While I don’t get requests for posts often, sometimes I do get so many questions about one certain topic that I know I need to address it some way. Most recently I’ve received questions about how I cook on a budget, plan my meals, and with small children underfoot.
So this Mama Monday post is all about Feeding the Family: The Budget.
Before you ever set foot in your local grocery store, you better have a budget. You need to know how much you can spend each week to make it through the month. Since we live on one salary, I have to make sure that we can make it through a month without eating beans and rice for a week.
Each month I spend around $600-$700 on groceries for our family of 5. This money is only for food and doesn’t include gas or non-food household items. This averages out to about $150 a week. I try to always have this amount of money IN CASH when I go grocery shopping. I emphasized the phrase “in cash” because if I just swipe my debit or credit card it’s a lot easier for me to go over budget. The weeks that I don’t stop by the ATM to get cash, I almost always overspend which is not a good thing.
I want to tell you right now that:
- I do not clip coupons (too much time involved)
- I do not shop at huge warehouse stores like Sam’s Club or Costco (we don’t have enough storage in our house for 50 rolls of paper towel no matter how cheap they are!)
- I do not drive from store to store to nab the best deals out of each store’s weekly flyer (I am usually shopping with all three kids and getting them in and out of three or more stores without a fight, someone crying, or being nagged to death for candy is never going to happen).
Here is how I try to maximize my budget:
Buy meat only when it’s on sale. Meat is the most expensive part of any meal 99% of the time. I would love to tell you that I cook vegetarian meals once or twice a week, but I don’t because Preacher Man would probably cry if there wasn’t some kind of meat on the table. It’s too depressing to see a grown man cry, so meat shows up at every meal. Our local grocery store puts new selections of meat on sale every Wednesday, so I try to sneak up there after the kids are in bed to look it over. I buy two packages of everything I know we will eat and store them in the deep freeze in the garage. Some weeks this equals two packages of chicken, pork chops, roast, and steak. Some weeks it’s only a couple of different cuts of meat, but I always buy two. I usually do this the first and third week of the month. That way the second and fourth weeks I don’t need to buy meat (or not as much) and can use the extra money in my budget to load up on more of my household needs like cleaning supplies, laundry detergent, diapers, etc.
Keep away from pre-packaged food as much as possible. Not only is this stuff not as healthy for you (just read the list of ingredients, you probably can’t pronounce half of it!), but it’s more expensive. I’ll be honest, we do eat some of this stuff, but I do try to limit it. It’s just not worth it when you can make it much cheaper and much healthier. I also don’t buy snack foods (cookies, crackers, chips) are not happening around here.
Have a menu ready and ONLY buy what you need for that menu or to restock your staples (flour, milk, eggs, bread, etc.). I will talk specifically about how I menu plan next week, but the worst thing you can do is walk into a grocery store without a list of what you need to cook meals at your house. Why? Because you will walk up and down the aisles and say, “That looks good. I’ll get that,” and at checkout discover you have succeeded at going well over budget.
Figure out your items that are non-negotiable and cut out something else to make it happen. I try, try, try to feed my family food that is healthy, organic, and not processed. However, I am on a budget and buying all organic is just not feasible right now. I use the dirty dozen list as my base, but no matter what I try I cannot afford organic meat. It’s just too much, but I am able to buy the rest of the items on the dirty dozen list. However, to be able to do this I decided that this was important to me for my family, so I cut back in some areas to be able to buy organic. I only mention this because trying to buy organic or gluten-free can be expensive. If it matters to you and your family, then cut things out of the budget. You can do it.
One last tip….
If you are getting started on trying to cook more from home, start small. Only cook a couple of nights a week, and then add some more nights the next month. One thing I can promise you is that cooking at home is much, much cheaper than eating out. When our family eats at a restaurant it will cost us about $45-$50 including the tip. I can feed our family steak (bought on sale), baked potatoes, steamed broccoli with cheese sauce, salad, and homemade bread for about $20 with the steak being half of the cost. Or take fast food as an example, for our family $25. If I make burgers and fries (not frozen, homemade), the total cost is around $8. I know the time factor comes into play here, but we’ll deal with that problem in a couple of weeks.
So work up a budget and get excited about feeding your family!
Go to Part 2:The Menu
Go to Part 2:The Menu
Seeing just how cheap I can feed these folks in the tree house,