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Someone asked me on another board about my comment on the "Retire on the Cheap" thread about my $200 a month food budget. I was a little surprised--I don't really think that's that low, so I'm kind of curious about having a discussion about it. I know Gingko eats super cheap, so I hope you join the discussion!

I'm just very interested in food, because I like to cook and eat, and also because I'm amazed sometimes when I see people complain about the high cost of food. I just don't really see it myself.

First of all, I will say that's my budget for eating at home. Since I've been in super budget mode lately (except for my art purchase...) I've been eating nearly every meal at home or packing a lunch and usually breakfast. I do have a separate budget for eating out, which is currently low at $50 a month, but except for December, haven't really been spending that much.

These are my typical purchases every month. This is just food, no cleaning supplies, pet supplies, etc. And I'm single, which makes a huge difference.

I haven't gotten crazy with my budgeting; basically, when I get paid (every 2 weeks), I take $100 and keep it in my wallet which is used for food, and food only. If I have some left over at the end of the month, I put it in the back and that "extra" goes toward deals I see or allows me to buy in more bulk. Or it may get moved to the eating out budget eventually. So in other words, this month I may only spend $150, but the next month, I may spend $250. Also, as I write this, I realize that my budget is actually a little more than $200 a month, since I get paid 26x a year.

But this is what I typically buy/eat.

--Oatmeal. I've been eating a lot of oatmeal lately, and I buy it from Aldi. I don't have a recent receipt, but it's a great big canister of oatmeal. I think maybe it runs about $2.99? but not absolutely sure.
--Frozen blueberries or raisins also from Aldi.
--Bagels. I buy 2 things of bagels typically every month, again from Aldi. I think they run $1.99 each, for 6 bagels.
--Cream cheese, also from Aldi. I do not buy the tub, because it's more expensive and because I'm trying to cut down on my plastic ware purchases, so I buy the block. Usually 2 a month, but I don't usually use an entire block of cream cheese for 6 bagels.
--Sometimes I splurge and buy a thing of smoked salmon at Kroger for my bagels.

Breakfast for me on weekdays is typically a bagel with cream cheese or oatmeal with either frozen blueberries or a handful of raisins or dried cranberries. Both I prepare the night before--I put the oatmeal dry in the container, some sugar, then add the fruit, and then when I get to work I dump hot water on it. I drink coffee at work, and only make coffee for myself on the weekends. Again, from Aldi, I buy a big can, and it lasts a long time.

Lunch is almost always some kind of leftover from a previous meal. Today, for example, I had leftovers from New Years dinner--roast pork, cabbage, mashed potatoes and gravy. (I hosted New Years dinner at my house. My mom brought cooked apples and cornbread. I bought a Pork Butt on sale at Kroger--9.37 pounds for $13 and some change. I cut the roast in half and put half in the freezer. I cooked the other half, fed the three of us ample portions, cut what was left in half and sent home with my mom and I've got the rest in my fridge. I estimate that between my mom, me and my brother we'll eat at least 10 meals off that $7 pork butt.)

--Potatoes. I have been eating more potatoes lately, and a 10 lb bag at Aldi typically runs $2.99. That's a lot of potatoes. I eat them either as hash browns or boiled with butter, and they are very filling, high in potassium (I have high blood pressure) and actually have a good bit of fiber. I think potatoes get a bad rap.
--Pasta. I buy pasta at Aldi. I buy both whole wheat and white pasta.
--Vegetables. I buy a lot of frozen veggies, because I finally figured out that veggies were often going bad before I used them. I buy frozen kale, chard, spinach, and corn typically. Big bags, generics.
--Carrots. Carrots are a very cheap veggie, and I eat a lot of them. Steamed with a dollop of butter. Sometimes a sprinkling of brown sugar.
--Cabbage. I LOVE cabbage and eat it pretty often. Very cheap.
--Rice. Rice goes a long way, and I have risotto and/or fried frice at least once a month to use up leftovers.

I have cut down on my meat consumption during the week, and I buy different things, usually depending on availablity and price.
--Chicken thighs are a staple for me. They are cheap anyway, and I score them on sale a lot.
--I always scope out what is on sale at Kroger. I very seldom pay full price for meat--I very often buy stuff that's been marked down for quick sale. I recently got 5 packages of cube steaks for $1.99 each, and each package had 4 cube steaks in it. Really that's 4 meals; I typically serve them with mashed potates and gravy and a veggie. Seriously cheap meal.
--I bought 2 large things of ground beef at Aldi recently that were $3 off. I divided them into 4s and put them in the freezer. I think they were around 3 pounds each. I'll use that for hamburger mac casserole, chili, etc.

I do not buy meat that is spoiled, of low quality, etc. So often stuff is marked down 2-3 days prior to its sell-by date. That does NOT make it bad!

Other stuff:
--I buy a lot of canned tomatoes and use them for various things. They run around 50 cents a can at Aldi.
--I don't drink much milk, and maybe buy a half gallon a month.
--I don't buy soft drinks, and typically drink iced tea (no sugar) or water at home. I also take my own iced to to work.
--I usually have a couple of cans of soup on hand, but I like to make soup from scratch. Canned soup is usually for when I'm sick!
--I buy usually a pound of butter a month, unless I'm making cookies or brownies.
--I buy dry beans and cook. Occassionally ham to cook with the beans or some kind of sausage. I eat lentils pretty often.
--Half and half. I always have half and half in the fridge. Use for potatoes, pasta, lots of things.
--Cheese. I like strong cheeses, so I don't use as much. Blue cheese, goat cheese, sharp cheddar all go a long way.
--Eggs. Eggs run something like 99 cents at Aldi, and I probably eat 2 dozen a month. Scrambled eggs, frittas, omelettes. Quick and easy meal.
--Always have good olive oil on hand, but a little goes a long way.

--I probably don't eat as much fruit as I should. I typically will buy a bag of oranges and a bag of apples at Aldi. During the summer, I spend more money on fruit when it's the season for melons, etc.
--Seldom buy salad greens. If I do, I don't buy the pre-washed stuff.

I just don't buy convenience foods any more and cook from scratch. I typically make my own chicken broth. I don't eat a lot of sweets, like cakes, etc. unless it's a special occasion. I do make my magical brownies (no, not that kind!!) pretty often, because my mom and brother love them. (stick of butter, cup of flour, cup of brown sugar, bag of chocolate chips, nuts. Stir and bake at 350 until done. People rave, especially when I substitute Heath Bar bits for the chips).

Tonight's dinner was angel hair pasta with sun dried tomatoes, chicken (thigh meat) and goat cheese, with olive oil. I have enough left over for at least 2 more meals. The goat cheese I got at Aldi for $1.99, and the sun dried tomatoes were $3.99 at Whole Foods and was about 1/4 of a jar that I had left in the fridge.

Yep. That's pretty much what I eat. Now that it's on paper, I'm kind of wondering why I'm spending as much as I am!
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... and an egg in the brownies... (oops!)
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I spend about $800 a month for a family of 4, so about the same as you per person. Because of the pain in the butt of taking kids to restaurants, we only eat out about twice a month, and DH brings his lunch to work most days. So this covers about 360 meals, and 120 snacks a month, not counting any guests who might come over.

For breakfast, I usually make healthied up versions of pancakes or muffins for the kiddos. DH and I have a smoothie with silken tofu, soy milk, veggies, and frozen fruit 6 days a week. I make waffles every Sunday.

Lunch is also usually leftovers for the grown ups, and sometimes for the kids, though my DS has a thing against leftovers. My kids usually eat simple things like PB&J sandwiches on home baked bread, or tofurky sandwiches. Sometimes we eat things like hummus and raw veggies, chickpea salads, or big salads.

I love to cook, so I get creative with dinner. I'm a vegetarian, and since I'm the cook, that means pretty much everyone else is too. I do a lot of international cooking, and I try to have a lot of variety. So it's difficult for me to say what I buy a lot of. We eat a lot of fresh fruits and veggies. Pretty much every meal is at least 50% produce. We also eat a lot of whole grains, nuts, and beans.

I do a lot of scratch cooking, so I guess we save a lot by not buying convenience foods. And I think being vegetarian ends up costing less. Even expensive things like nuts are still cheaper, per serving, than a serving of meat. I also meal plan, which ensures that food does not go to waste. However I do not generally think about sales, keep a price book, or otherwise worry about price. I buy the food I want to eat, and I somehow manage to stay in budget every month.

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I liked to see your budget for the monthly food. I'm sure I spend more for my budget but there's a lot of similarity with what I cook, etc..

I'm on a blood thinning medicine so I cannot eat the dark veggies like cabbage, spinach. Plus, my cardiologist tells me to stop eating things with salt. Now this gives a lot of foods off for my budget.

Bad foods for me are: sliced meats are full of salt, canned meats/meals are used salt for keeping it conserved. Sausages again are bad for my food choices.

So, like you, I am now making my own soups and things like this. I make a big pot of Goulash Soup, or sometimes Pasta Fajiole (Pasta Fazuu for those who grew up in an Italian area). Good Minestrone is a no-brainer to cook and it's really cheap. Some meat was put into the Goulash Soup but this was a bone shin from a beef. The bone is put into the soup and the marrow is great tasting. These three soups allow me to control how much salt goes into my meals. I only use Sea Salt from the Mediterranean~it's coming from my area.

I do use Aldi products and they're cheap and are tasty.

I buy big sacks of rice ~ The Chinese New Years is Feb.10th this year and you can buy a big (about 25 kg of Thai Jasmine rice)for about half of normal prices. For two people, we use about 35 kilos of rice per year. It can be kept in a plastic bin and it's okay for the year.

Chicken is the main meat in my house. To a great extent, it's cooked in a Wok for various Asian meals. Shellfish is served often at my house, since it's fairly cheap.

Spaghetti and/or pasta is on the table about five times per week-or more. I make a big selection of sauces for the pasta and it can control the amount of salt. I made some Italian Sausages last year and it was kinda good. But, I bought a proper machine and I'll try this again this year. For some reason Italian Sausage has been created in the US and it's very, very different to find this~even in Italy. My sausage doesn't have too much salt but there's a lot of spices instead.

With the internet, we can reduce how much we spend for the food, just by learning to cook properly.

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I spend about $160/month for one person ($40/week). That excludes wine and non-food items. I eat very, very well.

I am pretty maniacal about cooking everything from scratch - chicken stock, beans, etc. I cook a lot of South and East Asian food. I eat meat and fish, but not a lot of either. I buy organic, but mostly just for the "dirty dozen." I shop a lot in ethnic stores. I don't really eat sweets although I bake a cake every two weeks or so for my reading group. I don't drink soda. I don't drink milk, and don't cook with a lot of milk or cheese. My dairy use, such as it is, tends to be feta, yogurt, and parmesan. I don't buy convenience foods at all. I freeze stuff for future use when I find a good deal - apples get turned into applesauce, fruit gets poached, meat parceled out, etc.

Breakfast is almost always spicy/savory food - leftover curries and rice, or egg sandwiches, or egg curries. I sometimes have yogurt and fruit.

I think if you shop smart, and cook from scratch $200/month is completely doable. Doesn't seem too hard to me.
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we are a family of 2-3 (depending on where I am working) -
so me, a teenaged boy (the elf) & GoMC

Several years ago I used to post about how low our food budget was, but I had much lower income, then, and it was more of a necessity.

Now i buy all my eggs & almost all mourmeat from a local farm.
Yes, more $$ than the grocery store - at least 3x - but we do not eat that much meat (we do eat a lot of eggs)
I have a share so every 4 months i pay $300 and we just shop until it runs out (this also gets us an extra dozen eggs every month, at $4/dozen)

the elf is reaching the "hollow leg" stage - but we do Make most of our own bread, lots of coup & grilled cheese & pears for that kid...
Most of our "grocery" dollars are spent on produce, dairy & breakfast cereals.

Whether we go to the store once a week or once a month, we tend to spend around $85
So we go only twice a month.

My short answer, though, is that we probably spend @$250/month
this includes food for three dogs (paper products, etc)

peace & groceries
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I spend @400 a month for a family of three and we eat very, very well. We cook from scratch. There are three things I can think of that keep the cost that low:

1. We don't buy meat. We always have a freezer full of venison. My kid takes the deer(s) and my brother processes the meat for me. No hunting lease fees no fancy hunting equiment just a youth hunting license that costs under $5.

2. We have a garden every year. Some years it is more of a help than others. What we always have though are fresh herbs. We also get way more free eggs than we can use from my sister's pet chickens. The kids sell the excess at farmer's market.

3. I have a lot of dry bulk goods that also doubles as my "kitchen decor". I keep big glass containers with seal tops in a row along the back of my kitchen counter that runs the length of one of the kitchen walls. The jar capacities range from quart to gallon capacity. The jars are pretty nice as well, all that pretty gleaming glass. The reason I like the jars lining the counter is because then I am more likely to use the product if it is "staring me in the face". Also some of the jars are very heavy. If they were on the shelf behind the pantry door I would have to shift them around to locate what I needed and that would be a pain. My actual pantry is about half-empty and generally has stuff that I find ridiculously cheap so I load up on it (like really cheap spaghetti sauce that can "extend" a homemade sauce; or cartons of chicken broth that got put in the 50 cent bin. That sort of thing. I just counted and I have 14 glass jars and 4 baskets lining the back of my counter.

The nice thing about the bulk dry thing in that if its in bulk it's cheaper - I take cloth bags to the whole foods store maybe once every 2 or 3 months and fill my bags then dump into my glass containers. The only thing I seem to have trouble with is the whole wheat flour (and to a lesser extent the whole wheat saghetti) which seems to go "off" in the summer. I keep the flour in the refrigerator.

The weekly trip to the grocers is generally for dairy products (milk, cream, yogurt and cheese) and fruit (a lot - strawberries, mangos etc - the only thing the garden can consistently produce is melons) and vegetables (some) not produced from the garden with a few exotic items - greek olives or won ton wrappers.

We eat a lot and we eat fancy.
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What we always have though are fresh herbs.
Me too. This is one of those high margin items that can really help your cooking in terms of flavor, but is expensive per unit. I grow all the mediterranean herbs (thyme, oregano, mint, sage, sorrel, etc), and buy other spices at the ethnic stores. The one thing I have bad luck with is basil, so I buy that in season.

I agree with everyone else that if you don't eat a lot of meat (or if you don't pay for it - ala the venison model), costs can go way down.
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My food budget has been a bit of a struggle for me lately. I've been trying to switch to a low-carb diet (for medical reasons) and keep my carbs under 60 grams per day. That means a lot of the inexpensive meals I made in the past are no longer possible - I used to eat a lot of pasta and rice dishes, but even brown rice and whole wheat pasta have a fair amount of carbs, so I have to eat them in small amounts. My goal is to replace them with vegetables, but it's definitely more expensive.

I can afford to spend more on food, and it's worthwhile for me to spend more if it helps my health, but it's definitely required a change in the way I look at cooking and food and my budget. I gave myself a break over the last couple of months, since I had a lot of other things going on, but one of my goals in January is to look harder at my meal planning and budgeting, and see if I can find some "go to" meals that are both inexpensive and low-carb. I can only eat eggs so often.

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I can afford to spend more on food, and it's worthwhile for me to spend more if it helps my health, but it's definitely required a change in the way I look at cooking and food and my budget.

We spend more on food than we otherwise might for exactly this reason. 5 years ago I got gestational diabetes, and that really opened my eyes to information about nutrition that I probably always knew, but had ignored. Then I started researching information about diets to help with autoimmune disorders for my husband. The result is that we eat 7-10 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Fruits and veggies get expensive, and while I have a garden, I'm pretty bad at it, so it doesn't seem to save me much.

However, changes in our health allowed us to lower our life insurance premiums by over $100 a month. My husband used to have to take pain medication daily, which gave him heartburn, which meant he needed heartburn medication. He now only has to take pain meds occasionally, so we have a pretty big savings there too. Because of having GD, I am at greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes, but the longer I can keep that at bay by keeping my health in check, the longer we can go without having to pay for all of those supplies and additional medical costs diabetes entails. Never mind that we feel better, the savings in real dollars offsets our grocery budget. It's absolutely worth it.

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I agree that a diet heavy in veg is very healthy. My parents are macrobiotic (no dairy, no meat - just grains, veg, and fish) and they are in their 70's with no health issues. I eat TONS of veg and make it a priority. Partly because I just like them - partly because I think it's better for you - and partly because my diet tends to skew South Asian, which is veg-heavy.

I don't find it's a lot more expensive if you offset it by eating less meat (I do), but it certainly can be, depending on where you buy food and what else you eat. Either way though, it's good in the overall picture.
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Eggs (huevos rancheros, crustless quiche, poached on half an English muffin...), fruit smoothies especially in warm weather, oatmeal, homemade granola, pancakes/waffles usually with blueberry sauce. We almost never have coffee out, but buy really good coffee at home.

Leftovers, salad, soup (most likely a quick Asian soup like miso), cheese & crackers w/fruit, humus or other dip and veggie sticks, homemade trail mix if on the go.

I aim for 3 vegan/vegetarian dinners/week. Lots of soups and stews in cold weather, curries all year round. More grilled stuff and colder dishes like fish tacos and fish/poultry/beef salads in warm weather. We eat a lot of dried beans and a tub of organic sprouted tofu a week.

We typically eat out or take out lunch or dinner once a week. Sometimes enough for 2 meals.


Week Before Christmas
3--Mayan (spicy, vegan) black bean soup & cole slaw
1--pan-fried wild salmon, chard w/fennel & leek, cucumber salad
1--<eat out shrimp rolls, Thai braised duck, stir fried vegetables>
2--Vietnamese braised beef (chuck roast on sale--I bought several), bok choy, carrots

This Week
3--French (vegan) lentil stew, lettuce salad
1--hot pot (tofu, shiitake, and napa soup), Asian salad
2--fish chowder, salad w/beets & oranges
1--leftover turkey and sides from Christmas week

Next Week
1--pasta w/broccoli, lemon, capers, hot pepper flakes and romano cheese
2--dal, baingan bartha (eggplant curry), aloo gobi (cauliflower-potato curry)
1--Vietnamese rice noodles w/shellfish and vegetables
2--avgolemono (Greek chicken soup)
1--minestre (Italian white bean, cabbage and sausage stew)

Yeah, looking this over, I can see why I have trouble keeping under $250/pp ;-) Also, I can't eat cheep carbs coz I'm gluten-intolerant--so no English muffins on sale or cheap pasta, or cheap dairy products either (lactose intolerant)--almond milk costs ~3x as much as dairy milk. We don't really have good cheap ethnic markets here in the South, and our farmers' market produce isn't usually cheaper than supermarkets, although it's fresher and usually better, but they don;t have everything I want like Asian vegetables. Only discount markets are Walmart (I shop there mostly on RV trips--and late in the month when I'm over budget on food, but I never buy meat there) and Trader Joe's. When I'm on the ball, I make homemade sprouts and grow herbs and mesclun greens.

This year I hope to work on homemade sausage, homemade gluten-free bread, and homemade kefir (the brand I prefer is $4.99/quart! It's lactose free with no weird additives).

My name is alstro, and I am a foodie :-/
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We spend far too much on food and we are fatties. Nothing but the best cheese or pate for DH. ...etc

But all of you have persuaded me that except for fresh milk for pre-school grandkids, I will use stores for a week. I always over-buy food. I have heaps of food, without shopping at all this week.

We are growing lettuce and bokchoy so when I run out of veggies, (not likely) I'll still have garden stuff till next Friday. Isn't it lucky I went to the bakery at 7.30 a.m. to pick up our fresh Challah for Friday night dinner? That was before I read all your entries.

Now I'll just settle down and plan a week with what I've got.

Thanks for the kick in the pants to get going on this...

Big Momma
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My goal is to replace them with vegetables, but it's definitely more expensive.

Frozen vegetable are often a lot cheaper than fresh, but are still very nutritious.
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I over-buy too. It's a goal to only buy what I need, but I always end up throwing stuff away. Sigh...
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I spend an average of $200/month on food - some month's less, some more if I'm picking up organic chicken breasts from Costco. But I think I could feed another person with the amount of food I throw out - and it's not even because I go out to eat instead.
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one of my goals in January is to look harder at my meal planning and budgeting, and see if I can find some "go to" meals that are both inexpensive and low-carb.

Last year I shelled out $250 for a pressure cooker. I haven't bought steak since then, especially since they told me on Top Chef that real chefs turn up their noses at things like tenderloin.

Instead you buy chuck roast or something for $3-4/lb, maybe less. No need for recipes, just throw stuff into the pressure cooker and you have some really tasty food in an hour or so. The left overs re-heat nicely.

My one regret is not getting the $400 model.
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I use my pressure cooker all the time for dal. It's what made me stop buying canned beans. Don't use it much for meat, except Rogan Josh, but maybe I need to branch out.
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One other thing about meal planning. I make my weekly menus on word documents, and save them on my computer. When I'm feeling particularly uninspired, I can look back at my old menus and that helps get me out of ruts, and remind me of dishes I liked but haven't thought about. I have now been doing it long enough that I can look back a year or two years so that I am looking at menus from the same season. Meal planning has gotten easier and easier the longer I've done it.

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from 1DEG:

..having gestational diabetes, I'm at greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes, but the longer I keep that at bay by keeping my health in check, the longer we can go without having to pay for those supplies and additional medical costs diabetes entails.

It's been just short of 3 years ago I discovered I was a type 2 diabetic. I wish you my sincerest best in keeping it at bay via lifestyle changes in weight control, exercise, and of course an appropriate diet. Accepting my diagnosis and acting upon it has probably been one of the biggest jolts in my life.

Eating "diabetically correctly" isn't cheap at all. Fresh produce and fruits, as you know, are costly. Even then, I have to be aware of certain things that raise my blood glucose, things like fresh pineapple, carrots, peas, and a few other starchier vegetables. I love parsnips but they're simply out. Occasionally, I eat bananas, which are relatively carby, but in limited amounts--often just half one day and half the next.

After my blood sugar came down 100 points from a lofty 251, my doc was pleased and reminded me to reward myself once in a while. I made some fresh salsa with crushed tomatoes, cilantro, minced garlic, onion, and crushed cayenne. I bought a small bag of Doritos and saw that seven of them had 19 carbs. So I reached in and made sure I got 7 unbroken ones and dutifully paper-clipped the bag shut. I wanted to keep going and going and going....but the thought of the guilt I knew I would have stopped me.

I'm doing so well (pills only, thank goodness) that I decided on a small baked bean reward recently, one of those small microwaveable containers. I laughed as I thought how many of those would probably have totaled what I ate pre-diagnosis. One look at the label: 48 carbs in that teeny thing! Back on the shelf it went.

You mentioned cost of diabetic supplies if you ever acquired type 2. The meter and the lancets are fairly cheap, but it's the testing strips that can really ding you. Just one of those skinny things costs about $1.55, and if you require 2-3 tests a day X 30 days in a month, the math gets depressing. I am SO glad I am on Medicare, the best birthday present I ever got. I'm paying about $3600/year for basic M-Care, an Rx plan, and a supplemental (gap) plan.

I used to silently curse people in the middle of grocery aisles studying labels. Now I "study" too as I stay close to the shelves. Label-readers in my way don't bother me like they used to, either. For all I know, they've got skin in the same game as I do.

Take care of yourself, 1DEG. Best wishes.
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We don't buy meat. We always have a freezer full of venison.

Lucky. My wife became a hunting widow for the last three months and all she got was one small deer in the freezer.

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for 2010 and 2011 we did two people for $350 a month,including dining out. We had a kid this year, so we did a lot more dining out (take out, quick stops for food, etc), so in the spring we weren't able to plan as much (plus my wife got really picky about what she wanted to eat while pregnant). We crossed $400 for the two of us this year because of that. We only got back into our normal routine in December.

We're have a giant list of new recipes we're want to try at least 2 of each week, so that does take a little toll, since they sometimes require things we don't normally buy. But if we like them, they'll enter into the regular rotation and become part of our planning. And we throw the dislike recipes out, so the pile should get smaller over the year.

We just loaded up on Lean Cuisines and I'm going to bring a bunch to work for the freezer. Sometimes I leave my lunch at home, and end up spending $6+ for lunch at work.

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Loved your post. I live in NY City and I was comparing your prices to what I pay here. Wow. Eggs at the local crook, oh, sorry, supermarket are closer to 2.99 a dozen than the 99 cents a dozen you pay. Stew meat is $4.99 a pound here. I could go on and on. Will be retiring in a few months to somewhere north of Boston. I have been checking out the ads in the local supermarkets and I am thrilled to find that some of the stuff is 50% cheaper than what I have been paying here. Feeling very ripped off right now.
I will check to see if their is an Aldi's anywhere in our area.
Certainly worth the trip as we will be retirees with nothing better to do than bargain shop.
Thanks again. I learned alot from this post.
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