I talk about spending seven dollars on breakfast for the month, and everyone wants to know my secret. Oatmeal. Oatmeal is my secret. And our lunches are so cheap. You know why? Because we make them and because we’ve worked really hard at reducing our expenses. I realize that I’ve talked a lot about what our budget is, but I haven’t spent much time talking about how we got there. Here are five steps that we implemented to reduce our monthly grocery budget to $200.
Pick One Thing to Cut
I know it seems like one day we just woke up and had a $200 grocery budget. But it didn’t actually happen like that. We sat at $250 for the two of us for so long, I wasn’t sure that there was anything left for us to lose. After looking hard at our list for the week one day way back when, I decided to forgo pretzels. Mr. P already got his potato chips. Did we really need both? It turns out, we didn’t. I played this game for a few weeks. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it backfired and I was back at the store. But it’s a really effective way to look hard at what you actually enjoy and need versus what you’re eating just because it’s in the cabinet or pantry.
Replace What You Can Make
It doesn’t happen all the time. But a lot of times, I’ll whip up cupcakes or a sheet cake for Mr. P’s dessert for the week. Even if I go the boxed mix route, it’s far cheaper (and tastier!) than anything I could buy. Ditto for bread, cookies, pasta sauce, salad dressing. The list goes on and on. Of course, this really depends on your time. If getting motivated to make your own meals is difficult enough, I wouldn’t advise starting with this step. But if you’re knocking on the door of your ideal budget, this might be just the strategy you need to get you there.
And I’m not just talking about adding a little water to bottles of salad dressing or barbecue sauce. But I do that, too! I thought I was so discreet until Mr. P handed me a totally empty bottle once and asked if I wanted to add more water to it. Busted. But when it comes to cooking, I love to figure out how to make the most of our meals. If zucchini is on sale, I’ll chop it up finely and add it to our ground turkey for tacos. Ditto for adding beans or rice or breadcrumbs to various dishes. When you use fillers that don’t have much flavor on their own, they really pick up the taste of the dish. And it’s a fantastic way to sneak more veggies into our diet.
As a reformed extreme couponer, I can tell you all about stockpiling. We had enough Minute Rice to feed an army and enough contact solution to be absolutely useless…considering neither of us wears contacts. I can also attest to the fact that when your refrigerator or cabinets get stocked so deep with food, it’s easy to forget what meals you intend to make. I’ve found that shopping once a week makes much more sense than trying to do epic monthly hauls. I can focus more on fresh produce in our dinners and for our snacks, and I can also shop with specific recipes in mind. No more wondering what to do with lone soldier ingredients that won’t round out a meal for anything.
Figure Out What You Like
Here’s the thing. You’ll never land a breakfast for pocket change or an almost-as-cheap lunch if you hate what you make. Don’t like oatmeal? Can’t shovel it down? Don’t buy it. Beans and rice not your thing? Have a peanut butter allergy? There’s no shame in it, folks. If the thought of your meal turns your stomach, that’s a sure-fire way to land a date with a drive thru or the vending machine. Make something you enjoy, then figure out how to economize the meal whether it’s looking for sales, clipping coupons, substituting ingredients, or cooking in bigger batches.
Get the Extra Grocery Scoop Here!
- My $7 Breakfast…For the Month!
- BYO Lunch
- Aldi – Judge Away, I Don’t Care!
- And yes, we even eat our (organic) veggies!
So Tell Me…What are your best tips and tricks for cutting back on eating expenses?