Up until now, I would have to say that I was pretty mediocre at creating a budget and sticking to it — especially when it came to food.
This year, my husband and I decided to get on the same page with our finances. We were ready to take charge of our budget and where our money went, right down to the penny. If this method sounds familiar to you, it’s because you might of heard of Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover. Although we don’t have TONS of debt, we have enough to feel burdened by it and we needed a change. We were ready to “live like no one else so we could live like no one else.”
The first step in that was assessing our spending habits and figuring out where the heck our money went. Once we both got on the same page and were slapped with reality, we had to come up with an all cash food budget. Previously, I had been trying to spend no more than $100 a week on groceries but I would regularly go over budget by $10-$30. Sometimes I would even put a little on the credit card. The $100 a week budget was already a huge change for me since we were spending over $1000 a month (!!) on groceries when we were living in California.
Now I was to be put to the test even more. We decided upon an $87.50 budget each week for groceries. I know there are families living on way less than that, but for us, it was going to be a challenge. How would I be able to feed my family — breakfast, lunch, and dinner — real food on $87.50 a week?
Careful planning, dedication, and will is how I have been feeding my family REAL food on $87.50 a week. Here are 3 tight budget tips I have learned along the way.
Tight Budget? Use a Cash Only System
Scenario A: The total is $95 but your budget is $87.50. You swipe your debit card because it’s only a $7.50 difference. It might be a tiny difference but if that is the mentality with every purchase you make, you can easily go over budget every time. Plus, that $7.50 may have already been budgeted towards something else; which is okay but then you need to readjust your budget so you’re not spending more than what you have.
Scenario B: The total is $95 but you look down and see that you only have $87.50 in cash. You look at what you have on the grocery belt and realize that you bought your kid some natural cheezits for a snack and you got yourself a kombucha. Those two alone equal the $7.50 difference and they weren’t initially on your shopping list. Because you only have $87.50, you put back those two things and you haven’t gone over you budget.
Do you see where I’m going?
By using cash and prioritizing what you really need for the week to keep your family fed — not what you want on a whim — and by sticking to your grocery list, you’re able to make it work.
Sure that $4 kombucha looks really good but it’s not necessary. By not giving into your wants, you’ve successfully stayed within budget and your family is fed. Plus, making kombucha is easy and fairly inexpensive.
Which brings me to my next one…
Figure Out Exactly Where Each Dollar Goes (aka Not Swaying From Your Grocery List & Knowing Where to Shop)
This can be one of the hardest things to follow because temptation is everywhere — in the form of kombucha (like the one we talked about above), chocolate, a crunchy snack, you name it. It is undoubtedly hard to stick to your grocery list but it’s something that will either make or break your success when it comes to feeding your family real food on a budget.
I am getting ready to finish up my third week of an $87.50 weekly food budget and this week I went over budget $2.50 plus I still needed to buy my chai tea bags ($5) for my morning coffee alternative.
So why did I go over budget? Two reasons:
- I forgot to get cash out
- I didn’t stick to my grocery list
I got excited about organic granola bars I found at Aldi (not on the list) and ended up having to use my pocket money ($20 for the month) to buy the rest.
Avoid temptation and stick to your list!
Knowing Where to Shop
Another aspect of figuring out where each dollar goes is knowing where the best deals are. It’s not easy with a 3 month old and 4 year old, but I normally hit three different grocery stores (all in the same area so I’m not wasting gas) to keep me in budget. It’s exhausting at times but I’m able to get what I need and we don’t have to resort to processed foods.
I’ll share more on what types of food I buy where in another post coming soon.
Plan Every Meal: Keep it Simple & Use What You Have First
When living on a below poverty food budget, there is no room for err. I had to make sure my food purchases were being used to their fullest capacity so no food gets wasted. This meant creating a meal plan for all three meals. Usually I just (loosely) plan our dinners so having to think about breakfast and lunch made me a bit nervous.
Before I got to meal planning, I made a list of our family favorites as a reference. This is important because if you get behind on meal planning for the week, you can break out your family favorites and rotate them through the week.
Once I had my family favorites list, I moved to my pantry and looked at the ingredients I already had. Having a properly stocked pantry is incredibly important because you can use what you have to make multiple different meals. For example, the first thing I noticed when I looked in my pantry was the amount of oats I had; so for breakfast I made my baked apple cinnamon oatmeal. I put it all together the night before and had Scott put it in the oven while he was getting ready for work. It makes a 9×13 dish, so the baked oatmeal fed all of us comfortably the whole week.
For lunches I kept it pretty simple: utilizing leftovers, canned pole caught tuna at Aldi’s, simple roast beef sandwiches (purchasing just enough for the week), and salads. Nothing fancy for sure, but real food indefinitely. Andrew has been in a bit of a food funk so I can count on him eating PB&Js for lunch most of the time — I just had to figure out what to help rotate through as a “side.” I have been opening up a capsule of probiotics for gut health.
Dinner tends to be a little tough because of how monotonous it can get. Plus, it’s usually the meal where you have a kid hanging on your leg wanting to be fed, you’re exhausted, and so is your spouse. I have been opting for foods that are inexpensive — like sweet potatoes, lentils, frozen vegetables, rice — and that I can make a lot of at one time so it’s easy to create different variations with already cooked food.
When Meal Planning is Not Your Thing
I know a lot of people want to plan their meals but for whatever personal reason, many don’t. The idea of having to plan out meals is not fun but it’s a necessity if you’re wanting to stretch your food dollars and not resort to processed foods.
Was it hard to stick to the menu plan? Yes, absolutely. There were times where I was so tired that I didn’t feel like cooking or wasn’t in the mood Wednesday’s planned dinner. By keeping my dinner plans simple (not too much to prep or defrost), I was able to swap a different nights meal without it making me too crazy.
Sacrifice: Ingredients & Time
I’m big on label reading and making choices via what is actually included on the label. I’m big on quality of ingredients, especially when it comes to animal products. Being on an $87.50 weekly budget taught me that I had to sacrifice some things and it’s okay. I wouldn’t normally buy canned green beans but when I saw how much money I had left, I opted for the $.49 green bean cans from Aldi instead of $3.00 fresh beans.
Although I already don’t buy everything organic, I have had to buy some things I would normally buy organic in the conventional form.
Is it my favorite thing to do? No. It’s like a mental tug of war I go through each time I shop but I know it is what I need to do right now, in this season of our lives.
A Budget-Friendly Nourishing Dinners Cookbook Coming Soon!
Let’s be real. It is not exactly the easiest thing to plan, shop, prep, cook every meal. It takes effort, dedication, will power, creativity. Whether you work a full-time job or you’re at home caring for littles, at the end of the day you’re exhausted — I get it.
Experiencing these past few weeks has inspired me to team up with my friend Emily (Recipes to Nourish) to create a cookbook full of budget-friendly nourishing REAL food dinners. We know what it’s like to live on a budget but want to feed our family healthy real food, so we are going to take most of the hard work away from your plate with the recipes found in our cookbook.
Right now our cookbook is in the beginning stages but I would love to get your feedback on what budget-friendly means to you and your family by filling out this short 8 question survey. Your feedback allows me to create a cookbook that will help feed your family healthy REAL food, even if you’re on a tight budget.