I was boring last week, but this post won’t be. Instead of my normal weekly recap, I will keep this post interesting and actionable by breaking down five categories of foods that inflate your grocery bill, and the three simple principles you need to cut your grocery bill in half.

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Four Week Grocery Hacking Experiment Recap

As I said, week four was kind of boring because I didn’t make any new foods or learn much more about how to keep my grocery bill low. I also went home for my grandma’s 90th birthday so the experiment ended a few days early.

Its worth revisiting my Week 1, Week 2 and Week 3 updates to see the valuable lessons I learned, and the staple foods & snacks that I prepared and ate.

Overall, during the entire four week experiment, I averaged $6.56 in grocery costs per day. I spent $163.92 on groceries, $257 on restaurant dining (including dates, and buying food for family who were in town), and a mere $18 on coffee beans and espresso.

My total food and dining cost for 28 days in August was $438.92 or $15.68 per day. This is $1113.62 less than I spent in July which means I cut my daily food & dining bill by more than half! (Mint.com made this budget analysis a breeze 🙂

Side note: Even if I fed myself for the full $7.50 during the 4 days I was home last week, I still would have finished at $468.92. I am very happy about this because my goal was to spend $470 total.

I was also happy with generating a mere 557 grams of food package waste, or about 1.25lbs over the course of the month, and much of it was recyclable. That is one of the hidden triumphs of this experiment!

Below are some of the key principles and lessons I have taken away from this experiment.

The Four Areas That Are Inflating Your Grocery Bill

Now that I’ve experienced what it takes to fuel an athlete for under $7.50 per day I’ve learned that, by applying a few key principles to your grocery shopping and meal prep strategy, you will cut your grocery bill (at least) in half without really having to do much planning at all. More on that in the next section.

Equally as important, I have found that there are a few categories of items that are massively inflating your grocery bill.

Most people are familiar with Pareto’s 80/20 principle which states that, for most events, 80% of effects can be explained by 20% of causes.

With your grocery bill, I have found that its closer to 90/10. About 90% of your grocery bill can be explained by 10% of your caloric intake.

The 10% of your caloric intake that are the culprits fall into five main categories:

  1. Meat/Seafood
  2. Fruits
  3. Vegetables
  4. “Superfoods”
  5. Prepared foods.

Fruits, Vegetables, Meat & Seafood

I am NOT saying that you should avoid fruits, vegetables, meat and seafood. They are integral parts of a healthy diet.

What I am saying is that you have to be very smart about controlling the cost of these foods or your grocery bill will get out of hand. Fruits and vegetables have very few calories and very little protein. Meat and seafood can be incredibly expensive if you’re shelling out for steaks and fresh caught lobster.

Take a look at the planning sheet I used to determine how many calories, and how much protein you can get per-dollar of each food. The foods on my planning sheet are there because they were the cheapest I could find for their category.

Even though this is a sampling of the cheapest quality foods I could find, you will see that fruits, vegetables, meat and seafood can be 10x as expensive (or more) per-calorie and per-gram of protein than other foods on the list!

Superfoods

Superfoods are another area where people tend to piss money away. If you don’t have a compelling reason to buy them, don’t. Just eat real food, which you’ll have to do if you’re trying to cut your grocery bill anyway.

I found one “superfood” in particular, chia seeds, to be a total scam. You can buy them in bulk for $2/lb but if you buy them in the raw section of your favorite health food retailer (where they are marketed as a superfood), you can expect to pay closer to $15+ per lb!

Prepared Foods

Prepared foods are probably the biggest budget buster of all.

For example, I love the meal delivery I used to get from My Power Supply, but at $14 per meal (which is a price I was willing to pay for the convenience and quality) I was getting about 70 calories-per-dollar.

Prepared foods from salad bars and hot food bars at health food stores are GREAT if you live an on-the-go lifestyle and you aren’t ready to make the jump to meal prepping BUT they will DESTROY your food budget.

Another prepared food that will crush you is protein bars. I recommend these to my clients all the time, and I still feel good about that recommendation but if you’re trying to eat on a budget $3+ for 200-350 calories is not doing you any favors.

With this in mind, it is easy to see how someone like me can have a $1500 per month food habit. I was eating nice cuts of meat and seafood weekly. Pounds of vegetables and fruits per day, almost no grains or legumes. At least one prepared meal per day. At least one bar per day. At least 5 meals out per week plus a date.

Three Simple Principles to Hack Your Grocery Bill in Half

Now for the grand finale.

If you want to cut your grocery bill AT LEAST in half without having to do much planning, just set the following three frames of mind and let them be your guiding principles when grocery shopping and doing food prep:

  1. Minimize your cost-per-gram of protein. Eat beans and seeds often to get cheap plant-based sources of protein. Eat a lot of eggs, drink a protein supplement, and stay away from expensive cuts of meat except for special occasions. Cheap cuts can be spiced up and prepared nicely.
  2. Buy in bulk, don’t let food spoil. Buy all non-perishable foods, meats, frozen fruits & frozen vegetables in bulk; freeze leftover fresh food.
    • Beans, Grains & Seeds can be stored for long periods of time in the pantry
    • Extra meat/seafood can be frozen and is significantly less expensive in bulk. You can also stock up when meat goes on sale and freeze whatever you won’t use while its fresh.
    • Hearty root vegetables like carrots will hold in the humidity controlled fridge drawer for a month. Potatoes and onions will hold in the pantry for an equal amount of time.
    • Frozen fruits & veggies retain most of their nutritional value & flavor, are cheaper, and will not spoil.
  1. Meal prep weekly and avoid restaurants except for social outings.
    • Never eat at a restaurant alone, you are paying sales tax + tip (effectively 33% in Los Angeles) on top of the meal cost to sit and eat without company.
    • Get my five best meal prep hacks from this experiment, just share this post HERE.

You will also get bonus points (and save money) for:

  1. Keeping a food journal. I use myfitnesspal. This practice will keep you from overeating in general, and helped me manage my protein intake. I actually tend to under eat so it helped me hit my targets at the end of the day with low cost foods.
  2. Learning how to use herbs & spices to flavor your food instead of sauces, dressings, etc. Two Pro-tips for you:
    • Fresh herbs can be stored in a jar of water (thanks Mint blog!), you can buy the whole plant for your countertop, or freeze leftovers.
    • Organic Tomato Sauce is cheap and versatile.
  3. Buying fresh fruits and vegetables that are in-season or on-sale.
  4. Buying produce organic if its one of the dirty dozen, or buying conventional if its one of the clean 15.

There are dozens more lessons I have learned about how to keep your grocery bill as low as possible while maximizing the quality of food you’re eating. You can find some of them in my previous posts.

You can also continue to learn about these grocery hacks, meal prep time savers, and useful kitchen tools by joining my monthly Grocery Hackers newsletter now.

As an added bonus, if you click the button below to share this post, you will get a one-page summary of my five favorite meal prep hacks from this experiment.

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