Recently, I read yet another article on a national media outlet about the “terrible” situation of a family of four (mom and three kids) that “only” has $500 a month to feed their family. I get so da** sick and tired of these articles I could puke. I hate the way the media dramatizes these situations. This particular article portrayed the family as horribly underfed and deprived. Ironically, the pictures of the family showed that they lived in a pretty nice place and had decent clothes/toys. Yet somehow they “barely” had enough food to eat.
Friends, I’m going to share today how we feed our family of six on about $450 a month and they eat well and have full tummies. According to the USDA’s 2015 numbers, a family of four (two adults, two kids) on a thrifty food plan spends about $653 a month. The “liberal” plan spends twice that at $1298.80 a month. This is assuming the kids are between the ages of 6 and 11.
Our family of six spends roughly $450 a month on food, and our youngest kid is 10. How do we do it? Here are our tips.
*Note: We don’t just feed our family “crap food” on this budget. We buy only organic milk, butter and frozen veggies, and we buy farm-raised, grass fed local beef and local farm-raised, free-range chicken as well. You can do organic on a small budget, you just need to follow the tips below.
We Meal Plan
Every month I write out a list of fifteen meals that we like and plan on serving each one twice during the month. My mom did that when she was a single mom raising three kids on a welfare budget and then a piddly job making SO not very much money. It worked for her then and it works for us today. If making a monthly meal plan seems too overwhelming, try a weekly meal plan. It’s when you don’t have a plan that you’re making umpteen trips to the store and buying expensive processed foods or hitting the local pizza joint or take-out place.
We Know How Much Things Cost
I use memory but you’re welcome to use a pre-written list. Knowing prices helps me to plan out a balance of cheap meals and pricier meals. It also helps me to know when a sale is really a sale.
You see, grocery stores use great marketing techniques to get you to stock up on sales that often aren’t really sales at all. By knowing the regular prices of thing we buy on a regular basis, I can quickly identify whether or not a sale is stock-up worthy.
We Have a List of Cheap Meals and a List of Not-as-Cheap Meals
By having a list of meals that you like (or at least that you can tolerate) that are cheap and meals that you like that cost a bit more, you can learn to balance your budget better. In our home, we aim for an average of $5 per meal – at the most.
That means that if we want steak dinner one night, we have popcorn or buttered noodles for two nights to make up for the cost. The kids aren’t going to starve to death if they have a cheap meal once in a while, and it allows us to serve some spendy stuff once in a while as well. But we aim for an average of $5 a meal. Here are some of our favorite meals that run in the $5-$6 range for our family of six:
- Meat loaf
- Grilled chicken with carmelized onions and mashed potatoes
- Soup and salad (here’s how we make homemade soups on the cheap)
- Pot roast (we never pay more than $3 a pound)
- Mom’s Spanish Rice (also can be put into green peppers for stuffed green peppers)
For more ideas on cheap but delicious meals check out this book:
Some ideas for cheap (as in $1 or $2) meals?
- buttered noodles with salt, pepper, dried parsley flakes and garlic powder
- air-popped buttered popcorn
- homemade mashed potatoes and veggies
- chipotle rice
We Shop the Sales and Buy in Bulk
When it makes sense. This is vital to a frugal grocery budget. We menu plan around upcoming sales and then buy according to what’s on sale. This is extra important if you live in an area where food costs are higher. So is buying in bulk when it’s really cheaper and when it’s food you’ll really use. Just be careful not to use/waste more than you would normally because you have an abundant supply.
We Keep Food Waste to a Minimum
The average family wastes up to fort percent of the food they bring into their homes. Forty percent!!! That’s ridiculous. When our fridge starts to get filled with leftovers, we have “leftover night” for dinner or lunch or Rick brings them to work for lunch.
We Keep Processed Food Purchases to a Minimum
You will rarely find chips, pop, candy, store-bought baked goods or processed dinner and snack foods in our house. Why not? Because they’re not good for you and they’re expensive. In spite of what some so-called experts say, it really is cheaper to eat healthy, especially when you shop the sales. We do have chips in the house on occasion, and we buy cheap tortilla chips at Aldi’s and have nachos for dinner some nights. But mostly we limit the kids’ snack choices to nuts (cheap at Trader Joe’s and the big box stores, and you’re not likely to wolf down oodles of walnuts like you would with chips because they fill you up faster), fruits (we get whatever’s on sale), veggies (carrot and celery sticks: we buy them whole and peel and chop them ourselves), homemade air-popped popcorn (we bought the Presto 04820 PopLite Hot Air Popper and it’s lasted us for four years now – much cheaper than the microwaved stuff AND better for you), and homemade baked goods such as my famous chocolate chip cookies.
We Beware of Making Random Trips to the Grocery Store
Random, unplanned trips to the grocery store are a budgeter’s worst enemy. This is why I rarely bring hubby to the grocery store with me. He gets drawn in with all of the sparkly marketing and pretty soon he’s “ooing” and “aahing” over the ice cream, the chips, the cookies and the other expensive crap food that looks so delicious in its’ colorful packages.
Instead, when we have to stop into the store during the week I make an itemized list and a promise to myself that I’ll get in and out without browsing.
We Rarely Eat Out
That’s right. In the last year we’ve been to a fast food restaurant five times. We limit sit-down restaurants to no more than once a month. Usually once every two or three months. Not only does eating out less save your family a crapload of money, it makes the times that you do eat out more fun. And it gives you serious peace of mind knowing that you’re not spending five, ten or fifteen times as much as you need to to feed your family dinner.
When we’re craving a certain restaurant meal, we head to the Internet and find a copycat recipe. Once of our favorites is this Better Than Olive Garden Alfredo Sauce. It really does taste like the real thing!!
It Takes Effort
As with any good thing, it takes effort to feed your family on a budget. But not that much effort. Simply start by turning off the TV, putting down the smartphone and taking some time to educate yourself. Buy a book like this one that will teach you how to save money:
Then spend an hour a week or so learning to implement money saving strategies that will help you learn how to substantially lower your grocery bill and to save money in other areas as well. Even the busiest of people can carve out an hour a week to learn how to save more and spend less. If you don’t believe me, go on a TV or smartphone boycott for a week and see how quickly you become bored.
After you take a bit of time to learn how to save more and spend less, you can take the money you’re saving each month and use it to reach your dreams of becoming debt free, quitting your job or building up some serious wealth. Stop being a victim of poor money management and start being a victor over your finances and your life. The effort will be worth it!
How do you save money on feeding your family? What are other ways that you save money and spend less?