Supermarket Savings Tip #11: Set a target per-person price for the meals you make

One of the things that has helped me over the years in keeping our grocery budget low is to not only calculate the costs of meals, but to also set a target per-person price for all meals I make.

For instance, I try to have our breakfast and lunches cost no more than $0.50 per person and dinners cost no more than $1 per person. I don’t always follow these to the penny, but they are my ballpark figures for every meal I make.

Not only does it help us save money to stick with the target per-person price, but it’s also just fun to calculate things like this. Or, maybe I’m the only weird one who likes to tally up exactly how much dinner costs while I’m in the middle of making it. :)

Find more Supermarket Savings Tips here.

photo credit

Share This:

Subscribe for free email updates from Money Saving Mom® and get my Guide to Freezer Cooking for free!

Read Newer Post
«
Read Older Post
»

Comments

  1. Jennifer says

    We are a family of 7 and I try to keep our dinner at $10.00 or under. (This allows me freedom to buy fish and yummy, more expensive veggies sometimes.) I shoot for our breakfast and lunches to be $4.00 or under.

  2. Sarah says

    ha! I love tallying up how much dinner costs, or whatever I’m making. It gives me such a sense of satisfaction. I once bragged for a week that I fed 15 people full meals at a family gathering once for around $10 total. I was pretty proud of myself.

  3. says

    I love this idea! I’m going to give it a try this week. I think I can beat the $.50 per person in the breakfast and lunch though. With 14 people and homemade bread, I don’t think I spend $7, but it will be fun to see!

  4. says

    Our current budget allows us 7.50 per person and day for food, including snacks. My biggest problem with this is making sure we still eat healthy – I make about everything from scratch, but occasionally the prices of vegetables and fruit just drive me crazy! The only way to save money in this area would be to go to the Turkish stores, but those are part of the news regularly with high-pesticide test results, and I would rather not poison myself… I cannot wait to have a garden and grow our own stuff!

  5. says

    Wow! What a great idea. I have never done this before and really don’t know how much I spend per person per meal. I am definitely going to give this a try when I plan my April dinner menu. Thanks for the tip, Crystal!

  6. Caroline says

    That is pretty much our goal; with 10 kiddos, we have to really watch our food budget. Though the federal government ensures $2 per person per meal in food stamp money, I find I can feed my family for far less with pretty healthy food. Now we can’t eat organic , but we do grind our own wheat, grow a small garden, and eat yummy food. If a meal costs more than $10, I just try to cook sokething else. If it has specialty ingredients not sold at Aldi, I tend to pass. When we first married I tracked every food dollar and could precict what our food would cost every month. I now live on auto pilot, using what I learned over those years to squeek by on our insanely tight food budget.

    • says

      Are you sure on the $2 per meal figure? Because for a family of 4 that would work out to $720 per month and I can assure you we get less than half of that.

      Our grocery budget (even with the addition of some cash) works out to about $4.50 per meal for 4 or 5 people… Now, obviously, breakfast and lunch are generally had for much less than that thanks to WIC providing cereal, milk, bread, & veggies. So I would say our dinner budget is closer to about $8 per meal…

  7. says

    If only I could stick with our budget….I am slowly working on it again. I need a tutorial on how to calculate how much it would cost per person if it is items you already have in the pantry plus items you buy at the store that week. Hope I’m making sense.

    • Lana says

      Recently I saw a link for an online recipe cost calculator. I have no idea where but you can probably find it with a Google search.

  8. Brittnie says

    I guess my question is how do you guys get the meats so cheap? We are very athletic and goto the gym daily…so we tried to eat a pretty high protein/vegetable diet however the fresh vegetables and meats always seems to cost me the most out of my shopping trips even when looking for sales. I feel like its about $5.00 a person for our meals…

    THANKS!!!

    • says

      Buying in bulk and in season, plus using the freezer and sticking with inexpensive/simple meals are things that really help us. If it’s currently $5/person for your meals, challenge yourself to lower that to $4.75 and then down. Make it a fun game and see what you can do–while not short-changing your family any calories or nutrition.

    • Heather says

      Brittnie – Have you heard of Zaycon foods? They have “bulk sales” around the country that they deliver to a local spot and their prices are pretty reasonable. I think their chicken breasts are like $1.79/lb, which is the absolute cheapest I can EVER find it and that’s rare. They also sell ground beef and bacon too. Check out zayconfoods.com…

    • Diane says

      I get bone-in chicken breasts for 88 cents/lb and stock up at that price. For beef, I aim for 2.00 or less a lb but that is getting harder so I will try to get marked down meats when they’re at that price if it’s a lean cut. Pork loins go on sale for 2.00 lb, too. We do a few bean-protein meals a week too and eat eggs for breakfast or lunch quite often.

    • Andrea Q says

      I don’t even try.

      I buy organic chicken (legs are $2.69/lb, boneless is $7/lb). Locally-raised grass-fed beef is $4.50 to $9 per pound, lamb is $10/lb and the pastured pork that we love is $12-$16 per pound.

      I’ve given up a lot of other things to be able to buy quality meat.

      • Nicole says

        I agree. I actually just purchased half of a 100% grassfed angus steer for $3.05/lb hanging weight (this includes the processing fee). I had to save up money to be able to do this, but it’s totally worth it because of the health benefits and it is so much cheaper in the long run. We bought free range chickens in bulk too. So even if you want meat that is of higher quality you can still get it for great prices from a local farm. They are out there, you just have to do a little checking. I started on eatwild.

  9. says

    I don’t figure out each meal’s cost, but do know the cost of our more expensive meals. For example, we are trying to eat more fish. I found “wild caught” tilapia in a value size at Aldi. Adding dirt cheap in-season sweet potato fries and brown rice, I was able to make the meal for less than $5.

    Realizing it cost five dollars to make a healthy meal my family loves helped me so much when pregnant. When evening sickness hit and the thought of dinner made me feel sick, fish was what I craved. Realizing I could make the dinner I wanted for less than the cost of a cheap take-out pizza helped us eat a whole lot healthier. :)

    I love your idea (from a previous tip) of organizing meals according to cost. Definitely want to do that!

  10. Marie says

    Wow! Just reading this post is making my head spin. I am not a numbers person and the thought of figuring out all the ingredients to calculate the cost seems like it would be alot of work. I’m sure our meals are inexpensive and there’s a part of me that would like to know. However, the thought is just overwhelming me because it’s something I don’t know how to do. We feed our family of 5 for $200 a month, which I think is pretty good. And the last 3 months we’ve come way under by at least $40 or more.
    Any tips on how someone would start to do this?

    • kristi says

      I am with you on the “head spinning” and I AM a numbers person! But I have to add: Seriously, cost per person per meal? What do you women do all day that allows time for this? And why would you want to spend that time nickel-and-diming your budget? I know I sound kink of snippy here but it just seems a little extreme and kind of rediculous to me.

      • says

        I just do this in my head while I’m doing something else. It’s a fun challenge for me. Definitely don’t do it if it’s just going to add stress to your life! I may just be weird in that I find stuff like this fun and insightful… :)

    • sarah says

      i can usually remember the cost of something that i bought, even if it’s in the pantry, and, like crysta, i try to make a game out of it.

      In the example i noted in a reply above ( i still remember because, like i said, i was really proud of myself) I used 2 chicken breasts (on sale for 1.99/lb works out to about $2) which shreds in the crockpot with the sauce and makes it go a LOT further, a cup of bbq sauce (got the bottle for $.50 on sale w/ a coupon, so just a few pennies), a bunch of corn on the cob (it was summer time so they were in season and like $.20 each, so I used 10 ears and split some in half for those who wouldn’t eat a whole one, that’s another $2), two packages of whole wheat hamburger buns (marked down to $1.49 each, equals $3), and a big can of baked beans, (probably a couple dollars), plus veggies for a salad, which i bought in season and on sale, another dollar or so.

      So i just kind of tally it up as i’m making what i’m making. if that makes sense.

      • kristi says

        Wow that IS impressive! I guess I just don’t have the room in my brain to remember what I paid for that jar of peanut butter or how many PB&J’s I can get from it (or how many spoonfuls my son scooped out when I wasn’t looking because he wanted a snack). I can see how this calculation would be helpful on a large scale, like you described. But it’s definitely not for me. I am truly awe-struck that people can actually do this!

    • lyss says

      I’m with you. While calculating exactly what a meal costs sounds helpful, I’m at a loss as to know where to begin! If I used only packaged foods and measured out exact servings, calculating cost-per-serving would be simple.
      But what about foods I buy in the bulk bins, such as oats? I’d have to buy exactly one pound, then go home and measure out how many cups were in that pound to find out how much a cup of oats cost. Add to that the fact that it’s never the same price! I always buy it on sale, but sometimes that’s .69 or .79 or .49!
      And then if I did figure that out, I’d still have to calculate how much those squirts of honey cost…and those little pats of butter…oh, wait…we had sugar and raisins on our oatmeal today… LOL!!!! My head is spinning, too! I figure if I use only cheap ingredients, then my meals must be cheap, too. I do know that we average less than $1/person per meal. That’s enough calculating for me. Like I said….cheap ingredients=cheap meals.

  11. Jessica says

    Wow, I thought I was fairly frugal, but our meals are definitely more than this per person. I am going to have to look more closely at your menu plans to see if following them would help us to lower our grocery budget. What I am even more impressed with is that you are cooking a lot of gluten free dairy free products. I used to be gluten and lactose intolerant and spent considerable more money than I do now. Great post!

  12. Danielle says

    I have a family of 8. We try to keep dinners at $10, lunch around $5 and breakfast under $4.

  13. Jeannine says

    I do not calculate cost per serving, but I do have target prices for items that I frequently buy. For instance my target price for ground beef is $2.00. If it is any higher than that I only buy a small amount. Two days ago I found 18 lbs marked down to $1.99/lb I bought all of it.

    • Lea Stormhammer says

      I do target prices too, rather than cost per serving. My target price for any meat but chicken is $2/lb and chicken is $1/lb. Veggies and fruits is $1.50/lb (under $1 if I can find it). Canned goods $0.50 per can. I also have target prices for Peanut Butter, Tea, Milk, etc. I find this much easier than calculating how much per person per serving or whatever! I’m a numbers person, but I find that just way too tedious for the time and brain power I have.

      Occasionally I do buy outside of my target price, especially if we’re completely out of something we use regularly (butter seems to be one lately). I figure if I stay in my weekly grocery budget, we’re all good!

      :)
      Lea

  14. says

    This is such a great idea! I was talking with my kids last week while eating one of our favorite meals about how much food costs and going through each ingredient and pricing it out. So while we were enjoying this meal I came to the total of almost $10 for the meal – for 6 people. Ok, so not horrible, but still quite a bit more than I would like or than I thought it would cost. So by doing this I have decided to make this meal less frequently – maybe once a month rather than 2-3 times a month. Now I need to do the math on the other regular meals we make and then possibly make a list of cheap, medium, and expensive meals so that we can balance them out each month.

  15. BH says

    I must be the only one married to a seriously meat-eating man! Our breakfasts and lunches are pretty inexpensive, but I can’t imagine getting our dinners and snacks down that low.

    • says

      Nope. I know exactly what you mean. Even our breakfasts can get expensive when he’s home on the weekend… I’ve seen him eat a half a package of bacon or sausage at once.

  16. Barbara says

    I am so glad I’m not the only wierdo out there that loves to do this!!! It’s just a fun little math game I like to play in my head to keep myself in check. Our dinners typically average about $3 per person. I just do it to remind myself that making dinner at home is ALWAYS less expensive than going to a restaurant. Some nights I need that kind of motivation to will myself to the kitchen when I get home! I do stick to a very strict $2 or less lunch rule for the same reason. Soup at the office is far less expensive and a lot healthier than a trip to the drive though.

  17. Momof3 says

    I am always impressed and inspired by all of the post you have. I wish I could get our food budget as low as some. With a family of 4 you would think it would be easy to. Unfortunately, going to a local farmer is the cheapest way to get meat where I live and then after having it processed you are still paying close to $4 for a pound of hamburger. With only have 2 local grocers (one being Walmart) they are that high also. In season fruits and vegetables are not any better even with a local farmer. $1.99 per pound is the best we can find for green beans even. I need to live in a less rural area I guess.

  18. Katel says

    Do these menus with foods that contain no hydrogenated oils or high fructose corn syrup, then make the same meals with foods that contain the fats or corn syrup. There will be a big difference.

    • Andrea Q says

      Very true, unless you’re able to grow a lot of your produce.

      We are trying to limit grains to a couple of servings each day (following a modified Paleo diet) and it is challenging to make $1/person meal.

  19. Jenn says

    This post really made me think. When I star thinking I start googleing. I found a recipe cost calculator online! You just put in the ingredients, how much they cost, how many servings are in the package, and how many you used. It adds everything up for you! It puts how much each item costs plus how much the entire meal cost all together! I cannot wait to start tracking my spending!

    I found it at http://sensetosave.com/frugal-tools/recipecostcalc/

  20. Elizabeth says

    Food is one area where I’m not likely to be super frugal. Don’t get me wrong, if there is a coupon for something that I was going to buy anyway, I will use it. But cheaping out on food, to me, is penny-wise, pound-foolish. I try to be frugal in other parts of my life so we can eat the best food we can, which for us is as much locally-raised and organic food as possible. No need to pay anything more for it than you have to, but I’d rather buy better food now and fewer drugs later. :-)

  21. says

    Last year, we were at .40 per person per day (that is 3 meals plus snacks for .40).

    We buy oats for $15.35 for a 25 pound bag. I make 4 cups of oats for breakfast many mornings (this is our cheapest breakfast). With brown sugar, a little salt, and often cooked with powedered milk in the oats, it costs me a total of .22 for breakfast. We go through about 75 pounds of oats a year.

    My family of 8 eats for a total of $3 per day or less.

    I just make sure the total amount for the day is at under $3. I add up all of the meals each day. I recently redid my 4 1/2 months of menu plans to reflect our lower-priced meals, since my menu plans had become too expensive for our family. It took a lot of time, but now they work for me, and I can plan with what I have and with what is in my garden.

    This morning for breakfast we had fruit salad (made with home-canned peaches pears, and apricots, the first two bought-in-season at the lowest price nad the apricots from our tree) and toast.

    For lunch today we’re having tomato basil soup http://www.theprudenthomemaker.com/index.php/tomato-basil-soup

      • says

        We have meat several times a week. You can see what we eat by reading my menus on my site. Just click on my name and click on any of my menus. There is one for each season plus a 2 week pantry-only menu (so if you’re having more month than money left over, you can use the pantry menu to plan some meals!)

        • says

          Oh! I remember your site! I had one of your pages pulled up but not bookmarked yet when my browser crashed the other day & I couldn’t remember what site. Thanks!

  22. says

    You aren’t weird. I like money math too! And thanks for telling us your actual target rates. I have calculated cost-per-person before, but never was sure what a good price/target actually was! I want to see if I can get good enough to make it as low as this.

  23. sarah says

    I agree with the person that said buy better food now and you won’t need to spend money later on due to your poor health. Really try to eat healthy and stick to target prices on natural/organic food. Also, other parts of the country, the cost of food varies. Here in NorCal vegetables tend to be very affordable but other food items are significantly higher.

  24. Stephanie says

    I didn’t see anyone mention this, but they may have. We take what we like, say chicken parmagiana and if I can make it for less than it costs us to eat out, which of course I can, we’re doing good. Bacon wrapped filet mignon. Sure, for 1/3 of the restaurant price per person for sure.