Wednesday, August 8, 2012

My $200 Monthly Grocery Budget

Recently, my husband and I sat down and had a conversation about our budget. It's something I recommend that every couple do, just so there's a real understanding on both ends what the expectations are, how much can be spent and what/why/how you're planning to save. That being said, I hate these conversations. For this very reason: I don't mix well with money. I mean, I can find a deal like no other. But it becomes addictive. To the point where I just wanna shop. When I'm bummed, I want to shop. It isn't called "retail therapy" for nothing. But during this recent financial conversation, my husband was re budgeting and asked me how much I would need a month for groceries (for 5 people), dog food (for three dogs) and diapers. Something stupid inside of me blurted, "$200!" He hesitated, looked me dead in the eye and said, "You sure about that?" To which I stupidly replied, "Yeah, Babe. I got this." I should have asked for more. I COULD have asked for more. But after I said it, I realized that the worst I could do was TRY to stick to that budget and fail. If I didn't try though, I'd never know.

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!

13 comments:

  1. I'm pretty proud! I've tried to limit myself to $100 a week but even that is proving to be hard with two toddlers who eat like starving bears!

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    1. I guess I'm lucky right now that all three of mine are being really picky about what they eat. Buttered noodles and carrots are about all they really like to eat right now and both are pretty cheap, lol.

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  2. The Budget Diet girl is impressed...$200 a month is amazing! My blog is full of frugalicious & fast recipes that I hope will help you!

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    1. Awesome! Thank you so much! I will definitely be checking out your blog. The recipes have been the hardest part of this challenge for me. I don't want to eat ramen or hamberger helper all the time, lol!

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  3. Great advice, Abby! I'm planning to share it on Facebook. Hope you don't mind. :) Also, I can totally relate to making food from scratch as being a big money saver. I never used to when I was a working mom, but now that I have more time on my hands I've ventured out with making homemade breads, pizza, etc...and Uh, ya...this raised in the Idaho potato fields girl would never dream of making mashed potatoes any other way than from scratch. Lol! I'm just now starting to explore homemade pasta sauces.

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    1. Lol, by all means, share away! And thank you!

      I'm still working on the pasta/tomato sauce. I haven't made a batch yet thats PERFECT. Some have been pretty good but none have been exactly what I want yet. I'm thinking that I should take a trip to Italy and learn from some one there... ;)

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  4. I thought I was doing pretty good with 100 dollars a week for a family of 6 but now I see I need to try even harder. I love saving money. It is like a game for me. I have learned to plan all my meals around the sales of the week. I shop at Safeway and I love their Just 4 U app. Even my kids know that we don't buy something unless it is on sale :)

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    1. I do the same thing with the sales. I stopped trying coupon cutting because none of the coupons were for things that we actually needed or used. So I pay close attention to the sales as well. So far so good :)

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  5. This is awesome! This is pretty much how I stick to a budget, too. Store brands all the way! The only thing I have found about some store brands - WalMart in particular - is a lot of their products contain high fructose corn syrup, so I try to be careful and read labels.

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    1. I wont lie, I don't pay that much attention to the labels. I use a lot of produce from my own garden so I think I'm ok there. But what other products have you noticed that have high levels of corn syrup and what are the effects of that?

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  6. I would loooove to know some of your meals! I am terrible at trying to figure out the when and whats of our meals!

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  7. I have such a hard time being creative with meals for cheap. I do LOVE to cook, but for years prior to children I was able to cook salmon, steak, crab whatever we pleased! Do you have an suggestions for meals that aren't spaghetti, chicken and veggies or hot dogs?

    Your tips are great, I really appreciate you taking the time to share your skills!

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  8. I came across your blog and LOVE it! I'm working on the whole budget thing but with only a husband and two pups! Thanks for making this blog so crafty and an easy-read. I look forward to reading other things of yours, especially when I become a mommy :)

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