Grocery Bill with a Baby?

We are spread VERY THIN with a 1 year old. We need to cut our grocery bill, which is usually $400-600 each month. What's the cheapest you've been able to keep your monthly grocery bill, with children (assuming NO eating out, and a semi-healthy menu)? This is also assuming 40+ hours at work (so little to no time for tons of manual prep, couponing, or "from scratch" recipes). What was the budget, how many kids, and how did you do it? Thanks in advance!!

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  • The biggest savings will be from having a detailed meal plan that you stick to.  This will reduce cost and waste.  Plan your meals based on what you have on hand, buy only what additional food you need, cook on Sunday and freeze everything for the week.

    Other little things that will help are to buy in season, buy generic brands, and to avoid convenience charges (pre-grated cheese, pre-washed or cut vegetables, etc.)

    Reply Like 4
  • Yeah, I think you won't get around meal planning in some form or other. It can seem daunting and like too much time / effort at first (it sure did to me!), but you get the hang of it quickly, and then it serve to save both money AND time (very precious when you have little ones).

    Also, may I just add that there are quite a few very, very simple recipes to cook "from scratch", that really don't take long to prepare at all?

    Reply Like 3
    • Some more details, since you asked: We are a family of three. I work full time and precook my weekday lunches during the weekend. My husband is in charge of feeding himself and our son during the week. My son is 3 years old and has lunch at preschool during the week, and we pack his breakfast / snack.

      Our grocery budget is 600 EUR per month and includes everything bought at the supermarket (so small household necessities like laundry detergent or tooth paste, as well as cat food, etc). We've managed to get it down to 500 EUR last month, but I'm not sure whether that's sustainable. I think 550 is a realistic average for us, though.

      However, amounts obviously don't compare well between where I live and the US, so I'm not sure how useful this data ist for you. :-(

      Reply Like 2
  • Hi ESLoans !

    I completely understand where you're coming from! When I first started using YNAB, my first month showed we were spending about what you're spending on groceries - plus the same amount in Dining Out! I was appalled (and very confused because I didn't even realize we had that much to be mis-spending in the first place!).

    I took drastic measures and found a cheap frozen meals plan (it was cheap, frozen meant almost no prep during the week, they were on hand and convenient). For two months we spent less than $300 total on food (down from the $1,200 we had spent previously), for three people. After we reigned things in, we gave ourselves room for some liberties and we usually stay under the $500 mark nowadays.

    I won't post the link to the one I used, but google frozen meal plans (or just meal plans). You can always make changes or adjustments to recipes they suggest - make them healthier, make them with chicken instead of beef, etc.

    Getting started was the hardest part, but once I knew we could survive on $300 for the month, $500 seemed like splurging!

    Reply Like 2
  • At $200 to $300 per adult per month, I think you're already doing much better than the average shopper and can teach us all a thing or two about shopping and planning.  Good job!

    I'm a single. If I'm being ultra frugal in order to hit a financial goal, I can keep my food spend under $200/month for the year.  This year I'm less focused on a financial goal and more focused on weight loss and healthy eating, so I'm anticipating my total monthly average spent on food may top $300/month (lots of wonderful fresh stuff I'm experimenting with).

    Some resources that might help.

    Flipp.com - download the app (free) to get the local grocery store flyers and search for best prices on some frequently purchased items.  This app works in both USA and Canada.

    How to save money on produce

    Meal Prep 101

    I work really stupid long hours at times, and when I'm tired, I find myself considering fast food as an easy option. Oy! To stay on course, I find I really need to write out a detailed weekly meal plan, and I do that on Thursday nights because Thursday is the day all the local grocery store flyers in my area are available on my Flipp app. I can see any loss leaders or good bargains that might affect my upcoming meal choices.  I shop my pantry and freezer first as I select recipes and meals for the upcoming week.  Part of my plan includes a task list for weekend batch cooking, what to thaw out and when and what to cook on which day. I keep a running inventory of meals and partial meals that are in my freezer in a log in my journal for quick reference.  I shop on Saturdays with a list. I batch cook and freeze portions for future use and do some advance food prep like peel and chop some veggies on the weekend. Finally, I portion out my take-along meals for the week on Sunday. 

    Reply Like 1
  • I'm interested in this topic. It will really help if posters give their location, because even within the US, food costs vary widely. 

    I'm single and spend way too much on food. I'm ashamed to say how much. I started a low carb diet, and have been buying lots of fresh fruit, vegetables and proteins, which doesn't help. I make most of my meals now, and have cut down on waste, but it still adds up to a lot. Boston/Malden, Massachusetts, US. 

    Reply Like 1
  • I've concluded that one of the biggest money and food wasters is/was my tendency to try to provide myself with far too many choices of fresh foods, all things I thought I might like/want to eat in the upcoming week, as if I was trying to recreate the multiple choice options of the grocery store in my home.

    Inevitably, this kind of thinking led to more expensive grocery trips, and a massive amount of waste.  I now operate my kitchen using the theory of a high-end restaurant.  The chef prepares a menu based on what is in the freezer, the freshest seasonal ingredients available, and then purchases in bulk and on sale. Ta-dah!  The specials of the week. Come back next week, and there'll be a different special. I now create a weekly meal plan along this same concept. Breakfast and Lunch are the same meal all week. Sometimes I eat the same supper all week too, and just change up the sides, vegetables, or salads I serve with it. It depends on how busy/crazy my schedule is. Next week I can make/have something else. When I need more variety, it's usually the supper meal, and I have different single portions in my freezer of things I've batch cooked in the recent weeks.

    With this in mind, I now pretty much restrict myself to two/three varieties of fruit for the week, and next week  can buy something else -- I bend this rule in the summer when there are so many wonderful summer fruits available at lower prices -- and generally I buy just enough to last five days, not seven. You'd think I'd run out, but I never seem to do so. I buy specific amounts of vegetables calculated at just enough to make the meals I've written down, and I err to the side of less rather than more. I've told myself I can do a fly-by shopping trip at any time for any fresh items I run out of before the next Saturday. It really takes me no time to stop by the store on my way home and pick up 2 apples and 1 onion. (It's the big shopping trips on Saturdays that used take up massive time before the list.) Rarely do I need to do a dash-in-dash-out. By the next Saturday, there are still a few remnants in my crisper. Usually these get turned into Saturday's salad or Sunday's soup.

    I used to throw out a shocking amount of fresh food; now I rarely waste food. And this is the concept that initially cut my food spending by half.

    Reply Like 8
  • A lot depends on location and cost of living.  I don't live in the U.S. but I feed a family of 5 (me + 4 growing boys ages 6-12) on under $500USD/month (generally).  I used to feed a family of 6 on the same amount but I can honestly say we all eat much better since my Ex moved out and the grocery budget buys more/better quality items for the same amount.  A lot also depends on your choices at the supermarket.  I work 37-40 hours/week, with an hour commute each way (public transit).  I have no car.  That "grocery" bill includes everything I buy at the supermarket (laundry detergent, toilet paper, etc.) AND a delivery charge (because it's cheaper than cabfare).  I limit myself to two grocery orders/month and (now that a new supermarket opened next door, literally) fill in dairy and produce as necessary.  We eat a LOT of fruit and go through a LOT of milk.  Summer vacation (for the kids) = more convenience food or meals out, at least partially because they are all home for more meals.  Leaving them a 20 to grab a pizza on the way home from camp 1. makes sure they eat SOMETHING, 2. keeps them out of the house a little bit longer, and 3. means they're less likely to have killed each other before I get home.  And they like pizza so it's a win-win.  (20NIS is about $7USD.)

    I actually find (and have always found, even when I had a car and could get to the supermarket more easily) that buying what's on sale and then meal planning based on what I have in the house saves me more than buying only what's on my list.  I also find my crock pot (slow cooker) to be one of my best friends in the winter.  And my soup pot.  Soup + rolls = supper.

    Reply Like 2
  • The best way to save money on groceries is meal-planning based on the sales at your local grocery and if possible combined with coupons on the sale items. Give yourself an hour a week and you'll save hundreds, if not thousands , a year.

    If your local grocery is a national or regional chain, there's a very good chance that there's a website out there that will have the sale and coupon research taken care of for you, including links to printable coupons.

    Reply Like 3
      • ESLoans
      • Forest_Green_Horse
      • 1 yr ago
      • Reported - view

      nolesrule 1 hour seems a little conservative! I think I already spend 3-4 getting my meals planned, shopping for the items needed, and prepping any meals that I can before the week starts. Basing my meals on grocery store sales is a very overwhelming thought, but one that I think I'm going to need to warm up to, because I think it's a really great idea to save extra money!

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      • nolesrule
      • YNAB4 Evangelist
      • nolesrule
      • 1 yr ago
      • 1
      • Reported - view

      ESLoans The one hour is for reviewing the sales and finding coupons. You need to do that as your first step. Once you have that down, you can then plan the meals, shop and prep.

      There are usually websites out there that are a good starting point for most major grocery stores that can even help you match sales with coupons (with links to printable coupons) for even better deals.

      Reply Like 1
      • Blue Bird
      • Family budgeter
      • blue_bird
      • 1 yr ago
      • Reported - view

      ESLoans On the subject of grocery sales and coupons... Unless you're buying a lot of processed foods, coupons won't help. And often finding plain bulk items at a good price will be the cheapest always. For example, nothing beats Costco's huge bag of fresh broccoli for $3. Even if there's a sale at the grocery store, it's mostly stem you're paying for and while that's technically edible, I just keep getting the broccoli at Costco. Once you know normal prices and have a regular weekly schedule, you'll know when something is a good price. For example, apples are a regular snack here but they aren't cheap so I know when a sale price is really good and buy a ton. 

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  • As far as meal planning, don't try to be creative!  You're stretched thin as it is.  We eat the same things every single week.  Soup one night, homemade pizza one night (ours is grain free/cauliflower because one of my three kids can't have grain), breakfast for dinner one night, quiche and muffins one night, etc.  Always the same snacks available (for example we have things like apples, carrots and hummus, cottage cheese, etc from the Costco Business Center because the price is better).  Week to week I might top the pizza with something different or put something different in the quiche but overall I go through exactly the same motions and ingredients.  We have almost zero food waste in our house this way, thankfully!

    Sometimes convenience foods are worth it when you're working.  For example, I buy 4 pound bags of pre-chopped onion from the business center and dump them in the crock pot with a little butter and cook them 12-16 hours until they are nice and dark and flavorful.  Then I freeze them in muffin cups and dump them out in freezer bags.  Now I can make really flavorful soups and quiches and so forth without chopping onion.  Those hours of my life I've saved count for something!

    That said, you're already on a tight grocery budget so it might be worth looking at something else to save on.  You're probably a pro at saving at groceries already!

    Reply Like 1
      • ESLoans
      • Forest_Green_Horse
      • 1 yr ago
      • 2
      • Reported - view

      Blue Bird Thank you! We've been meal planning pretty heavily, though recently my husband has complained about eating the same things too many nights in a row (leftovers the following night).  However, I like the idea of a weekly repeating schedule. That would save me a lot of time on the weekends, and also get me into a habit of shopping for cheaper items, as I would get familiar with the prices for the same items from wal-mart, to cub, to aldi, etc. Great advice!

      Reply Like 2
    • ESLoans I know this is old, but when I first started cooking for myself, I was living on $20 a week. There was probably an initial investment for staples, but I did without on some items because I would never use the entire package before it went bad. For example, if a recipe called for a tablespoon or cup of milk, sour cream, some flavoring, wheat germ, or even small bits of a veggie/meat. Either I would have to plan another meal to use the rest, or I just picked another ingredient that was close and could be more multifunctional (or I left it out - it was just me, so I could complain to myself). 

      During the $20/week time, I was planning meals with the sales page in hand (often times I would do it in the store, exit, eat a snack, write out the list, then go back in to buy). I had 3 meals + snack and ate the same thing every day for a week. I hope to never do that again.

      The next year, I allowed $30/week so that I could have two different suppers and a few bulk frozen foods to put in the mix. 

      Before I was on my own, I did a lot of cooking for my family, which was at a stage of teenagers eating a lot, so I got pretty good at cooking large quantities with the intent of hopefully having some leftovers.  Because of those years with so much repetition on my own, I'll still batch cook with enough for 2-8 meals for my husband and I. We'll only eat one day of leftovers (usually a few days later, so it's not back to back), and the rest will go in the freezer in meal portions to have weeks and months later. Easy, not repetitive. Also good prevention for not getting fast food on busy/tired days. 

      I want to be more intentional about using Save-A-Step cooking (where you cook extra of something one night, then use the extra another night in a different dish). 

      Hope your journey is going well!

      Reply Like
  • Hey everyone. Thank you all for such great advice! 

    I have been MEAL PLANNING like nobody's business! It's going really really well, however, I'm learning all about cooking, so I got distracted by planning the meals, navigating the grocery store, and prepping it all on Sundays that I neglected to keep an eye on the bills. Last month was the first month I successfully planned all four weeks worth of meals, Mon-Sun, like a champ! However, Our grocery bill was $1,000 and our bank account had to pull from our line of credit to save our asses with all the other bills. NOT COOL. I guess this month I'm getting back to the basics and focusing on cost :(  

    Reply Like 1
      • Blue Bird
      • Family budgeter
      • blue_bird
      • 1 yr ago
      • Reported - view

      ESLoans Yay for meal planning! Next you'll figure out cost. If you do the weekly rotation as we discussed above, you can switch out for what's cheaper. I used cookkeepbook.com to figure out the cost per serving of every recipe. I found that some of our less favorite meals were the most expensive. When we were really tight, I even planned every snack using the price per serving

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      • HappyDance
      • YNABing consistently since 2014
      • HappyDance
      • 1 yr ago
      • 1
      • Reported - view

      ESLoans 

      Check out the monthly average on your food spending in YNAB.  I like to look at my food costs on an annualized basis, so while a more expensive month might feel out of line (and throw your budget out for the month), when you look at the average spending over a year, you may find you are doing remarkably well.  Even champion frugal food buyers have variable costs. Some months you just seem to run out of everything all at the same time. Hopefully, this lines up with some great grocery store sales.  Plus getting organized for more home-cooking has an initial investment in some flavourings and spices all at the same time.

      Reply Like 1
    • Khaki Storm
    • YNAB book topics online: https://support.youneedabudget.com/r/q5w48j
    • Khaki_Storm.1
    • 8 mths ago
    • Reported - view

    $80 a week, family of 6. That was about 12 years ago. It was from using https://emeals.com/ There is a cost to the service, but at the time it was worth it. Not every week was great, overall it was good. The basic idea is you tell them your family size and if you eat meat or not, they search the store ads, create a menu, and send you out to 1 store to buy everything. Then their menu has a lot of reuse, like you cook all of the meat on Monday, but only use half, then you cook all of something else on Tuesday, but only use half, come Thursday you use both those halves in the main dish. The upside is you are usually buying veggies in season (that's when they are cheaper) and most things on sale. The downside is if you don't like a single meal, it is hard to switch it out because of how related all the meals are. We found some favorite receipts we still do from them and some we will never do again.

    Reply Like
    • Khaki Storm
    • YNAB book topics online: https://support.youneedabudget.com/r/q5w48j
    • Khaki_Storm.1
    • 8 mths ago
    • Reported - view

    Currently, we're at $500 a month, family of 5, basically all adults/teens.  Here are some ideas:

    Trade for food. A local chicken farmer will give us eggs for food scraps to feed the chickens. Another farmer gave us food all summer for in trade for some used equipment I had for sale. 

    Buy large items and share them. My local Drug Mart is mostly a large convenience store, but sometimes they have a surprise sale on a item not usually stocked. A couple of months ago they had a great deal on 50 lb bag of potatoes! You have to have at least 5 friends to share that with! 

    Learn to cook as much as possible from scratch. How much would it cost you to make an Egg Mc'Muffen? Or even easier, a breakfast burrito? It's only a small fraction of what it costs at the fast food places and about half of buying them frozen. (Disclaimer: the breakfast burritos do not freeze and reheat well). 

    Related to the last one, don't overlook a marked down can of quick biscuits either. I mean, if they mark it down from $4 to $1, buy the pop open can and unroll and cook the things. 

    Slow cookers are great. That's the way I do my work lunches. I make a large dish in the slow cooker on Sunday, let it cool, put it in smaller containers, and I have a healthy lunch all week. Healthy because I don't add extra salt, I choose low fat meats or no meat and replace with beans, etc. 

    Reply Like
  • I know you said that you didn’t have a lot of time for meal prep, but the easiest way for us to save money and eat healthy was batch cooking. But, I do it in my crock pot, because I’d rather it do the work for me. 😂

    Do you have specific diet limitations? We are a family of 4 with two adults, a 3 year old, and a 9 month old (who is on formula) and we spend on average $350-$400 a month. 

    I pick two or three (easy) recipes a week, cook them up on Sunday or Monday, whenever I have the time, and then don’t worry about cooking the rest of the week. 

    This week we did:

    Buffalo Ranch Chicken + Rice

    Greek Chicken + Cauli Rice

    Paleo Breakfast Hash

    Slow Cooker Chicken Burrito Bowls 

    Reply Like
  • I've alway held by the adage, food can be 2 out of the 3 following things: quick, cheap, or healthy.  

    I spend $750 on food alone, no household goods (detergent, plastic bags, etc) or health and wellness stuff (OTC meds, shampoo, lotion, etc).  I'm feeding 5 people, 3 of them are kids but they eat as much as we adults do now.  When they were little, they didn't cost much to eat and I was spending a lot less.  I never fed my kids convenience baby or toddler foods, they ate what we did, I just maybe cut things into tiny pieces or made sure they were soft enough.  So no jarred baby food, no squeezable apple sauce, no fancy baby crackers.

     We cook from scratch most of the time although I will buy frozen meatballs and the occasional pre-marinated meat for a quick protein.  We could spend a lot more but we could spend less - I buy beef, I spend for the good spices, the quality vanilla, etc.  We eat a mix of conventional mixed in with some organic fruits and veggies and milk.  I don't coupon but I don't go to the expensive grocery stores.   Buy bulk.

    You need to pick 2 of the 3.  If you want cheap and healthy, you're generally going to have to find the time.  Crockpot, either meal-prepping, or pre-making meals are your best best for getting quick, healthy cheap meals on the table at dinner time during the week.  Make a week's worth of sandwiches/lunches, freeze  and pull out what you need the morning of.  Chop all the veggies either in the morning before work or on the weekends and keep in containers until you're ready to cook.  You're going to pay for prechopped veggies. 

    Slow cook roasts or bean based things in the slow cooker.  Cook BIG batches of stuff that will freeze/reheat and freeze bags or containers.  Like I cook a big pot of pintos, about 2lb dried, to make refried beans.  I make the refried beans and freeze half.  You can do the same with crock potted meats.  Another thing is to buy in bulk.  I buy meat in bulk and freeze enough for two days of meals.  When the kids were small, that meant about 1-1.25 lb to make 2 dinners.  Now it's about 2lb of meat.  To save time, you can buy truly absurd amounts of meat, make 3-4 different marinades/rubs, then bag the meat for 1-2 meals worth of dinners, and freeze your 25lb of meat that's been pre-seasoned and pre-measured.  We cook for leftovers so that means that we might only cook a whole meal from scratch 2-3 nights.  The other nights are leftovers mix and match or we only need to cook a carb, a veg, or a protein to get a whole meal.

    Eat more eggs.  They're cheap sources of non-veg. protein.   Frozen veggies are healthy and ready to go in a hurry if you don't have time for fresh.  Canned beans are more expensive than cooking your own but they're good protein also in a hurry.  Save big bucks and don't eat beef or fish.  Rice cooker or instant pot will probably be a good friend.  Buy in bulk.  I buy 25lb bags of rice, I store 5-10lb of 4-5 different kinds of dried beans.  If you can't buy fresh herbs, do spend the money on good dried spices and herbs.  I have an Herbs and Spices category so I can buy $50 in spices all at once (sometimes Penzeys sells their gift cards for ~25% off).  If you're in a bigger town or an area with a lot of immigrants, shop International grocery stores or Mexican/Indian/Middle Eastern/whatever stores.  A lot of things can be cheaper there, in particular grains, dried legumes, spices, maybe even meat.  The big International stores near me have awesome cheap produce, just no organic.  

    Reply Like 1
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