Grocery Money-Saving CHALLENGE!

admin March 5, 2011

Image by AlishaV

This month we’re going to try something unique.  This post was inspired really by two different things: 1) families who are looking for honest and interesting ways to decrease their grocery budgets, and 2) the “food stamp challenge.”

Let’s talk about point #2 first.  Have you ever heard of it?  It’s basically a publicity stunt that a bunch of Congressmen dreamed up in 2007.  They worked out the average food stamp benefit as being $3/day/person.  Then they decided that for one week, several of them were going to stick to this.  Big surprise — they mostly ate boxes of crackers, Velveeta, bananas, peanut butter sandwiches, ramen, and other processed foods, largely grain-based.  Then they claimed that it “can barely be done” and went on and on about the plight of the poor….

This was not a realistic trial.  People on food stamps don’t (shouldn’t) live day-to-day and by individual people (unless they are single, of course).  This number works out so that a family of 4 would receive about $360/month.  Sounds a little more realistic, right?  With a whole family to plan for and a month at a time, it’s entirely possible to do, buying fruit/veggies in bulk, dry beans, whole grains (like rice), cheaper cuts of meat, plenty of eggs, etc.

Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s easy.  Many of us need or want to reduce our grocery budgets but just shake our heads, not sure where to begin.  Some of us have to be on very restricted budgets, for a number of reasons.  Currently, the general attitude is “You can’t eat well if you’re poor.”  I don’t think that’s true at all, though.  I think the poor are not aware of the options that they have that could reduce their food bills and provide excellent nutrition.

Back in October 2009, Jenny at Nourished Kitchen took on this challenge.  Her approach was a bit different than mine will be, though, for a few reasons.  She avoided all but conventional grocery stores (assuming that was what the poor would have access to), did not use anything from the pantry, and a few other things (you can click the link to read about her experience).

I’m not going to approach it quite that way, though.  My goal isn’t to prove that just people on food stamps can eat well, cheap.  My goal is to prove that anyone on a limited budget can eat well.  Also, things have changed in the last couple of years, and at least in my area, most health food stores and even farmer’s markets do take food stamps now.  So, I won’t be eliminating those.

For the sake of this challenge, we, personally, are going to take on the following assumptions:

  • The maximum benefits are $668, but we would probably not get that.  I’ll use the average of $3/day/person and call it $360.
  • We can pull from the pantry, but must keep track of what is used and cost (primarily to get an estimate on what I’m spending overall, as well as to figure out what staples are netting me the most value)
  • Same with the freezer
  • I can use any resource available to me to reduce my costs (again — this is to prove that it can be done on any limited budget, not just food stamps; though most places will take food stamp cards) 

I’ve already done a few things to prepare.  On Tuesday, I created a sourdough starter (it’s the only grain that I eat, and I’m the only one who eats it.  I have about once slice of traditionally fermented sourdough per day).  I started a big pot of stock.  I made some yogurt, which got partially turned into popsicles/frozen yogurt for my kids’ snacks.  All of these are really quite easy to do, and much cheaper than buying these things ( yogurt is $1.25/qt instead of $3/qt).

I made up a very simple meal plan (will get posted later today) which is honestly likely to change.  I ended up shopping for very basic foods — good hotdogs, lots of frozen fruit/veggies, cheese, etc.  I know that right now, in the position we’re in, that we need things that are nourishing yet very easy.  If I have to work hard to get a meal I might not eat, and I just can’t do that.  So we’re looking at a lot of smoothies, cheese, fruit/veggies, soups, yogurt, etc.  It just so happens that these are pretty frugal, too. 🙂

On Tuesday I’ll be posting details about my shopping trip (yesterday).  But, I went to the ATM, withdrew my $180 (for two weeks of groceries) and went shopping.  I set aside $40 immediately for our next farm order (which will buy us about 10 dozen eggs and 3 – 4 gallons of milk).  Then I hit up some local stores, and came away with what we needed to realistically, and easily, feed our family for two weeks.  And stayed under budget. 🙂  (Ordinarily I’d pull out $250 so I’m doing pretty good here!)

Want to take the challenge along with me?  Here are the basic premises:

  • You get $90 per month per person in your family (that’s how I came up with $360 for a family of 4)
  • If you are way under or over this number, try to reduce your grocery bill by 10% this month
  • You must make some form of meal plan, even if it is only dinners and/or a rough sketch
  • You must make a shopping list and stick to it as much as possible
  • You must keep all your receipts and your shopping lists (so you can compare later)

That’s it!  That’s all you need to do to join in.  Later this month (starting Tuesday, but we’ll have regular Saturday posts on this.  I just wanted to get my grocery list and first tips out quickly), we’ll be talking about more ways to reduce our budgets, looking at where we went over (impulse buys, forgetting to write staples — like spices — on the lists, not knowing what average prices are, etc.), and so on.

We can do this.  I know it!  I reduced my bill by really more than $70 in my first two-week period (because, ahem, recently I’ve been going over a lot).

What do you say?  Will you take the challenge?

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  1. I am going to take the challenge! I posted about it on my blog today.


  2. I am not ready for this challenge but am subscribing to comments in order to learn from the more experienced in here. I find it a financial challenge just to make enough broths from good bones. There is very little backup food from the pantry or freezer. We are two old people trying to stretch our limited income to also accommodate two g/daughters. 🙂


  3. Kate i can tell you it easily can be done:) well, maybe not 'easily' depending on how you view it, but we are a family of 4 and i have not yet spent much more than 300$ a month on groceries and we eat very well. but my husband also likes to eat out, so that is not included in groceries and we prob. eat out about 1/week. my top budget for the month is 300$ but i generally try to stick under that, closer to 250$. i have a 1 and 2 year old who both eat a LOT. i buy organic when feasible and not too expensive and dont buy stuff that is high in pesticides if not organic, but then we do eat grain(sourdough or soaked), not a LOT, but a good amount we are trying to do less….i hope it goes well for you!


  4. this comes at a good time. i realize that i spend about $90 per week, and i am just one person. BUT i eat essentially no grains or legumes, the cheapest raw milk is $13/gallon, eggs cost $7/dozen and i eat pretty much all organic when possible. free range/grass fed/pastured meat is pricey even if i get cheaper cuts. it is expensive eating this way. i look forward to your suggestions.


  5. Well, sorry to not be able to participate but will read with anticipation. There are 7 in the house, and I have about 300 a month to spend. Two of those are my grandkids ages 1 & 2. How do I eat grass fed beef? Trade offs. Make most of my own personal products, haven't bought paper towels/napkins in over 3 yrs., make laundry soap, hang it to dry. coupons, clearance baskets get me a lot of my organic items. When I do find a good deal I buy a lot and freeze. I grow some of our food. I don't buy much of anything that comes in a box or can. Maybe Muir Glen tomatoes if I have a coupon, things like that. Waffles, cereals etc. I soak and cook and freeze. If anyone wants junk food, it's not on my dime. It took awhile to build up the pantry and totally get my freezer with the "instant" homemade food. I took it a step at a time. And don't forget beans, so many different kinds, ways to cook them and use them.
    Good luck to those who do this, wish I could.


  6. I plan to join in this with you. We have 7 people and I have been averaging around $700 per month and I was telling my husband I was finding it hard to stay in this budget, so I will use this as an opportunity to remember I can make it work on less!


  7. I'm amazed that you can buy "10 dozen eggs and 3-4 gallons of milk" with $40! That's probably cheaper than lower quality items at the grocery store! Pastured eggs from a local farm where I live are $5/dozen.


  8. Are you all doing GAPS while you're doing this? I am finding my budget extremely hard to manage while doing GAPS. That may have a lot to do with the fact that we are also currently off of nuts and eggs right now so we are a very meat heavy household at the moment.


  9. Rebecca,

    Yes. I have a very SMALL amount of traditional sourdough bread here and there, but the rest of the family is completely off. We are doing full GAPS so we do have dairy, and I drink raw milk. But no other grains, no other sugars (some honey), and so on. Very very close to GAPS.


  10. Depending on which store you grocery shop at, you can sometimes get a few cents off for every reusable bag you bring with you to bag your groceries in at the checkout counter. Every little bit adds up!


  11. I challenge myself on every trip to the store to find ways to save. However, I’ve found that by eating better/healthier, my food budget keeps going UP, by about $50/month so far compared to a year ago. Even with buying bulk, making fewer trips to stores, meal planning, sticking to lists, and buying lots of generic products. Buying less canned and more fresh/frozen produce is costing more (I avoid organic due to increased cost, about $1-3 per pound more); choosing items free of aspartame and msg, and decreasing items with dyes and HFCS costs anywhere from $0.20-$2 per more per item (again, not organic as those cost even more); stocking up my pantry to do more home cooking has cost us chunks of money, especially spices. Sure, we have “saved” by not eating out as much, but most of that money has gone right back into my pantry and freezer. If I were to switch to organic milk, organic free range eggs, organic grass fed butter, and grass fed ground beef (as many on this site recommend), our food budget would INCREASE by $85/month just for those 4 commonly used items. I did the math based on what we currently use at current prices. I live in suburbia, so access to farms is limited, in fact the closest is 60 miles away, and their meat prices are higher than stores, plus the gas money to drive there and back, and they do not sell dairy (closest dairy farm that sells to the general public is over 100 miles away). $10 for a chicken??? I don’t think so. Get ’em at the store for $3.99.

    10 dz eggs and 3-4 gallons of milk for $40? Is that supposed to be a bargain? 4 gallons of milk and 10 dz eggs at Costco would cost $29. I don’t buy that many eggs at once, as we use about 3 dozen per month, but we go thru 4 gallons of milk per week. I need the cheapest I can find.

    As the kids grow, they eat more, and that increases the food budget too.

    I find it hard enough to keep the budget from going UP. No more challenges needed at this time. But good luck to those who participate!


  12. I wish the chickens I buy were $10! I paid $20 for one chicken today from the Amish farm I get all of my grassfed, raw and pasture raised meats eggs and milk from. It’s a sacrifice to eat healthy but now that I feed my family of 4 this way I will never go back to feed lot, antibiotic, hormone laden, abused and cruelly treated conventionally farmed animals again.


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I’m Kate, mama to 5 and wife to Ben.  I love meeting new people and hearing their stories.  I’m also a big fan of “fancy” drinks (anything but plain water counts as ‘fancy’ in my world!) and I can’t stop myself from DIY-ing everything.  I sure hope you’ll stick around so I can get to know you better!

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