Originally posted on Saving Cents with Sense . . . I thought I would share this post for those of you that didn’t head over there to catch it.
My family has been living on a weekly $50 Grocery Budget since I quit my job in June of 2007. On that $50, we buy not only food, but hygiene items, medicine, diapers and formula. Our family has two adults and three boys – ages 4, 3, and 3 1/2 months.
I don’t expect everyone to mirror our choices or our budget, but I thought I would share with you some of the ways that we are able to do this.
- Making Meals from What’s on Sale
I know some people who meal plan and some who cook whatever sounds good, then they go out and buy what they need. That kills my budget. What our household does is take inventory of what we have and then make general plans for what we need to purchase. So, if we have lots of vegetables, I know I need to buy meat or desserts. And another week, we may have a bunch of frozen chicken but I buy noodles and steak. The bottom line is that we buy ONLY what’s on sale or mandatory items (like toilet paper), which goes along with the next way we save . . .
I coupon, which is probably not a surprise. My general rule of thumb is that I buy as many papers as I have people in the house that gives me multiple copies of the same coupons. So when an item goes on sale, I buy as many of them as I have coupons for. In the end, I have a stockpile of every staple item our household uses. The great thing about that is when you have to take a break, you aren’t immediately out of everything! For example, when I was pregnant I couldn’t function and definitely wasn’t wanting to put energy into grocery shopping, so we bought necessities and lived off our stockpile for weeks on end.
Using coupons and shopping clearance helps my buy things frequently at more than 80% off and, at times, even FREE. Were I to buy these items at full price, we could never live on $50 a week. Read this post on my blog if you would like to know more about how I coupon.
- Shopping at CVS
CVS shopping is a little bit of work, but absolutely worth it. CVS frequently has prescription coupons that give you gift cards in return for filling prescriptions there. They also accept competitor’s coupons so I cut the ones I see in grocery ads, Target coupon books, etc. The easiest way to start CVSing is to fill a prescription at a CVS and get a $25 or $30 gift card. Then you use the gift card to buy the items that are FREE after Extra Care Bucks. (Extra Care Bucks are basically gift certificates that can be redeemed on almost anything in the store before the expiration date on them.) Sometimes you can combine them with manufacturer coupons and CVS $5/20 or $5/30 and MAKE money on these free items. Then you just continue to roll the ECBs by spending them on FREE items the next week.
It is true that sometimes the free items are not things that you use or may even want, but you should still get them. You need to keep rolling the ECBs so they don’t expire before you can use them on something you do use AND you can always donate the items you don’t want or sell them in a garage sale.
- Not Being Brand Loyal
One of the things that stops people from being successful at keeping their grocery budget super low is their absolute loyalty to certain brands. Now, don’t get me wrong, we are loyal to some things. For example, we predominantly use Degree deodorant because we know we will not stink if we are using it. The only way we ever try anything else is if I am able to get it free. Then if it doesn’t work, we don’t feel bad about getting rid of it. But in general, we have learned to ask for a type of item instead of a specific kind. My husband requests chips instead of Chili Cheese Fritos. My children request cookies instead of Oreos. I look for ice cream instead of paying whatever they’re asking for a gallon of Blue Bell. It really does make a significant difference in the total amount you will end up paying for your groceries. And it doesn’t mean we never eat Oreos or Blue Bell. It just means we eat them when we can get them for a good price and we aren’t willing to pay through the nose for them.
- Writing Companies
If you are brand loyal, you should make it a point to write the companies and tell them that you repeatedly choose their products over other brands and why. Many times they will send you coupons in appreciation for your loyalty and then it helps keep those items in the general price range you need them to be in. Recently I emailed Bar-S to tell them that my children and husband enjoy their products so much and their prices are generally so good that I buy their meats almost every time I go to the store. In return they sent me a $5 off ANYTHING coupon that I used to purchase a 3 lb package of hot dogs, and several $.25/1 item coupons that will triple and make their bologna or smaller hot dog packages almost free.
The other time I write companies is when I’m disappointed or unsatisfied with their product. Recently I emailed SC Johnson to let them know that I had two different Scrubbing Bubbles Shower Cleaner machines just stop working. They refunded the cost of one and sent me a coupon to get a replacement for FREE. That one email benefited our budget over $35 worth! On my blog, I frequently post reminders to write companies along with three different manufacturer’s contact information in my Kudos/Komplaints feature.
- Limiting our Eating Out
Prior to me quitting my job, we ate out frequently and this was considered part of our “grocery” budget. There is absolutely no way to eat on $50 a week if you include restaurants and it’s hard to even fit in fast food. If I am completely stocked on everything we need and we have a little cash left at the end of the week, sometimes we will use our Entertainment book coupons to eat out at a fast food/quick serve place.
All of our restaurant funds come from special money in other areas of the budget, and to be honest, we just try to severely limit the eating out all the way around.
- Planning Ahead
Because I stockpile, it allows me to plan ahead. If I know we are going on vacation and want to carry a cooler full of food and drinks, I can start to slip one or two items into the weekly budget several weeks in advance. That way we aren’t shelling out a $100 in snacks on the road or even at the grocery store in preparation for the trip.
I do the same thing with any parties that we throw – birthday, Super Bowl, Ladies Night Out – I know its coming and do my best to buy the necessary items as they are on sale instead of waiting until the last minute and paying full price for them.
- Eating ALL of Our Food
My husband is very supportive for the most part of everything I do to stretch our money, but this is one he hates! For whatever reason, he despises leftovers. But when we don’t eat everything we’ve made I can’t bring myself to throw it out. So I do my best to use it all. If there is enough I freeze it to make another meal several weeks later. (Sometimes my husband has then forgotten this is actually still leftovers.) Many times I try to recycle the leftovers by planning a meal that I can use them in. We may have a whole cooked chicken for one meal. Then I take the leftover chicken and any extra vegetables to make a chicken pot pie. If I just have chicken left, I might use it to make chicken salad. If there is only a small bit left, I often give it to the boys the next day for lunch. One way or another, I try to make sure we waste as little edible food as possible.
- Signing Up for Freebies
I know many people think it’s a waste of time to sign up for all of the “junk” mail. But I can personally vouch for this approach. I don’t sign up for every freebie out there, but I do sign up for the products that I use. You would be surprised how often the freebie turns out to be a full sized product. I have gotten granola bars, individual cereal boxes, bottles of shampoo, even razors in the mail. We even save the small samples for traveling, making gift baskets, or donating to homeless shelters or food banks. One of the things I love the most is the coupons that come with these freebies. They generally help me get a full sized product for super cheap or even free. Some of my favorite places to sign up for freebies can be found here.
Nursing saves us a great deal of money. We do sign up for the free samples and checks from all of the formula companies and use them for any supplementing – Enfamil and Similac are the two largest companies that do this. I can’t tell you how many hundreds of dollars this saves us. A can of formula averages about $14 and lasts maybe a week (obviously longer when the baby is younger and not as long when they are growing and eating more). But at this rate, if you feed your child formula for a year after birth, you will spend $728! For many families, it is much more than that. And obviously on a $50 budget, a $14 can of formula would eat up more than 1/4 of the total budget.
You may not be able to immediately drop your family grocery budget to $50 a week, but if you follow these pieces of advice I promise you it will drop . . . significantly.
Why do I go to all of this trouble? In the beginning, it was absolutely necessary for us to survive financially. But in the end, we do it because it gives us room in our budget to help others. Not only can I donate the extra items I get and don’t need or can’t use, but being frugal with my money in every area of my life gives me the freedom to donate more to those who need it.
What better motivation to be careful, spend wisely and save extravagantly, knowing that it has the potential to completely change someone else’s life forever!
Melissa Carlisle is the author of the MelissaStuff blog where she encourages her readers to save money in order to make room for someone else in their budget. Melissa has been married to her best friend for almost 7 years and has three young boys. Her degree in Creative Writing along with a graduate degree from Dallas Theological Seminary uniquely qualify her to address the humanitarian issues of our day with an entertaining and innovative approach.