In the year 2024, food costs continue to be incredibly straining. If you, like me, live in a big city, maintaining even a somewhat reasonable food budget can feel almost impossible. But Maria Spends — a 24-year-old who creates content around budgeting in New York City — is doing just that.
Maria centers all of her content on her $2,000 monthly budget, which includes everything from rent to groceries to public transportation. It all started after she moved into a new apartment with a significantly lower rent than her previous place. "I just had this crazy idea that with my new rent, I could make all of my expenses for the month $2,000," she told BuzzFeed. "From that, I created a budget that would be realistically fitting, [given] that I had been tracking all of my expenses for up to a year."
Maria now uses TikTok to document her spending and show others that having a tight budget in expensive cities, like New York, is possible. Recently, one of her grocery vlogs went viral on the app with over 1 million views. In the video, Maria records everything she bought during one grocery trip to Trader Joe's, including staples like rice, pasta, ground turkey, and eggs. Her full cart totaled $40.57, which shocked a lot of viewers.
Many NYC residents compared this with their own grocery bills, with one commenter writing, "God bless you girlie my NYC bill is $100 per week for myself."
People living in places like Canada and Australia also noted their higher grocery prices.
However, a few people mentioned that they stick to a budget similar to Maria's. One user commented that they spend $200 per month on groceries for a two-person household in NYC.
Even though some find her grocery budget unbelievable, Maria has a variety of ways that she manages to stick to it. "I cut out buying prepackaged snacks, and I started baking a lot and making my own snacks," she mentioned. As soon as she stocks her fridge, she also scans all of her items in an app called Pantry Check. The app essentially works as a tracker to alert you to any items that are expiring soon.
Because she's only shopping for herself, Maria avoids buying items that will expire too quickly, often opting for frozen produce over fresh and not grabbing whole loaves of bread she can't finish on her own. "Something that I started doing a lot was minimizing any food waste with my groceries," she said, and she mentioned that coming up with a grocery strategy was a big adjustment when she moved to New York.
"Another thing was that I tried to make the most meals with the least amount of ingredients," Maria added. "I think that it's really important to find multiple ways to create as many meals as possible with the same items." Rather than aimlessly wandering the grocery store, she has a recipe box full of meals she often reaches for. You can usually spot these easy, no-fuss meals in her TikToks, where she breaks down the cost of each ingredient and how she plans to use it.
Although Maria doesn't do huge meal preps (she lives with two roommates, so fridge space is limited), she's very intentional about stretching out these staple ingredients over two or three days. So a dish of rice and ground beef one day may turn into burritos the next, and that same rice can be used for the classic Emily Mariko salmon bowl (subbing budget-friendly canned tuna for salmon).
Maria is aware that people might view such a tight budget as a restriction, but that's not how she sees it. "I think it's really important to show people that you can live in a city like New York and still be on a really tight budget and enjoy your life and make decisions that benefit you and your future," she said. "I think restricting yourself and living in a restrictive mentality does affect the way that you view budgeting." In fact, you can find a lot of inexpensive and free NYC activities from her TikToks.
And as for comments claiming that her budget seems unrealistic, Maria isn't too surprised. "I think that 12 months ago, I would have thought the same thing," she said. But she understands that people have different meals they prefer to prepare or maybe dietary restrictions they adhere to, and she acknowledges that her housing costs are likely less than other NYC residents'.
Her goal with her videos isn't to try to get viewers to follow her exact budget, but just to make them a bit more aware of their spending. "I hope that my content does inspire people to just implement little things in ways that they can feel like they have more control over their money," she said.
If you have any other grocery shopping tips and tricks for saving money, let us know in the comments or fill out this anonymous form!
And be sure to give Maria a follow on TikTok for more food and NYC budgeting tips.