Well, almost $200. $215.48 to be exact. But that was only because of the anarchy that ensued after we ran out of milk and fresh fruit about half way through the month. 🙂
You might remember that we made a goal for this month of spending only $200 for groceries in the month of December for our family of six as we worked to stay within our yearly budgeted goal for groceries. We wanted to challenge ourselves and prove to ourselves that we really could save money on food expenses. Well, we came pretty darn close, coming in at $215.48.
The government-collected numbers as of January 2017 shows that in order to feed a family of four (with two kids aged between 6 and 11) it is costing between $636.70 and $1268.70 per month for groceries
Our family of six has had approximately ZERO grocery months over $600 in the last five years. Yep, our monthly grocery bill has never reached even $600 in a given month.
Read on to find out how we feed our family for less than the lowest grocery costs for a family of four, and we eat healthy in the process.
You CAN Save Money on Food
Here are the steps we took to lower our grocery bill big time this month, and the steps we take to keep our grocery bills at roughly $450-$550 each month.
Although we did go super crazy frugal during this December challenge, we still maintain a lower than average grocery budget all year around, and have done so for the past five years, even with organic foods and lots of fruits and veggies in the mix.
1. We Keep a List of super cheap meals.
This was key to our success for our December challenge month, but we still sprinkle these super cheap meals in our regular meal planning months. Here’s a sampling of what we ate throughout the month:
-Breakfasts: consisted of some version of eggs, alternating with oatmeal or toast. On the weekends, I did one day of made-from-scratch pancakes (complete with organic syrup from Sam’s Club or Costco) and one day of some sort of eggs and fried potatoes
-Lunches: Consisted of primarily some form of pasta, potatoes, rice or leftovers with a vegetable. Most of the veggies came from the freezer from either garden bounty or what we had in stock.
This is pretty much what we do during normal months too, except that this month we just lived off of what we already had in the house.
BTW, Trader Joe’s sells pasta at a great price: $0.99 cents for a one pound package. Bonus: although not organic, the pasta is produced in Italy where harmful pesticides such as RoundUp are illegal.
-Dinners: Primarily some combo of veggies, chicken, beans and rice or pasta, and we had ribs one night which had been in the freezer from the side of beef we purchased last year. We did stir fry one night from veggies we had in the freezer, and we did fajitas one night too.
We made homemade tortillas (find my super easy and yummy recipe here) for the beans/rice, fajitas and egg burritos -super cheap. We also did popcorn for dinner about once a week. We didn’t have to buy rice or pasta this month because we buy in bulk during the year, and had enough to sustain us through the month of December.
Buying in bulk is huge for saving money on groceries, but only if you buy what you know you will use and need. Some of the things we buy in bulk include:
- Block cheese (it can be frozen)
- Butter (can also be frozen)
- Flour and sugar
- Big bags of frozen veggies, usually organic
- Big containers of baking supplies like baking soda, vanilla and spices
- Coffee filters (super cheap at Sam’s Club, like $2.50 for a two year supply)
- Coffee (allows Rick to have quality coffee for about $15 a month – and he brings some to work)
And more depending on what they have available and what we know we’ll use.
Storage of Bulk Purchases
Storage methods are important too when it comes to bulk purchases. A deep freezer (or zero temp freezer) is a necessity as it helps freezer foods last much, much longer.
Seal-tight containers for things like flour, sugar and oatmeal are important too for freshness and for keeping bugs out.
For Rick’s lunches at work, we bought a few things, but most of the time he took leftovers or sandwiches in.
2. We scoured the ads like a hawk
So we could stock up on super sales for things we needed to eat. This is a key element in learning how to save money on food. For instance, stores had potatoes on sale dirt cheap due to Thanksgiving. We found a sale for a 10 lb. bag of potatoes for 99 cents, and additional bags for $1.99.
We bought 1 for Thanksgiving, and four more for December meals. Here’s a list of everything we bought in each trip to the store. We went “big shopping” at the beginning of the month, and then made several smaller stops throughout the month.
Dec 2014 grocery list
40 lbs of potatoes on sale 7.96
100% juice 19.17
64 oz of chkn breasts 7.98
olive oil 5.18
granola bars 2.00
4 can refried beans 9.00
1 jar salsa 1.98
3 jars spaghetti sauce 4.14
Skippy natural PB 5.72
2 5 lb bags organic flour 11.48
8 loaves white bread 9.44
coffee creamer 5.16
block cheese 25.32
sour cream 4.72
$1 lunches for rick 4
cheese slices 4.48
organic milk: 5 half gallons 17.9
Ritz crackers for Rick lunch 1.99
total 184.64 ( we used 6.89 savings catcher money on this trip also)
sunflower nuts 5 .00
bagels 4 .00
cashews (for stir fry. You can’t have stir fry w/o cashews. It’s a rule.) 3.98
Grand total: $215.48
By hitting the sales, and having a mentality of “Don’t buy it unless you absolutely must have it”, we cut our grocery expenses roughly in half this month!! The “don’t buy it unless you absolutely must have it” is vital to keeping a low grocery budget such as this one.
Of course you don’t need to be this strict on a non-budget-challenge month, but it’s a wonderful tool for keeping spending in check.
And shopping the sales will help you ensure you are getting the best deals on the things that you buy.
*NOTE: Not all “sales” are really sales. It’s important to know what the regular prices are of the things you buy so that you can spot the difference between a sale and a scam.
I have a great memory and so I just memorize most prices, but if that’s not your gig I would recommend keeping a list of the items you buy on a regular basis, along with their regular price, the lowest/best sales prices you’ve seen and when and where you can find those prices.
Grocery stores tend to have sales on certain things at certain times of the year. For example, you’ll often find ham on sale at Easter time and turkey on sale around Thanksgiving. By keeping track of when things are on sale you can stock up on the things you use regularly.
*Note: this budget does not include money we spent on family gatherings such as Christmas/New Year’s Eve. We put those in a separate expense category since it’s largely stuff we would not normally buy.
3. We ate from the pantry
Although we didn’t touch our emergency stockpile food, we did scour the pantry/freezer for anything that we could use to make a meal out of.
4. We got creative and we got humble
Another key to keeping a low grocery budget such as this one was that we got real humble real quick. The perspective we adapted of “this is all we have” (this is one out of the Great Depression, my friends. There were no credit cards then, so what you had in cash was what you had to spend. Period.) makes every meal feel like the blessing it is.
Knowing that there were very little funds to last us till the end of the month made us grateful we had a meal to eat at all. It also forced us to get creative, making something out of nothing. This is a skill I got real good at as a child living in poverty but have lost over the years.
When faced with limited food resources, it’s important to use your creative mind to put things together that you wouldn’t normally put together. Create your own casseroles, you know?
Recommended Reading for HUGE Money Savings Every Month: America’s Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money: Your Guide to Living Better, Spending Less, and Cashing in on Your Dreams
Other Tips for Saving Money on Food
There are other ways you can save money on food and substantially lower your grocery bill as well.
Grow a Garden
Growing your own veggies and fruits is a huge money saver. Come August, our yard will be filled with ripe apples ready to eat or to make fried apples with cinnamon for breakfast or pans of apple crisp for family and friends.
Even a single tomato plant on the patio or dill plant on the counter top can help cut food costs and give you fresh, healthy food as well.
Make Items from Scratch
Whether it’s homemade tortillas, chicken noodle soup or chocolate chip cookies, you’ll save a ton of money by cooking from scratch. Bonus: the “from scratch” stuff is much healthier than the store bought, pre-made stuff, which is usually full of chemicals and pseudo-foods.
Learn to cook from scratch by checking out the many great recipe sites on the web.
Do a Stock-Up Meal Day
One of the main problems people have with their grocery budget is that they just don’t have the time to make meals from scratch, thus spending a lot on convenience foods and takeout.
The solution? Set aside one day a month to cook and freeze a variety of meals. Soups (or at least soup bases like chicken stock), cookies, bars, casseroles, lasagnas, meat meals like sloppy joes and meat loaf, bbq beef and lots of other stuff can be prepared and frozen ahead of time.
Then come those busy days when you don’t have time to cook, you just need to pop them in the oven or crock pot for easy re-heating. This will help you save money and eat healthier, even on those days when you are too busy to cook.
Conclusion/Summary: The month went good overall. The kids didn’t complain much, except for the uprising near the end of the month when we’d gone several days without milk or fresh fruit. 🙂 Surprisingly, my kids aren’t afraid to tell it like it is, 😉 , so they made no qualms about protesting our low budget when we ran out of the basics.
We ate much more pasta than we usually do, which was a definite downside, but it was mostly non-GMO pasta, which helped lots.
The main thing I learned from this experiment is that we can indeed lower our grocery bill, and I’m betting you can learn to save money on food as well. In 2014 we spent an average of roughly $510 per month to feed our family of six.
While this is not a ton of money, we still did this while being lax in our budget/shopping. Imagine what we could do if we’d been half as strict with our budget as we were this month!
While I’m certain we won’t adapt a $200 grocery budget every month in the years to come, we are committed to doing better than we did in 2014, leaving even more money on the table to put toward debt.
How will you get “gazelle intense” in the coming years in order that you might accomplish your financial goals? To what lengths will you go to accomplish your wildest dreams?