What Does It Really Cost to Eat for a Month?

Many newspapers like running financial profiles of everyday families. They are usually looking for advice about whether they are saving enough for retirement or whether they can take early retirement. Part of the equation, of course, is what are they spending now on food. Often their estimates draw out the hecklers in the audience. “What are they eating lobster and prime rib every day?” or “Get real. No one can feed a family of 4 on $15 a day.”

Why It’s Difficult to Estimate Monthly Food Bills


I’m not surprised many of the people sending in their financial facts for analysis don’t know what they spend on food per month. It’s a mixed up number. Some months, canned goods and dry goods are on sale, and I’ll buy dozens of cans of tomatoes, peaches, salmon, black beans, and sacks of flour, sugar,  pasta, quinoa and rice. Other months prices are high and we’ll live off the pantry.

Most people also combine their grocery shopping with other types of shopping. They may buy shampoo, razor blades, diapers, medicines, and even toys and clothing with their groceries. Many people shop now at Costco, Loblaw’s, Walmart and other stores where groceries are just one part of what’s on offer.

What do I Spend on Food per Month?

I realized that I don’t have a good grasp on what we spend on food either. I know we spend a lot because we have enough money to not worry about it. That said, as someone who learned to shop as a starving student, I know all the price cycles for my stores and very rarely will buy most items at their “regular” high price.

Common Food Budgeting Problems and Mistakes

When doing some math, though, I realized that if someone is really on a tight budget they may not be able to plan ahead to avoid buying high. So I used regular prices for my math. So these prices may seem high to some readers.

I also did the math only for food. This is a common budgeting mistake, though. Many people don’t include pain killers, razor blades, paper towels, tissue, shampoo, aluminum foil, staples like flour and cooking oil, and other daily items anywhere in their budget. While those are household items that have to be budgeted for, I was curious what it would cost just to feed someone, nothing else.

I also assumed that food would be cooked in the cheapest way possible. I’ve included almost no extras. Eggs, for example, have to be boiled or microwaved because I didn’t include any cost for cooking oil or butter for frying. Sandwiches are presumably eaten at home as I didn’t include any cost for packaging. Most people will use more seasonings and more extras. Even adding a handful of raisins to oatmeal or a bunch of grapes to a snack adds costs that are not here.

Here are my results:

The Cost per Day for Food for an Adult Female

Cost per day for an adult female: $13.31. That’s about $400/month for a 30 day month.

The Cost per Day for Food for a Young Adult Male

Cost per day for a young adult male: $24.87. That’s about $750/month for a 30 day month.

My young adult male is based on some late teen males I know who are over 6 feet tall and apparently run on empty all the time. While I doubt I could get them to live off this daily diet (because it has no junk in it and no coffee) I know they could eat this much without blinking. If you pay attention, you’ll notice the volume of rolled oats and pasta I quote is the raw volume. It’s much larger after it’s cooked.

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What do you think? Would your monthly food bills be higher or lower than this? Where do you budget for all the other million things that keep a home running? Could you eat food this simple without getting fed up with it? Did you realize how much of the cost of your food is actually the fresh fruits and vegetables? It’s hard to find bargains in those categories, especially if you don’t live in a big city with a million stores.

Here are the details for those who are curious:

Daily Menu for a Young Adult Male

Breakfast
1 cup (raw) quick oats oatmeal, with 1/4 c milk, 1 tbsp white sugar
3 eggs
2 cups milk
0.18+0.85+0.02+0.90=$1.95

Lunch
8 slices whole wheat bread
1/2 c peanut butter (2 tbsp per sandwich)
1/4 c jam (1 tbsp per sandwich)
1 small apple, 200g
1/ 4 can large can of peaches in syrup
2 cups milk
1.20+0.88+0.64+0.80+0.75+0.85=5.12

Supper
1 /2 lb chicken, centre loin pork roast, pork tenderloin or other meat
3 cups (raw) pasta 1 cu 85g dry;
1/ 2 large can canned tomatoes with herbs and spices
1/2 onion
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 small apple
1/2 cantaloupe or pineapple
2 large carrots
1/2 cauliflower or broccoli
2 cups milk
3 tbsp margarine
2.00+0.57+1.00+0.25+0.10+0.80+2.00+0.50+1.50+0.85+0.30=9.87

Snacks
4 small apples
4 slices whole wheat bread
4 cheese slices
2 tbsp margarine
2 small bananas
1 /2 kg oven baked fries on sale
1/2 1 lb bag mini carrots
3.20+0.60+0.67+0.30+0.66+1+1.50=7.93

1.95+5.12+9.87+7.93
Total daily cost of meals before snacks = 16.94
Total daily cost of food including snacks = 24.87
$750/month for a 30 day month

NOTE: This number includes no junk, no pop, no coffee, no tea, no tp, no soap, no razor blades, no shampoo, no dish soap, no other herbs and spices, no alcohol, no medicine, etc.

Daily Menu for an Adult Female

Breakfast
1 cup (raw) quick oats oatmeal, with 1/4 c milk, 1 tbsp white sugar
1 egg
1 cup milk
0.18+0.50+0.02+0.30=$1

Lunch
2 slices whole wheat bread
peanut butter (2 tbsp per sandwich)
jam (1 tbsp per sandwich)
1 small apple, 200g
1/ 4 can large can of peaches in syrup
1 cups milk
.30+0.22+0.16+0.80+0.75+0.50=2.73

Supper
1 /2 lb chicken, centre loin pork roast, pork tenderloin or other meat
1.5 cups (raw) pasta 1 cu 85g dry;
1/ 2 can canned tomatoes, large can, with herbs and spices
1/2  onion
1 tbsp garlic powder
1/2 cantaloupe or pineapple
1 large carrot
1/4 cauliflower or broccoli
1 cup milk
3 tbsp margarine
2.00+0.30+1.00+0.25+0.10+2.00+0.25+0.75+0.50+0.30=7.45

Snacks
1 small apple
1 small banana
1 /2 kg oven baked fries on sale
0.80+0.33+1=2.13

1+2.73+7.45+2.13
Total daily cost of meals before snacks = 11.18
Total daily cost of food including snacks = 13.31
$400/month for a 30 day month

NOTE:  Most women would probably die from this diet as there is no daily chocolate included.

I Have to Eat OATMEAL?!

As you can see, I’ve also chosen very simple to prepare, very low cost foods. These costs reflect home cooking. You could make pancakes from scratch instead of oatmeal, but if you do you won’t get as much protein. I thought about working up a variety of menus but decided to stop at this point for now.

The Basis for the Costs for the Daily Meals

You should be able to get many of these ingredients for significantly lower costs than the prices I’m quoting. These are prices for a major city in southern Ontario in winter. With the exception of a couple of the snacks, they are not sale prices.

Quick oats oatmeal, 1 cup =  67.5g, 14 servings/1 kg bag/ $2.50 per bag, $0.18 per serving
Milk for oatmeal plus 2 cups to drink = 2.25 cups per serving =  563 ml, 7 servings per 4L bags, 6$ per 4L (sale 3.88) $0.85 per serving
Eggs: hard boiled or poached or can microwave with 1 tsp milk to scramble (no butter required), 3 large, 4 servings per carton, 3.60 per carton; $0.90 per serving
2 kg white sugar regularly 2.50, sale 1.77; 1 tsp 4 g; 1 tbsp 12 g; 168 servings per bag; $0.02 per serving of 1 tbsp
Bread whole wheat 675g loaf, regularly 2.70, sale 2.27; 2 slices = 75g; 9 pairs per loaf; $0.30 per 2 slices
Peanut butter 6.77/kg (sale 5); 1 tbsp 15 ml; call it 4 cups per 1 kg, 1000 ml per kg, 66 tbsp per kg, $0.11/tbsp
Jam 4$ 375ml; 1 tbsp 15 ml; 25 servings/jar; $0.16 per 1 tbsp serving
chicken, centre loin pork roast, pork tenderloin or other meat at $3.99/lb, $2 per serving
Primo pasta regularly $2 per 900g, sale 1$; 3 cups = 255g; 3.5 servings per bag; $0.57 per serving
large can tomatoes with herbs and spices, regularly $2, often $1 1/ 2 can, $1 per serving
1/2  onion, $0.25
1 tbsp garlic powder, $0.10
1 small apple, $0.80
1/2 cantaloupe or pineapple, whichever is $3.99, $2 per serving
2 large carrots, $0.50
1/2 cauliflower or broccoli if $3 for the head, $1.50 per serving
Becel 907 g, regularly $6, sale 4$; 1 tbsp = 15g; 60 servings; $0.10 per tbsp, 3 tbsp margarine $0.30
4 cheese slices, $3.99 / 24, $0.67 for 4 slices
frozen fries, 1 kg, regularly $4, sale $2, 1 /2 kg oven baked fries 1.00
1 lb bag mini carrots, 1.50 on sale

Bon appetit!

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Have you ever calculated how much you spend per person per month at the grocery store? Please share your number if you’re willing.

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