How I Feed My Husband and Myself on $150 a Month
The food bill is one of the biggest challenges for me. Itís tough when there is such a variety of food and so many temptations. I know because I havenít always budgeted for $150. We spent about $300 for the first few months after our wedding because we were busy getting settled, and I wasnít spending a whole lot of time thinking about it. Then we cut it down to $200, hit a tight month, and I found that I had to figure out a way to work with $150. Now sometimes, like this month, I have to work with $120-$130. When you donít have a choice itís amazing what you can come up with. :)
First of all, it will take a lot of determination, especially if you donít really have to budget. There are a lot of things you probably think you need to buy every month, or you have to have, but youíd be surprised at how much you buy that you just donít need. Be willing to look at what you buy and evaluate it with an open mind. Maybe your husband can even help you. They are great when it comes to looking at something logically.
Another thing that helps more than you might think is searching for the best prices, which means you need to have a good idea of what your basic items go for at different stores. Is it a good price for tuna when itís 50 cents a can? Or can you get it for 40 cents at WinCo (a local grocery store that I shop at)? You do have to consider gas money too. If you find a sale at Walgreens for tuna at 35 cents a can, but it takes you 15 minutes extra to get there and thatís all you plan to get, it would probably average out if you bought it at WinCo and saved yourself a trip. (Unless you buy enough to last for a year or two, which my parents do quite often. :) ) For me, Iíve found that there are about 10 items that are less expensive at one store vs. another. I keep my eyes open for more too. Just because some things are less expensive at one store doesnít mean everything will be. For example, Wal*Martís produce happens to be double what WinCoís is.
Make sure you check that tiny number on the price that will tell you how much per ounce or pound youíre paying. Something may appear to be a little less expensive than another brand, but it very well could be more. Thatís how I figure out what brand to buy if youíre ever assaulted by 15 different choices, which is the case a lot of times.
Always be on the lookout for a better price. Maybe even keep a notebook with you when you go shopping so you can write down prices. Make sure you also write down how much youíre getting for that price, i.e. 16 oz sour cream for $1.88. Little by little youíll figure out whatís a good price and where to buy it at. It is a bit tedious, but itíll pay you back later on. Remember, if youíre only working with $150, every penny counts.
For example, if you can make chili and cornbread (a whole meal) by scratch for approximately $2.50, and you happen to save a total of $5 by shopping wisely from about 10 different items, youíve just saved yourself two dinners, or 1/30 of your monthly budget! For that $2.50 meal we usually end up having enough leftover for lunch the next day and even some for the freezer for later on.
And now the toughest one: Disciplining yourself to spend more time in the kitchen instead of money at the store; making biscuits instead of buying them by the tube. It costs pennies to make them yourself whereas it costs over a dollar to buy them, and you get half as many. Instead of buying mashed potatoes by the box, go to the kitchen a few minutes earlier and make them yourself! Canned foods like soups and such are usually more expensive than if you made them yourself. As a general rule, I hardly ever buy canned food. I do buy corn, tomatoes, occasionally green beans, olives, spicy tomatoes, tuna, tomato paste and sauce. My canned goods are very limited and they usually help make a meal instead of being ďtheĒ meal. So, if you see something in a box or a can, try recreating it for much less. My mom is super good at finding substitutes to make from scratch, such as when a recipe ! calls for a packet of gravy mix, or a can of cream of mushroom soup etc.
It doesnít kill to have a repeat of the same meal in a month; if itís inexpensive and tasty and everyone likes it, why not? Maybe even try for three times? What Iím trying to do is make double of a meal, like a soup or casserole, and freeze one. My goal would be to have about half of a monthís worth of food in the freezer. Weíd be eating double. If it means saving money, my husband is totally game.
Eating leftovers is a real budget saver, even if you have the same thing for the next dayís dinner. Something Iíve been working on is trying to find uses for leftovers in a dinner. For example, if you have leftover rice, you can throw it into a batch of chili or a soup to make it a bit hardier. If you have leftover soup, and youíre both tired of it, freeze it. Keep quart and gallon zip-type bags on hand so you can easily do that.
Keep to basic foods. The fancier you make it the more odds and ends you have to buy that may be expensive. Try to use a lot of beans, potatoes and rice. Itís amazing how many different ways you can use a potato! The internet is swamped with recipes. I like to try and find a couple new things every month to add to my inventory of recipes; things that have several items that I would normally buy or that I have on hand.
Replace food or snacks with less expansive things! I am amazed how many mothers feed their children little individual containers of Jello and yogurt, boxes of fruit snacks and just plain costly foods that are not that healthy. Whatever happened to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? Bananas? Raisins? Oatmeal? Even with my husband and me I have found foods that I can cut out. I try to make sure we have cookies on hand or maybe a homemade cake or pie. Iíve made dip and bought inexpensive crackers and served that for a snack.
Of the food items that I buy, I have found that meat, cheese and milk are the most expensive. For meat, if your husband wonít object too much, try to cut down on the amount you use. This one is a killer. I serve a lot of chicken because itís the cheapest meat. I buy about 5lbs of hamburger every month usually, sometimes Iíll end up using about 8. We hardly ever have roast or pork chops or steak unless itís on sale. Lately Iíve been buying a few pork roasts, cutting them in half and freezing that. I try to only spend about $25-$30 on meat a month. That also buys polish sausages, sausage, lunch meat, and turkey ham. I havenít bought bacon in the time weíve been married. I guess I just canít fathom paying a heap for it and then having it cook down to something thatís as thin as paper and as long as a new pencil. Maybe someday Iíll buy it for a recipe.
Cheese is also something that has gone up in price. A lot of recipes use a lot of cheese. Most of the time, I donít use the full amount that they call for, a little trick I learned from my mom. :) Oh, I also stay away from lasagna. I havenít made one in ages. I never knew just how much it was until I made three meals needing cheese and used a whole $8 bag of shredded cheese. To say the least: I was shocked. Now I buy one 5# bag of shredded cheddar from Costco a month and make it last as long as possible.
Another food that is fast rising in price is milk. I now use powdered milk in all my baking. I would go through about 3 gallons minimum a week if I didnít use powdered (my hubby is a BIG milk drinker).
And now lastly, drink water! My recent trip to the store surprised me. The frozen concentrate juice I had bought last time had gone up 25cents brining it to a whopping $0.91 a can. Orange juice and lemonade are fast becoming the only juices that are under a dollar. I only buy about 5-6 cans of juice a month, if that. I do keep some cheap soda on hand for a change, but for the most part we drink waterÖor he drinks milk. Iím actually quite perplexed when I hear people say they donít like water. No offense, but thatís not a very healthy dislike or a cheap one. Drinking water helps keep you hydrated and aids in keeping everything working properly, and it's the most inexpensive drink!
Here is a one week menu:
Sunday: Mexican Rice Bake, Tortilla Chips, Green Beans
Monday: Clam Chowder, Homemade Bread, Salad
Tuesday: BBQ Chicken Legs, Baked Potatoes, Mixed Veggies
Wednesday: Tuna Noodle Casserole, Carrot Sticks
Thursday: Taco Soup, Tortilla Chips, Salad
Friday: Chicken Pot Pie, Broccoli with Ranch Dip
Saturday: Pork Steak With Rice, Bread/Biscuits, Cole Slaw
Usually this lasts my husband and me about a week and a half because of leftovers. When I'm planning my monthly menu (I like to get my meal shopping out of the way in the beginning of the month), most of the time I find I only have to plan anywhere from 18 to 25 meals because of leftovers, eating out or last minute changes to the menu, like deciding to make breakfast for dinner or what not.
I hope that this article will help give you ideas for your meal planning. Embrace the challenge of budgeting!
About the Author:
Carolyn Root is the oldest daughter of Crystal Miller. She and her husband Jonathan live at Andrews Air Force Base. Carolyn enjoys caring for their son, cooking, baking, homemaking, and writing and loves her new role as a stay-at-home wife. She has her own website: Simply Natural Skin
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