Wednesday, August 8, 2012
My $200 Monthly Grocery Budget
To start, I'm going to tell you exactly what must be done in order to accomplish this. Because I actually did it. There's a few things you MUST do though in order to come even close to it.
1) Have a plan. I figured out what groceries we had. I researched meals online and I printed out a monthly calendar dedicated to my meal planning. It is taped up next to the fridge so I know each day what we're eating. A few days before my next "month" starts, I'll make up the meal plan calendar for September. It's really not as hard as it sounds. Best part is, I haven't had to make everything on the calendar so far since sometimes we've had leftovers. Seriously though, I planned a months worth of meals while sitting and watching TV with my hubby one night. It's not some huge, crazy project. And Pinterest has TONS of meal ideas!
2) Use cash. Like paper money. Not your debit card. I don't think I'd have thought of it on my own but my hubby went to the ATM, pulled out $200 and handed it to me. This way is so much better than using a card. It's hard to know exactly how much of the $200 has been spent if you're using the card. With cash, you know, "Alright, I just spend $63.89, I have $136.11 left in my hands." Just easier to keep track of.
3) Get over yourself and brand names. I picked up mac and cheese at Walmart, buying the Walmart brand, for $0.48 a box. I bought the Kroger brand hot dogs for $0.88 for a 10 pack. Kroger brand "spaghetti-o's" are 58 cents. Deals can be found (even better ones than with coupons) if you stick to the store brands. I remember one time, having a coupon for Helluva-Good Dip. The stuff really is amazing. But even with the coupon discount, it was still cheaper AND the quantity larger with the Kroger brand. Not saying it was AS good but it was still really yummy and I saved money.
Those are my biggest pieces of advice. Now, I'll go further to explain some other principles for bargain grocery shopping that I've learned.
1) I bought the dog food and diapers first. That way, I knew exactly how much I had left to spend on groceries. Also, I bought both at SAM's club. I get more diapers, cheaper, and they work just fine. They've worked for all three of my kids and I swear by them. Honestly, I liked them more than both Pampers and Huggies. The dog food is the SAM's brand but it's a 50 lb bag of dog food ( I have two boxers and a bulldog) for like $21. Not bad. I supplement their food at home though. They often get rice mixed in with their dog food (excellent filler! and it's cheap!), they have vitamins, get omega oils poured on their food AND get any and all egg shells. Making eggs for breakfast? Save the shells, crush them up as fine as you possibly can and mix them with the dog food. They're full of calcium. So what my dogs may not be getting from their cheaper dog food, we're making up for in other ways.
2) I bought certain items in bulk. Cheap items. At SAM's, bulk items that I use a lot, like garlic or rice or coffee, come WAY cheaper. I get my creamer, sugar and flour from SAM's as well. I buy my bacon there. $25 for enough bacon, when portioned to 9 slices per portion, gave me close to 40 portions. You do the math. Other items, like certain meats or eggs, I wont buy because I CAN find them elsewhere for much much cheaper. For example: We eat a lot of eggs. A LOT of eggs. I have three kids that I have to feed breakfast too every day (and I'm a HUGE believer that breakfast is THE most important meal, so it better be good). At Walmart, I get 5 dozen eggs for less than $6.
3) Compare prices. If I buy a small pack of cream cheese at Walmart, it's about $1.35. At Kroger, it's 99 cents. It may not seem like a huge deal but at the end, when you're saving that 36 cents on like 40 items, it adds up. You can buy more. I love Publix, but if I've gotta shop cheap, I can't go there. It's cheaper to shop at Kroger. I recently started researching prices at Aldi and will be going there next shopping session because I've found that some of their prices are even better than Krogers.
4) I know how the sales work. At Kroger, they have 10 for $10 deals on all kinds of stuff. Thankfully, you can mix and match. It took me a while to realize this though. So, if I know that I can save by buying 10 items that are under the 10 for $10, I'm going to make sure I do it.
5) I look for "Manager Specials". Every once in a while, we find outrageous deals at Kroger thanks to these. We found a peach sponge cake, normally like $7 for like $2.50 because it was the last one or it had to be sold immediately. Score! I found meat there this time around with a Manager's Special sticker on it. The date doesn't always have anything to do with it. Sometimes, it's just that their inventory is getting backed up so they need items sold. So they put it on sale. I bought a good bit of pork for super cheap. Which leads into my next point...
6) Portion your meals properly. SAM's club sells their own brand of boneless, skinless chicken breasts. These breasts are SO big! I know that I'd have leftovers for weeks if I cooked like 3 for our 5 people. So when I get home, I cut each breast in half, put it in freezer ziplocks and put them in the freezer. Half a breast is perfect for cooking up and putting in pasta, quesadillas, soups, or even, if you wanted to have something like chicken strips. Slice it right, use larger crumbs like Panko crumbs (also nice and cheap) to help give them more body and help fill you up. I've got three kids. But they're only 4, almost 3 and 1. My 4 year old eats like a bird, my son goes back and forth on what he likes and doesn't like and my 1 year old thinks its more fun to throw her food recently than actually eat it. Also, my husband is often working late and sometimes has to eat out for business purposes. So to avoid having leftovers, because I know that in my house, they often get pushed to the back of the fridge and forgotten about for roughly a year and then get tossed, I make sure that I cook the right amount of food. Also helps to keep you from over eating. Healthier AND cheaper.
7) Now, this next part is going to seem a little... "granola" to some of you but I'm not a hippie and I've actually really come to enjoy this. Make as much from scratch as possible. I make my own pasta. Time consuming but not as difficult as you'd think. I make my own tomato sauce with tomatoes from my garden. I make my own mashed potatoes ( I will NEVER be able to wrap my head around boxed potatoes) and I like to make my deserts from scratch as well. Making pizzas and pretzels from scratch is fun! I really enjoy cooking though. I guess if you don't, this suggestion is going to seem overwhelming or just flat out lame. Whatever. I've saved a TON of money doing it this way.
I've had to be creative for meals. We're not eating fillet mignons and tuna steaks or quinoa (that stuff is good but SO not good for my budget). Tonight, we're having chilli dogs. That's it. I'll cut up some carrot sticks with ranch on the side just so the kids are getting their veggie dose. Jello is an excellent and cheap desert (super cheap at Kroger). Oh, that's another thing. I've found that it's cheaper to do things like celery and carrots for snacks than it is to actually buy snack snacks. Like fruit snacks in my house (bought in bulk from SAMs) last just about as long as a bag of carrots... but I'm paying at least $7 MORE for the fruit snacks than I am for the carrots. Craziness. So eating healthy is better in even more ways than just the obvious.
Now, I succeeded in meeting our budget for the month. In fact, I've got $16 leftover. Now, that money is going to be gone in the next couple days but if I work it right, I wont go over. And the only reason I'm even spending it is because my husband's 17 year old boy cousin is coming to stay with us for a week. I hear teenage boys eat like hard working grown men so I've gotta prep. It's always a good idea though, I think, to try to have a little left over money, just in case you need milk or something of that nature.
Grocery shopping on a tight budget isn't as hard as you think. Just cut out a lot of the expensive junk food that you eat (or buy the store brand... store brand tortilla chips at Kroger fall under the 10 for $10, or even the Walmart brand are only $1.25... regular Tostidos are like almost $5 a bag!!!!), plan properly (take inventory of what you DO have) and schedule your meals. That way, you know how much of what exactly you're going to need when you go shopping. Get creative too. Keep your eyes open for bargains. No biggie.
If you have specific questions about how I managed to keep this budget, please ask. Feel free to either comment below or to post on my facebook page. The facebook page would be an even better way to get more tips and money saving suggestions from other moms. Either way... Please ask away! Happy shopping!