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How I Have a Low Grocery Budget Without Relying on Coupons

Guest post by Johnlyn

Many people assume I use coupons to keep our grocery budget low. They tell me that they can’t have a low grocery budget because they just don’t have the time or energy to clip coupons.

At the beginning of 2010, my grocery budget was $260.00 per month for our family of four. My husband is a marathon runner with a high metabolism and my kids were 13 and 11 at the time and they both continue to eat more than I do.

Small Town Living

When you live in a small town, you do not receive the same coupon inserts in the newspaper as you do when you receive a large city newspaper.

Here are the coupons I received in last weekend’s newspaper insert: Zicam, Lysteda, Pillsbury Sweet Rolls, Betty Crocker Warm Delights, Red Baron Pizza, Chuck E Cheese, Weight Watchers Yogurt, Foot Pain Wraps and Wrist Supports and Direct T.V. I won’t use any of those!

Five Tips to Keep Your Food Budget Low Without Coupons

  1. Change your attitude. Be thankful that you can afford to buy ground beef even though you really want the shrimp!
  2. Take cash to the store. This changed my mindset completely. Even though I always paid off my credit card bill every month, I became much more aware of how much money that I was spending when I changed to a cash envelope system.
  3. Determine the lowest amount of money you need to spend in order to feed your family. For a few weeks, make low cost meals and buy only what you need at the grocery store for those meals. Don’t buy items just because they are on sale and avoid buying junk food.
  4. Find substitutes. For example, I’ve bought cabbage instead of bok choy because it was much cheaper and worked for the meal I was making
  5. Menu plan using your pantry. Make a simple menu plan after looking in your pantry, fridge and freezer.

Voting With My Dollars

I’ve decided to increase our food budget to $400.00 per month. The $140.00 increase is for several reasons:

  • After watching the movie Food, Inc. I decided to support our local farmers and ranchers when possible. I’ve found that the quality and peace of mind more than offset the increase to our budget.
  • There is a store here in our town where the prices are wrong quite frequently. After several customer service issues, I’ve decided to support the small grocery store with excellent customer service.
  • When my budget was $260.00 per month we focused on breads and pastas to “fill us up”. Three members of our family had horrible hypoglycemic issues while eating this way. We now we focus on veggies, meat, healthy fats and fruit.

Johnlyn has been a full time homemaker for the past nine years. She is the owner of Hummingbird Homemaking: Working the Home to Save Time and Money.

photo credit

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153 Comments

  • Michelle says:

    I love this!!!! This is how I “try” to keep our grocery budget low. Every time I try to do coupons, I end up with junk food and don’t really save a lot of money. I still watch for coupons I will use, but I don’t rely on them. I’m amazed that you do this well buying locally and from farmers too. That’s what I’m still working on. Thank you for this encouragement. It CAN be done!

    ~Michelle

  • Rebekah says:

    Soooo…what does a weekly menu look like? I’m down to $600/mo for a family of 3, but I’d LOVE to be down closer to where you are! Amazing!!

  • Tabatha says:

    I love this because I too come from a small town and a lot of times never get the great sales or coupons that most others get. At one point I had our budget at $70 a week sometimes even lower just by being smart about what I was buying and actually buying more fresh instead of processed. Thanks for posting!

  • Thanks for sharing! I live in a small town and have had to rely on other methods besides coupons at time.

    I will say though, supporting your local farmer can be cheaper! We bought 1/2 a cow from a local farmer and had it cut by a local butcher this year. It has saved us money! It was more money up front, but when you factor in how much meat you’re receiving and the quality {we’re eating Porterhouse steaks tonight!} it’s a great win/win!

    • Andrea says:

      We’re buying our second 1/2 cow in April and I can’t wait!! The cow is grass fed, no hormones and from a farmer we know. We will be able to pick all of our cuts and pop it in the freezer. It’s a little chunk of change upfront (like you said), but WAY cheaper than trying to buy these same cuts in a grocery store. And you could never come close to the quality. Yay!

      • Julie Gosselin says:

        Andrea – did you ask for specific cuts vs. buying the whole half? How does the farmer price the cow when it is cut into selections. I have looked into doing this the last 3 years but have yet to do it b/c I want to select the parts I want.

        • Johnlyn says:

          In our small town newspaper there is a section called “Good Stuff to Eat” (for some reason that cracks me up!)

          Anyway, the rancher that we got our beef from listed an ad in that section. He offered to let us a try out a bit of meat and also gave me references we could check.

          After I bought a 1/4 of a beef two different times, I realized we use a lot of hamburger. I called him up to see if he could sell me just some hamburger. We met in town a few weeks ago so I could pick up 40 pounds of burger. If he doesn’t have a buyer for part of a beef he has it cut up and keeps it at the butcher shop’s meat locker.

          I would bet that some of your local ranchers do this as well. They may be trying to get rid of just a part of a beef.

          We’ll be ordering another 1/4 of a beef in the spring and the butcher will call us to find out how we want everything cut.

    • Johnlyn says:

      Unfortunately, I know that is the not the case with us. I used to buy grocery store burger at the lowest possible price and stock up.

      About once a year I would buy my husband steaks for dinner. I will say he’s much happier with this arrangement!

    • jennifer says:

      Especially if you can get a farmer who will work with you to custom butcher. If they let you handle the butchering or will pass on what you want, you can get a lot more for your money. We always went through a local butcher and had some burger, some steak, and lots of poor cuts we didn’t want/need. We recently found a butcher that gave us the nicest, leanest cuts (filet, sirloin, and brisket) and the rest was ground into burger. We had lots more ‘meat’ that went a lot farther.

    • KatieBee says:

      We often buy at the county auction for 4H – most of the kids raise only one or two animals for show (they must list what they feed them and if any antibiotics, etc were used on the animal, so you know what you are getting), you can go in on a cow or pig with someone else (or a group or people), and you usually get a really great price and support future ranchers. Then you can pick and choose what cuts you’re getting and truly support local. (Many 4-H kids are offspring of local, small ranchers/farmers too).

  • Emma says:

    I love and agree with everything you’ve said above. Now I really need to start the cash system to see savings as we don’t get coupons here and I’ve also chosen to buy local, free range and organic food wherever possible.

  • stacey says:

    I too do not use coupons..my budget is not considered low though, I don’t think. We do buy some junky type food items (junk in my eyes are considered cereal, chips and processed foods) because hubby has his vices! But we also hardly EVER go out to eat. instead of going out for a steak dinner, we buy steak and grill it at home, very little fast food is bought because of food allergies, and I support local farms. 70% of our diet is organic and/or local, so that alone adds expense. It’s worth it to me though. Family of 3 spends 500/mo. I plan on having to increase that whenever our second child starts eating solids.

    • Krista says:

      We’ve done the grilled steak dinner at home so much, my husband has learned to make a better steak than the restaurants near our home. As a result, I don’t order steak when we go out to eat any more.

  • iamcart says:

    I’m glad to see you have started to support local farmers and start a healthier lifestyle! I have health issues that force me to eat a diet of predominately veggies and fish, it makes it hard to use a majority of the coupons out there that are predominately for refined sugar and processed foods. I have found a website that has made my life SO much easier while helping to save money, http://www.ziplist.com, it’s super cool and allows you to keep all your recipes in one place and make a shopping list from the recipes you choose for the week. By doing this I can tell if I will be using the same veggies for more than one recipe and will therefore use them all up instead of only using half and wasting the other half!! I absolutely love it and have managed to have a grocery budget of between $50 and $70 a week, (and that’s shopping at Whole Foods!) for the two of us — cooking at least 5 nights a week, having left overs for the same amout of lunches!

  • Great post, thank you! We live in a small town, but are lucky enough to have an Albertsons nearby, so I am able to use online coupons. But like you said, they are often not for the things my family actually EATS! We are foster parents, so our family six is between six and ten — which is a lot of mouths to feed! I appreciate your tips, thank you!

  • Amy L says:

    We live in a rural area… we are now down to three grocery stores, since our local Albies was closed down. We have no bigbox stores within 35 miles, so that makes some of the “extreme” couponing trips impossible! I do purchase milk when it is marked down to about 1.39 a gallon, sometimes I will freeze it for later. It is harder to find some of the really good deals in the smaller towns!

    We are fortunate enough to raise a few beef and sell one to a friend and keep one for our freezer each year. This has saved us a ton of money! We also keep chickens.. which really is not that cheap overall, but we never buy eggs, and have the freshest and healthiest eggs available.

    I tried hard to think outside the box… I trade alot of things with friends for eggs! One friend takes one child to and from practices each week, in exchange for 5 dozen eggs a month.. she thinks she is getting a screaming deal (really I am getting a better financial deal! :))

    I try hard to stockpile the things that I will always use when the prices are good… ie tp, paper towels, non-perishables and personal stuff.

    We feed our family of 5, including 2 dogs and 3 cats on a total monthly budget of $300 for groceries and $165 at Costco. That also includes diapers and lots of nutritional drinks/bars for my special needs kiddo! I still would like to lower it down more!
    We also grow a very small garden each year, where we basically have salad bowl stuff… we eat salad almost every day!

  • Estelle says:

    Love this post, especially the rationale behind raising the grocery budget. Sometimes less is not more, sometimes you spending more on food means spending less at the doctor on the long term! Growing a garden is an awesome way to keep food down, if you know what to plant. Swiss chard is a very easy plant to grow and it is the reason I can eat all these greens throughout the year. Kale is another good one.

    • Candy says:

      Estelle, How do you store Swiss Chard and Kale? I only have a small cellar with furnace, waterheater and enough room to stand in case of a tornado.

    • Johnlyn says:

      I managed to kill swiss chard this year in my garden!

      I’m hoping some day I’ll have the right set up again for a garden – it was a great way to have fresh vegetables every night!

  • Philippa says:

    People can also grow their own veg and fruit wherever possible. If you have some land around your house, put some of it to growing things. Even in an apartment, you may be able to grow fresh herbs, bell peppers and a tomato plant or two.

  • Kristen says:

    Thank you for the “Voting with my Dollars” section! I live by those words, and fully believe that every purchase we make is a vote that is just as strong as the one we make at the polls. I vote for local food and business, cruelty-free living, and American manufacturing! 🙂

  • Camille says:

    Thank you for this post! We have a budget of $240 for 2 adults and 2 toddlers. We’re upping that budget so we can switch to locally grown food. I rarely use coupons anymore. Sometimes it’s hard to buy things I never bought before (shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, etc) because I want less chemicals in our life.

    • Amy says:

      You sound exactly like us. We (2 adults, 1 toddler, 1 baby) were at $240 for a long time and were used to not spending anything on toiletries, but are slowly moving toward eating more organic and local food and eliminating chemicals from our toiletries.

      I completely understand spending as little as possible for a time to get out of debt or to achieve for a certain goal, but at some point it’s good balance being a good steward of our money with being a good steward of our bodies.

      • Johnlyn says:

        It was a huge pride issue for me to up the budget from $260 a month. I felt like I was “doing my job” as a homemaker if I kept a low budget. Thankfully my eyes were opened about the pride issue.

        I love what you wrote about being a good steward of our bodies!

  • ann k says:

    Nice article! I’ve been a vegetarian for many many years now, but I truly changed the way I looked at food since the past two years. I don’t have a low grocery bill now, but I cut out on other things. I cancelled my subscriptions, eatingout costs, etc. The last time I ate out was five months ago because we were on the road. The fact that makes me happy is that nearly 80% of our grocery bill goes towards fresh fruits and veggies either at the grocery store during winter or at the farmers market during summer. Seeds, nuts, brown rice/millet and a little dairy take up the other 20%. I don’t buy any processed food. As far as what you get with coupons, its not food. Food is expensive! But thats just my opinion.

    • Mindy Weschler says:

      I have to disagree with your last few lines. I buy lots of “food” with coupons. I consider yogurt, cheese, cereal, milk, rice, peanut butter, bread, and butter all “food”. A lot of people generalize and think that coupons are only for junk food. That is simply NOT the case.

      • Johnlyn says:

        I think it depends on the area that you live in. When we lived in Phoenix I saw coupons for “real” food.

        In South Dakota where we live now, I only see coupons for junk food.

        • Erin says:

          Stonyfield Farms and Horizon both regularly have printable coupons on their website for their organic butter, milk, cream, cheese, etc. And Crystal puts up links about once a month to organic deals and coupons. They do exist, they just may not be as prevalent as the junk food coupons. But I think now that more people are becoming aware of what is actually in processed food, organic is being the new norm. That means more choices and better prices for all of us.

          • ann k says:

            You might want to check this link.. its from the cornucopia institute and its a ‘dairy scorecard’. 🙂 There is a ton of info here.

            http://www.cornucopia.org/dairysurvey/index.html

          • dee says:

            I agree with Erin. We eat as much organic, local food as possible and I use a lot of coupons. I do print more coupons on-line and don’t use very many from the flyers in the Sunday paper. MamboSprouts.com has some great coupons.
            There are more and more organic, sulfate-free shampoos, soaps, etc available at chain drug stores. I’ve gotten organic shampoo for free, Tom’s of Maine toothpaste, deodorant, etc for $.25 each. I stock up when I find great deals.

            Living in New England, we have a lot of organic/natural companies here so it is easy to get local and organic at any grocery store – Stoneyfield, Olivia’s Organics, Tom’s of Maine, Vermont Butter and Cheese, The Farmer’s Cow (Connecticut dairy & egg products).

            I also shop at our local year-round farmers’ market for most of my meat and a lot of veges. Whole Foods has local fish and meat, too. They have something on sale every week.

        • Shirley says:

          Not sure what part of SD you live in, but I have found that buying the Minneapolis Star Tribune you get a much better variety of coupons than the Argus leader, which really isn’t worth the money. The Trib is widely found throughout SE SD. I do not use a ton of coupons because I also do not like to buy a lot of processed food and I feel fortunate to be able to grow a little garden and support the great farmer markets, but it is still the upper midwest and the growing season is not that long. I have found making my own yogurt is much easier and healthier than buying it, as well as canning but at times I run out of my stock of canned veggies or frozen and will use coupons for that kind of thing.

      • Heather says:

        Agree.

  • Carrie says:

    The philosophy described in this article is exactly how I live. I buy a coupon insert occasionally (P&G week, usually) so I can go to my local Rite-Aid and stock up on non-grocery items. I don’t want a bunch of processed crap, so coupons don’t usually work for me when it comes to food.

    We are a family of 5 and spend about $75 per week on food. I’m good with that.

    I have two small, locally owned grocery stores in my town, bot of which have a limited selection. I shop sales and buy fruits and veggies that are on sale there. My budget is often limited to what’s on sale, so I plan meals according to the sales.

    To me, often time hard-core couponers are more about the deal than the product. To me, that is a waste of time and also has me consuming a bunch of stuff that probably isn’t great for me. I focus on what I actually *need*, and then try to find the best deal on that type of item.

  • Lacey Wilcox says:

    Any suggestions for websites where you can find farmers markets, locally raised meat, etc?

  • birthrightrose says:

    Great post! I have “Vote with your Fork” written on my fridge! We have been budgeting $400 month (with the cash system`Thanks Dabe Ramsey!) and it is so hard for a family of 5. I have to be creative! We also do mostly local, organic. The post above about coupons not being for ‘real’ food is SO right! I wouldn’t feed those ‘foods’ to my chickens if they were free most of the time!! Buying in bulk and keping chickens make sense. Keep posting!!

  • Char says:

    Question….Is the $400 only for items you eat? If so would any of you mind sharing you household product budget? Right now I try to do food and household items for $400, but at times it streathes me!

    • Johnlyn says:

      I spend about $50 a month extra for supply type items (toilet paper, shampoo, soap, etc.).

      The $400 is just for food for our family. I figured if I can keep the cost of dinner at about $7.00, then I have enough money throughout the month for everything else. Sometimes I spend more than that and will balance it out with a cheaper meal of homemade chicken soup.

      We don’t go out to eat using this money. About once a month (if that) we’ll go out to eat, but that comes from our entertainment envelope.

    • Sara says:

      Our grocery budget is also $400/month. This includes all food, toiletries, cleaning products, and baby items. We currently have a two-year-old and baby on the way. While doing our debt snowball, we focused on eating as cheaply as possible and often came well below the $400. Now we are in the process of switching to a more whole foods/organic diet, which is something we’ve been wanting to do for a long time. The $400 is starting to not always be enough. I’ve started making my own cleaners and really hitting those toiletry deals hard. I’ve switched over to cloth diapers. I cook most things from scratch. And my husband has a garden in the works. We’ll soon be harvesting shallots to freeze (hopefully enough to last a year) and should be canning a year’s worth of tomatoes this summer! It’s a work in progress, and I’m hoping that our hard work will keep our grocery bill at $400.

      • Johnlyn says:

        My goal right now isn’t to lower my food budget, however this summer I would like to be able to buy more local vegetables and fruits. I would rather support a local farmer than buy something organic just because someone had the money to get certified as organic.

        That’s why I love buying from Azure Standard. A lot of the items I buy from them are not organic, however the place where they get the item will state that they will not use pesticides unless they absolutely have to.

        I totally understand that after the failure of a garden I had this year. If it came down to pesticides or my tomato plants surviving, I would do everything I could to keep my plans alive.

        Good luck to you and your garden!!!

        • Sara says:

          Thank you Johnlyn! We enjoy a small farmer’s market in our community, but what they can’t provide we try to buy organic at the grocery store. I’ll be on the lookout for Azure Standard…thanks for the tip. About our garden, I’m banking on the fact that my husband grew up helping his dad garden. It’s OUR first garden, but he’s done all this before…praying that it works out for us! Thank you for the article.

          And thanks, Crystal, for posting it!

      • amy says:

        Just thought I’d let you know. I grow a garden every year (live in N. MI) and my shallots from last summers garden are fine still sitting in my pantry. They last forever and any I have leftover, I’ll plant as sets in the spring (no need to order/pay for more). This will save your freezer for seasonal fruits/veggies that don’t last!

  • Ruth says:

    @Lynette, I agree, buying a locally raised beef is the way to go. We buy a 1/4 beef twice a year. At $2 a pound, cut to order, wrapped and frozen, you can’t beat the price.

    @ann k, I’m sorry, but since when are milk, eggs, oatmeal and frozen veggies not considered food? All of these items I buy regularly using coupons.

    • Rebecca says:

      A couple years ago I would have said the same thing, but I’ve changed my thinking, too. If you’ve watched Food, Inc. then you’ll understand why some people consider eggs & milk from large companies (usually what coupons are for) to be something they want to avoid. I went vegan last year so the only things I use coupons for are things like Quaker Oats, toilet paper, kleenex, and some organic canned soups, etc as convenience/emergency foods. Most coupons for frozen veggies aren’t organic, and the ones that are organic are not local. I wish I had the money to buy only local, sustainable, organic, chemical-free food and toiletries, but I don’t. So it’s just a matter of priorities as far as what you choose to buy. But milk, eggs, oatmeal and frozen veggies are a far cry better than the processed junk! 🙂

      • Michele says:

        We are a family of 6, we spend $400 a month for everything…cleaning products, paper products etc. I use very little coupons because there is simply no coupons for the things we eat. While saying that yogurt, milk, cheese, frozen foods are not junk food is correct, it does not mean it is the best choice. There is a better choice and it is affordable. We just have to remove the taboo thinking that buying local sustainable food is too expensive. If our family can do it, then most if not all can ….and here is an BIG if…if it is important to you. For some people it is not important. Which I respect!

        For those who say buying local sustainable food is more expensive, I challenge you to find organic local potatoes for $8.45 lb. You won’t. BUT that is what you pay for a POUND of chips….non-organic ones. The reason it looks less expensive it because they don’t charge per pound, because the sticker shock would send you into orbit. I think sometimes when I hear people say that they are comparing what they buy now to having to replace that organically. I would suggest organic chips is just as bad for you as non-organic ones. Junk food is junk food. Organic or not , its not good for you.

        Furthermore I don’t think the answer is to subsidize organic farms….I think the answer is to stop subsidizing farms period. And yes, there will be some who have a larger vote than others due to their grocery budget size. Just as in a regular presidential election the electoral college help decide the president, not just the citizens. Nothing is complete 50/50. Voting with your dollars is not about forcing everyone to eat & buy organic. But simply to make ALL choices of food affordable and accessible to ALL. You still have the choice to buy the $8.45 lb chips, I would just like to have the choice to buy my $7 a lb. raw milk as well without feeling like a criminal.

        • Cassie says:

          I SOOOO agree with you. Especially about the raw milk!

        • ann k says:

          You’ve written that so well. Agree!

        • Johnlyn says:

          I’m fairly new to this whole idea so forgive my ignorant question, but what do you do for fruits/vegetables when you have snow on the ground for 6 months out of the year? We don’t have a farmers market here, but we are able to buy some local produce from mid August – mid September.

          I’m assuming you’d have to put up a lot of food from the summer?

          I tried growing my own basil and cilantro inside a few times, but unfortunately it didn’t work. The flower is pretty on the cilantro plant though LOL!

          • Michele says:

            Johnlyn,
            Great question! First let me be completely transparent then dispel a myth. I live in SW Florida. I know I hear the “ohhhhhh!” now! 🙂 BUT, while we don’t deal with snow, we deal with heat. When most of the country is gardening in the summer time, we can not. The heat pretty much melts our attempts. LOL Our farmers markets close down until Oct. Strange concept to many other folks in the US.
            But the method is the same as yours. We freeze, I can some, not a lot. And we eat seasonally. Meaning I don’t get much salad in the summer. Right now, spring time…I am eating them daily, more than once!
            I would encourage you to freeze/can what ever is seasonally and on sale. Which always seems to be the cheapest thing anyways. When items are plentiful at the farmers markets or farmers themselves then the prices drop to move the items. We take advantage of that and freeze or can or dry whatever we can.
            You have another advantage I do not. I have no basement or cellar to help keep root veggies from going bad. Take advantage of that!

    • ksenia says:

      Just as others have said, there are “layers” to “good” food. I was first buying the cheapest milk possible, then I switched to organic (but it was ultra pasturized and from across the country), then to local organic, and now we are buying very local, organic, non-homogenized (only lightly pasteurized) milk that comes in a reusable glass bottle. I wish I could do this with all of the grocery items I buy, but I cannot. I focus on the best animal products I can get. If I can’t afford chemical free, good quality stake, then I don’t buy stake. One does not need steak to survive. I can afford great quality beans and quinoa instead.

  • NWO Savers says:

    Great post! I just covered a series regarding saving without coupons and think that is just as important as using coupons. Cash envelopes are the only way to go! Supporting your local farmers and grocery are great (if you can afford it!)

  • Kim says:

    Great post! All of these tips are very practical, simple and helpful!

    I really like the “cash envelope” suggestion/approach. I’d done this a couple of times in the past. Recently, I’d considered going this route again. My husband even gave me cash for my most recent grocery store trip (at least for the bulk of my purchases) ….. and now this post. Looks like “the handwriting is on the wall”! – LOL – I’ll definitely be taking this approach again. Personally, actually seeing my money “leave me before my eyes” gives me a deeper respect, appreciation and sense of responsibility for spending that using a credit or debit card does not offer.

    I wholeheartedly agree w/ purchasing fresh, organic and healthy foods whenever possible. Again, personally, eating this way helps me feel better mentally and physically…. and I feel so much better feeding my family healthy foods. Also, good to know that others are doing it w/out breaking the bank! 🙂

    Again! THANKS for this GREAT post! so timely – so beneficial!

    • Johnlyn says:

      Thanks!

      I had no idea how life changing it would be to use cash. I always thought I could control myself using credit cards (you know, to get the “rewards”). Thankfully we paid our credit cards off every month, but it was getting harder and harder.

      It was the best financial decision we made. Good luck to you….you are right that using cash makes a difference in our attitudes.

  • Jenni says:

    I’m impressed that you can feed your active, practically-full-grown family on even $400 a month if you are trying to buy more locally, etc. I have two toddlers, and am 8 mos pregnant with our third child, and have to be creative at keeping it under $320 per month, but I don’t put pressure on myself to buy local or organic at this point. Instead, I try to focus on whole foods, less processed things, making things from scratch, etc.

    I’ve seen Food Inc. and live in the San Francisco Bay Area where the “vote with your dollars” mentality is rampant. I agree with it up to a certain point – we do have a choice with what money that we have. The issue I have with the phrase at times is that “vote” implies equal distribution – for example, everyone in the US gets one vote each in elections. But the reality is, some people have more “votes,” or a larger food budget to work with, than others.

    Also, the idea implies that it is all the consumer’s fault that they are choosing to spend their money on cheaper, conventional produce instead of organic or local, but one big reason that organic is so much more expensive is that it is not subsidized by government programs the way conventional farming is. If the government were fair in how it subsidized conventional and organic produce, perhaps we would see a greater shift toward organic.

  • Miriam says:

    I think it is possible to save on groceries without using coupons. I tend to collect so many but i actually only use a couple per week, due to the fact that the things I will buy for my family are not on sale. Or the price may not always be worth it, even with the coupon. Last summer I took a chance and planted some vegetables. The only ones to survive was the sweet peppers and the cherry tomatoes. For what you spend in the grocery stores for these items alone were worth it. I buy raw milk and free range turkey at our local farmer’s market (ours is open all year!) i will only buy natural/free range/organic chicken or beef if its marked down. i will plant another garden this summer, but does anyone know something I can plant indoors durning the cold months (it gets below zero often)? I must spent over $600.00 per month for a family of five.

  • Marie says:

    I have been reading this blog for several years now and always felt defeated, not by Crystal, but by many of the commenters who claim they can feed their family of 10, 6 dogs, 3 cats and 3 neighbors for $50 a week! And buy diapers!

    I always appreciate how Crystal says not to compare yourself to others. She is so right. We spend a huge chunk of our budget on fruit, fruit and more fruit because we love fruit, but I’m ok with that. I love that my kids eat blueberries like gummi bears in the summer time.

    We spend $100 a week for groceries and household stuff. My first instinct is always guilt or a “I should be spending less” mentality, but I’ve decided to just be thankful to God that we have that much to spend each week and use it the best way I can.

    I appreciated Johnlyn’s honesty about bumping up their grocery budget. I did the same thing after watching Food Inc, but I still don’t have enough $$ to buy as many of the organic things as I’d like to. Small steps right?

    • Julie says:

      You are not the only one feeling this way! And, our kids are the same with the fruit. I say all the time that they could be fruititarians and it gets expensive! Especially when I try to buy organic and/or when I can. I have tried to stay at $100 a week, but have yet to be able to manage it between all the fruit and rice milk (also expensive and preferred in our house) that my kids inhale.

      • Christy says:

        Ever since I have been couponing, I have tried to get to $40/week like “everyone else” but can’t seem to get less than $100 for 2 adults and one kid. We buy a lot of fresh produce. I have asked in comment sections all over these blogs how to save on produce and I always get, “Buy items you can get overage for to balance it out.” I rarely can get overage and when I can I only have enough coupons to get one of the item. The women telling me this will buy 10 bottles of aspirin that they can get overage on to offset their total cost. So, I have been frustrated. In the last few weeks I am noticing this topic come up on several blogs and it seems as if people are finally admitting that you do have to spend more to eat healthier.

        • Cassie says:

          If you’re not committed to only organic, and you hav an aldi close, that is a great way to get inexpensive produce.

          • Julie says:

            I do have an Aldi near me and do shop their for very specific things like avocado (best prices and I eat a ton of them), mushrooms and other produce that I don’t buy organic or buy local/farmer’s market. I will sometimes buy cheese there and they have the best price on whole wheat pasta. However, I would never buy any breads there. Ick. They do have great European chocolate as well! And sometimes you can get real, proper German muesli when they have it in stock. YUM.

        • Justine says:

          Christy, i also spent $100 on 2 adults and 1 kid. when i shop for produce and fruits i only buy what’s on sale that given week. So if broccoli normally costs $1.99, and they have it on “special” for $.99 i’ll get it that week. One week i may buy broccoli, spinach, and beets for example because they happen to be cheaper that week, and the following week i’ll buy cabbage, avocado, and peppers. i plan the meals around what’s on sale, it keeps the menu diverse, and i save $ 🙂

        • sara says:

          -buy the markdowns, buy only what’s on sale that week and price match the rest of the stores.
          -A little bit of frozen veggies here and there doesn’t hurt nobody, use coupons on those.
          -Use the list of the dirty dozen and clean 15, when buying organic vs. non organic.
          -buy extras and freeze/can.
          -look in your neighborhood for trees with fruits.
          – barter for other items.
          -go before closing to the farmers markets, many will give good prices to get rid of what they have left.

          hth.

  • While I totally admit that many coupons available are for junk, there are also quite a few that are good if you look for them. I live in a small rural town so I agree our coupons are often not as good as cities. I also don’t buy the paper so any coupons I get come from friends or family that do buy the paper. Just as an example of *good* coupons I used today: yogurt, milk, mozzarella cheese, tortillas, cat litter, cough drops, eggs, and donuts. The eggs & donuts were free after coupon or I wouldn’t have bought them. When I don’t have coupons for yogurt, I make my own. When they are cheap enough after coupons I buy them. In the summer/spring we grow our fruits & veggies. However winter in Vermont requires me to purchase them. There’s nothing local in February with 3 feet of snow on the ground. We also have our own ducks & chickens that lay during the warm months so I don’t normally buy eggs. Using a combination of coupons, making my own & growing my own, I feed our family of 4 & pets for $50 to $75 a week after coupons. That’s for two adults & two teens with HUGE appetites. Don’t dismiss coupons completely. There are many good free printable coupons online that cost you only a tiny bit for ink. Many are organic and all natural as well. We have no debt except our mortgage and I never charge anything especially groceries. When I got free coupons from a friend who worked at a store. I could easily shop for $30-$50 a week after coupons. She no longer works there so I don’t get as many. And, no I don’t buy junk just because there’s a coupon for it. You can also easily swap coupons with other people who have what you want by sending them coupons they want. A great site is hotcouponworld.com.

    • Heather says:

      Good point about climate and geography! It’s easy to talk about eating local all the time if you live in Southern CA, I suppose. But a good portion of the earth’s population would and does have a hard time getting a balanced diet year round without the modern miracles of freezers, refrigerators, canning, and FOOD SHIPPED LONG DISTANCES.

      • Jessica says:

        I agree, I live in ND and in the winter nothing grows so no local anything! I do try and stock up in the summer and dry, freeze, can, etc as much as I can though.

    • Johnlyn says:

      My small town store won’t accept printed coupons. Often times I don’t print the coupons I find because I’d rather support that store than the big box store.

  • Jamie Rathbun says:

    My name is Jamie Rathbun. I live with my husband and 2 young children on a cattle ranch in the middle of Kansas. We raise 120 cows on a cow/calf operation. (We breed cows and care for them and their calves. When the calves are 8 months old we wean them and sell them to someone who feeds them out until slaughter, or feeds them for about another 6 to 8 months until they sell them to a feedlot. ) I have a degree in Home Economics. I am all for eating healthy on a budget and teach about nutrition and money management on a daily basis as our local county extension agent. I would like to share with you some information that many of the movies and books out there are not, so that you can make an informed decision about the foods (beef) that you purchase and feed to your families. I encourage you to do some more research on other food that you are eating, before making a decision based on one movie or book.

    • Jamie Rathbun says:

      On Grain Feeding Cattle:
      Cattle can get the nutrients they need from eating a wide range of plants, including a variety of grains and grasses. Most beef raised in the United States comes from grain-finished cattle, which spend most of their lives on pasture eating grass before going to a feedlot for four to six months. While at a feedlot, cattle are fed a combination of grain and hay formulated by a professional nutritionist to ensure a well-balanced and nutritious diet.
      Grain feeding isn’t new, it’s just more sophisticated. In the United States, cattle have been fed grain for at least 200 years. Cattle are fed grains like corn because they are nutritious, energy-rich, and can be stored for use throughout the year. Since grass doesn’t grow year-round in most of the United States, feeding grains like corn to cattle help farmers and ranchers raise a consistent, year-round supply of great-tasting beef.

      • Meredith says:

        My understanding of corn fed cattle is that cows are not designed/intended to eat corn; corn is fed to them because, like you said, it can be stored unlike grasses… I have heard also that corn-fed cows’ guts are not able to regulate bacteria like e coli, whereas when they are grass fed, they are able to regulate such bacterium. It is hard to come by grass fed beef, at least in Northern CO where I live, and even harder on the wallet, which is a shame. 🙁

      • Jamie Rathbun says:

        On Cattle in Feedlots:

        We are in the business of caring for animals. Providing an optimal environment for our cattle, with ample food, water and healthcare, is the right thing to do and it creates an ideal setting for them to grow. We take our responsibility to our cattle very seriously, and we believe even one instance of mistreatment is too many.

        Most beef cattle are born and spend the majority of their lives on the farms and ranches like those you may see along highways and country roads, grazing in herds on large pastures. At 12 to 16 months of age, most beef cattle are then taken to a feedlot where they are fed a nutritionally-balanced and energy-rich diet for approximately four to six months. Cattle in a feedlot are typically separated into herds of 100 animals and live in pens that allow about 125 to 250 square feet of room per animal, and they are carefully monitored to ensure optimum health. After cattle reach the appropriate weight, they are sold to a processor.

        Feedlots allow for the efficient raising of beef utilizing fewer natural resources like land, feed and water. And “crowding” is a common mis-perception. Feedlots provide an average of 125 – 250 square feet per animal, providing plenty of room for cattle to run, stretch and lay down. Feedlot cattle often intentionally “crowd” themselves together in one corner of the pen. This behavior is normal for herd animals like cattle. Additionally, environmental factors like water quality, air quality and land utilization are monitored and managed in feedlots daily.

        • Jamie Rathbun says:

          On Bacteria and Cattle:
          Bacteria like E. coli are found naturally in the environment and in the intestinal tracts of healthy animals whether in a feedlot or grazing on pasture. Research to date has not found a significant difference in the likelihood of cattle to carry E. coli between those on pasture or in feedlots.
          Today, the scientifically-validated safety practices included in modern beef production methods coupled with strict government requirements allow us to control foodborne pathogens in the beef supply more effectively than ever. The beef industry continues to invest millions of dollars in developing new technologies with the goal of eliminating foodborne illness.
          Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that the nationwide incidence of common foodborne illnesses like E. coli O157:H7 have not changed significantly in the last three years. Additionally, between 1996 and 2004, the incidence of E. coli O157:H7 infections decreased 25 percent.
          Much of the reason why we seem to have seen so many outbreaks of E. coli in recent years, is that more testing is being done and research is ever evolving, so we are better able to screen for these types of incidences.

    • Johnlyn says:

      I did a ton of research after watching Food, Inc.

      I have no idea if the movie Food Inc. is valid or not, but in my research I realized the value in supporting local farmers and ranchers.

      I enjoy talking to David as he drops off my beef. I was able to ask Mike if the honey he sells is raw. When the price of my eggs went from $2.00 a dozen to $3.00 per dozen they were able to tell me why.

      I enjoy talking to the people that I am impacting with our money. For me, it’s more about relationships with people, than it is about believing whether one movie is true or not.

      • Michele says:

        Joel Salatin is disproving that grain feeding & finishing is the ONLY modern, profitable way to raising cattle. I think we can all agree that not the worlds population can be fed the Joel Salatin way without some radical changes to people’s eating diets. But we can agree that BOTH methods are means to an end.
        While I can certainly sympathize your position, your income is based on the grain fed cattle, organic local sustainable food is not your enemy. Nor will it be the only way to feed families. Rest assure, you will still have a job. There are many whom things like Johnlyn pointed out that it is not important too. And as I said before, I respect that.

    • Heather says:

      Thank you, Jamie. I worry about some people on truly tight budgets must feel reading some of these comments. And what would a good portion of the world’s population think reading some of these comments? We are indeed very blessed to have abundant food to eat in this country.

      • Michele says:

        I am on a tight budget. $400 a month for 6 people is not an abundant budget. I worry that too many people eat junk food because they have been beat down to accept that is all they can afford. It is different if that is all they WANT. But most if not ALL of these comments here are to help people understand IF they want to eat better, they can.
        There is nothing wrong with wanting everyone to be healthy.

  • Sharon says:

    Crystal, I really appreciate your post. I live in a larger city, so I get all of the coupons, but there are few that I would use. I feed my family all whole, unprocessed, and mostly organic foods. I think it is very doable to keep a reasonable grocery budget, but it does take strategy and planning! I search local store, farms in my state, the local organic food depot, and the internet to find the best deal that I can on almost every item of food I buy.

    I find that buying in bulk (dry grains, beans, yogurt, etc) helps a LOT.

    Often as frugal women we feel guilty when our grocery budget is not as low as we would like it to be, even if we have the money available. I have to remind myself often that nutritious food is important, and as long as I’m not using money that needs to be going toward something else in our budget, I don’t have to feel guilty for buying good, wholesome food for my family.

    • Johnlyn says:

      It took me a LONG time to get over that! I’ve identified myself as “frugal” so it was hard to spend more money.

      This month, I’m stocking up again on rice and beans…I can’t wait to pick up my order!

  • Grace says:

    I too live in a rural area with one small grocery store in my town. They aren’t even part of a “chain” it’s a mom and pop operation! My next closest are 50-80 miles away. I support my grocery store since they really work with you on getting items that you really want. They have been great since they have started to carry a lot of organic and natural foods.

  • Michael says:

    My wife and I have kept our food budget for our family (1 toddler) at $270/mo. Inflation is starting to take a toll on this, but we’re managing.

    Yes, we are buying fruits and veggies. My wife made her own baby food, and so we had high quality, inexpensive baby food, and we controlled what went in it. What we didn’t use that day we froze for the next. Good luck finding baby food jars of acorn squash 🙂

    We vote with our feet – by buying frugally! My wife grew up on a farm, I grew up doing things with 4H, and I’ve looked the U.S. food distribution system from ever angle I could think of – my opinion is that Food Inc. is one sided against effective agriculture. If prices keep going up we may end up raising our own chickens but we aren’t going to stop buying perfectly good food just because a film-maker (I can’t say what their intentions were) thinks they know something the rest of us don’t and create a false moral dilemma about how we feed our family.

  • Michelle says:

    I live in a rural area and have seen Food, Inc. I have 4 (young) children and feed and keep our family of 6 clean on $250 a month. I don’t buy junk. I don’t use a ton of coupons. I rely on lost leaders, gardening, buying beef by the 1/4 cow and getting creative and making meat stretch. I do use coupons to buy pasta, yogurt, hummus, fruit & veggies when possible, condiments, etc. Here is a post I wrote on my blog about things I don’t buy or get for (mostly) free: http://simplifylivelove.blogspot.com/2010/11/top-10-things-i-dont-pay-for-or-pay.html

  • jennifer says:

    Love this post ! Also, I know many people say that you have to spend more to buy local, but our local farmers markets are MUCH cheaper than grocery store loss leaders. Last year they had cantaloupe at 1.00 each, peppers 3 for 1$, and more. Some of the girls I know get raw milk for 2$ a gallon. That’s cheaper than the store!!! Also spring mix is a super easy way to focus dinner on greens and save $$. Thanks for this!

    • AManda Y. says:

      WoW! I wish. Raw milk here can only be done through milk shares and it runs about $55 a month–for 1 gallon a week!!!!

    • Heather says:

      I live in a semi-rural area in VA, yet farmer’s market produce is usually much more than the supermarket food. Quite aggravating. I think it is because there is a certain clientele that is willing to pay those higher prices.
      You’re lucky.

      • jennifer says:

        One ‘trick’ we regularly use too is to go in the last hour. Lots of our farmers are putting out boxes for less money, or marking down. When we can, we also ask for ‘culls’, buckets of uglier but very inexpensive tomatoes, peppers, and other veggies or fruits that are a great deal. Hopefully you can score some better deals this season!

        • Shannon says:

          I also go in the last hour or less of the farmer’s market, because the bigger stands with a lot of produce always mark down towards the end. I’ve gotten watermelon and cantelope dirt cheap before!

  • Spendwisemom says:

    It is nice to see that people have many different ways they choose to feed their families so we can just figure out where we want to fit in all of it and do it the way we want. Some have more money, some have less, some have great coupons and double or triple coupons and some live in small towns with higher prices. There is no need to compare, just learn from others and change how we do things if we want to.

  • Kathryn says:

    I love this post, especially the reminder that it can be worthwhile to pay a little more for certain kinds of food. DH and I decided a long time ago that we’re willing to cut way back on things like entertainment and clothes so we can afford local/organic/whole foods. I noticed, however, that you forgot one BIG way to save money on food without coupons: Grow your own! Gardening is especially helpful as an affordable way to get more organic fruits and veggies in your diet.

    • Johnlyn says:

      If you would have seen my pathetic attempt at a garden this year, you’d know that I didn’t forget it LOL!

      Too many factors to name, but it was a flop. I may try a cherry tomato plant in a planter this year, but that’s it.

      However, our city is now trying to start a community garden so that might be something that will work out for me.

      • Lynda says:

        I too tried a garden for the 3rd year this past summer and was much more successful this year. LOTS of tomatoes this time, but few melons, peppers and cukes and no beans made it. That being said, we still joked about the “$65.00 tomato”. Not counting labor, or course, it was an expensive endeavor just fighting the rabbits and gophers for our food. I have a much bigger appreciation for the price of produce either at the store or the Farmer’s Markets.

        Johnlyn’s comment about ‘being grateful you can afford ground beef’ made me chuckle as ground beef if often more expensive that most sale meats. I set $2/# as my max price and lots of time I get chicken, pork and sometimes sirloin steak for less than that, but the ground beef that typically goes ON SALE for $2 or less has a very high fat content so you are getting less actual meat. I would guess if you are raising your own chickens, goats, etc. the cost of feeding and slaughter needs to be considered as part of your ‘grocery’ budget for meat, dairy and eggs.

      • Jen says:

        Don’t give up on home gardening yet. My first season was a joke. I had an embarrassing handful of cukes and about a half dozen tomatoes. Everything else was a failure-mostly because of horrible rain and humidity. But I learned a lot. Gardenweb.com has great local forum so you can take notes from other gardener in your zip code. Your county can probably give you a chart with local plant dates which will help immensly! The second tear I tried I got 10 times the produce! Dozens of tomatoes, cukes, okra, peppers, beans, squash, herbs, carrots and eggplant…all from about 60 square feet of space. This year I will use a rain barrel to cut down on irrigation costs and will add another 16 sq ft. It is totally worth the effort once you get a little of the right info from the right people in your area. I was totally clueless and had never grown anything not even a houseplant. If I can do it, anyone can!

        • Johnlyn says:

          If only I could stop the wind from blowing my garden over! I could put up a big ugly fence, but then I’d have to fight our subdivision covenants.

          I totally understand why local tomatoes are $3.00 per pound!

  • Erin says:

    My husband and I are organic farmers…so thanks to all of you who support local farming! Obviously, our grocery budget does not include eggs, vegetables, chicken, pork or any red meat (we hunt wild game also). I spend late summer into fall, canning and freezing as much as I’m able. We also do some trading so that we can get some fruit…peaches, nectarines, apples and cherries which I can also. What has happened to our society over the decades is we have become spoiled and expect to have strawberries in December, peas in October, etc, etc. If you support local farming, then you should also buy seasonal crops. This will keep your budget on track because seasonal produce is reasonably priced and usually on sale. As a farmer, it is frustrating sometimes when people come to market expecting tomatoes in May (we’re in MT). We’ve become a “I want it NOW! society” and unfortunately that is in direct contrast to Mother Nature….and believe me, she is the one in control–not us! Support Local Farmers!!!

    • Johnlyn says:

      We’re from Montana originally – my garden was expensive, but I least I had vegetables from my garden. No tomatoes in August though.

      So many people won’t/don’t “put up” food for the winter either.

      That includes myself. I am slowly learning how to do this and I can see how it would make a huge difference.

  • Tiffany says:

    Hi. Thanks for sharing. I am always looking for ways to lower the grocery budget! We have a family of 6 and do 400 a month. This includes dog and cat food but not diapers. I find where I spend the most is cereal and snacks. Anyone have any suggestions to lower this portion?

    Thanks!

    • Heather says:

      We’re a family of six also. I do about $400 a month also – no pets, and diapers are separate.
      I have also been trying to cut back on cereal and snacks. Some things I am doing: pancakes, waffles, muffins, scrambled eggs and toast. Occasionally, I will buy 1 lb of sausage (without chemicals), and divide into 5 portions for the freezer. Then I will cook up one portion and add eggs to it. Kids love it – makes regular scrambled eggs a little more special and it’s cheap. I make the above-mentioned baked goods from scratch using some whole wheat flour, and put them in the freezer. I feel like that is all more healthy than processed cereal.
      Snacks are harder – it’s so easy to open a box of crackers. Lately I am trying to do more popcorn (not the microwave kind) which is very cheap. Carrot sticks and hummus on sale. Fruit. “Artisan Bread in 5 minutes” – I try to time it so it’s done when kids get home from school. Very cheap.

    • jennifer says:

      We love the oatmeal! Even if you don’t like to eat oatmeal, you can make crunchy granola for cereal very inexpensively if you buy in bulk. 1/2 cup of granola ‘feels’ like more food than 1/2 cup of store bought.

    • Johnlyn says:

      My husband loves cereal, but only has it about once a week. We have sausage every morning for breakfast. To me it’s crazy to eat meat for breakfast. It seems like a waste of money.

      However, now that I changed the way we eat, we no longer need snacks. I have been borderline hypoglycemic my entire life. Now that I start my day out with meat, I no longer have ANY issues. I can go hours and hours and hours without any problems. We spend about $3.00 per day for breakfast and it’s worth every penny of it.

      For snacks, the best thing we did was get away from grains. They always made us more hungry. Carrots, peanuts, cheese and apples seem to keep the hunger at bay moreso than any grain we ate.

    • Jessica says:

      Have you looked into Amazons options?

  • CH says:

    This post needs to be on every money saving blog! I am so glad you watched Food Inc and decided to increase your budget and buy quality food. Not only are you supporting your local economy, you are eating a MUCH better product. As a local farmer’s wife, thank you for taking this step and please continue to teach!

  • Diane says:

    @Tiffany
    I would encourage you to make your own whole grain muffins and wheat thin style crackers for very inexpensive snacks. You can also make your own granola bars. Cereal we usually get free with coupons and sales. You didn’t ask about diapers saving but cloth diapering has really changed in the last 10 years and we love our cloth diapers. We purchased one pack of newborn diapers for the meconium and have otherwise exclusively cloth diapered (and use cloth wipes) for very inexpensive. Our child is now 19 months and nearly potty trained.

    • Tiffany says:

      Diane, do you know of a good website with recipes for those snacks you mentioned? Sounds like a good idea! Thanks!

      • Shannon L says:

        Jessica at Goodcheapeats.com has an index of healthy, inexpensive recipes including granola bars and cheese crackers, aka “cheez-its.” Just look under snacks.

        • Diane says:

          I wrote out a reply last night but was awaiting moderation and don’t feel like typing it all out again but http://heavenlyhomemakers.com/ has many good recipes including for graham crackers and wheat thin style crackers that are whole grain. My banana oat muffin recipe is from allrecipes.com

  • Holly says:

    We live in a rural area as well. We are able to keep our food/household supplies costs under 250.00 a month thanks to couponing, bartering, using a local CSA program, and also buying portions of free-range beef as well. It can be done!!!

  • Amber says:

    Thanks for the post! Great tips. I, too, buy locally. We have an amazing farmers market. I buy all meat, eggs, cheese and produce from them. Peace of mind is so worth it and it’s only a few dollars more!

    I do have a question for anyone who can answer. I have been debating on switching to organic or hormone free milk. Anyone have advice on the benefits of this? My daughter consumes enormous amounts and this has been pressing on me for awhile. Thanks!

    • AS says:

      Amber… read ‘The China Study’ to understand the benefits and dangers of milk. Hope it helps. 🙂

    • Daina says:

      I haven’t done a HUGE amount of research on milk, but I have done some reading here and there and taken a couple animal science classes in college for an agriculture major. Here are some things to consider about organic/hormone free:

      -The cow’s diet and medical care will have some effect on what’s in the milk. As a result, pasture-fed cows generally have more nutritious milk than cows that are kept indoors away from pasture. An “organic” label either requires or will soon require a cow to spend significant time in pasture.

      -However, it would still be possible for your local farmer to pasture his cow and get really nutritious milk without getting organic certification. Meanwhile, many organic milks available in supermarkets undergo high-temperature pasteurization to extend shelf life — which kills more nutrients in the milk than lower-temperature pasteurization.

      -Organic labeling requires a cow to receive an organic diet. That means the cow is consuming no food that would contain the residue of synthetic pesticides, which may or may not be able to get into the milk. Some people think that has the potential to be healthier.

      -There’s a lot of controversy about whether the hormone rBST is bad for the cows and the people who consume the cow’s milk. If you’re concerned about your daughter’s health only, the question is whether the hormone has any effect on the milk. Labeling laws in my state require all hormone free milk to carry a label that say studies have shown NO difference between cows that are rBST free and those that receive rBST. Not everyone trusts the results of those studies, though.

      In our house, we buy lots of organic milk products, but mostly for environmental reasons. Environmentally, organic has tons of benefits. It’s less clear when you get into the benefit for the milk consumer, though there are potential benefits.

      Many major supermarket chains have all their milk rBST free now, so check the milk you’re buying to see whether hormones are even a concern for you.

    • Jamie Rathbun says:

      All food has hormones in it. Both animal and plant-based foods contain hormones. Hormones are the chemical messengers that life depends on. Many plants actually contain higher levels of hormones than meat does. There is no such thing as hormone free food.

      The difference in hormone levels from a 3 ounce piece of beef treated with a growth hormone versus one that wasn’t is one-half of a nanogram.
      3 oz Natural Beef: 1.39 ng
      3 0z Treated Beef: 1.89 ng
      3 0z Milk: 12.7 ng
      3 oz Cabbage: 2,017 ng
      1 ng = 1 billionth of a gram
      Compare that to the amount of estrogen in a birth control pill, which is in the neighborhood of 34,000 nanograms. You would have to eat nearly 5 million pounds of beef to equal the amount of hormones in a year’s supply of birth control pill.
      It’s essential that we put things in context when we are having discussions like these.

    • Johnlyn says:

      In my neck of the woods, the only organic milk we can buy is ultra pateurized which I’ve read is a lot worse than buying pasteurized.

      When I buy cream, I spend more money so I can get the pasteurized cream. If you compare labels you might see there’s more additives in pasteurized vs. ultra pasteurized.

      Here’s one blog posting:
      http://notquitecrunchyparent.blogspot.com/2007/09/pasteurized-unpasteurized-ultra.html

    • Rachel says:

      Know too that whole raw milk from your cow (or a friend’s cow) is healthy for you due to the way the fat content is contained in it vs. the processed stuff you buy at the store. I go on a raw milk diet every so often just as a cleanser. Milk IS food. When I’m in a hurry lots of times I’ll grab a glass of milk on my way through the kitchen and it’ll hold me for awhile.

  • AS says:

    Nice article. Thank you for sharing. May I encourage you (and other readers) to branch from ‘Food Inc.’ to watching ‘Forks over knives’ or reading ‘The China Study’? We’ve found our family switching away from the processed foods as well, focusing more on organic whole-plant foods. Legumes are great! We are using them to substitute animal products. It’s healthier and cheaper.
    Just sharing.

  • Tiffany says:

    Our family of 4 has a $400 per month budget and we have organic milk, organic fruits and veggies, organic eggs and organic meat – exclusively. I really believe that putting quality food into our bodies produces healthier people. To balance out the cost of the organic items, I use coupons, buy in bulk, menu plan and cook from scratch. It is possible to eat healthy and save money!

  • ksenia says:

    One of my favorite posts on this blog — ever! I so so so agree! Thank you for making me feel like I’m not alone in wanting to have a reasonable budget without the time-consuming coupons, while eating local (and if possible organic) food. Thank you Johnlyn for writing and Crystal for publishing.

  • amy brendtro says:

    You guys do not live in Alaska!! Yikes the prices!

  • Leslie McCaffety says:

    $400 a month on food seems extremely excessive to me. I live with 2 teenagers and only spend $160.00 a month in groceries !!

    • Carrie says:

      BUT! What are you eating? The topic of this post was that it is OK to spend more if you are buying quality (ie: healthier) items, and how to do so more frugally. I could survive on very little too, but the food would be a heck of lot less healthy. Different strokes for different folks, but don’t judge someone for doing it a different way.

      • Michele says:

        Agreed. I can feed us on $250 a month (family of 6 2 parents, 19 yo son, 13 yo daughter, 9 yo daughter and 4 yo son – plus a dog & preggers cat) if we went back to all processed foods. But as many people in the real food say….I would rather pay the farmer than the doctor. It is a choice.

      • Johnlyn says:

        Thanks Carrie – well said!

  • WOW!! I only get $45 a week and I just got a “raise” from $25!

  • Kim says:

    We are a family of 10 and one way we keep our meat costs down is by harvesting wild game…mostly deer. My husband hunts and processes his own so I always know what is in our freezer!

  • I love the idea of determining “the lowest amount of money you need to spend in order to feed your family”. It’s so easy to get caught up in saving money by taking advantage of the sales, that I end up overspending my budget. It’s hard to pass up a good deal! It would be helpful to see just what I would spend without the stocking up so I would have a better idea of my baseline (which seems to be changing as my kids are getting older – yikes!)

  • Julie Gosselin says:

    WOW – clearly I have a LONG way to go – we spend anywhere from $1000 to $1200 a month on groceries! I am frustrated b/c my kids will eat fruit (of almost any type) but not veggies (daughter will, son getting there). Husband will not eat beans, legumes, lentils. This makes for very difficult menu planning. Couple that with eating as much organic as much as possible (meat, veggies, fruit, milk) and it seems like I spend a ton on groceries every month.

    I have never posted in this forum and could really use some help. Anyone have suggestions for family friendly, healthful recipes? I would love ideas for snack type items – cookies, bars, muffins, breads to send to school with the kids.

    Also, not to take away from this blog at all but do any of you follow any other blogs that do weekly meal planning using foods my kids might actually eat? I follow one and while the stuff sounds great to me I can see the to her three in my house would not be too pleased.

    I used to be very dutiful in my paper, bath, non food item saving but have gotten away from that. I often find I do not have enough coupons to stock up and feel like I spend a lot of time hunting down deals – even with the items that match them up. Where do you all get your coupons?

    Sorry for the long post – today’s topic hit a nerve for me and I want to get better about spending money!!!

    • Julie Gosselin says:

      Side note – after reading some of the posts I realized that my “budget” (no laughing here) includes pet food (Top tier but not specialty) and supplies (litter, products) for 3 animals, toiletries, cleaners, Overnight pull-ups (@$0.90 each!!!).

      I have been inspired to go find local farmers!

    • BS says:

      I must confess that I am not a fruit person…I like some but not all. I have found the internet to provide a wealth of recipes! I print ones I like out (or cut from magazines I get for cheap, coupon mailers sometimes have some good ones) and make a scrapbook (using a 3 ring binder and page protectors) to store my recipes. If there is something someone doesn’t like, just cut it out of the recipe or give it a try (you can pick it out if you don’t like it).
      Two recipe sites I get via e-mail are with Kraft & Betty Crocker. I have found a lot of great recipes at both! Also, my newspaper has a Sunday Recipe section, sometimes it’s a good one.

      I live in a rural area and often don’t get all the coupons a lot of people listed. You can find some online sometimes but make sure your store accepts them (my closed store does not).

      Best Wishes!!

    • Lisa says:

      Julie, all four of my children and my husband are picky eaters so I can relate to the dinner time woes. A lot of times I have to tweak a recipe so everyone will eat it and then I’ll add in some veggies or what-not to my own plate. Here are some sites that I frequently get recipes from: http://www.tammysrecipes.com/node
      http://www.ourbestbites.com/
      http://thepioneerwoman.com/tasty-kitchen/

      For non-food items I shop at CVS using their “extra care bucks” to get free or very cheap things. And I get my coupons from my local newspaper (I buy 2 per week), order them from wholecouponinserts.com, or print them online from various sites.

      Our family of 6 averages $400-$500 a month on groceries, living in expensive Connecticut, and I used to feel like that was too much money, that I should be spending way less. But, I realized that it’s more important that we eat well and I’m okay with our budget.

    • Johnlyn says:

      We don’t eat very many legumes or lentils around here. I find that they are very “carby” and have the potential to cause blood sugar issues.

      A dinner for our family can cost: $7.50

      For example:
      1 lb burger (local rancher bought in bulk) $3.00 makes 5 burgers
      homemade buns or no bun for my daughter and myself $.50
      sweet potato fries $2.00
      peas (yes, I know it’s a legume, but we like them) $1.00
      apples (sale at Azure Standard co-op) $1.00

      Breaking down the per meal cost was very enlightening to me.

      Another thing that was helpful to me was writing out my goals:

      1.Stay within $400 monthly budget
      2.Buy Meat/Protein Locally
      3.Buy a LOT of veggies (if budget allows, Locally)
      4.Fats – buy good fats that will help with hypoglycemic issues
      5.Read Labels – buy items without a bunch of junk (sour cream, whipping cream, etc.)
      * you can read my ramblings about that here: http://www.hummingbirdhomemaking.com/2011/01/frugal-almost-primal-cooking-budget-and.html

      For a picky family, I believe you need to create your own menu plan. I would write down 12 meals your family absolutely loves. Plan to serve those meals over the next two weeks. When you go to the grocery store, buy only those items needed for the menu plan you created. I would suggest taking cash, but at this point, it might be overwhelming.

      Baby Steps!!!

  • Cathy says:

    I found it refreshing to find someone else who tries to keep the budget fairly low but also is willing to pay a bit more to support local business and vote with their food dollars for better quality! This is our family motto as well. Raw milk and most meat are purchased from local farmers, and veggies/fruits when possible (this is not a good area of the country for that, SW OK). Other than that, much of our food is coming from Azure Standard…we have learned to shop quite differently, but now our store purchases make up a much smaller amount of our grocery budget, probably under 25% most of the time. Thanks for a change of pace in posts!

  • Missy June says:

    I’m so thankful to read this! I use coupons when I can, but find the time and energy spent often isn’t worth what we really NEED for our family of me and three little ones. Thank you for validating the worth of spending more on quality and for giving tips to use when you can’t coupon so much.

    Thank you, thank you!

  • MomtoTwo says:

    I also enjoyed this post and would love to see more like this. I try to coupon but have to admit I sometimes get lazy and sick of the cutting and sorting. I also hating stocking up on too much junk.

    My goal this year is to try and seek out cheaper, healthier alternatives like shopping at ethnic grocery stores or farmers markets.

  • Julia says:

    I commend you for switching to ethical meats. I’m afraid to watch Food Inc., but after seeing a feedlot myself, already have made the switch. Thanks for these great tips. Your low budget is still quite impressive!

  • BS says:

    I enjoyed this post! I do use coupons but being in a rural area with less coupons inserts and no close big box stores sometimes the coupons don’t do a whole lot. I also have noticed a lot of people get all these great mark downs…my area sure doesn’t do that! I also have been really big on trying to buy only sale items, however, you can’t eat very balanced doing that-at least it hasn’t worked for us.
    I am thankful for this post as it has been something I have been adapting to-it’s ok to spend a little more for better.
    How do you that buy local farms find them? We have farms in the area but to my knowledge none of them sell stuff to the public, just for their family or to a big corporation.

    • Johnlyn says:

      A lady over at frugal-families.com told me that the more you talk about buying local, the more you’ll find.

      That’s how it’s been for me!

      I find out that there is a place that sells raw milk 15 miles away. I happened to be chatting with one of my very good friends and she told me that it’s her brother’s farm! In our newspaper there is a section called “good food to eat”. Often times you’ll see items there as well.

      If you keep your eyes and mouth 🙂 open you’ll find more and more options!

  • KatieBee says:

    Oh how I LOVE your post – my family is the same ages/# and we go through a lot of food! Although we live in a very large city, and I do use coupons for things, I also have moved to some of what you are doing.

    In January I decided to use the envelope method as well – each week I take out $100 for groceries. $35 of that includes a large box of assorted local, organic fruits delivered to my door each week (we tried purchasing the same amount of veggies and found this to be equal in price and I don’t have to go anywhere).

    Some weeks we get shrimp and salmon (Ok, only one week…), but we also learned to use beans, brown rice and salad to be our fill ups in the menu. I used to spend $600+ a month on food and have consistently stayed at the $100 (or less)per week for the past 6 weeks. It takes planning, but it’s working. No one’s complained about what’s for dinner

    Thanks for a little extra inspiration – it helps to know others are rowing the same boat!

  • Amber Cullum says:

    Yay, for you increasing your budget for the reasons you wrote.

    I just went to a couponing seminar and it was very helpful, but all of it was not realistic for our family. I will implement many of the tips, but I have found meal planning to be very effective in cutting cost, yet keeping fresh produce, lentils, and meats as the staple of our meals.

    I realize some people can not afford this and at times we can’t either, so we make changes. One thing, I am finally looking into is growing a few of our own veggies. This is more challenging living in a city, but I know it can be done.

  • Rachel says:

    My monthly grocery budget is $400 for a family of five. My husband is gluten intolerant and I must rely on price matching or coupons. We currently do live in a larger town, so I can do these things. I would love to have more grocery money each week, but our current income does not allow for that right now. We have lived in small towns- before I couponed and new my husband needed gluten free foods and our budget then, like now, was around $100/wk. The internet and wonderful sites like this, help so much to keep me posted with great ideas and great coupons and samples!

  • stacy hancock says:

    great post! i rarely use coupons because a lot of what we buy is fresh, i make most from scratch. even with buying mostly organic and getting our meat straight from the farmers, i can run our weekly budget around 75$. that is a family of 4 plus 3 extra kidlets M-F for breakfast and lunch. i credit this budget success to menu planning around what i already have- in addition to gardening and canning/freezing.

  • Peggy says:

    I live in a small town, not many coupons in the local paper so I get the paper from the nearest large city delivered to my door just on Sunday for under $8.00 a month …well worth the money!

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