Alexis Cheney – Washington, DC
As a newly minted college grad who majored in English and now earns an entry-level salary, I recently chewed on this question: How does someone on a tight budget eat well? I aim to spend about $200 on groceries and $80 on dining out per month. Here are five tips that have worked for me and will benefit other foodies on a tight budget:
Tip #1: Eat in, NOT out.
Lunch and dinner where I live easily cost about $10 and $20, respectively. Spending $30 per day on food would eat up my monthly food allowance in a jiffy! Instead, I buy the majority of my food from the grocery store. I have a soft spot for Trader Joe’s because of its quaint atmosphere, free samples and – most importantly – affordable prices. Eating-in, fortunately, does not have to translate to eating blandly. For example, a pound of Belgian milk chocolate with almonds from Trader Joe’s satisfies my sweet tooth while deterring me from going out for over-priced ice cream and baked goods.
Tip #2: Buy foods that cost fewer than $3.
For lunch, I eat baby carrots ($3/bag), peaches ($3/5), kale ($2.29/bag) and bananas ($.19 each). For dinner, I make eggs ($2.49/dozen), broccoli florets ($2.99), pasta ($.99/pound) and brown rice ($1.69/bag). Of course I don’t only eat those things, but they are staples in my kitchen.
Tip #3: Cook recipes that cost fewer than $3 per serving.
The website www.budgetbytes.com has a large array of recipes for those on a small budget. Check out the lemon pepper chicken with orzo ($1.34/serving), slow cooker jambalaya ($1.32/ serving) and chipotle portobello oven fajitas ($2.69/serving).
Tip #4: When cooking just ain’t gonna happen, dine at inexpensive restaurants.
In DC, gems such as BeefSteak (vegetable bowls), Buredo (burrito-size sushi rolls, shown above) and Florida Avenue Grill (soul food) serve meals for $12 and under. See a complete list of DC’s cheap restaurants here. Not a Washingtonian? Not a problem! Check out cheap eats in other major U.S. cities such as Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas, NYC, Philly and San Fran.
Tip #5: Sharing is caring!
At home, coordinate buying groceries with roomies. Share foods you all enjoy like baby carrots, peaches and mixed greens. At restaurants, order dishes for $20 or less and split them among members of your party.
As a rule of thumb, keep track of your expenditures on food and other items. The fantastic (and free!) website and app, Mint, documents your financial transactions and enables you to create personalized budgets.
Following these five tips requires you to think carefully before buying groceries or eating out, but they will lead you to a not-so-faraway land where your stomach is full and so is your bank account.