Grocery Budget Makeover: Susan’s Family

The grocery budget makeover challenge has begun! Thank you so much to every one of you who applied to participate in this challenge, I wish I didn’t have to pick just a few families. Over the next few days you will meet our families and learn why they need a grocery makeover. During the month of March these families will track their grocery/ eating out/ take out spending as well as where they shopped and the method of payment.

Grocery University One Day Sale
Tips for these families will be shared on the website, so even if you aren’t officially participating in the challenge you can still benefit from the tips. The folks at Grocery University are giving each participant a free a copy of Grocery University. This is an excellent course that will help you save money at the grocery store no matter where you live.

Now on to our first family.

Susan and her family of 6 live in Virginia. She works full-time outside of the home and estimates they spend about $1200 a month of groceries. She primarily shops at BJ’s and uses coupons occasionally.

Susan says:

My husband and I are trying desperately to pay down credit card bills we have incurred over the years for medical bills.  We will have two children (out of our five) in college in the next year or two and cannot afford to pay for any of it as of right now, not to mention our house needs several improvements (ie roof, flooring, etc) and we have no money for it. We have no savings and it scares me to think of “what if”. The only place we can truly cut back on is our grocery bill.

If you are a working mom and have helpful tips for Susan please leave them in the comments section. It is definitely hard to manage full-time work and grocery planning/ budgeting but it can be done! Let’s all help Susan and her family get her grocery budget under control so they can better fund other areas of their budget!

Disclosure: Participation in the Grocery Budget Challenge is voluntary. The family that decreases their spending by the greatest percentage during the month of April will win a $100 gift card.


  1. Ok, you are going to have to change your eating habits. $1200!!!! I wish I had that to spend. We are a family of 5 living on $100 max per week on groceries!!! I shop organic when possible and local. I buy most of my meats (ground beef, chicken, sometimes pork chops) and veggies from the farmers market. We don’t have meat every day…. Breakfast is typically oatmeal (store brand organic big container, not single serve packets) or scrambled eggs and toast (you could mix in a bit of salsa or brocolli, but not much), Lunch is PB&J, Mac&Cheese. For dinner it is rice, beans, meat, or spagetti, shepards pie, make your own pizza, or soup. Soups and chillis are great low cost and they can last you quite a few meals. We mostly make our own bread, you can keep it basic water, bread flour and yeast, we also make our own dough for the pizza. We drink juice rarely it is mostly water and I do purchase milk for coffee, or cereal (which we don’t have much of) Stay away from buying processed foods, pretty much anything with a label that is not a single ingredient. For snacks we have air popped pop corn, apples,bananas, celery or carrot sticks, with pb or ranch to dip. Insted of yogurt, milk or smoothies you can purchase kefir if you are looking for dairy. And remember the way were were ment to eat….. Eat food, just a little, mostly plants…. You can save over half of what you are spending if you stick to this plan.

  2. One of the best things that I have incorporated into our home is a weekly meal plan. When I grocery shop for that week, I am only picking up specific items that I know that I am going to need. Also some meals can easily be made into double portions, allowing one meal for the evening and the other for the freezer for the upcoming weeks. These are a few tips that has really helped to cut our grocery budget.

  3. the first thing that comes to mind is menu planning. You will find if you cook more from scratch you will save money. Can you get the older two involved? Maybe it could be their job to read the grocery sale ads and coupon match to maximize your dollar. Shopping at BJ’s is convenient, but not the cheapest. do you have an aldi’s or save a lot in your area? Their grocery prices are cheaper and you don’t have to buy the huge amounts that you do at Bj’s. Also in our area the local butcher has the lowest meat prices. You are cutting out the “middle man” when you buy from them directly. I usually buy in bulk and this saves money as well. Good Luck!

  4. One thing that would be very helpful in giving advice would be if we could see a sample receipt/shopping list for one shopping trip (along with an idea of how long of a time we’re talking about). Or maybe a list of what was served for a week? Also, does this grocery trip include things like laundry detergent, cleaning supplies, etc? (I keep those in my grocery budget, but I know some people keep those separate)

    It sounds to me from the cost we’re talking about like you’re using a lot of convenience foods, though. One thing I’ve done a few times to keep cost down is to look through the convenience foods, but not purchasing anything. I looked and said “hmmm… frozen burritos… What did they put in those?” Then, I went through the aisles, bought some tortillas, ground beef, refried beans and salsa. When I went home, over the weekend, I cooked the ground beef and assembled the burritos, then stuck them all in the freezer. There’s my convenience food. I did it at a fraction of the cost of the burritos in the freezer aisle, and usually my version is healthier. You can do this with the boxed rice mixes as well.

    Another great option is to buy in bulk. Can you buy a big 50 lb bag of rice instead of 10 5 lb bags? If so, that’s usually going to be a better deal (although for other things, bulk isn’t always better). I usually buy my rice at least 25lb at a time, and I get great prices for it. You can either get a large cheap tupperware type of container, or if you can find a 4-gallon or 6-gallon food-grade bucket, that’s a great place to store it.

    Also, see how unprocessed you can buy things. I buy wheat at less than 5$ per 25 lbs. I have a wheat grinder that can grind enough wheat for a loaf of bread in less than 2 minutes. Those two minutes just saved me 20$ compared to buying whole wheat flour (in my area, whole wheat flour is usually 5$/5 lbs.

    I’ll admit that I’m currently a SAHM, but I started doing this when I was working 60+ hours per week before my daughter was born. It wasn’t easy, and I wasn’t nearly as consistent as I wish I’d been, but honestly, every time I did manage to use these tips, I saved money.

    • TheHappyHousewife says:

      The families participating will be sharing their shopping lists and receipts from March. This month they are tracking their spending, and then in April the challenge begins.

  5. Rhonda Hall says:

    Load up the crockpot early in the morning and let it cook for you…Some inexpensive foods to put in crockpot are veggie soup, chili, roast, potatoes, carrots, chicken and noodles ect…
    Then on the stove cooking:: big batches of speghetti, goulash, sloppy joes with veggies…
    Snacks would be: Rice krispies squares (girls could make these), jello, pudding with bananas…ect…

  6. Well, I am a SAHM mom,but if I wasn’t I would simply shop at Aldi’s. I shop there now, but if I also do cut coupons and pick up other stuff at the grocery store. We have Amelia’s in our area and that would be another great place to save money without having to cut coupons. I buy 5lbs of Gold Medal Whole wheat for 99cents.

    We are a family of 6 and typically spend $400/month on groceries/cleaning/toiletries. I do cook a lot from scratch…but if I gave that up and simply shopped Aldi’s you could still do it for much less than $1200.

    OH and make sure you give up convenience packed snacks. Buy a bag of pretzels and put them in small containers instead.

  7. I have a very busy schedule and am out of the house during dinner prep time at least three nights per week. My crockpot saved our dinner budget! For your family, a six-quart model would be best. You can make whole chickens (freeze the bones for chicken stock later), yummy soups and chilis, “roast” potatoes with garlic, all kinds of tasty foods.

    Your library probably has a few slow cooker cookbooks available – this is a great way to test-drive a cookbook to see if the recipes suit your family. Here are my favorites (I think I own 7!).

    Make it Fast, Cook it Slow
    The Idiot’s Guide to Slow Cooking (tip: many recipes call for pre-broiling or pre-sauteeing certain ingredients…if the sauce or liquid will turn all the food one color, I don’t brown or pre-broil)
    More Make it Fast, Cook it Slow

    Cooking dried beans from scratch is much cheaper than buying cans (especially in high-end stores). I have found that using the boil for two minutes, then let stand one hour method of pre-soaking works better for me because the beans cook faster. The whole process takes about 2.5 hours – you could do this while preparing dinner, then divide up the beans for future use (I freeze half to use later). (Tip: If you put the beans into freezer bags, then put the bags into flat-bottomed plastic containers while the beans freeze, they are easier to store because they end up flat on top and bottom. Once the beans are frozen, you can take the bags out of the containers.)

  8. Susan,
    Batch cooking saves so much time and money for me. When you make a casserole, make 3 or 4 and put the extras in the freezer. It doesn’t take much extra time. Cook a huge roast, season and shred the meat and package up several meal’s worth for your freezer. Soups and chilis are great to freeze as well.

    I have done the cook 30 days worth in one day plan, but it is exhausting and the above method works really well.

    I love the cookbook called Cheap, Fast,Good by Mills and Ross. It is “275 delicious, thrifty, family friendly recipes.” There are sections about menu planning, shopping, etc. Really great tool!

  9. I will be following your family very closely since we are very similar. My teenage son makes up the difference in # of kids (we have 3). I cook soup in the crockpot every weekend then freeze it to take for my lunches – I work approx.45 hours a week. I also make homemade pizzas, hot pockets, & burritos to freeze as convenience foods. We almost never order out & have cut our food budget in half… to $1,100 a month (does include cleaning products). I’ll be trying the tips you get as well!

  10. This is going to go against a lot of what other people have said, but rather than finding the cheapest grocery store, focus on finding the most convenient one and really make it work for you. Depending on where you live in Virginia, you can get some good deals on grocery delivery, which will save you time and energy. I’m in NoVa, and have used Peapod by Giant and there’s also Safeway that delivers here. Both of these companies will take coupons, plus at least the first two times you get them delivered, you get free delivery plus usually some money-off savings or free items as well. They have convenient sections where you can just buy from the items on sale that week (if they have chickens on sale really cheap, stock up and freeze a few to use in the coming weeks; the next week, it will be beef or pork on sale, etc.), and then match up your coupons with the items before you click “order.” Then in between the weeks where you order from one of these services, just do “maintenance” shopping, picking up things you need like fresh produce and dairy and maybe bread. You’ll wind up with one expensive week followed by a cheap week, which will reduce your overall costs a lot, plus you’ll get used to shopping the sales cycles. And since you’re getting groceries delivered sometimes, you don’t have to do an overwhelming shopping trip – especially not one with kids along. That’s what has worked best for me – it may not get you down to $400/month, like some of the other posters, but it should cut your grocery budget in half without too much effort!

  11. I find that BJs, Costco, Sam’s is not always cheap on their prices. I often find fruits and vegetables are significantly cheaper at my local supermarket. I purchase alot of my vegetables from an Asian market by me. If you have an Asian market nearby, it is really worth looking into. They are often cheaper for rice as well.

    You might also assess what types of groceries you are purchasing and see if you can switch to a generic brand. Are you purchasing your vegetables and meats already cut, if so consider doing that yourself at home or teach your older children to do it for you. Are you purchasing thin cut chicken breasts instead of the regular chicken breast? In my area (Central, NJ) thin cut chicken breast are $4.99/LB where as the regular chicken breast are $1.79 – $1.99LB (on sale), I stock up and just pound them thin myself for cutlets.

  12. Michele says:

    Plan, plan, and plan some more. Meal plan works the best. If you only start with dinners it is a start. I have been a single working mom of 3 for most of the time my kids were growing up. It is worth it to find an hour a week to compare sales, coupons, and plan meals. Also, start with the budget you would like to have and work with it. You will have many adjustments,but if you want your food budget to be $100 a week see how far you can get with just that amount. Good luck!

  13. Save every last bit of food from meals. Freeze whatever you can. For example, if you have a half a cup of leftover cooked oatmeal, it can be put in the freezer and included in banana muffin batter on the weekend. One chicken nugget? No problem…the next time you make a casserole chop it up and throw it in. I know it sounds weird, but trust me. I have made many many clean-out-the-freezer pasta dishes.

  14. kelliinkc says:

    Ok, I may have missed it, but I have to ask. This 1200$ spent on food is groceries only? Or this includes eating out whether drive through or dine in? and cleaning products/toiletries?

  15. Michelle says:

    The best thing to start is write a list of favorite meals. Write all ingredients needed for each meal (can be on an index card). Then do a meal plan for the week. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Lunches can be as simple as PB&J’s for the school kids, cut up apples, a couple of cookies. Check into freezer cooking. You don’t have to do a whole month in one day, but you can make muffins (easy breakfasts) and freeze for later, breakfast burritos/ McMoms, french toast, waffles, pancakes. You can freeze PB&J as long as both sides are PB with jelly in the middle. Google OAMC, freezer cooking, freezer plans, meal plans. I know I saw a woman on TV earlier this year that planned out a whole YEAR of suppers! Too much for me to do, but it works for her. Crockpots are a working moms best friend! You can prep the night before then put it on low before you leave for work. Even if you just make up sloppy joe meat, taco meat, spaghetti sauce, mini meatloaves (easier to defrost and cook), meatballs, you’re that much closer to a finished supper!

  16. I was a working mom. 40-60 hour weeks, including up to 3 days of travel a week, believe me I feel your pain. That said there are many, many ways to trim that number down.
    1) the crockpot is your servant and works best when turned on…I would prep a meal the evening before and part of the prep included a sticky note on the door I exited in the morning with “CROCK POT!” written on it.
    2) Friday night “dates” with Chrissy Crockpot (yes, I named my servants after leading a Bible study on Proverbs 31) I would prep a chicken to roast overnight on Friday night and when I woke up on Saturday morning, I would pick the bird apart and store in recipe size packages and freeze. I would then start the broth immediately (or it never seemed to get done) and it can be done without washing the crockpot between!
    3) Saturday mornings were brunch for the family. This worked since I am by nature an early riser…so muffins, french toast, pancakes, and the like were made on Saturday mornings and the “leftovers” were individually wrapped for use on the run during the week.
    There are tons of little tips and tricks I did to make it work for us, I should write a series of on this….just might dust off the old blogweb and do that! 😀

  17. Thanks for all of the tips. Just to clarify, the $1200 includes all HBA, paper products & eating out. I have been dabbling in freezer cooking recently and cooking from scratch more (just made the best cinnamon rolls last night!). I try to cook enough for dinner, so that hubby & I will have leftovers for lunch the next day. I’ve been really good about only shopping once a week, to avoid impulse purchases, however it seems like I can never seem to shave off enough from the bill. Our biggest vices are Dr. Pepper and pre-packaged snacks for the kids lunches 🙁

  18. You have a great asset in those girls. Gather them together, put on some fun music, and create a production line to make freezer meals. Gets done faster, and actually creates some fun memories.

  19. I discovered that my regular grocery store (safeway) will cut any meat for you and put the same sticker back on. This means I buy an giant long pork loin on sale for $1.99 a pound instead of loin chops for $3.99 a pound. But I ask the butcher to cut it for me. The I can request the be a roast, some chops and about a pound cut super thin for stir fry. He does and sticks the original $1.99/lb sticker back on. Awesome!
    Meal Planning and pre-prep has really worked for us. Cooking and chopping chicken in bulk then freezing 2 cup portions has made it easy to throw together dinner on a day I’m frazzled. We eat less meat because if you say 3 people have to share a chicken breast they will feel cheated, but if it’s shredded or cubed they don’t even realize only 2 breasts made a meal for 6.

  20. Hi Susan,

    One thing we have tried and switched to is called Minute Menu’s .com. They put together a weekly menu for you (recipes included), a shopping list and then you can choice in a round about way which store you want your menu from. They have stores listed and if you choose those, from my understanding the menu matches the items on sale for that week. None of the stores are in my area so I choose the any store option. It costs $5 a month and let me tell you, it changed the way my family eats. All recipes are simple and ALOT healthier than what we were eating. Not every receipe is a favorite but that is alright when I’m only paying that much for a great service. I think we spend for a family of 6 $150 a week and this includes all the extra’s-tp, paper towels, cleaning, detergent, etc. Take a look and see what you think!

  21. Here are a few small tips. I also work full time. We have a 4 person household and I am the only girl. My boys eat a ton and I spend about 450.00 per month and that includes Friday night pizza night. 1. I never buy pre packaged snacks for lunch boxes. 2. Never use a coupon just bc you have it. If you don’t need the product, skip it. 3. The last week of every month is our “use what we have” week. I dig in the freezers and pantry and fridge and get creative! 4. Crock pot and home made freezer meals are a lifesaver for the working mom. 5. Try to train the kids (and hubby) to rephrase the “we have no food in this house” line to “we don’t have anything I have the taste for. ” I have found that they look into a packed pantry and can’t find anything. Really?

    Good luck! This is a great challenge!

  22. Nancy M says:

    I have some ideas that hopefully you find useful. I am very much looking forward to the results of your efforts in helping your family. WTG!

    1. As far as prepackaged snacks, try doing a bit of the packaging yourself. Buy a tray of Oreos and divide them into snack size bags. This works for chips, cookies, veggies, candy, etc. I find that I am better at doing this when I buy the groceries and it’s something that kids can help with.

    2. When shopping, menu planning is huge. It really is. I find it best to plan my week’s menu based on the circular of my particular grocery store. If chicken is on sale, I know that I will be having more chicken recipes on my menu. This works well for veggies too. If bell peppers are on sale, we will have fajitas. Squash means pasta primavera or stir fry.

    3. As you learn more about couponing, you will learn the value of stockpiling when the price is right. When chicken goes on sale, I buy 3 or 4 packages and divide it up into meal size portions. A little time, freezer paper, and some freezer bags can take the 3 packages and turn it into 5 or 6 meals. Nothing is wasted. If you have to have Dr. Pepper, pay attention to when it goes on sale at your store. Mine is usually every other week so I buy 2 weeks worth at a time.

    4. Definitely look into once-a-month cooking and crockpot meals. These are not strategies that I can claim I follow consistently but every once in a while, it’s nice to make a stockpile of food, especially for weeks where I have something big going on and time is of the essence. Crock pots are definitely friendly to the budget because a little forethought keeps you from having to stop by fast food because you don’t have time to make dinner.

  23. A lot of people have said that they include cleaning products in their grocery budget. A great way to save on those is to make your own. Just get some vinegar, baking soda, and borax and you can clean anything. You can google recipes online to find how to make all sorts of different sprays.

  24. I am curious… what kind of pre-packaged snacks do your kids like? Is it something you can make? I used to make homemade “lunchables” because that’s what the other kids had. Eventually the other kids were offering to trade 🙂 I also make muffins for school snacks.

  25. Tahoe Dave says:

    We are a family of 5, two at 16 and one at 12 yrs old.
    I cannot even imagine only spending $400 PER MONTH
    or even $600 per month, or $800.
    With Groceries, Fast Food, Cleaning Supplies and not
    eating out for dinner, we are running at about
    $300-$400 PER WEEK,
    We do not want to make our own cleaning supplies,
    nor do we have time with both of us working to
    find coupons and such . . . any suggestions . . . ???

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