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MSN’s $100 / Week Food Bill Challenge

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Supermarket Grocer Produce StandMelinda Fulmer and her family of four went from a $250/wk grocery bill down to a $105.03 bill when they tried to spend only $100 a week on food. They had some really good lessons learned from their little test, as well some advice if you’re looking to do the same, but there were a few thoughts I had after reading the article that they didn’t mention.

Here are some lessons I learned from her challenge:

  • It doesn’t hurt to try. $100 a week for four amounts to $1.19 per meal per person. Anyone with an elementary grasp of math knows that $1.19 is not a lot and you might be tempted to give up right there. For Melinda and her family, that was less than half of what they normally spent. They were able to do it, why can’t you?
  • They saved $150 that week. She was able to get within spitting distance of $100 a week but it was clear that wasn’t sustainable week after week, given her ground rules. If you were to take those away, perhaps she could’ve by growing some of her own vegetables and shopping at bulk discount stores. However, she saved $150 that week and that’s something she could do every month – that’s a savings of $1,800 a year. Granted, it does simply shift some expenses from a $100/wk to a $250/wk, but you still would save a large percentage of that $1,800 a year.
  • $100/wk is too restricting, a rolling monthly limit makes more sense. In this experiment, they went with an artificial $100/week limit when food often lasts longer than that. If you truly wanted to save money, using a rolling four week limit of $400 is probably more realistic than a weekly limit. They made mention of this in the later parts of the article when discussing stockpiling.
  • Use canned goods when the entree isn’t a single piece of something. I wasn’t sure how to title this lesson but it refers to the idea of using canned fish or chicken if the fish or chicken isn’t the headline entree, as in a casserole. It’d be tough to use canned chicken or tuna if you just wanted to prepare a piece of the stuff, but if you are integrating it into a dish then it’s not a bad idea.

If you’re seriously considering doing this, The Hill Billy Housewife has two menus that can provide much needed inspiration. The first is her $45 menu, which is a weekly menu of Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, and Snacks that will cost you $45 a week. The list includes a scheduled menu, along with nutritional information, as well as a full shopping list. The menu doesn’t assume you have something already, which makes it great, and the nutritional information is a great touch. There is also a $70 version.

The menu doesn’t strike me as something you can eat every since week for a year, but it can be a good source of inspiration if you’re looking to trim from your food budget. Also, the prices were gathered in Feb 2006 so it’s likely a little pricer than $45 or $70 week now.

(Photo: benjaminkrause)

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6 Responses to “MSN’s $100 / Week Food Bill Challenge”

  1. JB says:

    Point #2 is key. Just because you cut spending one week doesn’t mean it’s sustainable. We tried something similar and cut our groceries down to $70 one week, I thought “this is great, we’re going to save a ton!” but by the next week we were out of everything and needed to almost go over our $120 weekly budget just to catch up.

  2. The rolling cost approach makes a lot more sense as staples such as flour and sugar need not be purchased on a weekly basis, but can add significantly if you require 3-4 “staples” in the same week at some point in the future.
    Think about it, you wouldn’t expect H&R Block to do the same amount of tax returns every week during a year.

  3. Adam Rice says:

    If you’re willing to do the cooking then food stockpiling…I’d even go so far to say food caching is important.

    The closer to the farm you buy your food the less expensive, and usually better quality, it is. The more of something you buy the more of a discount you can command.

    Let’s assume you have a $5200 budget (your rolling weekly limit) for food for the year.

    What if you bought all the flour for bread for the entire year? Let’s take it a step further. What if you bought a year’s worth of grain for flour and milled it yourself? Or the 50lbs sacks of beans and rice.

    If you bought all, or most, of your groceries in one fell swoop how much money would you save on transportation to and from the store?

    If any of us walked into a major grocery store with a grocery list worth $3k, we’d probably have the store manager’s attention.

    One friend I know does all their cooking for the entire year during a two week period, then freezes and reheats it throughout the rest of the year.

    I have many friends who don’t go that far, but they buy on sale, in bulk and store it in their own storeroom. 5 gallon buckets of flour, rice, cornmeal and other things I’m not entirely sure of are all stacked neatly in what was probably a workshop along with enough canned goods to rival a small grocery store.

  4. Jackson says:

    Yeah, points #2 and 3 are key. A monthly budget is much more practical than weekly. Also, if you spend more money to get staples then you should probably amortize that cost over the usage period :)

    Another tip is to see if there are any ethnic supermarkets near you. They often have cheaper prices on food (especially veggies).

    In fact, sometimes if you just check the ethnic aisle of your local supermarket you might find better prices for essentially the same product!

  5. David says:

    We spend $500 a month for the 2 of us, which we think is pretty good considering it is all organic and natural. But even if you don’t eat that stuff, it’s gotta be a lot of work to feed an entire family for $400 a month. Amazing…

  6. Lindsay says:

    Yes, but…

    Make sure you’re not giving up good diet and health to save a few bucks. Diet is the number 1 way to fight off disease and costly medical expenses down the line.

    Canned goods are loaded with sodium. Cheaper cuts of meat are thick with fat. Sodas, boxes of macaroni and cheese, and bags of potato chips cost a lot less than fresh fruits and vegetables, but what’s the trade off?

    Save money, but stay healthy. :)


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