31May

Budget Series: Frugal Living (Groceries)

Debt Reduction Series Budget Tips

Photo Credit

As I told you last week, our monthly grocery budget is $200, which includes groceries and other (indoor) household needs.  Now, I’m going to tell you some of the ways that we make that grocery budget work for us.  (Please remember…this is not what I think everyone should do.  This is how I make our $200/month budget work.)

Note: A couple of commenters mentioned that if we really want to save money, we should focus on bigger things. To an extent, I agree. You can see here and here how we have pared down our budget when it comes to those “bigger” expenses. However, I have seen countless surveys showing the average family spending $800-$1200/month on grocery and household expenses, so I know that for some people, groceries are one of the biggest expenses.

Do without the junk.

This is probably the biggest money saver for us.  We don’t buy junk foods.  Cookies, candies, snack cakes, chips, ice cream, pop/soda, juice boxes, fruit snacks, etc.  If there is a really good sale, some of these junky items might end up in my cart as a treat.  But, these are typically NOT purchased at all, and it saves us a lot of money (and it’s healthier anyway because no one needs those foods).  For us, it comes down to a matter of necessity.  I know people who spend easily $200/month on just these types of foods.  When you only have $200 to spend on groceries, you have to really analyze your choices, and buy only the things that are going to be of nutritional benefit.

You can also find recipes for most of the treats you’d buy at the store by searching pinterest or your favorite blogs (like our real food graham cracker recipe!). You can find entire cookbooks of such recipes like this one and this one on Amazon.

Paper Free in the Kitchen

We do not use anything disposable in our kitchen.  We use cloth napkins, cloth towels, real plates, cups, and eating utensils.  We do not use paper (disposable) cups, plates, or eating utensils.  We keep a roll of paper towels on hand for draining grease from hamburger, but we literally use less than a roll a year.  For birthday parties, we have some lighter weight plastic plates that we typically use for this (similar to these ikea ones, but ours came from Wal-Mart or the Dollar Store and were less expensive…like $1 -$2 for a pack of 4).

Drink Water (from the tap)

My kids occasionally get 100% fruit juice that we water down at a ratio of 1:2 (2 parts water and 1 part real fruit juice).  But for the most part, we drink water because it’s better for us. My husband drinks tea, which is inexpensive.  I drink water.  We do not buy bottled water for a host of reasons.  If you are concerned about water quality, you can purchase a water filter and still save money over purchasing bottled water and/or other drinks like soda. You can also get some great re-usable water bottles (some with built-in filters) these days to make it more convenient.

Cook from scratch.

We do not buy convenience foods.  Frozen dinners, frozen pizza, packaged dinners, etc.  It is usually healthier and much less expensive to prepare things yourself.  A batch of 15 biscuits costs about $.54 to make.  If I bought them refrigerated or frozen, they cost anywhere from $1-$2.50.  Simple changes like that make a big difference.  Likewise, we usually purchase whole produce and not pre-cut, because the cost increases significantly.  (most whole produce lasts longer than cut up produce as well).

No individual packages

Bulk isn’t always better (take a calculator to determine price per unit).  However, individually packaged anything is nearly always going to be much more expensive.  Go-gurt is a LOT more per ounce than a 32 oz. tub of yogurt. You can even buy re-usable tubes to make your own freezable, squeezable yogurts. Don’t fall for those convenient pre-packaged servings.  They are bad for your budget and the environment.  Buy a full sized bag of chips and separate the servings yourself, into reusable bowls of course :)

Along the same lines, we rarely buy fun treats like string cheese. We buy blocks of cheese and cut it into cubes or slices. It’s a simple thing to do for yourself, but makes a big difference in cost.

Look for Clearance.

When I go shopping, I always check the manager’s specials.  I don’t tend to have the good luck that I have seen from others on the web, but I do get the occasional good deal.  At Meijer, I recently scored some nearly bad apples and oranges for $.33/lb.  I also recently found peanuts at Meijer for $.30/lb (that’s nearly 90% savings from the regular price!).

You can also frequently find good deals on meats that are nearly expired.  Just prepare it right away, or stick it in your freezer until you’re ready to use it.

Stock up

Since my husband gets paid twice monthly, we have $100 in grocery money for 2 weeks.  Nearly every week, a good portion of that money goes for stocking up on things at a good price. For example, butter here is typically $3.39/lb for the cheapest kind they have. But it goes on sale every few months for $1.99-$2.29 and I stock up at that time, knowing I will use it before the expiry date. It’s worth it to save $1+ per package.  So, while I no longer use coupons, I do shop the sales and each week, probably half of my money is spent on that week’s meal plan, and half is spent on stocking up on things that are a great deal, so that when I do need them I can enjoy my $1.99/lb boneless skinless chicken breast instead of paying the current price of $2.99/lb.

Grow a Garden

This is a large part of our savings.  Every year we grow cucumbers, banana peppers, green peppers, tomatoes, corn, green beans.  I can green beans, freeze corn and peppers, make pickles from my cucumbers, and I can use the tomatoes for tomato juice and sauces, canned stewed tomatoes, etc.  This year, our strawberry plants are producing really well and we’ve picked around 2 gallons or so of strawberries.  If you can’t (or don’t want to) grow your own garden, purchase produce in season when it’s usually sold at rock bottom prices.

If you’ve never grown a garden, there are some great books out there to help you learn. It’s never too late! And, you can do a lot even with a little ground! Don’t think you can’t grow a garden just because you don’t have much of a yard, you might be surprised at what you can do. I LOVE the Backyard Homestead book. It is filled with great tips on growing your own food–on just 1/4 of an acre.

Meal Planning

Meal planning is a great way to help the grocery budget.  It puts you in complete control.  I can plan my meals based on our schedule (in order to avoid eating out!), what’s in my cabinet, what’s on sale, etc.

Speaking of eating out–we pretty much don’t. Eating out can be a huge budget breaker, so we choose to plan our meals for busy days instead and keep eating out as a fun treat rather than something that is driven by our schedule. See this post for more tips to avoid eating out.

Stick to your list!

Most impulse buys tend to be more expensive, and items that you wouldn’t plan to purchase because they aren’t a good value.  Never go shopping on an empty stomach, and stick to your list.

Shop around for the best price.

There are a few items that we purchase name brand, but for the most part, we go for generic/store brands.  Also, the least expensive places may not be what you expect, so scan prices everywhere.  We’re not above shopping at bargain stores like Save-A-Lot or Aldi, and even the Dollar Tree or the Dollar General store can have better prices on some grocery items.

It can take some time, but it really is worth it to take a day to travel to a few different stores and make yourself a reminder of where the best deals are.

I live in a tiny town with 2 grocery stores. Sometimes we travel the 1 hr+ to get to a store like Aldi, Ruler Foods, etc. Even wal-mart is in the next town over, 30 minutes away.

Cut the waste

I think we could all stand to be less wasteful, but since we’re on such a limited budget we’re a lot more careful about it.  Here are some of the ways we do that:

- We all start with small portions on our plates. My boys are big eaters, but sometimes can get distracted which can lead to waste. Sometimes I start them out with half a sandwich (and on hearty, homemade wheat sourdough bread, sometimes that is enough!). I would rather start out small and make them another if they are still hungry than to waste food.

-Produce.  When we buy a bag of salad or head of lettuce, I plan my meals around it so that we have salad several times in a few days so it won’t be wasted.  If I need a fresh onion or green pepper for a recipe (like corn and black bean salsa, or corn salad), I cut up the unused portion and freeze for cooking with later.  Overripe fruit can be used in cooking, or frozen for cooking later (we love to add frozen fruit to oatmeal in the mornings.  It’s perfect for the boys because the frozen fruit cools down hot the oatmeal).

-Leftovers.  When making my weekly meal plan, I always plan for leftovers, so that I can use them and nothing is wasted.

A couple of notes:

-We do not purchase all organic or all local meats. Other than that, we do follow a real food, no processed diet.  I know organic and all local meats it’s better in a lot of cases, but again, really not in our budget.

-Also, coupons are a great way to save money.  You absolutely can get good food, good household and cleaning items for super cheap.  However, I stopped couponing at the beginning of the year, for various reasons, but mostly just because God was telling me to.  So, even though it is a great way to save money, we don’t choose to do the coupon thing anymore.

Other Resources

-The Grocery Budget Toolbox

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Other topics in this series:

~Debt Discouragement
~Why Debt-free? (What the Bible says about debt)
~Our Budget (Frugality is necessary)

~Frugal Living (The Grocery Budget)
~Frugal Living (Saving on other expenses)
~Create Your Own Budget
~Our plan to be debt free (including our mortgage!) in about 6-7 years.

(Disclaimer: I am NOT a financial advisor. I am just a mom with a family living on a single income and I want to encourage others that it is possible to live on a tight budget and still have your needs met and be content…and get out of debt! I really hope that our personal budget information will help someone.)

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Comments

  1. I love finding meat on manager’s special! I hardly use any meat other than what I find there.

    I’m interested to hear that your strawberry plants are doing so well. We don’t have a yard right now, but when we do I might have to look into planting those! I’m spending about $2.50 a week on strawberries right now.

    I’d be really curious to hear more about your choice to not coupon, if it’s not too personal. I’m so impressed that you make it work for you without them.

    P.S. I don’t really buy organic, either. Sometimes I feel guilty about it because of the “granola” culture around me, but I just haven’t really decided that it’s worth it for me right now.

    • Crystal says:

      Laura, I will probably write a post about the coupon thing, since it’s a lengthy response and several people have asked, but know that I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with using coupons in general.

      Our strawberries have been a few years in the making. The first year, we got literally about 2 berries the whole time. The second summer we had them, we got a couple of handfulls here and there. This is the third year and we have been very excited for how well they are producing. Makes me want to replace my poor blueberry bush that died before it got a chance to produce anything.

      • My strawberries went CRAZY by year number 3. We couldn’t pick them fast enough! Have fun in your garden this Summer. And thank you for the wonderful post. So very helpful.

        • Crystal says:

          Thanks, Wendy! Our strawberries are doing really well this year (year 3), but we had to move them last year (year 2), so I think that probably affected them a little bit. And now we’re going to have to move, so I’m not sure what we’re going to do…probably take some runners and start all over, or maybe transplant some like we did last year. But, whoever buys our house will be inheriting a very nice strawberry patch :)

          • Crystal Moon says:

            Start growing them in containers, that way if and when you have to move you can take them with you easily. A little bit more care involved but worth it in the long run.

      • Blueberry plants need certain variety sister blueberry plants to cross pollinate with or they will die.

    • just a comment on the no yard so you cant have a strawberry patch well I know of people that live in apartments that take old guttering and tie it to the railing of the balcony and plant all kind of things like strawberries and radishes and onions and it looks pretty too so you might give that a try!!!!!!!

  2. I follow pretty much your kitchen/food buying habits. Except for health reasons I don’t buy any thing but butter. We live near a Sam’s Club and I can get 4 pounds for less than $8.00 so I buy it and put it into the freezer. That is what works for us. Not everyone can do that I know.
    If it is not too personal, why would God ask you not to coupon? I do not go out of my way to be an extreme couponer like on the TV, but we do get the Sunday paper and it has a few coupons that work for our family. Usually for dog food and laundry soap. The few dollars I save with a coupon I move to a special savings account in my bank for a vacation fund.
    Thanks for sharing your ideas. You write a good article.

    • Crystal says:

      Roxie, thanks for your feedback! And, the butter thing has really been bugging me more and more, so I will probably try to stock up the next time I can get some for $1.99/lb (the regular price at stores around me is $2.99+/lb and usually the best sales are around $2.50/lb).

      As for the coupon thing, I’ll probably write a post about that soon, because I’ve had several questions about that and it’s kind of a lengthy answer. But for the record, I don’t think coupons are bad and it’s awesome that you use them and add savings to a vacation fund :)

  3. Miranda says:

    An idea for butter instead of margarine: make your own. 1 quart of heavy cream will give you about 1 lb. of butter plus about 2 cups of buttermilk! The cheapest I’ve found heavy cream is for $1.99 a quart. 1 lb. of all-ready made butter here is about $2.50. The extra buttermilk I add to pancake and muffin recipes, or use it for fried chicken!

    We don’t coupon either. I’ve found that too many of the products are for processed foods (which we don’t buy – all is from scratch). Pretty much everything you listed is exactly what we do – except the big trip to the “big city” for food. With the price of gas, and a toddler who gets carsick on our little country lanes, it’s better in the long run to just go to the 1 store in the village! :)

    • Crystal says:

      Miranda, I actually did make butter from cream once, just as a little experiment that was kinda fun :) That is definitely something to remember and think about. Thanks!

      Gas prices are definitely something to consider…it costs us about $8 in gas to go to the next town over, so I try to make it count. Sometimes it is better to shop in my town, but there are a lot of things (like whole wheat flour, yeast, etc.) that I can’t really get at my local stores.

  4. Those are pretty much the guidelines I follow as well for our home. I would love to buy higher quality (organic, local etc) items, but right now I just can’t compromise the roof over our head. haha. I tell myself that if we can get by with getting by now and reduce some of our financial obligations (ie debt), then later we can actually afford to get those nicer things. A reason against coupons is that it’s mainly overly processed and packaged foods, and often times simply making it from scratch will give me a better savings. That’s just my opinion and preference. Thanks for these tips! :)
    -Whitney @ http://www.revivinghomemaking.blogspot.com

  5. Thank you for the kind answer. I look forward to reading your reasons for not using a coupon.

  6. So many good suggestions, Crystal, but we’re still working on doing without the junk. I know it would save us a ton of money, but we’re all junkies. I can’t get anyone else on board.

    I don’t use coupons either. I tried, and I just wasn’t getting much reward for so much time and effort. Plus, we have an Aldi and a Sam’s Club, so I primarily shop there.

  7. I wish we could cut out the junk but we really dont eat out and hubby works hard so I buy chips and soda. (he doesnt smoke, drink, go out, etc so I can compromise with keeping him supplied with Coke :))

    I do coupon, but only for stuff I use and Ill take any savings when I can get it.

    the price of butter(anything really! butter $3+/lb, eggs $2/dozen, milk almost $4 gallon)is so high so when the stores ran it for 1.88/lb around the holidays, I managed to get about 30 pounds of it and keep it in the freezer.

    I loved marked down meats since protein is the big part of the budget around here…I get all excited when i see those big reduce price stickers, lol.

    Yesterday I made my first ever batch of veggie stock(I always make chicken stock) Not sure why I waited so long to do it! I kept the odds and ends from cut up veggies(and ones getting a little old) in the freezer and yesterday i threw them in a pot with water, added a couple onions and simmered for a few hours. I got a 11 delicious cups out of it from scraps. Not bad!

    • Crystal says:

      April, we do buy those things occasionally as treats, because like you, I feel my hubby deserves a treat now and then for working so hard. And, awesome with the veggie stock! I’ve been meaning to try that as well. Definitely a great way to use up veggie “scraps.” Thanks for sharing.

  8. You have inspired me so much! My monthly grocery monthly is utterly ridiculous because we buy lots of organic foods, which is costly. I don’t coupon because to me, most of the coupons are for HORRIBLY UNHEALTHY foods. I will use them on rare occasions. But, I am inspired to cut out on all of the disposable and convenient items. Thanks sooo much! Be blessed!

  9. Huh. I think I do all of these things already (I must cheat more often than I think)! Coupons don’t work too well for us because we don’t buy very many packaged products. I wish there were coupons for fresh fruit and veggies! I even stopped buying store bought bread and make my own (much cheaper). We buy raw milk for $3/gal. (much cheaper), and I make my own yogurt (much cheaper!). My boys are 7 & 9, so they may eat a bit more! We don’t buy breakfast cereal (much cheaper), and I don’t know how much else I can do! We do buy organic whenever it’s even close price wise, and I’ll never go back to margarine (but I wait for butter to go on sale and buy as many packages as I can!).

    Anyway, your list of how to cut back is GREAT! As I said, these are all the kinds of strategies we’ve taken ourselves to cut back our expenses, and it has helped! Very nice, detailed ideas here! THANKS!

    • Crystal says:

      Michelle, $200/month isn’t going to work for everyone and if you’re already living a frugal (or semi-frugal) lifestyle my list may not help you much, but I posted it anyway because I know that a lot of my readers are just starting out and these small steps (I hope!) will help them a bit :) For us, we have very little wiggle room in our budget (we could cut out Direct TV for $65/month, but my hubby isn’t willing). So, for us the $200/month grocery budget is necessary and this is how we make it work. If we had more money to work with, there may be some things we’d do differently. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts! And, my boys are small (2 and 4) so I’m sure that accounts for a lot of difference as well, they are light eaters.

    • Becky Sunderman says:

      We live outside a small town, with 2 privately owned grocery stores (read expensive), a Kroger and a Walmart. I won’t buy meat from Walmart,and it is another 7 miles further away, so Kroger is the only choice for me.
      We have had a Kroger card for years, and get coupons in the mail from them regularly. They are for things we buy, and are well worth using. Examples from the latest bunch: a doz. large eggs FREE, $1.50 meat when you spend $7 or more, $1 off fresh vegetables when you spend $4 or more, $1 off an 8 lb. bag of navel oranges. We are senior citizens, so budgeting our food purchases is important.
      We spend one or two days a month making freezer to slow cooker meals, which is easiest for us, so we do most of our shopping around these recipes, supplementing them with salad, bread and desserts. We buy dry beans and grains in bulk, and plant a vegetable garden every year use a well to water it. (Some years it pays for itself, others it doesn’t).
      I can/dry/freeze vegetables and fruits in the summer, store what I can in an unused room (turn the heat and lights off – like a root cellar) and buy from farmers markets in bulk if our garden isn’t providing enough to get us through year to year.
      We use paper towels because it would cost so much more in water and electricity not to, and we buy glass bottled hot springs water for drinking. It cost us $26/mo., but we feel the health benefits are worth the expense.

      • Becky, it sounds like you have found what works best for your family! Thanks so much for sharing :) We really love our garden as well, and I’m not near a Kroger anymore, but I did love those store coupons like that.

      • Hi Becky. I’m not challenging your decision just curious. Why will you not specifically buy meat at Walmart?

        • Becky Sunderman says:

          Two reasons – I don’t know for certain where their meat comes from – almost all of it is labeled ‘from US, Mexico, Canada”. It also has ‘pink slime’ added. I prefer to buy meat raised and processed locally, mostly from a local butcher shop, and from neighbors who raise beef, pork, poultry and rabbits organically, without growth hormones, etc. We are planning on raising our own poultry next spring, after we get suitable coops/runs built.

          • I also prefer locally raised livestock and you are correct that as of now USDA only requires Country of origin labeling. Better than nothing. The USDA is looking to require much more info on meat labels. I will tell you that because of consumer pressure Walmart does not include lean finely textured beef LFTB or “pink slime” in there ground beef products since March of 2012. NOT as good as buying locally raised or raising your own but not terrible. Just wanted you to know. Good luck with your poultry this year! Goodnight from frozen western Wisconsin!

          • Thanks for sharing, Jerry!

  10. Thanks for sharing this list. I wish I could stay at $200 a month but we have a family of eight!

    I do use some of your tips but a few just won’t work for us for convenience and my sanity reasons. Like the “get rid of the paper tip”.

    With six kids in the house paper cups are a necessity or else my older children would probably run away (since they have kitchen for a chore)!

    This is still very inspiring, thanks so much.

    Lisa

    Stopping by from Better Mom!

    • Blessed Mama says:

      Lisa- I have 5 children. Glasses/cups can be a real problem! I’ve instituted a 1 cup/day rule :) I’ll use a sharpie to write names on the cups & I have one small counter that is where the cups belong when not in use. If I see they have grabbed extra cups, they have to wash them by hand… really cuts back on the dishes! It also reminds them to rinse out the cups if they have milk (dried up milk is harder to wash off!)

  11. Another great way to save is to check out the farmers in your area. We get our milk from a local Amish family for 2.50 a gallon. We skim off the cream (not all, our milk is still has more fat than the 2% in stores) and use the cream to give us butter (and buttermilk if we need it). So for 2.50 we get milk AND butter. Love it! I am in the middle of a series on limiting waste and the next couple weeks are limiting your food waste (and what to do with your waste instead of throwing it in the trash). This was great to see as we are working on lowers our grocery bill!

  12. Great post! I wrote a similar one recently and I have a small grocery budget as well. We have a budget of $300 per month for our family of 5 for everything including diapers, etc. I have been trying to snip here and there to reduce what we spend even more, but my husband is a carnivore and is really only open to about one meatless meal a week right now. I am stopping by from the Raising Arrows link up, but I look forward to reading the rest of your series!

  13. I wish my kids were light eaters but no luck there! 10, 8, 5, 3 and 1!! :) They eat a ton but we get by on similar comparatively.

    Great tips!!

    I don’t coupon either because it cost more money to run around town and time is money too. :) But for some it can be quite lucrative. Good luck! Thanks for this article.

  14. Found your blog via Raising Arrows and am your newest follower …. I am always looking for way to save money on groceries – We have a family of 7. Thanks for sharing … menu planning and cooking from scratch are probably my favorite ways to save. It’s amazing the difference it has made :) Hope you have a blessed week!

  15. This is a great post!! Excellent tips! Thanks for sharing!

    < Kristen
    http://www.createdtobehis31.blogspot.com

  16. What great budgeting ideas! Living on one income means that I have to really work hard to save on groceries!

    I would love it if you would share this post on the Creative @ Home Wednesday Link-Up! I really think my readers will enjoy it!

    http://susangodfrey.com/category/home-family/creative-home/

    Blessings!
    Susan Godfrey
    Finding Beauty – http://www.susangodfrey.com

  17. Great tips!

    With a family of five (including three boys with hearty appetites), I’ve been trying to keep our food budget at $600/month. (Which was a big cut from $900 a month!) I’d like to try to do a bit better, though. Thank you for the ideas!

    One thing I do is keep a big bowl of fresh, washed fruit on the counter to grab for a quick snack. I keep it in season, so the prices aren’t too bad.

    I also cut up a big batch of veggies once a week and make dip, so I can pull that out when we get back from the pool and everyone is starving.

    Balancing health and nutrition with the lower food budget is my biggest challenge!

  18. Found you through Encourage One Another. What an encouraging post! This is where our grocery budget ought to be, but I often find myself going over. Thank you for your encouragement to stay on track, and the great advice!!!

  19. Theresa says:

    Great post. Growing up my mother had us trained to not ask for things at the grocery store. We never went down the “junk food aisle”. Treats were actually treats and not an everyday thing. I was a child of the ’80′s so not having Cap’n Crunch or Kool aid was a big deal. All my friends had the cool food.
    Funny how I long for those days now.

    • Crystal says:

      Yes, Theresa, my husband and I have friends whose children MUST get something new every.single.time. they go to the store. If not there is a fit–a huge one. So, they have given up trying to break the habit. My husband and I were able to learn from them, so we knew before our little guys go here that there would be a STRICT policy of not buying our children anything at all while they were at the store with us. We’ve held on to that and as a result we have an almost 5 year old and almost 3 year old who have never asked cried for anything at the store. They might look at things they like from the cart, or mention their favorites, but they just like to look at them and talk about them, because we never started the habit of getting a toy with shopping.

    • Crystal says:

      And, I was a child of the 80′s as well, and we were raised very poor…and like you I long for those days now. Childhood is something that you don’t fully appreciate until you can look back and see how carefree you really were!

  20. I’m curious about the couponing thing too! :)

    And kudos to you for giving your children smaller amounts of food. We tried pretty hard to do that when our kiddos were smaller. You can always dip more! I know a few people whose kids ALWAYS throw away food and it always bugs me. I don’t want my kids to learn to overeat, but I do want them to learn to only get what they will eat.

    • Crystal says:

      Thanks, Deborah. We too hate waste, but we also don’t force them to clean their plate. I read an article a long time ago about how that teaches children to overeat, so we start out with smaller portions, but if they aren’t hungry we don’t make them eat all their food.

    • I have 5 kids and the rule of thumb is they have to eat everything that is put on their plates. However, I know how much each of them can or can not eat and I serve them accordingly. Also, if they are not that hungry they will share that with me before I serve them so that I dont give them their normal serving size. Recently, however, I stopped serving everyone and I just put the food on the table so that everyone can serve themselves, We eat as a family. Like you, I wanted them to learn to take only what they will eat so not to waist.

  21. I have done the above you wrote and it works. Thanks for sharing.

  22. Valerie Donovan-Denney says:

    Isn't it less expensive and better for you if you make your own bread? Great way to spend time with the boys and keep little hands occupied too while they are learning motor and math skills. ie~measuring, counting cups ect.

    • Crystal says:

      Valerie, thanks for the suggestion! I am a baker, through and through (so much that I buy my yeast in bulk)! I make nearly everything from scratch and my boys LOVE to help me. However, sandwich bread is one of the few things we buy at the store because I just prefer it. I do have a bread recipe that we make often, but for sandwiches I prefer storebought bread.

  23. Great post! I adhere to most of your suggestions here.

  24. What do you mean God was telling you to stop couponing? Was it just taking up too much time away from your family, etc?

    • Crystal says:

      Jamie, several people have asked about that, so I am working on a post about it that will probably be up next week sometime. Thanks for your comment :)

  25. When I was in college, I had a budget of about $40/week for food & cleaning supplies, so that would be about $120/month. I didn’t buy a whole lot of “junk” food, bought mostly apples, and I usually ended up making something (soup, stew, etc) for my suppers during the week. It’s amazing what you can get by on when you have to!

    Now, even though I’m on a pretty good income, I still have only about $250/month to cover my prescriptions (I’m looking at something more natural & cheaper for those), my vitamins (I’m not willing to give them up, just because my diet is lacking, I know, and they are good quality), & food. Thankfully I am able to grow a garden on my patio & I do have a shared one with my cousin (at her place) – the downside is that things don’t start producing here til July/August. but it’s a start! It always amazes me how much money I spend on groceries, and yet not have “anything” to eat. I don’t like to buy produce out of season/from far away, but at the same time, if I didn’t, I wouldn’t get to eat any! I’m trying to be more natural in many ways, so that’s a learning curve itself.

    Oh! We don’t get many coupons up here….I think if you get the newspaper, you get more, but usually they are for weird things, like glasses, or diapers or feminine protection – things I don’t use or need. And just because it’s on sale doesn’t mean that you “need” it!

    Thanks for an inspiring post! I am so making this work for me!

  26. Thank you for this post, there are a couple of ideas here that I can use. That being said there are several things here that we can’t do, so for a family of two adults and one baby, we are spending about $500 a month. It’s more like 2.5 adults though, because I am breastfeeding and HUNGRY! lol.

    Do without the junk – we try and do this as much as we can, though we are picking up some things like whole licorice and larabars due to being in the ugly transition phase of trying to cut out sugar, and needing healthy gluten free snacks that I can just grab when we go to visit relatives that have nothing I can eat.
    Paper Free in the Kitchen – Yes, 100%!
    Drink Water (from the tap) – We don’t even drink juice.
    Cook from scratch – A necessity eating gluten free. Sadly this actually doesn’t save us much money due to gluten free ingredients.
    No individual packages – I don’t think we even eat anything from packages anymore? lol. I would love to live near a whole foods for their bulk bins though.
    Look for Clearance – Sadly I think our local grocery stores donate anything that would otherwise be clearance. I certainly can’t find any, and I hope they are not throwing it out.
    Stock up – We do this when we can, but our freezer is tiny and inefficient, so what we can do is limited.
    Grow a Garden – Working on improving ours! Sadly it fell by the wayside this year due to the arrival of the little one. Yours sounds impressive!
    Meal Planning – Working on getting my head around this one. We try and buy whatever is in season and therefore cheap at the store, so going with a list doesn’t always work out.
    I absolutely second never go shopping on an empty stomach though!
    Shop around for the best price – Most of the items we buy are only available at one store in town, like you we live in a small town. Driving to the next one would completely wipe out the savings in gas money.
    Cut the waste – we haven’t thrown away food in several months now. Every night I check the fridge for stuff that needs eating up, and either add it to the meal that night or change what meal we are having. This goes hand in hand with not meal planning and seasonal shopping.
    Interestingly enough, organic here is no more expensive, and in some cases actually cheaper! Organic lemons right now are a dollar cheaper than the non organic ones. But there is a point when it comes cost prohibitive, like 16x the price for organic zucchini! And its not even local.
    We don’t do couponing either, because we don’t buy anything that coupons give you discounts on.

    Thanks again for sharing what you do! Do you see any glaring gaps in where I could be saving?

    • Crystal says:

      Rachel, it sounds like you are doing everything you can. I’m fortunate that I don’t have to deal with a gluten free diet, which would no doubt be tougher on the budget. It’s hard to say if I think you could be saving more or not, without knowing what types of foods you buy or the prices you pay for them, etc. For us, $500/month would be a lot (and impossible on our income…lol), but it seems like you are very frugal. There are also a lot of baking things (like nuts and baking chips, etc.) that we do without a lot because of the cost? I don’t know what the differences could be, except that we don’t eat entirely whole foods.

      PS–You definitely get a pass with the garden thing! The only reason mine survived on the years when I had my kiddos (both summer birthdays) is because hubby was kind enough to do most of the outside work…otherwise the garden wouldn’t have made it! lol.

  27. Awesome post. I am working with a $160 a month grocery budget and needed this reassurance. Cooking from scratch and avoiding the junk really does make a difference!

    • Cathy Jones says:

      I love sites like these!

    • Buying a second hand freezer, buying marked down or sales on meats, cheeses, milk, ect…, and making a double batch of casseroles, meatloafs, soup, chili also help to reduce your gro. bill. I know I did it for 3 boys.

      • Robin, in our old town, meat almost never got marked down. I was so excited to move to my new town and finally start getting the marked down meat that I always hear others talking about. Thanks for sharing your tips, I agree with the casseroles, soups, etc.

  28. Hi Chrystal,
    Great post, but I’m wondering how many children you have that you can get by on $200 per month?? We have 5 children still at home, and we have a big garden, laying hens, and a flock of turkeys, but there’s no way we could make on $200!

    • Crystal says:

      Lisa, we have only 2 children :) I actually recently saw another resource recommending the same, approximately $50 per family member per month…so for a family of 7, that would be equivalent to $350/month. I hope this helps :)

  29. Many of these ideas I use already. But drinking tap water is one thing I won't do unless I purchase some kind of water filter. I prefer spring water. Too many chemicals in tap water plus they put fluoride in most places. I also don't like the idea of processed sewer water being put back into the water system. They do this in many places – your toilet water gets "cleaned" and processed by adding tons of chemicals and they put the water back into the local streams and watersheds. Gross. Also, if I had to use dish towels and rags every time there was a spill rather than a paper towel, I'd have a hundred times more laundry to do which would use more detergent, electricity, and create more work all around for me. Germs also breed on sponges, etc. so paper towels are better in some instances. Buy the better brands like Viva and Bounty and you will use LESS paper towels. Yes they cost more but they always have coupons for them and in the long run it is more sanitary and cost-effective. So I do disagree on some points. When you need convenience, I feel you shouldn't deprive yourself for saving a few cents if you can afford it. Buying in bulk can be a problem for those with little storage space. Splitting that with neighbors or joining a co-op is a nice alternative. Where I live we have discount grocers so I can get a dented box of cereal for half the cost of the one in the supermarket. Those stores are great if you know your prices and know how to read the dates on the items. Cooking from scratch is fine if you are a stay at home mom. Most of us aren't that lucky. When I get home at the end of the day exhausted, the last thing I want to do is start cooking from scratch. But some days I am home all day and can make a ton of food for the week. So I would take these suggestions and modify them to your family. Not ever buying cookies, candies, sweets, etc. as a shopping rule is fine but imagine your childhood if your mom never baked you fresh cookies or gave you a treat once in a while. There are many low sugar treats or home-made things you can make that are healthy. And lastly, if you have to drive clear across town to save a dollar on one item, you may use double that in gas so planning your food shopping is definitely a good idea. IF it's only one item I will sometimes just pay the higher price to avoid using gas and setting myself up for any more impulse buying at a different store after I have done my shopping. I don't shop every week either – keeps down impulse purchases. Good blog.

    • Most bottled water comes from tap water through the same process. Spring water can have chemicals from runoff. So if you are not using bottled water for convienence then they really is no reason to buy it.

    • Good points and comments – I also commented about tap water – GAG!!! We LOVE our water filter and it is worth every penny we spend on ebay for the filters.

      This comment of yours made me LOL: "Cooking from scratch is fine if you are a stay at home mom" :-D As a stay-at-home/work-from-home mommy, I'd like to say: BAHAHAHAHA! And, I laugh at this comment with the utmost respect – not to be mean or a jerk. It just struck me as funny, especially since I was just having this conversation with the hubby.

      Chasing a toddler all day, trying to keep the place tidy (and safe), keeping up with errands and appointments, making … how meals & snacks a day for how many people with different preferences/food intolerances, etc. … when it comes to dinner time, I just want to boo-hoo. Literally – I will stand in the kitchen and weep because I have *no* idea what to make, even though we have lots of ingredients and options – and mostly because I'm just too exhausted to standing front of the hot stove.

      We tried menu planning and crock-pot cooking, but that doesn't usually work for us. We try to cook healthy and mostly from scratch (and normally we both love cooking), but some times we have to break down and either make something prepared (or that uses prepared items) or take a bit of cash out of our emergency stash to order out. We call it a "mental health" meal so one or both of us don't get over-stressed or burnt-out dealing with something as "simple" as what to have for supper.

      We do the same thing about saving money on an item vs how much gas will it cost. Some times, we just buy it where we are simply cuz the gas is more expensive than what we'd save somewhere else.

      Some of the things we need requires an hour-long road trip because we can't find them locally. We make sure that when we go, we cover a lot of ground to make the trip worth the gas money.

      • Rosa, thanks for the perspective about cooking as a stay-at-home mom. I appreciate that (and completely agree!) We live in a rural area, and there are things we have to travel for as well. And, like you, we try to build up a list so that it’s worth the trip.

  30. we stopped buying paper towels and I doubt I'll ever go back. just wash and bleach your rags in your regular laundry, its maybe half a load more per week.

    • Claire, I completely agree! I’ve been surprised at how little trouble it is. I really can’t imagine going back now.

  31. Thank you for th is excellent post! I am inspired and will use your ideas in our own budget. We drink verse osmosis water and eat organic food, and because this is a priority for us, we spend a bit more on food but less on other things. I would rather give up a car than my organic food and clean water ;) We buy much of our food direct from farmers, which gives us great quality at the best possible price. We garden a little, too, but I have not been that successful yet….it is a work in progress.

  32. I'm with the girl that said cleaning up messes with towels would cost more money then the paper towels. I have four kids so paper towels are a necessity in my house for now as they grow though I can see where cutting those out is a good idea. As for the bottled water I am so happy to hear you say you drink tap because I strongly disagree with bottled water for personal beliefs and not to mention I grew up on tap and just have not seen any negative repercussions :)

  33. I wrote a similar post a while back with a slant towards eating local and organic food as well. Growing a garden is huge for us. It saves us tons of money every year. I would also check out you pick places because they are both cheap enertainment and provide cheap food. In past years we have picked organic blueberries for $1 a pound. Another place to check is farmers markets for seconds. Seconds of apples and plums in particular can be very cheap and you can can them up for applesauce and plum sauce. I use apple sauce and plum sauce as an oil replacement in baked goods (the plum sauce works great for chocolate goods.) Here is my post on eating on a budget http://creatingnirvanatoday.blogspot.com/2010/05/saving-money-on-groceries-while-still.html and here is my post on canning plum sauce as a butter replacement http://creatingnirvanatoday.blogspot.com/2012/08/canning-plum-sauce-to-replace-butter.html

  34. Charlotte Groth says:

    We unapologetically use paper towels. They cost us about $6.00/month and don't have to be washed. Tap water is another issue Its fluoridated now. Bottled water is no better. It picks up estrogen from the plastic container. Right now we use bottled water, until we can work out a better solution. Fluoride is poison; tap water is not an option.

    If debt is the real issue, I would suggest looking at bigger changes that would make more of a difference. Drop the cable television; invest in board games. Get rid of the internet; use a nearby library. Believe it or not, people used to spend their entire lives without going online. Its not a necessity. Gas is an issue as well as wear and tear on a car. Walk or ride a bike whenever its practical. Drop gym memberships. I'm amazed how many people view a gym as a "necessity". Learn to can; barter; glean; use food banks. You'd be surprised how much is available when you're willing to volunteer your time. Refinance the house; find ways to bring in more money. It can be done. Just takes a little imagination.

    • Crystal Brothers says:

      Charlotte, thank you for your comment. We do most of the things you suggested, except we still have Direct TV…I’ve been working on my hubby about that one for about 5+ years now! lol

    • Stephanie Fletcher- Steiman says:

      Agreed!! "Convincing the general public that we need to add fluoride to our water supply was one of the most sophisticated cons of all time. It created a multi-billion dollar industry and enabled manufacturers to sell this worthless toxic byproduct of aluminum to local municipalities for a profit."

  35. Great list. Another thing I would add, go on YouTube and teach yourself how to cut your kids hair. I have three boys and it was costing a bundle everytime. I finally took the plunge over the summer (when it dosen’t matter as much) and tried it. I was surprised how good it looked. Next I’m gong to try and groom my own dogs. That should be interesting.

    • Great tip, Denise! I do cut my boys’ hair. Luckily, with boys it’s easier to not mess up. Our next purchase is going to be a set of clippers, which will make it even easier…right now, I’m just using scissors. For my curly-headed boy, this is much easier as his hair is more forgiving. For my straight-headed boy, it’s more difficult.

  36. Angela Lorenzen Scott says:

    I see multiple people commenting on the fluoride in the water. Uh, hello! Fluoride is good for your teeth. That's why so many kids have rotten teeth because too many people have switched over to bottled water. Those of you who drink bottled water…..where do you think they get the water from? And I am being very serious right now. Google the brand of water and you will find out that it doesn't come from some frozen glacier or natural spring. They use TAP WATER!

    • Nick PeterBurn says:

      You contradict yourself. You say switching to bottled water causes rotten teeth, but bottled water is just tap water? which is it?

      Read the works of Weston Price and his research of indigenous cultures and the lack of dental problems. Fluoride is not good for any one or any thing.

      • From what I understand of the lack of dental problems in indigenous cultures is that it involves more than just fluoride. At any rate, it’s hard to know what to do since there are dangers associated with bottled water as well.

    • Stephanie Fletcher- Steiman says:

      Please educate yourself on this subject, do a google search on "Flouride poisoning our water"!! Have you ever read the label on a tube of toothpaste? Contact Poinson Conrtrol!

      "Convincing the general public that we need to add fluoride to our water supply was one of the most sophisticated cons of all time. It created a multi-billion dollar industry and enabled manufacturers to sell this worthless toxic byproduct of aluminum to local municipalities for a profit."

    • Ian McKendrick says:
    • This is true. I’m not sure about flouride specifically, but there are lots of documentaries, and they use the same water source as counties for a lot of bottled water companies. Also, these days, what are you going to do? Tap water is bad because of flouride and bottled water is bad because it’s in plastic which can cause cancer…lose-lose.

  37. I know I’m a little late to this post but just wanted to say thanks for the advice. I do some of these things and know that there are always ways to be better. It’s nice to know that you don’t have to clip coupons all the time to save money…sometimes there is a lot of pressure to do that. I would prefer not to have 25 bottles of detergent to store :)

    • Britney, thanks for commenting :) I have to admit that I did coupon for a time, and we went for about 2 years not having to buy a lot of essential things, and it was really nice! Got a little spoiled, but we’re doing just fine without it as well…and being less wasteful, and more healthy. So, that’s a good thing. Yes, it does seem that couponing is the crux of most frugal/budget articles, so I wanted to share some of our tips without using coupons.

  38. These are really great tips. Many of these )including the no disposables in the kitchen) are ones we are working towards. :)

  39. Rebecca Parker says:

    Interested in your comments on couponing, it seems like most examples of big couponing I've seen are stocked up on a lot of things that aren't that healthy to eat or use.

  40. We buy bottled water. But we live on land with a well. The well water has a sulfur smell to it so I don’t use it for much. If I knew of a way to fix my well, other than $20,000 to dig a new one, I would quit buying bottled water. So yes some of us have a good reason to buy it

  41. I was reading your post about $200 budget, and was wondering your family size. I budget for $125 per week. I could still downsize using some of your ideas. My family is myself and 5 children. I plan to have a better garden this year to help with the veggies :) I also want to have the older children help in planning and cooking. I usually have a sort of plan when shopping and tend to get the same things every week. The thing I would really love to cut is the poptarts. It seems that all the kids use them as quick snacks for on the way here or there. It is getting really BAD! The 2 babies (3 &5) eat half on the way to daycare and the other half on the way home (makes for a messy van) the teens(13, 15 &17) eat them on the bus and carry in backpack for snacks during the day. Any advise would be helpful with that.The best I have managed so far is getting the off brand instead of name bran but they use about 3 large boxes a week. Anyway…. great article!

  42. Anonymous says:
  43. Vicki Haberman says:

    My grandson and great granddaughter recently moved in with me and my grocery budget has increased even though he helps out with buying groceries. I’m wondering where can I find some inexpensive and tasty dinner menus that everyone would like. I usually do most of my cooking in the crockpot and my roasting oven that sits on the countertop. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

  44. Some interesting tips (ie. use leftovers, reduce waste, find clearance sales, and stock up). However, there are some that just don't work for our family – or for me personally.

    I stopped voluntarily drinking tap water in elementary school when we took a class trip to the water treatment plant. I was horrified to discover that drinking water comes from the same place as toilet water and is in fact literally from our toilet. We got to see how the sewage water was "magically transformed" by filters, "good bacteria" and – oh yeah – chemicals – into our tap water that is then supposedly safe and yummy for drinking.

    And, of course there was the side note about all the prescription drugs that get flushed down the toilet that the treatment process can't get out. So every pharmaceutical that someone else flushes ends up in my drinking glass – wheeee!

    Besides those biggies, there have been days when our tap water has foam, floaties, brackish coloration and/or an overwhelmingly pungent odour of bleach (chlorine). There's no WAY that's getting near my mouth – or my family's!

    We live "frugally", but one of the things we make sure to budget for is a high-quality water filtration system. Ebay helps us to keep the cost under control.

    Also, I second the suggestion of generic brands and highly recommended it in an article I wrote a couple weeks back ("How to Make Your Groceries Go Further"). I find that the prices for "No Name" or President's Choice, etc. are cheaper than brand names even with coupons. In fact, I gave up using coupons for the most part. I can rarely find them for things we use or food we eat and when I do, saving 10 – 50 cents on a brand name doesn't compare to simply buying a generic brand for $1.25 – $2 cheaper.

    • Wow, Rosa, if my water were like that, I’m sure I wouldn’t drink it either! Glad you found what works for your family :)

  45. Thank you for the great article. We try to practice all you mentioned. Our stores have a nice big reduced produce cart so I’ll pick up 4 red peppers for $1.25 on occasion. Only once in 3 years have I had to cut off and toss a very mushy spot. Yes they are losing a little moisture but since I’m making sausage and peppers for my dh it just doesn’t matter!! I look forward to reading more articles from you. Blessings.

  46. Gayle Peterson says:

    Thank you for this article. Trying here to pare our grocery bill down even more!
    One small thing that I do is to join with friends who find great deals. One of my friends goes to the discount bread store every other week and buys bread for both of us (the nice whole grain bread) for only.65 a loaf! And I can buy shredded cheese for about $2.40 a lb. at GFS (in 5# bags), so I get cheese for her. That also saves on gas for both of us!

  47. Anonymous says:

    awesome! I have been doing this for 20 yrs. exactly the same way! my husband and I really spend next to nothing on groceries. and just started our seeds for our garden! glad to hear others are doing the same!

  48. Penny Walker Richardson says:

    All the fluoride you need comes from your tooth paste and fluoride treatments from the dentist. We have a while home water purifying system and I live it. It was really worth it. Makes a big difference.

  49. Tammy Nolan Yuzeitis says:

    Teenagers eat waaaayyyy more. I will not be able to spend only $200 per month – but I like your ideas. I always like to try and save money at the grocery store. Prices are ridiculous. I try to make food from scratch but my job sort of hinders much of that – I try for the weekend. Thanks for the post to get me motivated again.

    • Tammy, I can only talk about my situation, and I’m sure things will be different when my boys are teenagers. They already eat more than I do! lol. So glad you are able to use some of the ideas for your family anyway :) Thanks for your comment. And, I agree, prices are ridiculous these days.

  50. Matthew A. Cross says:

    Yes, cutting the major expenses should be the first priority. I would think that most people who are trying to cut down in the grocery costs have already taken these bigger steps. Doesn't hurt to be reminded to consider what our priorities are though. I like what is said by cutting out the junk food. There are bigger savings than one initially realizes as this will reduce health care costs over one's life time as well. Doesn't mean you can't still get cancer or other serious illnesses, but it will reduce the number of problems one does have and increase one's ability to fight the good fight. It is amazing too how all of the little nickel and dime savings can add up to thousands of dollars in savings over one's life time as well. We avoid paper towels as well and don't miss not having them. One trick my wife and I use is when we need a zip lock bag for something, it can usually be reused after washing it. I see co-workers that bring a zip lock bag of chips (saving money because they bought the big bag) and then throwing away the zip lock bag when they were done. Yep… so much for what they saved in buying the big bag. :) Also, when you buy those bags of frozen chicken wings or other such products that have the zip lock on them… works great as a "free" freezer bag when re-purposed to freeze that extra meat that was on sale. We have not had to buy freezer bags for years. I really like the ideas presented here and those shared by the other readers – it all helps me in finding new ways to save. Thanks!

  51. It is remarkable how much you can save my making small changes, packing all your lunches for work. I buy all my pants, skirts, dresses at thrift stores, I save a ton and always get compliments. I'm a single mom of 2 kids, have purchased a home on my own, hope to have it paid for in ten years, I bought a much newer car 2 years ago and paid cash for it, $10,317.00 for it. These ideas pay off big time. Frugal living makes many things possible .

  52. Robin Hamm says:

    Berkey water purifier with a PF-2 Filter. 95% flouride reduction.

  53. Robin Hamm says:

    Berkey water purifier with a PF-2 Filter. 95% flouride reduction.

  54. You do not need fluoride. It is poison to the body. Brush and floss and you'll be fine, I promise! Cut fluoride from your life and you feel much better.

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