Cutting Food Costs to Fund Travel

I started browsing a new book over the weekend: How to Travel the World on a Budget by Agota Bialobzeskyte. I usually thumb through these types of books because they don’t often contain much new information; however, this one is an exception. It is fairly well thought out and has quite a few recommended websites that I’ve now added to my collection (like HelpX and Nomadic Matt). One part of the book that really resonates with me is the tips on how to save money for travel. Like the author recommends, last year I started a travel savings account and began reducing our expenses to fund it. We went to a pay-per-use cell phone plan, got rid of cable, and cancelled the newspaper; but the single biggest money saver for us has been preparing meals at home.

Source: Cheap Eats: How America Spends Money on Food (The Atlantic)
Source: Cheap Eats: How America Spends Money on Food (The Atlantic)

I found this chart and thought it was pretty interesting. Middle class Americans spend $177.08 per month dining out and lower income Americans (like us) average $91.58 per month. To me, that just seems like a lot, especially when you think in terms of opportunity costs. How many days of travel can you afford on that same amount of money? If you look at burgers as plane tickets, it’s much easier to see the inequity of the trade. Should we pay $60 for dinner for two or book a flight to Washington, DC for $57? Framed like this, I almost guarantee that travel wins the debate every time.

We’ve now become so accustomed to choosing travel over restaurants that we have to challenge ourselves in different ways when it comes to saving money on dining. Right now we’re focused on cutting grocery costs by using the same ingredients to make multiple meals. I’ve added a few pictures below of one of our recent experiments with flour tortillas. In June, we spent $160.24 on groceries and made 100% of our meals at home (including dinners that we took to our class and picnics for the beach). That’s about $.89 per meal per person, which is awesome; but I think we could do even better.

I’ve kept track of what we eat for a few months and it seems that the same items appear again and again – chicken, fish, deli ham, turkey, peanut butter, rice, all kinds of veggies and fruits, tortillas, bread, cereal, milk, pasta, chips, cheese, and popcorn. I can’t help but wonder how much our grocery bill would drop if we bought only those items. Would it be worth it? Or in the absence of variety, would we suddenly start to crave things we don’t have…like Oreos? I’m not sure but it’s definitely food for thought!

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