lives on. And he documented it. So we took it as a personal challenge to try to see if we could do it ourselves. It’s a great exercise in reducing impulse buys (hello Doritos) but of course, we have the advantage of traveling to comparison shop as opposed to many people do who live in inner cities.

Now your turn: do you have a food budget you adhere to? How much a month do you allot for groceries? It it separate from your dining-out budget? And what caused you to start it?

You can read about Sean Callebs’ account of living on $176 a month here.

10 thoughts on “Budget: A method for going broke methodically

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  1. We had a challenge last year where we went a month without spending on anything except basic necessities (groceries, gas, medicine, the like. We knew what were the things we bought for the sake of just buying it; trips to Target; or going to the movies; even eating out was decided upon before doing it. It turned out to be a good excercise; James even said he could do it for three months! But with two kids to take care of, we also had to be realistic.One month at at time; I could probably do it again.Good for you! And good luck.

  2. I try to stick with $100 bucks a week to feed just me. You need to fatten up. The government has 60 trillion in unfunded liabilities — that is money they have promised to pay out to people that the country does not have. It's all end-of-the-world stuff on any statisitic you care to look at. Learn from the squirrels and fatten up now – and maybe bury some power bars and twinkies in your backyard. Of course, if you're real skinny, maybe the folks who go cannibal will spare you. You won't get this advice on CNN. Ray Sunshine, Pleasantville, Calif.

  3. Totally inspiring. I would love to be able to do that. I shall try. I am curious though- do you feel like you were able to still eat healthily or does it force you to buy not so healthy? I have an argument with my husband stating that we would save money if we didn't eat balanced and fresh meals.

  4. Great post! It's crazy the things we can come up with when budgeting. Here's a little tip from one San Diegan to another. You know the plentiful taco shops in our neighborhoods, right? Well, some of them have free salsa bars. I've used ingrediants strictly "borrowered" from these salsa bars to marinate my meats with. What's even nicer is some of ingrediants are already chopped for you. So all you have to do is dump everything in a container, marinate and cook.Good times!

  5. JustJenn–Things to get The Baby: a cow.Mrs. Wong–That's a great challenge too. Did you log how much you saved?Anonymous/Steve–The Twinkies have been buried in the backyard.Nanette–Thanks. Once you get started, it's not very difficult.Kasha–I think we eat more healthy. We're forced to plan out our meals and usually snacks don't fit into our budgets.afotogirl–We put $200 in an envelop at the beginning of the month and we only take from the money. The first month or was was the toughest. Good luck and let me know how it goes.Caleb–That's for the tip! I love the salsa bars here.

  6. I tried a version of this thinking…eexcept I did 300 in cash for groceries, eating out, gas and household stuff…every 2 wks. I did ok. One month great, next month bad….sadly I am back to spending for fun. Gonna have to chk out that article for inspiration.

  7. Diligent Diletante–I'm thinking I should do something similar with my budget to include gas, entertainment, outside dining and household needs.

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