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.)
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 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.
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 (the kind that you can find at the dollar store summer isle for $1 for a package of 4).
Drink Water (from the tap).
My kids get 100% fruit juice that we water down at a ratio of 1:2 (2 parts water and 1 part real fruit juice). My children eat enough fruit that they don’t really need the juice, but they prefer it, so for health reasons we water it down, but it also stretches the juice to last longer. My husband drinks tea, which is inexpensive. I drink water. We do not buy bottled water for a host of reasons. We started out early in our marriage using a filter, but now we drink plain tap water, and have for the past 5 years.
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. 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
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 expired 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.
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, my local Meijer often has Aunt Millie’s bread on sale for $1.25/loaf. During those times, I’ll stock up several loaves to keep in the freezer. Lunch meat is something that would be a “luxury” for us because of the high prices, but if it goes on sale through a deal at Meijer and I can get it for $1-$1.50 per package, I’ll buy extra packages (usually about 10) for my freezer. This will last us quite a while, since we only eat lunchmeat for picnics at the park, 1-2 times per week. 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 $1.79/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.
Meal planning is a great way to help the grocery budget. It puts you in complete control. I can plan my meals based on what’s in my cabinet, what’s on sale, etc.
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 brands. Also, the least expensive places may not be what you expect, so scan prices. The Save-A-Lot in my town has lower prices on a lot of things, but Kroger and Meijer can beat a lot of those prices on baking items. For example, at save-a-lot the store brand cocoa is $3.39 for 8 oz. while at Meijer, I can get an 8 oz of Nestle Cocoa for $2.79 regular price, and it goes on sale several times a year for $2.19. Since I live in a small town with limited shopping (save-a-lot and 2 locally owned stores where the foods are literally nearly double the prices found elsewhere), I have to travel about 25 miles to the next town over to do my shopping. For this reason, it’s even more important for me to plan trips well and stick to once a week shopping.
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:
-My boys are light eaters. I got tired of throwing away half sandwiches, so now they start with a half sandwich and get another if they are still hungry. If they get an apple and don’t eat it all, then the next time I cut up the apple and split it between them. Simple things like this, but if you add up all those small savings, it’s a big deal.
-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:
(I had mentioned margarine before on my blog, but I am happy to report that we now use REAL butter instead…yay!)
-We do not purchase all organic. I know 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 topics in this series:
~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.)