Low Budget Meal Planning

by Deborah Taylor-Hough

How much of your family’s hard earned money goes to groceries? $200 per week? $150?

Believe it or not, it’s possible (although challenging) to spend as little as $50-$75 per week on groceries for a family of five or six. But slashing the food bill down to those lower numbers means you’ll probably need to rethink the way your family eats.

For today’s busy families, it’s often easier to swing by the local drive-thru restaurant rather than finding time and energy to cook a new meal every night. Not only is fast food an expensive alternative for feeding your family, it’s also not the healthiest way to eat on a regular basis.

If this describes your dinner-time dilemma, you’re not alone.

Keep ingredients on hand for several quick and easy meals.

Cook some of your meals ahead to store in the freezer for easy preparation later in the week. For an easy way to build up a stash of frozen assets, you can simply double and triple recipes now and then as you go about your regular cooking during the week. By stockpiling the extra meals in the freezer, all you’ll need to do is heat a meal and make a side dish or salad for one of those all-too-frequent busy nights with no time to cook. By cooking ahead, you can also save money by purchasing ingredients in bulk and taking advantage of sales at the market.

Occasionally serve breakfast for dinner. Even when prepared in a big way, breakfast is one of the most economical meals to make. In many busy homes, families rarely have time for a big breakfast of pancakes, eggs, and bacon in the morning, so it’s a special treat to have a meal like that for dinner now and then. Omelettes also make a good dinner choice.

SIMPLIFYING FOOD PREPARATION

By planning and preparing bigger meals at dinner-time, you can use the leftovers for lunches brought from home rather than buying lunch at work everyday.

Have one night each week where your children are each responsible for dinner for the entire family. This can be as simple as opening a can of soup and fixing grilled cheese sandwiches.

Slow cookers are great for easy dinner prep — just throw the ingredients into the crock in the morning and dinner’s waiting when you get home.

PLANNING AHEAD

Even if you don’t think cooking for an entire month would be of interest to you or your family, planning your meals ahead of time can really simplify meal planning during the month, and also save money.

First, set your grocery and gas budget and then make the menus and grocery list fit your budget — not the other way around. Decide what you can afford to spend and don’t go over that. You’d be surprised how creative you can be when you know you can only spend “this much and no more” at the store.

Take a few minutes to make a monthly menu and write down just what you need in the house for each meal. Go through the freezer and the cabinets to take stock of what you have on hand already. Then look at your calendar to see what the monthly activities are — for example make note of any birthday dinners, evenings when everyone will be leaving the house for the evening so you’ll need a quick meal, times you’re eating at someone else’s home, or whatever events would effect your meal planning for the month.

Then take a look at the sale flyers for your local grocery stores. To save the most money, plan your meals around what’s on sale and what you already have on hand. If you plan to shop weekly, make up all your individual weekly grocery lists for the month ahead of time (write up the entire month of shopping lists in one day so all you’ll need to do is run to the store when it’s time to shop).

Write out your meal plan on a blank calendar page and hang it in an easily visible spot (on the refrigerator, on a family bulletin board, etc.). It takes time to make out the menu and grocery lists, but it saves even more time everyday and causes much less stress when the decision is already made about what’s for supper that night.

FOOD CO-OPS / BULK BUYING

Be sure to check in your local areas for food buying co-ops. Many have small membership fees that you’ll quickly recoup from the significant savings you’re able to receive on many commonly purchased items. Natural food co-ops are common and a great way to purchase organic fruits and vegetables, whole grains and other expensive items at competitive prices.

Some communities offer a food buying program called Share. For a minimum charge (usually about $14) and 2 hours community service, participants receive a box of food valued at $35-$40. The community service can be something as simple as helping an elderly neighbor or working in your church nursery or Sunday School. The Share programs often offer meatless shares as well as the standard grocery items.

You can also start your own little unofficial food bulk buying co-op with a group of friends or neighbors. By purchasing items like flour, sugar, cream of wheat, oats, etc., in large bulk containers (50 pounds), you can then divide up the item into family-sized amounts, and split the cost.

Many people purchase large quantities of items from their local club store. While many of the items at these stores can be found at tremendous savings, be sure to shop comparatively even here. Sometimes you’ll find that the sale at your local corner grocery store will actually be less expensive per pound or per item than the prices at the big warehouse stores. Always bring a calculator with you so you can make sure you’re really getting the best price per unit.

Also, be sure to only buy in quantity those items that you’re sure you’ll be using before they go bad. Stockpiling toilet paper is a good idea since it’s one of those items you know you’ll be using eventually. Stockpiling bananas on sale might not be such a good idea since they spoil quickly — unless you’re planning on baking with them, or freezing banana pulp to use in recipes later.

GENERAL GROCERY TIPS

  • Buy ground beef on sale and divide up into smaller portions for casseroles etc. Freeze until ready to use.

  • Grate your own cheese, rather than buying it already grated. Also, purchasing cheese in large quantities, grating it, and then freezing for later use is a great way to save time and money.

  • Avoid pre-packaged whenever possible. Make your own individually packaged puddings, applesauce, yogurts, etc.

  • Buy produce in season.

  • Avoid the gourmet-type stuff.

  • If your kids want pop, chips, candy etc. have them buy their own. This will help to limit how much of that they will buy, plus they will begin to learn the value of money.


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50 responses to “Low Budget Meal Planning

  1. I have never figured out how to spend so little as $50.00 a week for a family of 6 on groceries. On average I think I spend $115 a week. Are there people out there who really watch what they spend and are actually spending $50 a week on average through the yr for groceries for a family of 6? This is including TP, cleaning products, toothpaste, things you would buy at the grocery store. I would also like to know how to find a good deal on TP and paper towels (for baby wipes)? I go to costco for mine but I wonder if there is a way to tell if there is a better deal.

    Hi, Kim …
    When you read about people spending $50 per week on food, they’re only talking about food, not the odds and ends people also tend to buy at the grocery store. They’ll have a separate budget line item for those sorts of incidentals. So if you’re spending $115 per week including all the cleaning products, personal care products and paper goods, I think you’re probably pretty much in line with the $50 per week people — you’re just including non-food items in your grocery budget and they’re not. Hope that makes sense. Sounds like you’re doing great!
    ~Debi

    • we save a substantial amount of money by not purchasing paper towels/kleenex/napkins/wipes. what we do in turn is recycle old clothing/towels/etcetera that are too dilapidated to donate. we have a drawer full of “napkins”. they work for darn near anything, and the kids never worry about ruining the nice towels during clean-up. (my favorite kitchen towels are my childrens’ old receiving blankets. not only are they durable, they make me smile with memories of coddled babies=) obviously, to give up toilet paper would not be a sanitary choice…but for baby wipe uses the old fabrics are fine! just treat them as you would cloth diapers. you can also look into getting medical cloths used during surgeries. they maintain very well and are soft for baby. (and are PERFECT for windexing!) hope this has been helpful. i know for my family of four, not only has it taken weight off our budget, it’s also lifted our spirits knowing we are doing our part environmentally.

      • Hi Jac.,
        What great ideas! We already use cloth napkins, but wheels were turning in my head as I read your post. On the days my husband is home we go through soo many paper towels! I have always felt they were a luxury item and now I am sure of it! I have so many usuable rags already, now they will be put to good use. Thank you!
        Kim

    • Kim –
      I have a friend who swears she’s spending $45 per week for her family (and they have 3 boys!! 13, 11 & 5yrs!!) I can NOT match her…however, she calls me when she hears a store’s doubling or tripling coupons, has gotten me to keep a coupon book & comparing local sales papers for good deals. I get lots of “down the drain” stuff for FREE or nearly free!Shampoo, toothpaste, toilet paper, hand soap – I comparison shop & use coupons (Esp. on double or triple days) to find great deals. Some stores (Kroger) ALWAYS double coupons. Discount stores (Dollar General, Family Dollar) accept coupons, too. If you can avoid it – don’t buy ‘down the drain’ stuff at a grocer’s, it’s usually WAY more expensive. Finally, always check the ‘Use today or tomorrow” bin of produce AND meat at your grocer’s. You can freeze or cook, THEN freeze most of what you find there to save $$ I’m ALMOST to $50 each week for my DH and 2 sons . . .

    • Actually, we spend $40 a week on food, soaps, cleaning supplies and almost all personal items (okay, so I admit, I love 1 kind of salon shampoo that is $18 for 2 large bottles that lasts me about a year). This cost also includes buying several SUnday newspapers for the coupons…. Yes, I coupon, I never buy generic or store brand and I always have lots of fresh produce in the fride and on the counter. We also eat meat every night.

      We eat boneless chicken breast, salmon, and steak with an occassional goodie of crab legs thrown in. All of this couponing and stockpiling :)… I have also taught my daughters who are both married with families now and several friends how….. It is such an amazing feeling coming home with my Yukon FULL of groceries (food and non food alike) and going over my receipts, sometimes I spend $50, but usually the day is under $40…. It can be done!!! At the beginning it took me 4-8 hours to cut and prep. Now, it takes me 1-2 hours while watching TV :)

      There are several sites that show you how to do it :)

      Good luck!!
      Luana

      • Okay Luana, we want to know how you do it! Wow, $40 a week! You’ve got my attention. I used to buy salmon a couple years back when it was on sale for $2lb, but I haven’t seen it anywhere near that price since. :( And crab legs! Well, I think I can speak for everyone here…we would love to hear how you do it. Maybe you could tell us what sites to look at too, but I would love to hear how YOU do it!
        Thank you!
        Kim

      • Stacey Levin

        Luana, please provide the names of the websites that you are referring to! I would love to learn too.

        Stacey

      • Hi Everyone,

        My name is Leigh-Anne.I am the mother to three girls, 18,16, and 9.I have changed jobs and while this one offers way more security, It leaves me with 75% less availalbe income.Our girls are heavy into rep sports and one is heading off to university in the fall.We have always been very impulsive with money and I am now really feeling the crunch!!!My new job is backshift which makes things even a little more difficult for me.I really need some help.I live in N.S. and was wondering if these coupons and things you are all talking about r available here to and would be amazed at getting my groceries down to between $50-$100.I’m lucky to keep it between $200-300.Is there a website that offers healthy, but frugal recipes and meal planning.I would appreciate any guidance possible.
        Sincerely,
        Leigh-Anne

      • Leigh Anne-

        Try http://www.eatathomecooks.com, almost every meal I make is something off this website. They are cheap and quick meals and it gives you the menus a grocery lists. All you have to do is shop and cook! Check your cabinets before you shop though, you may have a lot of stuff off the list and not even know it! I hate getting stuck with doubles. Good luck! :)

      • Nikoe Pulley

        but how much do you spend in newspapers? gas? the time it takes to cut and organize? realistically couponing is brilliant but when the costs come down and you figure how much you are saving, how much have you wasted? how many hours have you spent clipping coupons to not use because you buy generic and store brands which most of the time are cheaper? the healthy aspect is in there too, they dont offer coupons on fruits and veggies very often (yes i know they do sometimes)

  2. Kim-I would like to know how you spend $115 a week! I have a lot of trouble doing that and I only have a family of 3!between $150-$200!! We spend somewhere Can you tell me?

  3. Hi Liz,
    Well, I spend about $30.00 a week on Veggies, grains and sale items at a local market because the produce is cheaper there. Check around. Many people don’t shop at these stores because they think they are too expensive. But the produce isn’t. I pay under $1 each for a head of red lettuce, a lb of fruit, a lb of broccoli, .33 to .50 cents on whole oats in bulk. I only let my family eat Oatmeal, farina (Malt o meal) which is super cheap in bulk at these types of stores, or toast(the heal only) w/ peanut butter on it during the week days.
    I then spend around $75 a week (I don’t go every week, but I averaged it out per week) at Costco where I buy my bread for 2.50 a loaf, eggs 10 cents each, cheese in bulk blocks, milk, yeast, flour, sugars, butter and chicken. You have to be careful because crackers, granolas, convenience foods can be sooo expensive. These are the foods I try to make at home, for instance granola, yogurt, salad dressings. I get the recipes online mostly through allrecipes.com because they are rated.
    I then spend a little at the local grocery store on sale items: meat, tomato sauce, noodles, toothpaste & brushes with coupons, things that are on sale that week. And here I mean “really ” on sale. Things that are low in my black book. You would be surprised at how expensive most things are that are on sale at the stores these days!
    I also look where I spend a lot of money. I now make my own dish and laundry soap. They laundry soap is great, but I still haven’t figured out how to not have spotted glasses with my own soap.
    I try to keep it healthy. My family just loves to eat.
    I keep a alphabetized black book with the lowest prices I have ever purchased things for and this really has helped me over the years. For instance, under Flour
    PNS goldmedal .99 for 5 lbs = .198 lb
    Costco 4.39 for 25lbs = .1756 lb
    Ralphs goldmedal w/ coupon .59 for 5 lbs = .118 lb
    So, I know that if I really want it I should buy it for atleast .19 cents a lb. But if I see it for .11 cents a lb I will stock up.
    Last year eggs were very expensive. Over 20 cents each. Now they are down to 10 cents each, so I make a pot of hard boiled eggs for snack each week.
    I can see now that I have practically written a book! Sorry about that. Saving money excites me, but I would love to meet with someone who spends a lot less then me, without buying a bunch of junk food with coupons. I feel we eat bad enough since my eggs, milk and alot of our fruit aren’t organic.
    Again, I would love to hear how others are doing it! We are planting a garden, but I don’t see how that will help get us down to $50 a week.
    Love,
    Kim

    • Hi, I am desperately trying to save money and to make things on my own so I would love to know if you have any recipes for really good yogurt, granola bars, your laundry detergent etc etc. We spend soooo much money each month and no matter what I do, I can’t get it down to where I want it. Also, how do you get cheap meat? We just moved here and I get sick each time I am told how much my groceries cost at the till. Please help :)
      Thanks so much

      • Hi Heather,
        I will only buy meat if its under $2.00 lb. I feel it has been cheap lately, but I don’t know where you live so it could be different. I am in San Diego County. I usually only buy chicken if its under a dollar a lb, but lately I have been buying it skinned and boneless for under $2.00 lb. Its easier on me and I think it has got to be close to the same in cost. Just watch the ads and when you see it go down, stock up and then s without the bone and skin. Seperate it and freeze it. One of the big ways we have saved over the past 10 years was to cut down on the amount of meat we eat. My husband wasn’t too happy when I tried going without meat so we have compromised. My goal is to always keep the meat portion of our main meal to around 2.00. So, if its Lasagna, its a portion of hamburger with a protion of Italian sausage equalling close to $2.00. Again, I seperate my portions after I come home from the store. I don’t do drumsticks like I used to because when I divy out the portions at mealtime, my teenagers look at the small piece of meat and ask whats up with this?! So I do soups, stews, chicken salads, meatballs (hamburger with oats, onions and other goodies mixed in)covered in sauce, burritos with dried pinto beans(my family loves these), homemade pizza (I buy bulk mozzerella cheese when its cheap at Costco and divide and freeze it when I get home)-careful with your toppings. I use Italian sausage OR leftover ham as the meat then I add olives, veggies,pineapple, etc, with my own homemade sauce from a 25 cent, 8 oz can of tomatoe sauce. Homemade mac and cheese, tacos, chili, rice cakes, etc. As for yogurt its simple, I use the ice chest method recipe on this site http://www.stretcher.com/stories/971110c.cfm as for homemade laundry soap I found it here…, well, oh my gosh, I can’t find the one I use. Anyways look online for homemade laundry soap, there are many. The main ingredients are 1)a Bar of soap like Fels Naptha or Ivory, 2)Borax and 3)Washing Soda (buy this in bulk at a hardware store or swimming supply store- its 100% sodium carbonate the same thing they use for “ph increase” in pools. Its much cheaper that way. I make granola but not bars, and I think that is kind of an individual thing as for taste. I would look up “granola bar recipes rated” online to see if any appeal to you. Even with my granola some of my children like it one way and some another way. I always add “rated” because I think you get better recipes.
        Good luck! Just try the laundry soap, its not as hard as it may seem.
        I can see I wrote a book again…sorry!
        Love,
        Kim

    • i’m with you on the dish soap issue. i HATE buying cleaning products,and have started making my own laundry soap, but i cannot stand the two dish soap recipes i’ve tried. between the film left behind,and the smell.. it’s no wonder people buy it instead.
      Anyone have a good recipe? (the ones i’ve used were castile soap/ glycerin, lemon juice, or vinegar and water ,and essential oils for fragrance..i ‘ve also tried one that used the same soap flakes as the laundry soap.)
      We have what some would call a large family here, with two adults and four kids in the house.. i keep trying to cut the grocery bill so i can save ..but.. it seems to end up spend elsewhere..where am i going wrong?

    • I’ve found gardening to be FABULOUS! I have a 2 yr old and a 1 month old. Last summer, I started small in the garden. I wanted my little one to know where her food comes from and I knew I’d be having another child. Wanted to cut down on food budget and be healthier overall. I learned to can and freeze. Canning requires an initial investment but I’ve saved my jars and gathered others at yard sales, etc… I made my own spaghetti sauce, italian tomatoes, stewed tomatoes, etc… It’s AMAZING! I also gave these things away with boxes of pasta and my own bread mix at the holidays. Totally cut my Christmas shopping budget too!
      I froze corn, beans, tomatoes, onions, garlic, and raspberries. Do you have a big deep freezer?
      We have since moved to a farm house, where we inherited some fruit trees and a large plot that had already been used as a garden with strawberry beds and asparagus beds. We also inherited 2 deep freezers in addition to ours that we had! This summer, I will be doing a lot more gardening with a bigger variety of veggies. I love that when I go grocery shopping, all I really need is meat (we buy our beef from the local locker but other meat at grocery stores) and a few other staples to feed my family a good HEALTHY meal! Good luck!

      • Depending on where you live, it can be cheaper and healthier to buy meat from a local farmer. We are lucky, my parents are farmers and we buy 10 whole chickens, 1/4 cow, 1/2 pig and 1/2 lamb for around $1200 a year. Its a big upfront cost but cheaper overall then the grocery store, plus far healthier considering you are eating an animal that hasnt been raised in a feed lot. Watch the film ‘Food, Inc’ if you need convincing. Its also fun to try cooking with different cuts of meat than you would normally use.
        I too am a garden fanatic – we are moving to the country this year so I can have a huge garden. You can also save a ton of money by building a cold cellar in your home and keeping you potato, carrot, garlin and onion crops all winter. We are just finishing last summers carrots when the new ones are ready in the garden. Considering a pack of carrot seeds costs around $1 and from that you can grow hundreds of carrots….huge savings.

  4. Having a plan each week helps me not to be forced into eating out. I also try to keep a few convenient meals in the freezer for those days when I run out of steam. Last night, for instance, instead of me making chicken Parmesan like I’d planned, we microwaved some pre-made frozen Chimichangas (a package of 8 costs about 3.00) and had fresh salad on the side.

    I’ve recently discovered other resources on the web to help me plan meals that don’t cost too much. Zero Cost Menu Planning is a review of several of these places where I’ve found free menu planning help.

  5. Hi Deborah:

    I just wanted to share some tips that I use for cutting down on my grocery bills. In season, I go to farms for my fresh fruits, produce and eggs (if I haven’t done any planting myself) and I sometimes buy extras to freeze for later use in stews, soups, sauces, etc. I also try to use farmer’s markets for some meats and cheeses. Not only am I helping my local economy thrive, but I am saving myself the retail markup price of these items at the supermarket. I will not buy any high cost items at regular retail price, but wait until I see the items I need on sale (which usually rotate full circle on a 3-4 week basis).

  6. all these Ideas of ways to save money are amazing!!! Unfortunately in New Zealand we are not fortunate enough to have shops such as Dollar general or 99cent store. We have Pak N Save. Which is our only heavily discounted supermarket. I live in a family of 3 and I hate to admit it we spend upwards of 389 New Zealand dollars a week on food and general items. We actually spend more if we use Pak N Save as we can buy more because we save more!!!

    We have a Bin Inn which is a bulk bin bulk grocery store but they are few and far between and are not located close to where I live. I live in central Auckland and the closest one is a 30 min drive from where I live! the other ine is about 45minutes from my holiday home. My holiday ome is 2hours north of Auckland at a place called Langs Beach. The Bin Inn is in Whangarei.
    We don’t really have a discount meats shop either and all our supermarkets price them ridiculously. Even the lamb.!!! We are New Zealanders!! We are known famously worldwide for our stunning film settings and exsquisite lamb! we cant even price them reasonably for our own nations residents!

    Its terrible. All your ideas have been super helpful.

    So I thank you for that and wish you all a fabulous day.
    Kia Kaha!
    Rebecca :)

  7. If you are lucky enough to have an Aldi’s nearby it will save you money. Another way is to buy cheaper cuts of meat and use a crock pot for cooking, all meats come out tender when slow cooked in a crock pot.
    Also another way to cut expenses …….use white vinegar and baking soda for cleaning around the house. Pick up some empty spray bottles at the Dollar Store and make your own cleaners. I use white vinegar in the rinse dispenser of my dishwasher works just as well as the store bought spot cleaner and its a lot cheaper.
    Buy toothpaste, TP, shampoos, etc at the Dollar Stores. Use coupons when shopping and also buy store brands or generic brands. Check out butcher shops in your area, sometimes they have “Bundle Packs” of meats for low prices. Ours includes pork, beef, poultry, sometimes breakfast sausage or bacon and sometimes hotdogs or lunch meats. Then you repackage them at home into family size servings.
    Buy your bread amd buns or rolls at the Day Old Bakery, usually you can get snack cakes and/or cookies also at a discount.
    Make a “breakfast supper” when eggs are on sale, and if it is summertime and you have a garden or a farmer’s market nearby you can make some great veggie omelets for the meal and not even miss the meat.
    Watch your weekly ads and shop the ads, when eggs are on sale I buy extra and we eat a lot of egg dishes that week, egg salad, deviled eggs, omelets, ect.
    Ground beef is exceptionally cheap I buy extra and freeze it. Pork chops on sale in “Family size” packages I divide them up at home into smaller packages. In fact I usually buy all my meats in “Family size” packages because the packs are usually around 20 to 40 cents cheaper per pound.
    I don’t buy a lot of white meat chicken due to the fact breast meat is usually more expensive and if you are planning on using the chicken in a stew, soup or casseroles, ect. go with the cheaper dark meat cuts.
    And cook from scratch, try to avoid purchasing convience foods, you are just paying extra for a fancy package. Never let anything go to waste, if you have just a couple spoonfuls of veggies left over after a meal put them into your soup container in the freezer when the container is full make a pot of homemade veggie soup with a soup bone or some other kind of seasonings. And don’t buy a soup bone…………save a bone from a beef roast or ham that you cooked earlier. I have even saved the fat I have trimmed off a roast and tied it up in cheesecloth and dropped it into a pot of soup for seasoning.
    Oatmeal is cheap if you buy the store brand, and you can do so many things with oatmeal. Use it for a filler instead of breadcrumbs, for breakfast you can add so many things to a bowl of oatmeal to give it a different taste each day. Make some homemade cookies using oatmeal.
    Bake a Oatmeal Cake.
    I buy produce by season, unless I find a great buy on it. Bananas are usually a good buy year around, but if they start to get too ripe don’t toss em out…………..freeze them and make banana bread or cake at a later date, or add some to pancake mix.
    Check your local gas station/convience store sometimes they sell milk cheaper than the grocery store. Also in our area we have some Dollar Stores that carry a small line of groceries which are usually cheaper than the grocery prices and some of them have milk and ice cream also.
    Buy a big old bag of “rags” at Walmart, usually can find some in the Auto Dept. or Hardware Dept. and use them in place of paper towels and napkins. Check the Dollar Store or the discount bin at local stores such as Walmart for cloth napkins. Or if you sew make your own out of old sheets, or scraps of fabric.
    We can survive todays economy and the rising cost of living if we just buckle down and remember to reuse, recycle, remake, and repair.

    Annie

  8. I’m really enjoying all of your comments and tips! I’m still working on the menu planning for a month thing, and we don’t have double or triple coupons here in our rural area, but here are some things that work for me:

    Using homemade laundry soap with Fels/Ivory, borax, washing soda and baking soda works well in my front-loading machine. I use white vinegar for fabric softener as well as in the rinse container in the dishwasher. Dawn works for cleaning spots on laundry.

    I picked several bags of rather small apples from a relative’s farm recently… too small to peel 18 cups for pie filling… so I quartered them and put them in the crock pot, peelings, seeds and all, with a couple of cinnamon sticks (optional). When they are soft I pick out the skins and seeds, sweeten to taste and freeze in pint freezer bags or containers.

    When my kids were toddlers, I would buy hamburger in bulk, then brown the whole thing and freeze the cooked hamburger in approximately 1-lb. quantities in bags that could be stored flat (it thaws faster than if in a lump). Works great for spaghetti sauce, tacos, sloppy joes, etc. on those really busy days!

    Use your freezer to save vegetable scraps in a gallon-size freezer bag, and when it’s full put them in a pot, cover with water, and make vegetable broth for great soup. You can even use (cleaned) potato peelings, carrot ends/scrapings, onion skins, tough broccoli stems, etc. After straining out the veggies, reduce it down a bit by simmering uncovered, then freeze in ice cube trays and you can take out as much as you need. This is as good or better than the ‘gourmet’ broth from the store, and a lot cheaper! You can add your own salt and spices, to your family’s taste. I like the feeling of getting the most nutritional value out of every bit I’ve paid for, instead of throwing it in the landfill… The boiled scraps go into the compost bin.

    Thanks again for all the great info, tips, and inspiration!

    Peg

  9. LOVE everyones tips, tricks and ideas!!

    Thanks!

  10. I spend about $530 per month on my grocerys. I have a family of 5 including 4 adults..and a 16 month old. I don’t see how you all are spending so little on grocerys. I have enough trouble as it is with what I spend.

    • Here is the laydown from all the listings:

      watch your local ads and buy items onsale. If you get coupons, buy when the item goes on sale for a better price (usually 3-4 weeks after the date you get in the paper). Check online to the home pages of the products, coupons are found there, websites like coupons.com, smartsource.com, P&G.com and others.

      1) when meat/chicken is on sale at a great price, by as much as you can and freeze it in freezer safe bags. My store runs ground beef on sale every 2 months and I stock up for 2 months.

      2) Pantry items can last several months, buy when it goes on sale with coupons (most stores will take up to 3 coupons at a time). Take a friend or spouse if you have more than 3 or the limit and have it rund up seperate.

      3) if you shop at bulk stores compair prices, it might be cheaper to buy onsale with a coupon

      4) buy fruits and veggies from the local farmer markets or stores like Spouts or Fresh and Easy (buy what you need or fruits can be chopped and frozen)

      Somestores will ad match, like Walmart but they will not double or triple coupons. If you keep this up, all you would have to do is buy basics weekly- milk, bread (this can freeze), eggs and sandwich meat

  11. I do a lot of the tips on here. I buy the family sized packages of meat, buy the use now or freeze sale meats, make most things from scratch. One thing I do that was not mentioned is that I do not make a menu and then go shopping. Instead, I buy what is on sale and a few basic ingredients and then I go home and make a menu from what is in my pantry, fridge and freezer. If I find a sale on porkchops then when I get home porkchops is on the menu!! The basic ingredients are things like potatoes, carrots, onions, celery, rice, pasta, tomato paste, bananas, flour, sugar. These basic ingredients can be used many ways. For instance we can have cooked candied carrots with the pork chops, fried potatoes or rice with the porkchops, or I can make a vegetable soup with noodles. Another tip that was only briefly mentioned was not wasting food. Serve smaller sized portions especially with children. If they eat it all and want more then let them have seconds, but start with a small portion first. Save leftover veges and either freeze for soups/stews, save leftover meat and use in another dish. For example leftover baked chicken can become chicken enchiladas, leftover pot roast can become bar-b-que beef sandwiches.

    Hi, Tina …

    I do this a lot, too! Shop the sales while I’m at the store and just buy basic ingredients so I can do my menu planning AFTER shopping. I find that keeping a well-stocked pantry of frequently used items (purchased when on sale, of course) is a real help with this sort of menu “planning.” Things like spaghetti sauce, chili, stewed tomatoes, canned veggies, broth, beans, rice, soups, taco seasonings, tomato sauce, pasta, tuna, etc., can all be simply made into assorted meals with almost anything brought home on sale from the store.

    ~Debi

  12. Hi! I am impressed by some of the great tips on here! I love the drawer of napkins idea.. we too cut up old towels and don’t buy disposable (except on ocassion for a kids b’day party or bbq..)

    I’d like to add a recipe for home made diaper wipes. If you’re using throw away ones, you’re throwing away cash!
    For homemade wipes, if you really insist on disposable ones, cut a roll of Good quality paper towels in half, each half will fill one purchased wipes tub. I prefer to use rags, like old wash cloths, or cut squares of flannellette(old recieving blankets, or flat diapers are great!).

    Boil and cool a cup or so of water.
    Once cooled, at least to tepid, mix in a couple oz of baby oil (preferably a natural one,without petroleum ingredients), and about the same amount of baby shampoo or body wash.
    pour over your “wipe” of choice.

    Wipes made with rags, will keep longer, and not get smelly , if you use more oil and shampoo. (u could add lotion too if you wanted!)
    disposable paper ones will keep a couple of weeks in a tub with a lid.
    compare the pricing, you’ll be amazed!
    (May i also suggest,if you have launering facilities, switch to cloth diapers! in the 2 1/2 years my son has been on earth, we have saved an estimated 7-8,000 dollars by using nothing but cloth diapers and wipes!)

    We save a lot too by using natural cleaning products, like tea tree oil in water! A small 2-3 oz bottle of tea tree oil has had me going for a few months now and still has loads left in it! just a few drops in a spray bottle of water will clean almost anything. White vinegar is amazing too! and even less expensive!
    I lump my cleaning stuff in with my grocery budget too.. so this really leaves room for food!

  13. Hello,

    I’m not a family or a mum, I’m just a broke 29 year old trying to live on my own! $50 sounds great for 2 weeks for me-does any one have any suggestions on a grocery list to follow with some meal ideas? I have a crockpot which i love and i’m also a new vegetarian which i find to be much cheaper too! Looking for healthy meal ideas and a way to save big time-any suggestions would be most helpful. Thanks!

  14. My success has come from KNOWING what items cost. I know some people keep a journal/price notebook where they record price per store per item – thankfully I just remember.

    I purpose NOT to spend more on an item than the price I can get it on sale with a coupon. So when it IS on sale I use my coupons and purchase as much as I’m able. On average, most items will go on sale at least every 6 weeks. So plan accordingly.

    For school lunch snacks I look for cost per serving of 25 cents or less. Jello pudding sometimes goes on sale (+coupon) for 12 cents per serving – that’s less than I can make it myself so I’ll get it then.

    I ALWAYS look at the $per ounce/serving. And try to divide things like pretzels, nuts, crackers… into those serving sizes before putting them in the pantry so my family doesn’t just grab the bag & graze.

    I encourage them if they are hungry to drink a large glass of water before entering the pantry. They stay hydrated and don’t fill up on snacks that cost me.

  15. Check our your local regional market. Ours in Hartford CT is open to the public and on Saturday mornings (between 6 and 10) they clear out the old produce. Check out the loading dock area. We’ve gotten cases (restaurant supply cases) of brocolli, squash, apples, strawberries (usually 8 quarts), bananas, asparagas, carrots, lettuce, tomatoes…really any veggie or fruit you can think of (but it depends on the week)…for as little as $1 a case, never paying more than $5. It’s important to then go home and sort thru everything, throwing out the veggies that are turning bad (compost pile!), cleaning and cutting the good stuff and planning how to use it. Last month we got one case each of bananas, large carrots, peppers, baby carrots, winter squash and 2 cases of apples…and were still under $20. Prices fluctuate during the morning and are sometimes arbitrary. Haggling is not encouraged most vendors will reduce prices if you are buying more than one item. DON’T pick thru cases and try to re-package a good case for yourself or you risk their wrath and the price will go up! Local farmers are there year round (in the parking lot) also and fresh bushels of apples, pears, squash are $5-10. You can also buy the newer produce in bulk on the docks…potatoes, onions and tomatoes are way cheaper this way than the grocery store….and these will keep for weeks without going bad. We often split purchases between extended family members, coordinating and swapping purchases, meeting at the market or finding “surprise” produce on our back porch. It is a common sight to see strangers swaping produce on the loading docks.
    See you at the market!

  16. Amen! Finally, someone out there who “gets it”.

    I just watched a friend of mine order two full size combo meals from Whataburger for her daughters. The kids ate 1/4th of the meal, and the rest was thrown in the trash. I held my tongue in the name of friendship, but what I WANTED to say was, “You spent $12 on food that is now in the trash…and was also really bad for your kids!”

    I’m glad to see that there are moms out there who understand the value of a dollar, and also the value of a healthy meal.

    Thanks! I’ll definitely be back to visit this blog. I’m glad I stumbled across it.

  17. I don’t really have much problem only spending $50 a week for my husband and I, it’s finding meals that he and I both agree on. I feel like the recipes that I make are getting old and tired and nothing really intrests me when scouring my cookbooks. We both work and he doesn’t cook, so I need fast and easy meals that are amazingly delicious. Does anyone have any ideas or recipes? Pasta and chicken and rice only is fun for so long… :(

    • Frozen Assets has many low cost recipes.

    • Carol Womelsdorf

      Hi, I found a good magazine called Taste of Home. I got it for only $10 a year.They have great every day recipes with ordinary ingredients. They have a great website at tasteof home.com.
      Hope this helps.

    • this is a cheap meal my kids loved when small cut up one pound smoked sausage into round pieces put into pot with one jar spaghetti sauce simmer until sausage is done while this cooking make one package of extra wide egg noodle pour sausage and sauce over noodles and enjoy

  18. I live in a VERY rural place with a small private grocery store 4 miles away in a town of about 100 people. They don’t accept coupons. The closest bigger store is 65 miles away and believe me, it is not any savings to go there, even with coupons. If I really want to stock up I need to drive 105-120 miles in any direction* so that really doesn’t save me much to cover my gas bill if I opt for that.

    I have a family of 6 (two almost teenagers and two teenagers). With household expenses (including animal feed) and our groceries, we spend anywhere between $950 and $1,100 a month. I am growing a garden and sometimes neighbors share their extra, but I am not sure what to do. Getting it down to $800 a month for everything would be GREAT! In fact, that’s why I was looking on this site….

    *Still, I REALLY enjoy living out here. It is BEAUTIFUL!!

  19. Arrrgh!! Looks like I can’t add. I meant my family of 6 including my husband and four chlidren and me!

  20. Elizabeth, is there a butcher nearer? can you preorder meat packs and then just pick them up?
    I’m also wondering if there is any savings in ordering basics, like non perishables online and having them shipped? (i ‘m truly brainstorming, i have no idea what that would cost!!)
    of course, anything homemade will be less expensive generally, as processed items are highly marked up(not to mention unhealthy and not usually as tasty!).
    Make use of course of the bread maker, or from scratch rather than wsting space and money buying from the shop.
    any possibility of raising your own meats as well, and if needed paying someone to slaughter and freezer prepare the meat for you?

  21. Eileen,

    Thank you for the suggestions (by my 2nd posting, looks like I can’t spell either…).

    Anyway, the nearest butcher is 65 miles away. We have raised our own goat and beef before but it is not cost effective for us to buy all that feed (we don’t have a lot of land for grazing) and we really don’t eat much meat (those ventures were more experimental for our children’s sake).

    That said, I pretty much bake all our snacks and have been experimenting with sourdough starter. I cook all of our soups, pancake toppings, tortillas, etc. We started a garden and my daughter raises hens for eggs. I buy mostly staples and try to catch sales when I can. With homeschooling four children and transcribing for a doctor part-time, I don’t have the time (used up), ability (distance), inclination (exhaustion), or extra money (not in budget) to impulse buy or even leave my house!

    I think I’m doing pretty much what I can but the bottom line is that food on the West Coast is a bit higher-priced than in other places in the U.S. I remember pricing the $70 weekly menu for 4-6 people from “The Hillbilly Housewife” (I think she is from South Carolina), and over here it was about $130 for the same stuff! Hmm…I guess looking at it that way, I’m not doing too badly after all!

    Thanks again!

  22. Joanne, I live in Ct too, but have never heard of going to a market that lets you go to and buy at the loading docks. Is there other places that do that outside of Hartford? I live closer to Waterbury. Any help is appreciated.
    Thanks

  23. Here are some of my all time favorite ways to save on food cost and eat healthy:
    -I turn one pound of butter into two pounds by mixing into softened butter one half cup water and one half cup oil. I don’t use margarine unless I am down to my last few grocery dollars.
    -I make my own mayo, salad dressing, vanilla extract, bread (bread machine), brown sugar……happy to share how to’s if anyone wants to know. Before you buy something, ask yourself if you could make it yourself.
    -I have 5 laying hens, 2 goats for milk, and garden (all on less than one acre). worked a deal for meat chickens with a farmer (local 4H)
    -get(your hubby perhaps) a deer license and butcher your own.
    -avoid food waste
    Hope these help.

  24. Hi Everyone,

    It’s Leigh-Anne again.I guess I should have mentioned.That NS was In Canada.Nova Scotia that is.I really enjoyed these tips you all shared and am just sitting down with my flyers to look for some deals.Anyone with Canadian websites and cuopons would be greatly appreciate it.My hats off to you all and your hard work in this busy world to taking the time to waste as little and do all the work neccesary.I guess one of my biggest problems all along has been time management after reading all your tps.With three daughters and one starting university, it’s a great time to instill these life skills.
    Sincerely,
    Leigh-Anne

  25. Hi Everybody,

    Thanks for all your tips. I really learned a lot, especially about the napkins and freezing left-over veggies. (Much much more, too). I live alone, but am always trying to budget. I do buy family packs of meat/chicken and dived them up, and buy knocked down prices at the grocery store (although they show the price as xxx$ whereas it is really the little lettering above that says the real price.) If I am in the mood I boil up half a dozen eggs, cut up chicken, etc. and make salads that last me for days. Freezing bread and rolls works out really well, too, and it is easy to divide it up into six slices or so. I haven’t tried cheese yet. My downfall is Greek yogurt – very expensive. Any ideas?

    Anyone know how to make cheap cat litter? The boxes are getting smaller, and the prices are rising every month.

    Wonderful site.. Thanks.

    Sally – Texas

    • If you google greek yogurt recipes you will find a wealth of them, and basically it is regular homemade yogurt that you then strain through several layers of cheesecloth to remove liquid and thicken up. I do it overnight in my fridge using a sieve, cheesecloth and up a plate ontop to create slight presure, in the morning you have a bowl (should have mentioned that I put the sieve in a large bowl) with a yellowish liquid in it, use this for bread if you want, and in the sieve you have thick wonderful “greek” yogurt. good luck Dawn

  26. I have always tried to make most of what my family eats, and have avoided the drive thru lifestyle. What is amazing is that my family has always been able to eat really nice meals almost every night and we have generally had lower food bills because I was able to cook what we wanted as opposed to buying it premade. Of course the drawback to this is a family that is spoiled, especially my husband, so when I am really tired and would like to go out, he doesn’t want to because he knows it won’t be to his expectations. :( One way I found to cut an easy budget corner was to pretty much eliminate paper products from the kitchen. Cloth towels and napkins, which can be washed and reused are much more economical than paper ones. You can get a pretty decient stock of both just by going to estate sales and thrift stores, as most people don’t want to be bothered with them and they sell them for pennies.

  27. Pingback: saturday surfing | not consumed

  28. Wow, this is a fantastic article and I’ve gotten so many great ideas from everyone’s comments. Since several of you asked, here’s my homemade Greek yogurt recipe. I make it all the time, and it’s not only delicious – it’s very economical. Watch the mark-downs at your supermarket for milk that’s nearing its expiration date and you’ll save even more. My store often has organic milk in this section, which makes me so happy. Thanks to everyone for so many good ideas!

  29. Maribel Aviles

    This is great post, Im glad I fount it!, Here’s another site I like and often use. It offers lots of “clones” so you can make your own drink mixes such as arizon tea, or starbuks machiato, shake and bake, and so on. Hope you find it useful too http://www.budget101.com/

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