KeepThrifty Experiment May 2016 — Challenge: Food

KeepThrifty Experiment May 2016 — Challenge: Food

The May challenge is over! Here’s the full set of update/results posts:


Last month’s challenge didn’t turn out so hot - we went over our target grocery spending by over $200.

Thankfully, I’m not one to give up easily!

With that in mind, I’m going to give it another go this month, but with a twist - throwing in the “eating out category” for a full-on challenge on our spending on food.

This includes groceries and eating out, including everything from treats (I know about that Snicker’s bar you got last week) to a beer with friends :)

As always, keep the following guidance in mind:

  • The whole point of the experiment is to make sustainable changes — shortcutting in an area one month only to have it explode in the next doesn’t get you closer to your goals.
  • Part of the fun here is pushing your boundaries and seeing what you can do without. Don’t be afraid to stretch outside your comfort zone; you never know what you might find!
  • Don’t get discouraged if you don’t achieve every goal — any progress is a step in the right direction
  • Be creative and have fun :)

Helpful Resources & Ideas for Saving

For tips on how to save on groceries, check out last month’s challenge

For thoughts on how to save on eating out, check out these links and thoughts:

General Tips

  • Most of your meal cost comes from appetizers, desserts, and drinks - these are the foods with the highest mark-ups. Avoid these if possible
  • If you’re stuck on getting extras, agree ahead of time that you’ll do either an appetizer or a dessert but not both
  • If you’re committed to getting a drink, try for just one (or get something with free refills)
  • Look at your favorite restaurants’ websites today and note when they have daily specials (two-for-one, half-off burger days, etc.) so you can get the most bang for your buck
  • Plan ahead on when you’ll eat out and don’t deviate from this if you can help it

Unplanned trips out are a double-whammy: the meal is more expensive than a home-cooked one and you’re more likely to have your perishable groceries go bad before you get a chance to use them

I don’t have a ton here because these two articles hit great points and most other articles were similar in content. If you check out these two, you should be in pretty good shape!

My Challenge

I’m doing this challenge right along with you, so here’s my analysis, goal, and plan for how I intend to tackle food spending in our family this month.

On Thrifty, we keep Grocery and Eating Out as separate categories as one is a necessity and the other is more of a luxury. Here are our charts for both:

Monthly grocery spending chart

Monthly eating out spending chart


Using Thrifty, I’ve got a good sense of where our family stands on spending on groceries and eating out for the last 9 months.

Putting the two categories together, we’ve ranged from $1100 to $1650 and averaged about $1310.

We covered groceries in-depth in the April challenge, so let’s look deeper at Eating Out.

For the most part, we are creatures of habit; we’ve got just a few places that we really love and we’d rather go to these reasonable-cost options on a frequent basis over going to fancy restaurants less frequent.

  • Papa Jimmy’s - this is our favorite local pizza place; amazing pizza and they’ve got Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream as well
  • Panera - we’re a big fan of fast-casual where we can get relatively healthy food without paying an arm and a leg
  • Potbelly - same theme as Panera; my wife introduced me to this when we met in college and it’s been a favorite for our whole family

The other regular addition here is treats. This is something that sneaks in more often than I’d like to admit and is typically between $20 and $60 a month for us when you add it all up.


As we covered in the April challenge, for our family of 5, the USDA estimates a monthly food cost of $1140 for a “Moderate-Cost plan”. Given our desire for organic, natural products we expect to be paying a bit of a premium but I don’t want to target the “Liberal plan”, where we’d be at about $1400.

My ideal here is to cut it down the middle for a realistic target and then as a family we can figure out how to push it lower.

With that in mind, our food target spending for May will be $1270, which is $40 less than our average monthly food spending up to this point.

If we can pull this off and make the changes sustainable, we’ll be saving $480 a year!


While we’re targeting an overall number for food, it’s still a good idea to make a plan for each category so we can have a rough idea of whether we’re staying on-track.

For eating out, we generally have pizza and ice cream once a week and this runs $35. It’s become a bit of a family tradition and I don’t have any intention of stopping it :)

In addition, it’s a good plan for us to anticipate one meal eating out with friends and 1-2 meals of “buffer” for the nights where kid activities make homemade dinner a bigger challenge.

At $35 a pop and 5-7 meals planned, that puts us between $175 and $245 for eating out this month not counting treats. Put treats in on the low end at $25 and we’re at $200 to $270.

This is the area we’ll be stretching; we’ve only been under $270 four times in the last nine months, so it isn’t exactly our sweet spot (pun intended).

That leaves us with $1000 to $1070 for groceries or roughly $255 to $275 a week. Looking back, 6 of our 9 months of tracked spending were under $1070, so I’m feeling optimistic about our grocery target.

Our real risk seems to be in eating out and treats, so we either have to find a way to make sure we don’t have too many “extra” meals out or we need to compensate on the grocery side.

In summary, here’s what we’re going to try to do:

  • Groceries: $1000 - $1070
  • Treats: $25 ($6 a week)
  • Eating Out: $175 - $245 (5 - 7 meals at $35 each)
  • Total: $1270

All in all, this isn’t going to be easy, but I’m looking forward to the challenge :)

Your Turn

Are you ready to join the challenge? Share your thoughts in the comments below or tweet me with your goals, plan, or progress!