I’ve gotten several requests lately from readers asking how we feed our family of six for roughly $100 a week. We spend roughly $400-$425 dollars a month to feed our family. One sweet gal brought a smile to my face when she wrote “Do you mean $400 twice a month?” Nope. $400 for the entire month. As I started to think about how to share our tips, I realized that when I was looking online for ways to feed our family for cheap, I wanted details. Details about what they bought, how much they bought and what they served for meals.
So that is what this post (and part 2 of this post) will entail. I think you’ll be surprised to find that we feed our family relatively well on the little we spend. We buy only organic milk, flour, sugar and butter, for instance. We don’t eat a ton of junk. Here are the nitty gritty details on how we feed our family for $100 a week and on how you can feed your family for less too.
Plan, Plan, Plan
I almost hesitated to include this step because many people know it. However, most people are not doing it. Why, I’m not sure, but I suspect it might have something to do with not being sure quite how to plan and plan well. Here’s our detailed guide to menu planning.
- Make a list numbered 1-15. On that list, write down 15 meals that you can serve twice a month to your family. This is for your dinner meals. It’s important to be frugal on your dinner meals. Here are some of the things we serve for dinner meals:
- Chipotle Rice
- Beans and rice with homemade tortillas
- popcorn night
- meat loaf
- pot roast
- pizza night
- taco salad
- stir fry
- junk food night
- burgers and dogs
- potatoes and veggies
- leftover night
- veggie salad
- fried rice
- buttered noodles
- macaroni and cheese
- chicken noodle soup
- black bean soup
- cream of wild rice soup
- navy bean soup
- rice hotdish
- tuna hotdish
- Mexican lasagna (or Creamy Tacos Casserole)
As you can see, some of our dinner items seem costly, some do not. This is key – you have to sprinkle your menu with super cheap items such as popcorn or buttered noodles. I can make a big chunk of these meals for roughly $3 for our whole family of six.
Another benefit to having a serious, laid out menu plan is that it prevents you from making a take-out run because there’s nothing in the house. This will save you huge money.
2. Plan your meals so that the preparation of them fits in with your schedule. For instance, when we make soup, I make a ton of it (for cheap – more on this later) and freeze a few dinners’ worth so that on busy days I can just pull some soup out of the freezer and heat it up. Also, on homeschool co-op days when the kids and I are in town all day, I make this “junk food night” (more on this later) so that the only prep I need to do is to preheat the oven.
By making these two planning steps a must-do part of our menu planning, we help to keep our costs low.
Learn How to Shop Well
Shopping Well Tip #1: Too many people have NO idea what they’re paying for the food they buy. This ruins any chance of feeding your family on the cheap because you can’t know what’s a good deal and what isn’t. I can tell you, almost to the penny, what we paid for every item of food in our house. The large can of refried beans is $2.25. The bottles of juice are $3.98. The bagels are $1.42 a pack. The first step in shopping well is knowing the prices of what you buy on a regular basis. This will help you better be able to create a budget on the cheap. If you’re not good at memorizing, use your receipts to make a pricing list you can refer to as you menu plan.
Shopping Well Tip #2: Another part of learning to shop well is to know where the cheapest prices are on everything you buy. We buy the bulk of our food at Walmart, but all pasta and snacks are purchased from Trader Joe’s. Organic veggies and hot dogs come from Costco, cheese, coffee, oatmeal and eggs come from Sam’s Club. I also plan these trips for when we”ll be close to these stores so that I’m not wasting gas money driving from store to store.
Shopping Well Tip #3: Plan your menu around upcoming sales. For instance, if grapes are on sale one week, then you can be sure that grapes are what we’ll be eating for fruit on a given week. If the kids don’t want grapes, tough bounce. This is another key to feeding your family for cheap: don’t give in to kids’ demands. It’s perfectly fine to get their opinion, and we do that on a regular basis, but we don’t give in to demands for high priced snacks and processed crap food (excuse my language 🙂 )
Shopping Well Tip #4: Experiment and figure out which generic brands you can live with. We always buy the Sam’s Club bulk coffee beans and grind them ourselves. We will NOT eat the generic refried beans from Walmart. Yuck. Many generic brands are terrific, but some are horrible, so we experiment often and use generic when we are okay with the taste.
Shopping Well Tip #5: Buy quality where it’s important to you. In our family, we will buy only organic veggies, butter, flour, sugar and milk. We will only buy Daisy brand sour cream because it’s not filled with garbage. We will only buy Welch’s Farmer’s Blend 100% juices because the pesticides in the other stuff give two of our kids headaches. We only buy our beef and chicken from local farmers. We only buy Jolly brand non-GMO popping corn. These are our “no-compromise” items. It’s a small list, but it’s important to us so we make room for it in our budget by sacrificing other places.
Shopping Well Tip #6: Keep junk food and processed food to a minimum. The only time we ever buy chips, pop, processed cereals or other breakfast items and store-bought dessert-y stuff is if it’s a special occasion. Junk food takes up a HUGE amount of money in many people’s budgets. We limit purchase of these items to special occasions such as parties or camping trips.
I’m getting a little long-winded here, so I’m going to save our other tips for a part two post next week. In that post, I’ll share specifics on how we eat breakfast and lunch for cheap, our creative ways of making meals cost less and go farther, and will break down our monthly grocery budget in detail so that you can get specifics on what exactly we buy and how much it costs. Until then, happy shopping! You really can learn to feed your family for less!
You should create your own recipe book! For me I’m still struggling with the food budget. I’ve been on a mission since last month’s budget fail and I’ve gained about eight pounds I think from eating a lot of pasta. Grrr. I’m still trying to find the balance between super lean meals (heavy on the protein for me) and budget meals. If there’s a will there is a way right? 🙂
LOL, I’m not sure what I serve is quite that newsworthy. :-)I have to keep pasta to a limit too. I’ll work on shraing some high protein meals for you.
Great tips Laurie. Meal planning and shopping with a list are the first steps. I always find not to over shop on fresh food and cause waste. You typically make trips to the store at least weekly, only buy what you need, you don’t want to waste money in spoiled food.
Food waste is a huge source of overspending on groceries. Something like 25% is what typical families spend on food waste – you are smart to avoid it!
My top two ways to cut costs on protein (besides raising chickens for poultry) are: 1. cook with bone-in chicken or whole chickens, and 2. cook dry beans in the slow cooker & freeze in reused jars. These allow us to each protein-rich meals most nights. Bone-in chicken costs one-half to one-fourth the price of boneless, skinless chicken breasts and the bones impart flavor and possibly health benefits.
Love the beans tip, Kalie! I’ll be sharing more about how we save money on protein sources in the next post. 🙂
Love this! Food shopping is something that we have struggled with for quite some time. We are doing better, though! 🙂
So glad to hear you are improving! That forward movement is what counts. 🙂
I love this! I also love the details you provided. I’m with you with #4. Many always say generic always but sometimes they don’t taste good. It also takes time to get your family grocery budget right. Don’t give up! Thanks friend!
Hey, my friend!! Yes, we love most generic foods and find that they taste great. I hear you on the trial and error regarding the grocery budget. You just have to keep working till you get it right. 🙂
You should definitely make this into an E-book, it could help so many people to read this specific advice!
Thinking about that actually, Cat. 🙂 Will share more next week!
Nice Laurie. Planning definitely helps. That is why I plan every meal in advance. Basically, I know what food we’ll have for the next two weeks because I have already planned it and we always stick to it.
That’s what we do too, Michelle, and it really makes a difference money-savings wise, doesn’t it? Glad to hear it’s working for you. 🙂
I loved the details you shared, Laurie! Breakfast is where I struggle with the processed food. On school/work days, cereal is so quick and easy! Although sometimes I make big batches on pancakes on the weekend, freeze a bunch for during the week. Looking forward to the second part of this series!
I can see where that would be tough as everyone has to be up and out the door early. We do bagels on the days we have to go to co-op. It’s not ideal from a whole foods standpoint, but it’s cheap. 😉
We eat a lot of rice & beans, but I have a TON of different ways to cook rice & beans so it doesn’t feel like they are eating the same food all the time. The best part of having a meal plan & shopping with it is that you have everything you need and don’t have to make multiple trips to the store.
That’s great, Tre! You’re welcome to share your beans and rice meal ideas here in the form of a guest post 🙂
I guess you’ve shared the golden rule to everything here! Planning, planning and more planning! Whether you’re trying to pay off debt or increase your savings or spend less on your culinary desires, a plan is what you need! You can call this food budgeting, if you may
We used to spend over $800 a month on food for just the three of us and I think the biggest reason for us spending less than $400 now is planning. We were notorious for last minute shopping and because we last minute shopped and didn’t have a plan, we frequently overspent on food we didn’t need or wouldn’t use because we picked up so many extra items when we did go to the food store. Now we not only make weekly meal plans but if we are not going to use something within the week, we won’t spend money on it. It saves us a lot on wasted food costs.
You know, you’d be surprised at how much you can do with $400. I live in a pretty expensive city, but I do think that if you’re creative you can definitely make your money work hard. I could still do way better by planning my meals, so there’s definitely room for improvement.
Loved the post and am looking forward reading more of your articles!
I really enjoyed your article. I look forward to part 2 and reading your recipes. Keep up the good work! Being Frugal is Fun!!
I am sending this link to my wife right now. She has been talking to me about this all weekend, about how she could spend more like 400 or 500.
I’m amazed at what you buy with so little money! So definitely I can see where all that planning comes in. That’s what I need to accomplish ~ meal planning. On to Part 2! Great lessons, Laurie! 🙂
I absolutely love the idea you stated of having a list of 15 go-to meals that you can make twice a month! I mean, that is genius!! I always struggle with meal planning, like seriously struggle with it. You have given me a glimmer of hope, that maybe, just maybe, I can get going with this whole meal planning thing! 🙂
Thanks, Mackenzie! I am CONFIDENT you can do this, my wise friend. Keep up the great work. 🙂
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