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Tips on Keeping the Food Budget

*Updated with a coupon code for Grocery University! Thanks, Carrie!!!

The 4 Moms are inviting our readers to link up this week to share tips and strategies for keeping a food budget.

Is it just me, or does it seem that money is in ever shrinking supply while food prices are rising? Now, it is more important than ever to keep our food budget!

Here are some strategies we use to keep our food budget:

  • Shop from the pantry. In other words, use what you have! Dig around in your freezer and pantry and see how you can put those items together into a meal. The fewer trips you make to the store, the more money stays in your pocket.
  • Make the most of the meat in your meal. Since meat is usually the most expensive item in a meal, using less meat and more "other stuff" is ideal for the frugal homemaker. Casseroles and soups are a great way to make your meat go farther.
  • Shop sales and match those up with coupons. My friend, Crystal, aka Money Saving Mom, does all the work for you in coupon match ups and even shows real life scenarios and photos of how they work. (We have really met. She is a doll. We are like THAT. {crossing fingers})
  • Learn the ins and outs of couponing to make the most of your shopping trips. Grocery University is an awesome course by my friend, Carrie that my 16yo and I both listened to and gained a TON of wisdom from! (For real. I totally know her.) Carrie has graciously provided my awesome readers with a coupon code for $10 off until Oct. 20! Use the code "SMOCKITY" to get your discount.
  • Keep track of your spending. Write down where your money is going when it comes to food. My friend Jen, from Balancing Beauty and Bedlam, has a printable grocery budget tracker spreadsheet for you to do just that. (Seriously! We really are friends! It's like I'm a friend magnet!)
  • Become a grocery steward. Be responsible for using the time and money that God has given you wisely. My friend, Amy, from Amy's Finer Things, has a few thoughts on this topic. (I KNOW! How did I become so blessed with so many great friends?!)

Now it's your turn! What tips or strategies do you use to keep your grocery budget under control? If your blog is family friendly, link up below, and remember to link back to one of the 4 Moms. (Don't think we won't check. Do NOT make us pull this car over. Do you hear me?!)

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  1. We make everything. We make biscuits for biscuit tin (cookies?!), we make a cake for the cake tin, our own bread etc. The children will happily have one homemade biscuit and a glass of milk, made usually with unrefined sugar and oats. Then they’re done. Whereas if Grandma buys a packet of biscuits they go loops for the refined sugar hit and easily have 3/4. Likewise homemade bread, one slice of toast after cereal in the morning and they’re done. Whereas mass produced bread they often have 2/3 slices. Given I can make a loaf for 60p and I can’t buy one for less than a pound. (94c compared to $1.54) It’s a win win situation!
    We use the supermarket for store cupboard basics only. Meat comes from the butchers, and fruit/veg we grow. Or we use the farm shop. Fruit and veg is always seasonal, if it isn’t in season we basically don’t have it. The exceptions to this are bananas and I buy a hand a fortnight, and cucumber/tomatoes which the children have at lunch. We have our own hens and we swap eggs for other things with friends/neighbours. (Veg, home made wine, etc.) The family know we cannot have meat every night. (Usually 3 times a week.) But my rubber chicken is the stuff of legend…. (Roast on Sunday, Curry on monday, pie on Tuesday, broth on Wed…. Rubber as it stretches soooo far!)
    I’ve waffled on a bit haven’t I? Sorry, this is one of my fave’ topics!!

    • wow, you’re lucky, my kids will eat 3 or 4 (or more!) slices of bread even though it’s homemade whole-wheat or rye bread….same goes for cakes, cookies etc, I surely can’t count just 1 per person….oh, and they eat 5 meals a day ( regular 3 + two snacks that are so big it equals an actual meal!) I remember back when grocery budget was less than 400$ a month…now it’s closer to the double when I make an effort. I also try to eat only seasonal fruit/veggies, trouble is where I live that means virtually no fruit in the winter months. Do you used canned fruit then?

      • They (mine) eat a lot! We have our own hens and they might have a couple of eggs, and a slice of toast. Then fruit, half a pint of milk etc. (For breakfast) I do have a tendency to lob an apple at them as they reach for the cake tin, which is probably why they have just one piece.
        We tend to have a cooked breakfast of some description, so eggs, beans and toast. Or a large bowl of p0rridge, fruit and toast etc. Elevenses. Lunch. Mid afternoon snack. Dinner, and supper before bed. It looks a lot written down?! But we’re out and about walking a lot! (I gave up my car in Spring to save fuel.)
        Fruit in Winter I buy appples that keep in sacks from the farm shop in Sept’ or even better sometimes a friend lets me have a few crates. Those are wrapped in paper and stored cool and dark to last over winter. Satsumas and Clementines whilst not local are ‘in season’ here Nov/Dec/Jan roughly and very cheap – usually 90p ( A dollar ish?) for 2 nets of 20 fruits. Also over Summer I stew a lot of fruit – berries, plums, cooking apples etc and freeze in ziploc bags and the children have that with yoghurt or custard over Winter.
        My grocery bill is about £380 (I think that’s around 600us dollars) a month which feeds 3 adult portions, (son eats as much as his father!) and one child. As well as 3 cats and the 2 guinea pigs!! Which is considered low amongst friends who easily spend £500 a month or more.
        Take care
        (P.S I love this blog and others because I get LOADS of ideas of inexpensive snacks and meals that are totally different to what we have in the U.K – even if I need google to help me locate ingredients!)

  2. YOU are a riot, and I’m happy to call you FRIEND. :)

  3. LOL at Liz’s “rubber chicken!” :)

    My biggest grocery achievement lately has been learning NOT to menu-plan. Before this summer, I typically did what all the experts suggest — reviewed the circulars, planned out my meals according to sales and coupons, etc. But we’ve been trying to eat more meatless meals (for health and finance reasons) and I’ve been using the bulk of my grocery budget at the Saturday morning farmers’ market, and I never know what’s going to look good or be abundant and inexpensive each week. So I’m working harder at buying the freshest, healthiest, least-spendy local produce and then actually doing something with it quickly (instead of letting it rot in the fridge).

    It does result in some weird looks from my family (turns out Swiss chard is NOT a favorite, and we have learned to say that food “has an earthy flavor” instead of “tastes like dirt”) but overall I have hearty, adventurous eaters and it’s been fun to learn to make new dishes. As the growing season winds down and I shop more at the supermarket again, I’ll get back to planning ahead, but for now I’m still muddling along with all of the lovely fall fruits and veggies and fitting them in to our meals as much as I can.

  4. I use my own version of Liz’s “rubber chicken” that I learned from The Happy Housewife’s blog recipe “Whole Chicken in a Crockpot”! That is one of my favorite recipes to use when I’m able to buy chickens on sale! I would have NEVER bought a whole chicken before that recipe!!!! I also use Money Saving Mom’s coupon match ups with sales!!!!

  5. I use about the same amount of meat now with 7 kids that I did when we had a lot fewer. Now I add more of other ingredients — beans, rice, etc – that are much more wallet-friendly.

    The Tightwad Gazette (can buy the book even though the magazine is out of print) is a fantastic frugal find and worth every penny. Even my 11yo daughter loves reading through it and telling me her good ideas! :)

    Homemade bread is super cheap (we grind our own wheat) and so delicious. It’s also a great filler at meals especially for young, hungry children who don’t need to watch their carbs.

    Coupons just aren’t worth it for me – the time involved is not reasonable at this stage of life. Plus brand names just aren’t worth it for me in both cases either. We shop Aldi and spend about $300/month for our family of 9 (soon to grow by one, but thankfully breastmilk is free! :)

  6. Hi! Long time lurker, first time commenter here! I’ve recently “lost” my job where I was working from home for my husband (long story – he didn’t fire me, things just weren’t working out). Now I’m home with my two girls, 2 years old and almost 6 months old. I’m loving all the time I get with them, however, my small income was keeping us afloat and finding another job just isn’t an option. Me working for my husband was going to solve a lot of issues of day care costs and flexibility we needed but another job just won’t be feasible. We are now at the point of cutting every expense we can and making every dollar stretch. I’m using my Dave Ramsey cash envelope system (and loving it!) and would like to get into couponing to save on my groceries. We literally don’t have any extra money to spare and are selling things on Craig’s List like crazy just to pay current bills and not get late fees. My question for you (I guess I should get to the point, huh?!) is, do you recommend me spending the $24.95 and purchasing your friend’s Grocery University course so that I can start saving the maximum right away, or just use the free resources online and learn as much as I can that way until I can actually afford the download? I could take money from our Christmas envelope to pay for it but I was curious if you thought it was worth the money to go ahead and get it or wait until I’ve saved using what I can learn online and buy it when I don’t have to take from another category? Thanks for your input. I know she is your friend and you want to support her system so I hope you don’t feel awkward or put in a hard place to answer that question. I really want to do the couponing to save the most in the quickest amount of time. We don’t have the money for me to learn the long, hard way at this point. We are eating the cheapest foods we can find right now and I’m using what little amount of coupons I have too but it’s not doing much. I feel extremely overwhelmed!! Thanks again!

  7. Smockity Frocks says:

    When my husband lost his job and were were desperately saving every penny we had, I didn’t even go out of the house unless I absolutely HAD to because I didn’t want to spend ANY money that wasn’t 100% necessary.

    I wouldn’t dip into another fund for this. You *can* live without it, and that was always my determining factor on whether I was going to buy something.

    However, I Skyped with Carrie, and she gave me a coupon code for you!!! “SMOCKITY” will give you $10 off through Oct. 20, and she says if you don’t save at least as much as you spent on it, you can get a full refund. If you can come up with $14.95, it will be a great investment.

    • I don’t want to take anything away from your friend Carrie and I know this will seem like a shameless plug, but I mention it because I want to help as many people as possible.

      My ebook Save More-Clip Less: Feed Your Family for Less Without Extreme Couponing is FREE. It’s filled with practical ideas and helpful information and even has planning forms in the appendix and a quick start plan to get started painlessly.

      Click here if you’re interested: http://thepeacefulmom.com/2011/08/19/free-e-book-save-more-clip-less/

      • Kimberly, thank you for directing me to your ebook! It’s awesome and I did download it (and like you on FB!). It’s going to come in very handy as well! I get very overwhelmed with the thought of using coupons so I’m excited to use your ebook for times when I can’t buy the Sunday paper and my printer is out of ink and can’t print any coupons off the computer! (true story!!) I am very grateful for all the help and encouragement I’m receiving right now from all sorts of places. God is really blessing me even though I’m stressing out a bit and having a hard time fully trusting Him! Thanks again!

    • Thank you so much for talking with her and getting me the discount! I am definitely going to get it either tomorrow (pay day) or next Friday, depending on which bills we have to pay and what will be left over. If nothing else, I can get it for myself as my birthday present since my birthday is next week on the 21st! It will be a great gift. Tell Carrie I said a HUGE THANK YOU! I’m really excited!

      I’m doing what you said you did when your husband first lost his job. I’m not leaving the house unless it’s totally necessary. My mini van is paid for however, the thing is a gas guzzler and only gets 11 mpg!

  8. As a single mom, full time graduate student, and small (very small!) business owner, I have had learn to stretch a dollar until it nearly burst. I coupon at CVS and only shop on the day when I have the coupon for 25% off my entire order. I use my CVS extrabucks and coupons on every item and usually can acquire a months worth of personal care items for our entire family for free (or very close to it). It takes time and effort but through sites such as this I am able to do it and it bridges a big gap in our household budget.

    I make our own bread and totally agree with the post above which addresses consumption. Homemade bread taste better, is preservative free, and is healthier. The whole grains and oats make it more filling and the fact that it is sugar free eliminates the eating cycle. I make our own snacks (homemade gluten free pumpkin bars are cooling right now). I make our own pita and tortilla chips and serve them fresh with meals and leftovers go in a snack bag.

    I make our meals from scratch using whole ingredients. I don’ t have time to slave away in the kitchen and use a crock pot several times a week. I perfected healthy crock pot options and wrote a book “Healthy Slow Cooker Options” and have a Facebook page “Healthy Crock Pot Options”.

    I stay on track with my grocery budget by buying in bulk, avoiding the grocery store in favor of Costco as often as possible, and making as much as I can at home from scratch. We eat out occasionally and ALWAYS have a coupon. We go to the restaurant we want to go to and eat whatever we want off of the menu- it’s a treat, a luxury, and usually we’re celebrating something. I think that if you’re going to dine out you should order something that you can’t, or usually don’t, make at home. Live it up in those moments.

    I stretch our budget by making more and using leftovers for lunches or quick heat ‘n eat days. I have two teenagers so sometimes our meal times don’t coincide, despite the best of intentions. If they know that something delicious and nutritious is waiting at home they will usually forego the fast food and come home to eat. I cook whether we will be having a family dinner around the table or not, because I know those tupperware containers will be gone the next morning (and so much of those recipes taste better the second day!). I also make second meals out of base ingredients: chicken becomes the base for casserole or broth, ground beef will reappear in tacos, lasagna, pasta bakes.

    I love your blogs and I learn so much that I apply in my household. I am so thankful for the lot of you!

  9. I’m not sure how I added my link twice. I wasn’t trying to stack the cards or anything. I promise. Please don’t ban me! Tell me what I did wrong, and I’ll never do it again as long as I live.


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