Thursday, August 18, 2011

How to feed a family of five on $300/month

In answer to a comment that I received, I decided to address the question, "How can I feed my family of five on $300/month? While it may be difficult, I don't think that this would be impossible. And I would welcome any and all comments of things that have worked or not worked for you in trying to feed your family on a limited food budget per month.

1-Shop the sales and use coupons. Shopping the adds is easy enough, for meats and produce I only buy what is on the first page (meat) and the last page (fruits/vegs) for that week. Using coupons can save you a ton of money. When my children were little I would spend $200/week, yes, you read that right, per week at the grocery store b/c I had no idea how much could be saved shopping ads only and using coupons. When I started using coupons I immediately started saving $300/month on groceries. I joined a coupon subscription service in Phoenix area called "couponsense". The idea is to buy multiple Sunday papers which have the coupon booklets in them each week and then to match up the ad with the coupon to get rock bottom prices on items and only buy those items when you have a coupon and a sale price. I no longer do couponsense but not b/c I don't like it. I still think it's wonderful. There is a free website that I like called, Optimum savings by using coupons depends on your area and the couponing policies of the stores that you shop. Arizona stores mostly double coupon values so it's a great place to coupon. If you can't afford to buy multiple Sunday papers, ask your friends for the coupons that they don't use. There are also various online printable coupons that you can get. I have a teacher friend that would get the 4th grades Sunday newspaper each Monday after they had done their current events. Ask around, sometimes nursing homes or hotels get newspapers, so ask if you can have the coupons out of them afterwards.

2-Cut out prepared and packaged foods. Buy beans, potatoes or potato flakes, rice, macaroni, flour and oats in bulk. Preparing simple foods will save you lots of money and when you learn how to do it won't necessarily take more time. Beans and lentils do great in the crockpot. I've also heard that oatmeal does great in the crockpot or I use the microwave for a single serving of oats. If you want to bake your own bread, there are recipes that are time efficient. Lentils are satisfying and fill the belly and are cheap. There is a website called Hillbilly Housewife. I haven't looked on it in awhile, it's on my favorites. She says that you can feed your family on $40/week. They eat more beans in a week than I can though. Eggs used to be a cheap staple for the week, but you can still usually find them on sale at one store in the area for under $1 each week.

3-Plant a garden if you can. or even one item you use a lot of like Basil, zucchini or tomatoes or lettuce, plant them in a tub.

4-Practice the $50 Stockpile. My friend Mindy had a blog a couple of years ago called the $50 Stockpile. The premise was that you only had to spend $50 per week on groceries. You would stockpile what was on sale for that week and then once your pantry and freezer were full, then you used what you had on hand, buying only $50 of produce or meat each week. I wish she still did it b/c her ideas were fabulous. But anyone can do it. For instance when tuna is on sale for .50/can and if your family likes tuna, then you would buy 10 cans of tuna for $5. Let's say this same week that hamburger is on sale for a family pack that is aprox. $10 and has 5-6 lbs. in it. You'll take it home and package it up into 4 or 5 meal portions and freeze or cook and freeze. Or instead of hamburger you will buy 15 lbs. worth of whole chickens b/c they are .69/lb. Cook them up and shred the meat or freeze them raw. So far we've spent $15. Let's say that canned vegs are on sale for .50/can or canned beans are the same price. Buy $5 worth of those. Now we've spent $20. If pasta is on sale buy $10 worth of that. And if pasta sauce is on sale or tomatoes, buy $10 worth of that. maybe spend the last $10 on oats or pancake mix if those are on sale. The next week do the same thing with different items and before long you will have built up your pantry and will not have to spend any more than $50/week on groceries.

5-Plan 3 or more vegetarian night meals per week. Cutting out the meat really cuts the price of your weekly food budget.

6-Shop seasonally. I only buy mayonnaise, ketchup and mustard(with a coupon is dirt cheap) during a week preceding a big BBQ weekend when sale prices for those items and coupons are their best. I try to buy all of the flour, powdered sugar, brown sugar, cornstarch, baking powder, chocolate chips and cocoa that I need for the whole year during November and December. I buy salsa the week of Cinco de Mayo when it is super cheap, I buy canned chili and hot dogs the week of Super bowl weekend. I buy expensive cuts of meat only the week of Valentines day and Christmas when they are half the price of what they normally run. I buy peanut butter when school starts b/c it's super cheap then.

7-Join a produce or food co-op in your area. Lots of people swear by this. However, it only works if your family will eat most anything b/c you get what they decide to give you each week. I never thought this would work that well for us, but for some people it works out great. It's like $15 for a big basket of fruits/veggies. Google food co-ops in your area.

8-Portion control. I've fed two hungry teens, I know how hard this can be. But there has to be boundaries if there is a limit on the food budget. I fried up two lbs. of bacon one night thinking that after our BLT's that I could wrap up the remaining bacon to use for breakfast the next day. It was all eaten and I only got 2 or 3 pieces of it. I also know it's hard when you are expected to bring snacks to sports teams, provide goodies that have to be store bought for school parties. Lots of snack items have corresponding coupons and go on sale often. My son was embarrassed at the thought one year when I threatened to send in obviously Christmas wrapped candy in for the classroom Valentine's Party. I had gotten the bags of chocolate candy for something insane like .15 per bag the day after Christmas with some killer coupons.

9-Use your freezer. Even if all you have is the one connected to your fridge, maximize your stockpiling power by using your freezer wisely. I was watching an antiques show the other day where they showed a fridge from the 30's or 40's that only had a freezer big enough to hold 2 ice trays. Growing up we had an old "extra" fridge that was like that that we put sodas and extra eggs or butter in.

10-Get to know your ads each week and what prices are in your area for items you normally buy. Make your own "never pay more than" list on items you buy regularly. My rule of thumb here for myself is that I usually do not pay more than $2/lb. for hamburger. Most of the time the sale price now is $1.88/lb. here, sometimes it will go down to $1.67/lb. Mostly I do not pay more than $2/lb. for any meats unless we are splurging for the ocassional steak. Boneless skinless chicken breasts usually run $1.67/lb. on sale here. Whole chickens are .69/lb. on sale. For fruits and vegs., the fresh ones, I don't like to pay more than $1 per lb. Less, of course is better. Right now is a great time to stock up on some vegs that you can freeze. Onions and peppers are on sale for cheap right now so if you like them frozen (I don't care for their texture all that much after freezing) to use in cooking, get a bunch, chop them up and freeze them in portions you can manage for dinner.

Please, share your ideas on living through a recession!

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