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Each day we must eat to sustain ourselves. Our basic needs include food, water, shelter and most of us need to work to maintain our lives. Some costs are fixed, including housing, car notes, phone and so forth. We do not have much control over the fixed costs aside from moving into a smaller place or buying a crappy car. There is, however, a variable cost we have some control over: food.

I found myself spending approximately $27 a day on food. $5 for breakfast, $7 for lunch, $3 coffee here and there, and about $12 for dinner, on average. That came to around $27 a day, just over $800 a month for me alone. Yes, $800 a month. This didn’t include the occasional splurge at fancier restaurants that could set me back at least $30 for one meal. Now, I was making an ok salary, bills were getting paid, credit cards weren’t out of control, and then I lost my job I had been at for 10 years. Fortunately, I had a lot of vacation time saved up and my last check was pretty solid but then came the anxiety of “when would I would have a steady income again?” so I decided to see if I could sustain myself on $5 a day for food. Going out to eat isn’t really an option if you are trying to be frugal and there aren’t a lot of healthy options on the $1 menu at fast food joints.

BREAKFAST: I purchased ingredients to make vegan protein shakes (3/4 cup of almond milk, 2 Tbsp rice protein powder, 2 Tbsp pea protein powder, 2 Tbsp peanut butter powder, 1 Tbsp raw cacao powder, 1 Tbsp ground flax seed, 1/4 cup ground oatmeal, 1 Tbsp MCT oil, and a banana, which came out to about $0.90 each serving. This would be my go to breakfast. Fast, easy, tasty, and cheap. The reason I added the MCT oil was because our bodies need a little fat or we will still feel hungry. If I didn’t have a smoothie, I would have a couple of eggs instead which came out to around $0.60. Coffee brewed at home is about $0.20 per cup which would cost over 10 times more at a coffee shop.

LUNCH: Turkey Burgers were a go to for me. I have a simple recipe: 1 pound of ground turkey (93/7 -$3.29), 8 pack of whole wheat buns ($1.73 roughly $0.22 each), 1 onion (appx $0.75), 1 tomato (appx $0.75), lettuce was optional and only $1 per head. I’d chop about 1/4 onion and caramelize it, add to the ground turkey and cook the patties. This would make them juicy. Since I like thick burgers, I’d usually make 1/3 pound burgers. Add some raw onion, tomato, and lettuce with a little mayo & ketchup. As a side, I’d fry up some potatoes. Potatoes are cheap AF, $2 for a 5 lb bag. I figured each burger/ fry serving was about $2.00 – $2.50 depending on what you put on it or if you had fries.

DINNER: I would usually have another serving of what I had for lunch. But when I wanted to mix it up, I would cook something like spaghetti. This is another tasty but cheap option. Ground beef is around $3-$5 per pound depending on the fat content but can go a long way in a pot of
spaghetti ($0.75 per 1/4 lb serving). Sauce is pretty cheap, $1.89 for a 24 oz jar ($0.47 per serving). I’d get 2 jars for every pound of meat and a 16 oz pack of noodles for $0.99 (2 oz
serving size and $0.12 per serving). This comes out to $1.34 per serving if you are heavy with the meat and less if you stretch it out. Don’t forget to eat your vegetables. Broccoli is about $1.50 a pound (4 oz serving size $0.38).

Eating on $5 a day is totally possible. What I learned was prepared foods are expensive and you have no control of what goes in them. My wife told me I was being a little extreme and that we weren’t broke, but I really had no idea when I’d return to work. I did find a job a little over a month later making more money but I still am mindful about what I spend on food. I was so wasteful before.

I’ve been bringing my lunch almost every day. I really like these Trader Joe’s Vegetable Biryani frozen meals that are $2.49 each and also have sandwiches most days and track everything I spend on a spreadsheet from my phone. Now don’t get me wrong, I still like to indulge from time to time and love sushi but if I can save around $650 a month, that’s vacation money there. Wouldn’t you rather go on an awesome vacation instead of a few short lived meals? Do this, download a personal budget template and track what you spend and be mindful on what you eat.

If you want to know more, hit me up on LinkedIn: rwd88/