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Everyone needs to eat, but what you buy and where you buy it has a huge impact on your food budget.
And maybe it’s just me, but it seems 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 so many times I look in my cart and am shocked by how little I can buy. Seriously, apples, bread, and milk costs $25!?
Slight exaggeration, but this is definitely how I feel sometimes.
After doing a little reading, the average American family of four spends between $146-$289 a week on groceries depending on how frugal or lavish they choose to be. And these numbers reflect a healthy, nutritious diet. And those numbers don’t include eating out at restaurants, just straight grocery store purchases.
I don’t know about you, but that seems like a lot to spend every week. If you take a number in the middle like $210/week, you’re looking at $840 a month, and over $10,000 a year.
So how can you maximize your food budget to cut costs and still eat a healthy, nutritious diet? It takes a little creativity and planning, but there are proven methods to lower your food budget without sacrificing quality.
I’m going to share my favorite strategies with you. Let’s dive in.
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’s 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”. I wasn’t that proactive.
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.
Our Food Budget is $60 a Week
Once we decided to live on a budget, we determined how much money to spend on each area of life, including food.
At the start, I had no idea how much I spent on food each month. It probably varied dramatically depending on how hungry I was when I went grocery shopping. Because I had no idea, I guessed. I wrote down $200 a month.
For the most part it worked. We found ways to survive on $50 a week for 8-10 months. But we wanted a little more flexibility to relieve some stress. After some trial and error my wife and I landed on $250 for the month, or roughly, $60 a week with an extra ten of flex money.
That’s a far cry from $210 a week. The great thing is, we saved a bunch of money that we used to pay off debt, and we still ate healthy, nutritious meals. We couldn’t afford to buy organic food on that budget, but we were okay with that and were satisfied with the quality of our meals.
Again, because we were in such dire debt, learning to live on a frugal $60 weekly food budget became a necessity to reach all of our crazy money goals! (like become debt free in 5 years)
A Couple Disclaimers
You might be reading this and thinking, “$60 is barely anything! How is that even possible!?”
It’s tricky sometimes, but we have a couple things working in our favor. When we first started, we didn’t have kids. It was just the two of us (“you and I”) and we stuck to the basics. $60 a week was pretty doable.
About five years later, we have a little girl that’s eating solid food, and we’re still sticking to $60 a week. I’ll tell you more about how we stay under budget with a 3rd mouth to feed.
Of course when she’s a teenager, she’ll probably eat us out of house and home and our food budget will go up. A shoutout to any families with teenage boys that have bottomless pits for appetites. But for now, she’s eating a small portion of our food and it doesn’t affect our budget at all.
If you have any tips for saving money on kid food, tell me and everyone else your secrets in the comments!
Second, we don’t need to buy any specialty food items due to dietary restrictions or lifestyle choices. If you are buying all organic or gluten free food, it unfortunately costs more.
Food is Expensive, But it Doesn’t Have to Crush Your Budget
I hate grocery shopping. Well, maybe that’s an over statement, but it really isn’t a super fun experience I look forward to. Before I got married, grocery shopping felt like a chore and I always put if off until I was desperately short on food. Possibly another slight exaggeration.
When I was single, I would buy food for a couple weeks at a time 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. Thankfully I’ve learned a lot since my single, college days and I have my lovely wife (and our food budget) to thank for that. 🙂
If you buy groceries like I did, your food budget is going to skyrocket. Walking into a grocery store with no plan, no list, and with an empty stomach is a recipe for impulse shopping and a high bill at checkout.
3 Game Changers We Used to Cut Our Costs
I could share dozens of tips to save money on groceries and cut your food budget, but today I’m going to focus on the best tips I have that had the biggest impact on our budget.
1. Meal Prepping Gives You a Plan to Lower Your Food Budget
One of the biggest reasons we can survive on such a small budget each week is because we learned how to meal prep.
The two biggest benefits I’ve noticed since we started meal prepping are multiple trips to the store during the week (thank goodness), and we don’t spend nearly as much money on food.
We found it is important to plan out our meals ahead of time so we know exactly which ingredients we will need. It also helps us estimate if $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!
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.
Can I Meal Prep if I Don’t Like Leftovers?
Absolutely! If you hate leftovers, it doesn’t mean you can’t meal prep. Instead of cooking big meals on the weekend, you can just cook everything fresh during the week. You still save money and don’t have to make extra trips to the grocery store. Plus you don’t have to eat leftovers. Win/win.
Here’s what a typical meal prepping process looks like for us.
- We start our meal planning on the weekend, typically Friday or Saturday. The first step is to choose meals that we’ll be happy eating all week long. Pinterest has become our best friend for this.
- Next, we map out which ingredients we already have vs which ingredients we need to buy. It’s easier and cheaper to choose recipes if you already have a lot of ingredients on hand.
- Once we finalize our meals, we estimate to see how much it’s going to cost. Of course it’s not an exact science, but if we plan on buying steak, we know we need to be frugal in other meals.
- Then we head to the grocery store to buy our ingredients.
- On Sunday we cook up big batches of lunch and dinner so we can eat leftovers all week long. In an ideal world we even portion out our meals into individual tupperware so we can grab and go.
If you want to read more about how to become a meal prepper, head over to my Beginner’s Guide to Meal Prepping.
If you want an outside source, you can read this meal prep guide as well.
2. Plan Ahead and Make a List – If it’s Not on the List, Don’t Buy It!
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”. We would love to dash through the store tossing in food left and right with a cheering crowd.
Sadly, it is frowned upon to run through the store with your shopping cart, so we have other tricks up our sleeves.
Making a list fits in perfectly with meal prepping, but it’s an important strategy to save money on your food budget even if you don’t meal prep.
Before we even leave the house, we have a list in hand so we know exactly what we will buy. Also, 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’s a horrible feeling to start cooking and realize you didn’t buy any chicken! Plus it means you have to make an extra trip to the store which is annoying.
Secondly, the list helps keep us on track with our food budget. Even with a list, it’s easy to throw extra ingredients or treats into the cart.
Grocery Cart Envy is a Real Thing
I’m sure you’ve all experienced this. You’re pushing your cart through the store, sticking to your list and ignoring all the tempting treats and snacks, until you see that one cart.
A cart ahead of you turns the corner and you see all the magical wonders they have stock piled, practically over flowing with all of your dream foods.
- ice cream
- frozen pizzas
- beef jerky
- frozen waffles
- five different kinds of cereal
- swiss cake rolls
- bagels and all the smear
- three of the delicious samples that were on display.
And then you look down at your list of oatmeal and tacos and feel so disappointed. Tacos are still delicious, but it’s not cereal, beef jerky, and pizza.
But that’s why you have a list!!! Otherwise your cart might look like that too and your food budget would be through the roof.
Your list helps you avoid unnecessary impulse buying. If it’s not on the list, it doesn’t make it into the cart.
3. You Can Save Money When You Buy in Bulk
Food prices vary greatly from store to store, so with a limited budget, it’s 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, Wal-Mart, and most recently an Aldi. Buying in bulk saves us boat loads of money every week compared to our local grocery store.
It’s perfect for meal prepping because it’s easy to get 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. If you want to become a member at SAMs Club or Costco, there’s an upfront cost of $45 or so, but you will easily make that up through savings in the course of a year.
But if you don’t want to spend the money to become a member, there are other options to save money on food.
Recently an Aldi opened up in our town. If you don’t have an Aldi, it’s a discount grocery store. They carry basically no name brands, but the prices are so low you probably won’t even care.
A couple staple items in our household are oatmeal, eggs, greek yogurt, chicken, fruit, and frozen veggies. At Aldi, eggs are $.68/dozen and fresh fruit and greek yogurt are pennies compared to other stores in our area.
Buying in bulk is another trick to avoid extra trips to the store during the week. A big bag of frozen chicken or veggies will last a couple weeks, oatmeal lasts for months, and the rest only makes it a week.
It turns out to be crazy cheap though!
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 for 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.
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 maybe.
Now that we have a baby girl that eats solid food, our $60 a week makes 42 adult meals and 11 kid meals. She doesn’t eat much, but we can still feed a family of 3 on $60 a week. I’ll take it.
Are You Ready to Start Getting the Most Out of Your Food Budget?
The numbers don’t lie. Meal prepping has completely changed our finances and is a big reason we are debt free today! $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 and a tiny human!
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?
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
Great work Griff!
So proud of you!
Thanks Mary! I appreciate the support! ?
Found your blog through the YNAB email!
How do you organize your meal-prepping? Excel? My friends use Paprika and love it, but it costs $30 now!
Hi Stephanie! Thanks for stopping by! We’re really basic and old school with our meal prepping. We just write our meal for the week and list out the ingredients we’ll need. From there we get an idea of how many ingredients we have and what we need to buy.
And to make it easier we eat the same meals and leftovers all week so we don’t need to cook a bunch of different meals.
We shop at he same place every week so we know about how much things will cost. If some ingredients are crazy expensive we decide how badly we need it for our meal. We do a lot of improvising to stay under budget.
We just switched to shopping at Aldi, which is super cheap and that helps us save a bunch too.
Excel would work great too I would think! I hope that helps!
Yes!! Meal prep is such a budget saver. Good for lowering mid-week stress too. Just a tip: your money would go further, and you could eat more varied foods and more veggies, if you picked dry chickpeas instead of chicken more often than not. Then cook big batches (the Simple Dollar has a great post about just that). Also long-term your health bills will likely be less. Happy to help find great recipes! Something to chew on!
Thanks Brigitte for the tip! I’ll check it out! I know my wife gets sick of the same thing sometimes so it would be a nice change.
Any chance you could share what recipes/meals you are doing for lunches and dinners? Thanks!
We spend about$200 per week for our family of six, including 3 teenagers. Sounds like a fortune compared to your bills, but we are pleased with the numbers, especially since a few of us have celiac and have to be on a gluten free diet. I agree that meal planning is really important as is cooking from the pantry and using leftovers. Thanks for a great article!
Thanks for sharing your story. And from what I’ve heard, teenagers can basically eat you out of house and home! It sounds like you’re doing pretty great feeding that many mouths! ?
Hope, your situation is our future – we have 3 boys ages 8 & under with two family members needing gluten-free. Would love to know what kind of foods sustain you all for that price per week!
We used to eat out a ton and when we switched to eating at home 80% of the time, we realized we spend the same amount on groceries as we did eating out. We have not saved yet, but I am sure we will get that figured out soon. We did save on our health as between the two of us we have lost 160lbs with very little still to go. We did win there.
We are 3 and at $600 a month. We still have a ton that is probably wasted but we can fine-tune that and hopefully save a few dollars. Oh, the tracking.
That’s amazing! Another great benefit of eating at home is you know what goes into every meal, and it’s so much healthier.
You’re making great steps and strides though. Saving money doesn’t always happen all at once, sometimes it’s a series of steps.
I’m amazed! We have a life-threatening allergy and intolerances, so we do have to buy specialty items (and we live in a high cost area of the country). We budget about $800/mo, but occasionally come in at $600-700/mo. That said, I also have two growing boys (one pre-teen who is almost as tall as me already), so I’m sure it won’t last. ? We’re setting up the groundwork this year to have garden beds in our suburban neighborhood to help reduce our overall costs through the next stage.
There are so many things that affect food budgets, like the ones you mentioned. It sounds like you’re doing great things by staying under budget and becoming more sustainable. Under budget is always a good place to be! I’m curious to see how much our food budget will be affected as our girl grows and if we add any more kiddos to the mix.