5 Tips For A Successful $20 Grocery Budget


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.

Image shows a photo of a bowl of soup with text that reads "5 Tips for a Successful $20 Grocery Budget"

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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  1. So how many people does this amount of food feed? I have 8 people in my family 2 adults and 6 kids ( 2-13) so wanted to see how much I would need to increase this.

  2. Theres something I learned from my mother (10 kids!) and smart restaurants also do it. When I was the house cook at a sorority who’s members had never had a homemade cookie in their lives, this blew thier minds: repurposing: it’s different than leftovers because it’s intentional and it’s ingredients, not finished dishes. So on Monday you’re making stir-fry and rice; you cook way too much rice on purpose and use it in chicken rice soup 3 days later. Meanwhile, Tuesday lunch is chili and cornbread: you cook enough beans to also allow for Friday lunch’s Minestrone. This saves both money and tremendous amounts of time, which allows working people to cook from scratch a whole lot more. Of course, it requires a weekly meal plan. Those sound confining; but just like a budget and a schedule it’s actually very liberating.

  3. same experience with five children in 03-05. $10 groc budget weekly, with church only outing. I allowed for a lb of meat, usually pork, a gallon of milk, frozen vegs,carrots and apples, chips for lunch’s and got free bread so peanut butter and tuna. Items about $1 each.it was so hard and I told my girls how sorry I was for food and they all said same thing. “What was wrong with it. You were a good cook” whewwww

  4. Hello Elise, Thanks again, for your helpful tips. Sensible, and wise.

    Another place everyone can save money, is by going through the markdown trays . Our stores have packages of slightly wrinkly or bruised or old, tomatoes or bananas or oranges or whatever. Probably 50% cheaper. sometimes looking better than some of the stuff in my fridge! 🙂 Not gone bad, just not what a shopper wants to pay full price for. The same for bread or sour cream or cheese that is close to due date. The same for meat, if you go end of day, or early first thing in morning. Most stores have meat marked down because it was packed yesterday and if beef, it goes a little purple. It is perfectly safe to eat, just buy and cook up right away or freeze right away. can even get steak or roasts this way. Freezers are your friend! If the end price is cheaper than what you usually pay then you are saving money.
    Small tip. If it is chicken, just be more careful of the date, that is was “just yesterday”. Isnt that a song?
    You can cook up a chicken or beef and put into casseroles and soups and stews and therefore use up less meat per person. Saves lots more. Like our Grandmas did in the depression. (one piece of meat per pot! :>)
    Not to mention. We dont need to eat meat every day or even every second day. Fill them up with rice and beans and veggies, potatoes, pasta, oats and fruit, and they will thrive.

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