Think about fresh meals daily. Fresh foods – no packaged items. Gluten-free products are included with organic products in the mix. Imagine spending no more than 45 minutes prepping or cooking a fresh meal that fits all these criteria listed. To boot spend half of what you are already spending on groceries. That’s right – cut that budget in half. How’s that sound?
It is possible. We have done it. Now in complete transparency the use of the words “no packaged items” isn’t completely fair. We do splurge on tortilla chips and crackers that come in a package. But the rest is all true.
How Do We Do It?
We spend $390 a month for two adults and a 6-year-old child. There are months that we do not spend the entire $390, but that is our budget. We eat some organic foods, some gluten free foods, and some regular foods. The $390 is for all food items, coffee, as well as personal care and very minimal paper products. (See how we reduced plastics – and coming soon reducing paper.)
We used to spend double that – that’s right we spent at least $750 per month before we started thinking about what to do about this outrageous cost. Same meals, same foods.
Let me tell you how we cut that in half.
Eat Meatless More
We eat meatless five days a week (or more) most weeks and add meat to two meals a week. It’s a preference, and it also saves money. We eat leftovers for lunch and breakfast items are included in the budget above. Breakfast consists of granola, yogurt, and some cereal (with an occasional splurge of eggs).
Cook Fresh Daily – At Home
We cook fresh each night via stovetop or slow cooker. We allow ourselves one or two nights for take-out or restaurant food a month. We rarely use both nights and the money is taken from our personal budget, not grocery those weeks.
Shop Less Frequently
We shop every two weeks. We do this because we eat so many fresh foods that we cannot keep them for a month without them rotting (or we would only shop monthly).
How to Make All of That Happen
Step 1 – Compile Recipes Your Family Will Eat and Like
I created two three-ring binders of recipes. FULL! One binder is meat-free meals (as that is five days of our week) and the other is meat meals (the other two days). You should choose realistic meals that fit within your budget, cooking time frame, and family taste buds. You can even create breakfast folders, lunch and then dinner folders.
Tip: Keep in mind your family’s eating style.
If you are very active in the evening and rarely have time to sit down choose portable recipes. Foods easy to eat in your car or between events. Perhaps your family enjoys sitting at the table and eating together you might enjoy preparing meals as a family. Choose appropriate recipes and meals to fit those needs. Varying the plan to your specific events and activities will help you stay on track. Some nights might be mobile while others are stovetop.
Be prepared to have at least 60 different meal ideas or recipes on hand. You can always continually add to your notebooks and recipes over time as you find new meals to suit your needs.
If you know you hate cooking stovetop then don’t. Get your meals ready all at once for the week. Create crockpot (or stovetop but no prep) dump meals. You prepare all the ingredients for each meal in a bag (or container) and put them in your freezer. Take the meal out the night before and thaw in your fridge. But the meal into the slow cooker (or stovetop when you get home) and cook. Dinner is done.
Step 2 – Create Your Monthly Meal Plan
Sit down with your calendar of events and a new calendar for meals. Choose a planner/calendar with every meal planned or just dinner if that is your biggest challenge. You want to plan the whole month in advance based on your upcoming schedule. If you are looking for a great weekly planner (do four weeks at a time) check out our free guide here.
You could create this calendar when you do your monthly budget if that helps. Whatever method you choose, keep it consistent so it gets accomplished.
After you have planned the meals, do not deviate from this plan. I can’t stress how important this is. This plan is what keeps your grocery budget down and keeps you from having unexpected costs. If you wait until that day to decide on the meal you will use up some ingredients you bought but not use others creating food waste, therefore, money waste.
In the first few months, you might need additional trips to the store because you are not sure how much you actually consume. You may need to go back for things like milk, creamer, or certain vegetables or fruits. You will be buying for the full month or two weeks. DO NOT SHOP EVERY WEEK you will spend more money.
Step 3 – Determine a Monthly Budget that Will Fulfill Your Plan
Here is where things can be tricky at first. If you want to cut your budget down, you need to look at stores in your area and determine costs of common items you purchase. If you tend to buy more fresh fruits and vegetables be prepared to have a slightly larger budget, but find the cheapest freshest way to get your produce.
Tip: Switching some fresh veggies to frozen can save you as much as 50% or more. You are not getting any preservatives in frozen vegetables so you aren’t compromising what you are eating.
What stores are best?
Aldi and Walmart are the cheapest for groceries, personal care and paper products (in our area). Costco might be an option where you live as well. Depending on where you live Target, Wegmans, Tops and Price Chopper are also options. However, the items are more costly the further down that list you go (at least in the Upstate NY area).
I buy 90% of my groceries at Aldi 75% of the year. In the summer, I buy from local farms for my produce. In the winter, I buy from Aldi. I buy paper and personal care products from Walmart. The only time I shop at the others on the list is if they carry a specific product I need for a specific recipe, or they have a FREE sale! Price chopper often offers one food item on sale, with two or three other items for FREE.
Create your budget based on your shopping list. After you have found your best price location budget an additional $30-$50 for items you will need to go back for. Milk might expire before your two weeks so you can’t purchase a whole 2 weeks worth. Same might be true for produce and fruits.
Tip: Be sure to use cash. You will pay close attention to price with a set amount of cash in your wallet. You must stick to the budget. If you can’t look at what you are buying and do you truly need it this shopping trip? Is it an item that could wait until next trip? No cash helps you stick to essentials. It also helps you focus on price tags of items. You will quickly see how expensive some stores are. You will learn to plan ahead to avoid unnecessary trips to expensive stores.
Step 4 – Determine a Shopping Day and Plan
Make a list and plan a day to shop. Do not skip the list. Do not walk around the store looking at every item on the shelf. You will not stick to your list and you will go over budget. After you choose a day of the week that works for your schedule, try to stick to the same day every few weeks.
If at all possible, do not take children or partner with you to the store. Your child and partner will locate non-essentials in the store and insist on purchasing. This is how budgets are busted.
Tip: If you know you have to bring your children (which happens to me most of the time) plan ahead. Tell your child you will not be buying anything other than what is on the list. Go over the list with the partner and child before leaving and ask for last minute requests. If the request is not in the budget or on the list determine if it’s truly necessary. Once inside the store – stick to your guns and do not allow additional items off the list.
Kid trick: Allow your child one small item (under $1) from the store each trip. They can choose that one thing with hopes it keeps them from wanting everything in the store.
Honestly, it’s that simple. Find your arsenal of meals, create a calendar, stick to it, make lists and stick to your lists. Find the cheapest place to shop and save! (You might need to shop in a few stores to get the best price).
Tell us how you do it!