Real Food, Frugal Food: Working the Budget

Our current food budget is between $600-$700 a month.  This works out to $150-$175 a week.  For reference, this is $2-$2.35 per person per day.

Many people budget food by setting a weekly amount, and never going over that amount.  Gail at Grocery Cart Challenge is a master at this method.

I don’t do that.  Instead, I take the month’s worth of cash out at once and then manage it through the month.  This works better for me because I stock up at a couple of stores once a month or so, and also hit my local grocery store every week for the basics that don’t store well long term.

One of my food values is to eat antibiotic free meat that was raised without hormones, and that hopefully ate their traditional diet (pastured chickens, grass fed beef, etc.)

In my area, Whole Foods Market has the best prices for this type of meat.  They sell naturally raised organic pork sausage for $4.99/lb., frozen organic chicken breasts for $4/lb., and every few weeks have major deals on grass fed beef ($4/lb., usually).  I wait for a big sale, then buy 30-40 pounds at once.  Recently they had grass fed ground beef for $3.99, and I stocked my freezer.

Whole Foods is kind of far away and meat (and frozen strawberries) are pretty much the only things I buy there, so I go every few weeks.  Their produce prices are much higher than my grocery and my farmer’s market store, so I almost never buy fresh fruit and veg there.

So, $150 or so goes to stocking up on quality meat, and I stretch that 30# by not eating meat every day and only having meat for dinner (er, except bacon.)  I also stretch ground beef with rice, bulgur, or beans.  For example, we’ll have pintos and ground beef as taco filling.

Once a month, I also stock up at Sam’s Club. I buy double fiber HFCS free bread there for $1.83 a loaf, 5# bags of veggies, and shredded cheese. I keep the bread in the freezer, and buy 10-15 loaves at once.  I spend around $60-75 at Sam’s, once a month.

That leaves $450 or so for the rest of it, or about $100-$125 a week, more or less.

Sometimes I buy meat at HEB, in which case I would buy slightly less meat at Whole Foods.

I can also work the sales to my best advantage.  For example, in my area HEB runs a fabulous sale every 3 months or so.  If you buy a can of white albacore, you’ll get a pound of whole wheat pasta free.  When I see that sale I might buy 20-30 cans of tuna, and get 20-30 boxes of noodles.  If I was on a strict week-to-week budget it would be hard to carve $30 out for one food ingredient, but because I’ve already stocked meat and accounted for it in the budget I have the wiggle room to do this.

Looking at the whole month rather than shopping week to week helps me stay in budget and make sure I’m getting the best deals. It allows me room to visit more than one store so I can get the best deal, without having to go to three or four stores every week.

How to make it work for you:

  • Decide which stores you need visit and how often.  If you are going to stock up on deals once a month, and determine what and how much you need to buy there.  Do the math and multiply: we eat 3-4 loaves of bread per week, x 4 weeks, =12-16 loaves.  I buy rice at the Asian store in 20# bags. We’ll eat about a pound per meal, so one bag lasts 20 meals, which for us means I’ll visit that store every 6 weeks or so if we have rice 3x a week.
  • Allocate your funds, make your list. Sometimes I have an “optional” section on my list, in case I have money left over, things I’ll buy *if* there’s room in the budget.
  • Do your once a month stock up runs towards the end of the month until you’ve gotten the hang of it.  You don’t want to blow your budget or go overboard the first week and then have too much of one item and no money to buy staples the next.
  • Use your cash plan to build your pantry stockpile slowly but surely.  Buy one or two extra bags of beans and rice each week, for example.  It’s only a dollar or two extra but soon you’ll have a full cupboard.

I love comments. Tell me what you think!

  • meta fares-boulos November 4, 2012, 2:10 am

    I have a care home with 6 residents and 2 teenagers and 2 caregivers. What helps me to keep my $600.00 a month is a budget,menu. I keep my budget on a folding spreadsheet in my purse and if I am getting closer to my budget , I put a piece of paper in front of my american express to remind me that I have only that much more to spend. I make sure that I follow my menu. We use the crock pot several times a week. The crock pot is the same energy as a light bulb. And that crock pot can feed 12 people so that means dinner and lunch the next day. I have big eaters. The crock pot can used cheaper meats which is big saving. It’s quick,easy,and fun. The clean up is quick too. When I buy groceries I try to buy lost leaders ,compare prices with 8 different stores. I go in and out only the stuff I need!!Those stores have be set just for you … TO SPEND MONEY. I have a price book with all my prices and the rock bottom prices recorded. Try to make everything from scratch because it is way cheaper. I even make my taco seasoning,etc. and it’s healther. Read the stuff they put in the envelope . Scary!


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Desperately thrifty mom of 10, sharing my frugal tips, easy shortcuts, recipes, and thoughts on natural living and real food.

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