Several friends have asked me for the nuts and bolts of how I did this, so I thought I would spend a few posts outlining how I made this work for our family.
I am happy to share what worked for us, as long as it is clear that I in no way consider myself some kind of expert, nor a mama that has it all figured out. I am not saying that you should do as I do. Nor do I believe that I am doing anything radical or new...google would turn up blog after blog and article after article, covering everything I am going to say here. However, sometimes hearing (reading) from someone who is like you, or that you can relate to, can be helpful. So, maybe some of my friends who are reading this will find it useful.
First, I would say that it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to maintain a $40 a week budget for our family year-round. I choose to significantly reduce my budget in the summer, b/c we live in an agrarian area of the country, where fresh, local fruits and vegetables are available VERY inexpensively most of the year but especially in the summer. In fact, during this 9 week period, I would say that I received 90% of our produce for free from friends and families whose gardens were producing more than they could use.
During the rest of the year, my weekly grocery spending hovers in the $75-90 range.
Also, another thing that made it possible to stick to our $40 a week budget is that no one in my family has any food related allergies, or any illnesses that require dietary restrictions. My children are all generally good eaters (though they could be better), and I enjoy preparing food for my family and friends. All those factors worked in my favor for keeping our budget low.
For the rest of this post, I am going to talk about how I have worked to trim our food budget DOWN, over the last few years. My current low budget is the cumulative result of small, progressive changes to the way I shopped and prepared food.
Food is a VERY important part of my life...besides the need of food-as-sustenance, I really love to read about, think about, shop for, prepare and serve food to my family.
While my food budget it small, I place a high value on purchasing foods that are local, seasonal, healthy, and fresh.
My focus is to create as little waste as possible in my food purchases.
This is fleshed out in bringing my own reusable bags, going without produce bags whenever possible, buying foods with as little packaging as I can find, and shopping from locally owned, small businesses.
Sometimes this means paying more for some groceries than I would at a big-box store. Supporting small business owners is an important value to me, and so often I am willing to pay more for certain groceries, if I have to, in order to do that. None of these values were compromised while only spending $40 on groceries.
Here is a list of some of the ways I reduced my grocery spending:
- I do not purchase disposable diapers, paper napkins, paper towels, zip lock bags, plastic wrap, etc. Instead, I use cloth diapers, cloth napkins and towels, tin foil (which I wash and reuse, then recycle), and rewash/reuse zip lock bags from several years ago. I do purchase toilet paper and wet wipes.
- I do not buy meat. 90% of our meals at home are vegetarian. Occasionally, I will cook seafood, or use deer meat (which my husband killed, and was therefore free). Sometimes my husband will grill meat. When we eat meat, he purchases it through his job (he sells food to restaurants), and it was not figured in to my $40 a week budget.
- I don't buy much dairy. If I buy yogurt, I buy a large container of plain yogurt, not the individual cartons. If I buy milk, I purchase pasteurized, non homogenized milk from a local dairy for $4.50 a gallon. I buy about 2 gallons a month. The rest of the time, we use almond milk. We do use a fair amount of butter and cheese.
- I buy seasonal produce. That means that I buy asparagus and strawberries in April, apples and sweet potatoes in October, watermelon and sweet corn in July. Not only does it taste indescribably better, it is also much, much cheaper. Probably about 80% of the produce in our house is local and in season. Other things, such as bananas and mangoes, that will never be in season where we live, I purchase sometimes.
- I make my own laundry detergent.
- I buy very, very little prepackaged foods. Occasionally, I will buy a box of crackers or cereal. It is rare that I buy anything in a can or box. I really focus on buying INGREDIENTS.
- When something is in season, I buy a lot and either can or freeze it for later. During the summer, I fill my pantry and freezer with homemade pasta sauce, whole canned tomatoes, cream corn, green beans, blueberries, strawberries, etc. This keeps my grocery bill much lower the rest of the year, and gives us food to use that is delicious, inexpensive, and local. I didn't do much canning this year, but I did freeze a lot.
- I shop the sales cycle. When olive oil goes on sale (Buy 1, Get 1 free), I look for a coupon online, and buy enough to last 6-8 weeks, when it will go on sale again. A bottle of extra virgin olive oil that is normally $7, would then be $3.50 when it is B1G1, plus a $1 off coupon, brings it down to $2.50, for a savings of $4.50. I usually buy 3-4 at a time, for a savings of up to $18.
- I use a few coupons, maybe 4-5 a week, for items that we use a lot of, such as toilet paper, almonds, almond milk, and olive oil. I save them until I can pair them with a sale, for maximum savings.
- I buy the best ingredients I can afford. Pure maple syrup, local free range eggs, non homogenized milk from a local dairy, blocks of parmesan cheese, sourdough bread from the bakery in town, etc. Using good quality ingredients saves me money in 2 ways. First, I am more judicious with it, because I don't want to waste it and second, it is more flavorful, and a small amount can go a long way to flavoring a dish.
- Because my husband is in the food-sales industry, every now and then, he brings home samples. It doesn't happen that often but for the sake of full disclosure, I will mention it :)
- Sometimes, I purchase foods in bulk from my husband. This isn't something I rely on regularly, but perhaps once every 2 months or so, I will order a big box of organic spinach, or several logs of goat cheese, which saves money.
- My mom supplies me with fresh eggs from her chickens, blueberries from their bushes, and green beans that she cans for me that my grandparents grew. I know, I am a lucky girl. I am so, so grateful for those food gifts!
What ways do you save money on your groceries? What is one of your biggest food-related expenses? For me, it is dried cranberries. Random, I know, but they are pricey ($4 for a small bag!) and 2 of my boys absolutely LOVE them. Also, my dark chocolate with sea salt obsession can be an expensive indulgence...especially when the boys catch me and I have to share! :)
In the next posts, I am going to talk about what I do spend my money on, and then, what a week of eating looks like around our house.
If you want to look back, here is a post from a few years ago on the same topic: