October Challenge: Spend $100 or less on food

I’m in the middle of moving halfway across the state. I’m excited to get into my new place, but I’m not excited about the associated bills. To combat the costs, the first thing I did was stop buying things like video games, electronics, and so on. It seemed like there was more room to cut, so I took a step back and analyzed my food costs.

They seemed high.

For example, some quick accounting places my food costs last month (September 2011) around $450. Doing a little digging, it looks like the USDA averages in 2011 for a male 19 – 50 are $176 – $347. Again, my food costs are much higher than they should be.

I’ll be changing that, at least for a month.

The Reasons

Save Money. This is easily the simplest and easiest to understand reason. Dropping my food costs by a few hundred bucks a month would give me a little money to spend on something else (like moving expenses) or save for a rainy day.

Use What I Have. I’ve ended up with a lot of canned, frozen, and otherwise preserved foods that I haven’t been using. By severely reducing my food budget, possibly below a sustainable level, I’m forced to use up some of the food I’ve had just sitting around wasting space. This will help me clear up space and re-evaluate what canned and frozen foods I should keep around.

Gain some perspective. Aside from a few times in college, I’ve never really been in a spot where I couldn’t afford food. And honestly, those times in college weren’t all that bad. I’m hoping that by limiting my food budget I’ll gain a better perspective on the actual cost of the food I’ve been buying. Most of these basic facts are easily enough found online, but you don’t truly understand these things until you’ve lived them.

Minimalism. I’ve always been interested in minimalism, but I’ve never had the motivation to actually implement minimalism into my life. Just looking around the room I’m in, I see shelves packed with clutter. Moving is highlighting just how much clutter I have in my life. Perhaps this will give me a first step towards actually eliminating unnecessary things.

The Goal

Spend less than $100 on food in the month of October.

The Rules

I’m laying out the rules here more or less for myself. I’m not recommending this to anyone, this is more of an experiment. I might fail, and it might not be remotely healthy.

What Counts: Groceries, Fast Food, Restaurants, Soda, Vending Machines, etc. All food purchases count towards the budget.
One exception: In a couple of weeks some family is helping me move my bigger stuff (furniture and so on), and I’ll be buying them lunch. I’m counting this as a moving expense.

What Doesn’t Count: Food that I already have (since I already paid for it), and food that is given to me for whatever reason does not count (since I didn’t have to pay for it).

Since I’m doing this and making the rules, I’m not worried about gaming the system. There are probably holes in it somewhere, but since I’m not a hostile player, I feel confident in these simple rules. Oh, and no, I didn’t just stock up on food before October started.

The Plan

Last month, I spent somewhere in the ballpark of $100 on fast food and restaurants. First step is to cut that down or out. Simply, bring lunch to work.

The surprisingly large expense is soda. I spend probably $4 – $6 a day on soda. That’s about $120 – $180 a month. I’m planning on cutting that down as much as possible. First, I’m switch to tea at home and bringing my Black Zojirushi 17-Ounce Mug in filled with tea to cover the mornings. It’s a challenge to make good tea at work, so I’ll just go with water in the afternoons unless I’m in desperate need of caffeine.

Aside from those, my basic plan is to start by seeing how long I can go without buying any food at all. Then, once that’s no longer an option, try to be careful to use coupons and go with inexpensive options.


That’s more or less the plan. I’ll do a post every weekend on how this project is going. I’ll include how much I spent in the last week and more or less what I’ve been eating. These will be to keep me honest, I won’t go into too much detail.

Some time in the first week or so of November I’ll write up a postmortem to summarize my thoughts. I’ll try to get some good, money-saving tips out of the experience and write those up as well.



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