One of the biggest expenses families have is the cost of feeding them. There are many articles on the Net about “starving” families that are forced to spend a “measly” $12 to feed their families at the local fast food joint in order to survive, thereby affecting their health.
When we started cutting costs in 2013 in order to pay off our debt, we started with our grocery budget. By continually tweaking our techniques, we’ve learned how to feed our family on less than half of what the average family spends.
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.
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.
Make a meal plan every week or two weeks, and stick to the plan, buying what you need to make the meals on your list. That one move alone will save you hundreds of dollars a year.
Know How Much Things Cost
I can tell you the price of nearly every single item we buy regularly at the grocery store. 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.
Have a List of Cheap Meals and a List of Not-So-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
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.
Some of the foods we buy in bulk at the local warehouse stores include:
- block cheese
- organic butter
- organic frozen veggies
- sour cream
- fresh veggies (we cut them up and freeze them in our deep freezer if we’re not going to use them before they go bad)
- organic sugar
- certain canned goods (be sure to compare the prices to grocery store prices)
Like I mentioned earlier, knowing prices of items you buy regularly is key to knowing if sales – or bulk purchases – are a good deal.
Keep Food Waste to a Minimum
The average family wastes up to forty 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.
Learn to cook only enough for the current meal needs, or else commit to eating the leftovers for the next few days’ meals. You can also intentionally cook more – like with soups – and then freeze the leftovers for quick meals for work or at home.
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.
By avoiding processed foods – especially sodas – you can save LOTS of money on your monthly grocery bill.
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.
As my son likes to say when we bring Rick to the grocery store, “Mom, baby Ricky wandered off.” 🙂
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.
Keep Restaurant Meals to a Minimum
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 boat load 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.
Another way we enjoy restaurant meals without spending money at a restaurant is to search the Internet. 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!!
We also make this delicious homemade pizza for pizza night. Honestly, it tastes much better than the takeout stuff and it’s cheaper, too.
If you’re really feeling motivated, you can also save LOTS of money on your grocery budget by growing and preserving your own veggies. It does involve some work, but for us it’s allowed us to save hundreds of dollars per year.
Also, take advantage of shopping local farmers markets and roadside veggie stands. They usually have really great deals on fresh fruits and veggies.
If you like meat, work to find a local-ish farmer that will sell you meat in bulk. We buy grass-fed beef from our local farmer for $3.50 to $4.00 a pound so we can eat quality hamburger, steaks and roasts on our small grocery budget.
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?