Feeding Four on $200 a Month

Feeding Four on $200 a Month

It has taken me a lot of trial and error but I have finally successfully been able to feed my family of four on only $200 each month which is roughly $50 a week without couponing. At first it was a struggle to get that bill below $300, however, now it is just second nature to us. There are times when I wish we just had $10 more in our budget so I could get those yummy cheese puffs or some Oreo cookies, but it’s not worth it. I love knowing that we are saving money by cutting down our grocery bill each month.

There’s my husband, myself, my three-and-a-half year old daughter, and my 18-month old son. My husband can eat quite a bit of food but I can hold my own quite well. In fact, I know I get my money’s worth at any all-you-can-eat buffet, especially when it comes to sushi. My daughter eats a lot sometimes and is fine with a piece of bread at other times. However, she’s been known to eat just as much as I eat at some meals. And then there’s my son. You might think that since he’s only 18 months old, he doesn’t eat much. But that’s where you’d be thinking wrong. He can easily eat more than my three-and-a-half year old daughter. He’s a growing boy, for sure. If he can eat this much now, I’m a little worried about what’s going to happen over the next 17 years before we send him off to live on his own.

To feed the family who can eat a lot of food takes some planning, some sacrifice, and a lot of self control.

The Envelope: Have you heard of the envelope way of budgeting? You put the allotted amount for the week or month into an envelope and you can only spend that much for the week or month. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. My husband and I loved that idea but we were hesitant to pull money out of our account each month to exchange it for cash because of the rewards we get through using our credit card.

Luckily, EEBA has made an envelope app that allows us to fill our “envelopes” each month and shows us easily and quickly on our phones how much money we have left in each “envelope” for food, gas, etc. You can connect a bank account to the app, however, we just input the receipt amount by hand and it works great for us.

Planning Meals: Each Saturday or Sunday (sometimes Monday when I’m really behind), I sit down with our dry erase board where I put the weekly menu, the internet, and Pinterest, and decide what our upcoming meals for the week will be. Our family doesn’t really have any go-to meals which makes meal planning a bit more fun. I try to make sure we have at least one unique meal (one we rarely eat or have never tried) each week and will work the other meals around that one. I like to make sure that for the most part, all of the meals will somehow have at least one ingredient in common with others throughout the week so that when I go to the grocery store, I will buy fewer items that will definitely get used.

For example, here is this week’s menu:
Monday – Chicken Tacos
Tuesday – Cheese Spinach Strata
Wednesday – Chile Rellenos
Thursday – Homemade Mac & Cheese
Friday – Mushroom Risotto
Saturday – Pizza
Sunday – Stuffed Chicken Marsala

When I went to the store, I made sure I had a few certain ingredients like lettuce that could be used for the tacos and as a side for the rellenos, cheese for almost all the meals, mushrooms that would be used Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and eggs that would be used Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Chicken was the big purchase for the week but despite all of that, our grocery bill still easily came under $50 for the week.

Homemade Foods: I think this is the one reason why we can afford to eat for so little. Homemaking as much food as we can has saved us so much money. Looking back at this week’s menu, the things that were/will be homemade include taco shells, Italian bread, cream of chicken soup, and pizza dough. This week I also was able to bust out homemade pasta noodles, homemade pasta sauce, and two loaves of homemade bread to help with snacks and much-needed cheese sandwiches.

Nearly everything that we can make at home, we do. I buy flour, sugar, and salt by the bulk at Costco which really helps save money because of all of the things we can make with these three ingredients being the base of the food. I mix our own seasonings and try to cut down on buying canned food as much as possible (other than for food storage). For recipes and ideas of what you can actually make instead of buy, I like to look at Pinterest (you can also just do a Google search to see what others have come up for recipes for whatever you’re looking into making). I’m always amazed at what else I can make, and not just food related either. Recently I made our own homemade liquid hand soap and homemade laundry detergent.

Know the Sale Items: Before I plan the menu for the week, I like to know what is on sale at the grocery stores that I have near me. Sometimes it doesn’t change my decision as to what to make for the week, however, sometimes it does so it is always good to check. I like to check online for the current sales. You can check the store’s actual website or you may find bloggers in your area who already put together a list of what’s on sale and what coupons you can use to buy things at a cheaper price, if you like to use coupons. Here in Utah, my favorite website to use is Savvy Shopper Deals.

Shop Around: I’m lucky enough to have eight different stores that carry food all within about 10 minutes of my house, including one almost across the street from me. However, just because that one is closest, does not mean I do all of my shopping there. For example, Harmon’s is expensive but if I want quality produce, meat, and/or cheese, I go there. The truth is, the produce I purchase there tastes better and lasts longer. But if I want anything else on my list, I end up at Smith’s because of their rewards card and because of their off-brand food. It’s cheaper than name-brand food and I like the taste of almost all of their products.

At the same time, however, there is a Winco, Walmart, Target, Ridley’s, Costco, and Macey’s all close to me as well. Each have their pros and cons to shopping there and many of my friends and neighbors prefer shopping at those over the two that I have chosen. It all depends on what you are looking to buy and what kind of quality you want, so make sure you do some research about the stores around where you live.

Limit Buying Snacks/Sweets: If we buy fun snacks or treats, it usually means they were on sale and/or we had extra money in our budget. Buying fun snacks is rare for us. However, that does not mean that you have to eliminate snacks altogether. I don’t mind spending a little extra time in the kitchen to make a fun snack like granola bars that will cost less and make a lot more than I would get at the store.

I’ve also taught my daughter that if she wants a snack, fruit or vegetables are her options and she is more than happy to choose from the selection that we have. Once again, people online have come up with some amazing homemade “fun” snacks that taste delicious. This summer when fruit is in season, I am excited to try making homemade fruit snacks, homemade pop tarts, and homemade fruit leather. Although it has been hard for my family to give up on some family fun snack favorites, like fruit snacks, I have heard very little complaining about the other snack options that are available.

These are the various factors that have helped my family save money each month. Some may be useful to you while others may not apply to you at all. So now I’m curious, what sort of things do you do to help save money each month? Leave us a comment and let us know!

GIVEAWAY ENDED – And while we’re on the topic of saving money, we have a huge envelope full of coupons ready to be given away to help you save on your grocery bill this month. This giveaway is open to Utah residents only who are 18 years and older. Giveaway ends March 18, 2013.