Grocery Shopping on $200 a Month

A few months ago on Facebook I made the big mistake of bragging that I only spend $200 a month on groceries. Since then I’ve had a number of people ask me how I manage this. I’ve put off writing about this largely because it can be one of the most boring topics on earth.

There are 1,384 ways of being a frugal grocery shopper. What works is very much dependent on many unique family variables, and ultimately you have to work out for yourself what works in your situation. But the public must have what the public wants so here we go.

Shop Once a Month – I found an interested statistic on Get Rich Slowly that said 25 percent of grocery store purchases were impulse purchases. I started paying more attention to what I was putting in my cart when I made a quick trip to the store for one or two items and realized that was true for me as well.

Plan a Monthly Menu – When I was working fulltime and a new mother, I made a weekly dinner menu because it made my life 800 times easier to come home, look at a list, and start cooking. After I realized that each grocery trip I made ended up with my spending more, I expanded this concept from one week of meals to a month of meals.

Basically, the way this works is I make a list of about 22 dinners, a list of breakfast items, a list of lunch and snack items, and a list of “special event” items such as whatever we need for Cooking Club that month or the items John is required to bring for his snack day at preschool.

One of the nice things about this is it allows me to see easily what items share ingredients so I can get the best price for something like sour cream while not getting too much (and letting it spoil) or too little (and having to go back for more).

Finally, at the beginning of the week, I look at my monthly menu list and pick the meals I want to cook that coming week. It allows me to look at my calendar and determine how much time I had to cook on a particular day, and it gives me a degree of flexibility.

This was challenging the first month or two. In the beginning I didn’t realize how many boxes of crackers we go through in a month and I had trouble coming up with meal ideas until I started bookmarking random recipes I would come across during the month.

Shop Around – My monthly shopping day looks like this: I start at Aldi and buy things like dairy products, meat, canned goods and dried fruit. Aldi doesn’t always have the same items consistently, so it’s helpful to start here. From there I hit WalMart as they tend to have the best prices on staple items like flour and sugar. Finally, I go to Kroger on the first Wednesday of the month to buy the remaining items on my list where I use my Dad’s Kroger Plus card to get his 10 percent senior discount.

Cook From Scratch – When we lived in Denmark I was forced to start cooking from scratch because the Danes have very little prepared food and it is extremely expensive and not very good. I started doing things like making my own marinara sauce, which I quickly learned is really easy and tastes so much better. Doing this you also have the added advantage of eating more healthily (no added salt, sugar or corn syrup) and being more environmentally friendly (prepared food tends to have a lot of packaging).

Eat Less Meat – Again, another something we started doing in Denmark where a pound of ground beef costs $12. With few exceptions I tend to use meat merely to flavor meals now. Where I once used a pound of ground beef in my spaghetti sauce, I use 1/3 a pound. I also cook with a lot more beans and vegetables.

Cut Back on the “Fun Food” – We all have our vices and we should still indulge them a little or this kind of thing will never work. Each month I lay in a supply of six $1 bags of chips of various kinds from Aldi, I hunt until I find Coke and Diet Coke for around $3 for a 12-pack, and I buy 12 bottles of good beer. Two of those are my own personal vices.

WIC, Baby – This is really the secret to our only spending $200 a month. We buy everything at the beginning of the month, then go back each week use only our WIC checks. They provide us with our perishable items like milk and bread, and give us about $100 a month in groceries. God bless America.



Filed under how to..., it's so responsible being me, money matters, stuff i read

39 responses to “Grocery Shopping on $200 a Month

  1. rose

    I am impressed. I can usually get my act together to do a weeks worth of shopping, maybe a week and a half. I am trying to work up to two weeks…

  2. Michele Tarry Simonds

    Good Night! Save me! I am a failure! That is all I can say at this point.

  3. YAY! I’m pumped about this blog… much more positive than my downer blog! :)
    So, my goal is to do this for February… even though I will be adding a babushka to my clan in February and Valentines day usually means more sweets than usual. And usually there are tons of sweets in our home.
    I clicked on the photo and started cheating off your menu list! I’m a quiche lover too..
    Does ALDI have any organic or local food? Just need to plan where I’ll be going for this big event!!!

    • The nice thing about this is YOU get to set your bottom line goal. I think if you can just spend less than what you already are, that’s success.

      I’m not sure what Aldi’s situation is with organic or local food. I’m thinking that they have little of either. I have had some luck finding organic food at Big Lots (things like organic canned tomatoes) and Kroger (especially in that little corner where they stick all the managers specials). I think even if you do all your shopping at Whole Foods, the benefits still apply if you’re limiting the number of times you shop and thus end up sticking to your list and not making a lot of impulse purchases.

  4. julie

    I feel like I should do a response post called “How to spend 1700 dollars a month on groceries” because that is what Christmas did to our house. This is more than four times our usual budget, as ALARMINGLY told me via budget reminder emails every single week. Amazing what having people who like grass-fed organic steaks, fresh produce, and soy ice cream for dinner will do to the ol’ budget. ;) Not that I was ever this good at budgeting in the first place!

  5. Rochelle

    Interesting post! I love saving money on groceries myself. I went from spending $1200-$1400/month (not just on groceries, but household items as well) for our family of 5 to $800 even though we are up to 6 people with bigger appitites. We are big meat eaters, but I shop around a lot for good sales and stock up our freezer. I have babies who are alergic to anything other than 7th Generation diapers, which cost a lot since I don’t have the time for cloth. I was VERY surprised to find the whole coupons mixed with sales thing quite fun. It is a competition with myself to get those numbers down.

    • This doesn’t include our eating out budget ($75) or our household items (around $125-ish with PullUps and diapers). I think you’re doing REALLY well at $800 a month.

      It IS like a competition with myself. I find I really sort of enjoy it.

  6. yes, we’re big groceries spenders… I’m considering a monthly stop at a local farm for the meat – Elmwood. That way I know where the meat is coming from, the farmers and all and it will force me to stock the freezer and use wisely.
    We of course need to do our Tuesday stop at Whole Foods for pizza… but might make that 2x a month instead of every Tuesday because it always turns into a game of “how little can you buy and still spend $100” which is always outside of the budget!
    I might be needing some yummy recipes soon, Rebekah. Can you post something yummy that I can use beef stew meat in (and make a lb of it stretch for 6 people)!? Don’t you like my assignment? :)

    • I have a very yummy beef stew recipe I can give you, though I don’t remember how cost effective it is since I haven’t made it in forever. I’ll try to bring it to MDO next week.

  7. Molly

    I’m going to keep this post as a little secret and not let the husband read…um….well, you know the number on your list he wouldn’t want to see! :) I have enjoyed reducing our grocery bill–it is like a game! I’ve been trying not to grocery shop except for necessities this month and eat from what we already have to save some money from the holidays. It’s fun to be creative! enjoyed the post.

    • Well, really our number is $300 on groceries and ONLY groceries. This doesn’t include household items like toilet paper, etc. If I remember from your blog, you were doing a GREAT job keeping your grocery and household costs down to something like $40 a week?! You’re definitely beating me there.

  8. Helen

    Hi Rebecca

    I enjoyed your description about how your plan your shopping. I’ve discovered a really good tool for that. Lars and I use a recipe program called ‘MacGormet’. We select our recipes for the week and then it automatically generates a shopping list. From the generated shopping list, you can then add favourite items, like bread and milk, as well as removing the things you already have. Then you can go in and categorize which supermarket you buy each item and it generates a list organised according to store. If you’re really advanced, you can organise your list according to store and aisle, but since Danish supermarkets don’t really have aisles, we skip this part. This program is for the Mac, but I bet there are plenty of windows based programs that will do the same thing.

    Our little pet hate is throwing food away, so we always make our week’s shopping list based you what we have left over.

    Hope life is otherwise treating you well.



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  11. Christine

    You say WIC is your secret. How about those of us who don’t qualify for WIC or any other assistance? Our local grocery stores (Southern IL) won’t double a coupon over $.50 either. Where do these “super savers” find a store that will double them for more? And many of the stores here only double them on certain days of the month.

    • WIC only accounts for about $100 worth of groceries. I still think $300 to healthfully feed a family of four is still pretty good.

      You notice that I didn’t include coupon shopping in my list of how I personally keep our grocery budget low. I have experimented with different ways of using coupons, but in almost every case have found that I end up spending more money and on things I wouldn’t have ever bought except for the fact that I have a coupon. I think the best way to coupon shop is to make your big grocery list, then look and see if you can find coupons for things you were already planning to buy anyway. Even then, I’ve never saved more than $5-$10. To me, it makes more financial sense to go enter a grocery store as few times as possible during the month and stick closely to your list.

      I am amazed by those Super Coupon Shoppers too, but I wonder if they aren’t spending more time than it’s worth to buy a whole bunch of stuff they don’t really need. I live in tiny apartment and don’t have the storage space for much beyond our month’s worth of food.

    • We are a family of 5 and spend $400 a month without WIC and we are a totally gluten free household. It is possible, you just have to really watch what you buy. And trust me, if you only had $300-$400 a month to feed your family, you would find a way to make it work. When people tell me that it is impossible. I tell them you just haven’t been broke enough. Set a price limit for meat, fruits, veggies and so on. Agree no to spend more than $2 a lb for meat or $1 a lb for any fruit or veggies. And when it goes under your price limit buy A LOT and freeze or can for later use when the item isn’t in season or not on sale.

  12. Kelly Engle

    I am trying to get a budget of groceries and houshold items for a family of six down to $200 a month. We are trying to eat healthier b/c of the children and ourselves and it is really hard but $200 is all I can really spend bc of my budget of other things as well…any pointers will help

    • Two hundred a month for a family of six would be really difficult without WIC and some very savvy shopping. The post above is pretty much all the pointers I have at this point!

  13. Hey Rebekah! I love this!!! I am sooo happy to have gotten a chance to start to know you and your family. I admire your budgeting! I wish I had enough discipline to even be able to make out a weekly menu, much less shop for a monthly menu and stick to it. (NO discipline whatsoever!) I’ve found that invariably, I always feel like something else…. I’ve also found that eating more from scratch, and healthier – there just aren’t coupons out there for flour, sugar, or vegetables. Since we don’t eat too many processed foods, there don’t seem to be many coupons that would work. I’ve also found the freezing bags and dehydrator to be invaluable. Stock up on fresh fruit and dry it or make fruit leather for the kids – also making our own bread and granola to cut out all the fillers and preservatives. While we don’t eat much meat, I tend to buy it on sale, then slice it/pound it really thin and marinate it. (We eat a LOT of stirfry and curry.) I then lay out the slices on a cookie sheet/wax paper layers and freeze on the sheet; transfer to baggies when solid and flat. This gives me individual slices or strips of meat that I can portion out according to what I’m cooking and for leftovers for lunches. The other thing I’ve discovered, is frozen rice! (Yeah, I know, I didn’t invent it though I sound like I did…) I cook a huge, HUGE batch of basmati rice when I’m out and need it for a supper, then portion out the remains into ziplocks and freeze til I need it. This is SO super handy. Cooked potato’s as well; freeze and pull out for quick mashed (real) potatoes or for a quick curry. Anyway, there are some shortcuts – and freezing seems to keep the most nutrients intact. Would love to go in with some other local families on some local, organic beef if anyone is interested – we could all go in and buy a side of beef and split.
    Later, Later! :)

  14. Sarah

    If I was only cooking for my husband and I, we wouldn’t have a problem with a $200 a month budget (we get food stamps) but his family moved in with us (3 other people) who contribute nothing to the grocery budget. Any pointers on $200 a month for 5 people?

  15. Jennifer G

    I love these types of posts, but almost all of the frugal budgeting ideas call for less meat and high carb (cheap) sides (Rice & beans, spaghetti, cornbread & beans, etc) and skipping milk and I am diabetic…and pregnant…so these meals aren’t good for me. A lot also tend to suggest things like PB & J sandwiches for lunch which I love, but my son is allergic, and affordable, good-tasting almond butter is hard to find. Maranatha brand is the cheapest I’ve found but it tastes like rancid peanuts to me. Any tips for keeping the budget down when I have to keep meat & milk on the menu? I know eggs are frugal, but oddly they seem to raise my blood sugar. I have no idea why. It’s weird. Thanks!!

    • Your needs are quite different being diabetic. My suggestions:

      – Investigate if you qualify for WIC. With one child and one on the way, you very well may which will provide thinks like milk and cheese.

      – Shop at Aldi for lean meats like chicken and fish. They have very reasonable prices. If you don’t have an Aldi close by, you’ll have to become extra savvy about when your local grocery has meat on sale. Then shop for your meat for the next month, freeze it when you bring it home, then plan your next months meals around your stash of sale meat.

      – If you are anywhere near a Trader Joe’s, they have delicious affordable almond butter. And if you’re not near one, next time you’re on a road trip and passing by one, stop and stock up. They are also good if you’re looking for no-sugar-added foods, etc. that are reasonably priced.

  16. Allison

    This may be asking a little much, BUT I would love to know what some of the 22 dinner recipes you come up with for each month for. I am an avid pintrester and I am constantly finding awesome recipes but they often have 1,000 ingredients. You should start a pintrest paige specifically for all the awesome savy foods you buy! You would have a ton of followers like me!

    • Thanks for your kind words! My list of recipes change every month depending on the time of year and available produce. Plus I’ve found that family’s tastes can be so divergent that it’s hard to have a definitive list of “22 Meals Everyone Will Eat and Love!” That said, I do post some of our favorite recipes on the blog which could help get you started:

  17. Linda

    I have to say when I was 18 and on my own I would only spend 40$ a week on food for my boyfriend and I at the time. Now that I have a family of 4 it’s extremely hard to live on $200 a month for groceries, my 1 year old goes through a gallon of milk himself in 3 days. We drink water, crystal light to give the water flavor, and maybe just one or two 12 packs of soda for the month, we eat beans, rice, chili, mac and chesse, hotdogs, eggs, a lot of potatoes because it’s cheap but still never have enough. We have very little cash for these item’s and chips are never around anymore, in fact it’s 1 big bag of tortilla chips we use for nachos, or to snack on the entire month. My daughter loves her yogurt so I do buy that for her once a month, seems like the cost of food is so high, that this is why we can’t make it on so little. if food would go back down in price people could afford to eat healthier on so little. We don’t go out to eat at all, and datenights don’t exist. I go to college and try to make ends meet for our family, my husband works 2 jobs and still never enough. Any advice would be great help and god bless you all.

  18. While I think you’ve got some great ideas (especially long term meal planning!) here, there’s no denying that your biggest grocery secret is WIC which you said saves you about a $100 a month. I’m not knocking WIC, I was on it while pregnant, but it kind of diminishes the whole point of your post. If someone’s not eligible for WIC and has to personally pay for produce, bread and milk then how could they possibly spend only $200 a month on groceries, like you do? We budget $300 a month for groceries, and I saw your post and thought, “Gee, lemme read that and maybe I can get it even lower!” Turns out I can’t since I’m no longer eligible for WIC…since you said WIC covers about $100, maybe you should change the number on your post’s title to $300.

    • I can see your point. One of the reasons I titled it the way I did is I often find there are many people who qualify for WIC but aren’t on it because they don’t realize they qualify. Those are usually the kind of people trying everything possible to make ends met and as such might run across this post. And it is one of the tools I used to get our grocery budget down that low so I don’t think grossly misleading.

  19. Very good write-up. I absolutely love this site.
    Keep it up!

  20. Wtf! WIC checks? How about putting that first! $200 a month with the help of the tax payer. Shame on you, come off WIC then brag about your accomplishments!

    • As I said above, one of the reasons I titled the post the way I did is I often find there are many people who qualify for WIC but aren’t on it because they don’t realize they qualify. Those are usually the kind of people trying everything possible to make ends met and NEED to be on WIC as my family was back when I wrote this post. Unfortunately, many people put themselves through unnecessary hardship by not applying because they face such stigma from people like you.

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