Tuesday, January 24, 2012

eating healthy on a budget ...

J and I recently assessed our financial goals and although we are killing it in some areas (yay retirement fund!), we are totally sucking in others.

Can you say entertainment, recreation and groceries?

The first two categories present less of a challenge as most of the things that fall into those categories aren't really necessities. We can cut things and significantly reduce the amount of spending that falls into those areas. Sure, I like to race a lot, all over the country, but do I need to? No. I'll have to learn to live without it for now.

Groceries, on the other hand, are kind of crucial. I'm feeding three growing children, an endurance athlete and a budding runner, who happens to be a 6'7" man. Needless to say, we go through our fair share of food. And it ain't cheap.

We currently spend in the neighborhood of $900 a month to feed our family and stock our home with household goods (i.e. toilet paper, paper towels, laundry detergent, etc.). I am looking to cut that down to $750 a month, with $650 allotted to food and $100 allotted to household goods. That's a pretty big cut and I'm not really sure how to go about it.

  • We already use coupons. Although, most of our food is perishable and thus, hard to get a coupon for.
  • We already "shop around" to a certain extent to find the best prices.
  • We are not willing to have a diet consisting of mainly processed foods.
  • We don't purchase any meat.
  • We almost NEVER have food waste. 
So, what should we do? How do you save on your groceries? Is it possible to feed a family of 5 for $150 a week? Is this a lost cause?

37 comments:

Mustang said...

I am a fan of buying bigger at Sams and then cooking larger meals ie pasta, soups, casseroles etc that freeze well....saves me a good deal of money and time. Same with paper products etc ...perhaps you could share a membership ( or piggy back) and buy only those items where you see significant savings and split....ie fruits and vegetables, paper products, milk, etc....so you don't have to worry some much about storage but you still gain the benefits of the club purchases....? Also menu planning ( and sticking to it religiously) has worked wonders for me in the past...and developing your grocery list based on that helps to not buy what you don't need....there are some really good menu planning sites that automatically develop your list for you.....

Lacey said...

Mike and I went through the same exact thing. What we did was create a menu for the week the day we go shopping. Go through each recipe & meal and write down ONLY exactly what you need in order to eat that meal. We used to blindly go up and down the aisles and buy what looked good. But when we make a weekly menu of exactly what we are going to make for each meal, we started only buying exactly what we need. When we did this we ended up cutting our bill in half. Hope this helps a little.

Cat B. said...

We have a family of 4 and spend about $140/wk on groceries. I also would love to regularly trim a few $$ but it is hard. Those darn kids just keep growing!!! I find my best weeks are when I shop around a menu, planning the meals ahead of time. Also, I usually buy all the 'no name' brands, to save $$. I read a quote that said: spend what you want on groceries, it's always cheaper than eating out.

Karen said...

This kind of goes with what Lacey said above. I am a big fan of the e-mealz website (e-mealz.com). It is a subscription meal planning service. Every Tuesday, they put out the plan for the week along with a shopping list. You buy only exactly what you need for the week. They do have a vegetarian option. It is dinner only so you would still need to plan lunches and breakfasts but it has really helped me cut back on my food expense and the number of trips I make to the store each week which is almost as good as saving money! If you have the time to sit down and plan out the meals and ingredients for a shopping list, you could replicate the e-mealz idea yourself without paying the $5 for the subscription each month.

mymummashoes said...

What we have done is start buying from the bulk bin at Whole Foods and the bulk country store for items like dried fruits, spices, beans, rice, flour, etc. We only buy what I need for each week, thus reducing the amount of stuff we have to store, but also, I have a rule that if I don't use it all I don't buy more until it's used. So, if I know a recipe calls for 1 pound of dried beans and I don't use it for whatever reason, I either find a recipe that uses what I have on hand or I adjust the recipe accordingly in the future. I've found that shopping in this section has helped us a lot. i have been trying to use recipes that are either already large enough for leftover or for a freeze, or are easily doubled. the vegetarian chili and Indian spiced lentil recipes I'm using this week always yield a ton for us.

Running Ricig said...

I feel like the whole endurance athlete and runner kind of screws you. I mean, technically, you're really feeding 6 or 7 people considering the amount of calories you need to take in...Mike and I spend $75-$100 a week on groceries and we are CHEAP. Maybe you could switch up some of your fresh veggies for frozen?

Kortni said...

I feed a family of 6 on that much each week and I don't have a Sams, etc club membership. I buy items we regularly use in bulk when they are on sale. Of course this works only for items like rice, pasta, sauces, beans, frozen fruit, etc. I buy a lot of store brands for items in which there is no taste difference like pretzels, shredded cheese, cream cheese, sour cream, etc. I try to make two meals from almost every meal I make. I freeze the other and then have it on hand for those crazy days. This way we don't waste leftovers. We get creative with our meals like breakfast for dinner. Breakfast foods are so cheap. I make my own granola, pizza, and we never waste money on juice. I also menu plan like a crazy woman. Good luck!

Kurt @ Becoming An Ironman said...

It sounds like all of my big ideas are already out there: bulk shopping (splitting a membership is a great idea), menu planning for the week, cooking in bulk and freezing, knowing where to find the cheapest item, and using everything before you buy more.

The only thing I'd add is that other than a few foods I list as "necessities" (OJ, bananas, and milk), I never buy anything that's not on sale. When something is on sale, I also stock up. It's not as easy for produce, but it may mean I eat a ton of broccoli one week and the squash the next.

Jesser said...

Man, all I can say is good luck. We spend a TON on food and while I will not buy crap just to save $$, I do want to spend less. The best suggestion I have is to make a lot of the same thing so you don't have waste. That's probably my #1 sin. I need to be way better about using what we have instead of buying new. I'll be eager to see what you come up with.

Deb said...

If you're like me, the biggest chunk of that budget is spent on produce, and it is tough to sacrifice that while still eating the way you want to.

The easiest way to cut it would be to focus on mainly buying things that are in season and less expensive. It likely means cutting out any of the tropical type fruits. Possibly eating a lot more apples, oranges and bananas, which tend to be cheaper. In my climate, I'd have to pass on tomatoes a lot at this time of year. Personally, these are sacrifices I'm not willing to make...

I don't know if you're a gardener, but I manage to cut my grocery bill a lot during that time of year.

Also, around here, there's a couple of food co-ops that run. Could be worth looking to see if there's any in your area. Basically a group of people get together and order in quantity to get better prices.

Marlene said...

We give ourselves $300/2 weeks for groceries. We take out cash and that is ALL we have for food. Sometimes, it's tight. I can't imagine spending that amount for a family!

*~*~* Tracy said...

For your household goods, we save a lot by not buying cleaning supplies but making our own.

I clean most surfaces with vinegar/water mix. Bathrooms get a bleach/water mix. I do use Murphy's to dust only because my mom gave me gallons of it when she moved.

We don't go through a ton of papertowels because we use rags to clean with. I toss them into a bucket and wash them with a little bleach.

I'm psycho about keeping lights out when the room is not in use.

Small things, but they do add up.

Sweet and Savory by Sarah said...

I don't think 150 is unreasonable. I would like to think we are near that. I think the best way to save money is to make larger meals and then use the left overs for lunches and dinners. Soups go a LONG way when you make a huge pot and they are very cost effective.

Wym said...

I spend around $125 for food for our house. I have a big appetite and so does my family of three others including a 6'1 Mr. Dad runner/Crossfit guy. I always coupon. unfortunately, you are right, coupons don't work well for the good stuff. I don't use many coupons on things other than households anymore.
-I buy 5 dozen eggs at a time. It saves me around $4 a week.
-I buy dried beans of all kinds and soak them the night before use. It saves a ton! Maybe $3-4 a week
-I do lots of sweet potatoes and have learned to cook them in every way.
-I only buy bulk containers of oatmeal and add my own flavor.
-We save all the seeds from our squashes and watermelons and are attempting a garden this year.
-I trade dinners once a week with another family for variety
-I make the food we do buy last by making it fun to eat. Very few smoothies in this house. We do kabobbs a lot...
-You can get a fishing license for the summer and kids are free. If you eat fish, this is a great way to freeze and stock up in winter. We do a ton of trout. (cheap entertainment)

Runners Fuel said...

That does sound tough. I'm trying to feed me and my husband for $50/week. It's pretty tough. I would love to see what you do.

Kristen said...

Ack! I'd like to get down to your level for our family of five. We're about $200 more a month. Not sure if being a west coaster affects that. I think I spend too much in the household items so I'm going to watch that religiously. We do Costco for much of our shopping. Earlier in 2011 we were stricter and did better...time to get strict. One thing that worked was eating what was in the freezer! We kept things in there and would buy more...just staying more aware helped us. Here's to more self-control in 2012!

akhoosier said...

Do you have an Aldi Store nearby? Not sure if those stores on the East coast. Owned by Trader Joe's, Aldi is pretty particular with the food they stock. I've heard nothing but good things from those that shop there. That being said, I have yet to try it! Might be worth a try.

Also, I don't think it's unreasonable to feed 5 people on $150/week. We have four people to feed and that's what we average. My kids are 12 and 7, so bit a older than yours, but they probably eat more than yours, especially my 12 year old. Also, my husband is a 6-5 marathoner (looks like a fit footballer though) and i'm also a marathoner, so I feel your pain on figuring the food budget out!

One more thing - we do buy at Sams Club. I buy ground turkey and chicken breasts and break it down into smaller packages to freeze. We also do frozen veggies which helps to cut down on waste since we have a bad habit of buying veggies/fruits and then not using them in time. Hope this helps!

Jen said...

Menu planning is the easiest way for me to save money. Before you grocery shop plan out the next 5- meals. Try to make meals that can build off one another...so if you have lets say Hamburgers one night....then book the extra ground beef and have it ready to use for Strogonoff ors something else in a couple of days. I don't buy that much bulk, I only by what we eat in a week...we spend about $100 a week for 3 of us, and we take eat breakfast at home and take lunches everyday for all 3 of us. We usually eat out once a week so I plan for 5-6 meals.

Once a week we have breakfast for dinner as that is a cheap meal...pancakes and eggs, maybe suasage or bacon depending on whats on sale.

Crockpot meals are not only easy, they can be cheap and make great leftovers for lunches. :)

giraffy said...

I feed the 5 of us for around $400/mo (on the high end), but I think a LOT of that has to do with the affordability and availability of fresh produce in SoCal.

For me, one of the things that really helped was to menu plan, but backwards - I scope out the sales ads first, then base my menu around what is available, what's on sale. As an awesome side effect, you also usually end up eating what is in season, and it always tastes better. I supplement with frozen veg/fruit if really necessary.

We buy a lot of things at Costco, too - broccoli and spinach for sure, lettuce is usually a good price (even cheaper than the farmer's market for me).

One of our local markets runs bulk-bin 25% off sales every few weeks, and I use that time to stock up on non-perishables - rice, beans of all types, quinoa, flours, sugar, oats, nuts, salt, etc.

And, we cook everything from scratch, including most of our bread, some pasta, and all sweets/dessert type things.

For household supplies, I toyed around for awhile with making my own cleaners - laundry soap was a GIANT success, and cost pennies; shampoo, not so great once I started running, but with your hair, I bet it would be fine. I tried cutting paper towels, but I'm a paper towel freak, and use them all the time, so that only lasted a month or so.

Good luck!

Holly said...

For me menu planning is actually a bad thing. I see meals that I want to make that involve pricier ingredients and so I wind up spending more than just buying what I want at the store (healthy foods always) and using what I have to create meals. It may get a little boring, but it's the only way to keep from spending a lot. Good Luck!

TNTcoach Ken said...

Good luck! Periodically send one of the kids to bed hungry, set up a schedule so they don't notice the pattern. Instead of buying lunch at work, borrow a co-workers lunch! HA

fancy nancy said...

It is always a challenge to eat healthy on a budget for me. I start with the store circular. I then build my menu from there. It has worked pretty well for me planning a menu first. It keeps me from having stuff that I don't use. If there are things on a good sale I stock up on those things. Good luck!

track coach and adorable wife said...

I have no good advice unless you want to live on cereal like we do sometimes! But it was fun reading others advice.

gba_gf @ Neurosis of the Stay at Home Marathoner said...

giraffy uses our strategy ~ backwards menu planning. And once or twice a week we have eggs, toast, and sliced fruit (apples & oranges).

Jason said...

I'm sure you do this already but I don't buy anything that is a one use item.

In other words if I find a recipe that has an ingredient I don't have I have to find a second recipe for me to buy or figure out a substitute. Getting one item for one meal makes no sense to me.

This has been a huge help in cutting down food costs for me.

BigHappyFamily said...

I am a meal planner, we never eat out or order in, and my husband and I both participate in endurance sports, but neither of us use gu or anything. We carry dried mango or fig newtons instead. GL

Run with Jess said...

Lots of great ideas! The main way I keep our grocery bill down is to just eat what we have. We always seem to have numerous meals in the freezer - just a matter of time management and prep for me.

Six Pack Momma said...

We have 6 children, ages ranging from 4 - 16, plus the 2 adults and we spend approximately $800 a month on food & household items. It is very do-able.

I make my own laundry detergent. That has helped us save a lot! I can wash approximately 30 loads for $3.50 It's a little thing that makes up for a lot in the long run. Plus I'm not buying the plastic container that I used to so it's helping the enviroment as well.

For food take a good hard look at what you can make from scratch on your own. Find things that you can freeze or will keep well in the fridge. Things we may think are too complicated. Which, it may mean a day of cooking or extra prep time, but it pays off. My muffin recipe that I posted on my blog is a good example of something you can freeze that can be a meal (fast/easy breakfast) or snack. It can be for you, hubs or the kids. I don't know what you do/don't already do this for. Some things I have started with are biscuits, granola bars, muffins, pancakes, french toast. None of that ever comes from a box or mix. Take a look at each & everything you eat & ask yourself. Can I make this?

Good luck & keep us posted : )

Trish said...

I ditto the above suggestions. I know it can be done, because we spend about $600 a month including cleaning, household, hygiene and personal toiletries (even makeup and girly stuff) I make most of my cleaning products (diynatural.com has great recipes and suggestions for cleaning) We are a family of 7, the kids are all teen. The oldest just moved out, so 6 at home now. I have 2 girly girls, we color hair, wear makeup, do nails, you get the picture. By using coupons and price matching at walmart, we get all the stuff we want without spending a fortune. I use a website called savvyshopperdeals.com that matches up current ads with coupons so you can don't have to scour every ad. I'm sure if you ask around in your area or google it, you can find something similar for your stores. it's a pain at first to get used to, but after you get a system in place, it's no biggie. I price match produce, dairy, frozen, everything. We don't eat much meat, we do eat tons of fruit and veggies. I get most of my produce through a food co-op called bountifulbaskets.org (don't know if they are available in your area) saves us a fortune on our produce. I don't buy goodies and junk snacks, which is more typical for a couponer, but I resist all that crap. Our newspaper has a deal to get 5 sunday papers cheap and I have an organization system that keeps it easy to find what I'm looking for. It is possible to cut back. We used to spend a lot more, but cutbacks forced us to trim the budget. I also bake my own bread which gets us much better bread for a fraction (.50 vs $4 for whole wheat fresh bread) Where there's a will there's a way, it's just making new habits.

Pedal Pushing Patons said...

We also make a game out of making a cost effective meal for the family. We often challenge our son to feed us all for $10. He is 11 years old and likes to cook. We give him the sales flyers, he has his own cookbooks geared towards kids and he can use anything in the cabinets, fridge/freezer. He often feeds the three of us for around $8 and has enough to make a dessert on his budget. It is a fun game but it is a great lesson for him in budgeting, meal planning, cooking, etc. He also has more respect for how much work goes into planning/cooking a meal because of the exercise. Your kids may be too young to do this alone, but a modified game might be fun/beneficial for you all.

carrie said...

Not at all a lost cause! Hubby and I are HUGE Dave Ramsey fans. We have paid off over $51K in the last two years, we have one more year to go until we are completely debt free! Then we can start saving for our first house. We consider ourselves true gazelles. I found that creating a budget, switching to cash (NO PLASTIC!!!) and using an envelope system really helps. It keeps you on track. Create menus for your meals for each pay period. Hubs gets paid every other week so I do menus for two weeks at a time. I cook from scratch, we only eat out at hubby's restaurant and that is paid for by the company (only perk of his job). Otherwise we are stuck at home eating sammies and breakfast when I get too darn lazy to cook and want to order out! Self control is the BIG issue at controlling your spending. "A child does what feels good, an adult devises a plan and follows it". I also found ways to cut costs. We have no cable tv. We have the cheapest and slowest internet available. I make our laundry detergent. I shop around for the best price available for our garbage company. I also shopped around for our insurance. I was able to cut $150 a month by switching life insurance, car insurance and renters'. Cook from scratch, shop around and negotiate all of your services and you can cut some MAJOR costs. Good luck!!!!!

The Jesse said...

Wow, what great suggestions you've already received. My husband & I {its just the two us} spend about $60-70 a week on groceries. About 80% of that is fresh fruit/veggies. I'm a big advocate of meal planning and we adopted it into our lifestyle a few years ago as a way to stop wasting so much food. Now, we build a meal plan based on sale ads and what we are craving/have on hand and then only buy what we need to make the meals we planned. It helps to avoid aimlessly wandering a grocery store or purchasing "junk" or "processed" foods --- which was a BIG problem of ours before we started meal planning. We also shop around and we buy in bulk when possible at Costco. Whenever I make too much of a meal that I didn't plan leftovers into my meal plan for then I freeze it to use another week or the husband takes it for lunches. We had to invest in a chest freezer for our garage because I will cook a big batch of rice or beans and then freeze them to use in the future! Also, a few years ago we eliminated paper towels, paper napkins, paper plates, and throw away cups/utensils so that saves us some money too. I guess the best suggestion I have is that you have to figure out what works best for you and your family and what you are and are not willing to give up.

Courtney @ I CAN DO THIS said...

Do you have any green markets up there? I found the most amazing one last week. I got 3 lbs of sweet peppers, 2 kiwi, 3 tomatoes, 1 pear, a bunch of italian parsley, and a bunch of mint - all for $2.88

Robin said...

Yes it is possible to feed a family on $150 a week.
-Buy in bulk
-Buy non-name brands
-Buy what is on sale
-Coupons are good, but only if it is something you really NEED
-Make a list of items needed for that week before going to the store
-Buy only what is on the list-do not venture
-Shop around
Good luck with this. www.dashingdiva.net

Colleen said...

Most people have already hit on my suggestions, but Costco is a lifesaver to us ($50 a year is well worth what I save) and I buy the store brand on as much as I can.

Alex said...

I don't think I saw this one mentioned- Buy and freeze quicksale produce. =)

Marky said...

I guess eating healthy on a budget and buying foods on bulk are contradicting?