Wednesday, November 26, 2014

How we feed our family of 8 on $600 a month

When people hear that in a typical month we only spend $100 a week at the grocery store for our family of 8 they are usually more than a little shocked. I do have to clarify this is not accomplished EVERY month. Some months are stock up months with a larger budget being implemented. 

Typical month (6 times a year): $400 on food and toiletry items
Meat stock up month (2 times a year): $900 on food and toiletry items
Staple stock up month (6 times a year): $500 on food and toiletry items

That comes to an average of $7,200 a year or $600 a month. That breaks down to $75 a month per person.

*Totals include food, toiletries, and rabbit supplies and food items*

So what are our tricks?

Buying Meat twice a year. We stock our freezer with meat every 6mths. I have found this to be the easiest way to make sure we have what we need on hand on a daily basis and cut down on trips to the grocery store. Even when there is "nothing to eat" I can turn frozen chicken breasts, flour and yeast into chicken sliders in under an hour and stretch our last shopping trip even farther. With the protein item already supplied and ready it is much easier to come up with simple meals. I like shopping at Costco for bulk meats. Everything is already packaged up for the freezer and ready to go. I count up the amount of dinners needed for the upcoming 6 months and plan 1 pound of meat per day for our family of 8 with leftovers counting towards lunches the next day. We typically have chicken, ground beef, london broil, pork chops, and pork tenderloin in our freezer.

Stocking the pantry with staple items. The easiest way to stretch your grocery budget is to keep staples stockpiled at all times. Again we like Costco for these items. I budget $100 every 2 mths towards a trip to Costco. Typical items we buy at Costco include flour, sugar, baking powder, oats, vanilla, spices, cocoa, yeast, oils, rice, trash bags, and laundry soap. I am very careful to keep a running total on my calculator as I add items to our cart. It is VERY easy to go over budget at warehouse clubs. I start with my priority items and work my way down the list. If after I have everything on my list I still have money left I like to pick up chocolate chips as a treat for the kids.

Frozen Veggies. Outside of the end of summer it is usually cheaper to buy vegetables and some fruits frozen in bulk. I prefer frozen for a variety of reasons but mostly for the quickness of cooking times, the freshness of the item when it was frozen, and the lessened chance of being exposed to the BPA that is commonly found in canned foods.

Grow your own. You really can't get much of a cheaper options than to grow your own fruits and vegetables. I am hit of miss on this front. Some years I have a great result...some years not so much. I am very happy that we are not dependent on my gardening skills for survival because we would probably all die. I do my best however and we do have some success. I typically grow herbs, tomatoes, bell peppers, green beans, lettuces, and strawberries. I just invested in blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, and grapes. They are in the ground now to over winter before the spring warm up. I am hoping that they survive and thrive. I doubt they will ever produce enough to sustain my family of fruit loving children but every little bit helps!

Menu Planning. A menu plan is essential to cutting your grocery bill to the bare bones. Most people will recommend looking at the sales flyers or your coupons to decide on a menu. I do not agree with this philosophy. I look at my pantry and freezer and see what meals I can create from the items I have on hand. If I then have empty spots on my menu planner I then look through my recipe binder, pinterest, and my favorite bloggers to find cheap recipes that I can pull together with very little added items. Shopping from your own pantry is often called a "Pantry Challenge" on frugal forums and it is the best way to reduce wasted food items and save a bundle.

Shop at discount grocery stores. This is a pretty simple one. I only shop where the daily prices of items are already at a reduced amount. I don't have the time or the energy for a price book, sales circulars, coupons, or multiple stores. I need to get in and get out as quickly as possible. We shop weekly primarily at Aldi and during the summer at a local farmers market. I will occasionally run to a bigger store to get a specialty spice or cheese item if I am splurging that week but for the most part we shop only at Aldi. I like the store for it's simplicity. There are only a few aisles and only 1-2 choices of items within a category and all are their own house brand. I have found the food items to be the same quality as the major name brand items and I love paying only half the price for them.

No convenience foods. This was a hard one for my husband to get used to. No sodas, chips, frozen meals, crackers, cereal, granola bars, boxed mixes, or other premade items. You are seriously paying a fortune for these items and in most cases can make them quickly and easily at home.

Cooking from Scratch. After the last bullet this is kind of a no brainer. Cook items yourself and from scratch. It really isn't that hard and nowadays it is super simple to find recipes online for everything you can imagine.You can make your own salad dressing, soups, mixes, spice rubs, gravies, breads, "cream of " soups, coffee creamer, and baking mixes in just a few minutes. Have a little more time and you can make your own yogurt, cheese, jams and jellies, peanut butter, mayo, ketchup, etc. The internet is a big big place and there are a lot of amazing people out there sharing their recipes for "essential" convenience foods.

Meat is an accent not the centerpiece. This has taken some getting used to in our house. My husband is a "meat and potatoes" man and was used to the protein item being the center of attention at a meal. I only allow 1 pound of meat per day...for 8 people. There is no way I can make the meat the center of the show. My father once joked that I could make 3 meals out of one chicken and was shocked when I agreed that yes I could very easily do that. The trick? Casseroles and other items where the meat is cut up and added in with other ingredients. How can I get 3 meals for 8 people out of one 5lb chicken? Well first I cook the whole chicken in my crockpot. Once it is finished cooking I strip all the meat off of the bird and add the bones back to the crockpot with the cooking juices. I mix the white meat and the dark meat together and divide into 2 portions. One portion goes in to the fridge for the next nights meal. The second portion I add to a casserole for that nights dinner. While the casserole is cooking I fill the crockpot with water and cook on high overnight. The next day I store my strained chicken stock in the fridge for meal number 3. On the second day I take the remaining half of the chicken and use it in a new way, such as enchiladas or quesadillas. Day 3 is a simple chicken broth based soup such as chicken noodle or chicken and dumplings. I do not add any actual chicken to the soup but it is still very nutritious since it is made with the homemade low sodium bone broth you made in your crockpot.

Cheap sides. I am not talking about just starch and carbs here however they are very cheap and filling items to add to a meal. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, rolls, rice, and pasta are all cheap additions to a meal and fill bellies up very quickly. There are other healthier options however. Such as butternut squash soup, broccoli, sauteed green beans, dried beans such as pintos and black beans, salads, mixed veggies, etc. My kids always ask for seconds of green beans and broccoli which I am more than happy to give them. If they want seconds of the meat item however they have to have first ate all of their veggies. I am a bit of a stickler on that one. Veggies are important to growing bodies and I will happily sprinkle a bit of cheese on them if that is what it takes to get them to eat them.

Soups! I think you can see from the previous items that soups are wonderfully cheap additions to meals. They are super cheap to put together thanks to the ability to use leftover veggies and meat as the base items. On nights when I don't feel like cooking I can usually convince myself to make a pot of soup since it comes together so quickly.

I think I have hit the highlights of how we save money on our grocery bills. Do you have any additions to make to our list? I would love to hear about it!

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