How My Family Eats Well on a $400/Month Grocery Budget
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I admit it, I'm a lazy shopper.
I have little kids that make shopping less than fun and there are so many other things to be doing. Grocery shopping is not my favorite chore.
Even though I don’t enjoy it, I’ve found ways to save my family a lot of money on groceries and not have to spend too much time at the grocery store.
Saving money on groceries doesn’t have to be difficult or “extreme”. There are some simple steps you can take to cut your grocery spending and save a lot of money.
Let’s talk about some ways you can cut your grocery bill and still eat healthy.
It’s Not a Competition
Before I dive in, I just want to say that the amount you spend on groceries is NOT a competition.
We are all trying to do the best we can with what we have. Some people can live on obscenely low budgets and it works for them. If that’s not the case for you, don’t sweat it.
You have your own unique circumstances and your own things you need to buy. Do what is best for your family and don’t worry if your neighbor can get away with a $100/month grocery budget.
There are plenty of people with a smaller budget than my family. My budget of $400 is low enough for me. I could probably go lower, but I don’t need to. I feel good about the savings that I get, and you should too. If you cut your budget from $800 to $700, that’s great! You just saved yourself $100 a month and $1,200 a year and should be proud of that.
There are sales every week.
Every. Single. Week. But, not everything is on sale at the same time.
There are a couple of things to know about sales:
- Items will rotate through a sales cycle. A box of Kellogg’s brand cereal (for example) will go on sale for a week or two, then go back to regular price for about 6-12 weeks. The same cereal will eventually go back on sale (at a variable price). Your goal is to only buy the item (whether it’s cereal or almost anything else) when it’s on sale.
- Sales prices aren’t always good. Just because something is listing in the store ad as “on sale” doesn’t mean it’s a good price. Keep track of items you buy frequently. When they go on sale, note the price and compare to other sales. You’ll soon find out what price is low and what price you like to buy that item at.
- Strike while the iron is hot. In other words, buy stuff when it’s on sale. I don’t care if you need it right now or not, we’ll talk more about this below.
Plan Meals Around Sales
We eat fresh fruit and vegetables all the time, even on a tiny budget. The trick is to work them into your meal plan when they are on sale.
Produce will be the lowest price when it’s in season, but the price will vary even when it’s in season. Try to buy produce based on a sale price. Be careful not to buy produce on sale because it’s expiring unless you will eat it within a day or two.
The same goes for fresh meat. Buy meat when it’s on sale and plan to use it that week in your meal plan or you can safely freeze most meat. Divide your meat into family size portions. If you want to save even more on meat, reduce the size of a portion of meat you will serve.
MONEY SAVING TIP
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Read more about my experience with The Dinner Daily in this article.
Buy Only What You’ll Use
In the case of meat and produce, it’s common sense to buy only what you can eat before it’ll go bad.
You should also follow this rule for non-perishables. You aren’t saving yourself any money if you buy too much and it goes to waste. Some foods will go stale and bad before they can be eaten, so keep an eye on expiration and sell by dates.
Make Your Freezer Your Friend
There are many things you can buy and freeze.
We buy bread when the price is low and freeze a few loaves. I take it out the day before I need it and it works out just fine.
I also like to buy some produce frozen so that I can use just what I need, then put the rest back in the freezer. For example, I might only need 1 cup of peas for a recipe. I buy peas frozen and use portions of bags and save the rest for later.
When I buy meat in bulk, I'll divide it up into meal sized portions for my family and freeze them in convenient packages. When I want to fix a meal with meat, I grab one of my freezer bags out to thaw that's already the right size for my family.
Plan Lunches and Snacks as Well
I like to have fruit and veggies for my kids’ lunches and snacks, but I use this same strategy and buy what’s on sale. When apples are on sale, they get apples. If strawberries are on sale, that’s what I’ll get them.
The same can carry over into refrigerated items. We only buy yogurt or string cheese when the price hits what I’m comfortable paying.
Build a Modest Stockpile
I’m not talking about having a miniature grocery store in your basement. That’s a little out of control in my opinion.
Your stockpile should be a modest number of products that can comfortably be stored in your pantry, freezer, cupboards or linen closet for future use.
You only need to have enough product on hand to get your through to the next sale.
Focus on stocking up on ingredient-based items like:
- Butter (freeze)
- Shredded cheese (freeze)
- Frozen fruit/veggies
- Canned broth
- Canned fruit/veggies
- Canned or dry beans
- Dry Pasta
- Baking items
- Condiments and Sauces (like BBQ Sauce, pasta sauce, hot sauce, etc.)
This is just a short list. Think of what your family likes to eat and recipes that have ingredients that you can store.
You’ll also want to stockpile household items. Many people use their grocery budget to buy soaps, cleaners and toiletries. You can easily stock up on these items when they are on sale. Here are several items you can collect a modest stockpile of:
- Toilet paper
- Body wash/bar soap
- Razors/shave cream
- Landry soap/fabric softener
- Dish soap/dishwasher soap
- Household cleaners
- Paper towels
MONEY SAVING TIP
Household items are some of our most expensive grocery expenses. Cutting expenses on household items will free up money in your budget to allow you to buy healthier foods and build a modest food storage in your pantry and freezer.
If I had a nickel for every time I heard someone say “but I don’t use stuff that coupons are for” I’d be a rich woman.
Let me ask you this:
- Do you use toilet paper?
- Do you brush your teeth?
- Do you wash your hair?
- Do you do laundry?
- Do you wash your dishes?
There are many different brands that offer coupons for household products that you’ll find in almost every home. (Sorry, I’m not into making my own “stuff” … I don’t have time. I can also probably buy it cheaper than some can make it for.)
If you don’t want to eat Hamburger Helper and Chips Ahoy, don’t buy them. Those aren't the only products that offers coupons. You can find printable coupons online or in the Sunday newspaper.
Use Rebate Apps on Your Smartphone
Hang on to those receipts! They could be extra money in your hands!
There are several apps that you can use on your smartphone that will give you cashback. Simply scan your receipt into the app and claim a rebate on any of your purchases.
(In many cases, you can use a coupon with the rebate on the app and score even bigger savings.)
I recommend you try them to find your favorite app. Then just stick to your favorite that you find the most deals with.
- ibotta – Sign up with my link and get your first $10 free when you redeem a rebate within 30 days.
- Checkout 51 – New savings every week.
- FetchRewards – Earn points for your purchases at the grocery store and redeem for rewards. Enter my referral code VF1EY when you sign up and you’ll get 2,000 points free (worth $2.00 in rewards).
- BerryCart – Rebates for healthy organic, non-GMO and gluten-free foods.
Buy It Before You Need It
Buying things when they are on sale, and not waiting until you’re about to run out will help save you a lot of money.
This is different than buying something “just because it’s on sale”. There is a strategy behind it.
Here’s an example to explain.
Let’s say I like Tide for laundry soap. If I wait to buy until I’m almost out of laundry soap, chances are I’ll pay full price most of the time. I might happen to hit a sale here and there, but I’m not saving any money by waiting to buy it.
On the other hand, even if I have a full bottle of laundry soap at home, but Tide is at a great price, I’ll buy a couple during the sale. Then, when my Tide runs out, I have a new bottle ready and waiting. The next time there is a sale, I’ll buy 1-2 more and keep a rotation of Tide.
Notice I only buy 1-2 at a time. The same as I would if they weren't on sale, but I'm saving money because I'm only buying at a discount.
If you get into the habit of buying most of your items when they are on sale, your weekly shopping trips won’t be much different than your current trips, except that the price will go down. You’ll still buy things your family likes and needs. You won’t need to buy outrageous quantities to keep up with your rotation, just enough to get you through to the next sale.
Try New Brands
So, in my prior example, Tide was my favorite brand of laundry soap.
Let’s say OxiClean goes on sale and I can get it for a very low price. Would it be worth it to you to at least try a new brand at a very low price to see if you like it and want to switch?
This OxiClean is regularly $7.29 but went on sale for $3.99. I combined it with a $3 off coupon and got each bottle for $0.99. I got 4 bottles of laundry soap for less than the price of 1 bottle at regular price.
Would it be worth $1 to try a different brand? And would it be worth it to try coupons if you could get laundry soap for $1?
If I have a small stockpile of laundry soap, I have the option to wait until it's on sale again before I buy anymore. I save a ton of money by following this method!
Limit Your Warehouse Club Purchases
I love shopping at Sam’s Club and Costco … for certain things.
I’ve followed the prices at my local grocery store and discovered that most of the time I can find the products I want cheaper at the grocery store.
I’m able to do this by following sales and using coupons.
There are still a few things I buy at the warehouse store, but I’ve given up buying most products there.
Here’s the formula to know if you’re saving more at the warehouse:
- Check your savings on the products you buy most at warehouse stores and compare it to the best deals at the grocery store.
- Subtract the annual fee you pay from your annual savings on the items you buy most. You should save more per year than you pay in fees.
Warehouse Savings > Warehouse Annual Fee
I buy 4 gallons a week for my family
- Milk at the grocery store averages $2.79/gal ($580.32/year for 4 gallons per week)
- Milk at the warehouse store averages $1.77/gal ($368.16/year for 4 gallons per week)
- I save $212.16/year JUST in the price of milk by shopping at the warehouse store which more than pays for the price of the annual fee.
Just make sure you only buy things at the warehouse store that will save you the most money. You could cancel out your savings if you buy things that can be purchased cheaper at a grocery store. For example, I can always get cereal cheaper at the grocery store if I wait for a sale to buy it.
Don’t Get Overwhelmed
There are lots of things you can do to save, don’t let it overwhelm you so much that you don’t try!
Work on one thing at a time and see how much you can save, then add in something else.
If you’d like me to walk you through everything step-by-step, take my Load Your Cart for Less Course. I’ve created video lessons that show you all my exact shopping strategies and how to save the most money while keeping your sanity.
I’m a busy mom and don’t have a lot of time to spend on this. That’s why I designed Load Your Cart for Less to be easy and give you practical savings strategies. You can still save a lot of money (and time) without being extreme.
My Step-by-Step Grocery Saving Strategy Revealed ...
Need a little more help? I can walk you, step-by-step, through my exact strategy I use to keep saving money on groceries fast and easy.
Load Your Cart for Less is an online video course where I teach you the same thing I've taught live to hundreds of families to help them save money on groceries.