How to Feed Your Family for $400 a Month

How to Feed Your Family for $400 a Month Part 2

How to Feed Your Family for $400 a Month
How to Feed Your Family for $400 a Month

Last week I wrote a post sharing about how we feed our family of six for roughly $400 a month. If you haven’t read that post, click on the preceding link and read that one first. This post will go into more of the secrets we use to keep our grocery costs so low. The average per person cost with our method is $67 per month, per person. We do this by using a combination of several different shopping and cooking techniques. Now, let’s build on what we talked about last week. 

I was reminded this week about a story in one of the documentaries on food that we watched. Not sure, but I think it was Food Inc. In it, they shared the story of a “poor” family of 5 that was “forced” to eat at McDonald’s and have burgers and fries because that $12 dinner meal was “all that they could afford”. Are you freakin’ kidding me??

I can’t remember the last time we spent $12 on a dinner meal – under $5 is the goal and rest assured the meals we serve are MUCH healthier than a burger and fries. Society has been duped into believing that fast food and junk/processed food are cheap – they’re not.

Let me give you an example. For our food-loving family of six, we need to prepare 5 boxes of boxed macaroni and cheese to fill our tummies. On sale, I can get these boxes for 75 cents each, which brings the price of the mac and cheese to $3.75. On the other hand, by purchasing our cheese in bulk at Sam’s Club each month, I can make my Creamy Homemade Mac & Cheese for our family of six for $3. And it takes no more than 20 minutes to prepare. So, we have a healthier meal with real food for less than the boxed stuff that has God knows what in that cheese powder. Now, this is not a rant on those who eat boxed mac & cheese – although we don’t serve it often it’s one of my favorite meals. But don’t tell me that it costs less to eat the boxed stuff – it’s just not true.

Okay, now that I’m finished with that mini-rant, let’s get onto the good stuff. We talked last week about our detailed steps for planning well and shopping well. Here are our other tips for feeding your family for less.

Cook From Scratch

I cannot tell you what a money saver this is. From dinners to desserts to everything in between, we work hard to cook from scratch in order to save money. For instance, the pack of 24 flour tortillas we buy at Walmart costs $4.38.  I can make these homemade tortillas with organic flour for less than $2.50 for 24. I can make 36 of my delicious chocolate chip cookies for about $2.00, complete with organic flour, sugar and butter. Ditch the organic ingredients (you were eating processed before, so what’s the difference?) and save even more money.

Worried about time? Yes, it does take time to cook from scratch. Put down your smart phone, turn off the TV and carve out some hours during the weekend to make and freeze some homemade goodies. Which brings me to our next trick:

Stretch your Ingredients and Stockpile Meals

One of the ways we save money on groceries is to get creative and “stretch” ingredients. For instance, on weekends we’ll occasionally make up a batch of homemade pancakes. The recipe calls for one egg and one cup of milk, and we quadruple the recipe, which means 4 eggs and 4 cups of milk, but we don’t add that. Instead, we add 2 eggs, 2 cups of milk and 2-3 cups of water. The pancakes taste delicious and we’ve just saved ourselves 99.5 cents on milk and  another 45 cents on eggs. It seems menial, but the savings add up over the course of the month and year.

Soup is another area in which we save money by stretching ingredients. I mentioned last week that we buy only organic, non-soy, non-corn GMO free, antibiotic-free whole chickens from an area farmer. These babies aren’t cheap. I bought 4 a couple of weeks ago and it cost me $56. Expensive, yes, but again, you have to pick and choose your non-negotiables when shopping and this can be done while still feeding your family for less.

One of the ways we “stretch” our chicken is to use it for soups and casseroles. I’ll boil a chicken, transfer the broth into a separate pot, add more water and boil it some more. By doing this I can get several pots of broth from one bird. From there, I add the (organic)veggies, the noodles for chicken soup, the wild rice for wild rice soup, or the beans for the bean soup, whatever, and can get several batches of soup out of one chicken. I then let the chicken cool, take the meat off of the bone, chop it into little tiny pieces to make it spread further, and put some in each soup and some in the freezer for casseroles later. No, there’s not a plethora of meat in the soups/casseroles but there’s plenty to be tasty. I often too will use plastic containers or freezer bags to store the broth with just the chicken until I’m ready to make another batch of soup.

These are all techniques I learned by studying the Great Depression. By getting creative and substituting where I can, using less where I can, and stretching where I can, I save tons of money on our grocery bills while still serving quality food. The soups and soup mixes you get at the store are FULL of chemicals a genius would have trouble pronouncing, but the soups I serve at home are wholesome, healthy and delicious.

Buy in Bulk

There are several items that are ridiculously cheap when you buy them in bulk. Spices are one example. Almost any type of spice can be found at the warehouse stores for about a 75% savings on grocery store costs. Coffee is another. I don’t drink coffee, but Rick does. We buy a 2.5 bag of Colombian Supremo coffee beans at Sam’s Club each month for $14.98. We grind them ourselves (using our $15 grinder from Walmart) and Rick has freshly-ground, delicious coffee every single day for 50 cents a day. Oh, he does add flavored creamers, so that would bring the cost up to roughly 65 cents a day.  Still MUCH cheaper than hitting a coffee shop and quality coffee to boot.

Beef also can be bought in bulk by checking around with farmers in your area. This isn’t an option in every area, but it is an option in many areas. Our particular farmer feeds his cows on grass as long as he can, and then finishes them off with corn and hay in the winter. No antibiotics. No hormones. $4.00 a pound after butchering costs. I can’t even get the crap meat at WM for 4.00 a pound! Remember that this price includes our steaks and roasts too. We invested in a deep freezer (which at this point has more than paid for itself after 15 years) and the beef will last for a year or more and still taste wonderfully fine. I can feed Rick and I a wonderful Ribeye steak dinner for $10 by purchasing the meat in bulk and adding some baked potatoes and steamed veggies in the mix. Again, the money savings is ridiculous when you buy in bulk. The key is to not fall into the mindset that you can be liberal with your usage and waste it because there’s so much. Another key to buying in bulk is to only buy what you’ll be certain to use.

Okay, we’re up past 1200 words again and I’m getting long-winded so I’m going to end on that note. I’m working on an e-book that shares all of our techniques for feeding your family well on less, including specific meals, etc. One of the reasons I always hated those kinds of books is because they often focus on low-quality meals. That’s not the case in our family. We serve a terrific balance of healthy, organic and delicious meals and still manage to stay within our budget. In our e-book I’ll be sharing specifics about these meals and other specific details on what we buy and eat.

I hope we’ve helped give you some tips on how to feed your family well for cheap. Stay tuned!

50 comments

  1. Hannah says:

    Not sure if you’ve seen it before, but GoodCheapEats.com has a very similar philosophy to you only on the West Coast. I love her cookbook and her website.

  2. So true…people think that fast food and the “dollar menu” is the cheapest food but cooking at home is almost always cheaper and most definitely healthier. I will admit that sometimes we get lazy and tired with work and a kid and don’t want to prepare meals. We bought a slow cooker thinking we could dump ingredients in there and it will be ready when we get back but haven’t used it yet. Do you use a slow cooker or have good recipes for them?

    • Laurie says:

      Ugh, that’s one area that I don’t do much, but I’d really like to one day b/c I hear people talking about the great slow cooker recipes. We have our tips for super tired/busy days that I’ll be sharing either in the e-book or in another post.

      • A slow cooker is a GREAT way to save money and time while still cooking at home every day! You can even make desserts and breads, slow-cook beans overnight, and tons more. I have oodles of slow cooker recipes on my website, and a new ebook on Amazon with 10 recipes, full shopping list, all meant to just be thrown in a bag and frozen, then thawed and thrown in the slow cooker when you’re ready to eat! Couldn’t be simpler, maybe 1 hour of work and you get 10 meals that feed 4 for under $75!

    • jim says:

      Andrew,
      We use a slow cooker all the time. Tell me what your family likes – beef, pork roast, chicken, soups – whatever and I will send you wonderful recipes for a slow cooker. They’re great. You prep a little the night before, throw it in in the morning and come home after work with dinner ready to be served. And for summer cooking – google the pit barrel cooker. A guy from Colorado does this and it is absolutely fantastic. You basically set it and forget it, not unlike a slow cooker.

  3. Mr. SSC says:

    Great tips, and I agree cooking from scratch is SO much cheaper when you have the time. I’m really looking forward to getting to do more of that again. A deep freezer is another must when we move, I also hope to hunt and have some wildlife to stock there too.
    Another fun thing, if you’re interested is green coffee beans. I find 5 lb bags of them on Amazon, and then roast them at home using a whirly pop popcorn popper. They don’t go abd and you can roast 1 lb or so at a time. Depending what brand you get it is about the same per lb as you’re spending now ~$5-$7/lb, but you can have it fresh roasted whenever you want, and to whatever strength you want – light roast, dark roast. It’s fun trying different roasts if nothing else. 🙂 Then again I just may be weird like that, lol.

    • Laurie says:

      Funny, I thought “abd” was a newfangled fancy term I didn’t know about until I realized you probably meant “bad”. 🙂 GREAT tips on the coffee!!! You may be weird, but I have a feeling we’re right there with you, LOL. 🙂

  4. I save so much by using whole chickens and making my own broth. Cooking from scratch makes a huge difference as well and it’s so much tastier and healthier, too. It’s one of those changes that gets easier over time, until you really don’t think twice about it anymore.

    • Laurie says:

      Exactly!!!! It really is amazing how much money can be saved and how good the food tastes, isn’t it? Glad to know these tips have worked for you, Kalie!

  5. Laura Harris says:

    Now I want to make homemade macaroni and cheese! 🙂 Thanks for these great pointers, Laurie. Inspiration like this goes a long way for people like me who don’t love to cook but who love to save money.

  6. Vanessa D. says:

    I struggle with keeping my grocery bills under control – my boys/young men can really eat – but like you I try to prepare as much as I can from scratch.

    • Laurie says:

      Cooking from scratch really helps. We LOVE to eat here, so I can identify. Buying in bulk is huge too when you have big eaters/growing young men to feed.

  7. jim says:

    Laurie,
    I am an avid reader, but seldom comment. However, I can’t help but give you HUGE KUDOS for this! Great advice. Thanks much.

    Jim

  8. Charlie says:

    Laurie – it is amazing that you can do this! You have a resiliency that is very rare! Keep sharing your encouraging stories, because it is definitely motivating!

  9. Planning takes a lot of the guess work out of meals. My wife went grocery shopping yesterday and spent $23 for the week. Now there are only 3 of us in the house, but usually she does one big day at the start of the month and buys in bulk and we make it all from scratch. Then we just need milk and produce the rest of the month. Can’t tell you how many times we have been at Costco with just milk, carrots and lettuce and the cashier says, “that’s it?” There is so much to save with food and it is so much healthier at the same time. We are big fans of leftovers as well. Why cook twice when you can cook once and eat it again. Save’s a lot of time. Nice article.

    • Laurie says:

      LOL, we only buy a few things at the big box clubs too. Otherwise it can get out of hand very quickly. And leftovers are another biggie. We made a pot roast on Tuesday and I ate the leftovers Wednesday for lunch and dinner and Thursday for lunch again. Woohoo for money savings! 🙂

  10. “Worried about time? Yes, it does take time to cook from scratch. Put down your smart phone, turn off the TV and carve out some hours during the weekend to make and freeze some homemade goodies. ” – This is exactly why we don’t have TV in our home. It is such a time suck and offers no real value unless you watch education programs. Great post again Laurie! The e-book will be excellent!

    • Laurie says:

      SO true, Cat!!!! You can get SO much done by cutting down “time suck” activities such as those. It’s so easy to get caught up and before you know it hours have been wasted!

  11. Kay ~ The Barefoot Minimalist says:

    Great tips! I always say I’m going to start cooking from scratch but I never seem to get around to it. I don’t really like cooking, but hubby sure does. I wish he could retire tomorrow! Until he does, I need to start doing what you do. But to be honest with you Laurie, I’m tired just READING what you do sometimes! You’re amazing!

  12. Great tips, Laurie. I used to spend so much money eating out because of poor planning on my part. I was hungry and tired after work (who isn’t?) and didn’t feel like making anything, so I went out to eat, almost every night. It was not kind to my wallet or my waistline. Cooking from scratch is much better, although I still have to be careful to avoid cooking too much for me. I don’t mind leftovers but after about 3 meals, I tend to get sick of it. And I have, unfortunately, wasted food because of this. I am getting better at cooking exactly how much I will eat! Looking forward to your e-book! Hope everything is going well, my friend!

    • Laurie says:

      Thanks, Tanya!! I hear you on eating out. Before we moved to the country we ate out several times a week. It’s so much easier and can give the illusion of being fun, but it’s mostly just a colossal waste. 🙂

  13. Amy @ DebtGal says:

    Great tips, Laurie! And I completely agree with you on processed soups. The sodium content alone makes me steer clear of them!

  14. Woah. This is intense. I always try to save as much money on food as possible. I probably used to do $400 a month just for myself, but for a whole family?? That requires some mad skills!

    Love the tips and I definitely see a few things I haven’t done yet. Buying in bulk for example I rarely do. I recently did buy a few things in bulk and they did last longer and were cheaper.

    Will definitely have to experiment more.

    Thanks so much!

    Peter

  15. “The key is to not fall into the mindset that you can be liberal with your usage and waste it because there’s so much.” That’s where we sometimes fall short – especially when it comes to bulk baking. We LOVE our sweets, and if there are plenty of them, they all go. I have developed the habit of frugal bulk cooking over the week-end, and then freezing. It’s not only good for the wallet, it means less time-crunch cooking through the work week. I’m looking forward to that e-book, Laurie!

  16. Awesome tips Laurie! It never ceases to amaze me to hear people say it’s cheaper to eat fast food. All you need to do is some simple math to see it really isn’t and that’s simply the short-term aspect without taking the long-term health implications into consideration. Seeing the difference in how we feel is well worth any extra effort/time it takes to be purposeful in what we eat.

    • Laurie says:

      Tell me!! There are days when I would love to believe that the junk food is cheaper, but the way we feel and the impact on our pocketbook tells me that I have to face the truth: healthy food is cheaper!

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