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Grocery Shopping? Food Budget?

Ok, I think I spend a lot on groceries. About 400 to 500 dollars a month for a family of 3 (and that's not counting eating out a few times a month!). I am pretty sure this is quite high? More than that, we are living paycheck to paycheck and I want to have some savings. Our child is now 4 and I am wondering what you folks do to cut costs? What would be a more reasonable food budget? And what are some tips for planning meals, grocery lists, etc. I really don't know where to start on this but this seems like the right place to look, I have already found some useful tips on this site.

Thanks!

Marcee

Recent Answers

By najah g (Guest Post)02/18/2009

I spend up to $400 on food for a month.

By TNK (Guest Post)11/14/2008

I usually spend about 250 a month on food for myself and my two teens. I usually stock up on deals (loss leaders) that we use. I buy enough for the entire year. I never use coupons, they are to hard to keep track of. I buy the cheapest item, looking at the per unit price (yes those smaller packages are sometimes less expensive than the bigger ones). I keep a price book, so I know when things are a good price. It was hard to get started at first, but now I know. I also shop the manager markdowns on meats. I usually can find really expensive cuts of meat (organic) for far less than I would pay for the commerical grade stuff. We freeze a lot of it and use it throughout the year.

By Rose (Guest Post)02/12/2008

My husband and I spend about $120 dollars a month. We don't have any children but we rarely eat out. It's cheaper to cook home cooked meals than to eat out. I buy lots of fruits and vegetables, poultry and healthy stuff. My advice is just to cook. You get more for your money. It's easier to feed a large family when you cook.

By Karen (Guest Post)12/14/2007

I plan a week's menu list and make a grocery list of what I don't have in my pantry, adding other things I need. I write how much each item costs, then add it up. If it is over my budget, then I see what I can do without ie: will the meal still be good without adding the olives or mushrooms? Can I use milk instead of cream? or any other alternatives? I keep deleting things off my list until it is within my budget.

I buy only organic food, so coupons are not worth the trouble for me. I also try to use less meat by adding more veggies. I think it's healthier, too. I am feeding my son, husband and his father. If I am careful, I can feed all of us on less that $150 a week (including non-foods). NJ is very expensive - especially organics, but it is worth it for better health. (other family members who ate small amounts of veggies, lots of fast food and junk food, have cancers, that makes me wonder...).

If we eat out, I deduct the cost from my grocery allowance. Either in planning for it or deducting the next week. That is one sure way to limit how often we eat out! My process is more work, but it is the only way I can stay in budget. Since I don't work, I consider that by saving money, I am in a way "earning" money where I can. Hope this helps.

By Grace Seim (Guest Post)07/21/2007

#1, Do your own cooking. You pay a lot for the convenience of a boxed dinner or a pretty bakery cake. Food companies also take a lot of shortcuts in their cooking which seriously effect the nutritional value of the food. Home-cooked meals are generally much healthier in the long run.
#2, work on meal presentation. A head of romaine lettuce chopped up in a bowl looks much more appealing with carrot curls scattered across the top. I also spend a lot of time hunting around garage sales and thrift stores for cute and unique serving dishes. A cut-crystal wine glass can make suger-free fat-free pudding look amazing.
My husband and I eat for just over two dollars per meal -$120 per month. And we eat very well. For lunch today we had roast beef sandwiches with lettuce and cheese on them and cranberry-vanilla smoothies. We eat a lot of ethnic food (African peanut butter stew is one of Jon's favorites) and very little meat. Often for dinner we'll eat two zucchinis and a summer squash steamed in herb water on a bed of baked brown rice with a half of a well-seasoned chicken breast chopped up and mixed in with the vegetables. It's delicious and visually appealing, and we never leave the table hungry.
I have found breakfast to be a huge money saver as well. We've stopped buying cereal and I make breakfast mixes by hand and keep them in jars on a specific shelf in the kitchen that is only for breakfast items. Each morning we can pull down a different jar and within a few minutes we have fresh pancakes, scones, muffins, or whatever else I have ready to go for the week. It has saved us a lot of money and tastes so much better than the stuff you buy at grocery stores.

By mum [2]07/13/2007

It's very important that you don't shop when you're hungry because then you will definitely buy more junk food. Only shop when you have plenty of time to, if you rush around you won't have time to look properly at pricing, it's not always economical to buy large packs instead of small.

Another tip is to shop one week at a time, I found it easier to plan and stick to weekly menus and so there was less waste. Over a couple of weeks keep a written record of all meals you've cooked, taking note of when you cooked too much so you can plan better. Also see when you were inclined to snack shortly after a meal, maybe having a starter or dessert would be more beneficial.

Really think about so called bargains before you buy, there's no point in buying something if you won't definitely use it.

Make a big pot of soup once a week and freeze some of it, then if you come home hungry, microwave your soup to keep you going until dinner is ready.

Even though cooking something from scratch is often more expensive than a ready meal, it is usually more filling to eat and so you are less likely to eat extra snacks etc.

Change some of your eating habits, little by little, for example, cut down on the amount of meat you eat and increase the vegetables one day a week. Maybe once a week instead of having dessert after dinner begin with a starter.

Are expensive brands needed for all products? Is there a cheaper alternative that would be just as good?

By Mrs. King (Guest Post)07/13/2007

One word...Costco. I used to buy Starbucks coffee every week (at a cost of $10-$12/week). I recently switched to Kirkland Signature (Costco's store brand) coffee. The 3 lb. bag is the same price as a 1 lb. bag of Starbucks! Being a coffee addict...I mean afficionado...I'm pretty particular about coffee, so I'm not going to switch to bad coffe just to save money. Now, instead of spending up to $12/week on coffee, we spend about $4/week. That adds up to about $400 in savings after a year. I can certainly think of something good to do with that $400.

Then there is the matter of baby's diapers...savings of about $0.09/diaper...added up over time it pays for our Costco membership more than twice over every year. So, I guess you could say it pays to shop there. My husband and I weren't buying in bulk before the little one came along, but we really would have benefitted from starting earlier.

For those of you just starting out, I recommend buying staples, paper goods and cleaning products in bulk. Even buying meat in bulk is good. You can divide up the packages and freeze it for later use. It's a good habit, and you don't have to go out shopping for things like toilet tissue every other week. Wouldn't you rather do that twice a year instead of twice a month?!? Conversely, just because a bag of salad at Costco is about $3, don't give in unless you really eat 3 lbs of salad within a week unless you don't mind wasting food. OR Shop with a friend and divide some of the purchases. Maybe you won't eat 5 lbs. of bananas before they disintigrate into banana pudding on the countertop, but two families might.

Class dismissed...I have to go now and make my shopping list...it's time to buy more coffee and diapers. :)

By unknown (Guest Post)05/29/2006

we shop in bulk like going to sams club or costco,
and buy food storage bags in a variety of sizes, and cereal containers, seperating is the "hard" part, but in the long run it does save money . good luck from a mom of 5 kids

By Michael Carter [2]05/11/2005

We go for Store Brand over Brand Name, usually. A couple times we've found the Name Brand cheaper. Our favorite and cheapest places to shop for food?

http://www.aldi.com
http://www.savealot.com
Walmart Brand (Great Value and Sams Choice)
Deals "Nothing Over a Dollar" Dollar Store

By Michelle04/27/2005

My husband and I live in Georgia and have no children as of right now. Our main grocery store is Kroger. I shop twice a month and my total for the month is usally around $240 give or take. This includes dinner meals, snacks, toiletries, lunch items, etc. One thing that my husband and I both do that saves alot of money is we do not eat out during lunch. We both work full-time and I bring my lunch and my husband is able to go home for lunch. Usually with there being just two of there is enough leftover from the night before to have lunch on.

The first thing I do is make a dinner menu for the next two weeks. I find it harder to go out to eat when there is a meal for everyday. Sometimes though I will put "out to eat" on the menu for a night during the week. I always make sure to have aleast two-three crockpot meals for church nights or if we have a busy week. Its times like that where its easier to go out to eat unless you have your meal all ready when you get home. Anyway, I make a grocery list according to my dinner menu and what is on sale at the grocery store. But, always double check your pantry so you dont buy something that you already have. Also, try store brands they are much cheaper and taste just the same (atleast to me).

Also, I usually go by myself to the grocery store. My husband usually puts stuff in that is not on the list and we dont need...JUNK FOOD!!! Oh yeah...never go hungry!!!

By susan_a362 (Guest Post)08/23/2004

We live in Denver, CO. What I relied upon when I had a small freezer was an organization called "Share Colorado." THIS IS NOT A FOOD BANK. It is located in, I believe, 9 western states with lots of outlets. On Monday afternoon, everything is for sale. Anything not sold on Monday goes for free after at least a $2 purchase from their tiny in-house grocery store. It's a good way to try different fruits and vegetables; also, on Wednesdays, eggs, milk, bread, butter, etc and always changing. Wish I could give you an address, but just moved and don't know which box I put their newsletter in - just dozens and dozens of locations in this town and New Mexico. I spend time on an evening after my visit, putting things away. Will take it back up after we settle into our new apartment and buy a small freezer.

Editor's Note: http://www.sharecolorado.com/

By MB in WY (Guest Post)07/24/2004

I was surprised when I went to my local library at how many books there were on this subject. Check it out! Titles I came home with are "Shop, save and share" by Ellie Kay and "Cheap talk with the frugal friends" by Zalewski and Ricks.

By Kathleen Bennett07/23/2004

My mom subscribes to the newspaper but rarely uses the coupons, so I pick up from my mother the coupon sections and sale ads every Sunday afternoon. Also, we get the sale ads from our local grocery stores in the mail every Tuesday or Wednesday. I try to combine the grocery stores' sales with coupons from the papers for extra savings. None of our stores offer double coupons so combining coupons and sales help add up the savings.

By aeromama (Guest Post)07/23/2004

Hi! Here in Indiana, the sunday paper in my area costs $1.50 . I'm not sure it's really a good deal anymore because alot of the coupons are for overpriced items that i don't buy. There's also a lot of "junk" such as decorative plates or electronic bug repellant. I only keep the coupons for products i usually buy. :)

By GHT (Guest Post)07/22/2004

I live in the Philly area and have a family of four. I do one big grocery shopping trip a month and spend about $150, but spend probably another $100-$150 a month buying quick items I've run out of at the local store with not so good prices.

If you don't get a Sunday paper with manufacturer coupons, you should subscribe. Your savings will pay for your subscription.

Check out manufacturer websites for printable coupons or other websites that let you print coupons. But check with your grocery store first because some won't take them--mine stopped a few months ago.

Double coupons are terrific, too. Sometimes my store even offers a week of triple coupons. If they offer a bonuscard, forget about privacy issues and sign up. Not only do you save more, you often get coupons from manufacturers, at the checkout, or for spending a certain amount during like Thanksgiving, you can earn a free turkey or opt for a percentage off your groceries. I've even earned two free turkeys and donated one to a needy family. Who says charity has to cost anything?

Also, check out your grocery store website. They often offer one check rebate programs that they don't advertise in the store or the flyer. This is so simple! Not like the old days when you had to send away for stuff. All I have to do is sign up during each rebate period by submitting my bonuscard number. I can see what items are being offered and print out a shopping list. The grocery store gets the qualifying items from my bonuscard when I shop, notifies me how much my rebate will be, and mails me a check at the end of the rebate period. I usually get at least a $5 rebate per six week period, but have received as much at $10!

Also, don't over pack your kids lunchbox! I work as a lunch monitor and the amount of food these kids throw away each day could feed an entire homeless shelter! Ask your kids to bring home what they don't eat (even if its inedible) so you can see what you're wasting your money on and revise what you send them for lunch.

Hope this helps!

By Tawnda (Guest Post)07/21/2004

Like Rene from Canada, I live in Alaska. Although we are not in a remote area of Alaska, it is still expensive for groceries and we still have to drive an hour to get to a bulk food store.

I have read that if you start keeping a spending diary and sitting down with your spouse each night or once a week and agreeing on what is needed verses what is wanted and make those changes in your spending habits that will help a lot. We don't realise what we throw our money to. A latte here, an ice cream there, eating out for lunch and dinner on a regular basis, etc.

We go to the bulk food stores and this saves tramendously. It took us a long time to work up to where we could do this, but if you work it out to go twice a month and divide your grocery lists between pay days, etc. it isn't as bad. But you have to force yourself not to make those trips to the store for one item and buy fifty. And if you can keep the discipline of only going in for bread or milk in between and not the many other temptations you can save. For what it costs to buy one gallon of milk at the grocery store I can buy two at the bulk food store.

Also, avoid a bunch of pre-prepared frozen foods and junk foods like pizza, sugar cereal, etc. Oatmeal goes much further than cereal any day and is much more healthy. Once in a while I get Corn Flakes on sale, but usually my kids have eggs or oatmeal for breakfast. I add cinnamon, vanilla and a little brown sugar to the oatmeal as it is cooking and they devour it! Winter time I pre-cook pancakes and freeze them. They can pull them out and microwave them as they want them. Summer time when kids are out of school they would rather play than eat and tend to eat less. So we usually do taost and fruit or eggs since we have our own chickens.

We also try to plan several meals together with the same ingredients and try to make enough to have leftovers for lunches the next day or dinner the next day. Our older kids have microwaves at school for their use and they love taking food to heat up. Also, a tip to save on school lunches in winter is to make soups and keep in refrigerator. Warm up in the morning while kids are getting ready for school and put in thermoses for their lunches. My 7 yr. old prefers top ramen to anything. It is inexpensive and you can microwave it in the morning and put in the thermos. Not as nutritious, but the kids eat very healthy meals in the morning and evening and they don't have it every day for lunch either so it isn't bad for something different.

My husband saves on his lunches for work by me making iced tea and putting it in one of those igloo cooler thermoses. Or he will drink water. We stopped buying sodas about a month ago and realised we were saving about $30 a month on that alone!

Making your own food saves so much. If you have to work and struggle with coming in from work and having to cook you can spend a few hours each weekend and cook ahead or prepare ahead and freeze. Or have sandwich night one night a week and have that as your cooking night for other days of the week. Have your kids help you make cookies one night a week verses buying packages of cookies.

Something else I do with like ziplock bags. If I use a ziplock bag to put something like bread or a package of crackers to keep them from going stale, I will re-use that bag for something else or sometimes save them to use for bundling toys at my yard sale each summer. My mother use to hand wash every ziplock and re-use them until it would no longer zip, but I just don't go that far, but it is an option in order to save a little here and there.

The big thing is things like chips, snack foods, etc. I buy the big barrel of animal crackers at the bulk store and we use that for an occasional snack and sometimes in place of chips at lunch. I try to have fresh veggies in place of any chips at all, but many times my kids get a sandwich for lunch with veggies or fruit and that is all they need. The chips you buy for lunches only have about 12 chips in them anyway. Not enough to fill them up or curb an appetite. Waste of money and not at all healthy.

By Michelle (Guest Post)07/21/2004

Check your weekend paper every weekend-plan your meals around what is on sale. Clip coupons and use them everytime you shop. There are 3 in my family and I spend 30-50 dollars weekly. That includes milk, bread, eggs, meat and snacks and ice cream. If it's on sale-stock up-meat can be frozen. Paper products don't go bad. Stores often offer buy 1 get 1 free items-use a coupon-save BIG!

By sandy webber (Guest Post)07/21/2004

I live in north central Alabama and spend around $300 for groceries and that includes things such as dish detergent, laundry detergent, shampoo, conditioner, soap, fabric softener (although I have not used this lately and clothes are still soft) and bleach. My advice would be to plan menus and cut out all the junk. My family has very little stuff that we call junk. We buy popcorn for snacks at night and little debbie cakes for snacks during the day or dessert. I fix a lot of casseroles and since we now have a garden I have canned and froze lots of veggies for winter and have been cooking out of the garden. We eat a lot of chicken and ground beef as that is what my family prefers. I watch the sales and try to buy several of those things that I know we will eat and store it in a pantry. Hope that helps

By Rene (Guest Post)07/21/2004

We are a family of 6 (mom, dad, 4 kids ages 4 - 13). We live in a remote part of coastal Canada where food is quite expensive. Since we are so remote, we get shopped food only once per month and spend about $350 - $400 per month. From this, I have learned several things that might be of help to anyone wishing to reduce their grocery budget.

1. buy staples and make it yourself as much as you can
2. plan ahead and shop less frequently
3. eat only at meals (snack only for special occasions)
4. reduce the number of meat meals per week
5. look at each food item and ask yourself how much nutrition you are getting for the price. (1/2 lb cheddar cheese for $6 vs 3 doz. eggs or 1 pound raw almonds. They all cost the same. Which provides the most meal and nutrition for the same buck?) Look at how much each snack item costs and ask yourself how much "staple" you could buy instead. For example how much flour, or potatoes, or milk or eggs could you buy for the same price as a bag of chips? How long will the snack food feed you as compared to the bag of chips?
6. plan ahead for those times when you need a quick meal. We can't run out for a burger but we can grab something from the freezer and pop it into the microwave or pop open a jar.

7. Plan ahead
8. Plan ahead
9. Plan ahead.

10. Choose one small area. Work on that. When you have it mastered, choose another. It won't be stressful that way and as you gain confidence you may find yourself having so much fun with the money you saved that you will want to save even more. Remember you are eatingprimarily to nutritionally sustain your body and secondarily to please your tongue.

Rene

By Nancy (Guest Post)07/21/2004

I found a website that has helped me a lot with menu planning, shopping, etc. This makes it so easy. Take a look at http://www.savingdinner.com. There is a sample menu there. Also some more sample menus on the flylady.net website. Since I started doing this, I've saved lots of time and money at the grocery, and the meals are easy to fix.

By Ann (Guest Post)07/21/2004

well, I live in the NW area WA state and only shop at the Grocery Outlet store (in 8 western states including Hawaii) or buy store brand name products at the regular grocery store, and I am spending at least $300 a month doing that, and I have a hubby and a 5 year old, plus two cats and a rabbit that I also have to buy food for. so your bill doesn't sound that high for my neighborhood.

and also, looking in the store ads for great sales (we only buy chicken breasts when they are on sale for either $1.99 or $2.79 a LB. and stock up on it because it will be at least three weeks before we see another good sale on it.

By Brenda (Guest Post)07/21/2004

Watch the sale ads; that's important to my budget. If chicken is on sale then I buy more of that and find "interesting" ways to use it. Even if you work it's pretty simple to make a extra batch of pancakes, muffins, etc. to freeze. They are alot cheaper and that really helps the budget. Buy in-season fruits, and vegetables. That saves a lot. Have one soup/sandwich night a week, one night go "meatless". Buy in bulk when possible. In my area there is a no frills store that you can save 40-50% you can't buy everything there but it helps alot. Use up the "left-overs". Make your own pizza (you can make and freeze the pizza crust)--that way it's faster to get dinner on the table on those nights when things are very rushed. Have acouple simple casseroles in the freezer and when you are tempted to go through the drive-thru you won't have to :)

Hope this helps.

By Jodi from MI (Guest Post)07/21/2004

Marcee:
It would be high for my budget (boys 8 and 4 husband and myself). You are wise to break the chain if you feel that you're currently spending more than you want to spend.

My best advice would be to start by looking at:
(1) What you purchase at the store.
(2) What you have in your pantry.
(3) What your calendar looks like.

You can easily follow why I suggested the first two of my three suggestions.

#3, the calendar is very important.

If you know that you have dinner plans on Tuesday night and a party that you've committed to making a pan of brownies for, you need to know what days you "NEED" to have which items in the house.

If daughter has dance every Thursday at six, you may be swinging through a drive through to pick up a happy meal. When you know that the expense is there you can plan for it and won't have a meal going bad (money wasted).

However, if you purchased $125 worth of perishable food and then go out to eat, some food may spoil and your out both grocery money and "entertainment/recreation" money.

Whether you are a SAHM, WAHM, WM, I don't know. I work four days/week and try and bring my lunch at least 2-3 days, splurging the 4th. Your lunch budget would likely vary, depending on your situation. Today, I brought a PBJ sandwich to work and purchased a fountain beverage (1/2 price for our office) from a local restaruant that delivers.

Knowing what you have in your pantry and using up as much of what you already have will likely save money, as it's money already spent. Make a grocery list of remaining ingredients needed to make a recipe.

We have company coming in a couple weeks, and I just realized that I have all of the ingredients but the meat for a dish that will feed all of us for two meals.

Hope it's helpful!

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