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The Frugal Farmer’s Guide to Feeding Your Family for Less

Submitted by on May 1, 2013 – 11:33 pm 42 Comments

DSCN2378Since a few people have asked now, I thought I’d do a post on how we feed our family of six on $450 a month or less.  It takes a bit of planning, but all in all, our technique is pretty easy.  We rarely use coupons, so most of our savings comes from a well-thought out plan.  How do we do it?  Read below for the tips.  Also, I’ve included a few links to other posts I’ve written to help you save money on feeding your family.

1.  We “big shop” once a month.  When we first started planning, we used a meal calendar.  I’ve got that largely memorized now, so, now, at the beginning of every month, I write down a list of 15 dinner meals, with the goal of serving each one twice.  Being the technicalogically illiterate homesteading gal that I am, I use a notebook for this task.  Below the list of 15 dinner meals, I make four categories of foods:

- Produce/Organic

- Meat/Deli

- Dairy/Frozen

- Canned Foods

I then list every ingredient I’ll need to buy for the 30 dinner meals.  I also add in the stuff needed to cover our breakfasts and lunches.

For breakfast in our family, we alternate on a rotating basis.  Every other day the kids (who are home every day because we homeschool) get their choice of any type of eggs, cheese, nuts (sunflower nuts mostly), fruits or veggies.  Then on the opposite days, we alternate between oatmeal and cinnamon rice.  The kids can also choose to have two pieces of toast, either with butter or peanut butter, instead of the oatmeal or cinnamon rice.  We also allow them 1 8oz. glass of 100% fruit juice on the eggs/cheese/nuts/fruits/veggies days.  Otherwise, they drink water with breakfast.

For lunches, we usually serve leftovers, or some type of pasta dish, or sandwiches, so I also add these ingredients as well as the breakfast ingredients we’ll need to cover breakfasts.   This minimizes what we spend on food, and forces us to stick with the meals we’ve planned on for the month.  Also, Rick takes a bag lunch from home that consists usually of a couple of sandwhiches, some generic chips, a piece of fruit and some homemade cookies, brownies or banana bread.  This really cuts down on his spending at work.  Since I make most things homemade for him, it’s pretty cheap.

We do usually run in 3 times a month or so for fresh fruit, etc., if we run out, but we work real hard at sticking with our allotted amounts so we don’t over spend.  Basically, we’ve found that the less we’re in the store, the less we spend.  Gone are the days when we make a trip to the grocery store because we’ve got a hankerin’ for something special for dinner.  This has allowed us to cut our grocery bill in half over last year.

2.  Buying in bulk: Check the prices, but for the oatmeal and rice especially, we save TONS of money by buying at the club stores.  But pasta is cheaper here at Walmart than at Sam’s Club in bulk.  This is why it’s important to memorize grocery prices if you can.  That way you can maximize your savings, and avoid the sometimes more costly foods at buying clubs.

3.  Cheap meals.  In my ideal world, I’d serve ALOT less pasta, bread and rice.  But we are in a pretty serious debt situation right now, so for the next year or two, at least, those will be staples in our meals.  Most of our dinner meals run between $2 and $5.  We also have spending limits on certain items.  For instance, for a 64oz. bottle of 100% fruit juice, our max spending price is $3.00.   If we can’t find a certain item for a price that is reasonable based on what we’ve spent in the past, we generally won’t buy it.

4.  Shop the sales.  We often plan our meals around what’s on sale, or stock up big when something we use regularly is on sale.

5.  Skimp on the meat.  We do buy our beef from a butcher, which saves us a huge amount of money on beef.  The average we spend by purchasing direct from the butcher is $3.50-$4.00 a pound for all of our organic, grass-fed burger, steaks and roasts.  But we don’t eat meat real often.   Also, we use it sparingly in cassseroles and soups.  For instance, we’ll buy a whole chicken and use it to make 4 or more soup meals.

Changing the way we grocery shop has saved us over $450 a month since January 1st of this year.  Finding the financial leaks in your money ship is, IMHO, one of the most important things you can do to pave the road to financial freedom.

How do you feed your family for less?

42 Comments »

  • I am all about leftovers for lunch. No sense in wasting anything from dinner the night before.

  • Justin says:

    Great tips Laurie. This is something that we really need/want to work on. I was curious about the cinnamon rice, but the link took me back to this post.
    I especially like the idea of smaller meat portions. As a kid, we used to eat Swiss Steak over mashed potatoes. It was a tasty meal with a cheaper cut of meat.

    • Laurie says:

      Let me fix up the link so it takes you to the recipe. It’s a pretty easy and cheap meal and the kids just love it.

  • Mario says:

    This is such a great post. I really love just how deliberate you are when it comes to planning for the month, and how you set hard rules in advance that you actually stick to. Keep up the good work!

    • Laurie says:

      Thanks, Mario. It feels great to know that we’re putting such effort into it and to see how much less we’re spending compared to last year. :-)

  • The main things that I’ve done to save money on food have been learning how to cook and making weekly meal plans. Oddly enough, buying in bulk doesn’t really help me because I wind up with more food than I can reasonably consume before it goes bad.

    • Laurie says:

      Those two things are HUGE for saving money, aren’t they? Yes, buying in bulk doesn’t always work. We usually stick to buying non-perishable stuff like the oatmeal and rice when buying in bulk, because it lasts so long.

  • well.. BF works a lot of evenings, so when he do, he takes some left overs with him, and then I just eat a sandwich or something for dinner, which means that we save some money each month, just by not making a proper dinner. We also go over to Sweden and buy flour and red meat there, because it`s a lot cheaper than in Norway. We also use a lot of pasta, mostly because I just looove it! :-)

    • Laurie says:

      So true, NG! Interesting the red meat and flour are cheaper in Sweden. Do you know why that is? Yes, pasta is just yummy, isn’t it? :-)

  • My kids love cheap meals right now because they are so little. They would eat breakfast for dinner every day if I let them( (scrambled eggs, pancakes)

    • Laurie says:

      LOL, yeah, I’m not getting any complaints about oatmeal or cinnamon rice either. They do get a bit sick of the potatoes and veggies nights. though :-).

  • Matt Becker says:

    I love the once a month shopping trip. That’s definitely something we could improve. Finishing leftovers is a huge saver as is bringing lunch to work. I agree that the cinnamon rice sounds really cool. Thanks for the info!

  • We do a lot of the same things Laurie to stretch our grocery budget. We get goofy looks too when we tell people how little we spend to feed our family, but it’s all about making the right choices. I am actually runny an infographic in 2 weeks that gives the breakdown of what the “average” family of four spends on feeding their family. The crazy thing is that we’re well below what they describe as the bare minimum to spend.

    • Laurie says:

      Looking forward to seeing that infographic, John. It’s funny, isn’t it, what people have convinced themselves that they “must” to spend on food. I always think of the Depression when they were happy just to have something, anything, to eat.

  • This is a great overview. My wife and I generally follow a similar pattern to you guys, but it sounds like we eat a lot more meat. It’s kind of unfortunate, but I don’t like pasta so that rules out a lot of those cheap meals. That being said, we definitely still try to save as much money as possible. I applaud you for your dedication to a $450 a month budget, that is very tough for a family of six.

    • Laurie says:

      Well, pasta’s not great for you nutritionally, Jake, so that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You guys could always start a garden and save money on veggies that way.

  • Great post, Laurie. You hit on a lot of great points that can really make a difference to your grocery budget. I think one of the most important thing you do – is have a meal plan that you religiously follow. Few people do this and lots run to the store or a restaurant because they want something special. Which is fine occasionally, but too people do it every night. :) With the garden you plan to plant, you may even bring your monthly budget down, which is just amazing to me. Great job, Laurie!!

    • Laurie says:

      We used to be those people, and when I went back and figured the numbers, it was costing us SO much money! Yes, I can’t wait for the garden, to see how it helps our food costs – yea! :-)

  • Mackenzie says:

    Meal planning makes such a big difference!! When I meal plan, I do well with the grocery budget. When I don’t meal plan, ugh…so much money spent!

    • Laurie says:

      So true, Mackenzie. It’s amazing how much you can spend when you don’t have a plan – for groceries and for everything else!

  • Joe Morgan says:

    Eating well for less is like so many other frugal pursuits (and personal finance) – it’s all about the planning!

    Great post!

  • Thanks for sharing. It inspires me to make a meal plan. I’ve been slipping a bit for the last couple of months. It is very important to know the prices of items you buy often. Sometimes the smaller portions are cheaper. I think our biggest problems is snacks. If I could avoid chips all together, that would be a great day.

    • Laurie says:

      Well you guys have been a bit busy with hubby doing the job stuff and all. We had a huge problem with chips too – they’re so easy to grab and snack on! We don’t buy them now unless it’s for Rick’s lunch or if we’re doing a picnic or family gathering or something. We got to the point for awhile where we were treating them as a necessity in the house. Not good for the pocketbook or my waistline, LOL. :-)

  • Man…I thought I was organized with my meals and had a plan for shopping. You are really focused with this. That’s awesome! I can see how our meal plan differs from yours in that my kids love cereals for breakfast (which are pricey), sounds like we eat more meat than you, and probably pack more for the lunches our kids take to school. Thanks for the insights into what you are doing. Guess I’ve got some more work to do! :)

    • Laurie says:

      Brian, we cut cereals out years ago. Not only are they SO bad for you (yes, even the “healthy” ones), but they’re expensive too. We save cereal now for camping trips, etc. As far as meat, look for a local butcher in your area and start buying a quarter or a half of beef at a time. And check the prices. One organic, grass-fed butcher charged the equivalent of $11.99 a pound for his cows, but the guy we use now is closer to $4 pound. This will save on your meat prices immensely. We’ve also found Walmart to be fantastic on meat prices, so when I buy a whole chicken for soups, or lunchmeat, I always buy there.

  • Catherine says:

    Have you ever done a big cook? I can suggest a wicked cookbook if you’re interested. Huge time and money saver.

    • Laurie says:

      Catherine, what do you mean by a “big cook”? Yes, I’d be interested in the name of the book – we’re always looking for ways to cut down further on our grocery costs.

  • Meal calendars are great ideas. Although it may seem odd, it helps you gets organized and teachers consumers to be thrifty. Cheap but healthy meals are also practical options for all of us.

    • Laurie says:

      Hi Mike! Yes, the calendar was crucial in helping us to get organized and get our costs down. I highly recommend it!

  • Jim says:

    Great job Laurie, I really think this will keep your family close and tight knit, because everyone is on the same page and working to meet the same objectives. Great job!

    • Laurie says:

      Thanks, Jim! Yes, although the kids (and us, of course) sometimes get frustrated with the whole debt-payoff journey, I would say that by and large it has brought us closer.

  • We practice the same procedure. First my wife plan the foods of the week and make a list of all ingredients. We see to it that we shop only once a week in order to save money in fuel and to avoid temptation to buy unnecessary items.

    My kids love to eat hot dog and chicken nuggets during breakfast.

    • Laurie says:

      Hi Walt! Glad to hear a similar plan is working for you too. Funny about the hot dogs and chicken nuggets – sounds like every kid’s dream meal. :-)

  • Well done Laurie! We eat really cheap but its based on vegetables for sale and deer meat that we stocked up on for next to nothing. I’m on a pretty strict diet because of health issues so no gluten or dairy or sugar for me. Tough to meal plan!

  • Jose says:

    Laurie, it sounds like we follow a similar shopping routine to yours. We buy “big” once a month (sometimes twice) and in bulk whenever it makes sense. Most of our “big” shopping is for meats and such, usually chicken and pork chops. Steak seems to have become more of a treat than a staple for us!

    • Laurie says:

      LOL, I know what you mean. Steak at home these days feels like just as much of a splurge as when we went out to eat for it. But I have to say, it’s a nice feeling, and for a quarter of the price. :-)

  • We are on the paleo diet right now and surprisingly we eat far better and cheaper when eating healthy fresh meat, veggies, and fruits.

    • Laurie says:

      Marvin, I am on something similar too. I love the paleo diet!! Not only do you feel great and save money on food, you’re likely saving money on healthcare costs too!

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