We all need to eat, and thus we need to find a way to either get food or get money for food. It follows that there’s a minimum level of spending necessary to survive at our desired level of comfort. So how much is a reasonable amount to spend on food each month?

The “recommended percentage” (see previous columns) for food is 15% of total spending, which can be misleading. If your total monthly spending is $1,000, then food would be about $150. That’s a pretty solid goal, in my opinion. If your monthly total is $4,000, then food would be about $600, and I think that’s excessive (for an individual). You’d be better off spending less on food and more on your savings.

To explore the question of what’s reasonable, let’s engage in a math-based thought. There are three parts, but I swear it’ll be easy and fun. Part one: estimate how much you currently spend per meal. Take your total monthly spending on food and divide it by 90. Boom, you’ve got your average spending per meal.

Part two is even easier: determine the cost of just one meal you’ve eaten recently. If you buy a slice of pizza and a drink for five bucks, then your total is five bucks. If you made a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast, it’ll be a little tougher. Figure you used a half cup of oats, which you got in bulk for a dollar per pound. Google-fu gives an estimate that a half cup of oats weighs one tenth of a pound, so your meal of plain oatmeal cost about ten cents. If you put half a banana in the oatmeal, or used a bit of milk, have fun adding those estimated costs to your calculation.

Part three: estimate the cost of eating your part two meal for every meal in your month (ala part one). Pizza-eater is looking at $450, while Captain Plain Oatmeal only spent $9.90. As reasonable people, we can safely say that neither of those meals is sufficiently nutritious to eat for every meal. Nutrition and boredom require we spend a bit more than ten bucks. At the same time, we can reasonably conclude that spending five bucks per meal seems a bit high. Sure, some person who’s into juicing only raw live organic free range paleo vegetables might have the funds to afford five bucks for every meal. But if they have the space available to garden, they might also get the same food by growing their own for significantly less.

Thinking about food as a cost-per-meal calculation can help reign in spending. Going out to eat? Try saving half for a second meal, and watch that $8 burrito becomes two $4 meals. If you think my suggested $150 per month/ $1.67 per meal is too low, give yourself a goal of two bucks per meal. I bet you can make a spinach, lettuce, bell pepper, and sunflower seed salad for under a buck.