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Sticking to a grocery budget can be hard! Heck, I make a living teaching people how to save money – primarily through groceries – and it can still be hard for me. But food remains that one area in your budget that can make you or break you. And if you're having trouble getting your budget to balance, your food spending likely remains your best bet to get your spending in line.
As I discuss in my book, The Recovering Spender, I was spending about $1,000 a month on food at one point for a family of 3. After reaching my breaking point, I was able to get my food budget down to just $200 a month! Now keep in mind that was with some really crazy couponing and deal hunting, so it has increased a bit as the family has grown and I haven't had as much time to find the absolute best deals each week.
But I wanted to take this opportunity to show you what my weekly shopping trip looked like this week to show you how I can feed my family on $125 this week.
But first – it's not always $125… sometimes it's $180, sometimes it's $90. It really depends on what's on sale, what I already have in my pantry, and also how much cash I have left in my food budget. But when I'm careful and planning well, it usually averages to somewhere between $120 and $150 a week.
This week, I made it easy. No coupons. No sales. Just ALDI.
This is the basis for everything. I don't know about you, but most meals in my house consist of a protein, a vegetable and maybe a starch food… but not always. Here was the plan for this week:
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All of these meals that I have here are very easy to make on the fly, or are really easy to prep. As I sit here and write (on a Sunday night – went shopping last night), the pork loin and the creole spiced steak are already prepped and ready to go!
Often I have one of my meal plans on hand to provide some of the dinners during the week, but I'm actually putting together a new one as we speak!
Did you notice that I included 7 meals in step number 1? If I'm buying food for 7 meals, we are gonna eat all 7. Some weeks we do go out to eat though, and we plan for them. I will only shop for 6 meals if we are gonna go out to eat.
And if we are going out to eat, we make sure to grab a coupon using one of these 72 restaurant freebies!
We already discussed dinners, but what about breakfasts? Lunches? Snacks? You do not want to go back to the store in the middle of the week, so that's why it's important to try and think of everything.
I know this sounds like an obvious step, but how often do you have to make an extra trip (or 2 or 3) in the middle of the week to pick up items that you forgot or ran out of? I know that if I go shopping without a plan, I will always have to go back. Not only does it mean that I'm spending more on food (because I usually always pick up something else too), it also means that I'm spending more on gas.
So just take an extra 5 minutes and make sure you've got all the stuff on your list to last you for the entire week. Here's how I planned out the other meals:
Breakfasts. My kids are easy. It's literally one of 4 things: Cereal (the most popular choice), Omelettes (my husband spoils them sometimes), oatmeal, or toast.
Lunches. Mark and I eat either a salad with grilled chicken, or leftovers. Our kids will eat PB&J, turkey sandwiches, plain deli meat, crackers, cheese… pretty easy to prepare.
Snacks. Mark and I try to only snack on healthy stuff these days… fruit, vegetables, hummus, almonds, and sometimes crackers and cheese. My kids eat mostly fruit, but they do go through a couple bags of chips and some crackers throughout the week.
Figuring out what you don't have to buy is just as important of figuring out what you do have to buy. Here's a list of stuff we already had:
But at the same time, there were things we were missing. I didn't have any oregano or jarred garlic. So I had to make sure to add those to the list.
And if you're really short on cash, try a week of mostly leftovers and living out of the pantry. Check out 21 ways to make the most out of your leftovers!
If you decide ahead of time what your food budget is for the week, the easiest way to stick to it is by using cash. Don't touch your debit card or your credit cards; just stick with the cash you have. That way, if you budgeted $150 for the week, and the total comes out to $160 at the checkout, you're gonna have to put some things back.
And guess what items you are going to put back? It's not going to be the healthy ones, it will most likely be some chips and cookies that won't make their way to your house.
So here's the list:
So… I realize that if I didn't already have the investment in the beef, it might have been an additional $30 or so. But, keep in mind that by buying the beef in bulk ahead of time, I paid only $4.50 a pound (that's the packaged weight, not hanging weight), and this meat will last me for almost a year.
Between the ground beef and 2 steaks, I will use a little more than 4 pounds of beef – or about $20 worth from my chest freezer in the basement. And the pork loin I bought for $9.60 will actually be used for 2 meals, so I'll only be eating half this week.
So, $110 + $20 – $5 = $125 this week on food.
So that's how I shop for groceries in my house, eat pretty well, and keep the grocery bill down.