1 Rule We Used to Cut Our Grocery Bill in Half

“It’s expensive to eat healthy.” It’s something that gets said a lot. Except I don’t think that is true at all. I think it’s expensive to eat unhealthy. Now, it’s faster to eat unhealthy; processed food means less prep time. But not cheaper. If we really look at the price per pound of our food, we can find organic carrots at .60 cents a poumd or Oreos for $2.50 a pound. Some might argue that the Oreos would be more filling. There are more calories for sure, but have you ever tried to eat a pound of carrots? Let alone the 4 pounds you could easily buy vs a bag of Oreos?

One of my favorite personal finance authors is Jeff Yeager. He’s old, irreverent and funny. Just my style. When I first read his $1 a pound rule, I knew it was perfect for me. The basic premise is most of the food you should buy is $1 a pound or less. Crazy right?

Often the food clocking in under $1 a pound is exactly what we should be eating more of. It’s real food. Fruit, veggies, whole grains, beans, eggs. And all the food that we probably ought to be eating less of is conveniently more than a $1 a pound. Processed foods, sweets, condiments, meat or cheese.

So what if we simply ate more of the things that are great for us and less of the other stuff. Our food bill would naturally go down. Probably along with our risk of heart disease. (Which by the way is also very expensive!)

In our house, we don’t’ follow the principle as a hard rule, but more as a meal planning tool. I average out the price per pound on our meals. As with most things that move the needle on your personal finances, it takes a little bit of time to learn. Over 2 years, we learned to cook new meals. We adjusted our habits. We changed our shopping lists.

In 2 years, we cut our food bill in half.

We use to regularly spend $1200 a month on groceries. For a large family, I would say this is rather average. Now our groceries average around $600 a month.

Slow and steady we have made small changes that now save us over $7,000 a year. $7,000 a year!

And we eat better.

Here are the staples that we use to build our meals:

Fruit

Bananas

Apples

In season I can find these under $1 a pound (and aren’t foods better in season?) Each season brings new fruit for under $1 a pound. For example I eat lots of grapefruit in winter because it is cheap and absolutely delicious. But not in summer (when it is neither of those things). In summer I eat grapes and melon. It naturally adds variety and newness to our menus.

Seasonal:

Pears, Cherries, grapes, oranges, plumbs, grapefruit, melons, avocados.

Some things we stock up and freeze to enjoy year round, like the 100 pounds of cherries we pick each summer.

Vegetables

Organic carrots from Costco .50 a pound

Onions

Potatoes, even specialty potatoes and sweet potatoes can be found for less than $1 a pound

Celery

On sale: Cucumbers, bell peppers, tomatoes, olives, canned vegetables and tomatoes, broccoli and cauliflower, lettuce.

Everything else I can find fresh or frozen at Costco for about $1.50-2 a pound

Grains

Oatmeal: I use it for breakfast and in pancakes

Rice: I make up a big batch of Mexican style rice to add to meals.

Corn tortillas: With eggs, and in casseroles

Whole wheat pasta: I can find on sale for .79 cents a pound

Beans

Dry beans are about the cheapest and healthiest food on the planet. High in fiber and plant protein, study after study shows the amazing effect of eating beans for our health.

We buy canned.

Not as cheap, but 100x easier. We add them to soups, salads, eat them as a main meal, put them in other dishes. I can’t imagine a food staple that is more versatile in almost any cuisine. If you don’t use beans 3-4 times a week, find some recipes and start testing them out. When the seasoned canned beans go on sale for .59 cents we buy a few cases. It makes for a very quick, easy and healthy meal.

Eggs

We raised ducks for the eggs for years. This year it was one of the items we put on “pause” and the ducks found a new home. Although raising them was the healthiest and best tasting option, it wasn’t actually the cheapest. I can’t believe how cheap eggs at the grocery store can be. You can easily find them for less than $1 a pound.

With all of this food clocking in under a $1 a pound, can you see how it can be easy to create delicious, healthy meals.

The rest of the food we sprinkle in. A little bit of cheese now and then. Some meat. This year we scored 140 lbs of free venison. It’s easy to find chicken quarters on sale for .99 cents a pound. We also add a bit of fish now and then. Some spice. Maybe a little bit of condiments? A few boxes of generic mac and cheese as a special treat for the kids. Not only are these the items that can be crazy expensive per pound, but also the most questionable for our health, and the health of our planet. Not that I’m about to give up steak or beef (come on, I am from Montana!). But perhaps once a week instead of 7 nights a week like I was raised.

Looking at the price per pound of the food we eat changed the way we eat for the better. We are richer, healthier, and enjoy a greater variety of food. We eat more seasonally. We eat more locally. And we save $7,000 a year.

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40 thoughts on “1 Rule We Used to Cut Our Grocery Bill in Half

    • Those healthy extras do add up. But if I can keep the cost per pound down on other things, it all averages out. Plus a pound of chia seeds last me a month at least. =) We have a few of those extras we make space for. Like protein powder for Mr. Montana’s crazy weight lifting program. =) But I buy it on sale from Amazon, with the subscribe and save option (15% off) and 3% back. So I can get it close to .50 a serving.

    • It can add up *so* quickly! I buy seeds and nuts online now, as it’s so, so much cheaper to get them that way. Now if only I could find cheap arborio rice… it doesn’t seem to come in giant sacks like all the other rice.

  1. I love this post! We aren’t 100 percent healthy all the time, but I’ve always wondered why people complain about eating healthy. It seems that it’s a lot less. Our biggest expenses are meat-related – so we try to space those out and make them last several meals. In the past, we’ve done a half beef cow, but it wasn’t really worth the expense.

    Love the $1/lb rule. I actually did a little comparison shopping at the beginning of the year – going to our normal grocery spots to see where it was the best value for the stuff we eat a lot of (especially berries, apples, bananas, oranges, and the like). Aldi was the top performer by FAR. I’m going to cancel my Sam’s membership as a result – not nearly the great deal I thought I was getting.

  2. This is awesome! My husband and I eat most of the same foods as you, with maybe a bit more meat and cheese thrown in as we are very active. I tried going meatless for a few weeks and felt awful, so we use it only a few times per week.
    However, after reading all these personal finance blogs one thing I’ve found is healthy, unprocessed food is SO much cheaper in the states than in Canada. There is no way our grapefruits come close to $1 per pound in the winter. Can’t help the higher cost of food up here, so we do our best – it is a little frustrating. But there is no way we could get our grocery bill for 2 people under 300 a month by eating veggies, fruit, oats, rice and beans, we’ve tried.

    • Yeah food costs vary a lot by country. When we lived in Germany some things were so crazy cheap, like fresh mozzarella balls and basil. So we ate a TON of that will tomatoes and a bit of oil, salt and pepper. But the almonds were outrageous expensive. Every place is different. Even in the US. We have tons of cherry orchards here, so it’s easy to get bing cherries for $1 a pound in season if we pick them ourselves. We garden in the summer plus have blueberry bushes, raspberry bushes and apple trees. That is always a nice supplement. =)

    • In general, I eat meat maybe once a day, or 4-5 times a week. But it’s not a big part of the meal. It might be 15% of what’s on the plate. So for example, I made some chicken noodle soup last week. 1 pound of uncooked pasta, 3 lbs of carrots, 1 big onion, 6 stocks celery, stock plus 4 chicken thighs. We keep it simple. Pasta and sauce. Rice and beans. Layered enchilada’s (lot of rice, beans, grilled veg, and corn tortillas.) Chilli with lots of beans and veg. Soups. I basically start with the cheapest ingredients and build meals up from there. So the whole grains, oats, beans, rice. Then add veg or fruit. Then processed food, meat, cheese and condiments. I would recommend finding one or two recipes that work and slowly adding new ones from there. Like learning one new meal every other week. In a few months, you would have 7 healthy, affordable, easy meals. =)

      • Very cool. Meat is definitely a very expensive part of our American diet, isn’t it?

        Did you know you can cook dry beans in the crock pot? Just rinse and plop them in, with water. No need to presoak. That would probably save some money too.

        • One of these days I will need to master that. I think sometimes I get ones that are too old, so they never soften. Or they get too soft and end up mushy. I obviously haven’t yet master the art. =)

  3. Thank you for this article. The groceries and the dining out expenses are the biggest are we need to work on. Could you share some easy recipes you use?

    • I am the worst at actual recipes. =( I don’t follow them or write them down. I wanted to start recipes on Fridays, with my readers chiming in with their favorites. I’ll ask the readers again if they have some good ones to share! We’ll see what we can put together. =)

  4. This is a very, very good idea. I’ll have to start thinking in terms of cost per pound. We try to shy away from processed foods in the first place, but we naturally have our vices, like potato chips, that are expensive. Ugh.

    Meat is extraordinarily expensive when you think this way. I’ve started cutting back on meat and taking a “meat on the side” approach to our meals (not an easy feat when you’re married to a big ol’ carnivore, my friends). Chicken thighs are usually $1/pound, and we can usually get good deals on ground beef and tougher cuts like roasts.

    Still, integrating produce and cheap staples like rice and beans are the greatest way to stay fed in a healthy way.

    • Meat and cheese can get pricey. I try to include as much meat as close to the $1 a pound as I can find. But often it looks more like $2-$3 a pound. But if I do a chicken and rice soup with veg, it can even out. 6 lbs of food averaging .20 cents a pound to .70 cents a pound plus 2lbs of chicken at $2.00 a pound. Or an Irish stew with 8 lbs of grilled onions, potatoes and carrots plus 1-2 pounds of ground meat.

  5. As my kids have become teens, I’ve added in a bag of chips here, a box of crackers there. This month, I realized it had gotten way out of control. I’m only buying milk and produce this month (so far) and everyone is eating healthier. And the food costs have been so low. Sure, I’m going to have to start spending more to fill in with some protein, like eggs and nut butter, but I plan to continue shopping this way. (I’ve been shopping at Fresh Thyme Farmer’s Market – I know they aren’t everywhere, but organic produce is cheap and good there.)

    We use beans often – a great source of cheap, healthy protein! I cook 2 lbs of dry beans in the slow cooker and freeze them in meal sized portions for later. But I buy canned for the days when I’m out of beans in the freezer.

    Great post, Ms. Montana!

    • I love the seasoned beans! I can find the white chili beans for .59 cents a can and they are so easy to turn into chili, soup, or meal. About 5 cans of that, a can of diced tomatoes, 2 chicken thighs, and some grilled veg is amazing! Maybe $6. I might even go crazy and sprinkle some cheese or a scoop of sour cream on that. =)

      And teenagers are crazy. Mine use to eat half a pot of chili in one sitting. I’m a little scared when all 5 of mine are teenagers. I’ll need like 3 crock pots cooking at once!

  6. I shoot for less than $1 per pound for meat as well–it’s usually whole chickens or leg pieces. That’s for when our home-raised chickens run out. We occasionally buy ground turkey or beef one sale for $2/pound, and steak or fish is a rare treat.

    I cook dry beans 2 pounds at a time in my crock pot, then freeze in old spaghetti or mason jars. Almost as easy as having canned (I buy those on sale, too, for when I need something quick). I started thinking in terms of price per serving of protein as well. Here are my calculations on that: http://www.pretendtobepoor.com/meat/

    • Before I rarely used chicken leg or thigh pieces, but they are so versatile. I use them in lots of dishes now. I love your protein chart! That is an easy reference. Of the meat we buy most is between $1-$2 a pound. Steak and seafood are a treat for us as well. But I think we enjoy them even more because it does feel like a fun treat.

  7. I like the $1 per pound rule, but that’s not going to work here. Apple, orange, and grape are all over $1 per pound. I think the only meat I can get for under $1/pound would be whole chicken. I guess food price is a bit higher here. Vegetables, beans, rice, and eggs are under $1/pound.
    We don’t buy bulk, though. Our family is too small for that strategy. We’d waste a lot of food if we buy bulk.

    • Where are you guys at? Grapes can be tricky (only happens once or twice a year, so I freeze some, and oh boy is that yummy!) Apples and oranges I can find really close to $1 even at Costco. I suppose I could go with the bags of red delicious, but I do NOT find them delicious at all! (I’m a bit of an apple snob.) =) Meat and cheese are much trickier, nearly impossible. For meat I will stretch it to $2-$3, but try to average the rest of the meal out.

  8. Great post! LOVE the $1 per pound or less rule, such a great way of quantifying it. We keep our food costs low and use a lot of rice, beans, pasta, eggs, veggies. It’s pretty amazing how many different meals/flavors/tastes can be made with some very basic and cheap staples. We eat chicken often, but can almost always find them at Costco for less than $2.50/lb.

  9. Love this! I agree – it’s the time that’s the obstacle. My boss always tells clients “cheap, good or fast… pick two.” Except for food I am always choosing between healthy, easy, not too fattening and satisfying. I never get all four at once. (Except lentil soup – the perfect food.) Salad is my favorite thing to eat but all the washing and chopping seems so time consuming when you get home from work ravenous! Planning ahead, or prepping ahead is really the only way. I wish I was better at it!

    • That is a really funny and true way to look at it. One of my cheap, fast, good, healthy options is a can of seasoned black beans, can of corn, and diced tomato with a bit of olive oil and pepper. I eat about half and save the other half. Plus I can take it with me and it doesn’t need to be kept so cool or heated up. So it works well when I am traveling.

  10. Honestly I find the healthy stuff to be cheaper like you stated. The exception is the weird organic craze, which frankly since there is no organic criteria is essentially a marketing lesson in price markup. Just about the only thing over a dollar a pound we buy is meat. I’ve yet to discover a consistent source of meat under a dollar unless you found the deer meat I bought in college.

    • I heard something about your cheap deer meat buying. =) Meat under a $1 is tough. We got almost 4 deer this year and Mr. Mt spend way too many days carving and grinding the meat up. It’s a fun, healthy, budget friendly hobby. =) But it kind of grosses me out. He hung one of the deer in our basement, and it looked like a horror movie.

  11. I’d never thought of buying Oreos by the pound, but that’s a great way to look at it.
    $1 is also my price point for produce. If I can find something on sale for $1/pound or less, we stock up and get creative with ways to eat it or dehydrate it.

    • A few times a year avocados go on sale for 2 or (gasp 3!) for a dollar and I go crazy. I might eat one or two a day. =) But then when they are crazy expensive, like $1.25 each, I leave them be. It’s fun because there are always new, tasty, in season foods to create meals around.

  12. Brilliant, Ms. M. I never heard of the $1 rule before. I got to start frequenting Mr. Yeager’s site more often. It’s amazing how much money you can slash from your monthly food bill and still eat healthy. Mrs. G and I have now started making our own salad dressing. A little vinegar, olive oil, lemon, garlic, and seasoning–amazing. And no sugar! Lately we’ve been loading up on eggs. They’re like 69 cents for a dozen. I can see reducing meat consumption down to one or two days a week. But there’s no way I can do without it, especially if we end up in Montana. After all, what would life be without an occasional bison burger?

    • Well, life would be a little sad without that occasional bison burger. =) I’ve started making my own dressing too! Except instead of the garlic I use huckleberries, and oh my gosh! It’s amazing.

  13. This is a great rule! I’ve never heard of it put like that before. Our family’s biggest cost cutting goal for 2017 is reducing our food expenses as well. One thing we are doing is taking the recipes from blueapron’s recipe page, but then going to the grocery store and buying the ingredients ourselves. We end up averaging about $2.67 per meal and are looking to cook healthier gourmet meals. If you bought the same meals through blue apron or another meal subscription service you would average $10 to $12 per meal

    • Yeah, meal subscriptions would never work for us with 7 people. 😉 We like to mix in a few fancier meals. That is a cool idea just using the recipe. It’s always fun making something new.

  14. Our grocery budget is nuts and I’m trying to work on it. I do buy a lot of organic but not everything (I’m not convinced it’s all a “marketing ploy” but would love to hear more on that). I find that buying anything ‘processed’ like bread or snacks is more expensive if you don’t want a bunch of added sugar, so I end up buying more expensive brands to avoid that when I do buy those items. I’m interested in what your kids eat for lunch (I pack lunch for my 2nd grader, but my 5th grader is homeschooled) at school and for snacks at home. I think those are the areas that are the most expensive for me and we only have 2 kids! Thanks!

    • I buy a mix of organic and non organic. We do a lot of shopping at Costco, and they have made a strong swing to offering more organic. I’m not really sure where I stand on the issue. I know that when I grow food at home, I will use fertilizer (that provides nutrients) but not pesticides or herbicide on my food (things that kill other things.) It just feels weird to put something on my food that is suppose to kill something else.

      I pack our kids a snack bag with pretzels, air popcorn, a few peanuts and a few raisins. Costco pretzels are right at $1 a pound, and the popcorn is way under. Our kids eat school lunch (it’s free for every kid in the entire school district because of the percent of low income families.) But school lunch is tricky, especially if kids are a bit picky, or want a ton of variety.

      • I like that snack mix. I’m always looking for new ideas. Our kids get free lunches in our district too, but my kids won’t eat it. I don’t blame them, so I don’t push it. They don’t demand a lot of variety, but I still try to give it…but it does get expensive.