As a family of five living off of only one small income, the grocery budget is tight. $400 ($450 max) per month is all I have to spend to feed the family. Whenever people hear the budget they usually ask how I do it. The truth is that is isn't always easy and there's not a lot of "fun" food, but we ARE always full and well nourished! We don't normally have many snack or convenience foods in the house and I also make the meals from scratch, nothing served comes pre-prepared in a box. I don't have a magic method for making all those things you might be used to eating less expensive, but I can show you how to make meals based around a few inexpensive ingredients.
The first thing to do is write out a menu for the week/month/etc. I usually do about a week at a time because our kitchen is teeny tiny and a week's worth of groceries fills the cabinets and refrigerator to capacity. I try to think of meals featuring: beans, potatoes, rice, hamburger, and chicken (pasta is also an inexpensive option, but you won't see it much around here because I have to use gluten free which makes it much more expensive) These things are inexpensive, versatile, and nutritious.
This week I decided to challenge myself a bit and set my goal at nine days worth of groceries and under $100. I came in at $91.14!! Here's the menu and the cost breakdown: (the menu actually covers eight days and there should be at least one more day covered with leftovers)
11/30 - bean soup ($1.48 for a bag of great northern beans), fried potatoes ($1.99 for a 10lb bag that will be used in at least 3 meals from this shopping trip), corn bread ($1.88 for yellow corn meal)
12/1 - BBQ chicken covered baked potatoes w/ a side of peas ($9.29 for a 4.7lb package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts- this will be split into 3 meals from this shopping trip. Potatoes listed on prior menu day. $0.98 frozen peas. $1.98 for BBQ sauce which will also be used for future meals)
12/2- three-bean Mexican rice ($1.38 each for a bag of black, red, and pinto beans- these will create multiple meals. $1.76 for a bag of parboiled rice-used for multiple meals. $1.98 jar of salsa. $7.89 for a 2lb bag of cheese-multiple meal use)
12/3- spaghetti & simple salad ($8.58 for a 3lb ground beef-will be used in other meals on this menu. $3.74 for gluten free pasta. $1.24 for tomato sauce. $0.68 for diced tomatoes. $1.48 for red leaf lettuce, $2.12 for baby spinach)
12/4- vegetarian soft tacos (Use excess beans and rice cooked from 12/2 and leftover lettuce/spinach from 12/3. Cheese & salsa prices listed in prior menu days. $2.68 for soft corn tortillas-large package for use in future menus. $0.53 for 1/2 pound of Roma tomatoes. $0.73 for a white onion)
12/5- hamburgers w/ homemade oven baked fries & a side of mixed veggies (Hamburger price listed on prior menu day. Potato price listed on prior menu day. $0.98 for frozen mixed vegetables. $1.28 for hamburger buns- I skip these since they aren't gluten free)
12/6- chicken stir-fry served over rice (Chicken price listed on prior menu day. Rice price listed on prior menu day. $1.98 for frozen stir-fry veggies, $1.22 for bean sprouts)
12/7- three-bean casserole w/ chicken & cheesy sauce ($5.88 for 2 lb of fresh green beans. $3.03 for gallon of milk. $1.14 for French onion topping. Red beans, black beans, chicken, & cheese prices listed on prior menu days)
If my calculations are correct, that puts the total at $67.92 for dinners. Obviously there are things like cooking oil and seasoning purchased in the past that I'm not including in this list, but this gives a rough idea of my spending. So where did the other $23.22 go? It went to:
-beef base $3.72
-Parmesan cheese $2.64
-natural almonds $5.36
-2lb bag of baby carrots $2.74
-eggs 18 $3.38
-wheat bread $1.38
So that's the breakdown! I do have things on hand that will be consumed that aren't on this week's shopping list like: frozen fruit, peanut butter, popcorn, yogurt, string cheese, etc. Those are things I usually purchase in bulkier quantities leading to a larger grocery bill those weeks, but keeping things less expensive overall.