Home » How We Fed Our Family for $200 This Month

How We Fed Our Family for $200 This Month

Well, almost $200.ย  $215.48 to be exact.ย  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. ๐Ÿ™‚

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.ย  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.ย 

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. ย 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.ย  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.ย  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)
  • Oatmeal

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.

Cheap and Easy Meal Planning: The $5 Dinner Mom Cookbook: 200 Recipes for Quick, Delicious, and Nourishing Meals That Are Easy on the Budget and a Snap to Prepare

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.ย  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.ย  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.ย  Here’s a list of everything we bought in each trip to the store.ย  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
pop 1.98
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
chipsย  2.98

total 89.01

coffee creamer 5.16
block cheese 25.32
coffee 14.88
sour cream 4.72
eggs 7.70

total 146.79

$1 lunches for rick 4
cheese slices 4.48
organic milk: 5 half gallons 17.9
popcorn 2.98
gum 2.11

total 178.26

Ritz crackers for Rick lunch 1.99

total 180.25

fruit 4.39

total 184.64 ( we used 6.89 savings catcher money on this trip also)

sunflower nuts 5 .00

total 189.64

eggs 2.85

total 192.49

bagels 4 .00

total 196.49

cashews (for stir fry.ย  You can’t have stir fry w/o cashews.ย  It’s a rule.) 3.98

total 200.47

pineapple 2.88
milk 3.58

total 206.93

milk/apples 8.55
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.

Recommended Reading: Good Cheap Eats Dinner in 30 Minutes or Less: Fresh, Fast, and Flavorful Home-Cooked Meals, with More Than 200 Recipes

*Note: this budget does not include money we spent on family gatherings such as Christmas/New Year’s Eve.ย  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.ย  We got creative and we got humbleย 

Another key to keeping a low grocery budget such as this one was that we got real humble real quick.ย  The perspective we adapted of “this is all we have” (this is one out of the Great Depression, my friends.ย  There were no credit cards then, so what you had in cash was what you had to spend.ย  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.ย  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.ย  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:ย  The month went good overall.ย  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. ๐Ÿ™‚ย  Surprisingly, my kids aren’t afraid to tell it like it is, ๐Ÿ˜‰ , 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.ย  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?


  1. Vanessa D. says:

    Two hundred for the month is pretty amazing, but then so is your usual amount of $510. I just completed a spending analysis for the second half of 2014 – I’ve been spending nearly $800 per month for a family of 3. Granted, that is all adult sized people but I still think there is a lot of room for improvement.

    • Laurie says:

      Vanessa, good for you for trying to get that bill lower. I’ve got many posts on saving money on food in the Frugal Food section. Read them over, and let me know if you have any questions, okay? Email any time, and thanks for reading!

  2. That’s seriously incredible!! I really want/need to get my grocery budget around 250, and that’s just for me!!!! ๐Ÿ™‚ Right now I’m spending on average $350. My biggest weak spot I think is being a picky eater (making meal planning tough because I never know what I feel like ahead of time) and being a boring cook who doesn’t enjoy it either. I’m experimenting with more crock pot meals though and a lot seem to be coming out great and do last for days, and I actually enjoy the leftovers. So fingers crossed!

    • Laurie says:

      You know what Grayson does, Tonya? They make 2 or 3 meals a week, make bigger portions, and then eat leftovers lots of time. This could work for you!

  3. That is stinkin’ awesome Laurie! We’re at $475/ month…or at least that’s what we budget for and get looks all the time where we can tell the people are thinking how crazy we are. But, we have all we need and we’re able to eat relatively healthy. I just had to laugh at your cashews rule for stir fry – my Mom is the exact same way. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Laurie says:

      Thanks, John! Love what you said about having all that you need – isn’t that the truth? And kudos to your mom on the cashews: she’s a wise woman! ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. I am impressed – I have to say. We spend about $400 / month but a lot of that is toiletries, so I wonder if I just calculated food if I could get down to $200. The toiletries are so expensive! Anyways, congrats and Happy New Year!

  5. Aaron says:

    This is epic. Many folks can’t feed themselves for around $200/month – much less a large family. Kudos to you for giving this challenge a try and for nearly accomplishing it! Would love to see recipes and such that you use to eat so inexpensively.

    • Laurie says:

      I just put a link in that led to a post I did for Deacon with 10 cheap meals, but I might do something similar here, just to give people some more ideas.

  6. Amy says:

    This is absolutely amazing, Laurie! Grocery spending is a constant problem for me. I definitely need to take on the Depression mindset you referenced! I’m planning to keep monthly grocery spending under $400 in 2015.

    • Laurie says:

      Studying the Great Depression has helped me SO much, Amy. Since there were no credit cards back then, you really did have to live within your means, you know? You were forced to. We need to think more that way nowadays.

  7. Gretchen says:

    Whoa! And I thought I was doing good feeding us three on $300! I’m definitely going to “borrow” your list of cheap meals and post them on our fridge. That way, when I or The Big Guy have no idea what to eat, it’s there, waiting for us! Also, I’m taking a cue from you guys this year and setting a goal to grow more of our own food and preserve it for winter!

    • Laurie says:

      You’ll love it, Gretchen. It’s work, but it’s so gratifying. I’ve got several gardening posts and canning/preserving posts if you need ideas/tips. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  8. Wow!!! I can’t believe that you were able to feed everyone for $200 this month!! We thought we were doing good at $400 for the month for 4 of us (my mom now lives with us). We have challenged ourselves this year to $100 a week in grocery bills, but I think next year, we are going to push ourselves to $60. We had many weeks where we came in at our below that number, so we are going to make it a distinct goal. Congrats on your gazelle intensity and good luck carrying it through 2015!! Happy New Year!!

    • Laurie says:

      Shannon, that’s awesome!! $60 per month per person is super low. We would love to come in that low this next year, and are going to work on that. We’ll see. ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Holly Young says:

    You did very, very well:) Several years ago when I was homeschooling and only able to work part-time, I had a very lean budget. I was able to feed myself, my 11 year old son, and 1 year old son on roughly $67 a month. But, I was intensively gardening/canning, foraging (for apples and pears), and made almost all our food from scratch (pancakes, bread, noodles,egg dishes) that I could. My brother who had space for a larger garden raised root vegetable for us, and really came through on the winter squash which I was able to “root cellar” in my basement cold area. I had chickens for eggs. I sold several dozen eggs a month which, in addition to their foraging, paid for their food. But, it was definitely a pressure to always, always stay within budget and make frugal food choices. We did a lot of rice meals with cooked kale or chard. Our fruit consisted of foraged items or canned pears/applesauce. Our grocery shopping list usually contained just staples, powdered milk, and beans, with very little meat due to its cost. It was very hard. And yes, we did popcorn lunches. I did make cookies and cakes so we didn’t feel deprived of snacks. And I made tons of banana bread from the free bad banana bin at our local grocery store. But it was a great learning experience for my 11 year old as well as for me. I have those skills of squeezing every penny and will use them again when I move off-grid on a very tight financial budget. I really admire what you have accomplished! Continued frugality in 2015:)

    • Laurie says:

      Holly, that is absolutely amazing! But I get it. When we were kids and my mom was single, she spent very little as well. You just did what needed to be done back then, b/c you had no choice, i.e., no credit cards to back you up when you ran out of cash. We did have a super simple meal list this month, but all of the kids said it wasn’t that bad. Yes, frugal to the max next year!

  10. Bravo!! Love how you broke it down too. Great work! I love how intense you all got to get this goal accomplished. With this intensity you all are going to kill it on 2015! We are going to get intense in 2015 we want to earn more money and save more money. Wish us luck!

  11. Brooke says:

    That is amazing! Food spending is our #1 weakness. We’ve made progress throughout the year, but still have a long way to go. I’ve cut our target spending level for 2 for the new year to $400 but I know there is still a long way to go!

    Reminds me that I need to go back and re-read your posts to figure out new ways to cut costs while eating a diabetes-friendly, low-carb diet and respecting my husband’s allergy to eggs. #1 easy step in this is cutting down eating out spending even further.

    • Laurie says:

      Brooke, I’ll work on some meal ideas that accommodate some of the many food issues in America these days. Give me a week or two. ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. This article was incredibly humbling for me. As I have struggled to reduce food costs, it was a reminder of all the work left to become a frugal eater. I can’t seem to reduce those costs from my budget… I think the pressure, at times, of having friends that eat out a lot makes it harder — it can be a real social affair and difficult to miss.

    Thanks for the awesome article. You’ve inspired me to break down my costs and share in January.

    • Laurie says:

      Sam, so glad you were inspired! I’d be willing to bet you can cut down on costs and still have your fun too. You could order water to drink instead of soda or alcohol (or keep it to one drink), split an entree with a friend, look for meal deals, etc. I went out with friends last night, and the bill for the three of us for dinner (and an appetizer), including tip, came to $38.52. That was with a 22% tip at Chili’s. And if you eat cheap meals at home, it’ll help ease the guilt of eating out. ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. I LOVE your post! People are always so incredulous that my husband and I eat for $50/month. But it’s really not that hard if you buy just what’s necessary (like your motto) and keep things simple but healthy. So glad to hear that another person knows it can be done! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Laurie says:

      Deb, I’m always amazed at the way you guys kick it on groceries. You’ve proven that a little bit of sacrifice goes a long, long way.

  14. Lance @ Healthy Wealthy Income says:

    Awesome! The pantry and big meals with lots of leftovers are how we live and keep it low. Way to go.

  15. Awesome job Laurie! We’ve been doing much better on food spending now that we’ve started to menu plan (which you inspired me to do by the way- thanks for that!!) We’ve also pretty much stopped eating out now that we have a baby, and especially now that it’s flu season. Eating out was our biggest vice for a long time, so this is good progress for us in the last year. Anyway, good luck on your 2015 goals!

    • Laurie says:

      Yay! Good for you guys, Dee. We used to be huge restaurant buffs too, so I totally get it. Now, we really don’t miss it at all, and our pocketbook is SO thankful for that. ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. I spend about $120/month on food for myself. I also feed my dad and brother lunch a few times/week. I did the math and you are spending about $85/person/month on groceries for 2014. That is phenomenal! I’m so impressed that you want to lower it even further. Great job in December, but I’m sure you know not every month can be like this or you’ll run out of things to eat from the pantry. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Laurie says:

      And the kids will overthrow the parental government, LOL. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ll be happy if we can stick around the $350 a month stage. I think we can do it.

  17. Super awesome work! I can’t believe you fed a family on that. My goal next year is for that just to be my food budget. I’m a big overspender on food, obviously. I’m happy I found these tips though so I can start the new year off right! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Laurie says:

      LOL, you crack me up, Mark. ๐Ÿ™‚ Yeah, we’ve definitely had to work hard to learn what to buy and what not to buy at the warehouse clubs in order to keep our grocery budget in line.

  18. Iforonwy says:

    Well I did some calculations and with ajustments (ish) for changing ยฃs to $ I think that we have averaged about $450 per month for 2 persons.

    But that includes almost everything, foodstuffs, toiletries, cleaning products, stationery, (including ink and paper for computer)newspapers, magazines, greetings cards, wine, soft drinks, small gifts and even pantyhose and socks.

    I think that in 2014 we spent about 13% more than in 2013 so I hope to get the figure down for 2015 and also breakdown the spending into categories too. We tend to try to eat organic dairy, meat and veggies where possible.

    A large proprtion of fruits come from our garden and we hope to match this in 2015 and also produce more veggies.

    I try to save on the consumables, washing powder and the like (I use Ecover where possible) and love to try and beat the manufacturer’s recommended amounts. For example a large box of washing powder stated 25 washes on the carton – well that was a challenge – I managed 47 from that box with no perceivable reduction in cleaning. I do the same with shampoo etc.

    All good wishes for 2015!

    • Laurie says:

      I think $450 is pretty good considering it includes all of that other stuff too. I hear you on the consumables – we’ve been making our own laundry detergent now for over a year and it’s a HUGE money saver for us.

    • Laurie says:

      Thanks, Chela! Yeah, we worked our tails off, but it showed me that there’s more effort possible in us than what I previously thought there was. ๐Ÿ™‚

  19. Mrs. Maroon says:

    Holey moley!! That’s incredible. I’ve been trying for $450/month for the two of us plus the adult-appetite of our pre-schooler. But I love your idea for making a list of go to meals. That not only helps with keeping costs down, but also just deciding what to prepare. If you asked me about the worst part of my day, the answer is always figuring out what we are going to have for supper. Now to the list making!!!

    • Laurie says:

      Ugh, I hear you! It really helps having 4 or 5 go-to/standby meals, and it helps having a few things in the freezer too. That way if I really don’t want to cook, I can just grab something out of the freezer and throw it in the oven.

  20. I don’t even want to say how high our grocery bill is each month. It’s pretty embarrassing. And that’s WITH trying. I can’t imagine how bad it would be if we weren’t! That is an awesome accomplishment, Laurie! Keep on teaching us the way!

  21. I’m super impressed. You guys did a great job keeping your spending that low. I’m embarrassed to say that we spend almost double that and there’s 2 of us! Paring down our grocery budget and eating the excessive amount of food in the pantry are definitely on my “to do” list.

  22. I was feeling psyched about our goal to reduce groceries from $175 per week to $150 – and here you are doing a month at about $50 per week! And with 4 kids at home! Very inspiring (and humbling).

    • Laurie says:

      Tell me! ๐Ÿ™‚ I can’t see us doing that every month, but doing it for one month showed me that we can indeed have a lower grocery bill than we did last year.

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