Keeping our grocery budget low is one strategy we use to save money.
According to the USDA, on the “Thrifty” plan, or the cheapest recommended amount to spend on food for each family member, our family would be spending $161.90 per week, or $647.60 per month.
On the “Liberal” plan, we would be spending $316.90 per week, or about $1267.60.
We easily spend much less than the “Thrifty” plan every week, without being deprived. In fact, we struggle with food waste just like anyone else, and our pantry and fridge are packed to the gills.
In the past 4 weeks, we have in fact spent $389 on food, or just over what we would spend in one week using the “Liberal” plan.
I accomplish this without too much difficulty. When I was still working full time, and we had less time, we spent about $500 per month. This was still less than the Thrifty plan, however.
How do I do it?
- I plan a menu and a shopping list every week. I make note of what needs to be used up in the fridge and pantry, and anticipate any evening activities that might require a quick meal. I shop every Saturday, so I start my list-making on Wednesday.
- I check the sale items at several stores, usually Aldi, Kroger, and local specialty stores Fresh Thyme, Whole Foods, and Dorothy Lane. I work my menu around these sales.
- I do the majority of my shopping for staples at Aldi, and make a quick trip to Kroger or another store for loss-leader items, or items I can’t find at Aldi. If it’s summer, I might hit the farmer’s market as well.
- I spend about 2 to 2 1/2 hours every Saturday hitting a few stores. I stick to my list, and get in and out.
- I bring cash. I have an envelope system for our family shopping needs, and I put $400-500 cash in my grocery envelope at the beginning of the month, depending on whether the month has 4 or 5 weeks. I leave the credit card at home, unless I also need to get gas.
- I use coupons, but only sparingly. Because our family has multiple food allergies, most processed foods are off limits. We prefer to eat whole, fresh foods anyway.
- We eat vegetarian or vegan most of the time. I might put meat on the menu 1 or 2 days per week. Most of the time we eat eggs, cheese, lentils, and beans. I make beans from dried the majority of time, as it is cheaper. Yes, my entire family loves lentils!
- I make most of our food from scratch. Depending on the recipe, I can bake a loaf of bread for $0.25-0.75.
- I buy some foods in bulk. I buy our most frequently used staples at Sam’s, when I have calculated the price per ounce is cheaper than elsewhere, and store them in bulk food containers with gamma lids. I buy all purpose flour, bread flour, sugar, yeast, white rice, oil, vinegar, and brown sugar this way.
- I try new recipes regularly to build up our repertoire of frugal menu items. I won’t make something we don’t like just because it’s cheaper, but we have found many recipes we like that are both frugal and delicious. These simple lentils and onions, that we eat over bulk rice, are delicious and now part of our regular weekly menu. They also only cost about$1.50 to feed my entire family! That’s about 30 cents per person!
- I don’t buy a lot of snack foods, such as potato chips, pretzels, or hot snacks like Bagel Bites or Hot Pockets. I usually have crackers from Aldi, but my kids tend to snack on fruit, veggies, or a homemade baked good.
- I don’t buy single-use items, like juice boxes or bags of chips, unless we are having a birthday party. I bought reusable juice boxes from Amazon and fill them with water or half water/half apple juice from Aldi. Lunch snacks go in reusable bags or containers.
- For each mealtime, I do try and give preference to the lower priced breakfast and lunch foods. For example, instead of always eating cereal, frozen waffles, or Pop Tarts, and just focusing on the cheapest brand I can find, we might eat oatmeal, a slice of toast made with homemade bread, or a smoothie. A slice of homemade bread and a small pat of butter might only cost 10 cents! We do still like cereal, but we might save it for just a couple days per week.
- I build in at least 1-2 “hunt and peck” nights to the weekly menu. This helps reduce food waste and get rid of leftovers.
- While we do drink milk, juice, and soy milk, we don’t ever buy soda and we don’t drink much alcohol. In fact, I don’t drink alcohol period, and my husband only has the occasional beer. My personal drink luxury is hot tea with half and half, or cold brewed mason jar iced tea.
Why bother to work at keeping food costs so low?
Let’s say we spent $647/month on the Thrifty plan, as expected. By keeping a budget of $400/month, this would allow us to save almost $3000/year.
If we had been in the habit of spending the $1267 of the Liberal plan, driving down our food costs to $400/month would allow us to save $10, 400/year!
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