Does Your Grocery Budget Need a Makeover?

It’s a new year, which means it’s time to set some goals that will help improve your life. While you’re at it, consider improving the life of your grocery budget. We all need food to survive, but as with the other parts of our life, sometimes our grocery budget doesn’t always get our best efforts. When we first started our debt payoff journey four years ago, one of the things I did was go back and checked credit card statements and bank statements to figure out how much we were spending on groceries.

I figured we were spending about $600-$700 on our grocery budget each month, as we were making a halfhearted effort to keep things under control.

After checking a year’s worth of statements, turned out that we were spending about $900 a month on groceries. I was stunned. Kind of like when you step on the scale after the holidays and the number is five – or twenty – pounds higher than what you thought it was. Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.

Well, after a good year or two of hard work, we’ve consistently kept our grocery budget around the $450 range for our family of six. And we don’t live on rice and beans to do so. In fact, we probably eat healthier now than we ever have. We just used the following tips to cut our grocery bill in half. Our grocery budget got a makeover, and it’s looking good!

Menu Plan

A solid grocery budget has to come with a menu plan. Without a plan, it’s too easy to wander through the store throwing things in the cart (and still having “nothing” to eat) or stop off at the local pizza joint on the way home from work. My mom has been using this menu plan technique since we were poor and struggling and we use it as well.

  1. Make a list and number it 1 through 7 (or 1 through 15 or whatever, based on how long you want your menu plan to be for)
  2. Think of seven meals for dinner that fit in with your time schedule and your family’s tastes
  3. Write down what items you need to buy to make those 7 dinner meals (check the pantry to make sure you don’t already have some stuff)
  4. Write down additional items that are less time-intensive for breakfast and lunch, such as fresh fruit, plain organic yogurt or nuts. For lunch plan some soups that you can make ahead and freeze or sandwich fixins, or make a little extra and plan to take leftovers from dinner.

Now, you can decide what you’re going to have for dinner ahead of time based on the week’s schedule, or you can just decide what you’ll pick from the list as the days dawn. For instance, on Tuesdays I go to Bible study for dinner, so I plan something easy that the kids can make or I do a make-ahead dish like lasagna. On evenings I know we’ll be at home and have a light schedule, I plan more time-intensive meals such as fajitas with homemade tortillas.

The goal is to make the menu plan conducive with your lifestyle so that you can’t make excuses for not following the plan.

Make a List of Meals

To make your menu planning easier, make a list of meals that your family enjoys. One of the keys to a successful grocery budget makeover is to try and keep dinner costs at an average of $5 or so. This is easy if you’re willing to buck up and not be too much of a food snob. In our house, we have mostly $5 meals, but we have a few $10 or $15 meals and then offset them with a few $1, $2 or $3 meals. Let me give you an idea of some of our meals.

$1, $2, or $3 Meals

Homemade Chipotle Rice

Popcorn (yup, just popcorn, air popped, GMO free popcorn and organic butter)

Buttered Noodles with Veggies

Spaghetti without Meatballs

$5 Meals

The list of five dollar meals is endless. You can pretty much make any type of soup, salad or other meal for five dollars if you shop the sales and plan wisely. Here are some things we serve in the five dollar range.

Meat Loaf

Chicken Noodle Soup

Bean and Ham Soup

Beef Stew (with leftovers from Pot Roast night)

Deluxe Hamburgers

Homemade Mac and Cheese


Grilled Chicken with Mashed Potatoes and Carmelized Onions

Tacos or Taco Salad

Homemade Pizza

Every once in a while we’ll throw in a bigger meal like fish or steak, but then we offset it with a couple of $1 or $2 meals to keep our grocery budget in balance.

Recommended Reading: The $5 Dinner Mom Cookbook: 200 Recipes for Quick, Delicious, and Nourishing Meals That Are Easy on the Budget and a Snap to Prepare

Other Ways to Save Money on Food

The key to making delicious meals at home for cheap is to do homemade and shop the sales. For instance:

  • We buy five pounds of organic flour at Walmart for $4.28 so we can make homemade breads and desserts.
  • We buy non-GMO pasta at Trader Joe’s for 99 cents a pound.
  • We buy grass-fed beef, non-antibiotic, non-hormone beef from a local farmer for under $4 a pound after processing.
  • We shop the sales (Aldi is TERRIFIC) for organic and non-organic veggies and fruits
  • We buy when it makes sense at warehouse clubs, like when we get organic butter for $4 a pound and 10 pounds of organic sugar for $8
  • We make most bread products and almost all desserts from scratch. They taste better, they’re better for you and it’s cheaper

We also grow a garden most years, which will produce a bounty of organic veggies that you can eat fresh or freeze or can and save a boat load of money on your grocery bill. But for the last two years we’ve not grown a garden and are still feeding our family well on this budget.

Eating whole foods and cooking/baking from scratch has changed our taste buds so much that we can immediately taste the chemicals in store-bought processed foods or bakery foods. The apple pie at the local grocery store tastes horrible to our kids now, and they much prefer the homemade pies we make for under $5.

Don’t Have Time?

If you’re feeling like your time schedule is way too busy to live this way, try making your menu plan and then setting aside one day or evening a week to prepare and freeze several meals. Most all pasta and rice dishes are freezable, as are most soups and chili recipes. Β Cookies and bars also freeze well.

What to do With That Extra Money

Now that you’ve given your grocery budget a makeover, you should have at least a few hundred dollars extra every month with which to put toward reaching your dreams.

You can now use that money to:

  • Pay off debt
  • Save for early retirement
  • Save to pay cash for a house
  • Put toward your kids’ college education

or any other number of things that are on your heart. You see, a grocery budget makeover will not only line your bank account with more cash, it’ll help you to live a healthier life, which will give you more energy to do whatever it is you want to do.

Does your grocery budget need a makeover?






19 comments on “Does Your Grocery Budget Need a Makeover?

  1. For people like me (easily overwhelmed by too many options) those links to frugal recipes are worth their weight in gold. THANK YOU. I’m on this!

  2. In the grand scheme of things I think we do pretty good with our shopping. We save a lot by taking advantage of sales at different stores, and trying to stack coupons and other deals. Our spending has definitely increased but I think that’s a combination of higher prices as well as two growing kids with very hungry mouths!

  3. Thank you for sharing your recipes! I’m always looking for new, frugal recipes to add to my repertoire!

    And – I agree meal planning is an absolute must. I usually plan the week’s meals on Sunday, but this month I switched it up. I listed out meal options I could make with what I had on hand (with the addition of fresh produce) and so far, this is working even better than planning for a week.

  4. We always try and keep quick meals on hand that the family enjoys, so that we are not tempted to eat out. There is always room for improvement while grocery shopping. I think we all have our moments, when we impulse buy something that look goods at the food store we shouldn’t buy or could make at home cheaper.

    1. Yes. I don’t take Rick with when I shop for precisely that reason. πŸ™‚ When I suggest going out he’s quick to calculate how much cheaper we could make the meal at home, but when he’s at the store he’s like a kid in a candy shop!

  5. You are truly killing this area–eating healthy, organic, non-GMO for that price for your family of 6! We are at about $300 a month for our family of four, but the kids are still young. We do have people over for dinner or take snacks to events pretty regularly, too. Anyway, I love the idea of categorizing meals by price. I do this somewhat informally, but it’d be good to plan more explicitly this way. Sometimes I think it’s easy to think vegetarian meals are cheaper but it really depends on the ingredients.

  6. It is easy to eat organic food for the cheap prices that you mentioned when planning out for a week or longer. We have the luxury of buying produce at wholesale prices, but, it means we have to buy a month’s worth at once as there is a drop shipment once per month, although we still supplement at the end of the month from the grocery store. We normally spend between $200 and $300 per month on food for our family of 3 (2 plus one toddler).

  7. I’ve gotten *better* at meal planning over the last year, but have a ways to go to optimize my savings. I feel like I’m just now starting to have a good idea of where the bargains are between Aldi, Costco, and my neighborhood store, even with a price book. My mom is a fabulous planner and cook, but somehow I missed all the lessons I know she taught me πŸ™‚

    I need to buy another cow (half) this year! The last time I did, it was barely over $3/lb for grass-fed (grain finished but I think this is routine in the Midwest) including processing. Good thing I’m finally getting around to eating down my freezer this month, to make some room!

  8. We are way better than we used to be at controlling our food costs but could still notch it down a bit. I probably need to take the others in my family less often so we did a better job of sticking to the list. Somehow extras always end up in the cart. And we probably buy too much convenience food, but it does keep us out of restaurants most of the time.

  9. I do a weekly meal plan almost every week, and every week I dread doing it. (I also dread the cooking part.) But I know that meal planning saves me time, money, and my sanity, so I force myself to stick with it. One of my goals for 2017 is to find a way to dread it less. πŸ™‚

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