The $400 Food Challenge (January 2017)

Welcome to the $400 Food Challenge! One of our first steps when starting this journey towards financial independence was to create a monthly budget for ourselves.  When I came to the item for groceries/food, I was stumped. How much did we spend? I didn’t know.  I made a rough guess by tabulating the amount we spend at the grocery store and came up with $500 monthly.  But that number doesn’t include restaurant meals, alcohol, coffee from the cafe, or any other of those little “incidental” purchases.  All told we were spending quite a bit more. All of those incidental purchases add up.

After working out budgets, we decided to get by with only spending $500 a month.  If we get to the last week and only have $50 left then we’ll just have to get creative.  However, after a little thought we decided we can do better than that. $400 a month. Roughly $100 a week.  Thus begins our January $400 food challenge.

I’m writing this part of the post at the beginning of January 2017.  At the end of the month I will look at the results.

One aspect of this challenge is that we eat relatively healthy. We could easily live off of less than $400 a month if we ate only cheap ramen noodles or rice and beans.  But we also make it a priority to incorporate local, organic produce, dairy, and grains as much as possible.

Recently while talking to a couple I work with about this challenge, I was surprised to hear that they spend well over $1000 a month on food.  This seems incredible but it certainly isn’t hard to do.  Going out to dinner a few times a week, buying packaged foods like frozen pizzas, getting coffee or other snacks; all of these things may not cost much independently but they can easily add up to hundreds of dollars in a month.

So how do we intend to spend so little? Easy. Only make food at home and do not buy alcohol. If for some reason we do go out to a restaurant or buy alcohol, any money we spend will come directly from this budget.  Being vegetarian helps keep the numbers down as well. Meat tends to be the most expensive portion of a meal, especially if you’re looking for locally-sourced, hormone-free and humane options.

We also try to strategize our visits to the grocery store. Our local co-op store has %10 discounts on produce and bulk items on Wednesdays and Thursday respectively.  We strategically plan our purchases on those days.


FAIL.  We almost made it.  In total we spent $483 for the month.  Now this includes a $54 restaurant meal and 2 separate visits to local breweries.  These extra expenses total $96.  So if we subtract that from our $483 monthly total, we spent $387 total on groceries.

If we stuck with our plan of no restaurants and no alcohol we would have been successful. Fortunately we are financially secure enough that we are not bound to the $400 monthly budget.  That being said we are going to keep striving to hit that goal.  We certainly don’t need to spend money at restaurants.

I hope that by sharing this information, anyone who is on a strict budget can find inspiration.  Or anyone looking to reduce their spending. Even if $400 for the month sounds impossible to you, try another number.  Lower your usual costs by $100 to start.

Food costs constitute a huge portion of everyone’s budget.  There is also this myth that eating healthy is more expensive. But there are ways to eat healthy while keeping costs low. It is possible. In a future post I will expand upon our simple strategies for keeping food costs down while maintaining healthy eating habits.