A $100 a month grocery bill might sound extreme, but one of the biggest sources of unhappiness in our society is money. According to statistics, the magic income at which money no longer buys happiness is somewhere around $80,000 a year. If you look at this article, you can look at what the exact income is for your state. The idea is that if you are making less than that income, money can be a source of unhappiness for you. However, any money made beyond that has no significant effect on happiness.
Understand that this is based on statistics and studies where people answer questions about their well-being on a survey. It’s highly subjective but it’s interesting none-the-less. It makes sense that if you are making $25,000 a year and trying to feed a family of four that you’re going to be significantly more stressed than someone making $80,000 a year. So, your income can affect your mood to a certain degree, but only if you aren’t making enough to cover your needs and live comfortably.
That said, however, those in the minimalist community might disagree with you. One of my favorite bloggers, Mr. Money Mustache, talks about ways to live life on extremely low budgets. There are a whole swath of minimalist bloggers that talk about extreme ways to stretch your income. And, while I’m not going to tell you to ride a bike everywhere you go, I do fall somewhere in the realm of living a minimalist lifestyle. I just don’t take it to an extreme. I believe you should go over your finances with a fine tooth comb and look at how you are spending your money. Then, you should decide if what you are spending your money on is really necessary or bringing you joy.
For example, you don’t need an SUV. I don’t care how many kids you have or how bad you think your roads are in the winter. I can already hear the excuses in the comments…”but I have a special situation.” No you don’t. You can get by with something smaller, especially if you only have two kids. I’ve driven small calls for years, and I have two kids that I take everywhere under the sun. I could make a whole website about how we are over-spending on things that ultimately don’t bring us happiness and are actually increasing our anxiety and depression.
The easiest place to start is your grocery bill. I know that the notion of spending $100 a month on groceries seems preposterous, but I did it for a while a few years ago. Understand that $100 isn’t a strict figure. I was spending AROUND $100 a month. Sometimes it would be a little more. Doing it today would probably be slightly more expensive due to inflation. But I guarantee that it’s cheaper than most of you are currently spending. I hear people talk about spending $800 to $1000 dollars a month on groceries, and I just shake my head. No way. If you’re spending that much, you are most likely taking a very lazy approach to your cooking and eating habits.
So, how did I manage to eat healthy on a $100 a month grocery bill? I did these things…
I embraced the power of the bean
My bean of choice? Lentils. They are small, filling, tasty, and they don’t leave you gassy like other beans. And you can get a 1-lb bag that will feed 1 person for a week for $1. There is a dry beans section in your grocery store somewhere. Go find it. Embrace it. Love it. These little buggers are packed with nutrition and protein and will definitely leave you feeling satisfied after a meal.
Pro tip: if you take in more bean protein, it allows you to eat less of the thing that is most expensive in your grocery bill: meat. Now, I’m not a vegan or vegetarian by any means, and I love me a good steak. But if you’re trying to save money, meat is the most expensive purchase you’re going to make in the grocery store. If you eat a lot of beef, I suggest you buy it in bulk. It’s a big out of pocket expense once a year, but you are ultimately paying half (or even a third) of what you pay for it in the grocery store. And it makes the stuff you buy in the grocery store seem like slop.
I ate more chicken
At the time, I didn’t have the means to store a bunch of beef bought in bulk, so I had to get creative with my protein. Did you know that you can buy whole roasted chicken in the grocery store for $6? For me, a whole chicken would last a couple of days. It’s also one of the most versatile foods you can eat. You can eat it by itself. You can put it on a sandwich. You can wrap it up in a tortilla with spinach and buffalo sauce or make a fajita with it. You can grind it up and make chicken salad. You get the picture. There’s a huge variety in how you can consume chicken. And it goes great in a pot of chicken noodle soup.
I embraced my wizardry kitchen skills
I know this isn’t Depression Era 1930’s America, but by gosh isn’t it time you learned how to make some stuff from scratch? I learned how to make kick ass bread, cinnamon rolls, fry bread, cakes, cookies, etc. I made the decision that if I did not make a dessert from scratch (such as cookies and chips) that I simply would not eat it.
Trust me, if you know you have to go make them from scratch, you’re less likely to want to eat them. I did make them from time to time, however, and they are always better than what you can buy in the store. In fact, everything that you make from scratch is going to be better than what you buy in the store. And there are videos and recipes for everything out there. There’s no excuse for not learning how to cook.
If you learn to cook in chunks of time, you can make food for a whole week (or at least several days) in a few hours one day. Nothing beats making stuff fresh, but if you simply don’t have that kind of time every day, then make it fresh one day and freeze it.
One thing I’m learning as I get older is that there is something immensely satisfying in making something from scratch. All of those tasks that I thought were tedious and time-wasters as a young person actually turn out to be the things that have brought me the most joy. It’s the simple things in life that bring us joy. When we use our talents to create things, it satisfies something deep within us. There’s no substitute for that.
A typical grocery list
So, to conclude this post, I thought I would make a list of what a typical grocery list might look like for someone on about $100 per month budget. As a separate list, I will make a list of things that you should buy in bulk and/or keep stocked in your kitchen at all times to make it work. This was a list for mostly me (and my kids on various nights of the week and weekends). If you have more people in your house, your bill might get larger, but not by much. Things like beans, rice, etc. can be bought in larger quantities than I would buy and the cost won’t double or triple (i.e. as you buy more in bulk, the price per unit goes down).
4-5 Whole Chickens
4 1-lb bags of lentils
1 10 lb bag of potatoes
4 small bags of spinach (1 per week)
4 stalks of brocollis
4 heads of cauliflower
4 small bags of carrots
2 Green peppers per week
2 bags of vidalia onions
1 bag of apples
Ream of bananas per week
Shredded Cheddar Cheese
Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
4 dozen eggs
4 half gallons of milk/almond milk
Possible additions/substitutions to this list: Large bags of rice, steel cut oats for oatmeal, blueberries, strawberries, pineapple (get a real pineapple and not canned), canned tuna. Also note that I rarely eat breakfast because I do intermittent fasting, but there are items on this list that can be used for breakfast.
Things you should have in your kitchen already: Flour, sugar, cinnamon, salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, powdered sugar, brown sugar, tea bags, coffee, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, yeast (for bread).
I’m sure I’m missing some stuff, but that’s the gist of it. With those items you can make all sorts of stuff from scratch. Notice there’s very little pre-packaged stuff on that list. You have to do the work. It takes some time, but you really only spend a few hours one day a week prepping for the whole week.
For example, on Sunday I would cook up one of the chickens, cut it off the bone and put it in a container in my fridge. I would cut up all the vegetables (including 2 onions) and put them in various dishes in my fridge. I would cut up the watermelon and pineapple (if I got one) and put it in the fridge.
Once that stuff is cut, most of the grunt work is done. One night I might come home and load up two tortillas with chicken, onion, peppers, shredded cheese, and toss in the microwave for some bangin’ fajitas. Add a little salsa and BOOM! Dinner is done. If you cooked up your lentils in a crock-pot, you can have two fajitas and a bowl of lentils and leave the table feeling like you just had the most amazing dinner ever.
Another night I might come home and throw some of the chicken into a pan and fry it. Take the veggies out and steam them and bake a potato. Again, a nice, healthy easy dinner. Another night I might throw the spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, cheese, and chicken into a bowl and have a kick ass salad. Like I said, the chicken makes things pretty versatile. I kept watermelon and pineapple around for a snack, or I would make some popcorn or eat mixed nuts (the kind that you crack yourself).
At the end of the day you have to do what works for you and your family. I hope I’ve given you some stuff to think about and a place to start. Good luck and happy shopping!