Q&A: Can we survive on a $400 monthly grocery budget?

400-Monthly-Grocery-Budget

My husband and I have set a goal to try to save $1000 per month in 2014. We have decided to allot ourselves $400 per month for groceries for our family of 3 (we have one 12 year old son) as one way to free up money to put toward our savings goal.

Here is my question…can we do it? I have been couponing for around two years now, so I know the ropes, but $400 isn’t that much!

I hope you have some insight on how to stretch that budget even further! Do you have any words of wisdom for this goal we have made for the year? -Nicole

I think this is a great question, Nicole. And I really admire your commitment to living on less so that you can put money in savings! Way to go on making short-term sacrifices for long-term benefits!

Here’s my advice on how to stick with $400 per month grocery budget:

1. Stay Committed

Your attitude in approaching this goal will go a long way toward your success.

If you wake up every day with a can-do, committed, creative attitude, you are probably going to be able to stick with your $400 per month budget — and you may find that it’s not terribly difficult to do so!

If, on the other hand, you go into each day feeling discouraged and miserable, feeling frustrated by your “limited” budget, you’re probably going to struggle and possibly even burn out.

Decide that it’s possible. Choose to have a great attitude about it. And then start viewing your $400 monthly budget as a challenge… to see how well you can eat on how little.

You can do it; I know you can! I’m cheering for your success!

How to Save Money at the Grocery Store

2. Use Cash

I highly recommend that you take out your $400 monthly grocery budget in cash at the beginning of each month. Then, just bring about $100 worth of cash with you to the store when you shop. Leave your cards and checkbook at home.

This might sound militant, but it’s one of the best ways to ensure that you actually follow your budget. Because when the money’s gone, the money’s gone.

I’ve found that it’s helpful to bring a calculator with me to the store (or use one on my phone) and to type in the prices of items as I add them to my cart. That way, I know exactly how much my total is and don’t end up overspending.

In addition, when I only bring cash to the store, it forces me to really evaluate each purchase as I add it to my cart. I often ask myself questions like, “Do I need this? Is there a less expensive alternative? Is this a good use of our budget?”

How to Save Money at the Grocery Store

3. Get Creative

There are so many, many ways to lower your grocery budget and still eat well. I’ve written extensively about these in my 31 Days to a Better Grocery Budget series, but here are a few of my favorite ways to save money on groceries:

  • Plan A Menu — This is Money-Saving 101 advice, I know. But it’s imperative to actually have a plan for what you’re going to eat if you want to eat on a budget! Once you get the hang of planning and following a menu, start looking at your store’s sale fliers and plan your menu based upon what’s on sale at the store and what you already have on hand.
  • Eat From the Pantry — Challenge yourself to see how long you can go without going to the store! It’s amazing how this will usually inspire you to come up with meals with what you already have on hand, even if you feel like “there’s nothing here to eat!” Check the nooks and crannies of your cupboards, refrigerator, and freezer. Type in the ingredients you have and don’t have on the Ingredient Search Feature on AllRecipes.com and it will generate a list of recipe ideas for you based upon what you already have on hand.
  • Buy in Bulk — Look into bulk prices on staple items you regularly use. Check out bulk rates for these items on Amazon.com, Vitacost, at places like Sam’s Club/Costco, or through a bulk buying co-op such as Azure Standard. If you want to get the bulk rate but don’t think you’ll use all of the item, consider splitting up the purchase with a friend or two so you all benefit from the bulk pricing without having a massive amount of an item.
  • Eliminate the Expensive — Look through your grocery receipts and see what your most expensive purchases are. Are there ways to eliminate purchasing this item altogether, ways to get it for less, or cheaper alternatives?
  • Cook From Scratch — As much as is possible, cook and bake things from scratch. Save yourself time and effort by doing a little freezer cooking each week and tripling batches of things you’re already making. When you have meals or parts of meals at-the-ready in the freezer, it’s amazing how much this will speed up your meal preparation time — and will just make you feel so much more organized!

4. Keep Tweaking

Challenge yourself to implement one new money-saving idea or tactic every 4-6 weeks. This encourages you to always be looking for new ways to save, but it makes it much more manageable than trying to overhaul your grocery budget overnight!

If a money-saving trick or tactic just doesn’t work well for your family, guiltlessly move onto the next idea. Not every idea will work for every family. Find out what works best for you and your family!

What advice and suggestions do the rest of you have for Nicole?

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Comments

  1. Amanda says

    I have 6 kids and are bill is right around 100$ a week. Cooking from scratch is a good way. It can sound scary but waffles are easy and only take about five minute to make from scratch. The best advice I have is manager specials at the grocery store ie meat can be half price use a coupon with it and it’s next to nothing. My store puts bread, produce and dairy on sale at 8 pm all who’s expiration have about a week on them. I try to go to the store around that time. One hint on keeping thing lively take cheaper items and jazz them up like grill cheese – add a slice of bacon lettuce and tomato ( got the idea from a new restaurant) or use ham and Swiss cheese! Still cheaper than a “meat meal” but still as filling.

  2. Laurie says

    I purchased a rechargeable visa from my local Fry’s store. I load my grocery budget for the month on it. I earn 3x points which helps me save on gas. It also keeps me from going over my budget. I hate having to to leave a cart full of groceries or pay more. There is a $3 fee if I load with cash but worth the savings. And I never step into my grocery store without a list and coupons.

    • sammie says

      Cash is my go to right now because I have to stop and think and it is more painful to hand over a $20 rather than swipe my card but I may have to consider the visa, especially if it earns me points towards gas. Thanks for the idea!

  3. sammie says

    Cooking from the pantry is key for us plus it gives me the chance to be creative in the kitchen. I am starting to cook from scratch and learning to make homemade bread. Meat is expensive so I use a lot of beans for protein and they are usually 3/$2. One expense we can’t cut is fresh produce but we cut in all other areas.

    • Jill says

      Check your local library for “Artisan Bread in Five minutes a Day”. I tried homemade bread somany times, but just couldn’t keep it up because the recipes were time consuming (I work outside the house full time). The Five Minutes a Day recipes make it really easy- we’ve been using almost all homemade bread for about a year now!

  4. Anna says

    Congratulations on your decision to save. You can definitely do it on that budget. We feed between 10 to 11 people on $500 a month. We go to the store about twice a month; so a list is definitely a must. Also, always eat prior to shopping, it is much easier not to be tempted to make impulse purchases that are not necessary if you are not hungry. Cash is great. I try to put up a reserve of $100 for bread and milk toward the middle of the month, but purchase most of the other supplies at the first part of the month. We also cook virtually everything from scratch and avoid most boxed cereals. We grow a garden and can as much as we are able as well. We occasionally have a baked potato night and skip the meat. Blessings in your adventure.

  5. Patti says

    Yes, it can be done with planning. Have a hungry husband and football playing son. I do meal stacking and freezer to crock pot meals. I picked out 30 meals I thought my family would like and made a master list of groceries I would need and kept a tally of an item if it was needed in multiple recipes. Then I had a list of staples (things usually found in pantry ie flour, brown sugar…) I separated list into dry & canned goods and fresh veggies, fruits, dairy and meat. My 16 year old son took one list and I took other. We had shopping done in no time. Took a few hours when I got home to do the cutting chopping and compiling meals into gallon sized bags. Labeled them first. Then I cook breakfast, eat leftovers for lunch or have a sandwich. It can be done, I do it every month. Good luck with it.

  6. says

    Good luck! There is already loads of great advice here and I haven’t had a chance to read all of the comment so this may have already come up, but The Prudent Homemaker is full of sensible advice, ideas, inspiration and recipes/menu plans for living on a tight budget. She feeds her family for under a dollar a meal. There was also an article posted here at MoneySavingMom about a year ago about living off $365 (I think) a week. Not only was Crystal’s response great but the comments were very helpful too. You can do it! Think of it as a great adventure and you’ll actually find it fun and rewarding.

  7. says

    I’ve read through the first group of comments but I haven’t made my way through the entire list. Perhaps this has already been posted, but I thought I would throw it out there.

    I hear all the time that vegetarian cooking is the “way to go” for cheaper meals and that’s true! But, I think many are stumped after that suggestion because as true as it might be, if YOU’RE not a vegetarian, where in the world do you start? Beans and rice might be cheap, but nobody wants to eat it if it doesn’t taste good. :-)

    We’ll I’ve been a vegetarian since a child, so that’s how I cook for my family. And I know how to make a vegetarian meal taste good. I’m sharing the recipe section to my blog, which has vegetarian recipes that are quick and easy (many containing only a few ingredients): http://theharrissisters.blogspot.com/search/label/recipes and many of them are crockpot recipes, which makes them even quicker and easier.

    When I do find a sale on chicken, hamburger meat, or bacon (the main meats that my husband knows how to cook), I stock up and freeze it. Usually one purchase of each of these three per year will last an entire year.

    One other tip that I have is to use what you have before it goes bad. I used to have issues with buying fresh fruits and veggies and then tossing half of them before we could eat them. Now, I assess what we have toward the end of the week and make sure to either eat, cook, or freeze them. I used to never think of freezing things that I had already bought fresh. But frozen fruit can be used in smoothies or baked goods. Frozen veggies can be used in soups. (And truth be told, when I find a good sale on cheese, I pop that in the freezer nowadays too! )

  8. ESLJoy says

    You can do it!!! Our family of 4 (plus company a couple times a week) eats on $250 a month, and that includes paper & cleaning supplies. I rarely cook a vegetarian supper, but I do cook a lot of meals that stretch the meat (stir fry, fried rice, soups, etc). Fresh fruits & veggies are also something we do not skimp on, but we do grow what we can. I hunt for bargains, cook from scratch, and we almost never eat out.

  9. angel says

    We just started using emeals.com. It gives you a weekly menu plan based on store deals. It is based on the number of people in family, which store you shop at, and dietary needs such as gluten free or low fat. It costs $58 a year for menus and shopping list, but it is Dave Ramsey approved, and it might be worth seeing if it could help with your budget.

  10. Sara says

    I have a family of 6 and my grocery budget is 400.00 a month. We make all home cooked meals and no processed box stuff. I make sure everything is eaten. This is usually no problem. I also coupon and play the drug store game. In the summer we grow a garden which really helps in the winter. I can whatever I can get my hands on. I make all of our jelly, fruits, veggies, bq sause, salsa, pizza sauce, and a huge list of other items. Some months I go over. But I always take Nov, Dec. off from grocery shopping (except for the necessities milk, eggs, and cheese.) It is hard but we do it. I do try and stay within a 1.00 a pound for meat. When things go on sale it is not uncommon for me to buy large amounts.

  11. says

    We have a $400 budget for myself, my husband and my grown son. I do almost everything you recommend, except I don’t make menus. Instead I just plan the next night’s meal while cleaning up from the current night’s meal. That gives me time to thaw out anything and get ready to cook the next day. I coupon and price match, and barter is a big thing with us also. I get free food many times from folks who have bought stuff then decide they don’t like it, so they pass it to me, and I make darn sure it’s not wasted. I do a produce co-op with a friend, and we get tons of fresh produce for very little money. Try Bountiful Baskets. Google them and fll in love!

  12. PossumPeg says

    One thing i have to keep in mind is that this isn’t just about my grocery bill. Its about my overall budget. I’ve had points in my life when eating out 7-10 times a week was normal and affordable. Situations have changed. So, I find that although the savings on my grocery bill are significant, the overall savings on my family budget is staggering!

    I think the biggest improvement to my grocery bill can be attributed to two things. 1. Shopping once a month. It eliminates impulse buys and forces meal planning. 2. Every meal is prepared in my kitchen, start to finish. I have found innumerable websites with recipes for “make your own” convenience mixes like pancake and sauces. When I make something, it’s rarely for one meal. Also, the meals are far healthier for my family.

    The most crucial part of the plan for me was getting the whole family on board. All you need is one person jamming their cheeks like a chipmunk and its easy to fail. We have decided to celebrate our savings by having a movie night once a month with a $1 rental, air popcorn and a bag of sweets. Costs us about $2.50 for a family of 5 with 2 growing boys.

    Good luck, and God bless.

    • Joan says

      You have to read this book, ‘Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half with America’s Cheapest Family: Includes So Many Innovative Strategies You Won’t Have to Cut Coupons’ by Steve and Annette Economides. I got tons of money saving ideas from this book!

  13. Kathy Ennis says

    I have a grocery budget of $250.00 a month making the weekly allotment $50 – $60 for my husband and I. If it weren’t for coupons and shopping the sales, we couldn’t make it. Some months it’s difficult, but some months I have a little left over for next month. Just takes a lot of time working the grocery ads and coupons…..but it’s worth it.

  14. Teresa Thompson says

    I wish someone would tell me how to control the grocery budget for 2 households when one is in another state. We are supporting our 2 sons while they are in college so they don’t have student loans. And they live in a state that charges tax on food. Not to mention food prices are much higher then in Texas. The one thing I have done is I buy as much food for them close to home and take it when I go see them. It saves money and I use coupons as much as I can. It drives me crazy knowing they have to pay nearly $5 for milk + tax. ugh. :) Thanks for your tips. Definitely planning to use some of them. Good luck sticking with your plan.

  15. Liz H. says

    We are currently on a $400 a month budget for 4 people. This includes one in diapers, and all cleaning supplies. I tried for a long time to plan before I went to the store, and I always spent more than I meant to that way. Now I split the budget between sections in the store. For instance if I was goung to spend 100 that week I would spend 25 on meat, 25 on dairy, 25 on produce, 10 on middle of the store fillers like rice or pasta, and 15 on paper products, or diapers.
    When I get home I plan around what I have. I always eat or freeze leftovers, so that money is not wasted. I also plan two meatless meals a week on average.
    I hope that helps.

  16. says

    I raised 4 children on a strict military income, no overtime, and I was a stay at home mom. I got a check once a month, no direct deposit then! Hubby at sea , I got $500 a month to cover car insurance , phone, clothing, food … Well everything had to bee within that budget! Rent and utilities, car payment were already paid.

    My adult daughter asked me one day,” Mom, how did you ever do it with 4 kids? I spend so much on food, with only 2 children.” We got a check once a month, so I had to learn to stretch it. Here’s what I did.

    On my calendar I wrote a menu for all meals and snacks. Then I counted up how many hamburger meat, cans of veggies, roasts, etc that I needed for the entire month. Made my shopping list, cut coupons , watched for sales and determined if my coupon was worth using or was another brand or store brand a better buy. I planned my menus around main meals and used left overs for another meal. Example: chicken dinner, then chicken soup next day. Sloppy joes then sloppy dogs next day … And so on. Desserts and snacks : I bought things that had to be cooked or baked like cakes and jello, puddings etc. One day of the week I would bake breads, cupcakes etc and freeze, then took out what we were having for the day. This saved kids over snacking and expenses. I bought fresh fruits but also canned for use alone or in desserts. Breakfast cereal was way expensive for me to feed 4 children every morning and the milk. So, I stretched things by cooking breakfast some days , kids LOVED that! Pancakes or waffles, eggs, toast … With milk or juice. I cooked from scratch. No prepared foods. Used cloth diapers too!

    Tip from a friend: she always froze left over vegetables, even if a teaspoon, she put them in freezer container and when she made soups or stews she’d pull out what she needed.

    Here’s a typical menu idea:
    Sunday dinner: roast chicken, potatoes, peas, corn, Dessert: fruit and jello
    Monday: homemade chicken noodle or chicken and veggie soup, rolls Dessert : cupcake
    Tues: pork chops , rice and veggies. Dessert: homemade pudding
    Weds: chili and cornbread Dessert: fruit cocktail
    Thurs: chili dogs dessert: Homemade fruit ice pops , made from fruit juice
    Friday: spaghetti , garlic bread and salad. Dessert: fresh, frozen or canned fruit
    Sat: homemade pizza , salad. Deseret: icecream

    It’s just my husband and I now but I still cook and shop this way. But now I make my own laundry soap too and my own goat milk soap.

  17. Heidi says

    think of meat as a flavor enhancer instead of the main attraction in every meal. (sauces, stir-fry, etc). Don’t forget eggs. They are cheap and a perfect protein. Google ‘crustless quiche’ , it’s an easy recipe where you throw everything in a blender, pour into a pie plate and bake. You can adapt what you add to it. We’ve fed a family of 7 on never more than $120 per week. You can do it. Start planning a garden or at least some container plants for this coming season. Oh, and look for salvage grocery/dent can stores in you area. It can be worth driving an hour if they have good selection and you can buy in bulk.

  18. says

    Great tips. I’m actually currently doing a series in February about groceries and seeing if I can keep under $400 ($360 to be exact). My plan included all of your tips except eliminate the expensive and buy in bulk. Good tips though…I will have to look deeper into buying in bulk, or at least finding out what items are worth buying in bulk. We’re a family of 3 (2 yr old son). I’m showing everything I buy throughout the month and how much I’m spending throughout. Almost done and we’ll see if I can stay within $360-400. Feel free to check it out. Love all your tips!

  19. Lisa says

    We started last summer meal planning for an entire month and only going to the grocery 1 time per month. I then take that weekend to batch cook and make freezer meals for the month. The rest I freeze or refrigerate so it stays good for the rest of the month. We do pick up milk mid-month (from gas station so don’t have to go into store) since it i the one thing I have not figured out how to freeze/store all month. It took a little to get in the swing of it, but not taking all those extra trips to the store really keeps you from buying extras and forces you to use what you buy! We are a family of 4 and we spend under $500 a month on all groceries, this includes diapers, household supplies, and other necessity shopping. A huge change from our $200-$250 a week we were spending when going weekly.

  20. Cathy says

    It’s such a struggle to maintain a frugal budget when grocery prices keep going up! I have a family of 4, with my children being 19 & 22. (They’ve opted to live at home while one goes to school, and the other is going to school, and then in to the military in a few months.). Our grocery budget is $250/month, and that includes 12 gallons of milk a week! I also do menus for the entire month and usually include one night’s “chicken” into the next night’s quesadillas. Couponing is the only way I can make it all work! I actually buy the majority of my milk at Rite Aid here in Oregon. With my reward %’s, it’s the cheapest place in town! They also frequently have milk at half price when there is 1-2 days left on the printed date… We go thru milk so fast, I never have to worry about the dates expiring. This helps! We have a “scratch & dent” store in town that routinely has 18 ct eggs for .99, so I’ll buy 5 or 6. ~Never pay full price for anything!~ it’s the rule I live by! Good luck! You can do it!