Generation Cedar

I know this isn’t rocket science (I’m really late to the serious food budget game.) Hoping it will be encouraging though.

The grocery budget is one of the most variable household expenses. For that reason, it is the place where our diligence, planning and “looking well to the ways of our household” can benefit the family economy the most.

Food is like money. If you don’t budget it, it will leave you. Just disappear. And since we know how many meals are in a day, and how many snacks, and how many people are eating, it really isn’t that hard to budget. But it does take deliberate planning.

Instead of just buying more food when it runs out, I’m on a mission this month to only spend a certain amount (OK, under $600 is the goal and then we’ll work down). I thought it might be helpful to share some of my ideas and maybe going public will help me be more vigilant too 😉

Considerations about our budget: I have lots of little eaters. I am including room for extra meals/mouths (hospitality). I shop at Aldi’s, a discount grocery store. We have a small garden. We don’t buy many convenience foods and  ready-made snacks. We sometimes sacrifice cost for nutrition, balancing it all as best we can.

Shopping twice a month seems to work well. I know the food must last for two weeks. So I “budget” the food, (that sounds better than ration), down to thinking about how much cheese I can use in a dish to make the bag last as long as it needs to. I print off weekly menus (front and back) to hang on the fridge. I pencil in three meals a day and two snacks a day for two weeks. Then I lock the pantry and dare someone to break in 😛 “If it’s not on the menu, you’re not eating it”…you just gotta do what ya gotta do. I’m taking charge of my kitchen, apron and all.

I’m thinking weekly menus to be repeated, with possible variations, is going to be the easiest.

Some of my menu items:

Breakfast: cereal, eggs & sausage, fruit smoothies, cheese grits and sausage, oatmeal & fruit

Lunch: potato soup, rice/mushroom soup (made with left-over rice from the night before), cheese, nuts & fruit, boiled eggs, hummus dip, corn chips and apples, turkey salad and crackers

Dinner: Cornbread casserole, roasted chicken with veggies, beans, potatoes & cornbread, soup, chicken pasta, tacos/Mexican, sausage/veggie casserole

(Sides: sweet potatoes, sauteed potatoes, sauteed onions/peppers/veggies, beans, salad, slaw, okra, frozen stir-fry veg,…)

Snacks:  celery & peanut butter, raisins, yogurt, fruit smoothies, fruit, graham crackers with peanut butter, nuts, boiled eggs

We do our best to stretch and use leftovers, but still provide filling, nutritious meals. I think after we budget this month, I’ll be able to cut the amount we spend down a good deal.

(“I hear you in the pantry!!”)

I’d love to hear your favorite food budget-slashing ideas.



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36 Responses

  1. I’m thinking I’m going to try that ‘lock the pantry’ idea 😉 I’m tired of the continual grazing going on in this house. I’m not necessarily a stickler for regular meal times (except dinner)…but the constant eating is out of control. I have heard of others limiting eating times and I am thinking it’s a good idea.

    I make a weekly meal plan but am thinking about doing a monthly one. Even if I only shop once a week (so my produce, etc stays fresh), it’ll be nice always knowing what we are eating and taking the guess work out of it. I am also working away from ‘packaged snacks’ and making my kids eat more healthy options…it’s taking some getting used to.

  2. Thanks Kelly,

    You just saved me a lot of is probably our biggest expense every month(with only 8 people).I love the suggestions!Will be working on them.

  3. YES!!! There’s no control over the food supply if 11 people are grazing at will! We’ve always had the same expectation in our home, and it has served us well. Nobody has starved yet (though they sometimes threaten to), and everyone eats heartily at mealtime! (It enables us to avoid overweight issues too…another perk!) As the kids have grown older, we’ve splurged more on “late night snacks.” My husband is a night owl, so we spend time with the teen types after the rest of the kids are in bed talking, and we sometimes have a “midnight snack.” (It’s usually around 9:30) Sweet times…XOXOXO

  4. Planning. Just like you said. Plan out every meal, every snack, and plan for extras (company, taking an item to a get-together, etc.)

    Lots of beans, lots of rice, lots of potatoes. Inexpensive, but healthy and filling foods that our whole family loves, and there are countless ways and ideas to use each of these in meals.

    Shopping only once a month. My husband works a lot of hours and we have one car, so grocery shopping only once a month allows us more family time together when he is home. We all go as a family, and it’s like “going to town”, you pay close attention to get what you need, cause you won’t be back for another month. The list is vitally important because it is based of the eating plan (menu) for the month. Mothly shopping has slashed our grocery budget by over $80, and has eliminated any of those urges or wants for unneeded junk food and such since we have the rule “if it isn’t on the list, it isn’t going home with us”. We’ve been able to put the money we’ve saved monthly shopping toward my bill with my midwife since we are expecting our fifth baby. A very worthy cause!! 🙂

    Make everything you can from scratch. It’s better for us and almost always saves money, although it does take more time.

    Love the post Kelly! Thanks!

  5. I have been struggling with this more…because I do make a menu, but there are days that i forget to take out meat, or forget to do early preparation and then we homeschool and then it’s supper time and it’s 4:30 and I am like, “what now?” I try to plan some easy meals and some that take more prep, but it’s not always easy to balance it. We do okay on the grazing all day thing, because we have never allowed it. My kids just know that they don’t grab stuff and eat it whenever they feel like it…but even so, I do try to be aware of occasionally needing a snack if we had a light breakfast of cereal(usually Raisin Bran/grape nuts–not much else). We eat for snacks the following: raisins/nuts, bananas(I’ve been buying overripe ones for about .50 for 6 lbs…), peanute butter with a few choc chips, homecanned peaches, yogurt, pineapple canned in juice, or the occasional baked item(usually a small pan of bar cookies or a gingerbread). We also like cornchips and salsa(fermented salsa!). In the winter, I try to stretch meat by making lots of soup/stew/chowder. Chicken and brocoli chowder is really yummy. I also shop at Amish or Mennonite bulk food stores/farm stores, that are frequently cheaper(amish is the cheapest!)(once I bought 10# of bread flour that was less than $4.00). May God bless your efforts!

  6. I’m trying to keep grocery costs down too. We shop once a week but would like this to be less frequent. The items that keep us shopping often are fruit, veg and milk. How do you manage this? Fridge space is also a bit of an issue for us but if we could manage to shop less often would save a fair amount.

  7. The most expensive part of shopping for us is the proteins. Meat is expensive! The way I stretch our money is by buying meat that is “in season” and planning my menu around that.

    For example, TURKEY is cheapest around Thanksgiving and Christmas. Many stores will give you a free turkey for buying X amount of groceries. I take advantage of this and normally end up with 3-4 turkeys in our freezer. Some of our turkey meals are:
    Turkey noodle soup
    Roasted turkey (of course)
    Sour cream turkey enchilada’s
    Turkey pot pie
    Turkey spaghetti (it is a pasta back with cheese and cream of chicken)
    Turkey Lo Men

    We also use all parts of the turkey and make stock with the bones.
    I have know a lady who has her own meat grinder and she will make ground turkey and put it in the deep freeze for use through out the year. This is something I aspire to do one day 🙂

    Around Easter you can stock up on Ham. We actually just used the last of our Easter ham this week (It is the end of August!) Some of our ham recipes are:
    Macaroni and cheese with broccoli and diced ham
    Glazed ham and mashed potatoes (of course)
    Ham and cheese quiche
    Ham bone soup (again using every part of the ham)

    By doing this I am able to get our protein cost down to $1 or less per entire meal for my family of 5. And we always have enough leftovers for DH to take to work for lunch the next day.

    Also, meatless Mondays are a nice way to save.

    And couponing! I can not say enough about couponing. We can get a lot of basic products like paper towels, toilet paper, deodorant, toothpaste, feminine products, baby wipes, shampoo’s, razors, soaps (which can also be used to make laundry detergent) for free or next to nothing. This leaves more room in the budget for produce and other things that are not often on sale.

  8. Oh’ and to add a little more…I freeze just about everything. If I find cheese on sale I will stock up and freeze it. You can also freeze milk. Produce that is a little wilted on clearance…I buy it and freeze it for soups or casseroles. Bruised Banana’s on clearance buy and freeze for smoothies or banana bread. One day I would love a deep freeze but for now our little side by side freezer is about to burst at the seems.

  9. Love these ideas and inspiration. One thing that might help…I noticed you use shredded cheese. What if you shred your own? It may not be that much of a money saver, depending on prices and how much cheese your family uses. I know we use a lot!

  10. Angel,

    I actually buy both for several reasons…the shredded cheese where I buy is actually about as cheap as block (I think this is also true at Sam’s Club). But I don’t like the non-stick agent they use, so I use that for salads,casseroles, etc. and we use block cheese for snacks, lunches and such.

  11. I live in the Buffalo area, but that does not hinder me to eat a lot of grits (only African American eat it here), not only as hot cereal for breakfast, but also as side dishes.
    We try to eat organic as much as we can, and to not to spend so much in that, my husbands buys a lot when things are for sale or half price. then i store it in a big pantry in the basement.
    I do not throw food away. i upgrade the leftovers and then to new dishes.

  12. First thing I did was make a price list of what I normally paid for the things I bought….that way if I saw it on sale, I’d know how good the price was. And I figured out the price per oz, too, so I could compare it properly. I spent an afternoon in sam’s club, marking prices, then converting them to price per oz either by their tags, or later at home.

    I second the buying turkey on sale at Thanksgiving. I sub turkey into every chicken recipe I have, since I can buy it for sooooo much less than I can buy chicken! I roast the turkey for a meal, then pull off meat and portion it into baggies or containers to freeze or can….canning clears up space in the freezer. I also can the stock I make from the bones and the leftover ends of onions, celery, and carrot peels. I add whole cloves of garlic, too. I use the bones 2-3 times, and add fresh veggies each batch.

    I get two salespapers at home, one from save a lot, one from a locally owned store. I use their loss leaders and sales for meat and produce, and sometimes price match them at walmart. Save a lot or aldis usually have good prices on the basics. Also, when I see a great loss leader price, I try to stock up for 6-12+ months, if possible. This savings ends up helping us so much!

    I used to coupon to get things we normally bought for a great price, but with buying local produce in bulk (then preserving thru canning, drying, or freezing), getting garden goodies for free from friends, and buying meat in bulk during good sales, I just don’t need to coupon as much. Plus I still have tons of health and beauty and pasta that I got free last yr, lol! And I don’t buy as much of those things that coupons get anymore.

    Best wishes as you save $!

    1. OK, you’re a professional. Thank you for all these tips! I do the rationing whole chicken thing, but haven’t thought about the turkey on sale and doing the same thing. I will this year.

      1. Turkeys are the way to go, lol! I know some stores give them away free….but none by me. I paid .59-.74/lb, and the best on sale price I’ve paid for a whole chicken is .88/lb. I think we bought 7 turkeys last yr, lol….and we only have 4 in our family! Your family may work better to cook two turkeys at once (if they fit in your oven), just to use less energy by cooking once, and to have more meat at the end of the meal to portion out for future meals.

        With God’s help, we were able to cut our grocery budget by $500/month, while also eating out WAY less. And now I am usually ready with food for potlucks or extra guests w/o having to run to the store for extras, lol!

        (btw, i met you at the end of the conference at your church….you asked if i replied on your blog, which i answered no, lol. Well, now i have! ….like you can remember all the people you met that day! It was wonderful!)

  13. ….also, we have times that we eat, and the kids know those times, lol. They may come to tell me how STARVING they are, but I tell them the time, and say how much longer till snack or meals. They eat bfast around 740…it’s after they feed the dog and let the chickens out, lol. Snack is always at 10, lunch at 1130, afternoon snack after nap/rest….about 3pm, then dinner somewhere around 530-6. Grazing would keep mine from eating hearty meals, lol, so I make them stay a wee bit hungry till it is time to eat.

      1. Thanks for the tips, Kelly! We do a baking day for the freezer every two weeks. I have never cooked for a month but cooking every two weeks things like hb meat, chicken, & breakfast foods really helps with the budget and helps make meals easier.
        Also, I hear that the Amish let kids snack on raw veggies if they are hungry before meal time. I liked that idea since they can fill up on veggies and it not hurt them. 🙂

  14. The grocery budget is always a challenge. Our budget has not increased in several years, even though the family has grown and prices have gone up. We also deal with a lot of food allergies, and “alternative” foods are much more expensive. We buy bulk as often as we can and then divide it up to last over the months. A menu plan always saves money. There are a dozen little ways we work to stretch the dollar, but bigger than all that, I find that when I commit our budget and spending choices to God he supplements our food and other needs in creative and unexpected ways! His provision goes so far beyond the pay check!!

  15. Hi Kelly. Always love reading about saving $, planning meals and such. Lovely post and one which we are in the midst of now. I just finished “this year’s” next set of meal plans for breakfast (weekly), lunch (bi-monthly), afternoon snack (weekly) and dinner (4-wk rotation). Having them on paper and with ongoing rotation (for our family) works in several ways…saves TIME, saves MONEY, and saves having to continually answer “What’s for dinner?”. ;D

    I have worked diligently to build our food pantry by taking advantage of BOGO (buy one get one) coupled with coupons when I can. Shopping at Wal-Mart and Sam’s helps with costs (our Wal*Mart with match BOGO’s from a couple competitors so that provides ADDITIONAL savings), too. Here is a post on building a “food pantry” .

    I “budget” our food, too as with 10 eaters in the family, food could have the potential to fly off the shelves…grazing could be a large contributor to that, so it helps to have our system in place to limit waste. I did a post in the past on meal planning and posted prior meal plans that may be an encouragement and/or help to your readers looking for ideas and how to’s.

    You have a lovely site and always are encouragement to read.

    Blessings in Him,


  16. I am also wondering how you shop less than once a week and still have milk and produce.
    Thanks for any advice!

  17. I’m amazed every time I read of hear about American families and their menu’s… (I also two times ate with American people, I was in quite a poor country then and felt guilty about eating so much.

    In my country we do it like this:
    Breakfast: bread (cereal is available, I normally have fruits)
    Luch: bread
    Dinner: potatoes, vegatables and meat / pasta / taco’s or whatever

    I remember my mother saying: help, what shall I cook for dinner today?! But there never ever was a question about breakfast and lunch. 🙂

    The grocery budget is a challenge for people here too. And yes, I love good food. But somehow in the USA food seems to be sooooo important…

    I’m from a West-European country and I’m very rich compared by millions and millions of people in this world.

    I think I should be more gratefull for the meals God ‘s given me and share more with those millions of people. Let’s be thankfull and sharing. Who will join me?

  18. I do my grocery shopping once at the beginning of each month. We live about 20 miles from Aldi’s, Kroger, Walmart, etc., so I can’t just pop in and pick up something we suddenly “need”.

    I try to buy milk on sale (or clearance!) and stick it in the freezer. That way I don’t even have to get it during the month.

    We make good use of our chest freezer and I can a lot. (Just started pressure canning this year though!) Did you know you can dry can things like flour and oats? I’ve been getting them in huge bags at Sam’s and canning them in half-gallon and quart jars.

    I’ve tried the price-book thing, but usually realize that driving to wherever the sale is would end up eating the savings up in gasoline. :-/

    And I budget our food, too! Just this week I went to make something that called for walnuts, and I had them in the corner of the freezer (out of eyeshot!). THEY WERE GONE! Someone (ok, it was my husband) decided to have the rationed walnuts as a midnight snack. Love him anyway!

  19. A friend told me when she was growing up (in a family with 5 kids) if they were hungry between meals they could eat an apple. They were always in the fruit bowl on the counter.
    In my family, if you were hungry between meals, you could have a slice of bread with butter.
    Don’t know if that helps at all, just thought I’d share.

  20. I find it so interesting that you posted about this! Just yesterday, I sat down to start a home management binder and today I added a full month’s menu plan. It’s something I’ve felt led to do for some time, yet kept putting it off… “Oh, it’d be too hard to do a monthly menu… but our moods change, we probably wouldn’t stick to it…” etc…
    My shopping will have to be for 2 wks at a time with an extra trip between for perishables… we just don’t have the space to stock up for longer than that in our fridge and freezer.
    So, thank you for sharing! It tells me I’m on the right path for our family of seven 🙂

  21. I feel one must always allow for growing. I have a filled bowl of bananas/apples/pears/whatever fruit are in season available for the ‘starved’ to ‘graze’ on.
    OK, kids do hanker after lots of starch so I usually have a bread (yeah, only one) on the counter but they know they are not allowed to snack on that for at least an hour before lunch/breakfast/dinner. That way they still have a healthy ‘tuck in’ at the table. We don’t eat cookies/bars except once in a while (when celebrating)and sometimes they even snack on carrots/string beans or raw potato – my baby (3y) do, lol. Left-overs don’t stay left-overs for long in our home. It gets transformed into soup/chowder or we simply warm it up for lunch/dinner.
    By the way, growing your own veggies do save a lot. You can can/freeze your own produce too, and it’s fresh/healthy. The kids also learn a lot about providing for themselves in a natural way.

  22. I am a major couponer and shop Publix. It takes me one naptime a week 🙂 to get all my coupons together and we save lots of money that way and eat a lot better too. I plan our meals weekly based on what we have on hand from couponing and hardly have to step foot in Walmart. We buy our meat at Sam’s for the most part because it’s usually cheaper than sales prices elsewhere. We have a garden too and also get lots of fresh fruit and veggies from a local produce stand. I buy bread at Dollar Tree – the whole wheat kind we prefer – for $1 a loaf and freeze it. It’s a misconception that you can only get unhealthy foods from couponing – we get everything from food to toiletries to diapers to cleaning products. I LOVE getting things for free – it’s definitely addicting! I won’t hardly pay more than $1 for anything anymore.

  23. I am surprised that no one has mentioned buying in bulk more. You can save so much by buying larger amounts of meat straight from the farmer. Also, there are companies that you can order on line and they deliver to a drop location near your home. One is called Azure Standard and another is The Bulk Natural Foods. Or course, both depends on your location.
    Gardening has helped us this year. What really gets us is being out of the house too much. We spend lots of money running around and buying “treats” while we are out. I am trying to stay home more and see how much money that saves us. This is still a work in progress for us.
    I am not very good at meal plans. I have tried it but I just don’t do well. I am pretty good at making things with what we have and planning ahead. Also make a broth from the bones that you have left over. That alone has saved us many dollars I am sure.
    I hope this helps.

  24. I’ve actually found that I spend less if I grocery shop more frequently. I have limited freezer and storage space. Menu planning based on sales, eating seasonally, buying non-perishables in bulk and taking advantage of ethnic markets helps a lot too.

  25. Oatmeal is a fantastic, healthy and cheap breakfast!

    I worry about the $600 budget though. Doesn’t that work out to be $6.66 per meal? I couldn’t have that type of unholy number in my budget. Maybe up the budget to $700?

  26. I am a big couponer! I shop weekly which has saved us hundred of dollars! We live about half an hour from the grocery store so I try and go on saturday so my husband can watch the kids. We get our weekly ad in the mail on wednesday when the sale starts and I go through and see what is on sale and I have coupons for. I make my menu around the sales items. We are a family of 5 and I typically spend about $100-$125 a week on groceries. I should add this includes personal hygeine items and cleaning supplies. I buy what is needed for that week and if there is an item that will be almost free then I will stock up on that. Here is an awesome example of couponing from our last trip. We had 2 coupons for Kraft BBQ sauce. I ended up buying 6 bottles and they were .50 each after the coupon. On 3 of the bottles there was a coupon for $2.00 off country time or koolaid mixes in the containers. We went to see the price and they were on sale for $2.00 so you got it we ended up with 3 FREE containers of country time pink lemonade 🙂 I don’t always end up with free things but it sure does help in this economy.

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