I remember moving into my first apartment my second year in college with no cooking skills. I grew up eating a lot of frozen meals and my family always had a love for pizza and 89 cent tacos on Taco Tuesday. This apartment was the first time I’d have to buy groceries for myself. Unfortunately I ended up only ever getting frozen food because I thought it was cheaper and easier than anything fresh.
In Montana, crops don’t grow. It’ll set on fire in the summer and be a ball of ice in the winter. I tried to grow my own strawberries one year and they got as big as a toenail before the deer ate them all. “Fresh produce is expensive” I told myself and had heard from others, so I avoided it completely.
Or so I thought.
It wasn’t until I moved to Germany where I learned to cook. Granted, their food is cheaper than anyone else, but seeing how easy cooking is I started to wonder how I could afford to not cook in college. A lot of us think it’s cheaper and easier to get a fast food burger meal for $8 rather than go to the store to buy all the ingredients for the same meal, get home, put it all away, and then have to actually cook it. It’s not.
I’m going to show just how much cheap and (kinda) healthy food I was able to buy at a grocery store, vs slightly more expensive choices at another. Keep in mind I’m in Australia right now, currently $1 US dollar = 1.36 Australian dollars. I’ll also show how much it costs to recreate the $8 burger meal.
The total bill for this came out to be $33.43 AUD ($24.56 USD). Yeah, Germany I know it would have been like 5 cents.
Your first step – Make a list
It can be daunting, but you should begin memorizing prices of food you buy often by price/weight. Most stores list the price of an item, and below it how much it is per kilo/pound. Basically (from countries I lived in at least), pre-made items will be the most expensive, meat next, after that is dairy, then fresh produce plus grains, beans, and legumes, and finally canned food.
Example list – In Australia:
- Pre-made meals: $16+/kilo
- Spices are all different but $22/kilo is normal
- Ground beef, chicken breast: $8/kilo; Turkey $11/kilo; Sausage $4.75/kilo;
- Butter, cheese $6/kilo; Milk $1/kilo; Yogurt $4.50/kilo; eggs $4.50/kilo
- Carrots, apples, oranges, frozen vegetables, potatoes, anything impossible to be out of season, $2/kilo; Broccoli, zucchini, bell peppers, things that are babies with seasons hover around $5/kilo
- Beans, oats, rice all around $2/kilo
- Canned tomatoes $1.50/kilo; Canned tuna $4.50/kilo; Canned beans $2/kilo
This is a really good outline of things you should always have in your cupboard, cabinet, fridge, freezer, closet, drawers, whatever
Here’s $42.79 worth of food from Costco. Not much. That ugly plastic bag with the dog is 2.3 kilos of lean ground beef but divided into 500g sized amounts. It was the most expensive thing here at almost $20. Pie is a necessity though. Always.
Buying in bulk
Always a good idea. The yogurt we buy from costco is 1/2 the price anywhere else. Rice in bulk is never a bad idea and you’ll have a sack for cats to play in when it’s gone.
You may think this should come first, but I found it easier once I got a feel about the prices of food. Do it first if you want. If you’re some rebellious emo kid you can never do it because you’re some rebellious emo kid. Get a notebook and track your spending. One week of tracking will let you know what you can spend on groceries. I’ll show you a picture of my budget book. We got paid way, way, way, way, way more than normal for 2 weeks of work so we spent $150 on groceries which will last 2 weeks at least. Our grocery goal is $50-75 per week for two people.
We have 3 categories: grocery, gas, and entertainment (I write ent. bc I’m lazy). I don’t include bills because they always change. We had $150 for groceries, but spent $156.79. Also we spent $25 eating Costco hot dogs & pizza all week to celebrate lol. Oops. Also the nutella was to replace someone else’s because we haven’t had it in a long time and ate it all. ALSO the blog thing isn’t money, I just like to spend time on here 🙂 .
Anyway, seeing my outline might help you get an idea of how to do yours, I know it would have helped me!
Recreating a meal from McDonald’s/Burger King/Hardee’s/In-n-out for less than half the price
This isn’t really healthy but it’s more about showing how cooking at home is cheaper. The markup at restaurants is commonly around 230% (or more?), but are advertised to seem cheap. Let’s assume you want a 1/4 pounder burger, even though I know people out there (Sebastian) could easily eat a pound to themselves if they really wanted. We’re thinking average weight and sizes here though. The total cost of all ingredients would be:
- Bun: $0.29 per jumbo bun (1 pack of 6 = $1.25)
- Beef: $1 for 125 g (1 kilo extra lean at Costco = $8)
- Cheese: $0.10 per slice (1 kilo “tasty” AKA cheddar = $6)
- Lettuce: $.10 per serving ($1.25 for an entire head = 6 cups. I hope you like lettuce)
- Tomato: $0.20 for 2 slices ($1.40 for 2 avg sized tomatoes at $5/kilo)
- Onion: $.03 for a fat slice ($0.25 for one big ol onion, 8 servings)
- Ketchup: $.05 ($1.25 for 500mL bottle – 25 servings)
- F*ck mustard I’m not putting it on here
- Fries: $.26 for 100 g (1 kilo frozen fries = $2.65)
- Coke. Not Pepsi. Coke sponsor me: $0.59 for 500 mL ($1.48 for 1.25 L)
So the total for a cheeseburger = $1.77, fries = $0.26, Coke = $0.59
Total meal cost: $2.53
Total groceries: $23.53. Serves at least 6 people. 8 burger patties!! or 2 if you’re a relentless meat eater. I think (I hope) everyone knows how to cook a burger, so making one would cost less than 30 minutes of time. Meals like this that are literally impossible to mess up are a good start to younger kids learning culinary basics like knife skills.
Calories: A small (Australian small – fries are American kid sized here) Whopper meal with a 0 calorie drink is 918 calories at Hungry Jack’s (Australia) and 1,030 calories (USA). This same meal made at home with a 0 calorie drink is 620 calories (calculated on Myfitnesspal).
If you drink a lot of pop, juice, beer, wine, coffee, tea, Bear Grylls we all know what you like, then you’ll be surprised how much you save by not buying any of them at all. If you’re a coffee addict I already know I can’t stop you.
Eat mainly vegetarian or vegan
Obviously meat and dairy is expensive, so try to eat meat for only one meal a day or less. There’s about a billion vegetarian/vegan meals and replacing meat with beans is an easy and tasty fix as long as you don’t have a date or anything later. Just make sure your macros are correct. It’s better for you and the earth anyway.
The reason some people think it’s expensive to cook is the total cost of groceries. If someone never learns how to cook it seems like more effort than it’s worth, and on top of that a hint of fear and uncertainty might exist because they’re unsure of how it works. I hope this has helped anyone at least a little bit.
I’ll make a list of the cheap meals I make on a regular basis which should hopefully inspire people to get healthier. I haven’t eaten a cooked meal at a restaurant since May 2016. Mostly because I’m poor BUT, still I think it’s a good thing. Your heart will thank you. I thank you for reading.
Unrelated but I also want to mention I’m saving up $64.40 to switch to self-hosted for 1 year (stoked about it). My blog is a blossoming independent young lady and I want it to look and feel as pretty and important as it is to me with complete freedom and independence. I love this blog and I love everyone here. Everything’s going to stay the same for you, my followers, there just won’t be “.wordpress.com” on the end. I added a tacky donate button for the goal, since I don’t earn enough. I’m going to be real and say please don’t help if you can’t or don’t want to. It’s cool. Only do it if you’re able to and completely happy to help. If so, here’s a button with a dog looking like a russian grandma. If not, cool too. Still love you. Kinda. Kidding I do.
See ya in the next post 😎