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Eating on a Tight Monthly Budget

A woman eating a frugal bowl or ramen noodles.
When money is short, it can have a serious effect on meal planning and choices. This is a guide about eating on a tight monthly budget.
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August 11, 2009

For several years I have been keeping what I call a "Five Dollar Cup". It seemed that the best grocery buys always occurred when I was low on funds or I had a lot to buy that week. I started faithfully putting five dollars in a cup each week, even if it meant I had to knock an item off of the grocery list. When I had a week that I didn't need to buy as much I would throw the extra money in the cup as well.

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I didn't bother too much about items that were 10 or 20 cents cheaper, but rather focused on higher priced products that were two for one or half price. I use a lot of mushroom soup in cooking so when it is on for 49 cents, I will buy 20 cans. When coffee is $2.99 instead of $5.49, I will buy 8 or 10 jars.

I always get items such as toilet tissue, coffee, laundry products, sugar, meats, soft drinks, condiments, tinfoil, saran wraps, dog food, etc. at a much better cost. The Christmas and Thanksgiving turkey are always bought for a much cheaper price. My husband and I take a daily children's aspirin and right now I have a year's supply put away that was purchased at half price.

Eventually it worked out so that I didn't have to include a lot of items in my weekly shopping list as I had enough stocked up so that I could wait until the next time they were on at a "too good to resist" price, and then I could stock up with the money in the "five dollar cup". I started keeping track of how often the different items went on sale and now I can predict fairly closely how often the "good buys" would occur so that I would have an idea of how many to purchase to last until the next sale.

Not having to buy these things weekly meant that I frequently had money left to put in the cup and thus keep the wheel turning for savings. Even though the price of groceries has gone up in the last couple of years I'm not paying any more.

By Mother of 5 from Nova Scotia

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Comment Was this helpful? 11

October 17, 20060 found this helpful

I just recently started working again after a 5 year break of not being able to get a job. During that time I was on $70 of food benefits from the state as required by my disability through Social Security a federal agency.

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By 3 found this helpful
July 2, 2010

To control your budget for grocery spending, load a store gift card with whatever amount you have for groceries for the month. Keep some spare cash from the budget to shop for items from other stores that might be on sale. This way it is easier not to go over the amount you have available for groceries.

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Source: My husband.

By Monica from Cortez, CO

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March 6, 20050 found this helpful

Eat soup one night a week.

By Denise Editor's Note: Soup is an inexpensive meal, especially if you make it from scratch. Why just one night a week? Soup is great! Make large batches and freeze extra for future meals.

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Questions

Ask a QuestionHere are the questions asked by community members. Read on to see the answers provided by the ThriftyFun community or ask a new question.

By 0 found this helpful
March 28, 2010

Money is tight. My food budget goal is to spend 300 dollars a month for me and my fiance. We currently live in Ontario, Canada. So we would have to spend five bucks each. I know it's possible. I want servings just under a dollar for five meals a day for lunch, supper, breakfast, and two snacks.

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I am just not sure where to go on the net for cheap/frugal meals. I have gone online and haven't found much. Some meals I would like to make are casseroles, soups, and from the crock pot. I basically have gotten into the habit of having frugal breakfasts. I'm interested in once a month cooking as well. Any suggestions?

By Krystal from Kenora, Ontario

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March 28, 20100 found this helpful
Best Answer

Hi!

First of all, I think $300 is a decent food budget for 2 people. You can probably get much lower, but of course it depends on the area you live in. I don't know the Canadian food prices, but I live in Sweden which is proven to be one of the most expensive countries in the world when it comes to food. Our monthly food cost is around $275 at maximum.

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Here's a few tips:

-Check out hillbillyhousewife.com she has a variety of menu:s to chose from, with both recipes and costs. Really good!

-Avoid eating out at all costs! Eat at home and bring your own lunch to work.

- We mostly eat vegetarian. It is also way cheaper than eating meat. consider a veggie day each week!

-Don't buy snacks when you are at work/out shopping/ever. Bring fruits or something in your purse, in case you get hungry.

-Don't prioritize fresh ingredients. This sounds horrible, but listen: we used to have a fresh salad for each dinner, and it cost a fortune. Plus we usually ended up throwing away half the lettuce and the cucumber molded. Now we just make carrot sticks and have salad on special occasions. Good luck!

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March 29, 20100 found this helpful
Best Answer

Find the discount stores in your area. I live in Massachusetts and we have several (Aldi's, PriceRite and Save-a-Lot). Know your prices for meats and items that you use often. Buy at the lowest price. When meat goes on sale, buy enough for the next sale. I have a family of four, so I package my meat in packages of four.

If I have chicken thighs, I package 4 for a meal. If one of us is very hungry, we load up on veggies and rice/potatoes/pasta. I usually make a meat portion, veggie and starch for each meal. For ground beef or ground turkey, I use 1/2 a pound for all four of us in pasta sauce, tacos, shepards pie, etc. No one has missed the extra meat.

Find your discount farmers market. We have a few in my area that sell to local restaurants. The extra, gets sold in their discount stores. Recently I have found: $.99 asparagus, $1.00 for a double bag of chopped romaine lettuce, 4 lbs for $1.00 bananas. These are just some of the deals.

You can eat fresh, good food on a budget. You just need to know where to shop and how to cook. Also, limit the amount of meat you eat at each meal.

I hope this helps. Good luck. I feed 4 people for about $280 for the month.

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March 30, 20100 found this helpful
Best Answer

Hi Crystal. I live in Ontario, too. You should be able to eat very well for $300 for two people. I feed my family of four (including 10 and 12 yr old boys who eat more than most adults) plus a cat and a large dog for $300 a month. I check the sales fliers every week and only buy items when they hit their lowest sale price, then I stock up so I have enough to last until the next sale. By doing this, I usually pay 50% or less of the normal cost for most food items.

I buy things like rice and flours in bulk (8 or 10 kg bags) when they hit their lowest price and store them in my freezer so they don't go buggy. I make my own bread and flour tortillas, which saves a LOT of money, using bulk flour and yeast (I can make 3 loaves of whole wheat bread for about $2.00, or about 67 cents per loaf!). It's easier than you probably think to make your own bread, especially if you use a refrigerator bread dough. I also buy dried beans in bulk, cook them up in large batches then freeze in 1 1/2 cup portions (enough for 1 meal).

During the summer and fall we visit pick-your-own farms for berries and apples. We also grow tomatoes, peppers, green beans, spinach, lettuce, herbs, raspberries and rhubarb in our little urban backyard. I have lots of recipes on my blog if you want to stop by, you can find it on my profile.

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September 24, 20100 found this helpful
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I don't know if someone has already made this suggestion, but I would recommend buying a pressure cooker. A pressure cooker allows you to cook dry beans in a very short time (you can also cook vegetables in it such as green beans or cabbage in a very short amount of time, it really has many uses). To season your beans you can use ham bones which are very cheap and add a lot of flavor. Every single week I make a pot of beans for at least two meals, if not three and it's very easy to freeze for later in the months. Here are some examples of what I make:

Chickpea stew with carrots, celery, and turnip with one leg of chicken (you can easily make four large servings with just one chicken leg).

Lentils with vegetables (works with any veg, so just buy what's in season, but I always put onion, garlic, etc. Sometimes I do it with artichokes, sometimes peppers, really anything works!)

Red lentils with a ham bone and bacon and leeks (just three or four bacon slices is enough to flavor the beans)

Navy bean soup with a ham hock, carrots, onion, white beans and bay leaf.

Red beans with tomato, garlic, and potatoes.

Split peas with a ham bone and chopped up ham and onion.

Once you start experimenting with beans you will soon discover that your possibilities are endless for making cheap, delicious meals that require very little preparation and can feed you multiple times.

Most beans need to be pre-soaked overnight, but some like lentils don't. The beauty of the pressure cooker is throwing everything in and 20-40 minutes later your meal is done! I hope this helps. I know we really save a lot of money this way and it also adds a lot of variety to the typical meat/veg/starch menu.

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December 6, 20050 found this helpful

Does anyone have any advice on how you can fix 3 meals a day for a month on $152.00 in food stamps?

Thank you,
Janice from Somerville, TN

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By guest (Guest Post)
December 6, 20050 found this helpful
Best Answer

You didn't say how many people you feed for your $150 but I routinely feed my husband and myself for around $110 to $120. We like oatmeal so we eat that every day for breakfast with an apple cooked in along with brown sugar and cinnamon. We also have eggs, waffles, or pancakes for variety. I buy cheap fresh fruit like apples and bananas. Lunch is usually homemade soup or homemade leftovers from the night before. I fix the following menu for supper: Saturday: Homemade pizza, Sunday: Baked chicken with veggies and potato: Monday: Homemade soup and popovers: Tuesday: Wild game or fish we've gathered: Wednesday: Stir-fry with veggies and rice: Thursday: Chicken with veggies; Friday: Spaghetti and veggies. I also grow a garden and my husband hunts birds. He also has a hunter friend and we trade garden produce for venison. I also bake four loaves of bread at time. In general, I find fresh fruit, veggies, rice, meat are the cheapest things to fix. It's the processed foods that waste your money such as pop, boxed foods, candy, chips, etc. Good luck!!

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December 6, 20050 found this helpful
Best Answer

Watch for specials and compare prices. For instance, often a bag of Russett potatoes will be half the price of red ones and vice versa. Sometimes it's cheaper to buy in bulk, but not always. Take a calculator.

Avoid prepared foods and junk food. Cook from scratch. There are many ways to fix potatoes, rice, beans and macaroni...pasta of any kind.

Buy "in season" fruits and veggies. Make your own soup. Canned soups are very spendy and they do not have the nutrients or flavor that homemade does.

Watch for meat specials. You can get very good buys on turkeys, especially right now. If you freeze the leftover turkey in broth it keeps well and can be used for hot dishes, salads, sandwiches, etc. The bones make soup which can also be frozen. Cheaper cuts of meat, like a round roast, are good if they are cooked in a crock put. Leftover roast can be fixed in a variety of ways. I like to shred the meat and mix it with barbeque sauce.

Old fashioned oat meal is very inexpensive, is effortless to fix in the microwave...the directions are on the box, and you can add fruit or raisens to make it just as good if not better than instant.

Eggs are a good buy. Some of the least expensive foods are carrots, onions, potatoes, rice, spotted bananas (bananas with a few spots on them are sold for a lot less a pound...ask your grocer), peanut butter and jelly, whole chickens...cut them up yourself, and dry beans.

Eat less meat and more veggies. In other words, go back to basics like our parents and grandparents did and do. It doesn't have to be boring or flavorless...be creative. You and your family will even feel better physically!!!

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By guest (Guest Post)
April 12, 20060 found this helpful
Best Answer

Try the Angel Food Ministries. Food boxes for $25.

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January 7, 20070 found this helpful
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I once had to feed 2 adults and three school age children on $88.00 in food stamps. This was during the 80's and food prices were constantly rising. I learned that beans and rice, and potatoes and all of the bulk foods really fill up a family, also, make sure that the kids take advantage of the school breakfast programs, and if it is not enough also give them oatmeal or grits or toast and milk until they get to school and eat again. I also made a lot of stew's and corn bread and biscuits from scratch.

I know that you can get through this until things don't seem so bad. We all hit a rough patch in this walk we call life.

Peace-Kitten Heels

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By 0 found this helpful
September 7, 2009

I am looking for any recipes or tips to feed two on $200.00 a month

By Lynda (crabby) from Kearny, NJ

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Answers

September 7, 20090 found this helpful
Best Answer

Wow! $200/month for 2 people. That's not bad. I spend about $240 for 4 people. Shop the sales. I never buy meat unless it is on sale. I only buy chicken with bones for under $1.00/lb...boneless at under $2.00/lb. I use up all my leftovers. When I make a whole chicken, I take all the leftover meat off the bone and make pot pie, chicken with tomato sauce, BBQ Chicken Pizza, etc. The bones, I would boil with veggies for a soup stock. I make bean and veggie soup with the stock. I would then eat that for lunch.

Cook from scratch. Make muffins, pancakes, french toast, eggs, oatmeal for breakfast. I had some homemade oatmeal bread that was a few days old, so I made a breakfast strata with the bread, a few apples, maple syrup, eggs and milk. I found the recipe on allrecipes.com.

For lunches, I pack them for my kids and husband. My husband usually has a sandwich or leftovers. My kids will have soup, pb and crackers, sandwiches, fruit, popcorn, etc.

For snacks, we have popcorn, fruit, crackers, homemade cookies, muffins, etc.

In summary, shop sales, make food from scratch, use up all your leftovers. Hope this helps.

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September 8, 20090 found this helpful
Best Answer

Breakfast foods for supper once or twice a week are good budget stretchers and are easy to make. Buttermilk pancakes made with half water are the most tender things in the world.

For Salsa Egg Wraps:

I like to scramble 1-2 eggs with onion or garlic pepper with a Tablespoon or 2 of Salsa per serving. For each serving place eggs down the center of flour tortilla and add a bit of grated cheese, green onion, or a dab of sour cream. Extra salsa. Wrap up and enjoy. Filling and tasty.

Augratin Stuffed Omelets. Another favorite for a quick filling meal is to cook a box of Augratin potatos (Very inexpensive) in the microwave. In a bowl, Stir up with a fork one egg per person to be fed. In sprayed nonstick nedium pan, pour just enough egg to cover bottom of pan. Cook until top of egg seems fairly dry, and bottom is lightly browned.

Slide onto plate, and open flat. Fill in middle strip with au gratins and fold each side over middle. Serve with fork. MMMMMM

Blessings!

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February 25, 20100 found this helpful
Best Answer

They say pea dahl, beans, lentils, butter beans, and other legumes are poor man's food, but now when you want to live a healthy life its still the best source of protein.

Canned fish and boiled eggs curried makes a good meal.

Baked potatoes with corn and mayonnaise.

Sandwiches with canned fish a little chopped onion and green chilli [optional]

Egg toast.

Boil your pasta and add some white sauce and pour some beaten eggs and bake.

Cheese sandwiches with only sliced tomato.

There's many other simple recipes

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By 0 found this helpful
September 23, 2008

I would like any info on getting my food bill down to $20.00 a day for 2 adults and 4 kids 13,10,5,3. Is it possible? We will be adopting 2 or 3 more kids (they will be placed with us within 4 months). I need help keeping my food budget down. My husband needs meat. He's in construction. I can get away with maybe 1 meal a week no meat. Thanks.

Tammy from Phelan, CA

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By guest (Guest Post)
September 23, 20080 found this helpful

I was wondering if you ad any luck finding anything because I am in the same boat we have 4 growing children.

Thanks

Amy

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By guest (Guest Post)
September 23, 20080 found this helpful

I try to make the meat stretch as far as possible. If I make something with meat, the meat is not the main part of the meal. For example, we try to make soups with meat (Minestrone, Tortellini Soup with chicken, etc.). If you serve bread on the side it can be quite filling.

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September 23, 20080 found this helpful

I was a stay to home mom when our 5 kids were small. 2 evening meals a week were hotdogs and french fries. 1 evening meal a week was breakfast ( lots of pancakes)

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September 23, 20080 found this helpful

Wow, there are so many ways to cut the food budget but I'm not sure it would come to $20.00/day.

You can have a garden even if it's only a few veggies. Kids also eat veggies better if they have a hand in growing them.

Shop the sales. You can buy in bulk and store it.

Cooking from scratch as opposed to packaged foods is a huge savings.

Buy less tender cuts of meat and use a pressure cooker.

Scan the internet for recipes that don't call for stuff you'll only use for that one recipe.

Don't use or buy cold cereal. Cooked oatmeal is much better for you and much, much cheaper. We don't use sugar in ours but do use raisins and this sweetens it.

Have "leftover night" and set it out like a buffet. My boys loved that cause they got to have what they wanted...even though it was what I had already served. No leftovers to go bad.

Save even a tablespoon of vegetables in a plastic bag in the freezer. When the bag gets full make soup.

Use coupons and try to combine with sales.

Another way to waste less is to give your children small plates instead of large dinner plates. They can eat as much as they want but don't feel compelled to fill up all that space with food they won't eat. Encourage them to take small amounts and come back for seconds if they really want it.

Saving money when buying food can take some time and planning but it's worth it and really fun when you sit down for a meal and realize how well you're feeding your family and for how little.

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September 23, 20080 found this helpful

Also, check out LivingOnADime. com and Hillbillyhousewife.com. Both are full of great info.

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By guest (Guest Post)
September 23, 20080 found this helpful

You should see if Angel Food Ministries is in your area. They offer food packages that will feed a family of four for a week or a senior citizen for a month. There are no income guidelines ( or religious affiliation required)and you can buy as many boxes as you want. It is all good food-no off the wall generics-and is $30 a box. There are usualy other packages available that are all meat or veggies that you can buy in addition. They accept food stamps as well. You can see the menu online at their website angelfoodministries.com (or .org I can never remember..) it will also allow you to find a local contact and pick up location. You can only pick up your goods one Saturday a month and you have to pay a couple days before the pick up day. You can call the contact person listed for more details. I don't know where else you can buy more than 7 meals( or more depending on how you use the items) + a dessert item, and canned milk and eggs for $30!

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September 23, 20080 found this helpful

Go to Krogers and search for their discounted meat.

(I did a post on this on my blog:

http://www.savi  ri.blogspot.com/

Where's the Beef)

If you have an Aldi's near you check them out.

We just had breakfast tonight for dinner.

Make "big pot meals" spaghetti, soup, chili mac, etc. where it looks like there is more meat than there actually is.

Cheese quesadillas is a family favorite. (My blog post today actually)

We have soup night here.

Macaroni and cheese CAN be an entree.

Tell your kids to eat at their friends' houses - just kidding.

Pray - Not Kidding.

I wish you luck. I know you can do it!

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By guest (Guest Post)
September 23, 20080 found this helpful

Hi, angelfoodministries.com has a great program that lets you order a $30 box of healthy, balanced food - retail value of approx. $60. And there is meat : ) They offer additional food packages to supplement. The site says it feeds a family of 4 for a week however many creative people can stretch it a lot further. Hope it helps!

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September 23, 20080 found this helpful

All these ideas are great!

Whenever a recipe - especially for a one-pot meal - calls for meat, use half the amount shown. If it is appropriate substitute inexpensive beans for the missing meat. Still filling and more healthy!

When planning meals, sit down with your local grocery fliers or internet website and base your meals on whatever is on sale.

Serve healthy "snacketizers" like fresh fruit or an inexpensive salad as a first course so everyone fills up on those and you'll likely have leftovers. Also serve veggies, beans, and/or rice for inexpensive, filling side items.

Buy frozen bread loaves and bake those instead of buying bakery loaves.

Family size or bulk packages aren't always the best deal. Keep a calculator handy when you shop so you can figure the price per pound/unit/whatever as you consider what to buy.

Shop your local farmers markets for bargains. If you live near a larger college or university that has an animal science program, see if they have a store where they sell meat. I live near one and am on their e-mail list so I always know what's on sale.

Ground turkey is usually less expensive than ground beef and much healthier. If you just have to have red meat mix it half-and-half with the turkey.

Shop at ALDI for staples. In my experience sugar is sugar, butter is butter, etc.

It's a very small thing, but consider buying reusable grocery bags. You can pick them up for 99 cents at most stores and they give you a rebate of 5 cents per bag whenever you bring them back when you shop.

Buy hunks of cheese and shred your own. Use powdered milk instead of fresh milk, especially when cooking.

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