Eating for less is something we’re really, really good at.
We lowered our grocery budget to $37 a week when Allison was born, to help pay for her formula. And in 2016, when John was unemployed for 4 months, we cut our budget down to $30 a week.
Now it’s happening again. John is unemployed again, and we’ve decided to cut back on a lot of things for awhile- including our grocery budget.
It sounds very extreme, but also sort of challenging in a fun way. Have you ever sat down to think about what you really buy? Do you buy a lot of “fun” foods, or just the necessities? Having to drastically cut down your budget can open your eyes to what you buy on a weekly basis. We’re in the process of figuring out how it’s all going to work, but we have some basic ideas. Here’s how we plan to eat for $30 a week for the unforeseeable future:
Utilize our pantry
Luckily, I’ve been pretty smart and I’ve kept a good supply of essentials in the house- pasta, rice, peanut butter, baking supplies, and some frozen meat and vegetables. I can at least use some of this to create basic meals, and just buy some fresh produce to go with it. Here’s what my pantry looks like right now:
It’s not totally full, but there’s plenty in there to work with for awhile.
Prioritize our food needs
With such a low budget, I’ll have to be careful when we run out of something. For example, last week I was out of vanilla extract, but that costs $3.55 at Aldi which is 10% of our new weekly budget. If I bought that, I knew I couldn’t buy much else to replenish my stock, because that would cut into our actual food. So now I’m only buying maybe one or two items that I’m out of, and we’ll have to do without the rest for another week.
Stretch our meat
Some of my favorite meals include a big piece of chicken breast with multiple side items. The budget used to allow that, but now I’ll need to make some changes. Instead of making meat the main part of the meal, I’ll just add it in with everything else and use as little as possible.
A good example of this is casseroles! I can chop up chicken into really little pieces so it seems like there’s more; and I can probably get away with only using a half pound of ground beef and turn one pound into two meals.
Make everything from scratch
One of my big weaknesses is buying snack bars by the truckload. They’re super convenient to throw in my purse to take to church or to outings. My current obsession is those Clif bars; I bought a bunch when they were only 88 cents at Kroger. But now the budget doesn’t allow for that, so I’ll need to get creative and start making my own.
The same goes for everything else- granola, cookies, biscuits… if I can make it myself, I will find a way. One exception I may make is with sandwich bread/buns. I don’t mind making my own, but I can find really good bread at my local bakery outlet for 50 cents a loaf. My favorite recipe for this Honey Wheat Loaf makes 2 loaves, but the cost of just the yeast is 57 cents (Yes, I’m a nerd and calculated this). With a jar of yeast being $4.59 here, I’ll really have to think about whether it’s worth it to make my own every week or just buy a bunch of loaves to freeze.
Use whole foods as much as possible
More than ever, I’m focusing a lot on my family’s health. I truly believe that a good, balanced diet will keep us healthy; and with us being fairly active, we need good food to fuel us.
Now, I’m not one of those only-buy-organic people or the “*Gasp* CHEMICALS!” types; I buy whatever’s cheapest most of the time, and I have no problem buying boxed macaroni and cheese (The horror!). But I do try to focus on buying as many fruits and vegetables as possible, as well as whole grains and lots of Greek yogurt/cheese.
I’m going to try really hard not to sacrifice our healthy lifestyle for “easier, more processed” foods just because they’re a bit cheaper. Will I be perfect? Definitely not! But I give myself grace, and hopefully you will too. I truly want to see how well we can eat for $30 a week.
Supplement with gift cards
We’ve been super blessed with Swagbucks and getting Sam’s Club gift cards. When Allison was a baby, we used them a couple times when we ate for $37 a week and were paying for her formula out of our grocery budget. Then again in 2016, when John was out of work for 4 months, we used those gift cards to help pay for those big purchases.
I’m doing it again this year pretty hard-core. Going back to the above point about trying to stick with whole foods, I rely on Sam’s Club for a lot of our more expensive foods:
- String cheese ($9.00 for 48 pieces isn’t bad!)
- Maple syrup ($10.48 for 32 ounces)
- Dannon Light and Fit yogurts ($13 for 18 cups)- These are great protein-filled snacks and I don’t really want to give them up.
- Chocolate chips ($7.98 for a 30-oz bag of Ghirardelli dark chocolate chips)- Is this a necessity? Nah, but I like adding them to things so Allison will actually eat what I cook.
- Chicken breasts– They’re usually $1.88/lb but sometimes I can find marked down chicken to stock up on.
- Canned tuna– $9.48 for 12 cans. I haven’t bought this yet, but I plan to on our next gift card Sam’s run. It’s cheap protein and currently cheaper than Aldi.
- Paper products (Paper towels, toilet paper, tissues)- Not food, but I only use my gift cards when buying these because they range from $12-$18.
Would these be considered luxury items? To some, yes. But I’d really like to keep these in the house because they’re healthy additions to our diet. If it comes down to the wire, I’ll cut out those items and use my gift cards for other things; but for now, this is really working for us and I’d like to keep it that way!
Keep it simple
More than ever, I’d like to keep things as simple as possible when it comes to making meals. Some of my dinners tend to have a lot of ingredients; and I also have a habit of making 3 different breakfasts for my family because we each like different things.
Things will have to be a little simpler for awhile. Instead of baking 2 different breakfast casseroles, I’ll just keep easy ingredients on hand to make oatmeal or cereal; or I’ll make a huge batch of pancakes that we can eat from all week.
As far as dinners go, I expect we’ll have a lot of pasta dishes, sandwiches, rice, beans, and breakfast for dinner. It might sound boring, but we’re okay with eating a lot of the same things over and over.
Although eating for less an be difficult at times, I’m confident we’ll make it through, just like we did last time. It’s a huge test in creativity and some sacrifice, but we’re trusting that God has something bigger in store for us!
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