5 Tips to Stop Eating Your Paycheck; How to Save Money On Food9 min read

“What’s for dinner?”  This could possibly be the most used phrase in every American household today.  Seems like a simple enough question, but it opens up a whole can of worms!  

How much do you spend on food per month?  I’m not talking about groceries only.  I’m talking about food.

Take a minute and add up all of your food purchases in the last month or so.  Fast food, restaurants, gas station snacks/coffee AND groceries.  Got it?  Now-what percentage of your income is this?  

According to LifeHacker American’s spend between 9-12% of our income on food.  For example, my take home income is around $3400/month.  This means that if I were average, I would be spending around $340/month on food.

Does that number sound high?  It does to me.  I’ve used about the same budget for the past year of so.

I personally allocate $150/month on groceries, and $50/month for dining out (I live with my fiancee-she does the same).  Yes, that’s it.  I spend 5.8% of my income on food-and I’d still like to get it lower, but I have to concede a few things since I live with someone (I’m more than happy to do this!  Hi babe;)).  

To me personally, I can not think of a bigger money waster than food in our country.  I enjoy a nice meal as much as anybody.  Restaurants are awesome, food tastes good, I totally get it.

However, I don’t live to eat, I eat to live.  I haven’t always been this way.  I used to spend upwards of $400-$500/monthly on food.  How do people do this?  I’d be willing to bet that the average American household has no clue what they spend on food in a month.

Old Habits Die Hard

Prior to my epiphany with money (read about it here), this is what an average grocery trip looked like: Grab cart-go through every aisle-pick out food that looks tasty, swipe debit card.

I had absolutely no plan other than what really looked good at the time.  I went through times in my life where I could care less about health and ate anything, to times when I really focused on health-grocery trips were different then.

I’m sure we all know that eating healthy can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be if you plan.  Looking back, I would estimate that I spent around $300-$350/monthly on groceries.  

Restaurants and fast food

There likely wasn’t a week in my adulthood that I went without fast food or restaurant meals until about 3 years ago.  In college, it was the McDonald’s dollar menu (I still love it!).  As I got older, it was restaurants, where $20-$30 one person meals were common.  Every pizza is a personal pizza if you try hard enough!

I estimate that I spent anywhere from $100-150/monthly on restaurants.  

It was easy to rack up $500 food bills in a month.  That’s insane.  I spent $500 a freaking month on food that tasted good-but other than that, it really did nothing for me other than lower my bank account and make me feel like crap.

How was this happening?  Very simply-I did not have a plan.  I was not budgeting.  I was not being intentional and diligent with my dollars.

Things have changed more in this area than any other with my money habits, and I’m very grateful that they did!

Monthly Food Today:

Today, and for the past couple years, my eating structure has been completely different.  It took a lot of getting used to, but my fiancee and I now have a very simple, and effective system in place to keep our food spending low.

Between the two of us-we spend on average $350 or less every month on food.  This is groceries, restaurants, gas stations, etc.

This is not an extremely low budget for food in my opinion.  We eat well, we have some really cheap meals-we have some pricey meals-but we could get lower if we had to!  

That’s less than I spent when I lived on my own.  So, what happened and how do we do this?

5 Tips to stop eating your paycheck:

5 Tips to Stop Eating Your Paycheck; How to Save Money on FoodMeal Plan:

This is likely a tip that isn’t shocking to anyone, but do you do it?  If you do, do you plan your grocery trip after you meal plan?  I would suggest planning your meals after the local advertisements come out, then plan your meals, then go grocery shopping.

We do this weekly, but I know people that shop in two week cycles.  It really makes no difference.

If you are planning you’re more likely to actually eat at home instead of going out.  If you don’t know “what’s for dinner,” it’s a lot easier to order a pizza.

Meal planning also cuts down on waste.  According to this article by CNBC,  in the United States, we throw away 31% of our food supply.

Just take that money and throw it away, light it on fire, flush it down the toilet, you get it.  If you plan-you’re likely to come in well below that 31%.  

Buy meat in bulk:

I recently looked at our local ads and saw ground beef on sale for $1.88/lb.  This is an extreme sale these days with beef prices at near record highs in recent years.  Next to the sale was a *this sale applies to 10 pound rolls only-smaller quantities will be $2.59/lb.

So, of course-we’re buying the 10 pound roll, taking it home, splitting it into smaller quantities and saving a few bucks.  Seems simple, but nearly everyone at the grocery store buys the smaller packages.

The other option here is to buy a quarter/half a beef from a butcher.  Easy if you live in Nebraska like I do, not so easy everywhere else-especially if you’re limited on freezer space.  

Keep Breakfast and Lunch Simple

Truth be told.  I have eaten the same breakfasts and lunches on and off for Three. Straight. Years.  3 years.  Yeah.

When I was really scrounging, I made my own oatmeal packets.  You know the ones that come all fancy in a box of 10 for about $4 a box?  I made my own out of bulk oatmeal, brown sugar, raisins, and other cheap add ins.

When it came down to it, I figured I spent about $0.20/daily on breakfast.  Now that I’m debt free, I splurge and buy bagels for $1.50/package that last me a week.  So, with peanut butter and bananas to go with it, I’m spending about $0.50/daily on my breakfasts.  

Lunch-Peanut Butter and Jelly-Yogurt-Apple.  Every. Damn. Day.

Don’t give me the, “I can’t do that.”  If you want to get out of debt or save money.  You CAN do anything.  What WILL you do?  

I also don’t want to hear how “unhealthy” this diet is.  I’ve run several half marathons, completed fitness programs like P90X, and I’ve never felt or looked better than I do today.  The human body is an amazing thing.  I figure my lunches cost me about $1/day.  

I’m not suggesting you do this, in fact, I wouldn’t recommend it.  People will make fun of you.  My students laugh at me.  I don’t care.  I’m cheap, frugal, and debt free!

What I am suggesting is that you keep it simple.  Calculate the cost per meal, and you can really save some dough!

Have a Routine & Repeat Meals

If you meal plan, you will get into the habit of cooking the same meals over and over.  This can get monotonous, and maybe even boring.  Guess what?  Routine=success.  As long as that routine involves a cheap meal.  You’re on your way to saving money.  We eat a lot of deer at my house (I’m a hunter.)  We eat deer tacos, sloppy joes, burgers, brats, etc.  These meals are routinely on our plan.  They’re cheap, healthy, and tasty!

Stock up at the end of each month

This has been a final recipe to our success.  When you get to the end of the month and you have money remaining, which should be your goal, use that extra money to stock up on things you need or use on a regular basis.  We stock up on sale items, toiletries, dishwasher soap, etc.  This is a way to hide these costs at the end of the month so you don’t blow your whole budget on them throughout the month.  It also sets you up for success in the month ahead.  

That’s it.  Do those five simple things and I would bet that you will see a difference in your budget!  Stop eating your paycheck!  Be intentional with your money-be diligent with your dollars.  

Now excuse me, I have to go buy some peanut butter 🙂

diligence:  noun

careful and persistent work or effort.




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Kyle Steinkuhler

Hey ya’ll! I’m Kyle, a teacher who dabbles in personal finance. After meeting my fiance, I realized that my wandering through life with no direction financially probably wouldn’t cut it, so I changed my habits, pulled up my big boy pants and started in on a financial plan to change my future. This blog will chronicle my journey to financial freedom while destroying debt, earning my masters degree (cash flow!), and getting married along the way. I don’t claim to be any kind of expert (except on the topic of eating cheap!). My experience is what I will draw from, and I think my experience is far too normal.
Posted in Budgeting, Family Finances, Finances, Frugality, Guest Post, How To, Money $aving Tips, Saving Money and tagged , , , , , .


  1. Good post! IMO, the meal plan is by far the most important (so I’m glad you listed it first ?). Just as with the rest of life, is hard to succeed at anything without a plan!
    Daniel Palmer recently posted…Why I Don’t Do My Own Oil ChangesMy Profile

  2. Thanks Daniel. I couldn’t agree more! I think I may be obsessive with the meal plan, but it works!

  3. Amen amen amen now these are my kind of posts! My husband and I hardly eat out unless they are double dates. I love looking back and seeing how much we have saved by just cooking at home. And its way healthier.

  4. It absolutely is healthier and cheaper! It can be hard sometimes to plan everything, and sometimes a nice meal out is very rewarding and needed, however, if you can stick to meal planning and eating at home 80-90% of the time you’re on the right track!

    Thanks for reading!
    Kyle recently posted…3 Secrets to Paying Off Debt FastMy Profile

  5. These are wonderful ideas! I coupon, so that helps save money. I really should start meal planning. I do the repeat meal thing as well!
    Amber Myers recently posted…I Don’t Understand My Tween Daughter’s Birthday ListMy Profile

  6. Thanks Amber! I need to get into the coupon thing, that is one thing I have not done to save on food! Appreciate the feedback!
    Kyle recently posted…3 Secrets to Paying Off Debt FastMy Profile

  7. Wow these are really great tips! I did not realize how much money we spend on food monthly. I am definitely going to use these tips in my own personal life, great post.


  8. It can definitely surprise people when you don’t track your spending! Thanks for reading Sondra!
    Kyle recently posted…3 Secrets to Paying Off Debt FastMy Profile

  9. I have tried so hard to do the meal planning thing. My main problem is that I buy food for meals that I plan but then when the day comes to make it I don’t feel like eating that on that day and I end up wasting food and even more money. I’m fickle and have horrible discipline lol. I actually do eat a lot of peanut butter, so I’ve got that going for me!
    We have found that buying meat in bulk has been a huge money saver though. We do that and it has helped both with budgeting and what meal planning I actually do stick with.

  10. These are great tips for saving money. It’s such a shock sometimes when I look to see how much money goes to fast food or eating out!
    Jolleen recently posted…Give Your Workouts a Protein BoostMy Profile

  11. I can totally empathize with that! To say you have to stick to the exact plan is a bit extreme, but I like to pick out 5-6 meals that I’ll have in the next week, if I waver or switch the days it’s not big deal! The meat things is a real money saver, not everything is cheaper in bulk, but meat usually is. Thanks for reading!
    Kyle recently posted…3 Secrets to Paying Off Debt FastMy Profile

  12. Since my son was born I have been making a meal plan and sticking to it. We spend a little more on groceries because of the city we live in, but we save so much money not going out to eat so much!

  13. Nice job! That’s fantastic to hear, and it really takes all of the difficult “what’s for dinner” questions away! Thanks for reading!
    Kyle recently posted…3 Secrets to Paying Off Debt FastMy Profile

  14. The only way I save money on food is not by eating out too much. I try to eat out once or twice a month…but whenever I do, I make sure that, I’m eating at somewhere nice.
    Aish Das-Padihari recently posted…Grilled Pineapple Jalapeño MocktailMy Profile

    • I’m ok with that policy! I would rather eat out at one nice restaurant per month than stop at McDonald’s 6-8 times! It makes you appreciate it more and if you can budget for it, then great! Thanks for reading

  15. This is a constant struggle in my family. These are some good tips
    Crystal Gard recently posted…Don’t Judge A Book By The CoverMy Profile

  16. Kyle, these are great tips for anyone looking to gain an extra step towards saving. I totally agree with your thoughts on allocating set amounts to groceries and dining out. Your advice will help anyone who’s looking for ways to be financially comfortable!

    • Thanks Win! It has really been a major part of my “getting out of debt” and transitioning to debt free living. I still use cash only today for food! Thanks!

  17. Great post Kyle. I smiled when I saw your lunch. I eat the exact same lunch, every day. PBJ (wrap), yogurt and an apple. And I can eat that 365 days a year, no problem. My colleagues laugh about it all the time, which makes me enjoy it that much more. : )
    Mystery Money Man recently posted…BEHIND THE MASK: MY INTERVIEW WITH DEBT.COMMy Profile

    • Haha that’s great! In a weird way I actually look forward to my pbj every day, I could be wrong, but I doubt I ever get sick of it. It’s so easy, convenient, and cheap, it fits all the categories I look for in a meal! Thanks!
      Kyle recently posted…3 Secrets to Paying Off Debt FastMy Profile

  18. This is why meal planning is so helpful. It doesn’t just allow you to eat healthier but also eat more meals at home than outside. These are all awesome ideas.

  19. I feel less guilty when I spend my money on food, which is why I avoid eating outside unless I have to. I think meal planning is always a great idea!
    Carol Cassara recently posted…How to succeed on the Whole 30My Profile

  20. There was a point in our lives when our family of 5 (us, 2 kids and the nanny) lived on a P150/day budget. That’s less than $4/day. It was crazy but we did survive and learned something from that hardship.

    • Wow that is intense! I’ll bet you look back and really value what you went through as a lesson! Now everything seems like a luxury compared to “back then!” That’s how I feel anyways! Thanks!

  21. I typically buy in bulk and freeze when I know that it is items we are going to be using all the time. These are great tips!

  22. These are great tips, and they pretty perfectly explain how I feed my little family of three on about $400 a month – counting going out and little occasional extras! I think a lot of people could really learn from this.
    Author Brandi Kennedy recently posted…What Do Bunnies Do?My Profile

  23. I try very hard to save on food and shopping. It is a difficult task sometimes because it is very time consuming. I like your tips and will incorporate them into my daily shopping.

  24. It definitely takes some time to plan, but I would trade my time for the savings! Thanks for reading Cynthia!
    Kyle recently posted…Valentine’s Day On A Budget!My Profile

  25. Such a good post and tips! I love saving money and a cheap meals also and we try to keep track all our expenses

    • Thanks for taking the time Maria to read and comment!
      Kyle recently posted…Valentine’s Day On A Budget!My Profile

  26. Buying in bulk and cooking at home are definite ways we’ve found to save money too. I also like looking in the clearance section of the grocery store to see what items are about to expire.
    Kristi recently posted…Learning to Trust and Obey in My Daily Walk {Testimony Tuesday}My Profile

    • I love the clearance section as well! My grocery store has a “clearance isle.” I find cheap stuff there almost every trip!

  27. This is some awesome advice. I always have a problem budgeting properly for food. As a divorced parent who shared custody, sometimes it’s challenging budgeting right. These are some great ideas.

    • It’s hard to do initially, but it doesn’t have to be perfect! Start small and you will soon develop some easy to follow habits! Thanks for reading!
      Kyle recently posted…Valentine’s Day On A Budget!My Profile

  28. You have so many useful tips in this post. I didn’t know about stocking up at the end of the month.
    Healing Tomato recently posted…Collard Greens Stew With Black-Eyed PeasMy Profile

    • Thanks for reading!
      Kyle recently posted…My First Blog Income Report: How I made Money in less than 2 months!My Profile

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