If you haven’t yet read my initial post, What I Would Feed my Family on a Monthly Budget of $250, I would suggest going there first, and then coming back to this post.
First, Some Answers to Your Questions
1. No, this isn’t how we regularly eat. I did mention that in the other post, but I want to say it again for clarity. This is make-believe. Our usual grocery budget (which includes about $30-40 of household and toiletries) is $450, NOT $250. The point of doing this was to see IF I could do it and to figure out HOW I would do it, to challenge myself and to encourage and help those who are at a point where they don’t have the luxury of upping their budget. In the past, we did eat very similarly to this, but our budget has since been raised now that we are not as strapped as we were.
2. Does our family actually consume this little dairy? No. We would and could (and used to), but we don’t anymore. We drink or eat more like the equivalent of 1 gallon of dairy per week (in the form of raw milk, yogurt or kefir), not 1/2 a gallon as outlined in my budget. This is an option that we now have due to a higher budget, and we thoroughly enjoy it, plus I think it’s good for us. We also eat more cheese than the other budget contained (we eat 5-6 lbs per month, not 4), probably about the same amount of butter (4 lbs), and then also some extras like sour cream and cream.
3. What is flaxseed egg replacer and how do you use it? See this post for more details.
4. How would you do this when you have food allergies (like wheat or gluten), or when you’re on a special diet, like GAPS?
Here are a few helpful posts for those trying to cut costs when eating grain-free:
- Frugal Living with Food Sensitivities
- Building a Grain Free Pantry
- Using Four Frugal Foods from the Produce Section Creatively
Our family has eaten wheat free for many, many years and this is how I made it work on a tight budget— we would still eat the other grains I mentioned (oats, brown rice, rice pasta, etc.) plus starches like potatoes and sweet potatoes and squash. For bread, I made mostly sourdough with a combination of rye and kamut, and then also some yeasted breads using only kamut or sometimes adding other inexpensive flours like barley. I bought all of my grains in bulk from the food co-op that we order from to keep it cost effective. Of course, this would cost a bit more than the wheat flour I used as an example in my last post (25 lbs kamut for me, for example, is $19.55 and 25 lbs of rye is $11.65), but I saved money in other areas of the budget to help make it work.
For those who are gluten free, I would give you the same advice. Use different flours (brown rice, sorghum, millet, tapioca starch, etc.) and buy them in bulk, as well as the necessary extras like xanthan gum for binding. Make your own GF mixes to store in your pantry(never buy them- that makes it so much more expensive). You will probably spend even a bit more than I spent doing wheat-free, but it’s still do-able. I wish I had more and better suggestions for you, but we have rarely eaten gluten free, so I’m not particularly experienced in this issue. Perhaps you can help each other out in the comments?
Several people asked me what we would eat for snacks on this budget. I’ll be honest in saying that it would be a struggle to eat decent snacks. Here are a few things that I would make:
- Granola bars
- Extra muffins
- Bread/toast or tortillas with butter or peanut butter
- Possibly cheese slices, if there was enough
- Any extra raw veggies or fruit that weren’t used in other meals (but I know there wouldn’t be a lot of leftovers)
That’s about it. And that’s not much. Which is why this budget needs to be better than it is, with more food and some extra variety.
And that’s exactly what I’m going to show you how to do right now…
All the Other Things I Would Do to Save More Money
My initial budget was based primarily on frugal eating and careful planning, which anyone can do. Now I’m going to share with you some of the many other techniques that you can use to find more room in that lean budget, buy better quality foods, and more of them.
Shop my local produce market
I love my produce market. For those local to me, I shop at 2 EE’s. They carry a mix of their own, locally-grown and either unsprayed or organic produce in season, and then they supplement this with other local produce, as well as plenty of imports for those who want them. My market in particular has great prices on most of their local and seasonal items, but I find that produce markets in general are MUCH cheaper than any conventional grocery store, and truthfully, I buy hardly any produce from regular stores.
Aside from their better prices on these local and seasonal items, I also purchase bulk cases at a discount. In my $250 scenario, I spent $4.98 on 5 lbs of apples. At my market, I could buy a 20 lb case for between $9-15 (between late summer and early spring, anyways), depending on the variety I chose. That’s a huge difference. I can also buy things like potatoes, carrots, onions, as well as seasonal fruit (apples and pears in fall and winter, tree fruits like peaches and plums in summer, plus tomatoes and cucumbers and peppers and all sorts of foods for preserving in summer as well), all in cases of at least 10 lbs and up to 50 lbs.
On a regular basis, I spend about $35-40 every two weeks at this market, shopping mostly seasonal foods or sales, a few discount items, and then a few things we just enjoy, and I walk away with 3-4 shopping bags stuffed with produce. The produce in my initial post cost $36.60. I could have spent the same or slightly more at the produce store and walked away with more and a better selection, especially if I…
Image from raw+peace+love
Buy From the Discount Shelf
I can’t tell you what a difference this makes. Did you know that most stores or markets have a cart or a section where they put fruits and vegetables that are very ripe or just starting to go bad, but still have plenty of life left?
We North Americans tend to have a fairly spoiled view of what “good” produce looks like. If a pepper starts to get a soft spot, we’re more likely to throw the whole thing out than to cut around the bad spot. If the lettuce has some bad looking pieces on the outside, we might be tempted to compost the whole head, instead of peeling off the bad parts until we get further in. Honestly, I think we’re way too picky and that’s why we waste so much food.
When I buy bags off of the discount shelf, I expect that I will cut away and throw out some part of the bag, but it’s usually minimal. I always look the bags over carefully before choosing which ones I want. There are a few things that I won’t buy discounted, because I know they are routinely not worth it (like already soft avocados- in my experience, more bad than good).
Overall, though, I pay at least 50% less (and often much cheaper) for produce that will still go a long ways. I have a friend who consistently buys the bulk of her produce from the discount shelves at various stores, and I know that she spends much less on produce than even I do (since I only buy some of mine this way, not all). I think that our family still eats a little more fresh produce overall and we enjoy more variety and choice, but their family certainly isn’t suffering in any way and they still eat an excellent, whole foods diet with fresh fruits and vegetables.
I know that discounted foods aren’t available absolutely everywhere- just yesterday someone was telling me that where they’re from in Illinois, they just don’t see these discounted items. But, they are available far more than you think. Ask the managers at the stores where you shop where they put discounted items or what days they mark them down. If you never see items already discounted, you can also just ask. Just because it isn’t marked down doesn’t mean it can’t be. Trust me on this.
Buy Other Discounted Items
Produce isn’t the only place to save in this regard. Many stores will also discount their dairy (yes, including organic or even raw), breads, meats, fish, eggs, and sometimes dry goods and regular grocery. Learn which stores do, learn how and when they mark them down, and then try to shop according to those patterns.
Don’t be afraid to buy near-expiry items. Unless they really don’t look good, they almost always are. Meat or fish can be used within a day or two, or frozen immediately. Same with milk, pasteurized or raw (and after being frozen, it’s still great for making yogurt or kefir, for baking, for pouring over cereal or oatmeal, etc.). Yogurt or other cultured dairy usually lasts far beyond the expiry date, as do eggs. Breads can also be frozen and taste just fine once thawed.
Image by bcmom
Use a Natural Foods Co-op or Bulk Store
Although there are sadly few of these in Canada (at least, not in the West where I live), I have found an excellent one that I can buy from and pick up just across the US border. I buy from a co-op called Azure Standard. This is, hands down, my most cost effective option for purchasing any sort of grains (whole or already ground into flour), dry beans and legumes, other baking staples, dried fruits, raw honey, among other things.
The beauty of food co-ops (or natural bulk-foods stores) is that they regularly offer foods in much larger quantities. I buy my dry beans in 5 lb bags, for example, instead of the piddly little 450g bags I used in the $250 scenario. Here’s the price difference:
- 5 lbs $6.25 (organic are just over $7)
- 450 g (just under 1 lb) $1.88
- 5 bags of 450g each (to equal 5 lbs) = $9.40
By buying in bulk, I am saving over $3. If I only want to save a little over $2, I can get organic instead. This makes a huge difference in your overall budget!
Take Advantage of Special Store Deals
The particular store that I used as the basis of my $250 budget actually runs a fantastic promotion each month. The first Monday and Tuesday of every month are Family Days. Depending on how much you spend ($25, $50, or $100) your discount goes up. When I spend $100, I save 15%.
In other words, I could have taken that $250 budget, and by buying at least $100 worth of it at the beginning of the month in one shopping trip, taken an immediate $15 off my total. That alone would give me the extra I needed to be able to buy more snack foods, or to help with extras like spices, yeast, baking soda, etc.
This is just one example of a store promotion. Every store is totally different. Maybe your store offers really excellent in-store coupons that you can use. Maybe you get a gift card back when you spend a certain dollar amount on particular days. If the store that you regularly shop at doesn’t offer promotions like this, see if you can find one that does and make the switch.
Image by jshontz
Include Home-Grown and Preserved Food
When I made that $250 budget, I did it from scratch, not including anything I already had in my house.
The truth of the matter is, I have jars and jars and jars of preserved foods up above my cupboards. Among them are:
- Apple sauce made with gleaned (free) apples
- Apple jelly (made with the same apples)
- Strawberry jam (made with cheap $1 jam berries bought in season)
- Peaches (I bought cases at the end of the peach season, for $0.60 per lb)
- Dried beans, zucchini and tomatoes (all free from the excess of my garden)
- Salsa (with my excess garden tomatoes, and discounted peppers and onions, made last summer)
I know, you’re not going to be growing or preserving much at this very moment (and neither am I). But winter is a great time to start thinking about what you might want to grow or preserve during this upcoming spring and summer season.
If these posts were written in summer, I could also include plenty of fresh produce from my garden that we would eat with meals and snacks, instead of needing to buy as much produce. Though I certainly don’t grow everything our family eats, even with a handful of garden boxes, a few containers and a very small in-ground plot, I grow enough that we only buy produce minimally during the growing season. I can’t think of a better way to include more fresh, nutrient-dense, organically-grown produce in a tight budget!
There’s So Much More to Say
Truly. I could ramble on about this subject all day (and I will just a little bit more, on Monday). Writing posts like these are so hard for me, because a post just feels so short and there’s so much more I want to say.
In fact, I did say it. I wrote an entire book on this topic in detail. It’s called Real Food on a Real Budget: How to Eat Healthy for Less.
If you want to really delve deeper into the details and techniques of cutting down your budget without compromising the quality of food that you eat, I think you’ll find it immensely helpful. If you want to focus first on learning to carefully think through and plan out your meals like I did in my initial $250 budget post, then you might want to start with my book Plan It, Don’t Panic: Everything You Need to Successfully Create and Use a Meal Plan.
What about you? What other types of techniques do you use to take a tight budget and stretch it even farther?