Grocery Budget Makeover: Lauren’s Family

Lauren is our next participant in the Grocery Budget Makeover. Her family lives in North Carolina and she spends more than $500 a month of groceries for her family of 3. She shops at Walmart three times a week for groceries and uses coupons. Lauren works part-time outside the home.

Lauren says:

My husband was laid off last year and while hes back at work its in a
much lower paying job. We have cut all our bills down to the bare
minimum already and theres just not much left over at the end of the
month. The only other thing I know that can be cut down is our grocery

Second I feel like I do everything all the money saving tipsters say
to do but still cannot save any more money. I menu plan, shop the
sales, coupon, make meals from scratch and somehow its just not
working out. I wanted our budget to be $400 a month but I was breaking
the budget week after week and always coming short on food so I raised
it to $500 but for some reason we are still running out of food and
keep having to go to the grocery store.

We would love to be able to fully rebuild our emergency fund again so
that if anything bad happened like another layoff we would still be

Lauren will be participating in our Grocery Budget makeover. If you have any helpful tips for Lauren before she begins this challenge you can leave them in the comments.


  1. Lauren,

    I’d look at your receipts- what are the highest dollar items you’re buying? Cut those out entirely or find a substitute.

    For my family some of the drains were Diet Coke and convenience foods like Bob Evans mashed potatoes. We also have really focused on spending very little on lunches.

    Finally, you say that you are always running out- we’ve learned to be ok with running out. Over time, we’ve also gotten better at pacing ourselves too so that we’re not eating the pasta planned for three days from now by accident.

  2. maybe not go to the store 3 times a week? i find that when i am in the store more i spend more – even if i have a list with me.
    i know it may not be in the budget, do you have freezer besides the one in your everyday fridge? that has made a huge difference for me.
    i regularly over spend on groceries, and i am working really hard in this new year to use what i have in my stockpile and not spend extra at the store. january was ok, february was harder because it was my daughter’s birthday and i spent on things for her party. i am hoping in march to go back to january’s level.
    i also have prices that are my “buy price” on things. if they are not that price, i make do with something else. i am a picky eater so that can be hard sometimes. sometimes i feel so driven by what i am in the mood for for dinner and not what we have, but i have found that having a well stocked pantry with things that are bought on sale at the time, has made that easier.

  3. Lauren,
    First let me say that what you are trying to do is a wonderful thing for you and your family and I wish you great success! I have a family of 7, 4 of which are males, our monthly food budget is 650 so I know you can do it. One thing that is helpful is to spend a little more time in the kitchen making and baking food instead of investing in prepared foods. Also, get use to eating leftovers for lunch. My children have been trained this way and they prefer it now to sandwiches, chips and the like. Also, invest in small containers and purchase in bulk things like yogurt, applesauce or the like and portion these out. This goes much farther and saves you $ in the long run from the individual sized servings that you pay double sometimes triple for. Lastly, stay on budget and get comfortable at running out things and having to be creating eating other things until the 1st of the month. No more milk…no more cereal…eat oatmeal instead for a few days, I promise you will survive 🙂

  4. Lauren,
    I look forward to following along to see how this makeover goes! Good luck! I have a family of four with two small children. Personally, I used to spend similar amount monthly at Walmart. However I would usually shop once every two weeks and then supplement with small trips to the local grocer Publix.
    I have now stopped shopping at Walmart because although their prices are lower I would tend to buy a lot more items other than groceries, ie, socks for the kids, make up or personal products. I started couponing very savagely this year 2011 with the help of a coupon class and a blog Since then I have managed to cut my bill in half or more, (down to $50 a week) all the while adding additional food because we host Bible study with dinner twice a month for couples. I hope you can see a great change in your budget, I am cheering you on!

  5. Melinda says:


    The thing I first noticed is that you go to Wal-Mart 3 times a week. Every time you enter a store – you spend money you didn’t plan to spend. Cut it down to once a week.

    Make menus of simple dinners, lunches & breakfasts…post them on the fridge so you will have a ready reference. You can name them “When chicken is on sale” “When ground beef is on sale”, etc.

    Make a ‘hot list’ for your purse of these menus and on the other side, make a hot list of your basic groceries you get all the time so you won’t forget when you do go to the store. If you can, put the aisle # next to the item. The more time you spend in a store, the more money you’ll spend.

    Slowly build up a stock of sale items. Over time, you will notice a sales cycle for groceries. Your goal is to buy enough at that sale price to last until the next sales cycle.

    The intent of your ‘store’ is to shop from your OWN store. Not theirs. You’d be surprised how quickly you can build up your store. You don’t have to have a lot of room.

    The more processed foods you buy, the more money you will spend. Try to wean yourself from juices, sodas, etc. We really don’t ‘need’ juice…it’s a major cause of childhood obesity. If you do give it to your kids, they only need 4 oz.

    Coupons: Just because you have a coupon, doesn’t mean you have to use it. A coupon for junk food is no real bargain. Stick to fresh, frozen & some canned. Make your own soups. Get out your crockpot & make a big batch & freeze for future meals.

    When you make meatloaf, make 2 or 3 & freeze. Keep a chart on your freezer what you store so you won’t forget.

    Use beans & legumes. There are lots of sites that you can get great recipes. I just discovered black lentils – they keep their firm texture & they are just so good.

    Try different cuisines. Indian cooking uses a lot of beans & legumes.

    Good luck!

  6. I do stockpile shopping with coupons. Family of 6: less than $300 month. We never go out to eat. I cook every night. I am a forum leader for we use coupons website. I have learned to be so frugal over the last 6 years of coupon shopping.

  7. I think the 3x a week trips to Walmart might be hurting you. Do you go with a written list, or just a mental one? Do you know the layout of the store so you can run in and run out with just what you need? Do you have to walk by the cute clothes before you get to the groceries?
    Good luck!

  8. Danielle says:


    I also live in NC. I live in the western part of the state. I’d try shopping around, I love going to Aldi everything to a lot cheaper than wal-mart, and they have lots of the same things that walmart has for a fraction of the price. For example right now milk at walmart is like 3.18 here and yesterday at Aldi I paid 2.29. I still have to go to wal-mart for somethings, because Aldi don’t carry them, but we have cut our food bill way down by just changing where we shop. Also I would look for discount stores. Here we have sav-more and go grocery. I like going to go grocery because they have a lot of the name brand food for the fraction of the cost as well. The only thing you have to watch out for is out dated items, for the most part thought they are still in date. Also try going shopping once a week or once every two weeks that will also cut out on things that you don’t really need. For me I make a day to go and do all my grocery shopping for 2 weeks so I am not constantly in the store purchasing things that I really can do with out and don’t need. Also try shopping with a list if don’t already, I find that much easier so that way I am not buying things that aren’t on my list.

  9. Hi Lauren! This can be done! 🙂 Beth’s idea was a very good one.

    I noticed a long time ago that meat and fresh produce are consistently the most expensive things I buy, aside from the junk stuff that should be the obvious first cuts. Since there are so many different sources of protein, it made more sense to me to work on the meat buying than fresh produce (IMO- there’s just no substitute for fresh fruit and veggies). Here’s some ideas…

    * I try not the spend more than $2 – $2.50 a lb for meat. Look at meat as more of a side than the main course if that makes sense.

    * Use less meat whenever possible. This works well with spaghetti, casseroles, stir fry, and other dishes that have other ingredients. If something calls for 1 lb of hamburger for instance, 3/4 lb will work just as well and more than likely won’t be missed.

    * Try adding beans to stretch your meat as well. I recently made meatloaf with 1 lb hamburger and about 2 cups pureed lentils. Everyone thought it was fabulous. Pureed beans hide well in tacos and sloppy joes as well. A 1 lb bag of dry beans goes a pretty long way.

    * Plan every meal (as well as snacks!) around the sales and your coupons. I found for us that just planning dinner wasn’t enough. I would spend more than I should on dinner items and then not have anything for breakfast, lunch, or when someone was struck with the munchies. Plan it all in and you shouldn’t come up short.

    * Watch your portions. Sometimes a value pack (5 lbs) of boneless, skinless chicken breasts will go on sale for $0.99/ lb at our store. There’s usually 6 breasts in there. If I cut those in half and pound them out a bit, they look like a bigger piece so no one really notice. It’s the actual portion that we should be eating anyway. PLUS it cooks faster! 🙂

    I’ll stop there since I’m sure others will have some fabulous advice for you as well. I feed our family of 6 on around $350 a month and no one in our house likes Ramen haha I know you can do this! Good luck!

  10. I do $500 a month, but it’s for our family of 5 , and I’m good with that. I work at home so we eat at home alot. My biggest tips for not going over budget:
    *Go to the store ONCE a WEEK. No quick trips for something you need to make a recipe. If I don’t have it, I don’t make that recipe and I improvise to make something with ingredients I do have. There’s always butter noodles!! 🙂
    *Keep a small stockpile of items you can get when they’re on sale. Kids eat oatmeal every day? When the oatmeal goes on sale, gather as many coupons you can find, and buy as many boxes as you can store.
    *If you run out before the week is up, it’s PB&J (or oatmeal! Ha!) until the next shopping trip. I will make a quick stop by the local bread outlet for an extra loaf of bread–it’s only $.50 there.
    *FREEZE MEALS! My friends and I started a supper club last year and it has been awesome. We each pick a recipe and make enough for each family to have an entree. We meet once a month and swap. So I always have a good variety of items in my freezer to go to. Planning ahead is key to make sure dishes are thawed in time to cook. We’re able to save money by going to the warehouse club for our ingredients since we’re making large quantities of each recipe. In addition to the supper club, if I’m making one of my favorites that freezes well, I double it and freeze one for later.

    Can’t wait to read about your challenge!

  11. 3 trips to Wal-Mart wears me out just thinking about it. I rarely go there and we have one about 2 minutes from our house. I stick to 1-2 grocery stores (1 trip per week) and Sam’s Club (1 trip per week). I keep a running list in our kitchen when we run out of something although I try to stay stocked up (pantry and freezer) so we do not run out. I use the Grocery Game and coupons and stock up when prices are at their lowest and ONLY buy what is the lowest price, plus what we have actually run out of. Generally short lists. Buying in bulk helps our family of 4 with 2 teenage sons. Limit fluff food like sodas, chips, snack foods.

    Pick one appliance that you may not have used in awhile and be creative making things at home with it. I keep a VitaMix, food processor, crockpot, rice cooker, within easy reach and use them regularly. Our kids are also used to leftovers and since we have homeschooled, hot lunches are the norm here. My husband takes them to work as well.

    There’s a learning curve to saving $$ grocery shopping because all the food looks good so you have to train yourself a little at a time. You’ll be a master in no time!

  12. I just read all of the suggestions here for saving money on the food bill. They are excellent! I cook from scratch almost every day (we eat out about 1-2 times per month). I use coupons, shop around for the sales, buy in bulk when an item we regularly use is on sale, and shop at CostCo using their coupons. When dinner meal planning for the week, I make a pasta dish with some protein included like sliced chicken, a vegetable soup that includes pinto or kidney or white beans for protein (I also make the stock from scratch), and a bean recipe like Rice and Beans.
    What I haven’t seen posted here is a vegetable garden. I know it is winter, and the thought of the growing season seems way off, but actually, now is the time to start thinking about having a vegetable garden. We have decided to grow some veggies this year. A zucchini plant is a good veggie to grow. I am going to plant the regular green zucchini, plus the yellow crook neck variety. I can do so much with zucchini! They go on the grill, can be added to soups and stir fries, and so on. Oh, and for those who live in an apartment, the horticulturists say you can grow veggies in containers. Just a thought.
    Good luck to you! I get a kick out of all of the comments about going to Wal-Mart. The closest Wal-Mart to me is about 30 miles away.

  13. tuxgirl says:

    I know when I looked at our budget a while back, I noticed that often I would buy lots of produce, and it would go bad before I got around to using it. I finally made the switch to using frozen veggies and frozen berries for a lot of things.

    Also, I’ll admit that I don’t menu plan. There, I said it! I do, however, have a lot of different dishes that I can make with a few staple ingredients, and I keep those ingredients stocked up in the house. I keep my home store well-stocked, and I usually only go grocery shopping once every 2-3 weeks.

    Another thing I did this year is that I bought a frozen turkey the day before thanksgiving. I was going to my mom’s for thanksgiving, so I didn’t need to make it then, and since it was too late to thaw it out in time for thanksgiving, the local store was selling it at 16 cents/lb. I got a 19 lb turkey for $3.04. Normal prices around here for turkey are around $3/lb! The turkey is sititing in my freezer waiting to be cooked and turned into shredded meat for casseroles, enchiladas, burritos, etc. 🙂

  14. Melissa says:

    I embarked on this same journey several years ago myself. I was spending over $1,000 a month for the four of us — two adults, a preschooler, and a toddler. We were over $17,000 in debt. We knew we had to do something. I don’t work outside our home, so I took it as my job to stretch my husband’s paycheck. We started budgeting and have never looked back. We are now debt-free (except our mortgage), and life is so much less stressful!

    Grocery shopping was a definitely one place I could see that we could save money. I was aggressive with my couponing, and still am to some degree. I have to be careful and picky about my coupons. I noticed that the more coupons I used, the more money I spent. If I wasn’t using a coupon for something I really needed, and I was just using it because it was a good coupon), I ended up spending more money because I wasn’t sticking to my menu plan/list.

    Speaking of menu planning, this really helped me save money. I started just doing a week at a time. Now I do a whole month at a time! It took me years to get where I am, so don’t feel overwhelmed. Baby steps! I now plan a whole month, including all three meals and snacks. I have a friend who has a 2-week menu plan that she just keeps repeating, with changes for the seasons (soups in winter, grilled foods in summer, etc.). This seems less challenging to her than trying to come up with 30 different meals for a month.

    My husband only gets paid once a month, so I do one huge grocery shopping trip at the beginning of the month. This takes several hours and two jumbo grocery carts! This is my time to myself, so I actually enjoy it. 🙂 I do go back once a week for produce and milk, but those trips are usually less than 15 minutes; I am in and out quickly. I have found that because I am in the store a lot less, I spend a lot less money.

    Since I menu plan and do such a large shopping trip, I have a grocery list on my computer of things we buy on a regular basis. One day I took the receipt from by big trip to the store and broke it down by grocery store aisle. I typed it on Microsoft Word. I left a little room after each aisle section to write in things that might not be a regular item. When I noticed that I regularly wrote in an item, I typed it in as a permanent item on the list. Now I just print off my list when I menu plan, and highlight the items I need (and write in the items not already on the list).

    I also take my menu plan with me to the store (which is really just a blank calendar page that I fill in). Several times I have questioned my list. Do I really need 6 pounds of ground chuck? Why do I need all that cheese? I couldn’t recall enough recipes to jusitify some of my purchases, so I would not always get everything on my list. When I got home, sure enough I did need those items; that is why I put them on the list in the first place! 🙂 I learned to trust the list. 🙂 I also learned to take my menu with me. This helps if the store is out of an item (or a certain size of an item). I can see what substitutions I can make.

    The other thing I do to help with our grocery budget is to make as much as I can from scratch. I make large batches of breakfast items once each per month; then I freeze them. I make pancakes, muffins, cinnamon rolls, quick breads, scones, etc. Then on the designated day, I warm these up (usually in the microwave). We have a great, hot, homemade breakfast, with very little effort. I also make our bread. I use the dough cycle on my bread machine to knead and rise the dough; then I shape it and bake it in the oven. I make our cookies, cakes, and other treats as well. Most of this stuff is easy to do; it just takes a little time and planning.

    Hope these ideas help!


  15. Christine says:

    I am sorry for your struggle and admire your strength. Try the following sites which are free:

    These sites help a lot with matching coupons to current sale ads. For a subscription you can try We live in South New Jersey and though I am not an extreme coupon-er, by using all these sites our grocery bill last year was just under $7,000 for the whole year and that includes about 20% of our food being organic purchases.

    Good luck 🙂

  16. We are a family of 8 and that what we spend monthly and not ever month. i can sometimes go for almost 3 months without shopping for the basics. We hav pantry eating month where we eat all the food and become creative. I have 6 boys and we have one in diapers. I usually have to shop weekly for things like bread, milk, and fresh fruit. other than that we refused to go. It is feasiable to get your budget where you want it. I am looking forward to see how this turns out.

  17. Hi there! I’m Anita and I feed a family of 3 (me and 2 kids) on $200 a month. This is a challenge, considering that 1) I live in one of the most expensive places in the US (San Fran Bay) and 2) we follow a strict Paleo Diet (no grains/no processed foods/no dairy). People are always amazed that I can feed my kids a whole-foods diet on such a small amount of money.

    Last Fall, I decided to start writing my own blog, Paleo on a Budget, to help those in the paleo community to see that yes, it is possible to eat Paleo while keeping costs down.

    I’m not sure how HH likes links in comments (I hope I dont’ get banned!) but I wanted to pass on a couple of my posts that you might find helpful:

    Making Paleo Affordable:


    Whole Foods on a Budget

    I look forward to updates on this challenge!

  18. Terri Hanenkamp says:

    Awesome suggestions! I feel like I don’t have that much to add, but another comment made me think of this. One way we keep our dinner costs down is to plan at least one pasta night a week, and at least one breakfast for dinner. Pasta is very inexpensive and filling, as are eggs. Homemade pancakes, waffles, etc are also very cheap. That’s two meatless meals right there. Another meal with beans would really stretch your dollars. For example, we love this refried bean recipe: I double or triple it and freeze extras. These make excellent burritos, tostados, etc and cost only pennies per serving!

  19. I find that if I put my grocery money in an envelope and spend cash, it is much easier to stay within my budget. We rarely buy juice, soda is purchased on sale, and we do not buy conveninece item; I love my crockpot and use it at least once a week inorder to use less expensive cuts of meat and to cook the dried beans that are so inexpensive.

  20. Well, it seems as though everything I thought of was said above! There are some savvy and wonderful readers on this blog. 😉

    There are 5 of us, and we also live in NC.

    The biggest thing (that popped out at me, anyway) in this description was WalMart x’s 3.
    I think I only hit Walmart once a month. Sam’s once a month, and Aldi once a month as well. Otherwise, I also take the time to hit Kroger on Tuesday nights (my picked night, any weeknight would do) after I put the kids to bed & my sweetheart decides to do some work. I scour the store for manager’s specials on grains, produce, meats, and dairy. I try to stay to under $20 there…sometimes I hit $25. Last time, I came home with lamb, yogurt, baby artichokes, and some discounted bread–oh, and grapefruit due to it being on sale. I hit $19.97 (without coupons). Score! We ate very well that week, and didn’t break the budget. Plus, it’s my “date night” with myself.

  21. Go to Wal-mart only once a week and take cash. Start w/$80 per week. Challenge yourself & refuse to make meals for more than $10/day, leaving $10 wk for toiletries. (Eventually make it $75 week, etc.) Refuse to buy anything that is NOT ON SALE 🙂
    Think simple meals for now. No elaborate cooking until the prices are in-line & no expensive snacking.
    Blessings to you.

  22. Philothea @ Domestic Distractions says:

    Lauren, good luck. I’m sure you can do this.

    Cut down to one shopping day per week. Use a menu plan for all meals, not just dinners.

    What are you always running short on? Dinners? Lunch foods? Snacks? If you have the basics on hand of eggs, flour and milk, you can make pancakes for just about any meal.

    Coupons are nice if they’re for items you use anyway. Don’t buy things just because you have a coupon.

    Try to find a discount grocer (we have Aldi and Save-a-Lot) and use it as your main grocery store. Shop at the retail grocer only for items you can’t get at the discount store.

  23. I’m not sure what the grocery store options are in your area but in my area food prices are surprisingly expensive. I am in western Arkansas and Walmart dominates. We have very few options on cutting food bills. Possibly you are in the same boat. I have found that Aldis prices are less than WM but even our Aldis prices are high. I paid about $2.75 for a gallon of milk this week at Aldis – WM wanted $3.08. My mom lives in central TN and her Aldis prices are much cheaper. That said, I still shop at Aldis b/c it’s less than WM. Look for a bread store. We have an awesome Hostess bread store than often sells loaves of bread for $0.59 to $0.88 per loaf. They also put “treats” on sale to keep the kids happy. Of course, when the good stuff is gone, they have to wait until payday for more (we are also paid oam). Check out your local butcher. WM is so high here that the local butcher charges less than WM for ground chuck and boneless skinless chicken breasts. He is even selling free range organic whole fryers for $2.98 per pound. I use Sams oam for roasts and stew meat to change things up a bit. Steak rarely happens around here. Would have to be an awesome deal or special occasion.

    I understand your frustration. I feel like I do everything I can but being honest with myself, there is more I can do. However, doing more requires putting up with the whines of picky children who don’t want to eat cheap food. They want what the other kids bring in their lunchboxes. They want chips and soda and processed food. I also know what my husband likes and sometimes it’s the more expensive stuff.

    There are a few special things I like for myself – that only I like. I try to use my own spending cash to cover those items and not the grocery money since those are treats to myself. My husband likes diet coke a lot so I often ask him to buy that himself with his own cash.

    Good luck. I can’t wait to see how this makeover turns out.

  24. I’ve found that a fully stocked pantry helps to save money. If you don’t have to purchase the base ingredients you use each for meal that is one less thing you have to buy. I stock up on a lot of my staples during the holiday’s. I collect as many coupons as I can for things like stock, canned beans, canned tomatoes, cream of chicken and cream of mushroom soup. I have a cart full of these things but I pay very little for them and I’m set until the next sale. I also stock up on pasta when I can get it free with a sale and coupon. It’s also nice to be able to just go to the pantry when I run out of something like mayo. It’s a little bit of an expense to get your pantry stocked but it saves money in the long run. I also have my freezer stocked with Freezer Meals. Frozen taco meat ready can be quickly defrosted and reheated in the microwave and thrown into hard taco shells or defrosted tortillas. This has saved us from stopping and spending money at fast food restaurants. Once a month freezer cooking has saved me time, money, and sanity. Once a month mom has a lot of really good freezer recipes.

  25. Try cutting your shopping trips down to once a week and look around at other stores- Walmart doesn’t always have the cheapest items. Are there any food co-ops of Good Food Baskets you can join to cut the cost of your fresh fruit and veggies? Learning to cook your favourite meals form scratch can save the eating out costs and try trimming down the portion sizes you eat.

    Good luck- I’m excited for you!

  26. Like everyone else said, shop just once a week. Also, plan your meals for the week before shopping. You can try making at least one meatless meal a week and 2 meals that use meat as an ingredient not the main focus. Good luck!

  27. Cash only has been a huge help for me. Also trying to stock up at the end of the month (or your budget period) when items are on sale. Try to save a few dollars each week and use the leftover at the end of the month for stock up items. Make sure you aren’t stocking up before then and overspending. When I make my grocery list–I make a note of about how much each item costs too–then I start crossing off items when I have reached my budget. This doesn’t really take much time. AND I am not shocked when the cashier rings up my total. Sometimes it helps me to not stick too much to a menu–for example, allow yourself $5 for fresh fruit and get what looks best and is on sale. Same with meat and veggies. This way you don’t overspend because one certain item you need has gone up in price, or the store is out of the one brand of apples that was on sale. For us, we do a meat and two veggies/fruits for the evening meal at least a couple of times a week, this keeps it flexible for us. Also, it’s great to see that strawberries are super cheap one week and I can actually go ahead and get them without spending more than I planned.

  28. Here are some of my recommendations:
    1. Stop shopping at Wal-Mart. Sales at grocery stores will ALWAYS beat WM prices.
    2. Find a favorite grocery and learn it and love it. I’m in SC. I love Harris Teeter and BiLo. You might have those. Find one that doubles coupons.
    3 Find one blog that covers deals in your local areas. They do all the sale/coupon matching for you. For our area, I use
    4. Stockpile. It will take 6 weeks or so to build this. If you aren’t familiar with the concept, southern savers has great getting started guides.
    5. Shop once a week. Once per sale cycle is all you need.

    Good luck. You can do it!!!!

  29. I just learned so much in the last 15 minutes reading all of these comments than I feel like I learned all day 🙂 I’ve been interested in coupon shopping and stockpiling and got some really great tips! Thanks peeps! Good luck Lauren. I look forward to seeing how things go and to learning more. Cheers!

  30. mercedes shea says:

    for our family of 5, I also spend way too much at the store……one way i do notice i can spend less, is if i leave the husband and kids at home! the hubbys always rushing me, so i do a grab and run, without really figuring out prices…and the kids are picking out things we dont need, throwing them in….that said, they do have very limited diets, and will only eat certain things.(most nights i cook 2-3 different dinners) they have autism, and it plays havoc…the tips here are very good tho, i have enjoyed reading them! good luck…..i think right now we spend about 700 a month, hopefully i can get my bill down too!

  31. There are so many great ideas here! Definitely try to cut back on your trips to Walmart. I have a family of four (one of which is a preteen boy). To keep the grocery bill manageable, I plan out a month’s worth of meals at a time. Lunch and Dinner. We typically have cereal for breakfast, so I just stock up on that whenever it goes on sale.

    It may seem overwhelming, but think of it like a puzzle. Make a list of your family’s favorite meals and then plug them into a calendar. Remember that you can switch things around according to whim through the month, but don’t deviate from the general meals on the calendar. Remember, if you come across an awesome recipe that you just have to try– there’s always next month! Bookmark it or make a note and work it in the next month.

    Some ideas for meals on the cheap: spaghetti, tacos, chicken fajitas, roast chicken, grilled chicken, chopped steak, salisbury steak, shrimp and grits, homemade pizza… Try to stay away from things where you’ll have to buy one ingredient just for that recipe. If you can use it more than once, it is fair game.

    After you’ve made your list of 30 meals, make a list of every single thing you will need to prepare those meals. Then, take your list to your freezer and pantry and mark off the items you already have. It helps if your pantry is well-organized! Think of it like a store and group like items together.

    Finally, go to the store. Buy all the non-perishables that you need for the month, as well as enough produce and dairy for the week. Try to use frozen veggies in dishes and keep fruit and veggies on hand for snacks and lunch. But, only buy what you need. Don’t buy a whole bag of apples for a family of three… a handful of four or five will do, for instance. Just buy what you’ll consume fresh produce-wise in that week. No more. Unless, of course, you’re well versed in freezing and using up before it goes bad.

    For bread, do you have any bread stores in your area? I shop their discount table and buy delicious whole-grain bread for $1.39 a loaf. I go on and buy 3 loaves at the beginning of the month and freeze all but one. I also buy our bagels here for $1 a bag and, sometimes, some processed cookies and crackers if they are on deep discount. But, be sure to freeze whatever you won’t use in a day or two. Divide loafs into freezer bags if necessary. Thawed bread tastes just fine and, if you don’t like the texture, can be easily toasted.

    For snacks, either buy large packages and split into kid-size baggies, or don’t buy them at all. I don’t know if you stay home or have a lot of time, but it is quite easy to bake your family’s snacks. Or, feed them raisins, lol. Popcorn is cheap, too. Stay away from the cookie aisle. It isn’t worth it.

    For meat, I buy mine at Sam’s Club. I buy the biggest package of lean ground beef they have (10 lbs) and the largest pack of chicken breast they have. Then I take them home and split them into freezer bags. I estimate, but you could use a scale. Beef is packaged at home in .75 lb bags and chicken is packaged into baggies with 1.5 breasts. That really is plenty of meat for a family of four. Meat stretches pretty easily, if you don’t bring attention to the skimpiness 😉 Stay away from steaks and roasts and the such, unless it is a Sunday meal or special occasion. Take that hamburger and make chopped steak, tacos, spaghetti, meatball subs, beef stroganoff, and so much more. The chicken can be cut into pieces for chicken tenders, grilled chicken, chicken salad, baked, broiled, or fried chicken. Yum!

    Finally, at the beginning of each week, take a look at your meal plan and your produce stock and go buy only the perishables you will need for the week. Ex. milk and apples, bananas, pears, etc. If you MUST replenish something that your family cannot live without (if your hubby is an oreo-addict for instance), do so now. Don’t go shopping in the middle of the week for anything. Make do with what you have and your plan will eventually become more and more concise.

    Good luck. I don’t pretend to be supermom or have all the answers, but I hope my tips will help you guys at least a little. Grocery shopping on a budget can be difficult, but it can also be very rewarding as you feed your family whole foods without breaking the bank.

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