Extreme personal finance: Eating well on one dollar a day

Last Thursday, Ron Lieber (who writes the “Your Money” column for The New York Times) posted an innocuous little tweet:

This person will have book deal & Today show slot in 5 minutes. RT @marypilon Personal finance blogger eats on $1/day. http://www.grocerycouponguide.com/articles/eating-well-on-1-a-day/

To translate into plain English, Jeffrey from the Grocery Coupon Guide blog undertook a little experiment last month. In response to a challenge from his sister he “ate well” on just a buck a day, thanks largely to his awesome shopping skills and couponing prowess.

Because I love stories of extreme personal finance, and because I haven’t highlighted one in a long time, I decided to take a closer look; I spent an hour reading about his project. Holy cats! This fellow’s shopping abilities are insane.

If you don’t have time to read the entire series, at least check out day one, in which Jeffrey documents the things he bought to get the project started. He photographed everything he purchased and every receipt, and describes exactly how you might be able to find similar discounts. It’s great stuff. (Near the end of his introductory post, he gives a sort of table of contents for the project so that you can jump to the day you want.)

On that first day, he picks up two boxes of instant oatmeal, some cream cheese and some sour cream, ten apples, four boxes of wheat thins, a jar of peanut butter, two cans of pork and beans, a bag of rice, and two packages of tortillas. And he spent just $4.49 for all of this.

Here’s Jeffrey’s list of the ten things he learned while eating on $1 a day for a month:

  1. Grocery shopping is a game. If you’re willing to learn the rules of the game, you can save big bucks.
  2. You can eat more than junk food on a dollar a day. Yes, more money lets you make healthier choices, but you can still make good choices on a tight budget.
  3. Drugstores can be a great place to get free food. Because it’s so easy to save money playing the drugstore game, you can often score food for free.
  4. If you don’t know what a catalina coupon is, you don’t know about the most powerful discounts available. These coupons, which print at the cash register, can offer tremendous savings.
  5. Generic and store-brand items aren’t as cheap as you’d think. Their regular price may be less, but you’re not going to find coupons and discounts on them like you will on big national brands.
  6. Most people don’t know how to shop to save. They decide what they want and then go to the grocery store to buy those things. To truly save, you need to build your meals around what’s on sale (and what you have coupons for).
  7. It’s possible to donate a lot of food while only eating on a buck a day.
  8. It doesn’t take nearly as much time as you’d imagine. Yes, there’s a learning curve, but once you know what to do, it’s easy.
  9. Finding coupons is the key. The Sunday newspaper inserts are great, but Jeffrey says that the coupons you find in the stores themselves are often even better.
  10. Anyone can do it. And once you learn, you’ll save big bucks every time you shop.

On the final day of his project, Jeffrey summarized his purchases. During the month of May, he spent $27.08 to purchase $597.96 worth of food. And because of the goofy rules he agreed to with his sister, he ended up donating a bunch of stuff to his local food bank. (The last post is entertaining because of the mistake he makes and then corrects; it had me laughing out loud.)

I like that Jeffrey has a realistic attitude about this project. While he thinks that anyone can do the same thing he’s doing, he also recognizes that living on a tight food budget puts you in a precarious position: “The problem with eating on a limited budget, when the unexpected happens…is that you can’t just stop into a fast food joint and grab a bite.”

Jeffrey was so pleased with the challenge that he decided to continue it. For the past week, he’s been chronicling his continued efforts to eat well for less. (Though he’s loosened some of the arbitrary restrictions he agreed to when he was trying to prove a point to his sister.) I think it’s fun that his readers have started to give him tips and suggestions for finding other great bargains, which helps him keep his costs even lower!

Note: Here are some past GRS stories about extreme personal finance: One month as a freegan, How to pay off your mortgage in three years, The man without money, and the king of extremism, Don Schrader, who lives on $10 a day. Also welcome Lifehacker readers!

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There are 79 comments to "Extreme personal finance: Eating well on one dollar a day".

  1. Budgeting in the Fun Stuff says 09 June 2010 at 13:13

    That is crazy! I was just so proud of my husband and me going from $600 a month last year to $400 a month this year and this guy is eating for less than $28 a month…wow.

    I joined the grocery game a few months ago but just couldn’t get motivated to organize as much as I’d need to be. The weekly time requirement and necessary shopping schedules (during sales from day X to day Y) lost my interest.

    More power to everyone who pulls this type of couponing off on a regular basis!

  2. JB says 09 June 2010 at 13:21

    I don’t know if I’d really go for this…I tend try to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good in budgeting, and I’d be afraid that something like this could blow a whole budget. The sheer psychological effect of going over budget on one item can infect the whole budget (you suddenly have less respect for your plan, and break things more often). And let’s face it…the vast majority of people are going to want a nice meal that’s not on sale every so often, or get steaks for their 4th of July cookout or the like.

    Given, I’m single, and I tend to buy often and in small amounts (if I stockpile, things always go bad, and I waste more money than I’d save). But I buy store brand (or the cheapest national brand) on items I don’t care about, and have adjusted some eating habits to reflect good deals at my local stores (99 cent store-brand cornflakes!)–for me, staying sane and sticking to my budget requires regular deals, not one-off coupons.

    I’m having a little trouble seeing how a lot of the lessons here could scale to a moderate food budget–after all, you might not find store brands on deep discount, but you can rely on store-brand corn flakes being $0.99 every time you need cereal. You might not be able to get coupons for bulk vegetables or meat, but you can rely on those to be cheap, if not rock-bottom.

    For me, budgeting a decent amount for groceries is like buying index funds–I might not get the best possible returns, but I can guarantee I’ll still be going strong and sticking to my plan years down the line. I can see myself buying store brands and fresh vegetables for years, I just can’t say the same for whatever the local drugstore has on sale.

  3. Nancy L. says 09 June 2010 at 13:25

    I usually don’t care that much for the extreme frugality stories, but I really enjoyed his story. I think I enjoyed the way he laid out his methods without sounding like a complete zealot most of all. Thanks for sharing it!

  4. Khaleef @ KNS Financial says 09 June 2010 at 13:27

    This is a very inspirational story! I can’t even believe that this is possible! I have never heard of the drugstore game or the grocery game – guess I have a lot of reading to do!

  5. Andy Hough says 09 June 2010 at 13:36

    The dollar a day challenge has been around for a while. I tried it a couple years ago and didn’t quite make it and I didn’t eat as well as he did. Maybe with applying some of his shopping techniques I could do it but I don’t think I’ll try.

  6. mmeetoilenoir says 09 June 2010 at 13:39

    This kinda smacks of saving money over having any kind of enjoyment. I don’t know about everyone else, but the one thing I splurge on is food. I try my hardest to eat well, and I’d rather not let the supermarket dictate my menu for the day just to save some cabbage, lol. I’ll pass on this.

  7. Lily (capital L) says 09 June 2010 at 13:43

    “I don’t know about everyone else, but the one thing I splurge on is food. I try my hardest to eat well, and I’d rather not let the supermarket dictate my menu for the day just to save some cabbage, lol. I’ll pass on this.”

    I agree. His meals generally look unappetizing and not so filling…

  8. Eating Well on a Buck says 09 June 2010 at 13:46

    I have to admit I tried something like this several years ago, but gave up. At the time I was really tired of frugal personal finance bloggers who did not care at all about their health and ate terrible food because of the cost. While I wasn’t as successful as I thought, it is definitely possible to eat well on a budget without eating crap.

  9. J.D. says 09 June 2010 at 13:51

    Yeah, I should have mentioned in the post that I could never do this. At least not while I can afford to do otherwise. I’m not advocating that others try this, either, nor (I think) is Jeffrey. He’s just trying to show that it can be done, and that coupons can generate huge savings when used correctly.

    If only there were coupons for comic books… 🙂

  10. Steve says 09 June 2010 at 13:59

    I agree that the deals he got were impressive. I’m still not sure on a per-hour basis it would be worth my time.

    I don’t think anyone claims that store brands are always cheaper than name brands after sales and coupons – just that they are cheaper than name brands, and so buying them will save you money vs. buying the name brand without a coupon. It’s the Pareto Principle applied to coupons – 80% of the benefit for 20% of the effort.

  11. Early Retirement Extreme says 09 June 2010 at 14:01

    Sounds like fun if not time consuming(?) I went for “boring” to beat those numbers in terms of dollars and time.

    Total monthly cost: About $20. Total monthly cooking time. Less than 3 hours (includes doing dishes!).

    Note that I don’t take any particularly joy in eating, cooking, or shopping, and just want to get those over with.

    For those who have similar priorities, the method (see post below) is a pretty ruthless way of implementation.

    Here’s the post http://earlyretirementextreme.com/2007/12/cooking-for-6-days-in-30-minutes-for-less-than-4.html

    Philip Brewer just posted some traditional diets on wisebread that will beat even that.

  12. AC says 09 June 2010 at 14:28

    He and I have radically different definitions of “eating well.” Yeah, he’s got some produce in there…but not much. And, at least in my area, the drugstore game isn’t going to get you anything other than over-processed crap.

    Interesting experiment but as a long-term exercise in frugality, buying low-quality food isn’t the answer.

  13. Christina @ Northern Cheapskate says 09 June 2010 at 14:35

    There’s actually already a book (been out for a year):

    On a Dollar A Day: One Couple’s Unlikely Adventures in Eating in America by Christopher Greenslate and Kerri Leonard

    This is an excellent book that talks about what we place values on, poverty in society and much more.

    You can read my review here:

    I think it is possible to live on a dollar a day – but you have to ask yourself if the time spent and the health costs are worth it.

  14. S says 09 June 2010 at 14:40

    This week, I am getting .89 Gillette Fusion Proglide Power razors and .33 bottles of John Frieda Shampoo/Conditioner (thanks, Walgreens).

    Last week, I purchased $7.50 worth of yoghurt (6 x 4 packs on a BOGOfree sale so 3 x 2.50) and had $7.05 in coupons – that is .45 for 24 servings of yoghurt.

    Yesterday, I went to the bread outlet store and bought namebrand, fresh bread for .50 (Roman Meal Wheat) to $1.50 (Miltons Multi grain 2lb loaf) each. .50 for 8 Dandee hamburger buns.

    There are huge savings to be had with no more than maybe 1 – 2 hours a week effort. I am routinely spending $75 a week to feed 2 adults and 2 teenagers and it is NOT on BOGO Pop-tarts.

  15. Tyler Karaszewski says 09 June 2010 at 14:41

    That’s creative and all, but I was sort of hoping it’d be about someone more like this guy: http://www.vbs.tv/watch/far-out–2/heimo-s-arctic-refuge-1-of-5
    He lives in a remote part of Alaska and gets all his food from hunting, trapping, and fishing.

    This just seems a lot more down-to-earth to me than playing elaborate coupon games. The coupon games work, but they feel too much like the crazy CDOs and other financial creations that helped to damage our economy so badly over the past few years. They work out for someone (in the coupon case, you) but still, someone is producing things and shipping them long distances so that you can have them for free. It seems practically the same as just stealing your food to me, except that nobody complains.

    There’s something to be said for playing the system to your own advantage, but I’ve done that in the past and it didn’t make me feel like I was accomplishing something good. At this point I have no problem paying fair market value for things, or going without.

  16. Suzanne says 09 June 2010 at 14:46

    For me, the value in this story is that he’s thinking outside the box. Maybe I can’t live on $31 a month (and would never try), but it’s a good reminder that I should certainly be able to eat on less than $200 a month if I really try.

  17. J.D. Roth says 09 June 2010 at 13:51

    Yeah, I should have mentioned in the post that I could never do this. At least not while I can afford to do otherwise. I’m not advocating that others try this, either, nor (I think) is Jeffrey. He’s just trying to show that it can be done, and that coupons can generate huge savings when used correctly.

    If only there were coupons for comic books… 🙂

  18. Nicole says 09 June 2010 at 15:02

    @12 Christina: Nice review! Sounds like a really thoughtful book.

  19. chacha1 says 09 June 2010 at 15:40

    I agree with Suzanne, and especially given that this is not Jeffrey’s general way of life but a response to a challenge, I think he went about it with commitment and integrity. There must be people out there who NEED to keep their food costs under $100/mo, who CAN’T grow/hunt/fish their own, and this is proof that it can be done with some work and ingenuity.

  20. Adam says 09 June 2010 at 15:40

    I would love to see a Canadian version of this! Although I don’t think its possible!

  21. jim says 09 June 2010 at 16:39

    I’d be interested to know how much time he spent doing it.

  22. [email protected] says 09 June 2010 at 16:47

    This is a really timely article for me, I have needed some inspiration to bring my food spending down! In the past I have tried a $10 a week for dinner “experiment” and I did okay, though I was over a couple of dollars on the budget. A dollar a day is a huge accomplishment! Thanks for sharing this, I will be checking it out to see what I can apply to my own situation!

  23. Paula Tokar says 09 June 2010 at 17:09

    This is awesome! I use thegrocerygame.com – and it is a lifesaver!

  24. DreamChaser57 says 09 June 2010 at 17:19

    Food is a constant budget buster for my household, irrespective of whether its groceries or take out. It’s always interesting to see how people save. I try to consistently get the Sunday paper for the coupons, although sometimes I forget. I typically save $2-$10 per bill, which is not chump change. Only problem is that coupons compel you to buy in bulk. I pay just want two Yoplait yogurts, instead of six or eight, etc. Maybe I just want a bag of pretzels instead of two bags. This is the only drawback, buying more than what you need can cause things to go stale or spoil. So I try to be frugal, but not take it overboard. I also try to shop and still suit my own tastes, I want blueberries for my waffles – I know apples are cheaper, but oh well. I try and take baby steps, save where I can but don’t compromise taste or quality.

  25. TiffanyW says 09 June 2010 at 17:21

    This in a nice story. I’m interested in knowing how many hrs a day he spent searching for coupons.

  26. forty2 says 09 June 2010 at 17:25

    The problem here is failing to see the forest for the trees.

    Healthy, unprocessed natural/organic foods are occasionally on sale, but there are never coupons for them. Coupons are for processed branded junk. So go ahead and keep filling your carts with garbage “on sale”; it’s still garbage. You would be better off eating the coupon.

    Consider the long-term repercussions of eating manufactured food before you think it’s such a good deal: diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and more.

    Is my life worth more than $1 a day? You’d better believe it. I would prefer to live out what’s left of it in good health, not lying on a couch too sick and fat to get up or dropping dead of a heart attack because I thought eating things stuffed with rancid grain oil and corn syrup and preservatives was a good deal.

    I spend far more than $1/day. Maybe $8! 🙂 If you prepare all your own meals from scratch, avoid the factory junk, you can eat extremely well for not very much. If I can do it there’s no excuse for anyone else, unless you can only afford to spend $1 per day. I eat ONLY pastured, grass-farmed meats, eggs, dairy; wild seafood, organic fruits and vegetables. This stuff is expensive, sure, but it’s not like I eat 5lbs of food every day and it goes a long way. I very rarely eat in restaurants and take my lunch every day.

    PS even yuppie-chow places like Whole Foods have sales. I got 10 6oz cups of organic Greek yogurt for $10 last week; it is far more nutritious that the junk-tainted Dannon or whatever crap you always find on sale or coupon’d.

  27. me says 09 June 2010 at 17:58

    That’s impressive. I’ve wanted to get into the coupon queen madness but haven’t found the time.

    One thing I do is have “a pantry/fridge week.” For one week out of the month I eat nothing but what’s currently in the house.

    I find it’s been a good way to clean out the cupboards and the fridge. Plus you save on one week worth of grocery bills.

  28. Paula Tokar says 09 June 2010 at 17:09

    This is awesome! I use thegrocerygame.com – and it is a lifesaver!

  29. Paula Tokar says 09 June 2010 at 17:09

    This is awesome! I use thegrocerygame.com – and it is a lifesaver!

  30. Paula Tokar says 09 June 2010 at 17:09

    This is awesome! I use thegrocerygame.com – and it is a lifesaver!

  31. Paula Tokar says 09 June 2010 at 17:09

    This is awesome! I use thegrocerygame.com – and it is a lifesaver!

  32. Lindsay says 09 June 2010 at 18:24

    That is a pretty great story. But I feel like it’s been done before. The real challenge, like forty2 says would be to eat responsibly on $1 a day. Local food, grass farmed meat – is a little bit pricier than what you’d find at a normal grocery store.

    For the record though I don’t know that I’d pay more for organic fruit or free range chicken at Whole Foods. The organic food industry is industrial too you know. It has its own vices.

    The most environmentally friendly things tend to be the most expensive. Whole Foods didn’t get the nickname Whole Paycheck by accident. So, surprise me. Show me that you can eat green for $1 a day. Or more reasonably $50 a week and then I’ll be interested.

  33. Stephanie says 09 June 2010 at 18:54

    forty2, you are my hero.

    There is not much of anything in this dietary plan that I would personally put in my body. Oatmeal, crackers, and tortillas? Really? This is a recipe for hyperinsulinemia and all of the lovely conditions that arise from metabolic derangement.

    There is very little you can clip a coupon for that is any good for you at all. Fresh lean grassfed meats, fish, organic fruits and veggies, nuts and seeds are all you need for a good, clean diet. This stuff never is cheap. And never would I suggest my clients eat anything but this.

    I don’t care if your wheat thins are free, they’re junk. We should be encouraging people to invest in their health, not to fill their bodies with cheap garbage food!

  34. Kestra says 09 June 2010 at 19:00

    @ 24 – Forty2 – I completely agree. If you don’t have to scrimp on food, why do this?

    Food is one of the most important factors in health and well-being. Why wouldn’t you spend more on something that important?

    I also eat mostly organic, cooked from scratch, lots of local produce, etc. It costs me more but I’m supporting local agriculture, the organic growers and my own body. I’m buying in line with my values. Sure it could be cheaper, and I am pretty close to $8 a day, but that’s still cheaper than restaurant food, and I’m happy to spend the money in this area.

  35. Kristin says 09 June 2010 at 19:15

    My husband and I are both PhD students. I’ve been couponing for 4 years. We save roughly $4,000 a year combining sales with coupons, stockpiling, etc. Over the course of 4 years–that’s $16,000. It takes about an hour a week, and it’s totally worth it! And no, our diets are not filled with processed junk as a previous commenter mentioned. (We are both marathoners and know the value of eating well!) There are most definitely coupons for healthy foods out there, and we take advantage of the healthful bargains!!!

  36. finallygettingtoeven.com says 09 June 2010 at 19:32

    My husband and i eat on about $20 a week, that’s 3 meals a day. I am a vegan so i live on mostly grains, soy & fruits/veggies (and no i haven’t died in 27 years from lack of variety or nutrients) I stockpile the grains, rice, soy, etc when on sale and shop from the ‘expiring produce’ cart each day at the local grocery. I also grow a garden, eating fresh in summer and freezing any extras.

    Hubby eats whatever i find in the reduced meat section and i round out his meals with grains, pasta, fruits/veggies. Chicken and hamburger does not make it to the reduced section so i buy in bulk when on sale.

    We eat what we call the ‘catch of the day’ and it works for us. Neither of us are ‘foodies’ and we eat to live, not live to eat. We would rather spend our energy, time & money on things we enjoy more, like traveling.

  37. John says 09 June 2010 at 19:33

    How much $ and time did you spend playing this coupon game? How much fuel did you burn going to the different stores? How much wear and tear did you put on your vehicle? Also, time is money so do not forget to add those costs to the equation. Your Return On Life (ROL) is also a measure of this time. He spent X numbers of hours shopping this week, but only spent Y hours with his children.

  38. Cooper says 09 June 2010 at 19:41

    The menu is pure junk food. To eat a truly healthy organic diet, my partner and I spend at least $600 per month.

    I don’t believe in saving money at the risk of your health.

  39. jeffrey says 10 June 2010 at 00:37
    Thank you for all your comments as I always find what people think of this episode interesting. First and foremost, I would never suggest anyone do this as a way of life, but for me it was a good exercise to seeing what I could actually do and not do. I would hope that people that read it can look at what I was able to do on $1 a day and think about what they really could do with their current grocery budget with a bit of creativity while shopping.

    I actually spent very little time on the couponing aspect of the challenge. I hate couponing and if I had to cut, sort and organize coupons, I wouldn’t last a single day. It’s just not how I would want to spend my time and would drive me absolutely crazy.

    Basically, I let others do all the work for me. There are plenty of free sites that match up coupons with the weekly deals and I basically only focused on the best of the best of those deals. My time spent couponing was dating the Sunday coupon inserts so that finding coupons when needed was easy and printing good ones from the Internet.

    Probably the most time consuming part of the challenge was trying to decide what to buy. When you have only $1 a day, spending $0.50 on something that you really want, but probably isn’t a need becomes a huge internal struggle. No matter how much you know intellectually that you should buy something else, it’s hard to pass up when in any other instance you would be buying as many as you could for that price.

    I limited my shopping to the three grocery stores that I would normally shop at (except when traveling where I just went with what happened to be available) and one drug store chain because even though the other two drugstore chains do exist in my area, they are far enough away that I would not normally go to them.

    I also spent more time in the supermarkets than I would normally (that is not saying much since I hate shopping, so normally I wouldn’t spend any time in them). I spent extra time wandering down aisles seeing if I could make deals work where normally I would be in and out as quickly as possible.

    Basically I wanted to show that anyone can probably do a bit better shopping with a reasonable time and effort and that can mean hundreds of dollars in savings on your grocery budget. Don’t try to eat on $1 a day, but do try and think a bit more creatively with your current grocery budget so that you do get the most out of the money you spend.

  40. Austin says 10 June 2010 at 00:59

    For what it’s worth, right after reading this I did a quick google search for coupons and took a quick glance over the weekly ads for the supermarkets. I chose the store which had the most matches with the coupons. I was able to reduce my grocery purchase from $27.85 to $9.30 which is more than 60% in savings. It is a small financial victory but I think the valuable lesson is that even a small effort can produce significant savings.

  41. Wendy says 10 June 2010 at 01:42

    This looks really interesting – certainly thinking outside the box. Now for a British version – we don’t have coupons like you guys do, although one lady did manage to eat for 50p a day (involved interesting tactics like eating nettles and 1001 ways to cook a lentil). The supermarkets do markdown the fresh meat/veg at the end of the day but unless you live right next door to a supermarket and can be there at the exact second they mark things down, you miss out.

    • Michael says 26 February 2013 at 04:53

      Wendy – it’s worth investing the time to work out when your local supermarkets do the big reductions. You can easily get a generous week’s worth of food at about 75% off, so it is a viable way of eating, and you can include loads of fruit/veg/salad. Tesco in particular does crazy reductions at around 8pm every day.

  42. Roger says 10 June 2010 at 05:00

    To be honest, I’m suspicious of these sorts of claims about extreme coupon savings. Coupons seem to be at best an endangered species in the Sunday papers. What used to be newspaper coupon inserts are more like collectible offer inserts now – lots of offers for items of pretty dubious value, but few coupons. When there are coupons, they are more often than not for items we would ordinarily purchase.

    I suppose I should look at the online coupon sites more often, but my past experience is that the range of coupons offered on those sites does not even come close to covering the typical shopping list for a family that eats a lot of produce and makes most meals from scratch.

  43. Jason B says 10 June 2010 at 06:08

    I think some people may be missing the point. It’s clearly labeled as an extreme, so it merely illustrates what can be done. And saving money on your food CAN be done even without going to this extreme, and without sacrificing the healthy food you want in your diet. None of us is Lance Armstrong, but that doesn’t mean we can’t ride bikes and get exercise benefits from it. If you’re just throwing money at your grocery bill to try to ensure that you are eating healthy, I can’t say I agree with your tactics.

  44. Lily (capital L) says 10 June 2010 at 06:56

    Adam: it’d be hard in Italy also. It looks like in the US there are coupons for everything – here you can’t find them in the newspapers, and the ones issued by supermarkets are getting rare too. They tend to announce the occasional special offers on some items and that’s all. I just bought some “get 1 free” stuff and I saved 18 euros, but as I said such occasions are rare. i wish we had more coupons here… 🙂

  45. Mike says 10 June 2010 at 07:05

    As I read this article and the comments, I wanted to look and see how this whole situation could be implemented into my family. We are currently a family of 4 (me, wife, son (3), and daighter (1.5). We are planning on expanding to a family of 6…yup, we want 2 more kids. So grocery bills are always a concern for us. My wife and I are both runners and we want to bring our kids up to lead healthy and athletic lives (if they so choose).

    So I try to take something out of every post I read. While some of this stuff is not suited for my family, many other parts of it are. Yes, we do splurge on organics and fresh meats and fish. But I think what is important to take from this is that there is a way to save money on non perishables, things that can be stockpiled. I don’t know about your households, but we go through quite a bit of tooth paste, toilet paper, tissues, and other things as well. Some of these “grocery hacks” will help us save money.

    I think in the long run, there are many pieces to help in getting grocery costs under control. We are in process of planning out a garden. I do a game exchange with a couple friends (I fish and they hunt, so we exchange our catches and still get to participate in the sports we love). Granted these don’t ofset ALL of our food costs, but they help.

    So I don’t think that every bit of this article will help us, but just taking 1 little piece will help us in our effort to cut our costs.

  46. fairydust says 10 June 2010 at 07:13

    I loved his final day mistake correction dialog with the guy at the store – that was priceless 🙂 I’ll have to go back and read the whole month – thank you for posting this!!

  47. Kevin M says 10 June 2010 at 07:29

    I’ve yet to see coupons for fruits, vegetables, meat and most dairy products. This is an interesting story, but it might be somewhat penny-wise, pound foolish when you consider eating this way long-term.

  48. Slackerjo says 10 June 2010 at 09:22

    Coupons must work very differently in the US because I have never seen anything like this in Canada.

  49. Chickybeth says 10 June 2010 at 09:23

    Katy at the Non Consumer Advocate is doing a food stamp challenge for June http://thenonconsumeradvocate.com/

    Not as extreme, but still a good way to push your limits and creativity.

  50. Ryan says 10 June 2010 at 09:41

    Thanks for the link–though I found his entries poorly written and hard to follow to a certain extent. An interesting idea nonetheless, though.

  51. Andrew says 10 June 2010 at 09:45

    oh man, my wife and I spend around 700-800 dollars a month on food (restaurants and groceries) for just the two of us.

    This is unfathomable.

    While some people may like to save money for clothes or shoes or traveling, my wife and I just really like to eat, and eat well. (we like a lot of variety)

  52. Katy @ The Non-Consumer Advocate says 10 June 2010 at 09:53

    Very interesting. I’m currently in the middle of a “June Food Stamp Challenge” on my blog, The Non-Consumer Advocate. Readers are trying to spend just $101 per person for the month, which is the average amount that a food stamp recipient receives here in Oregon. Almost 20% of Oregonians are currently on food stamps, so this is a HUGE issue here.

    My family of four usually spends around $450 per month on food, which includes eating out, so it’s not much of a stretch for us. However, I am hoping to come in significantly lower than $404.

    I am asking participants to donate any money saved to their local food bank.

    Here’s a link to the Food Stamp Challenge:


    -Katy Wolk-Stanley
    “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”

  53. Jennifer says 10 June 2010 at 10:32

    If you read his posts closely you will see that he uses “overage” at Safeway and other stores to purchase produce and meat. Overage results when the value of a coupon is more than the price of the item. He used the overage from buying Kraft cream cheese and cereal to purchase more healthy items. So, although he didn’t have coupons for the produce, the coupons for the other items helped pay for bananas, apples, etc. This a a good strategy to reduce your budget. Also, he donated unwanted or surplus items to the food bank.

  54. bp says 10 June 2010 at 11:57

    I spend $200/month on groceries for just myself, so Jeff’s story is incredible! However, I wonder how ethical it is for him to take multiples of those “bleepy” and “peely” coupons (the ones in machines in the aisles and the stick-ons). I am glad he donates a lot of those items but still…

    Also I know for some of my local supermarket chains, they no longer accept internet coupons due to fraud.

  55. Shara says 10 June 2010 at 12:02

    I read the whole series and I find it fascinating. I’ve got a couple points to make:

    1) He doesn’t cook. He is up front about the fact that before this challenge he had never used a broiler. It appears that boiling water is about the extent of his skills. Due to this at the end of the first month his sister (whom he made the bet with) says he didn’t meet the spirit of the challenge. The 31+ days are a lot more nutritionally sound and rounded.

    2) I believe in many ways he is eating MORE healthy. Yeah, his food choices aren’t well rounded (especially at first), but a LOT of people with plenty of resources don’t eat the variety of foods they should. What he has managed to accomplish since the first part of the challenge I think shows that it isn’t as much his budget as his tastes and skills that were limiting him.

    3) He specifically says that he isn’t going to endanger his health for this challenge. As long as he’s feeling good and he’s eating about as well as he would otherwise I think he’s doing a good job. He sounds like a junk food junkie so I think fresh carrots with cream cheese is going to serve him better than a bag of chips, even if it isn’t a perfect choice, it’s better.

  56. Alexandra says 10 June 2010 at 12:37

    In Canada, we get the shaft because all coupons have legalese at the bottom that clearly states “This coupon may not be combined with any other offer.” That means that you can use one coupon only per product…not mix and match coupons and offers like he did to create free or surplus situations.

    The best we can ever do is to combine a very good store sale with a single coupon.

    Too bad…

  57. Avistew says 10 June 2010 at 14:38

    I feel very ashamed right now.
    I have never in my life used a coupon, nor to I know where to find them. My grocery store doesn’t give coupons when you buy (the ones he called “catalina”), I have no clue where to find a paper that has coupons, and I’ve never found coupons in my store.
    I can only shop from that one store since there isn’t any other… But still, I should be able to get some coupons, right?

    I already tend to get the 50% off bread that’s in the bin that day and freeze it (just because it’s almost stale doesn’t mean it can’t freeze) but it looks like there is so much more you can do!

    My mind is just completely boggled. Where does he find all these coupons? He did mention something about computers, does that mean you need a printer? Because I don’t have one or access to one. Apart from the library that prints stuff for a quarter, but wouldn’t that end up costing more than I’d save with the coupons?

    Anyways, I’ve been wanting to use coupons for a while, but I just don’t get where people find them.

    I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to spend as little as he did, because I’m vegetarian and allergic to milk, and that seriously lowers my options, but I should be able to save SOME, right?

  58. frugalscholar says 10 June 2010 at 15:10

    My husband and I eat very well, and spend between $100 and $200/month on food. By well, I mean, no processed food, fresh veg and fruit, GOOD cheese, and so on. Some meat–not much–and seafood. We don’t use coupons and do have a small garden.

    The key for us is stockpiling and Big Lots. It’s not all that hard, either. Just a bunch of habits. Tonight we’re having Thai coconut rice with various vegetables–I may add a few shrimp.

    #25 above mentions saving $4000/yr. The important number is not how much you save, but rather how much you spend.

  59. katie says 10 June 2010 at 15:32

    “Healthy, unprocessed natural/organic foods are occasionally on sale, but there are never coupons for them.”

    This is not true in my experience. I am a vegetarian, eat mostly “natural” foods, and I use coupons all the time on food I consider “healthy” (although this is a relative term!). I can’t remember the last time I went grocery shopping without at least 5 coupons. The food co-op near my house has it’s own coupon booklet that is published monthly and only includes coupons for natural products that they sell there. I often find printable coupons for the foods I like, or I will sign up for the mailing list of a company and get coupons from them in the mail.

    Here are just a few actual examples of coupons that I have used recently:
    -$1 off Kashi granola bars
    -$1 Cascadian Farm organic frozen vegetables
    -$1 off Muir Glen organic pasta sauce
    -75¢ off Nasoya tofu
    -$1 off Cuties oranges
    -$1 off 2 Earthbound Farms organic salad greens
    -$2 off 2 Organic Valley milks

    Again, I guess it’s possible that this is considered unhealthy by other people, but I really believe that almost anyone can find at least a few coupons to use at the store, if they are interested in doing that. You can’t get organic stuff for free most of the time, but you can definitely still save money.

  60. chacha1 says 10 June 2010 at 16:33

    @Katie, I believe you. I think those who reflexively say it’s impossible to eat healthy and use coupons really just don’t want to take the time to use coupons. Which is fine – I don’t myself very often – but they should cop to it.

    And those who bagged on Jeffrey for being a junk food junkie … wouldn’t you love to look in their kitchens? Don’t be holier than thou, y’all. When you were a single twentysomething guy/girl, was every meal Alice Waters-worthy? I’ll bet it wasn’t.

  61. Nicole says 10 June 2010 at 20:02

    Chacha, other than the in-store coupons actually at Whole Foods… where around LA do you get coupons for healthy food?

    The stuff we get in our weekly mailers does not include organic frozen veggies, organic valley milk etc. Occasionally there will be something Kashi (but Kashi is still processed food, and the granola bars are pretty high in sugar), and occasionally I’ll see something for Horizon, which is one of those organic companies that the independent agencies don’t rate highly. But I have yet to find a useful coupon around here. I looked at that webpage that was posted the last time there was a coupon discussion and nothing on our grocery list was on it.

    We do not have a newspaper subscription– is that where all these amazing coupons for things we actually buy come from?

    I’d gladly use coupons for things we buy if I could find them. The first three months here I poured through them. I looked again after the last couponing post. Nada. No vale la pena.

  62. katie says 10 June 2010 at 21:41


    I don’t usually buy the newspaper, so that’s not where I find mine. What I usually do if I like a product is go to their website and look for printable coupons, and then I sign up for their email newsletter. Often this results in new printable coupons being emailed to me periodically. These websites helped me get started:



    p.s. I don’t buy Horizon either… Check out
    http://www.organicvalley.coop/coupons/ and http://www.stonyfield.com/coupons_offers/index.jsp


  63. Seth @ Boy Meets Food says 11 June 2010 at 05:42

    Yes you can eat those organic, super healthy things at incredible discounts… going on what #25 “forty2” said:
    “I got 10 6oz cups of organic Greek yogurt for $10 last week”

    I too bought several of those containers of Greek yogurt for $1 each (but at Kroger, not WF). However, I used $.30 off coupons on them, which were then doubled, making each yogurt cup only $.40. So, if I got my 10 for $4. I’m about to start making my own, which will reduce the cost even more! I also recently bought a container of Smart Balance margarine for $.06.

    Basically, Jeffrey was just trying to point out that most people can significantly reduce their food spending, even while eating healthily. Sure, if you truly limit yourself to $1/day, it is not going to be the absolute healthiest of diets, but up that just a tiny bit, and you can eat very well for very little.

    Bravo Jeffrey, I really enjoyed reading that series. Thanks J.D. for sharing it.

  64. Kristin says 11 June 2010 at 05:42

    You mentioned my comment about saving $4,000 a year. On average, we spend a total of $300 a month on groceries, toiletry items, as well as paper/cleaning products. (This also includes a few bottles of wine to support our habit.)

  65. Diane says 11 June 2010 at 09:02

    Man, I thought I was doing well on $150 a month. This guys grinds me into the ground.

  66. Chris Hooper says 11 June 2010 at 09:05

    Absolutely amazing!

    I recently found that buying healthy food actually costs less than the cheap nasty generic canned food. Now when ever I look at my receipt, I check to make sure I have not paid any Goods & Services Tax (which is exempt on fresh food in Australia). It’s the quickest way to shave 10% of your groceries.

  67. Nicole says 11 June 2010 at 11:21

    @57, Katie

    Thanks! That is the first useful couponing info I’ve gotten. Especially since we do regularly buy Stonyfield and Organic Valley (though out here I’m hooked on Clover milk when we’re at WF).

  68. Diane says 11 June 2010 at 15:40

    Wow – he got all of that for $4.49??? I can’t buy a jar of peanut butter for less than $2.00 (and that’s the smaller size). Wheat Thins are $2.75 for the box I buy.

    Lucky is the person who can find such low prices – I sure can’t!

  69. CERB says 12 June 2010 at 08:25

    I just got done reading Jeffrey’s blogs for the past 4 weeks. Very interesting and inspiring. A lot of us are thinking, “if he can do that for $1 a day, think what I could do for $1.50 or $2.00 a day”.

    Thanks for adding this post JD. I’ve read a lot about frugality over the past 20 years, and most of what I read is tame and repetitive. It’s nice to see something out-of-the-ordinary.

  70. zach says 12 June 2010 at 08:54

    As a side note- I just used amazon.com’s grocery delivery service and they included a bouquet of flowers with it! That’s right, a bouquet of flowers!!! All the prices were about what I was paying at the outrageously priced safeway and QFC near my place, so the savings was in the time that I can spend on doing homework. (Single dad in college = BUSY!!)

  71. Jen says 18 June 2010 at 07:59

    I’m a little late to the party, but I wanted to point out there are TONS of hard core couponing blogs and forums out there. Many of these people have been doing it for years, but it’s become much more visible lately due the the economy and more people needing to cut back. I have tried to get into it, but I find that the time is prohibitive for me. (People say it only takes 1-2 hours a week–I must be slow because I could never get it down to less than 3-4!) You do have to clip coupons from the paper, but most come from internet printables. There’s even a thriving business for coupons on ebay! (crazy, I know) And to those people who think it is stealing, the coupons are put out by manufacturers to promote their products, encourage people to try new items, etc. Stores get reimbursed for the coupon values, and they are very familiar with the ways they can be used and still choose to accept coupons. No one is being “stolen” from.

    That said, it is possible to eat healthy this way too. Maybe you can’t do it on $1/day, but you can certainly do it on way less than most people currently spend. It’s true the best deals usually come on processed foods, but if you pick and choose how you shop you can still cut your bill quite a bit. For instance, there’s a blogger out there (Frugalista) who spends $80/week for her family of 4, and she buys all (or mostly?) organic/sustainable meats, lots of organic fresh fruits and veg, wine, etc. Even with my limited time investment, I’ve gotten nearly-free whole wheat pasta, frozen veggies, organic milk, yogurt, etc. And to get really technical, the overages mentioned are how a lot of people get “free” stuff–if using a coupon on another item gives you overage of $1, you can use that dollar to buy some organic apples for example, essentially getting them for free.

    The point is, even if you want to only shop at Whole Foods you can use coupons and shop the sales to cut back. One poster above said it’s not how much you save it’s how much you spend, but I don’t think it’s either. It’s how much you cut back and/or fit within your budget. If you normally spend $600/month and want to spend less, cutting back to $500 is still a great step. When my husband and I were single we spent TONS on food because we love to cook and eat, but that wasn’t sustainable for us. We now want money to save for our son’s college, fix our leaky roof, pay for our medical bills, etc. We have other priorities and don’t want to spend $600/month on food like we used to! So we’ve cut back, focused on cooking at home more, incorporated more meatless meals, use cheap but wholesome ingredients like beans, rice, etc. I would say we eat very well, and coupons help us do that. I know we could save much more if I could get my act together and invest more time, but for now I’m content with spending around $200/month by using coupons on a limited basis, shopping the sales, menu planning, etc. And I am not criticizing the people who save by buying more processed foods–if that’s what works for your household more power to you. I’m just saying even a crunchy, first-world foodie like myself can cut back on her groceries!

    It’s all about priorities. It just annoys me when people get judgmental and sanctimonious. Appreciate your fortunate position in the world and admit that you choose to spend extra money (hopefully because it brings you joy)–just don’t pretend it isn’t possible to cut back.

  72. Funny about Money says 21 June 2010 at 06:53

    What a hoot! This guy must have sooo much patience and determination!!! Me, I’d have to be pushed to the wall to go to that much trouble and effort. But it’s mighty nice to know that it actually CAN be done.

    When I first saw your post, I thought “Wheat Thins, canned beans, and rice a healthy diet do not make.” But when you read his stuff, you see he managed to score fresh produce like apples and carrots, too. It’s very interesting.

    @ Jen: I don’t think it’s “judgmental” to note, as Nicole does, that finding coupons for healthy foods is no easy trick. I’ve tried couponing and found that unless you’re into highly processed foods (I’m not–I cook almost everything from scratch, not out of “sanctimony” but because I can’t eat the amount of salt and sugar that are in processed foods), there are few coupon opportunities. For example, I wouldn’t buy Wheat Thins, not because I don’t like them but because they contain three different kinds sugar (regular sugar, invert sugar, and malt syrup); and I think it’s ten times cheaper to buy a bag of beans and cook your own than to eat beans out of a can.

  73. yesiamcheap says 22 June 2010 at 22:01

    He’s not suggesting that you do $1 a day. I think the moral here is that if we pay attention, develop a little OCD, do our homework, and really get into it, it can be done. I kid, I kid, Really, for the rest of us it serves as inspiration to slash our own budgets by a quarter or so at least. Every little bit counts.

  74. Sharon says 27 June 2010 at 17:10

    I have heard of extreme couponing before. In fact, the papers like to push that part of their offerings when trying to get people to buy their papers. I can’t say I have spent as little as $30 a month on groceries, but for my husband and I, it probably comes to about $80 to $100 a month. That is because we wait till all our other bills are paid and we go with what is left. But then, God blesses in different ways.

  75. Leslie says 12 July 2010 at 14:10

    When I lost my job I did not go grocery shopping for 45 days. (At day 30, I bought a dozen eggs).

    I just learned to get very creative with what pantry and frozen items I already had!

    No coupons necessary!

  76. Angela says 23 July 2010 at 19:04

    I have been following Jeffery since very early in his experiment and have completely enjoyed each and every post!
    The thing I am seeing here is that way too many people keep saying how couponing means eating junk. The thing is, it’s just not true! If many of you took the time to read his story you would see that pretty much through this ENTIRE experiment he has not once eaten just plain old white bread, he has only eaten “healthier” breads. He has not eaten sugar filled cereals, however he has had corn flakes (not frosted flakes), cheerios (not honey nut), and kashi ONLY. Again, if you take the time to read about it you will see that he went through more produce in one month than many families do.
    Is his budget/meals extreme? Definitely! Thats the point!
    By couponing he not only saves money on certain products but he creates an overage (where you actually EARN money for taking a certain product between the sales price and coupons) and that is how he is able to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, and generally healthier options. ALSO, because of these deals he has been able to GIVE HUNDREDS of dollars in food and toiletries to various food banks in his area. That alone makes this experiment so worthwhile!
    It’s ok if couponing isn’t for you. No one is trying to force anyone into doing something they don’t want to do-but he is bringing awareness to the dire need so many of our local food banks are experiencing due to our economy.
    So, instead of knocking it just take a few minutes to read over what he has done.

  77. publius says 18 September 2010 at 05:29

    No such thing as a free lunch. Couponing is a good illustration of “socialization of costs”.

    I.e., a private benefit paid for at public expense. One such cost is the time and aggravation wasted by all those throughly-annoyed people waiting in line behind the ( obscenity-deleated ) couponer.

  78. Sakariasen says 31 October 2010 at 17:00

    Very interesting.

    I find it hard to do that stuff where I live. We don’t have great coupons and we definitely never have double/triple coupons like some places do. Most of the coupons I find are for fairly new items or items I wouldn’t really buy.

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