4 Things I Do to Keep Our Grocery Budget at $200 a Month for a Family of Four

Think it's impossible to feed your family on a grocery budget -- toiletries and cleaning supplies included -- of just $200 a month? Think again! Here are some tips on how you and your family can significantly cut your spending.

When we first got married five years ago we had less than $1,000 cash to our names. Needless to say, money was tight but we were determined to find a way to get ahead. It was at that point that my husband suggested a grocery/household budget of something like $100 per month. I balked and insisted it was impossible. I didn't mind being frugal, but neither did I feel like eating PB&J sandwiches twice a day! And besides, I felt like I was already doing my best to try to shop smart -- and even so our grocery bills were somewhere closer to $200. And that was just for groceries alone; toiletries and household supplies came out of a different budget category.

It wasn't until about a year later when I discovered the world of coupons that I really got into trying to keep our grocery budget low. Suddenly it became a game, a challenge. I realized that if I got creative I could trim our grocery budget significantly. It took a bit of time and a lot of learning, but eventually my husband was wowed by the change in our budget (and probably in my attitude too!). And to be honest, I was amazed myself. I was now spending less on grocery, toiletries, and household items combined than what I had been before on groceries alone.

Here are a few of the things that I've learned that have helped keep our grocery/household/toiletries budget at $200 per month for a family of four. (Just for reference sake our family consists of two adults who are pretty big eaters, a 3 1/2 yr. old boy with an appetite as big as mine and a 7 mo. old baby girl who at this point is exclusively breastfed.)

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1. Choose to do Without

While choosing to do without is not popular or even fun, it honestly is probably one of the biggest ways we save.

Some of the ways we do without are:

  • My husband takes sandwiches in his lunch almost every day to work. But he has insisted that he doesn't need both meat and cheese, so most days he just has a meat and lettuce sandwich. He really doesn't mind, and the savings of not buying all that cheese does make a difference.
  • Speaking of cheese, we hardly ever eat cheese just by itself. I use it in cooking but we rarely have it just to eat as a side or snack. Do we not like cheese? No, actually we all love cheese! But it is something we've decided to consider a luxury around here to help keep our spending low.
  • Orange juice is a splurge item that I get only when I can buy it for $0.99 or less. Again, we all love orange juice, but it's not something we need to have and we can easily eat fruit and get our recommended serving that way much cheaper.
  • We don't buy lots of snack foods. (Talk about a fast way to jack up your grocery spending!) We actually don't eat many snacks and if we do they tend to be more things like raisins, nuts, fruit or homemade cookies, energy bites, and healthy fudge. I still buy chips and crackers sometimes if I can get them for a great price, but they aren't things that we always have on hand.
  • We do several different things to save money on meat -- and one of the biggest ways we do that is simply by not buying expensive cuts. In fact, I have a maximum buy price of $2.00/lb. for meats (and actually for cheese too) which means that we don't often eat things like bacon or steaks. But so far we haven't suffered and I think we still have a great variety.

One of the side benefits to choosing to do without some things is that you learn to appreciate what you do have even more. Because our sandwiches typically consist only of meat and lettuce, suddenly a sandwich with meat and cheese becomes a real treat and we enjoy it immensely. I think doing without helps us appreciate some of the little things in life more fully.

2. Don't Be Brand Snobs

When I began using coupons I started realizing that I could save a lot if I chose to be open-minded about trying brands that I didn't typically use. You don't have to be very smart to figure out that if your usual brand of spaghetti sauce typically costs $0.99 on sale but you can get another brand for just $0.50 using a coupon that you are going to save a bundle! I'll be honest, there are still a couple of products that I am a brand snob about but overall, I purchase whatever I can get for the least amount of money.

3. Cook From Scratch

I grew up in a home where my mom cooked mostly from scratch so I was used to this. And fortunately, I enjoy cooking and baking. But it was still convenient to buy pre-packaged things to save time. It didn't take me long to realize that it also was often a quick way to blow money.

Yes, cooking from scratch takes a bit more time, but with a bit of planning ahead I've learned that it can be relatively fast too. One of the things I do that helps save time is to cook up large quantities of ground beef and chicken and then put it in the freezer in smaller portions. That way whenever I need a pound of ground beef or 2 cups of chicken for a recipe, I'm saved the time of having to cook it up. I also often make double recipes of a dish and then freeze half of it. Making twice as much of something doesn't take much longer at all and when I have an unusually busy day it's so handy to be able to just pull dinner out of my freezer. I also apply this same principle to baked things like bread, rolls, cookies, and biscuits.

4. Have a Price List

This might seem a bit silly but it does really help. By keeping track of which stores have the lowest prices on certain items I have been able to save a lot. And it also helps me know when something is a good stock-up price, too. Keeping a price list takes a minimal amount of time and effort, but it really does pay off.

Obviously grocery budgets will vary greatly and not all of you will be able to spend only $200 a month. What I do to cut costs might not work for you, and what you do I might find to be frustrating. However, I'm convinced that we can all find ways to trim our grocery spending. I encourage you to challenge yourself to find ways to trim just $10 from your grocery spending this month. Get creative! Think outside the box. It just might be easier than you think!

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Lydia Beiler loves sharing easy recipes, money saving ideas and homemaking inspiration on her blog, Thrifty Frugal Mom. She and her husband of have been blessed with the gift of four amazing, and sometimes exasperating, children who keep them on their toes and fill their lives with lots of fun, crazy moments. They enjoy the adventure of big city living in Philadelphia and are currently spending lots of time fixing up the older house that they call home.

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