Food is one of the biggest expenses for most people. Today, I'm sharing how we maintain a $280 monthly grocery budget for 2 people in one of the most expensive cities in America. 

How We Maintain A $280 Monthly Grocery Budget For 2 People In Boston

One of the biggest expenses for most people is food. It’s admittedly too easy to spend a ton of money on food because you literally eat the evidence. We’ve all been there- there seems to never be anything “good to eat” at home and then at the end of the month, you look at your bank account balance and think, “Where did all of my money go?” Today, I’m going to share how we maintain a $280 monthly grocery budget for 2 people in one of the most expensive cities in America. In case you missed my previous money-saving tips post, click here.

Mr. NavigatingAdulthood, my 6’2 husband and I live in the Boston area [Boston is now the 4th most expensive city in America] and we’ve managed to consistently stick to a $280 monthly grocery budget for 2 people. I mention Mr. NA’s height because he eats a lot. I joke that he’s a growing boy because the man literally eats twice as much as I do. Here are our monthly figures [I’m a little behind and haven’t finished adding June’s numbers to the spreadsheet]. You can see that we’re definitely not perfect- check out that $527 grocery total for January 2017!

How We Maintain Grocery Budget of $280 for 2 people in Boston

After reading a post by Frugal Asian Finance and chatting with Ms. FAF about monthly grocery bills, I realized that I actually have monthly grocery budget numbers for almost the past 3 years…because we’re huge data nerds and we track all monthly expenses in a monthly spreadsheet. It’s not always the most glamorous Instagram-worthy meals, but I’ve managed to keep Mr. NA from starving and we’ve never gone hungry. In fact, we literally always have some food leftover at the end of the month in both the freezer and the refrigerator!

Five Ways We Keep A $280 Grocery Budget For 2 People In The Boston Area

1. We cut down the amount of meat we eat.

This is perhaps the #1 way we’re able to keep our grocery budget this low. Last year, we watched Fork Over Knives on Netflix and it was a wake-up call for how a whole-food, plant-based diet was good for your health. We didn’t agree with all of the facts that the film presented but we did agree that vegetables are healthier for you than meat in many ways. We eat meat-less meals at least twice a week and the cost savings definitely adds up. Meat is expensive. Even when we buy chicken thighs at the store for $0.88 a pound, a pound of dried black beans costs almost the same price. But, the difference is that the dried beans will stretch much further than the chicken.

Another bonus to eating less meat is that we’re able to buy better meat when we do purchase it. Mr. NA loves red meat, so every few months, we’ll splurge on a grass-fed steak at Whole Foods. This may sound a little extravagant, but we’ve tried the cheaper grass-fed steaks from Trader Joe’s and our local grocery stores and the flavor is better when we purchase from Whole Food’s. By having better quality steak from time to time, it cuts down on the frequency we purchase it [and the number of cravings we have for it]. Win-win!

2. We Eat Oatmeal For Breakfast

On average, we eat oatmeal 3-4 times a week. Guys, oatmeal is SO CHEAP. Mr. NavigatingAdulthood is the oatmeal whisperer in our household [mostly because he follows the exact directions on the back of the box]. We used to buy our oatmeal in the form of $9 10 lb bags of Quaker oats from Costco before we cut our membership a year ago. Prior to our membership running out, we literally bought 3 bags [30 pounds of oatmeal] because we knew we would eat all of it. It’s just pennies per serving [even if you don’t purchase in bulk from Costco and you purchase it from your regular grocery store] and it’s so healthy for you.

Mr. NA prepares it according to instructions from the back of the box and then adds 2 eggs, 1 TB of soy sauce, a drizzle of sesame oil, and some chopped green scallion. Eating it savory eliminates having to eat it with sugar and butter AND the protein from the eggs helps the satiety of the oatmeal.

3. We Almost Never Buy Supermarket Prepared Foods Or Prepackaged Vegetables/Fruits

This may sound a bit extreme, but it’s true: we almost never buy pre-prepared foods from the grocery store. The one exception to this rule is Costco’s rotisserie chicken- but let’s be honest, that is the best $5 chicken you will ever eat or buy. We also don’t buy prepackaged vegetables [unless they’re in the reduced produce section].

I’ll be honest, Mr. NA is ALWAYS in the mood for some fried chicken so our compromise is that if it’s on sale in the deli section, then we can think about getting some [this ends up happening every 2-3 months]. In general, we’re not really tempted by the prepared foods section because if we’re feeling super lazy, then we’ll just get pizza from our local pizza shop. I don’t think we’ve ever been tempted to buy food from the grocery store to eat, unless we were travelling.

Similarly, the huge markup on prepackaged vegetables and fruits has always deterred me from purchasing them. Plus, you don’t know how long those vegetables have been sitting there for. Whole fruits and vegetables last much longer in the fridge! If I’m a time crunch, I’ll opt for frozen vegetables, which are usually way cheaper than the pre-cut vegetables.

4. I spend 1-2 hours preparing and cooking food every weekend

Typically on Sundays, I’ll spend a solid hour to two hours preparing food. We have a tiny, narrow galley-style kitchen that really only has enough space for one person, so Mr. NA graciously does dishes after I’m done cooking. Food prep usually entails making 1-2 proteins and a vegetable dish so we can be prepared for the week ahead. For example, this week I did the following:

  • Made a batch of rice in the rice cooker [I’ve had this rice cooker for over 4 years and it’s still doing great. Highly recommend!]
  • Baked 5 potatoes in the oven
  • Baked 2 lbs of chicken thighs
  • Made a vegetable curry
  • Tofu and swiss chard stir-fry

I don’t love meal planning, but it REALLY helps cut down on the temptation of eating out when you already have part of a meal ready to go in the refrigerator. Bonus: when Mr. NA whines he’s hungry, he can make himself a mini bowl of some leftovers and be satiated until the next meal.

5. We limit the amount of snacks we buy

I’ll admit, we are major snackers. There’s nothing better than lounging on the sofa with a good movie and some salty snacks. Over the years, I think we’ve both realized that it’s really hard to cut snacking out of the grocery budget. So instead, we opt to snack mindfully. Usually, people gravitate towards snacks because they eat them in-between meals. By striving to have some sort of food always ready to go in the fridge, we’re able to snack on leftovers until it’s time for the next meal. It’s also a great way to question whether you have a case of the munchies or if you’re actually hungry. When your choices are “tofu stir-fry” or “deliciously cheesy Cheetos” you’ll probably opt for Cheetos if you have the choice.

When we do snack, we use a bowl for portion control [we are the type of people who can easily finish off a family-sized bag of salt and vinegar potato chips in one sitting]. and we do so while enjoying a tv show or movie. This lets us cut down on calories so we can buy the tastier full-fat snacks! Additionally, by being “mindful” of when we consume snacks, we get more enjoyment out of them.

6. We track our grocery trips throughout the month

This is one of the biggest contributors towards how we’re able to maintain a $280 grocery budget for 2 people in the Boston area. We track our monthly finances in a spreadsheet [again, because we’re huge nerds] and we highlight the grocery expenses in yellow. This makes it super easy to add all of the grocery numbers together at the end of the month.

Here is a real example from our spreadsheet for the month of June:

Monthly spreadsheet monthly grocery bill under $280

This is admittedly not the funnest thing in the world BUT it helps us seen when we’re off-track. If we’ve spent a ton of money on groceries at the beginning of the month, it might be time to dig into the freezer to see what we can eat for “free” from the reserves. Similarly, we might try to eat more cheap vegetarian dinners like lentils or rice and beans if we’re already at the $200 mark by the second week of the month.

7. We stock up our freezer when there’s a sale

I feel like the freezer is a very under-utilized space in most kitchens. I know most freezers probably have vodka and ice cream, but ours is filled with extra grocery. Fancy whole-wheat bread that’s on sale? We’ll buy an extra loaf and put it in the freezer. Organic nitrate-free bacon that’s on clearance at the grocery store? I’ll buy almost all of it and I’ll put it in the freezer [not exaggerating, just purchased 5 packages 2 months ago]. You get the idea. 

We’re fortunate enough to not live paycheck to paycheck, so if I do buy $50 of well-priced meat one month, I’ll amortize it by splitting the cost across future months. Example: I know that we won’t eat all $50 of meat in the month I bought it, so I’ll divide that number by 3 months and add $16.67 to this month’s spreadsheet and then add $16.67 to the future 2 month’s expenses. This may seem like “cheating” to some but it really helps us save money. Chicken thighs can be found on sale for $0.88 a pound in our area- but it’s often $2.50 when not on sale.

Just took a peek at our freezer and we have a corned beef from St. Patty’s day. 4 packages of bacon, 1 package of chicken thighs, and 2 chicken carcasses [I use them when I make dried beans in the slow cooker to add extra flavor for “free.”] This means we probably don’t have to buy meat for the next month or two!

I hope you enjoyed this peek into our finances! I hope this post shows you how you too can maintain a $280 monthly grocery budget for 2 people, even if you live in an expensive city.

Food is one of the biggest expenses for most people. Today, I'm sharing how we maintain a $280 monthly grocery budget for 2 people in one of the most expensive cities in America. 

 

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44 Comments

  1. I am definitely showing this to my wife. We used to live in Boston, now Providence, RI, but it is still expensive (although not as much). I personally like Market Basket more than Aldi, but we might have to go get a Costco membership as well.

    1. We love Providence! I personally find Market Basket to be the cheapest grocery store for produce. I don’t find their fruit selection to be the best, so we supplement with what’s cheap that week at Shaw’s and Stop and Shop. Costco was great for produce but we would spend a ton on other unnecessary goodies, haha

  2. That’s an impressive food budget! I’m glad you included eating less meat in your list of tips. We try to eat a lot of vegetarian food for health/environmental reasons, and we definitely appreciate how much cheaper it is than meat.

  3. Impressive, we track our grocery expenses and Is the one category we haven’t been able to make much progress. We do have a 3 year old and expecting another boy so your numbers seem unattainable for my situation. I will; however, bring some of your tips to my wife because I definitely believe there’s room for improvement. What are your thoughts on using the Amex blue card (no annual fees) that gives you 3% cash back on groceries?. Thanks for all the tips!

  4. Dear Ying,

    Congrats on keeping your grocery bill so low. Cutting back on meat definitely helps. My husband and I consider ourselves vegetarians that eat meat (if that makes sense!?). We eat it as a “side” a few times a week.

    I’d love to hear more about how you use your chicken carcasses. I have a really hard time throwing them out but don’t really have a need for stock (except maybe to make my barley) and it seems like a lot of time and energy (literally, electricity is expensive) to make. I make beans on a regular basis but use a pressure cooker so I’m not sure how or if I could use a carcass.

    Do you find that you spend more money by shopping frequently? I’ve gotten mine down to once a week and try and stretch it a day or two longer if I can.

    Sarah
    Sarah De Diego recently posted…10 Things to Consider When Buying a Car Booster for Your ChildMy Profile

    1. HAHA, I love the expression “vegetarians that eat meat” because I often call my husband and I “vegetarians who eat meat on the side.”

      That’s actually a great post idea- how to use chicken carcasses and other “normal” things that many people throw out. Short answer: I usually throw the frozen chicken carcass in the slow cooker when I’m making beans! Super easy and then I just fish out the bones when the beans are done.

      We DEFINITELY save more money when we limit our grocery shopping trips. Reducing the number of trips cuts down on the “bonus” items we pick up…like chips, haha. Thanks for reading!

  5. I really enjoyed this blog post! Since I’m most likely not going to be going back to work, my husband and I have been working to shape up our finances and cut out un-needed things. Our grocery portion of our budget is definitely one of the largest and I’m going to use your ideas to hopefully whip it into shape 🙂

    xoxo, SS

    Southern and Style

  6. Love these tips and I am definitely going to put them to use! My boyfriend and I have been needing to budget our food spending. I’ve kind of realized that the reason we spend so much money on food is because the closest grocery store is over 20 min away (depending on highway traffic)so if we have’t gone grocery shopping for dinner by like 5pm there’s a good chance we will just eat out because by the time we head down to the grocery store, shop, go home, and cook it will be time for bed! And then the cycle continues until we actually find time to make it down to the grocery store.
    Michelle Paige recently posted…3 Daily Habits for Happiness and Getting Out of a SlumpMy Profile

    1. Have you tried working in your grocery shopping after work? The cheaper grocery chain in our area is on my way home from work, so I’ll often do my grocery shopping alone so we can avoid making the 20 mile commute. We try to do our grocery shopping early Saturday morning [like 9AM early, haha] so the store is relatively empty and we just get in and out quickly

  7. Love this article Ying! My boyfriend and I always try to save as much as possible on our grocery bill but I think we could definitely do better! I really need to start tracking how many times we go to the shops and what we spend per week. We are very guilty of buying snacks a lot though. Snacks are our weakness haha. – Amanda x

    1. Cutting down on the number of trips you make definitely helps! And I’m with you on snacks- they can add up very quickly. We’re trying to embrace popcorn as a snack because it’s SO much cheaper than buying chips. …But we also have a deep love for salt and vinegar potato chips so it’s a struggle

  8. I agree, meat is the most expensive thing at the grocery store. I might try and see if I can get my hubby to go without it for a couple of meals a week. I am so tired of spending so much at the grocery. And it seems like it costs more to eat healthy. Great tips, I am going to test them out this week when I go.

    1. I got my husband to eat less meat by including less of it in a dish. For example, we would use half the recommended amount of meat in a stir fry and substitute the rest with mushrooms. By cutting down the meat consumption slowly, I think it helps you ease into it. Good luck!

  9. I am still just wowed by this grocery bill + consistency! It’s nearly impossible for me to keep under $200 for just my share! Meat is definitely the biggest contributor. We buy really nice meat, I’m talking organic, grass fed, and grass finished (didn’t know this was a thing until I met my boyfriend).

    He’s mostly paleo so it’s like high quantity of meat + high quality meat = $$$$. My boyfriend is pretty picky with food in general, but since he’s not really picky about anything else, I let him have his way with that one 😛 I think I may even be coming around to the idea that organics are better for you…even though there’s no proof at all. I’m not quite sure what changed about this and why, since I used to think people who were obsessed with buying organic food were food snobs!
    Jing recently posted…Buying Coffee Is Worth ItMy Profile

    1. Quality meat is totally worth it [we splurge on nitrate free bacon and sausage] and I know from experience that eating paleo can be pricey. The $400+ months that we have are when we go to Wegmans or Whole Foods and purchase a large quantity of meat.

      And omg, if we had organic, grass fed, and grass finished meat readily available in Boston, we would totally go that route- it’s SO much tastier!!

  10. Yes on oatmeal, I need to try putting eggs in there like Mr. NA. I just put a teaspoon of brown sugar and I’m good to go.
    I need to cut down on the snacks. There is a Trader Joe’s by my work and though I love having it nearby, I buy too many chips there. I need to be mindful like you two.

  11. I need to do #6 more. We tally up once a month and if that’s the number then that’s the number.

    In 2016 I had so much trouble keeping it under $500 for two people in Seattle. I thought my frugal gene died or something because I couldn’t not spend $450+/month on groceries.

    My husband asked me what I was buying differently I said I had no idea! Shopping is actually really tricky. I don’t think discount grocers (I used Grocery Outlet) are always discounted. My food bill went down after I went back to shopping wholesale and Safeway!
    Lily He-Prudhomme recently posted…Biking for Dummies: Street BasicsMy Profile

    1. Haha, I had to learn through trial and error. My husband’s stomach works like clockwork, so I know that if I don’t have something for him to eat, he will happily go to the nearby pizza shop and order a calzone as a “snack.”

      I find that carbs take the longest to cook so by having them already mostly done for the week, then it makes putting dinner together waayy faster

  12. Aww thanks for shout-out, Ying! <3

    I was so excited when I saw an email notification about your post, and I had to read it right away! It's amazing how you guys have been able to maintain such an incredibly low food budget in an expensive city!

    Mr. FAF and I didn't grow up eating snacks in between meals, so we don't really buy them often. I only eat 3 meals a day and rarely eat anything in between. My food expense reports have literally forced me to keep track of my grocery bills since I'm a bit too lazy to enter all the numbers in Excel. Yay to frugal PF bloggers! 😀

    1. It was funny because when you and I were talking in the comment section of your post, I was like “You’re right, I do already have years of data.”

      I agree with you- tracking food expenses is tedious but it definitely helps keep your food spending down!

  13. Cutting down the amount of meat is something I’ve literally JUST started doing. I realized that I was eating too much protein. I don’t need 40 grams per sitting. I think 20 grams would be just fine. And 20 grams is easily accomplished with a small sized piece of chicken or fish. So I started eating less meat and it’s totally saved me grocery budget.
    Lance @ MyStrategicDollar recently posted…Why I Declutter My Space & Sell My StuffMy Profile

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