If you’re new to this blog and have not seen our monthly budget yet then by all means, click here and check it out. As you’ll see, our budget for groceries is around $400 a month, which is much less than what we were spending when we were living in North America…and we’re eating healthier, cleaner food!
How Can Five Adults Eat for $400 a Month?
Simple, after living here as long as we have you figure out the places to shop for less money. If you have lived in Cuenca for awhile you will have noticed that some grocery markets are more expensive than others, and quite a bit more expensive at that. Also the Mercado can be more expensive on many produce items compared to grocery stores such as Coral.
Many expats complain to us about the high prices at a certain grocery store here in Cuenca. They remark that the prices reflect US prices. And its true. Imported food items will even cost more than in the US. Don't be afraid to try out the locally manufactured brands, most of which are just as good but much more cost effective.
We know which fruits and veggies cost less at the grocery store than at the Mercado and we buy those things at the grocery store. On the same token we know which food items we can buy for less at the Mercado and we buy those items there. Note: meat and cheese are much cheaper at the Mercado but we have never bought our meat or cheese there, simply because it sits out in the open.(see update below)
We also do some shopping at Ecuadorian super markets (non chain markets) where we get better price deals on coffee, nuts, butter, dried fruits, variety of flours, and legumes. If you have not yet read the DIY Cuenca Landing Guide, you missing out because there's lots of information about finding deals on food in there. And it’s no big deal to shop in different stores throughout Cuenca; it’s just a $0.25 cent bus ride, or a nice walk after all.
We do not deprive ourselves of good tasting foods. We eat well! In fact, we consider a lot of our home prepared meals gourmet and International. For an example, we make homemade gnocchi (Italian dumplings) with pesto or marinara sauce. Homemade pizza (even the crust) from scratch. Another nutritious meal is black bean and brown rice enchiladas, and they are so filling and substantial—rice and beans together are a complete protein. And for those lighter dinners we prepare soups such as, spinach and mushroom egg drop soup, thanks to our friend Karina, who shared her recipe with me. We eat tasty, healthy, complete meals but, do not rack up a huge grocery bill over it.
We also eat healthy sweet treat snacks, such as “oatmeal, peanut butter no bake cookies” or “cocoa, honey popcorn”, or “banana, raisin bread” made with natural sugars rather than processed. We use raw honey in our sweet concoctions that are not baked to make some incredible healthy sweets. To keep raw honey healthy is to simply never cook it. Once you bake honey into cookies or cakes the healthy goodness is partially destroyed.
Shopping at Coral Centro
Our monthly Coral Centro bill totals to something like $280 to $300. We eat meat only once or twice a week, which helps to keep the grocery bill down. Eating a little bit of meat we find ourselves healthier than eating meat every day. We also rarely eat red meat, perhaps once a month, at most. We have done our research and know what foods can be substituted for the protein and iron that you receive from meat.
Shopping at Feria Libre Mercado
UPDATE 2015: We have stopped shopping so often at the outdoor mercados. We still go about once a month for certain produce items. We buy the bulk of all our groceries at Coral, buying seasonal fruits and vegetables whenever possible.
Coral shopping = $280 to $330
Feria Libre shopping = we seldom shop here anymore...
Total = $280 to $330
7Ways We Keep Food Costs Down
1) Prepare all meals from scratch
2) We don’t buy alcohol or cigarettes
3) We don’t buy pet food, yet. (It's expensive here)
4) We rarely buy imported items
5) We buy the whole wheat berries and make our own flour for breads, pizza, cakes, etc.
6) We never buy canned goods or prepared frozen dinners or other boxed foods
7) We try and buy what's in season
We do not have a single canned good, processed box item, or frozen meal, in our home. This is not something new to us; we have always cooked from scratch. You wouldn’t believe the amount of money a family can save by cooking meals from scratch!
Cooking from Scratch is Healthier and More Cost Effective
Canned goods, frozen dinners, and boxed foods are not only unhealthy but they are waaaay over-priced. We learned a long time ago to save money and be healthy by not buying prepared foods that are touted as being healthy. Anything that is packaged up in a cute wrapper and touted as being healthy is a gimmick and we just don’t buy into it.
There are two beautiful aspects about cooking from scratch. 1) No preservatives, sugars, dyes, chemicals, etc, and 2) its waaaaay less expensive.
Our food bill would in no way be $400 a month or less if it were not for the fact that we eat freshly prepared meals all made from scratch including the pasta, which is made from half whole wheat flour which we grind ourselves!
So this pretty much sums up how we (five adults) can keep monthly food bill down to $400 a month. Of course this does not include eating out in restaurants. We eat out for lunch a couple of times a week and usually cook in for dinner. But if a family of five adults can eat well on $400 or less per month then so can a couple. Remember, it starts with fresh whole foods that you prepare yourself. This is one way to live frugal and healthy in Cuenca Ecuador.