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?
I’ve found that only buying what I need for that particular week saves me money. Granted, by the end of the week my boys are begging me to go shopping because “there’s nothing to eat”, but they always survive 🙂 Also, I try to stay away from name brands as much as possible, and I’ve been trying to work in some more meatless dishes (if anyone has some good recipes hit me up, yo!) Oh, and I try and stay away from dishes that call for a ton of ingredients. Turns out I don’t usually make these dishes again, so I ended up wasting a lot of money on these expensive ingredients…like that bottle of tahini I bought a few months ago. I think that sucker was like $8 or something! Geez. #LessonLearned
Des @ Half Banked
I will literally pay you to take that contact solution off your hands when you make that trip to Canada someday, unless you’ve already offloaded it! (I can see the blog post now. Or maybe my own feature in Awesome-or-Awkward!)
It’s just so expensive. It’s basically medical salt water! I’m in the wrong business.
Ha! I donated it to our food pantry. But thanks for the idea for a hostess gift when I come visit (casual self-invite)! 🙂 It’s so interesting to me when you stop and think about things like contact solution. How did we get to the point where we can charge so much for something so seemingly simple?
Mrs. Picky Pincher
Oooooh! I love this! We’ve slashed our $1,000/mo grocery budget down to $500/mo, but we can always do better. This gives me hope. 🙂
Ditto on making your own food staples. That cut out a lot of expenses for us like bread, pasta sauce, pizza, muffins, breakfast sandwiches, etc.
We also make a weekly menu based on the sale papers at the grocery store. I only bother looking at the sales for produce and meat, since sales on household items are usually meh. By focusing on sale produce, which is usually in season, we save a lot of money on produce.
Yes! And in-season organics are so affordable (at least relatively). I was just showing Mr. P yesterday that one of our local grocery stores has 1 lb of organic carrots for $1 this week. And they advertised that 1 lb. of regular carrots for the same price. So weird!
It took us two years, but we managed to cut our grocery bill in half (from $1200 a month to $600 for the 7 of us.) I think it takes time. Learning how to cook new meals. Learning how to put together things that are tasty from affordable ingredients. I was on the phone last night with my mom while I was making dinner. I mentioned I was making chicken noodle soup. “From scratch?!?” she asked. Well, yes. It’s really just chopping up some stuff and boiling it. But it took a few years to figure that out. Now I can make a big pot of soup for about $5 in 15 minutes of prep time. 😉
Soup feels like the final frontier for me! My nana made amazing soup, but she mostly used non-recipes. My cousin can make almost an exact replica. I currently con her into making it for us and just freeze it. One of these long weekends coming up might just be the time for me to learn!
We averaged $346 a month last year. You’re doing way better than us! I like to stretch ingredients too. I use a spiralizer to make zucchini spaghetti and I’m left with a stubby weird shape at the end which I chop up and add to pasta sauce.
It’s amazing what you can you add to pasta sauce! And soup. My nana always added potato cubes to her chicken soup. And she was never afraid to add extra veggies or things like that.
My takeaway from this post is that Mr. P gets dessert for the week. I’m so jealous!
I feel like my grocery spend has always been pretty low, but that’s only because I go out to eat way too much.
Ha! That’s the most fun way to fix grocery spending 🙂 And I do try to make dessert for him. And then I spend the week trying to convince myself not to eat it all!
OK – so I was beginning to think that our grocery bills are pretty high each month. But since we don’t do a budget – it makes sense we pay more for groceries because we don’t eat out much at all. We rarely throw anything away. And with the kids both off to college in a few months, our bills will really change in the near future!
I’ll take the contact solution!
Never understood how people can shop monthly. Where do they put it all? They must have way bigger fridges and pantries than we do!
That was part of my clutter problem, to be honest! I even bought shelving for our basement to try to imitate the people that stockpile. Thankfully, I came to my senses and donated to our food pantry and women’s shelter. No one needs 10 years worth of toothpaste!
Gary @ Super Saving Tips
$200 is a fantastic budget and those are solid tips for cutting your grocery bill. One we’re trying to implement is meatless meals at least once a week. That’s not to say you can’t spend a fortune on a vegetarian meal, but proteins tend to be the most expensive part of a dish. Plus this makes us expand our choices and helps our health!
Yes, I love this! We don’t eat meat for breakfast or lunch generally ever and we don’t always eat it for dinner. That helps A LOT.
Mystery Money Man
Very impressive Penny! Love your point about a $200 grocery budget not happening overnight. Like you, Mrs. MMM does a lot of baking (bread/muffins etc.) which replaces expensive store bought snacks for our kids lunches. I makes a difference!
Oh, yes. Not having kids helps a ton, too! 🙂 That’s awesome that she does so much baking. Yum!
Does this include just food or is it shampoo and other toiletries and cleaning supplies too? I’ve never bothered to separate these out, but it would be really tough for us to get to $250, much less $200. You guys are awesome!
Sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn’t! The catch is that if I can’t fit household goods in our grocery budget for the month, it comes out of spending. So that’s my extra incentive to make it work!
Emily @ JohnJaneDoe
I hadn’t really thought about the filler tip…it’s a good one both for getting more veggies and for stretching your foods. I do some of that with carrots/onions/celery, but we could probably do more and with more varied ingredients.
I never realized how much my family stretched ingredients until I stopped and thought about it. Virtually everything my nana made had bread crumbs added to it. Partly, I suspect it was because she wasn’t entirely keen on veggies (why eat them plain when you can bread them and fry them in olive oil?), but also because they always made bread and breadcrumbs are a perfect way to use up bread that’s stale! Almost every ground meat dish had breadcrumbs in it. And she’d make these breadcrumb and egg patties that were to die for.
Tonya@Budget and the Beach
I’m impressed you were even at $250 for two people! I well over that for one person. I do think cutting out one thing at at time is helpful. Usually you will find that you don’t need that item. I could go super super cheap and only eat most of my meals through work, but then I’d get stuck eating boxed macaroni and sugary cereals. For me that has to be an emphasis placed on health first and cost second, but only because thankfully I have the luxury of doing that! PS I LOOOOVE oatmeal! I eat it every morning with blueberries!
Yes, yes, yes! Blueberries have been so not great lately in the Midwest, so I’m back to raisins. But oatmeal is fantastic. We try to eat healthfully, too, and I always know there is room for improvement. 🙂
Great job hitting the shopping budget! These are all really helpful tips. I especially like the one about finding what you like to eat, which is so true with kids. If everyone like the meal, there’s no shame in eating it once every week or two. For example, we all like these boxed white cheddar noodles with tuna and peas. The whole meal costs us less than $5 and it’s easy to make. We eat “tuna noodles” at least once every two weeks.
I can’t wait until summer when we can eat fresh veggies from the garden again. That’s one of my favorite ways to save money on groceries!
Yes for gardens! Our “crops” stretched out into fall. That makes a huge difference, too. And we seriously eat almost identical meals for breakfast and lunch every day. If I can rotate meals for a week at dinner, I feel like a gourmet. It’s like something out of a bad sci-fi novel. That meal sounds delicious to me!
I had to laugh because even just ramping up to UFM meant five trips to various grocery stores and probably $120 in spending (admittedly, some of that was for NYE goodies + beers). However, we did much better this week with just a $24 trip to Aldi since we still had stuff from last week. Staying in the habit of it is KEY for us.
Staying in the habit and stocking staples are both huge. And I’m so glad you live by an Aldi. It’s a game changer.
That is impressive! Food must be considerably cheaper in the States and where you are. My husband and I make a lot from scratch (bread, all of our meals), we eat out only on giftcards that were given to us, don’t eat processed foods and yet we would have an extremely difficult time getting our budget there. We mostly eat vegetables, fruit and our homemade bread with meat scattered throughout the week.
I don’t know how you do it, but kudos to you!
We definitely have an advantage living in the Midwest. We are close enough to Chicago where we get a little bit of a spike in price from that. But having an Aldi and a local ethnic grocer REALLY help!
We are continuously working on our grocery budget. Cutting down on meat makes a big difference. Tomorrow, I’ll be roasting a large chicken, and I’m expecting it to do a roast chicken dinner tomorrow, chicken enchilladas on Sunday, stir fry on Monday (mostly vegs with a bit of chicken) and 2 x work lunches- chicken and peppers in spiced cous cous, with some cashews thrown in for extra protein 🙂
I also list the ‘treats’ we have in our cupboard before we go shopping. Like at the minute, we still have a carton of custard and a couple of tins of rice pudding. So I know iI don’t need non-essentials (not that you ever need them) because I’ve got something in already if I fancy a treat!
I’m impressed! I’m not entirely sure what our food related expenses add up to, but we eat mostly whole foods in our house, which is really cheap, actually! As long as we choose foods that are in season and canned and frozen, we save a lot of money.
Here in Aus our national breakfast cereal is Weetbix. Luckily for me I really enjoy it and it comes in at a total of 10.7 cents per serve! Sometimes if I’m feeling hungry and can’t wait for my mid-morning snack I’ll eat a piece of fruit as well, so that does push the price up occasionally (and helps to add some nutrients to my day)
That’s awesome! And fruit is definitely worth the extra cost 🙂
Having food around that you’ll actually enjoy eating makes such a difference! Just because it is cheap does not mean it is frugal. Those beans you won’t eat aren’t frugal.
Ms. Frugal Asian Finance
Wow I think even $250 for two people is a victory! You guys are doing great at keeping your grocery budget down. Thanks for sharing!