I read this post by Money Saving Mom on surviving on a grocery budget of $30 per week. I wasn’t in love with the menu she had posted – I get board easily and I enjoy cooking – but I did love the idea of putting a budget on my groceries so I took a few of her tips and made a budget for my family and headed off to the grocery store.
I started by looking at what I already had in my fridge, freezer and cupboards. We had been prepping freezer meals and had left over meats from our last prep. That trip was about $200 worth of groceries from a local club store, so we were already working with a decent base. The trouble is that despite that great base – and stock of freezer meals – we were still lucky to spend under $100 per week for a family of 3.
My budget for the first week was $30. I didn’t think it was possible but we were actually about $10 under budget.
Here is what I did:
- Take inventory – what do you already have and what can you make with what you already have
- Make a menu – when can you eat leftovers and are there meals like turkey breast or pork loin that you can use leftovers to ‘remake’ into a second meal?
- Find out where the best deals are – what is cheaper at what store? Make a list and track prices.
- Be prepared to make multiple stops – for us we start at Aldi, and then finish at Target.
- Take advantage of coupons and loyalty cards … when it makes sense – I tend to use coupons just because I have them. This isn’t always the best strategy, I end up spending money I wouldn’t have otherwise because it was a good price. Target has an app called cartwheel that we use every shopping trip to save on what we buy. Nothing goes in the cart without checking to see if there is a cartwheel offer.
- Put aside unused budget – use this for weeks when you need to stock up, make freezer meals or just don’t have the time to sit down and make as detailed of a menu/shopping list.
The first week we didn’t need any meat because we had it all at home but we had meals such as:
- Shrimp scampi
- Pulled BBQ chicken sandwiches, sweet potato fries and side salad
- Spaghetti and meatballs
The bonus was that buying less meant wasting less. It always feels good not to have to trash food because you didn’t get to it fast enough.
The second week we decided that $30 was slightly unrealistic for a family of three that included a toddler who is a little picky and two adults who really like convince and eating out. So we adjusted to a $40 per week budget.
Week two we were under by $15. This time we had meals like:
- Make ahead breakfast burritos
- Beef stew
- Chicken nuggets and sweet potato fries
- Creamy chicken and broccoli with ramen noodles
We also use at least one freezer meal per week. This is to cut down on cooking time and make eating at home easier since we are an on the go family. I also bought $30 worth of coffee so we would stop going to the coffee shop and it was an amazing deal (I think I paid $25 and got $10 worth of gift cards). The bonus gift cards went to cover our grocery cost. For us coffee comes out of a discretionary budget that has yet to be defined … so this felt a little like cheating. But since our going out to eat/coffee house budget is separate from groceries we allocated the big purchase to that budget.
I was feeling good when I went shopping yesterday since we had been under budget every week. I had a $5 gift card from an Easter basket purchase that was allocated to groceries and the $25 cash that was excess from prior weeks.
Unfortunately this week we went over our grocery budget of $40 by $15 AND that money already existed in the excess from the weeks before.
This week we are eating things like
- Stir fried ramen
- Chipotle inspire burrito bowls
- Breakfast burritos
I am a little disappointed since that takes away the money from a future ‘stock up purchase’ but I am feeling confidant that our eating out budget will decrease. I noticed we spent our eating out $’s on things like Chinese food and Chipotle. Putting the little extra money into the Chipotle inspired dinner and the fried ramen should help protect the eating out budget and decrease my families spending overall.
Stay tuned for our first freezer meal stock pile on our new budget in the weeks to come!