There are families that have bills that equal almost as much as the expenses. When this happens one place most people turn to cut costs is their food budget. In our household, we usually have between $160 – $180 a month for all groceries including non-food products.
We save money in a number of ways but for this post we will focus on the cost of food. Now in all honestly I am feeding 2 big eaters, but this budget would technically feed 4 people normal portion sizes. We also only eat two meals per day in our house. If we were to add breakfast it would have to be eggs and/or toast but neither of us can eat early in the day.
Tips for Making the Menu Below Possible
- Shop at Aldi’s for many things on your menu. I normally buy the cheapest food available. Usually this is no big deal but I will admit that the .99 cheese we buy doesn’t even melt. At twice the price for the good stuff we buy the cheap stuff anyway. The other cheese we use from Aldi’s comes in that rectangle log and is $3.99. This may seem pricey when you are trying hard to stick to $2 – $3 per meal when you can, but this cheese melts very good and you can slice it extremely thin and get nice results that don’t seem skimpy. I get about 40 slices of cheese from it. When I talk about lunch meat from Aldi’s I am speaking of the packs similar to Buddig but Aldi’s brand and they cost .59 each now but I usually get 2 sandwiches per package.
- Divide packages of food so you get more than one meal from them. For the ham in the menu we had a $6.98 picnic ham sliced for free at Walmart and I came home and divided it into 7 portions of sliced ham and 1 portion of ham chunks from the end that didn’t get sliced real thin. That makes the meat for each meal only 87 cents.
- Shop at your local bread store if you have one. We get bread there for 50 cents and it is the sandwich loaf that has 24 slices so each slice is only 2 cents. We also get hamburger buns for 50 cents but for most things we use bread.
- Use bread instead of buns to cut costs. If you notice, we don’t use hot dog buns; we use slices of bread instead. And honestly, I like it better because it isn’t so “bready”.
5. Don’t add something to this meal that would make a meal of it’s own. One thing my mom always stressed when money was tight was that you shouldn’t use ingredients that would make two meals to make one meal. What she meant was the we couldn’t put cheese on our sandwiches because that cheese could be used to make grilled cheese sandwiches another day. My husband won’t let me get away with being that frugal with food but it is something to keep in mind if you need to make every last penny stretch when you are getting groceries.
6. Do not go by the price per pound, go by the price per family meal. I get hamburger when it is on sale for $9.55 for 5 pounds so $1.89 per pound and then I come home and cook it up and divide it up into at least 6 packages so it comes out to $1.58 per meal. So when you look at a package of meat for example, you figure out how many meals you can get out of it and then figure the cost per meal. If you notice below, I never go over $6.00 a day for food and I try to stick to $2 – $3 per meal.
7. Stock up generously when there is an incredible sale. The rest of the items in the menu I get on sale and stock up. For instance, we have one store here that has bacon as the loss leader about every 2 – 3 months and it is on sale for $1.99 per pound. I stock up and get enough for about six months at a time and freeze it. The pepperoni you will see in the menu I got on sale for 58 cents per package because it was nearing the expiration date. I bought a dozen and froze them and we use them now whenever we need one. When you find things at amazing prices that you can freeze or that will be fine to store, be sure to stock up heavily. Don’t be wasteful and buy so much food that it spoils but if it is something you will use and the price is insanely cheap then buy, buy, buy.
8. Watch the sales papers and then find coupons for the products already on sale. There was also some pepperoni on sale and my daughter and I used a coupon to bring the price down to 50 cents a package. Always be on the look out for coupons you can combine with store sales. Potatoes are normally $3.49 for five pounds here but sometimes they go on sale for .99 for 5 pounds. When they do I always get two of them to help stretch the budget. The more expensive stores will often have loss leader sales on canned vegetables and soups and offer them for only 39 cents. When they do be sure to stock up. If they have a limit, take a friend and you help him/her get something they need and they can help you get extra cans of vegetables. (I never understood stores having limits. Why do they care who buys their stock as long as it gets sold.)
9. Be open minded and shop the the discount stores or the new expired food stores. We have a discount store here that is kind of like a salvage store and you just never know what you will find there. We got instant mashed potatoes there for 50 cents per box and we bought enough to stack from the floor to the ceiling. We also found the Hamburger Helper meal listed in the menu below for 4 for $1.00 there and I knew my husband liked it so I bought forty of them. This definitely helps the budget.
10. Save your leftovers to add to your main dish for other meals. When you have leftover meat be sure to save even small amounts. When you are fixing macaroni and cheese or rice mix or some kind of pasta, even a little meat added to the dish can make a small difference.
11. You don’t have to have a three course meal. You don’t always have to have several kinds of food for a meal. Very often we have just sandwiches or just hot dogs with nothing on the side. My husband would rather eat three sandwiches than one sandwich and some sides. Do what works for your family.
A 2 week menu:
Sunday – Lunch: Pizza from Aldi 4.99
Supper: Fried Egg sandwiches 4 eggs .30 8 slices bread .16 4 slices cheese .25
Total for the day 5.70
Monday – Lunch: Ham sandwiches ham .87 cheese .25 bread .16 (4 sandwiches)
Supper: Lasagna from Aldi’s 2.49
Total for the day 3.77
Tuesday – Lunch: Grilled Cheese Sandwiches cheese from log of cheese .40 bread .17 (4 sandwiches)
Supper: Macaroni and Cheese with Hot dogs Mac and cheese .39 x 2=.78 Hot dogs .79
Total for the day 2.14
Wednesday – Lunch: Jack’s Pizza 2.98
Supper: Tuna Noodle Casserole 1/2 bag tuna noodles .75 Cream of chicken .59 peas .39
Total for the day 4.71
Thursday – Lunch: Tuna Salad Sandwiches tuna .79 bread .17 mayo .10 (4 sandwiches)
Supper: Rice-a-roni with ham chunks rice and vermicelli mix .69 ham chunks .87
Total for the day 2.62
Friday – Lunch: Turkey and cheese sandwiches lunch meat from Aldi’s .59x 2 bread .16 (4 sandwiches)
Supper: Tacos hard shells 1.00 hamburger 1.58 shredded cheese .63
Total for the day 4.55
Saturday – Lunch: Bacon and eggs one pound bacon 1.99 8 eggs .66 4 toast .08
Supper: Chicken Parmesan 2.50 corn .39 bread .08
Total for the day 5.70
Sunday – Lunch: French Toast 8 bread .17 sugar .8 (116 Tbls sugar in 4 lb bag at 1.89 – 4 Tbls used)
butter and milk accounted for in weekly use
Supper – Spanish rice with hamburger tomato soup 1.77 long grain rice .50 hamburger 1.58
Total for the day 4.82
Monday – Lunch: Scrambled eggs with potatoes 8 eggs .59 2 potatoes (.99 for 5 lbs) .20
Supper: Chili dogs hot dogs .79 bread .17 no bean chili we use 1/2 can .55
Total for the day 2.30
Tuesday – Lunch: Left over spanish rice and Cheese and garlic bread 1/2 loaf of italian bread sliced. .50
cheese from cheese loaf .40 garlic powder (.88 bottle) .4
Supper: Nachos tortilla chips .89 hamburger 1.58 cheese .55
Total for the day 4.32
Wednesday – Lunch: BBQ Pork sandwiches Pulled pork from aldi’s used 1/2 package 2.00 bread .17
Supper: Hamburger Helper Bold Spicy Chipolte Chicken Enchilada 2 pks .50 (bought 40 pks at discount store for .25 each) Chicken 1.00 bought 3pk canned chicken at Walmart used 1/2 can.
Total for the day 3.67
Thursday – Lunch: Chicken noodle soup with rice added. 2 cans chicken noodle soup .59 each rice .50
Supper: Spaghetti spaghetti .50 spaghetti sauce .99
Total for the day 3.17
Friday – Lunch: Leftover Hamburger Helper Bold Spicy Chipolte Chicken Enchilada Zero cost – figured above
Supper: Hamburger bun pizzas tomato sauce .50 pepperoni I got on sale that was close to exp. date .58, I bought about 12 of them and froze them. shredded cheese 1.25 hamburger buns .50
Total for the day 2.83
Mustard – we go through about 1 a year at .79 so for two weeks that would make the cost about .4
Ketchup – we go through about 2 a month at .99 that is about .99 per 2 weeks
Milk – we go through maybe 2 cups a week at the most, at 2.59 a gallon that is .16 per cup and we use 4 cups in 2 weeks for .64
Butter (margarine) – we get the tub at Aldi for $1.79 and it lasts at least a month so for two weeks that would be .90
This comes to an average cost per meal of about $1.80 is you just drink water for meals.
Our one indulgence is pop and neither of us are willing to give it up. We drink four 12-packs a week but I always stock up when it is 4 for $10 so that makes the cost per week $10.00. If we were to give up soft drinks and only drink water that would give us 71 more cents per meal to spend. We choose the diet soft drinks.
Two weeks = $20.00 for soft drinks.
Even with the addition of soda this only raises the cost per meal to $2.51 which is pretty good considering the portions are generous.
Repeat and the total for one month is $146.46 or $36.62 per week for your food bill.
Now let’s be realistic, the grocery bill also includes the following per month in most houses but you never see anyone include these costs in their figures:
Toilet paper: 4- 12 pks a month at 4.98 minus anywhere from .25 to 1.00 coupon but let’s be honest and go with the lower amount. $18.92
Dish soap: Since the dishwasher is broken regular dishsoap at .98 x 2 = $1.96
Laundry Soap: I used to make my own super cheap but with the new locking washer I find it a pain to dissolve so I buy Xtra on sale at 4.96 and we go through about one per month.
Shampoo and Conditioner $3.00 total but lasts about 3 months so actual cost is only $1.00 per month.
Hand soap. I buy one per 1.00 and make foamy soap out of it and it lasts the entire month.
Deodorant and toothpaste: We haven’t paid for these things for years. There are always coupon deals where you can manage to get them free.
Garbage bags We buy the 30 gallon to use in the kitchen and they are about 7.00 for the month.
Dog food We buy 40 pounds for 18.88 and it lasts 3 months so that is 6.29 per month.
Bar soap Usually a pack of 3 for 1.00 but sometimes only 2 so I will count it as .50 per month. Actually, I did ask for bath soap Christmas before last and I got 15 so we still have many of those left.
We buys one gallon size bags and one quart size bags and rewash so they last at least 3 months. $5.00 divided by 3 = 1.67 per month. Where possible we use washable containers instead.
We do not use paper plates, paper towels, napkins, tissues, or any other disposable product that we can get away with using a permanent item instead. I could lie and say it was because we are “green” but the truth is that we cannot afford to waste the money. Now, it is a nice benefit that it helps the environment but it isn’t our mission in life. The funny thing is that the more we try to save money the more “green” many of our actions become.
So the honest to goodness grocery bill in our house is:
$189.76 per month or $47.44 per week.
This budget could be cut by $40 a month if the soft drinks were cut out and since our budget is $160 – $180 a month some of it often is cut out. But unless you were going to drink just tap water all of the time the soda would have to be replaced with something. If you have children that will likely be milk. If not Kool-aid type drink mixes are pretty cheap and they aren’t just for kids.
Now for those that would like some breakfast ideas, you are in luck because there are many food items you can make for very little money.
Eggs fixed any way
Cereal if you get the $1.19 box at Aldi’s
My grandfather ate rice pudding with raisins for breakfast.
Bagels aren’t even that expensive if you figure cost per meal depending on how many you are feeding.
Biscuits and gravy
Oranges if found on sale.
Many people also eat various types of leftovers for breakfast.
You don’t have to say it, we are fully aware this isn’t necessarily a “healthy” menu.
Yes, I know I am going to get slammed because this is not a “healthy” menu. Let me tell you something, when you are just trying to survive in life you don’t always have the luxury of making healthy choices. Besides that, the truth is that the only vegetables my husband will eat are corn, lettuce, potatoes and occasionally cauliflower if it has enough cheese. He also won’t eat beans except chili with no beans and refried beans. As for fruit, sometimes he eats pears or applesauce but rarely. I like most vegetables and will often have a tomato sandwich for my lunch but I have found that I have to try to get in some protein or I don’t feel well.
If you have the money to eat healthy then I am very happy for you but this post is for those people wondering how they are going to stretch every penny out of the little they have for groceries. Some people will only have to eat like this for a short time until they get back on their feet and for others, this is their reality.
Don’t complain, take action.
If it bothers you then don’t complain but do something about it. Volunteer at a food pantry, give some money to help stock a food pantry, or even just help someone you know that needs it by maybe sending a gift card so they can get food their family will actually eat. But do not be judgmental. Remember the person with just a little money is trying to get the most food for their money so that there is enough. It is a matter of quantity over quality. Often times while you might be worried about organic food, they are eating expired food. That’s just life.
Do you have other cheap meals that you fix for your family? The people reading this post could very likely benefit from hearing about them. If you want to complain about this post, feel free but be sure to tell me what you are doing to make the situation better in your town or for someone you know.