I love food. I love how much joy food can bring a person. When you’re busy slogging it out at your 9-to-5 cubicle job, doesn’t a delicious meal in the middle of the day warm the cockles of your heart?
Yet, I spend less than $200 on food (and drinks) each month. (You can click here for my monthly income, expenses, and savings updates.) It isn’t the easiest thing in the world, but it is possible.
Here’s how. I’ll break it down for you.
I don’t like eating the same thing every single day, so I try to mix it up. A bowl of cereal. Or two bananas with some yoghurt. Or two eggs. Or oats.
They’re all simple dishes because I’m usually rushing out of the house to get to work on time. I find myself eating bananas and/or yoghurt most of the time. Easy to prepare, easy to eat. I’m able to finish my breakfast within 10 minutes.
At the same time, this simplicity is good for my wallet. I usually spend only $1 for breakfast. Most of the time, it’s even less.
I used to be a huge Starbucks fan. I’d have a Starbucks caramel macchiato almost every morning, and sometimes even a matcha latte in the afternoon. But that’s crazy expensive, and would ruin my entire food and beverage budget.
Nowadays, I stick to good old black coffee powder, and I add a little milk and sugar to my liking. I get a pack of 40 coffee sachets for just around $6. With a little milk and sugar, that’s probably only $0.25 a cup of coffee. (I only drink one cup of coffee every morning because I’m prone to insomnia.)
Beverages and Alcohol
I cut out all sugared beverages from my life. I don’t drink Coca-Cola, Dr Pepper, root beer. Nothing. Once you get used to drinking just water, it’s actually great. Healthy, and very affordable!
As for alcohol, I don’t drink that either. I haven’t touched a drop of alcohol the whole of this year. I just don’t quite appreciate the taste of it like I should. I do, however, occasionally drink alcohol during social events.
I pack my own lunch for work most the time. Nothing extravagant either, usually a simple rice dish. Or two slices of bread. (I try not to eat excessively during lunch, because a full stomach coupled with the extremely boring nature of my work tends to have me slumping over my desk in the afternoon.)
1-2 times a week, I’ll have lunch appointments with my friends. I have to dine out during these appointments, but I stick to casual dining establishments (sometimes, fast food establishments). With the help of credit card tie-ups and food vouchers / coupons, I’m able to get the most value for my money, even when dining out.
So that’s $2 a day if I pack my own lunch, and about $5 if I dine out.
Snacks / Tea
I do have quite a voracious appetite, and the little bit of lunch that I pack usually leaves me hungry by 4PM. Also, working at a corporate job is pretty damn boring, so snacking in the middle of the day gives me some much-welcomed comfort.
Over the last few months, I’ve been snacking on chocolate covered cereal bars. (How unhealthy, I know, I know.) I’ve found a place that sells 6 Cadbury Brunch Bars for just $1.90. Recently, I also discovered a supermarket that sells Waitrose digestive bars for cheap. I can get 10 of them, for just $1.60! And they’re delicious!
Snack time, therefore, costs just $0.30 if I have a Cadbury bar, and $0.16 if I eat a Waitrose bar. That’s so awesome.
My workplace is around the shopping district (with really high-end brands). After work, my colleagues are fond of treating themselves to a good meal. But me being anti-social me, I head straight home after work ends. Usually, I’ll have a decent home-cooked meal. That’s only about $3 for my entire dinner.
On my more frugal weeks, I’ll spend only $40. On my more so-called “extravagant” weeks, I’ll spend closer to $50. And that’s how I usually keep my food and beverage expenditure below $200 every month.
All you have to do is to cook your meals at home more often. Brew your own coffee at home and take it to work in a thermos flask. Be resourceful when dining out to score great discounts. Stay home Friday nights, or at least do something more economically efficient, instead of going out to the most popular clubs or bars.
And stop patronising Starbucks so frequently! (I love you Starbucks, but not right now because I simply can’t afford you.)
These strategies work wonders for your wallet.
One question I always force myself to think about is whether I want to keep living like this. I usually spend less than $1,000 a month, with only around $200 of that going to food and drink expenses.
The painful truth is, more often than not, I do wish that I could spend more on food. I really love eating, and $200 a month won’t get you all that much. Increasing my budget for food to $500 or even $1,000 a month would provide me with many more options. I could buy more expensive groceries. I could eat at a greater variety of restaurants. Yum.
But doing that would mean slogging away at a 9-to-5 cubicle job for a longer period of time, just so I can eat more expensive foods and down more shots at bars. For me, that isn’t worth it. I may love food, but I treasure my freedom more. And if sticking to a consistently bare-bones budget every month means I get to quit my corporate job sooner, then I’d definitely do it.
No question about it.
Spending less than $200 on food and beverage every month is not that easy, but it’s possible. Especially when you have a corporate job to escape from.