My Year Without – January: Spending Less than $100 on Food

brussel sprouts being cut on a cutting board

More vegetables will get me there!

I’ve never been one for New Year’s resolutions. I think if change is necessary and if you desire it enough than there is no point in waiting for some arbitrary date, like January 1st, to implement a change. You might as well start now in this moment and make small incremental progress towards the goal.

However, I can see the power in preemptively framing a year in a way that allows you to live with intention. By setting some clear, measurable goals early enough you can look back one year from now and justly feel a sense of accomplishment.

It also helps to make your goals public. Even if it means telling one person, someone you know will hold you accountable, making your goals public makes them real. Getting those goals out of your head and released to the world is critical. Call your most hard-ass friend. Post it to Facebook or Twitter. Set yourself up for an embarrassing defeat but don’t be afraid of it if it comes. Watch the way you phrase it as well. In the words of Master Yoda, “There is no try”. You’re not trying to quit smoking. You’re absolutely f-ing quitting smoking.

One of my favorite bloggers, Leo Babatua over at ZenHabits.com did a series last year called “My Year Living Without”. Each month he chose something in his life to do without for that month and at the end of the month he would reflect on what life was like without that thing. One month he went without coffee, one month without sweets, and another month without sitting for more than 30 minutes at a time. By changing one small thing for a short amount of time you’re setting yourself up for success. One month is easier to swallow than one year. Big changes should be started small. An ironman is built one pushup at a time.

I think this is a great practice and I’ve decided to spend my next year giving up one thing each month. The concept aligns with my minimalist tendencies, and the things I’m learning to live without will tie into habits I am working on incorporating into my daily life. It’s not about depriving myself, it’s about concentrating my efforts and my thoughts on the things that matter most to me – living a simpler, slower, less materialistic, less environmentally damaging life.

January: My Month of Spending Less than $100 on Food

I’ve chosen January to be my “Month of spending less than $100 on food”. This is an exercise in bringing awareness to my spending habits as they relate to food, and it will force me to learn to cook a few more dishes so I can stay fed on a budget. Learning to cook for oneself is a cornerstone of budget travel – many hostels throughout the world are located near grocery stores and offer kitchens with all the necessary utensils to create delicious, healthy meals on the cheap. Spending less than $100 on food is really a combination of goals – not eating at restaurants, not eating fast food, cooking for myself and planning my meals.

$100 of food in a month is $3.22 per day or $1.07 per meal.

For some people, spending $100 on food for one person for a month is lavish. Others couldn’t imagine how one person could live off only $100 in a month.

I’ll admit that I’m going to start off the month with an advantage – I have some frozen Thai soup in my refrigerator that I made last month that should provide 5-6 meals. Also, I already own vegetable, coconut and olive oil, as well as seasonings, which will last me through the month (Oils and spices are expensive). Another advantage I have is living in Oregon where there is no sales tax, meaning I can squeeze an extra 7.5% more out of my $100 than my friends and family in California. Consider that 7.5% of $100 is like one trip to McDonalds or 2.33 days of healthy home cooking at $1.07 per meal.

I plan on no restaurants, no fast food and limited organics. More WinCo and less Whole Foods. I’ll eat more vegetables and less meat. Home cooking all the way.

Eating is such a social behavior that I think the most difficult aspect of this exercise will be the need to turn down a few lunch and dinner invitations. It’s January and I live in Portland, which means I’ll be forced inside by rain and drawn inside by great food. However, I have no plans to travel for this month, which is an advantage as I often eat out when I’m on the road.

I’ll be using Mint.com to track all spending, which I’ve found to be an amazingly simple tool if used properly. I set up some spending goals and I do most of my spending via credit card so everything is automatic. I remember the first time I set up a budget for myself a few years ago I estimated $450 per month for food and alcohol which included groceries, restaurants, fast food, coffee shops, snacks at convenience stores, trips to the bars with friends, etc. I was not tracking my spending so I really have no idea if I ever met that goal but I found once I started using Mint, and I split my spending into categories I began to understand just how expensive a $40 round of shots at the bar really is. This goal of spending less than $100 on food is actually the culmination of a few months of tracking my spending and understanding just what is possible with regards to cutting down the food bill.

I’m excited to start this year doing less. And I have eleven other things to give up over the course of 2014, a few of which I’ve already decided on. I’m going to go a month without: a car, alcohol, coffee, shopping (other than necessities), Internet in the house, sweets and YouTube. That’s seven other things to give up, eight if you count spending less than $100 on food.

I need help! I need four more things to do without. What do you think I should give up in 2014? Any suggestions? Let me know in the comments!

  • Erika McKiernan

    Good luck Brandon! I would like to get down to $100/week… that’s hard enough. You could consider giving up your weekends for one month and volunteer your time to various charitable causes. Love the picture for this blog entry :).

    • Brandon Cronan

      you can get down to $100/week I’m sure. Thanks for the idea – thats a good one.

  • Juan Pablo

    +1
    I am going to bring more awareness than ever to my spending this year. I have a large business debt to pay off and I want to make some serious progress this year.

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  • C.A. Schneider

    I love this post! I prefer eating at home because it’s almost always healthier and much less expensive. For far too long I’ve begrudgingly eaten at restaurants almost any time that I was invited to do so because I love being with my friends and I felt like I was being “cheap” if I didn’t order something. Lately though, I’ve stopped ordering food at restaurants more and more and have been unapologetically taking up space at the table (although I usually still leave a small tip for the server so it’s rented space). Anyway, an awesome thing happened! Instead of my friends thinking I was weird or trying to be anorexic, a few of them started doing the same thing! Maybe we’re just getting older but there seems to be a slow shift from restaurants to at-home dinner parties, and I am now encouraging that more than ever. So, thanks for inspiring me to be more frugal!

    • Brandon

      C.A. that is awesome that you’ve decided to “unapologetically” abstain from ordering food at restaurants. The more I learn to cook for myself the more I’m disappointed by most meals at restaurants. It sounds like you are a leader amongst your friends and you’re bringing a very valuable perspective to that group. Sometimes you’ve got to reboot your friendships and change the default settings based on new understandings of the world and it sounds like you are doing just that!

    • Brandon Cronan

      C.A. that is awesome that you’ve decided to “unapologetically” abstain from ordering food at restaurants. The more I learn to cook for myself the more I’m disappointed by most meals at restaurants. It sounds like you are a leader amongst your friends and you’re bringing a very valuable perspective to that group. Sometimes you’ve got to reboot your friendships and change the default settings based on new understandings of the world and it sounds like you are doing just that!