Can a cash grocery budget save you money?

As I mentioned in my last article, I experimented with paying cash only for my October groceries. I had only one goal in mind: Spend less on groceries so I could save more money each month. Well, my little experiment opened a whole can of worms.

The Experiment

Basically, I always try to keep my grocery spending in check, but I usually don't limit quantity or variety of food based on the budget.

With that in mind, I think it is important how I picked my budget of $500. I didn't look at my past spending. I didn't do any research to see what a normal amount is for a family of five. Nope, $500 just sounded good. And it sounded easy enough to stay under budget. I wanted it to be a challenge, but I didn't want it to be too difficult either.

Also, the $500 was for any food, whether I bought it at a restaurant or intended to eat it at home. We also raised some chickens and I even included their — how do I say this? — “processing” costs in with our $500.

The experiment didn't end the way I expected. I failed. I spent around $600 — and I really tried hard to keep my spending in check.

What I Learned and What I Changed

Since my husband is a farmer, October is a really busy month for us. Knowing that I would usually be juggling all the kids, kitchen clean-up, and the bedtime routine by myself made me jump on the meal-planning bandwagon again. As always, meal-planning helps me save money because I waste less.

For the first two weeks of the month, I kept to my normal spending habits, except for one thing: We didn't eat out at all. Even though I did look at prices, bought store brands, checked different sized packages for the best per-unit value, I was aware of what I spent, but I didn't change what I would normally buy.

Around the two-week mark, the chickens were “processed” at over $50 more than I had estimated. Also, butter jumped to $4.49 per pound. It is usually priced at around $3 per pound, and we eat a lot of butter. My grocery envelope got thinner, and I got a little panicky.

Once my panic kicked in, I made several changes.

1. Instead of buying the usual groceries, I started to use up items from our pantry, from our freezer, and from our garden. I used cookbooks and allrecipes.com to find recipes that used the ingredients I was trying to get rid of.

2. We also didn't buy some things. I remember craving enchiladas one day and pulling a can of enchilada sauce off the shelf. I looked at the $3.29 price and placed it back on the shelf, thinking that I could make enchilada sauce more cheaply than that. My son also wanted some special snacks for school. Although I bought them once, I also said no to snacks or other expensive foods.

3. I couldn't buy in bulk as much. This was an insight I didn't expect. Normally, when a grocery store runs a great sale on something, such as their $2 per pound sale on butter, I buy as much as we won't waste and as much as I am able. I was buying a pound of butter a week at one time instead of buying a few pounds at a time. If budgets are very tight, I can see how someone wouldn't be able to take advantage of sales. If someone has only $2 to spend on butter and wants to buy butter on sale for $2/pound, they can only buy one pound. Next week, when it goes back up to $4, they will have lost the opportunity to save.

4. I cut back. Speaking of butter, I have a waffle recipe that allows you to pick how much butter you want to add: 1/4 c. of butter for okay waffles or 1 c. of butter for deliciously, crispy, buttery waffles. Since I was only buying one pound of butter per week, I didn't want to use up half on one meal, so I didn't use as much.

5. I deferred my purchases. I think it's only fair to point out that I just didn't make some purchases; instead, I counted down the days until November 1 when I could load up my grocery cart with those items. That's not really saving money, but …

The Results

As I mentioned, I went over my budget by about $100. Research after the fact, showed that I probably set my budget too low. According to 2013 BLS.gov data, consumer units (a family is considered to be a consumer unit) spent $10,579 on food annually. That comes out to $882 per month. And this handy chart from the USDA showed that our family would spend $649.50 on the thrifty plan.

I found the experience to be a teensy bit stressful. But with just $30 in my envelope on October 18, I needed more money to feed my family. For me, it was not a big deal. I had cash in my checking account and access to a credit card, if I needed it.

But that opened up the larger question: What does the single mother do who has $30 to her name and her two kids and still has six days until payday? How does she feed them?

So I reached out to my friends, asking if anyone had experienced something like that. And guess what? I got a couple of interviews. I'll share what I learned from those next time.

For this week, however, have you ever used a cash-only food budget? Have you had some really hard times related to food?

More about...Budgeting, Food, Frugality

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Mrs. Frugalwoods
Mrs. Frugalwoods
5 years ago

What an interesting experiment. We don’t set a monthly budget for our groceries, but we always end up around $300 for two adults (that’s for everything we eat all month long). We’ve altered our diet in order to get our grocery bills down–cutting out meat and most dairy has been the most significant savings. Meal planning and cooking large bulk batches is another integral component. We also don’t buy much packaged food and try to cook everything we can from scratch (such as bread and hummus). You make a good point about cravings–we’ve found ways to “treat” ourselves within our… Read more »

Nick @ Millionaires Giving Money
Nick @ Millionaires Giving Money
5 years ago

It was a nice effort to get the grocery bills down to $500. I can see how bulk buying would be difficult. Maybe you could spend a proportion of your money 10% on bulk buys and then divide the remainder between 4 weeks and plan per week and then cooking and freezing meals. I think it can be done with a little more planning although it would be very stressful. Great post, thanks for sharing.

Will
Will
5 years ago

Potatoes, cabbage, rice, and beans are very inexpensive and very good at filling you up. We view meat and desserts as a luxury, and save a lot of money. You can get enough of those sides for a week for a family of 4 for under $20.

This idea of picking a meal based upon what you “have a taste for” is ridiculous to someone without a lot to spend.

Beth
Beth
5 years ago

Interesting! I think it’s hard to set a realistic budget if you don’t have any numbers to go by but still a useful exercise! Not sure if this helps, but I read a tactic somewhere that when there’s a really good deal, you can go outside of your grocery budget to buy in bulk. Then, as you use the item, you put the money back. For example, let’s say I stocked up on chicken on sale and pay for it out of my checking account instead of my cash allowance. As I use the chicken, I take the cash out… Read more »

Brian @ Debt Discipline
Brian @ Debt Discipline
5 years ago

We use cash or debit card to pay for our groceries, and always shop with a list. The best way I have found to help save on food cost is not to waste food or over buy. Since we make weekly trips to the store, we don’t over shop and let fresh food go bad. This can be a big waste of money.

Beard Better
Beard Better
5 years ago

This was certainly an interesting idea, but I think that the conclusion that can be drawn from it is that there really is not any conceivable advantage to using a cash-only budget unless you absolutely must. In addition to missing out on the rewards you could have gotten from putting the $600 in grocery spending on a credit card (somewhere between $18 for 3%, $36 for 6%), you also lost the ability to buy in bulk and stock up on sale items which would save money in the long run. Much has already been written about the high cost of… Read more »

Edwin
Edwin
5 years ago

I tend to use my credit card for most of my grocery shopping. When I get to work I will move money from my bank to my credit card in order to pay for grocery purchases. If you only had $30 bucks it would be feasible to use your credit card and just pay off what you just spent on payday. Of course you have to discipline yourself so you don’t let the balance on your credit card accumulate.

sarah
sarah
5 years ago

I have to chuckle that most of this article seems to be about butter. I love butter too, but even at a pound a week and a price difference of $2.50/pound, it only accounts for $10 out of your $600. I know that food can be a good place to save money but I refuse to scrimp on food unless I’m in a really bad place (restaurants are different). Food has such an affect on our short and long term health, and can provide so much pleasure, I’d rather cut back on almost anything else. I’m a social worker and… Read more »

Lisa Aberle
Lisa Aberle
5 years ago
Reply to  sarah

Butter is the best :)!

Jamin
Jamin
5 years ago

I find that a single month’s grocery spending isn’t really all that useful because it tends to vary a great deal. Buying in bulk and taking advantage of sales is a big part of those fluctuations. Also, sometimes we end up grocery shopping on the 28th of the month, when only a small amount of that food will be eaten that month. I find the average spending over 3 or more months to be a much more useful number. This also makes deferring purchases much less useful. I don’t use cash. I use my credit card (for rewards), but I… Read more »

Beth
Beth
5 years ago
Reply to  Jamin

You raise a good point about monthly fluctuations! My budget’s increasing now that fresh fruits and vegetables are more expensive. (I miss summer and fall!)

Carla
Carla
5 years ago
Reply to  Beth

Beth, I also forgot about the holiday season! I just ordered a small turkey from Whole Foods and need to factor that in the budget. Since we’re having Thanksgiving with another couple, the cost will be split at least…

Paul
Paul
5 years ago

My wife does about 98% of the grocery shopping. Last year I was laid off, and she started using cash for groceries and doing some serious couponing. I think we started out at $800 per month for our family of three. We also include food for our dog and two cats, plus cleaning and hygiene products in our grocery budget. Each month I was unemployed, we reduced the grocery budget by $100, until we ended up at $500. I started a new job in February, half-way across the country, and she went back to the debit card for groceries. It… Read more »

Laura
Laura
5 years ago

I always use cash for buying groceries. Our current budget is $400/month for a family of 3, although we also eat out (more than we should). I’ve had to stick to a much lower dollar amount before; that means writing down the cost of each item as I go through my shopping list, and sometimes having to put back items to avoid going over budget. Always, always, always use a list. This is your budget’s best friend. If you want it and it’s not on your list, skip it and put it on next week’s list. Then you’ll know if… Read more »

mary w
mary w
5 years ago
Reply to  Laura

I remember times as a child eating potato soup, spaghetti with margarine, and rice and pinto beans (no cheese or garlic in any) for dinner at the end of the month. Breakfast was leftover rice with milk and sugar.

I assume that’s still the kind of thing people do when its the end of the month with no money.

Barbara
Barbara
5 years ago
Reply to  mary w

Hi Mary,

I agree. I don’t know how my family covered the cost of feeding 7 kids but I think we also didn’t have lavish dinners. We baked and my dad would buy powdered milk, add Nestle chocolate and put it in a gallon container. That was our chocolate milk. And we liked it. My mom and dad managed and it sounds like yours did as well. We never ate out, we never had soda. Those were treats. Thank you for sharing.

Chels
Chels
5 years ago

I understand the idea of budgeting with cash, but I find that using my debit card really helps me with accountability. I have a great online banking program through my credit union and each purchase creates a line item that can be categoriezed. I can then create reports to analyze my spending. I find that dealing with cash and coins can be stressful and cumbersome. I don’t want to count coins and try to figure out where all the cash went. I see recommendations for cash all the time, but it just doesn’t work for me. I only use cash… Read more »

superbien
superbien
5 years ago

CONGRATS!! You just (accidentally) finished your SNAP challenge! Live for one month at only $4/person/day. $600 is exactly how much a 5-person family would get in foods stamps in a month. (Average food stamp allocation of $4x5x30 days) That’s a big accomplishment! _________ (this is in place of an “enter”) You make some good points – you (often unlike someone on SNAP) have a full pantry and freezer already, and spices and pans and such – and you have the knowledge and time to cook from scratch – and yet you put off big purchases, and were unable to take… Read more »

Rich Harris
Rich Harris
5 years ago
Reply to  superbien

Let’s remember that the first word behind the acronym SNAP is “Supplemental.” Trying to buy all the groceries within the SNAP allowance is like trying to “Retire” on Social Security SSI; an interesting challenge to some, but a penurious trial for most.

I think that if you enjoy cooking from scratch and stretching your dollars (and you are home full-time), you can probably feed your family well on that budget (average more some months, less others), especially if you also raise vegetables and herbs.

Leonard Waks
Leonard Waks
5 years ago

Lisa, I think you are mixing apples and oranges too much in this post. ‘Eating out’ is not ‘groceries’. And most folks don’t ‘process’ chickens. My wife Veronica and I consider eating out a ‘couples entertainment’ item akin to theatre tickets. (And we far prefer theatre to a meal worse than Veronica cooks at home). e don’t have chickens but our close friend does, and we trade garden produce for eggs during the summer and fall. But that just complicates thinking about the situation. Our grocery budget goes just for groceries and food items (including beer) that we buy at… Read more »

Another Beth
Another Beth
5 years ago
Reply to  Leonard Waks

“‘Eating out’ is not ‘groceries’.”

Agreed. I can see not wanting a million little categories in one’s budget sheet, but I think lumping a few categories into one big category does a disservice, too. If you overspend this month on a budget that lumps groceries, dining out and maybe even health and beauty items into one category, how would you know where you should cut your spending next month?

Debi
Debi
5 years ago
Reply to  Another Beth

I agree. When logging our spending I have separate categries for groeries, retaurants, alcohol, house goods (shampoo, paper towel, cleaning prodcts, etc.), and personal grooming (hair cuts, salon products, cosmetics, etc.) This really puts a focus on where expenses can be trimmed.

Debi
Debi
5 years ago
Reply to  Debi

Sorry for the typos. I should have proofread better.

superbien
superbien
5 years ago

@#7 sarah – Send your clients to Leanne Brown’s “Good and Cheap” cookbook – free PDF online, and she donates copies to people in need.

Laura
Laura
5 years ago

I feel my family of five for $400-$450 per month pretty easily. We eat well and are not vegetarians. I spend about $100 per month at Costco buying bulk items like cheese and tuna. Then I spend about $60-$75 per week at a local grocery store. I think that if you do some meal planning and continue to work on your goal of $500 per month, you will be able to reach it in a few months. Good luck! The financial benefits of spending less on food will be worth it.

Mary
Mary
5 years ago

I really enjoyed reading this article. I am careful with what I spend even though I guess you could say I don’t have to. I just want to and I think it is the right thing to do.

I love reading everyone’s responses…so much valuable information.

Diane
Diane
5 years ago

This was an interesting post. We’ve always been on a cash budget for groceries, mainly due to having paychecks that vary widely from week to week. When we first married in 1978, I spent $15 a week and we ate good. Potatoes came in a 10 lb sack for about 75 cents. Ground beef was normally 50 cents/pound and went on sale at 3 pounds for $1. A nice thick porterhouse steak cost a little over $1. Soup bones were free. With the higher cost of food today, we spend $50 a week and get 1/4 the amount of food.… Read more »

Alea
Alea
5 years ago

“But that opened up the larger question: What does the single mother do who has $30 to her name and her two kids and still has six days until payday? How does she feed them?” According to the likes of Paul Ryan she is welcome to starve to death along with her kids for having the nerve to be in that position. I mean for God’s sake how many times does he have to remind her to pull herself up by her non-existent bootstraps. Ok, now that I got that out of my system, we noticed too in our family… Read more »

Beth2
Beth2
5 years ago

The reader who focused on controlling waste as a money-saving strategy has my vote! The more I focus on that the more control I have over all eating, cooking, grocery shopping, and ‘entertainment’ spending. My pantry of shelf and frozen staples has changed as well. I no longer have a deep bench of tomato products, etc. When I use, say, a can of beets from the panty, I buy one for backup, provided it’s at a good (or exceptional) price. My bulk buying is limited as a result, but much more effective as I know and use what I have.

superbien
superbien
5 years ago

@18 diane “When we first married in 1978, I spent $15 a week and we ate good.” Inflation-adjusted, $15/week ($60/month) is $219/month in 2014 dollars. Which is still hella cheap!

Riss
Riss
5 years ago

Enjoying all the responses. I don’t come here all that often but every time I do I really appreciate how intelligent and thoughtful the comments are. I have never had much trouble with limiting my purchases whether on card or cash – if I know I need to be frugal then I make sure I only get what I need, and it doesn’t matter whether I’m using physical or plastic money to pay, I make sure I stay within budget. Though I realise that for a lot of people it helps to see the cash in an envelope as a… Read more »

stellamarina
stellamarina
5 years ago
Reply to  Riss

Yes….and along with that rice there are three or four green leafy plants growing around here that I could gather to put in the top of that rice pot at the end of cooking to steam them for a few minutes to add more nutrients for free to the meal. I use them now.

Riss
Riss
5 years ago
Reply to  stellamarina

Lovely! I’m not a big gardener but yes, leafy greens are easy to grow and use and I would like to do that more. It’s so inspiring to hear all the good ideas from everyone here, thanks Stella! 🙂

Lisa Aberle
Lisa Aberle
5 years ago
Reply to  Riss

Speaking of people getting together and cooking, Riss, I have another project in the works. I am organizing a freezer meal cooking day with 8 of my friends. Depending on how it goes, I may do an article on it later!

Riss
Riss
5 years ago
Reply to  Lisa Aberle

Oh, that sounds wonderful Lisa. I hope you do share about it in a future post. When I think about the state of affairs with the economy these days and how difficult things have become for so many people, I keep thinking that community must be one of the biggest solutions, to re-orient things in a better direction.

MaryM
MaryM
5 years ago
Reply to  Riss

I love the idea of community cooking in part because I’m single and hate cooking for just myself. Yet I want to eat healthy foods. I tend to eat eggs, yogurt, peanut butter and fresh fruits and vegs that can be eaten raw. I will buy meat for lunch sandwiches and of course tuna gets its turn, too. I’m really working at not eating out as much, because I know how much more it costs, but sometimes I just want the variety or it’s a social time and therefore counts as entertainment, too. My entertainment budget is low, so maybe… Read more »

Carla
Carla
5 years ago

Interesting experiment! Since I can’t eat starches, beans, sugar, and all the things that’s horrible for my waistline (no matter how active I am) and not so great for my health, we spend a bit more money than the average couple who budgets their food spending. Unfortunately filler foods are cheaper. I tend to not carry a lot of cash but I do go to the store with a number in mind that I want to spend. This especially works for us since we’re not bulk shoppers (apartment living) and on average shop for food three times a week from… Read more »

Riss
Riss
5 years ago
Reply to  Carla

Carla, my SO and I both have difficulties with digestive problems, skin rashes, etc. from high-carb foods. We’ve had to cut out sugar, and minimise bread, pasta, etc. So we eat a lot of meat (the cheapest cuts!) and vegetables. I was thinking the same thing as I read this article – I miss the time when I was able to eat all those things which made it possible to eat well on a low food budget.

Carla
Carla
5 years ago
Reply to  Riss

Riss, earlier this year we invested in a slow cooker and it makes all the difference in the world when it comes to buying cheaper cuts. I’ve resisted for a long time feeling like the food would be slimy and bland. It helps with meal planning and preparing foods without a huge production in the kitchen. I love to cook but rarely have a lot of time during the week. I too miss the time when I was able to eat a plate of rice and/or potatoes and a little dab of meat and be satisfied. I was overweight with… Read more »

Riss
Riss
5 years ago
Reply to  Carla

That made my ears perk up! We were given a nice big slow cooker by a friend last year and I never really knew what to do with it. Do you have any favourite recipes? 😀

Carla
Carla
5 years ago
Reply to  Carla

@Riss – Sorry I’m just now seeing your response! I can send some recipes to you if you’d like…

Lisa
Lisa
5 years ago
Reply to  Carla

I am another with health problems. I was diagnosed with celiac disease 2 years ago and continued to have digestive and other health issues even after going gluten free. Others in our family also have allergies and skin rashes, and my oldest has a heart defect. We are on the paleo diet to control our diseases, so our grocery bill has skyrocketed. We spend about $1200 per month for a family of 5, with no eating out at all. It is about half my husband’s takehome pay and absolutely unsustainable. We are actually moving into a smaller home so that… Read more »

Carla
Carla
5 years ago
Reply to  Lisa

Sounds like there should be an article written on this very subject: budgeting food/groceries when on “alternative” diets for health and/or weight control reasons. It seem most of the food/budget articles on GRS and beyond are written with the standard American diet in mind and gives very little information for alternatives.

spiralingsnails
spiralingsnails
5 years ago
Reply to  Carla

http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2012/03/29/killing-your-1000-grocery-bill/

The language is a little strong, but he has some excellent suggestions for eating healthily on the cheap.

stellamarina
stellamarina
5 years ago

Now is the time to be buying extra cheap turkeys. Can cook one up and then break it into individual zip lock bags to freeze for later meals. It is also the time to buy cheap red sweet potatoes/yams…..

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
5 years ago
Reply to  stellamarina

Agreed! My partner and I just cooked and pressure-canned a 20-pound turkey that we got for 79 cents per pound. We ended up with six quarts of meat and a huge bowl of broth from cooking down the carcass (which will become gravy on Thanksgiving). He weighed the carcass after boiling and determined that of the 20-pound bird, about 18 pounds were actual meat; the rest was bone. For extra credit, we picked little bits of meat left on the bones after boiling and mixed that poultry with some diced hard-cooked eggs, relish and mayo to make enough turkey salad… Read more »

Cindy
Cindy
5 years ago

I found this article interesting, and it brings up a lot of good questions about budgets and spending, and even poverty and food. But, in reality, it didn’t answer the question of whether or not using cash saved you money at the grocery. In order to show whether or not that was true, you would have needed to figure out what you normally spent each month on groceries, and then given yourself that amount in cash to spend. Not knowing what you normally spent, saying you failed at saving money by using cash because you spent $600 instead of $500… Read more »

teinegurl
teinegurl
5 years ago

I’m a single mom and I’m interested in those interviews!

Lisa Aberle
Lisa Aberle
5 years ago
Reply to  teinegurl

Unfortunately, none of those I interviewed are single moms. I wish at least one had been :(. Laura’s comment above was illuminating about the single mother’s plight though.

Zambian Lady
Zambian Lady
5 years ago

Living in Vienna, Austria basically means that you have to use cash in many markets (where I sometimes buy foods not offered in supermarkets). That being said, I personally do not find a difference between using cash and a card because I mostly stick to my budget.

Kate
Kate
5 years ago

I have a family of 6 (including three teenage boys) and my goal is to spend $200 per week including organic produce and hormone/antibiotic free meats and dairy. We rarely eat out. I’ve been able to keep our budget in check by buying meats that are on their last day before “expiring.” My local chain, Tom Thumb, places them in a special bin and if I shop first thing in the morning, the selection includes plenty of roasts, rib eyes and tenderloins marked down to half price but still fine to eat – I freeze what I don’t cook that… Read more »

Rex
Rex
5 years ago

Single man here. My grocery budget: $150 a month (Restaurant budget is in another category). It’s been going well for me for over 6 months now. The meals I cook always have leftovers for lunch at the office (saves me from eating out). I buy basic ingredients that I mix and match to create several different types of dishes (for example: green & red bell peppers, onions, garlic and chicken will make curry using curry simmer sauce, chicken stir fry using teriyaki sauce, chicken cacciatore using canned tomatoes, chicken gumbo or jambalaya using Creole seasoning, etc.) You get the picture.… Read more »

Andi
Andi
5 years ago

There was a time many years ago that our grocery budget was $70 per week for two adults and three small children. I homeschooled and so I was feeding all five of us three meals a day, seven days a week. How did I do it? Merciless meal planning. Mostly almost-vegetarian meals, and never more than a pound of meat for the five of us. Many completely vegetarian meals. Almost no processed food whatsoever, because processed food is actually really expensive for what you get (Ever compared the price of potato chips to potatoes, on a pound for pound basis?)… Read more »

Julie
Julie
5 years ago

I don’t have a cash-only grocery budget at the moment, but I used to and might start one again in future. It might be better to ease into it rather than setting an ambitious goal right from the start. Then you can reduce by $10 or $20 each month and see how you do. Also, add a little to your first month to make one or two bulk purchases. This reduces you spending next month, and the money that is left over is used to make a different bulk purchase. You should always have a bit of a float to… Read more »

Kay
Kay
5 years ago

Great article. I cannot help but wonder how differently it would have gone if you changed your shopping from the get-go and didn’t spend the first few weeks shopping as usual. Perhaps once you’ve recovered from this round, you could give it another go, knowing what you know now! I switched to cash-only for grocery shopping recently, but not with the intention of saving money. I switched because with all of the data breaches these days, I’m trying to wean myself off the debit card. I had also been going over the grocery budget by $10-25, which isn’t a big… Read more »

Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom
Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom
5 years ago

I think your insight about buying bulk is an important one. I know I can afford to get better deals, stock up, and reduce my overall spending much easier than a person who is struggling to just scrape by.

Colleen
Colleen
5 years ago

But where is that waffle recipe?!

Lisa Aberle
Lisa Aberle
5 years ago
Reply to  Colleen

I just made them this morning. So good!
From The Joy of Cooking cookbook (simplified)
1 3/4 c. flour
1 T. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1 1/2 c. milk
1/4 c. to 1 c. butter, melted
3 eggs
Mix dry ingredients. In another bowl, mix wet ingredients. Pour wet ingredients into dry and stir. Pour into waffle iron and enjoy!

Colleen
Colleen
5 years ago
Reply to  Lisa Aberle

Thank you Lisa! I will makes them this week during the long wknd. 🙂

Patty Gale
Patty Gale
5 years ago

We don’t buy in bulk (mostly because we don’t have the storage where we live now) but when we did years ago, we wound up spending much more money than we should have. We follow the ‘eating out of the pantry’ method of grocery shopping and were able to reduce our food expenses from about $100 a week to $55 – $60 a week. This is for two adults, a teenager and a dog, includes all meals as well as lunches for the teenager to take to school. Our meals are carefully planned and does include meat… mostly chicken.

Cash only
Cash only
5 years ago

We are a cash only family of 5. Our grocery budget is $115 week, this doesn’t pay for meals out of other household necessities, those are covered in the entertainment or household envelopes. Another thing our “grocery money” doesn’t buy is alcohol. If we want that it is purchased out of our personal spending envelopes. We also have a quarterly envelope that we fund with $400 ($30 week) for Costco or other “bulk-buying”. So I guess you could technically say we budget $145 week for grocery, well below $882 or $650 a month. We are easily able to feed our… Read more »

spiralingsnails
spiralingsnails
5 years ago
Reply to  Cash only

I like your idea of having an extra quarterly allotment especially for bulk buying. I tried using cash once and it did NOT work for me, in large part because buying 15 lbs of meat or 2 months of baking ingredients at a time wreaked havoc on my week to week spending. Maybe I should give cash budgeting another whirl!

LeisureFreak Tommy
LeisureFreak Tommy
5 years ago

I see some people have already called out what I consider a big issue and that is as you pointed out being able to take advantage of any bulk buying deals that over the long run reduce the grocery expenses. I think going cash all of the time would be difficult and a hassle. I know Dave Ramsey followers who do it and swear by it but I just think it is a good way to train yourself to budget and track costs so one day you can then take advantage of using a rewards card and paying the balance… Read more »

jestjack
jestjack
5 years ago

Good article…this is almost the “SNAP challenge”. I saw no mention of Aldi in the article and comments. Excellent source for groceries. I shop here once a week and tend to shop at the full service grocer every 3 to 4 weeks….Big difference.

Jerome
Jerome
5 years ago

For our family of 7 (including 3 very hungry teenagers) I have a weekly budget of 150$. This includes everything you (can) buy at a grocery store, so including detergent, beer etc. We manage just fine and eat healthy. To get at this level was a process which took about a year. I collected and tried recipes from all over the world and as a family we graded them. I now have a list of 50 recipes which are acceptable to us and which are all cheap to make. Almost all recipes contain lots of vegetables and usually limited meat.… Read more »

Lisa Aberle
Lisa Aberle
5 years ago
Reply to  Jerome

Jerome, I must know more!
Did you calculate how much each recipe cost to make?
Do you usually only make one of those 50 recipes for each meal?
Did you evaluate your receipts to see where you were spending the most as you were getting the costs down?
Thanks!

Riley
Riley
5 years ago
Reply to  Jerome

Jerome, would you consider writing a GRS guest article on your system, with specifics? Like Lisa, I’m more than curious about the details. I’m ready to try it out.

Sherry
Sherry
5 years ago

When I started eyeing the possibility of saving on grocery dollars a couple of months back, I decided to take an (admittedly) geek approach: I bought what I normally would, but recorded every purchase, whether fast food, grocery store staples, bulk sales – whatever – in my DayTimer. A four to six-week period of doing that showed me my habits, and I decided to keep the good ones and toss the bad. Having studied Human Nutrition at a graduate level, I knew where it made sense to ramp up and where the Standard American Diet needed to be tossed out… Read more »

Riss
Riss
5 years ago
Reply to  Sherry

Is it really not legal for you to share the title of your book? I guess I haven’t read the guidelines carefully here. But when you make your comments it asks what your website is – I’m not sure how that works, does that get shown to others? I see some usernames here that seem to contain links, I haven’t clicked on any yet but I assume those go to their websites.

JPL
JPL
5 years ago

Health should be a prime concern in this equation. I could eat $500/month on processed garbage and cut out meat, but how can you eat a healthy diet without paying a bit more for food? My girlfriend and I eat a lot of meat, commensurate with our activity levels. We also completely avoid processed food, and thus our diet is basically veggies, meat, dairy (in that order). To cut down costs we buy 1/2 grassfed cow, and a pastured pig once a year, and it saves a ton of money (works out to ~$6/pound), versus what we were doing before.… Read more »

E.B.
E.B.
5 years ago

If I’m using cash and I don’t have enough to buy my favorite cereal when it’s on sale and I have a coupon, and when I come back next week the sale is done and my coupon is expired (but I have the cash) I am not saving money. I would freak out if I wasn’t able to buy things when they were on sale and I had valid coupons. I guess it’s a personal preference, because other people are swearing by the cash system. I use a 52-week rolling average to figure out our grocery budget. With 52 weeks’… Read more »

Mike
Mike
5 years ago

My family uses a cash envelope for both groceries and gasoline every month. We have found that it really cuts down on the impulse trips to the store that can quickly kill a budget. We do a new budget each month and adjust as our needs change. Overall it saves us money year over year. The same applies to gasoline. Our driving habits stay fairly consistent but because prices fluctuate doing a new budget each month keeps things in line.

superbien
superbien
5 years ago

@70. Donna Freedman – could you share more about pressure canning meat? Is the meat cut up in chunks and put in jars? Is there sauce? How do you use it? Was the equipment expensive? What else do you use it for? How much work is pressure canning? How do you judge the quality of your own-canned meat vs fresh vs store bought (I can only think of canned fish from the store).

Emily Leigh
Emily Leigh
5 years ago

Yes we have done the cash grocery budget and yes for us it’s MUCH easier to control spending. In fact we decided that it worked so well that now we have a coupon separator except we use it for most of our monthly budgeting. For instance 1 section for groceries and sundries, for pet care, gasoline, fun or whatever else we decide together that would be easier to control the spending with cash.

bostjan
bostjan
5 years ago

Well, because grocery is one of the biggest expenses in your everyday life, being shopping savvy means being able to save big. Great article!

The Uncommon Cent
The Uncommon Cent
5 years ago

Great article!

I’ve been using a cash budget for 6 months now and once you determine a good budget for your family, it is very effective in saving money. I have now started to use cash for our personal allowances and household needs it’s revolutionary! I mean, cash! Who made this stuff? Kind of a bizarre technology. Keep at it. It’ll pay off!

Vawt @ Early Retirement Ahead
Vawt @ Early Retirement Ahead
5 years ago

I think we need to try this. I could buy a $500 prepaid AMEX card (for extra travel hacking points at Staples), then we could use it all month. We tend to spend over $700 month on groceries and household goods for 3 adults and 2 small kids. I think we could get it under $500 if we tried and ate less meat. In order for me to retire early, we will need to find a way to reduce it!

Linda Vergon
5 years ago

(This comment came from Catherine, a reader of our daily newsletter.)

Yes. I am experiencing it right now. Trying to keep food in the house at 59 yrs. old. Never thought I would be in this place in my life.

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