Cheap Frugal Food Budget

Food is Expensive! How We Survive on $60 a Week

Everyone has to eat. Period. Thank you Captain Obvious. But how much you spend and where you shop varies dramatically. Also, I feel like the prices of food are always going up and our dollars just don’t stretch as far as they used to. It might not actually be true, but I often look in my cart and am shocked by how little I can buy. My family sticks to a pretty tight budget, so for us, price matters, and so does where we buy food. I am going to show you three ways we survive, and I daresay thrive on $60 weekly food budget.

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

When we started our budgeting journey, we were in a dire situation. Sitting at $90,000 in student loan debt, we felt trapped with nowhere to go. It is often said that invention and innovation come from this place of intense need. I didn’t wake up one day and decide, “maybe I should start a budget so I can make better financial decisions.” We were buried under a mountain of debt, and NEEDED a way out, so we created a budget for ourselves. To be honest, if we weren’t in such a bad financial spot, it might have taken us years to actually make a change. We needed to get really uncomfortable, and trust me, our debt felt very uncomfortable.

Once we decided to live on a budget, we needed to determine how much money to spend on each area of life, including food. After some trial and error we landed on $250 for the month, or roughly, $60 a week with an extra ten of flex money. We actually started with $50 a week, which lasted for about 8-10 months. For the most part it worked, but we wanted a little more flexibility to relieve some stress. Again, because we were in such dire debt, learning to live on a frugal $60 each week became a necessity to reach all of our crazy money goals!

A Couple Disclaimers

You might be reading this and thinking, “$60 is barely anything! How is that even possible!?” It is tricky sometimes, but we have a couple things working in our favor. First, we are a family of two, which makes it a lot easier. If you have kids, I think it would be nearly impossible to pull off. If you can, that’s awesome! Tell me and other readers your secrets in the comments! We will for sure add more to the food budget when we have kids. Second, we don’t need to buy any specialty food items due to dietary restrictions. If you are buying all organic or gluten free, food unfortunately costs more.

Meal Prep, Meal Prep, Meal Prep

One of the biggest reasons we can survive on such a small budget each week is because we learned how to meal prep. The entire purpose it to plan and prepare your meals ahead of time. I hate grocery shopping. Well, maybe that’s an over statement, but it really isn’t a super fun experience I look forward to. The idea of going shopping a few times a week for supplies seems overwhelming and an inefficient way to spend time. When I was single, I would buy food for a couple weeks and wait until I had basically nothing left before I hit up the local grocery store again. I didn’t really make a plan, and even made the worst mistake of all, I usually shopped on an empty stomach. Sometimes I found myself just wandering down the cereal and cookie aisle before I remembered I had to buy food with substance. Okay, maybe that is a slight exaggeration, but I have learned a lot since my single, college days.

Meal prepping has saved me from multiple trips to the store (thank goodness) and helped our family save loads of money (I will explain the money saving in a few minutes)! We start our meal planning on the weekend, typically Friday or Saturday. We found it is important to plan out your meals ahead of time so we know exactly which ingredients we will need. It also helps us estimate if it $60 will be enough to buy it all. If not, we adjust our ingredients or choose new meals to make it work.

In full meal prepper style, we cook all of our lunches and dinners ahead of time on Sunday so we don’t need to spend much time in the kitchen during the week. Everything is portioned out and stored in the fridge, so all we need to do is take it out and stick it in the microwave! I love it! Of course, this means we eat the same meal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day of the week, but that is what we are willing to do to get out of debt. Plus, we really don’t mind eating leftovers. For breakfast, we also basically eat the same meal every day. I eat oatmeal and Jenna eats eggs or greek yogurt.

Plan Ahead and Make a List

We are no-nonsense kind of people when we go to the store. In our dream world, every shopping experience would be like the old classic show “Supermarket Sweep,” so we could dash through the store tossing in food left and right, finding the best deals, and be on our way in under five minutes. Sadly, it is frowned upon to run through the store with your shopping cart, so we have other tricks up our sleeves. Before we even leave the house, we have a list in hand so we know exactly what we will buy, and because we go to the same store every weekend, we know exactly which aisles our items are in. Our list serves two purposes. First, we never forget to buy anything. It is a horrible feeling to start cooking and realize you didn’t buy any chicken! Secondly, the list helps keep us on track with our budget so we avoid any unnecessary impulse buying. I always want to throw in a couple frozen pizzas to eat while I watch football, but if it’s not on the list, it doesn’t make it into the cart.

Buy in Bulk

Food prices vary greatly from store to store, so with a limited budget, it is important to get the most bang for your buck. I love to shop local, but unfortunately local grocery stores tend to have higher prices than bigger, chain stores. As a result, we buy most of our food from big chain stores. We are lucky enough to live in a town with a SAMs club and Wal-Mart, where we buy staple food items in bulk. Buying in bulk saves us boat loads of money every week compared to our local grocery store. It is perfect for meal prepping because you need enough food for the entire week! Hello economy size! Even if we can’t eat all of the food during the week, we figure out ways to freeze it or repurpose it in other dishes. Of course, there is an upfront cost of $45 to become a member, but you will easily make that up through savings in the course of a year.

A couple staple items in our household are oatmeal, eggs, greek yogurt, chicken, fruit, and frozen veggies. We buy all of these from SAMs. It really cuts down on weekly costs because we don’t have to constantly replenish our supply. A big bag of chicken will last a couple weeks, oatmeal lasts for months, and the rest only makes it a week, but it’s crazy cheap!

Weekly Costs Broken Down

I want to show you the true power of meal prepping and buying bulk. With our $60, we are able to buy enough food for two people to eat three meals a day an entire week. We are talking 42 meals. If you do the math, that is about $1.43 per meal!!! That is crazy! It is about the same as buying one double cheese burger from McDonald’s, except that when I get done eating my home made food, I am full and content. If I eat at McDonald’s (which I haven’t done since September of 2013), I need about five McChickens, and then I feel horrible afterwards because I just devoured a bunch of greasy fast food. The math proves it; buying in bulk and meal prepping is the most cost effective way of feeding yourself (outside of growing it all yourself, of course).

Wrapping it Up

The numbers don’t lie. Meal prepping has completely changed our finances and is a big reason we are moving quickly toward our debt free goals! $60 a week is not a lot of money, but if you plan ahead, buy in bulk, get good at meal prepping, and avoid impulse shopping, it really is enough for two people! I would love to spend more on food, but the reality is, it would delay being debt free, and I would much rather be debt free!

Let Me Know in the Comments

How much do you spend a week on food? Do you have any money saving tricks?

 

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10 Comments

  1. We have done the envelope budgeting in the past as well, and food wise we started out at $200/month before kids. Aldi is our all-time favorite grocery store, but it doesn’t have quite everything, so then we need to do another one, however, I usually just get sale items and any necessary ingredients we need for that list that we can’t buy at Aldi (which isn’t much). Also, buying hamburger from family is a lot cheaper and you know you get quality meat. Thank goodness for those beef farmers (and talk about buying local!).

    • It sounds like you guys have an awesome plan of attack! $200 a month is tight for food! That’s awesome you made it work! Love hearing your story, thanks for sharing!

  2. Thanks for sharing this! This was one of the hardest things to budget for. We ended up writing down every item and their costs before we entered the store. Great advice!

    • It is hard! You can’t go wrong with a list, and the more specific, the better! It is so easy to get off track and over budget without it. It sounds like you’ve got this down pat though, to know the prices so well! Thanks for reading!

  3. I’m in awe that you guys spend $250 per month on groceries. Before our child we spent $250… Every 2 weeks! That’s what we still spend. We also use the money to buy any toiletries that are needed. However, we still find it difficult. We try to only buy what’s on sale and focus our meals around that. Maybe we should try meal prepping as well in the sense that we plan our meals for the week even more than what we’re already doing.

    • Hi Kim,
      Sometimes it is hard to do, but meal planning for a whole week has made our lives so much easier and less chaotic, which is also a huge thing for us. I am often amazed at how expensive food is. Pinterest has been a lifesaver for finding good, cheap recipes. What are some favorite recipes or go to meals you love to make?

      • Pinterest is my go to for recipes as well. At least every other week we have spaghetti and tacos. And we eat chicken, salmon, rice and vegetables lot. Sometimes we just get bored with food. However, I could see the meal prepping helping with that as well because it could help to space out the redundancy of some of the meals.

        • It really does help. You just have to be okay eating leftovers of the same meal for a week, which sometimes also gets redundant. But I think it gives a lot of space to be creative and have fun with your cooking.

  4. Great article Jamie! I think one of the main things that made this difficult for me was just the fact that I was lazy. The convenience factor of just buying a meal was way too strong at times. Especially when I’m already hungry and busy and really just don’t want to make anything. Meal prepping in bulk amounts and also buying emergency microwaveable/quick fixes really helped me out in this area. Just having something available that was budget friendly to heat-and-go has helped me immensely in resisting the urge to just buy a relatively more “expensive” dining option.

    • Thanks Kong! I’m also so lazy when it comes to food. Before we started doing this I snagged Subway all the time since it was so quick and “cheap”.

      It’s amazing what a little planning an intentionality does! I like the idea of quick microwave meals!

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