When I tell friends and family that I spend an average of $200/month on groceries, they ask me how I do it. What does my family eat? Where do I shop? Do I super coupon? How is that even possible? I have been feeding my family on this budget for several years now. It started when my husband was in graduate school and we were living on a shoestring budget. Fast forward a few years and now we're paying for graduate school, trying to save for our first home and [insert long list of expenses]. I'm still trying to stretch every dollar. And after doing this for so long, I've learned a lot that will hopefully be helpful to you. Introducing:
To start things off, here are a few general things that make this tight budget work:
1. Nope, I don't super coupon. I just can't seem to get into it. If I have a coupon for something I would normally buy, I'll use it. But I'm just not an extreme coupon girl. Instead, I choose meals that are inexpensive, I cook from scratch, and I stock up when things go on sale.
2. We eat oatmeal every morning. Cold cereal is too expensive and it doesn't fill you up! Sometimes I make homemade granola, which is basically baked oatmeal with stuff added. I sometimes make refrigerator oatmeal for myself. If my kids don't want oatmeal, they can have toast, but they almost always choose oatmeal. It's what they are used to.
3. We eat leftovers, sandwiches, or simple meals like macaroni and cheese for lunch. Today my son and I had tuna sandwiches and grape tomatoes. I sent my husband to work with leftover pasta, breadsticks and cutie oranges. My daughter had a PBJ, banana, carrot, homemade cookie and reusable water bottle in her lunch for school.
4. I have a willing husband. He is so patient with me and my crazy ways. If yours is less than willing to cooperate, let me tell you that I'd rather spend more money at the grocery store than have it be a spot of contention in my marriage. I have learned to be flexible and generous with my husband. I try to occasionally surprise him with his favorite meals that don't fit into our normal budget, and I cook his favorite dinners that are within our budget often. It's give and take just like anything else in a marriage.
5. I have two young children that have been raised this way and don't know any better. And I view that as a good thing because they are easy to please. If you have teenagers or older children, they cost more---because they eat more and because they want more. I still believe it is possible to apply frugal principles no matter what your circumstance, but your monthly dollar amount may be different than mine. And that is A-okay.
6. I am at home all day. If you are a working mom, hats off to you. I don't know how you do it! I would be so tired by the time I came home at night, I don't know if I would ever want to cook a single meal. It is a totally different ball game for me. I have the time to bake bread or start something in the oven. In short, I have more time than money. Again, you have to be realistic with your life and situation.
7. I am only including food in the $200/month total. I have a separate budget category for toilet paper, shampoo, office supplies, and all other household purchases. Sometimes I buy non-food items at the grocery store. I'm not fanatical about separating it out and keeping track. I figure it all evens out in the end.
8. We go without. I know this sounds harsh, but it's the truth of how I am able to keep our budget so low. We hardly ever buy convenience foods, snacks, juice, soda pop, steak, cereal, crackers, chips, etc. I would love to eat gourmet cheese and real butter every day. I love a nice cut of beef. My husband has his own list. But we choose not to buy those things because we have financial goals that are more important to us. Eventually as our expenses decrease and our income increases, I will probably expand my food budget accordingly. But for now, we are eating on the cheap!
If you would like to see all of the posts in this series, click on the "Cheap Eats" tab under the blog header at the top of the page.