One of the biggest complaints I hear about eating a healthy diet (high raw or something else) is the cost of food. Especially nowadays, now that food prices have risen tremendously over the past few years.
Do you remember when produce used to be cheap? I remember often buying two avocados for a dollar, and big ones! I didn’t even live in California or Mexico, and avocados were cheap. All the vegetables I buy now seem to have doubled in price over the last 10 years. Celery used to always be 99 cents a bunch. Now, the “base” price is usually $1.99, sometimes more.
Until I figured out some tips to make it work, I was spending between $600 and $800 a month just to feed myself on a high-raw diet! This is more than many people spend on rent or a mortgage. According to the IRS, the average person in America spends $301 on food, and the average family of four spends $765. According to the US department of Labor, a typical family of four eating “moderately” at home in 2011 spent $664. But that’s eating many processed foods.
In the vegan, natural health, and raw food world, these amounts would be much higher. How much does the average Whole Foods Market shopper spend a month on groceries and eating out? When a bag of organic groceries can easily cost $80 and a glass of freshly squeezed juice or a fresh smoothie can cost over $6, I know that people who care about their health spend a lot of money on food.
If you manage to cut down your monthly food expenses from, let’s say, $500 a month to $100 a month, what would you do with the difference? That’s a $5000 after tax savings over the year. Assuming a tax burden of 30%, you would have to earn a little over $7000 a year to cover this extra spending. The $5000 after tax money could be invested in many places.
People who claim that spending a lot of money on food is “an investment in their health” could choose to pay for private fitness lessons at the gym for the entire year, and probably have enough money left over for massages, chiropractor visits, and more! Maybe the $5000 could be invested in taking a vacation, or two or three… It could be used for paying off your mortgage faster, or pay for the education of your children.
What motivated me to find out ways to spend less on food was when I read a book called “Early Retirement Extreme” by a Danish author who now lives in the USA.
You’ve probably heard of the concept of voluntary simplicity. Well the author of ERE wrote a very interesting book and blog on how he managed to save about 80% of his salary over a period of five years and then “retire” at the age of 35. Part of his plan was to spend almost nothing on food and rent. His budget was actually only $80 a month for all groceries and food expenses.
When I read the book, I was still spending a fair amount on food. So I thought, if this guy can live and eat well on so little, then how could I figure out a way to do it as well? The exact number is not important. What matters is that the amount that you manage to save is significant, and that you do it without sacrificing your health and most importantly, your sanity!
So last summer, for a period of about 2-3 months, I went on a little experiment. My goal was to spend only $100 a month on food, and yet eat better and more nutritious foods than I was before. I learned a great deal during this experiment, and this is how I wrote my book “How to Eat Well for Under $100 a Month on a Plant-Based Diet.”
I calculated the exact cost of all fruits per calories. I also compared prices all over different cities, and compiled all the best ways to get the best deals on food. What started as a personal challenge turned into a sort of economic science experiment.
I didn’t think it was possible to eat well for just $100 a month until I tried it. And it worked!
Some Tips to Save Money
One of the big changes I implemented was to stop buying everything in bulk.
I know that sounds counterintuitive, but bulk deals are not always the best. I used to buy all of my fruit by the box, and I thought it was the best way to get the best price.
But what I discovered is that often, it’s much better to discover stores that will advertise “loss leaders,” which are specials that they run every week to attract customers. I then focused on those foods and create your recipes around what was on sale.
I spent a few months researching prices and I came up with a definitive price list that I keep with me when I go shopping. The price list tells you exactly what is the maximum amount you should spend for each type of fruit, vegetable, grain or other food. That way, you’ll know instantly if you’re getting a good deal or not.
My Rule of Thumb
In order to eat well for $100 a month, you have to find a cheap source of healthy calories. This is actually the easiest part of the program, because healthy and cheap calories can easily be obtained from root vegetables, beans, and so on.
The biggest budget killer in a healthy diet is fresh produce. The system for eating $100 a month on a plant-based diet allows you to eat a healthy diet with fruits and vegetables. However, those tend to be the most expensive parts in one’s diet, besides eating out.
So my rule of thumb is to never pay more than 99 cents a pound for fresh produce.
One way to get fruits and vegetables for 99 cents a pound or less is to shop at supermarkets, local produce stores and anywhere that advertises weekly specials. As you know, your local grocery stores all run weekly specials. They advertise those specials in the weekly papers, or send you the flyers in the mail. Nowadays, these flyers are also downloadable on the Internet. The discounts are the loss leaders I was talking about. It means that the store will sell certain items at cost or below cost simply to attract customers, hoping that the customers will purchase other items at the same time (at full price). The strategy works.
You can compile, every week, a short list of the specials at different stores around you. The easiest way to do this is to write it all down on an index card and carry this with you when you go shopping.
Where to find grains and beans in bulk?
Besides ethnic stores, you may be able to locate a distributor to sell you grains and beans in bulk. The process is fairly simple. Simply look at the label of the bags of beans sold at different markets around you. You may find that many of the stores source their beans and grains from the same distributor. Then it’s just a matter of locating that distributor, calling them, and asking them if they can sell to individuals directly. I’ve done this successfully in many cities.
My book “How to Eat Well for Under $100 a Month on a Plant-Based Diet” goes into the details of how to get the best deals using this system.
What About the Raw Food Diet?
When I wrote my book, I focused on a plant-based diet to achieve the $100 a month target. So a lot of people asked me if it was possible to do the same with a raw food diet. Unfortunately, living on just $3 a day on a 100% raw food diet is not realistic. However, $10 a day definitely is.
A 100% raw foodist could not live on the same budget as a cooked food vegan because fruits and vegetables are more expensive by calories. So the approach that must be taken for each diet is different, but can be combined together. So this is why I created a companion eBook that goes into more details on making this budget system work for raw food diets.
For example, the approach I lay out in my main book tells you how you can eat for just about $3 a day on a plant-based diet. This plant-based diet would include 2-3 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables a day, and of course sources of calories such as potatoes, beans, and some grains.
Someone could well decide to exclude certain items from the menu such as grains and still manage to still within the budget guidelines, and someone else could decide to combine the best of both worlds, such as a high-raw diet with some cooked calories.
In this case the total budget would be in-between $3 and $10 a day. That’s still significantly less than what most health-conscious shoppers spend.
But you could decide to revert back to my main “plant food” budget of $100 a month by following my methods, if you have a particular goal in mind. For example, maybe you want to save up for a holiday. Then why not try the plant-based budget for 1-2 months, and then go back to the raw food budget? It’s totally possible to make it work no matter what your diet is.
Does It Need to be $100 a Month?
The truth is, the target that I chose for my experiment, $100 a month, was arbitrary because it was a fixed number. I wanted to see if I could do it. Nowadays, I spend more than this amount on food, but it’s still significantly less than what I used to spend.
The reason this system works it’s because it’s customizable. Once you know how to save money, you can decide what your personal target should be. Maybe eating organic food is really important to you, so in this case you’ll alter the strategy and the monthly budget for that.
Kev’s Notes: When Frederic told me about his book, I was intriqued. In fact, I didn’t believe it was possible. He proved me wrong. I’ve since taken some of the tips from his book and we’ve saved some money without having to compromise our eating at all. That’s a win if you ask me. And of course, no matter what diet you eat, you can use this book to save money — not just a plant based diet. If you want to check out the book, it’s worth every penny (since you’ll make up the cost in no time!) you can go here.
Your question of the day: What are your cost savings tips for eating healthy on the cheap?