October 25, 2016

Our Grocery Budget + What's for Supper

One year ago I wrote a series called Financial Hardships & Surprise Pregnancies. In it I talked a bit about groceries, our food budget, and our meal plan and there were requests for me to write more. So here it is, under the category of "Better Late than Never": the follow up post.

I want to start by touching on a couple of things that help to make this work for our family.

First, because of our food allergies I have to make almost everything from scratch but I do love to cook so it's a small sacrifice. However, it can be hard to figure out what we can eat based on what we have, what we can afford to buy, what everyone can and will eat, and then balance that with feast days and evening activities. All that to say, I love having a meal plan but I sorta don't like sitting down and writing up a meal plan.

Second, our income has increased a wee bit since last year and now our weekly grocery budget is about $130. Travis gives me $260 every two weeks. About once a month I will go to Costco for any variety of things: crackers, bacon, chicken breasts, flour, rice, detergent. I will spend about $50 there and then the rest will be divided between my two weeks shopping budget. Sometimes I will spend $120 one week and less the next but with the envelope system I always know how much cash I have and that I have to make it work for me.

Third, we bought half a cow in the spring from a local farmer (whose parents were the witnesses at my grandparents' wedding!) We still have about 1/3 of that meat in the deep freeze. Buying from the farmer is a big expense up front but it means we only spend ~$3 a pound on roasts, steaks, stew meat, ground beef, and liver (what do I do with liver?).

Updated with a fourth, when I say "groceries" I actually mean everything we eat and use in our house on a daily basis: tissues, paper towels, food, drinks, diapers, wet wipes, make-up, deodorant, cleaning products, garbage bags, hair products, feminine products, tealight candles used in holiday decorations, fresh flowers, and so on.

And fifth, we are a family of eight, six kids and two adults. Our oldest is eight and our youngest is almost ten months. While the baby is not eating a ton of food I am buying some special things for him and his diapers come out of our grocery budget so I think it's fair to include him in the count.

Okay, I think that's enough groundwork. Here goes:

Today I went grocery shopping and spent $109. It should feed us through the week though come Friday (pay day) I may pop back into the store in case I've run out of milk, bread, or sanity. My grocery list looked like this:

I also picked up apples, bananas, strawberries, hand soap refill, Earth Balance butter, shampoo, conditioner, mini bagels, bread, and a fountain soda. I didn't use coupons this week but I did make an effort to buy Kroger products so I would save with my Kroger card + earn fuel points. I know my meal plan says chili on Friday but we eat meatless on Fridays and I don't know why I wrote that down. So I bought no beans and we'll have something else instead.

After shopping my fridge looked like this:

And my freezer like this:

The cupboards have the bread, crackers, cereal, pop tarts, fruit snacks, oatmeal, chips, pretzels, canned food, and other items that make up our other meals. Generally speaking those menus look like this:

Breakfast options:
cold cereal, oatmeal, pop tart, bagel, toast, Eggo waffle, and sometimes homemade coffee cake or pancakes

Lunch options:
chicken nuggets, hot dogs, mac and cheese, fresh fruit, chips, pretzels, mini mallows, carrot sticks, leftovers

Snack options:
fresh fruit, carrot sticks, crackers, baked goods, popcorn, chips, mallows

And then for this week here's what we're having:

Monday: Shepherd's Pie and Biscuits
I make my Shepherd's Pie in a cast iron skillet so I can just bake it in the same dish. Both the pie and the biscuits are easily adapted for our food allergies and I use ground round instead of lamb to save on cost.

Tuesday: Italian Sausage + Homemade Red Sauce + GF Spaghetti Noodles and Frozen Veg and Applesauce

Wednesday: Chicken + Rice + Stir Fry Veggies

Thursday: Soup Bones + Noodles and Frozen Veg and Canned Peaches
I don't have a recipe for this because my mom made this up, but let me tell you it's amazing. She boiled the meat off the bones, took bones out, added noodles to the meat and broth. Then she made a roux, added that to the cooked noodles, meat, and what was left of the broth. She seasoned it with salt and pepper and it's delish.

Friday: Potato Soup and Home Baked Bread

Saturday: Ribs and Rice and Frozen Veg

Sunday: Brinner (that's breakfast for dinner)

I don't know if this is helpful at all but if you have any questions please feel free to ask. I'm sure there's ways I could save even more money (I have two friends who are amazing at gardening, canning, freezing, and baking and I know that really helps them a great deal.) but, again, this is what works for us here and now. Please share your tips and tricks, because the point really is about helping one another feed the masses on our budgets and I'd love to learn from you.

Eat up and enjoy!


  1. Great post, Bonnie! When I moved to Germany, I was overhwhelmed by how to feed a big family out of what is essentially a dorm fridge. But having such a small space makes kitchen real estate so valuable that I am intimately aware of everything In my fridge and cupboards. Also, having a small space makes me very careful to conserve the items I have for future meals. I always have to tell myself "don't eat that!! You need it to make dinner tomorrow!". I used to think I saved money by buying the larger-sized items but now i see it just made us overindulge in a lot of items. Except Milk. Man I can never have enough milk in my house!! Thanks again, Bonnie, for your remarkable candor about how you make it work with lots of little people to feed. God bless you!!

  2. Thank you for this helpful post, Bonnie! I have a question about the cow. How do you work that expense into your budget -- do you save for it separately all year long? Do you pay for it out of your grocery money at the time of the purchase (and if that's the case, how do you manage grocery spending that week after your grocery category has taken a hit)? I like the idea of investing in that much meat at lower cost but I'm not sure how I'd handle the big up-front expense.

    1. The cow is a huge expense for us, too, and only recently were we in a place where we could start to save for things at all. How we've paid for it has varied each year we've done it but it comes down to Travis doing extra work to pay for it or us setting aside some of our tax return money.

  3. Thanks Bonnie! Moving to an apartment with no storage forced me to take stock of what we keep in the cupboards. I do miss being able to stock up when certain things go on sale, and I really miss our deep freeze. We're hoping to buy some beef like you did again someday. My husband didn't get a deer tag but most years deer meat helps, too. We typically grab the grocery store ads (we have 2 in town) after church Sunday and then make our meal plan based on the sales. It's not perfect but it works. I'd like to be a person who makes legit breakfasts but mostly it's cold cereal here!

    1. Yes! Deer meat! Travis has not gotten a deer but we have gladly taken deer meat out of other people's deep freezers when they got a new one and needed to clean out some room. That is a huge help indeed!

  4. You make me feel better our food budget (which is about the same). I do practically everything from scratch too. I always tell my husband that one day when we have money, I'm going to do so much fancy cooking lol

  5. You make me feel better our food budget (which is about the same). I do practically everything from scratch too. I always tell my husband that one day when we have money, I'm going to do so much fancy cooking lol

  6. Re: liver - I'd try bartering! We bought half a cow in the spring and were just going to feed the liver to the chickens (every recipe I read basically said, "Well, here's one way to make it not taste TOO terrible" so I didn't have a ton of confidence), but a local friend wanted it so we traded it + eggs for rabbit meat :) Definitely better than trying to eat it ourselves!

  7. Re: liver - I'd try bartering! We bought half a cow in the spring and were just going to feed the liver to the chickens (every recipe I read basically said, "Well, here's one way to make it not taste TOO terrible" so I didn't have a ton of confidence), but a local friend wanted it so we traded it + eggs for rabbit meat :) Definitely better than trying to eat it ourselves!

  8. We are making room in our freezer for our steer to get butchered soon. Getting the meat part out of the way really helps! I have noticed that when our budget gets tight, I tend to cook more and possibly better. I think I don't want the kids to feel deprived so I bake and cook a lot more. When we have our cupboards full, I think they can help themselves to something easy. I am pretty amazed how well you make do with that budget! I wrote a blog post about five frugal foods http://aestheticmomma.com/the-fantastic-five-foods-for-the-frugal-family

  9. I love the app Ibotta! It's a coupon app that you use at regular grocery stores (no Costco or Aldi), and a few other stores. For some places, you have to have your rewards card linked, but for others you just scan the item and the receipt after you make your purchase. The money is stored until you cash it out as gift cards, and they have special bonuses for using so many rebates in a certain time period. We keep it as 'free money' and will use it to buy candy at Christmas and Easter, or to buy supplies to make Christmas candy for coworkers.

  10. I love liver ... it's such a great meal and healthy. My favorite is plain old liver and onions - carmelize the onions in butter then add the liver. Perfect with brussels sprouts or other greens. I also recently saw this recipe: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/chicken-liver-stir-fry/.

  11. Your fridge looks so clean and organized. After I go grocery shopping, my fridge is so stuffed full that I can't see anything! Makes me think I need to clean it out and declutter...what the heck do I have in there?

  12. To save money at the store, know your prices, especially per unit cost. Sometimes promoted sales really aren't that good, and the warehouse prices aren't any better than Aldi's for many things.
    For example, for Halloween I bought candy at Target- with the sale and a text coupon I bought about 500 pieces of candy for $32 (and it's the good stuff too!). - about 6 cents a piece. Similar items at Sam's club would have been over $45 total- almost 10 cents a piece. (I need a lot of candy for Halloween - we live on a well lit street with good sidewalks - many kids come from all over town to trick-or-treat in my neighborhood - and I like giving it away!)
    And buying in bulk does not save you anything if you wind up eating more or if it goes to waste. I rarely buy any huge bags of perishables from Sam's club because we never go through it fast enough (even with the hordes of people in my house). Only meats (which I divide up and put in the freezer), cheeses (ditto), and maybe a few fruits.
    Also, if you can live without name brands or fancy organics, shopping generic brands at Aldi's or other stores might be cheaper than the warehouse clubs. I was disappointed in how pricey things were at Costco, because many of the brands they offer I would never have purchased anyways. There are some name brands I do look for (Cheerios and Cocoa Puffs for the win!) but mostly we get by with whateever's cheapest.

  13. So fun that you're doing this! I will definitely be using this for Christmas. :-)

  14. Thank you for the opportunity to enter ❤️

    My favorite tradition is when my dad dressed up as Santa on Christmas Eve and surprised all of the kids with 1 Christmas gift each.
    It's a tradition that continued with my children.
    Unfortunately, it ended when my dad passed away from pancreatic cancer 3 years ago.
    But it's still the first memory that pops into my mind when I think of Christmas

    I have hope that my husband or one of my siblings might pick up the torch and carry on the tradition for all of the grandkids that are too young to remember... But that has yet to happen ❤️

  15. We've started watching Elf on Thanksgiving evening ever since we watched it the same day in the hospital after our first child was born. But I do love it's a wonderful life, white Christmas, and home alone :)

  16. I love making breakfast burritos and freezing them! I make a bunch and we eat them for dinner and then they're breakfast on-the-go for the rest of the week! :)