The $250 Grocery Budget

Until recently, I didn’t realize that we had a low grocery budget compared to most households.  I’d mention our monthly budget to people and they’d say “We spend that each week”.  And then, I posted the number here a few weeks ago and wasn’t expecting the main question in the comments to be “How do you spend $250 a month on groceries?”.  Honestly, I don’t know…we just do it.  But, I’m going to try to walk you through our grocery budget.

But first, a few disclaimers:

  • B and I are not “foodies”.  We love and appreciate good, fancy meals, but we can do without them, too.  My philosophy on feeding the family is to put nutritious, good food on the table and not beat myself up about presentation, how frequently we eat it, etc.  If we cared a lot about different cuisines and unique side dishes, we’d exceed our budget. 
  • I’m not hung up on organic food.  We can find organic produce for a decent price at our local natural foods store and so I buy it.  But, if I wanted only organic meats, we’d need a larger grocery budget.

So, here’s how we feed our family (well, two eaters and a pint sized 7 month old) on $250 a month.

1) Meal planning.  On Wednesdays (grocery ad day), I plan out the meals for a week.  I don’t get hung up on planning meals around sale items, but I take them into account.  I cook 3 – 4 times a week, and we eat leftovers the rest of the week.  We eat leftovers or Turkey Sandwiches for lunch, and we both eat oatmeal (cooked on the stove for me, generic instant for B, iron fortified for Thomas) for breakfast.  Breakfast works out to about $5 a month.

2) I shop the perimeter of the grocery store.  I make the occasional foray into the canned goods aisle and pasta aisle, but otherwise I try to avoid packaged foods.

3) I don’t buy chicken breasts (our main meat) unless they’re $1.99 a pound or less.  I buy chicken breasts in bulk when they’re on sale and keep them individually bagged in the freezer.

4) I improvise.  Let’s say a recipe calls for mayonnaise, which we usually don’t have in our house, and therefore wouldn’t use except for in this recipe.  I just switch it out for something that we already have or would use – like plain yogurt or sour cream.

5) I choose recipes that have relatively simple and few ingredients. 

6) We empty the refrigerator every week.  Seriously.  When we have no food in the house, we literally have no food in the house.  We don’t stock the pantry, we don’t stock the refrigerator.  We buy enough for the meals planned, eat those meals for a week, and then do the whole thing over again.

7) Thomas is on the home brew and now that he’s eating solids I keep costs low by making my own baby food.  I buy organic produce and puree it myself.  Saves money, takes about an hour a week, and I feel better knowing that I know exactly what went into the food Thomas is eating, anyway.
And, in an effort not to have the longest blog post ever, we’ll continue with the meal plan and actual grocery shopping tomorrow.  Anyone else have any tricks for keeping their grocery spending in check?

Comments

  1. Our budget is not much higher than yours, for much the same reasons. One of the biggest things we do is buy meat in bulk or when it is marked down, and then just keep it in our behemoth freezer. :) I think it would make me nervous to not have ANY food in the house at the end of the week. :-)

  2. With you on this one. We don’t stock either. Although that’s probably a result of living in apartments for the past 12 years. Would love to hear more about recipes that are your “go to’s” each week. I’m all about the simple, as few ingredients as possible approach!

  3. Meal planning is the way to go. I also recommend writing a list and absolutely sticking to it. It’s so easy to buy things on a whim or just because they’re on sale. And I’m the same way…at the end of the month, once there’s no food left, there’s no food. Sometimes I feel like a college kid or something with an empty fridge but oh well. And since I’m about to start my foray into baby food making this week, I guess my budget will increase a few bucks for some organic produce.

  4. I’m pretty sure my MIL is still traumatized (and thinks I am the worst wife ever) by her most recent visit and our bare shelves and fridge! I’d rather have the money in my wallet than in my pantry or freezer.

    Buy what you need, use what you bought — repeat!

  5. My budget is about $150/week, but we’ve got five kiddos (four of them growing boys). I didn’t realize that mine was low until I talked to a friend (with two children) who said they can easily spend $1000 a month in groceries – WHAT??? I guess I’d rather have money left over to spend other ways ;)

    My advice: breakfast for dinner once a week. Pancakes and bacon can feed a brood for less than $5.

  6. Hubs and I don’t spend much on groceries either. My #1 tip is by generic EVERYTHING! We buy generic toiletries, canned goods, cereal, you name it. If they make it in a generic brand I’m buying it. This has eliminated using coupons. Buying generic brands saves is a third to half as much as name brand and it’s essentially the same products, same ingredients without the cost.

    I do keep a small stash of non-perishiable food in our basement. We were literally stuck in our house 5 times one winter due to blizzards and 6 feet of snow at either end of our street. Hubs and I barely had any food in the fridge or pantry (long story) and barely enough food for our dog. Lessons learned, we won’t ever do that again.

  7. Great post! We spend quite a bit more than you, but we do have 6 people in our house, (5 of which are basically adults and a growing 9 year old boy.) :-) On the other hand, we have lowered our grocery budget by $500 per month just by shopping the adds and using coupons. I only use the coupon if it’s on a item I already use, or, if the cost of buying the name brand with a coupon is cheaper than generic. I save at least $50 a month with coupons. I do have to travel to all four of our grocery stores in town to get the best deals, but since I am a stay-at-home mom I have the time to do this. We DO eat many expensive food items as my husband and I are on a special diet, but all our food is fresh, non-processed with as much organic and free range as possible. On the rare occasion it goes on sale, I stock up as much as possible.

  8. For me, this then begs the question: Can you post a meal plan? I’m trying to get back on track in this area and am in desperate need of more ideas.

    We have a household of three as well (our pint-size is going to be 3 in February) and I KNOW that we could be doing much better. $250/month is awesome!

  9. We do the bulk of our grocery shopping at the beginning of the month (after meal planning), and almost always spend $160 or less. Then, we supplement with produce, milk, and extra supplies as needed through the month. I think we usually end up spending about $250, or some months less (especially in the summer when our garden is in full bloom).

    We do have two tips: first, there is so much that you can buy in bulk–brown sugar, pasta, flour. It invariably saves us money to purchase that way.

    Second, you can buy “chicken tenders” from our butcher, which are actually extra small chicken breasts cut into strips, or parts of extra large breasts that he trimmed down. With him, it’s not all the gross extra pieces–all breast, just not necessarily breast shaped. It’s usually about $1/pound, and works great as diced chicken.

  10. I have the same experience. We have a fairly low grocery budget for the 2 of us and people always wonder how we do it. I never thought it was low.

    Like you, we also do meal planning and lots of bulk purchases and freezing of meals. Glad we’re not alone! :)

  11. We try to keep our grocery budget to 250 a month as well, but it’s just the two of us!

  12. I think we keep our grocery budget at about $250/month. We do this by Rob staying home and being in charge of it. ;) When we were both working we spent a good $400/month on groceries for the two of us. Focus helps. :)

  13. This all sounds very similar to our grocery shopping when we lived on our own. Now we live with his parents and his mom goes to the grocery store at least every other day, if not every day. Meals are never planned more than a day in advance. It drives me nuts, but hey-I’m not paying or worrying about what to eat. If I need something I just tell her and I have it within a day. Yet I can’t wait for us to move out and get back to meal planning and grocery shopping on my own.

  14. I totally agree with 5C. Since we’ve been focused on spending less on groceries, we have. We don’t have Oreos anymore (sob!) and we don’t have a ton of extra, but we easily spend under $200 for the both of us. But, I would guess that we eat out more than many, which isn’t great for the budget. We have a reasonable allowance for that though. Do you have a separate eat-out budget?

    You folks are budget rock stars. I love reading your posts.

  15. We too buy only what we need/eat….not just b/c something’s on sale or whatever. We eat out probably 3x/week but we’re foodies & love the experience.

    I do think organic produce tastes better so we splurge on that but you won’t find me buying organic fruit loops or anything….I do have a fund for organic lavendar handsoap, does that make me weird.

    (BTW, guess who I ran into at Whole Foods………Ben! Or as I call him: Benny-pooh. For realsies.)

  16. Also, I’ll need to talk to you about making homemade baby food….but I have to get around to growing a human first. But after that, I’ll call you.

    Thanks. =]

  17. Very practical and impressive. It shows that planning is the key.

  18. I’m with you. I plan all our meals and only shop for what we need. I also keep an inventory of nonperishable foods that I can reference when we’ve “run out”.

    It takes a while to get into the swing of menu planning and shopping, but once you do, its so worth it!

  19. I’ve been working on minimizing our grocery budget and am down to between $50-$75 each week (for husband and myself, since baby j is still on breast milk). I like to go weekly to make the most of sales. I usually determine our needs/meals based on what is on sale and what I have a coupon for. I like the challenge of trying to spend less than the week before.

  20. I got married last June and have LOVED the challenge of our grocery budget. We don’t have an out to eat budget, so if we choose to eat out, we use either our personal spending money or we use left over grocery money. We have been operating on $220 each month! It’s a great feeling! Thanks for sharing all of your tips and tricks, too!

  21. You explain things so well- I love it! Thanks. Now if only I could copy your well written directions. I like to cook too much and pick too many dishes to “just try”, and ones that have too many ingredients. I don’t like to eat the same things too often. Also, we stock the fridge/freezer/pantry more than is really required. Have you thought about a BJ/Costco store? I feel like I spend more money than it is worth.