How To Survive On Only $100 a Month in Groceries

In my recent article in the Globe and Mail, I’m on track to be mortgage-free by 31, the most common question I received was how I could possibly survive on only $100 a month in groceries. If your family is like most, groceries are your second highly household expense behind mortgage or rent.

Although Canada’s annual inflation rate was only 2.1 per cent in August, it seems like prices at the supermarket are rising a lot faster. Not only are prices higher, packages are being downsized, as consumers are being asked to pay more for less – what a concept! It’s enough to make you want to throw your hands up in the air as a consumer.

I’m living proof that with a few simple spending choices you can spend less and still enjoy your favourite foods for under $100 a month. Here’s what a typical meal consists of for me in a day:

Breakfast

  • Oatmeal ($0.15)
  • Banana ($0.15)
  • Milk ($0.20)
  • Total: $0.50

Lunch

  • Bagel and Peanut Butter
  • Apple
  • Slice Carrots
  • Rice Cake
  • Almonds
  • Water
  • Total: $1

Dinner

  • Spaghetti and Sauce / Kraft Dinner and Frozen Vegetables / Brown Rice and Frozen Vegetables /
  • Homemade Pizza
  • Milk
  • Total: $1-$2

Dessert

  • Watermelon
  • Yogurt
  • Total: $0.50

Daily Grand Total: $3-$4

Here’s how I’ve managed to spend so little on groceries and how you can, too.

Price Match

Save a bundle on gas – and groceries. With the price at the pumps, you won’t save much money driving around town for the best deals . The good news is many discount grocers match the price of rival stores simply by showing a competitor’s weekly flyer. Here’s another tip – to avoid overspending, consider making a shopping list and browsing the flyers for deals on products you’re already planning to buy.

Consider Cutting Back on Meat

No, that’s not your steak being grilled, it’s your wallet! Sizzling meat prices can really take a bite out of your grocery budget. Have you ever considering going vegetarian? Instead of eating meat, you can try consumer protein-rich foods like almonds, dairy products and tofu. If you’re not ready to give up T-bone steaks and chicken breast, consider limiting yourself to red meat once per week or only buying meat when it’s on sale – your wallet will thank you!

Shop at Discount Grocers

How would you like to buy everyday grocery items for a lot less? By shopping at discount supermarkets, the savings can really add up! Shaving $20 off your grocery bill each week will add up to yearly savings of over $1,000! You don’t have the sacrifice quality for savings – discounts grocers often have just as good quality produce and meat as the so-called premium stores. Need proof? MoneySense did an article, Why No Frills has the best value produce, that discovered discount supermarkets actually have produce at or near the same grade of premium supermarkets (sometimes even better).

Skip the Fast Food and Cook at Home Instead

We’re all guilty sometimes of picking up takeout pizza on those late nights out, but if you make it into a weekly habit it can really take a bite out of your budget. The trick to avoiding takeout is to make meal preparation at home as simple as possible. Not only will you save money, you’ll eat healthier too. Try cooking your meals in batches on the weekend when your schedule is less hectic. With your favourite meals prepared in advance, all you’ll have to do is pop it into the microwave and you’ll have a piping hot meal in under five minutes. I’m never tempted to dine out because it takes me more time to stop off at a restaurant than it does to cook at home.

Stock Up During Sales

Stocking up on grocery items you buy every week can add up to big savings. When you see your favourite non-perishable items like canned vegetables and coffee on sale, consider stocking up. By buying enough to tide you over until the next sale, you can avoid paying full price.

Buy in Season

Buying your favourite fruits and vegetables out of season can cost you a bundle. Have you ever seen the price of cherries in January? Yikes! Consider substituting your favourite fruits and vegetables for produce that are in season. If you love watermelon, you can save a bundle by choosing fruits like oranges and pears during the winter.

Conclusion

By changing a few costly habits, the savings can really add up on your grocery bill. Saving money on groceries doesn’t have to be a chore. Once you get into a weekly routine, it’s as easy as pie. You’ll hardly notice the extra work, meanwhile you’ll free up your cash flow for more important long-term goals like paying down your mortgage sooner or contributing to your RRSP.

Do you have any tips for saving money on groceries?

About the Author: Sean Cooper is a single, first time home buyer and landlord located in Toronto. He has experience in the financial sector as a Pension Analyst, RESP administrator and Income Tax Preparer. He holds a Bachelor of Commerce in business management from Ryerson University. Follow him on Twitter @SeanCooperWrite and read some of his other articles here.

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Sean Cooper

Sean Cooper is a single, 20-something year old, first time home buyer located in Toronto. He has experience in the financial sector as a Pension Analyst, RESP administrator and Income Tax Preparer. He holds a Bachelor of Commerce in business management from Ryerson University. You can read some of his other articles here.
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SST
6 years ago

re: #28 “Sean’s “typical ‘vegetarian’ meal” plan consists of at least 60% carbohydrates…”

A few current findings from the world of high science on this fabulously healthy yet frugal diet:

“According to a new study from the National Institutes of Health, a diet that reduces carbohydrates in favor of fat — including the saturated fat in meat and butter — improves nearly every health measurement, from reducing our waistlines to keeping our arteries clear, more than the low-fat diets that have been recommended for generations.”
http://www.businessinsider.com/experts-eat-more-fat-2014-10

“The top scientist guiding the U.S. government’s nutrition recommendations made an admission last month that would surprise most Americans. Low-fat [high-carb] diets, Alice Lichtenstein said, are “probably not a good idea.” It was a rare public acknowledgment conceding the failure of the basic principle behind 35 years of official American nutrition advice.”
http://online.wsj.com/articles/nina-teicholz-the-last-anti-fat-crusaders-1414536989

Fat trumps refined carbs in every way possible, including financially.

Brian Roth
6 years ago

Wow, I must be really old. I haven’t heard anyone mention growing your own food. We own our own house and have a fairly large vegetable garden. We grow most of our fresh vegetables ourselves. Fresher and cheaper!

Emilio
7 years ago

boy o’ boy. I spent 50 dollars a month on just one toddler’s organic milk…
For a family of five in Calgary we spend 1200 dollars a month in groceries.
We eat well, no processed foods, mostly organic meats and vegetables. Only wild fish of Canadian origin. We shop at Superstore almost exclusively, but onl purchase their top quality products. We take advantage of the PC plus points, and the PC financial mastercard. Se we get another 100-200 a month of free groceries on top of the 1200 that we spend.

Food and vacations are almost a religion to our family. These are two areas where we refuse to save, just for the sake of saving.

If we had to go in survival mode we cut down a lot, but what kind of a life would that be? We didn’t immigrate from the third world to continue living like we are still in the third world.

As many other above have mentioned, please ignore this article altogether and live well, eat well, be well!

Andrew
7 years ago

Those are really impressive home-economic results.
Reading this post has made us revisit our ouwn grocery buying. (About $800/month for a family of three athletes).
From keeping and going over the receipts we’re noticing that a lot of our food store purchases are just not great value (with respect to nutrients/dollar).
Thanks for sharing.

Jungle
7 years ago

We are running about 250/month for family of 3.
Always price match and use target card for 5% off, when possible. Shop at the discount grocery stores. Take advantage of all loss leaders in the grocery flyer.
Plan meals based on sale items. Fruit of the week is what’s on sale. Yogurt of the week is what’s on sale, etc. Keep a well managed inventory and rarely have any food waste. Meals are cooked at home, lunches brown bag, etc. Left overs used for next meal.

Alex
7 years ago

You can freeze some veggies right away e.g. bell peppers. I chop them into little pieces and freeze them in bags. Other stuff keeps forever like apples and pumpkin or you cook them and freeze the result. Red cabbage, prepared with apple can be frozen and is really good with meat. You can freeze meat too. I buy peas and corn pre-frozen anyway. If you just google whatever your favourites are you can figure out what can be frozen and how (prepared or not). Potato soup for example should be frozen before mashing the potatoes up. Obviously theres some stuff you need to buy fresh like bananas.

Sierra
7 years ago

I spend too much on groceries- just two of us retired fogies- and am trying to cut back. Unfortunately, I like to experiment with different recipes, eat quite a few vegetables, eat mostly chicken, some grains and beans. I have always found that stocking up leads to more expense. This month, I have been keeping costs down, but only because I took advantage of specials last month and overspent. So while one can keep costs down to a couple of dollars a day, the expense was incurred when one stocked up in the first place. Further, I have found that you cannot stock up in the perishables, so they are always an ongoing weekly expense. I also use a PC card, but refuse to purchase something I don’t use just because points are offered. If I fall for that marketing, the budget goes way out of whack. I save my points for when I have company and need to buy extra.

Alex
7 years ago

I totally forgot: Making joghurt is dead simple. You need to buy exactly one joghurt in your life to get the bacteria and you make it yourself from then on. 500ml of joghurt cost you $5 if you dont buy cheap crap. And thats plain. You don’t need to buy a “joghurt maker”. I put the hot milk with the joghurt starter (I.e. two spoons of the one you bought) into a bowl, cover it up and put it in the oven. Just enable the oven light, no heat. Do that in the evening and the next morning you have how ever many liters of joghurt that you put milk in. Mix the joghurt with home made marmelade/jam or whatever you want before eating.

Jam. Another dead simple thing. You dont even need to buy glasses. You can reuse the glasses you get when buying stuff like pickles. Just cook whatever fruits you like and put lots of sugar. You dont even need to buy pectin or gelatine. You get pectin for free if you put some apples (just mash them up before). Apples keep well so just self pick in autumn. Fun for the kids too. Same with pumpkins. They keep for up to a year and are really easy to grow yourself even. Pumpkin is really nice as a chutney or just with stewing beef.

Alex
7 years ago

Is that $100 for one person? Laughable! I just looked at my spreadsheet. So far this year $570 per *month* on food for a family of 4! And we eat a nice mix of meat, veggies and fruits. We do have Costco but we dont use coupons or price matching and we certainly never buy Kraft Dinner or any other prepared food actually. I cook every meal from scratch including broth that I freeze. Someone mentioned chicken broth already. We do beef broth exclusively because my wife doesn’t eat chicken. Oatmeal and rice are really nice to put into meatballs. You can get at least twice the amount of meatballs out of the same amount of ground beef.

SST
7 years ago

A final note for me on this, in two points:

1) Sean’s “typical ‘vegetarian’ meal” plan consists of at least 60% carbohydrates, and what is the net effect of carbs inside the body? Sugar; yes even the slow-burn carbs like brown rice and oats. Add in the milk and yogurt (safely assuming they are not of the high fat variety) and Sean might as well be eating a bowl of Sugar-Crisp for every meal.

Fat does not turn into sugar. Protein does not turn into sugar.
(okay, they might, but only a looong way after the fact, and never if yummy carbs are always present.) Carbs turn into sugar and we all know what a wonderful treat sugar is to the body.

If Sean were a true vegetarian he could eat unrefined plant-based all day long and consume plenty of carbs. Throw in a few eggs and whole milk for protein, cook everything with butter and he’d be a new man before long.

Give it a try, bet it doesn’t stretch your budget as much as you’d like to believe:
http://www.edify.net.au/food_pyramid.php

(As an aside, I’ve lived on both sides of the coin, as a pro-am athlete eating a very HCLF diet, and as a semi-physical civilian eating HFLC. I’m in almost better shape now than I was as an athlete.)

2) Disclaimer: this falls under the Morals & Ethics heading so read no further if you’re just here about the money.
It’s rather disturbing, and insulting, that a person living in Canada, a country with one of the highest standards of living on the planet, would consciously choose to forsake that standard (i.e. health) for mere money. And to wear this on one’s sleeve with pride…bizarre.

The only redeeming quality is that Sean is young-ish; mistakes become him, through which he hopefully gains calibrating wisdom.

So, Sean, once you are mortgage-free, can we expect to see your food bills double (GASP!) or will there always be something in which to funnel that money?