Learning how to lower our grocery budget became a hobby of mine by necessity a few years ago.
We looked okay from the outside, I guess. We had a car, we drove to church every week, and we never talked about our finances with anyone, but in reality, we only drove to church – I tried to hitch a ride to the grocery store whenever I could, and we didn’t know anyone well enough to talk finances with, because we didn’t have the finances to do all those social things people do where they get to know each other.
Church group events during the week were few and far between because of our gas budget, and getting together for coffee with friends was definitely out of the question.
It ended up being a blessing in disguise, though, because it taught me to live on almost nothing so that when we started making money again, we could start putting money in our savings account even when our income was below minimum wage.
That’s how the $20 meal plan was born. A need to eat cheaply.
I’ll be the first to tell you that being on a really restricted grocery budget is hard. It’s like playing a game of Tetris with your grocery cart, which might be fun if that’s why you’re doing it, but when you’re doing it because you don’t have anything, it makes you want to cry.
But since publishing the $20 grocery budget, I’ve been surprised by how many people don’t believe it’s possible. And I wasn’t even talking about $20 per family – it was $20 per person!
In the video below, I (awkwardly) take you along on part of my shopping trip in Central Texas to show you some of the prices and how buying a little bit in bulk can get you an even better end cost than that controversial menu.
5 Tips For A Successful $20 Grocery Budget
Stick to non-value-added groceries. For instance, yogurt is milk that has been cultured; its value is added. Buying milk to make your own yogurt is cheaper (by far!). Canned beans are value-added and, therefore, more expensive; buy dry beans instead.
Use spices and cooking methods to keep meals interesting. Who wants to eat Chicken thighs for dinner every night? Well, nobody if they’re cooked the same way every time! But you can debone them and make chicken soup, you can sauté them in lemon and peppercorns to make chicken piccata, or you could make chicken tacos – three very different meals with the same, inexpensive main ingredient.
Have a flexible menu plan. Undoubtedly, having a plan when you step into the grocery store saves you money, but be prepared to make changes on the fly when you see an unexpected markdown in the store. This is specifically applicable to markdown produce which probably isn’t advertised in the weekly flyer.
Don’t even go into the convenience food aisles. In some stores like Aldi, the chips, crackers, cookies, and candy are all right there when you walk in the door. It’s a very smart move on the store’s part – you’re probably hungry when you walk in, and you’re looking to fill up your cart – but you have to be smarter. Put your blinder on, and walk through without even looking!
Challenge yourself to get the best price possible. Walking along and throwing food into your cart isn’t good enough if you want a cheap diet, that’s also a good one. Look at the price per unit of everything. Don’t take for granted that the thing that was cheapest last week is the cheapest this week. Be vigilant!
Bottom line: it is possible to eat well for incredibly cheap. You can do it!
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