How to Grocery Shop for Five on $100 a Week

by Carrie Kirby on 12 September 2011 (33 comments)

This post was brought to you by T-Mobile. America's Largest 4G Network -- Now faster than ever. Click here for more details.

People are sometimes shocked to hear that I spend only $100 a week on groceries for a family of five. I've even been accused of not telling the whole truth.

Confession: Five mouths for $100 is not the whole equation. We also feed a nutritious diet to our two cats.

Getting a week's worth of groceries, toiletries, and household supplies (even disposable diapers) for a C-note is not as difficult as some people think. In fact, there are plenty of families out there spending only $30 to $40 a week. For $100, we're able to virtually splurge – our menu includes many organic items, cage-free eggs, and even an evening glass of wine or cocktail for mom and dad.

That said, not every family will be able to or want to hit that exact number. Our children are still small, so a family with three teenagers would likely need a lot more groceries than we do. Other families will need to sacrifice some savings in order to limit the time they spend shopping and preparing food.

But one thing applies to all families -- if you want to cut your grocery budget, there are relatively easy ways to get it done without resorting to junk food.

Our weekly menu typically looks something like this:

  • For breakfasts, we have fruit, cereal with milk, pancakes and bacon, scrambled eggs, or peanut butter toast.
  • Lunches are often leftovers from dinner or sandwiches.
  • Dinner choices in our recent rotation include stuffed green peppers, spaghetti with meatballs, roast chicken with potatoes and vegetables, and tuna noodle casserole. Homemade whole wheat bread from the bread machine makes frequent appearances.

So you see, there's nothing really unusual about the way we eat. Ours could be any American family's menu. And yet, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a “thrifty” family our size typically spends $142 a week on food alone – 40% more than we spend. And did I mention that our $100 grocery budget covers household supplies and toiletries as well?

 So how are we eating a typical diet while spending so much less than typical families? Following a few simple shopping rules makes it possible:

1. Set a budget, and add up what you spend every week to make sure you're sticking to it.

This sounds obvious, but it's the #1 best way to spend less on groceries. Shooting for a fixed target is what motivates me to find creative ways to save.

2. Aim for 100% use of all food that comes into your house.

I can't say I hit 100%, but Rule 1 makes Rule 2 much easier. If your limited budget prevents you from overstuffing your fridge, you're more likely to take care to use what you already have. Another way to get closer to 100% is to use your freezer liberally. Don't have time to make stock out of that chicken carcass this week? Don't throw it out – stick it in the freezer and deal with it another day.

3. Choose your grocery store carefully.

Consumers' Checkbook Magazine surveyed grocery stores in markets nationwide and found that shoppers can save more than a thousand dollars a year simply by choosing a less expensive store.

4. If you use coupons, use them strategically.

You do not have to be like the shoppers on the TLC show Extreme Couponing to cut your grocery spending. You don't have to collect 400 newspaper coupon inserts every Sunday or spend four hours on every shopping trip. However, if you want to use coupons, it makes sense to do it right. Hold onto that coupon until the item goes on sale – if you don't want to do that, you're often better off skipping the coupons and buying generics.

5. Stockpile.

Again, you don't have to be extreme and convert your bathroom and kids' closets into storage space for extra jars of spaghetti sauce. But if you want to avoid paying full price for any non-perishable item, you must buy more than a week's supply when that item goes on sale.

The best thing about these rules is that most of them do not take much extra time. You can spend more time hitting different stores and clipping coupons if you want to save even more, but sticking to the rules is a good way to lower your costs without a large increase in shopping time.

3.846155
Average: 3.8 (26 votes)
Your rating: None
ShareThis

comments

33 discussions

Add New Comment

CAPTCHA
This test helps prevent automated spam submissions.
Guest's picture
GuestJulia

You could save a lot more -- including the planet -- if you stopped using disposables. If you then put that $10 a week into a 529 account for your kids, they would have some money toward college. Please consider not using disposable *anything* to save your budget AND the planet. :)

Guest's picture
JustAGuy

I'm pretty sure the author concentrated her article on groceries (i.e. foodstuffs). Exactly how did you decide she was spending $10 a week on "disposables"? Unless you know about some permanent food that the human race has overlooked I guess it was all disposable. However, assuming you meant non-food items, it seems very presumptuous to suggest that 10% of $100 for a week's groceries for a family of five is allocated to that.

Good luck on saving the planet.

Guest's picture
Carrie

I spend $4-$5 a week on disposable diapers. I agree that cloth would be better for the planet, and I did go through a period of about six months with my second kid when I used cloth. But now that I work and am paying someone to help me with childcare and other household duties, I feel like it would actually add to our expenses to use cloth. Time is money. I DO feel guilty about it and I am in no way discouraging others from using cloth, but for me, I just don't feel I can handle the extra work that cloth diapering brings, nor do I want to ask my childcare provider to deal with it.

Guest's picture
Guest

i disagree, i doubt you would save a whole lot of money. while you may not have to continue to purchase diapers, you will be using your electricity and laundry soap quite often to wash the diapers, not to menion all the added hassle. additionally cloth diapers often leak compared to disposable and your utility bill and laundry soap purchases will go up! no thanks...

Guest's picture
Guest

i don't understand why people want to be negative all of the time.

Guest's picture

great tips!

what did you feed your cats?

Guest's picture
Carrie

Contrary to the popular advice that animals need to eat the same thing every day, I feed them a variety of foods. In the morning they get an expensive dry food with water poured on it -- we're currently using Merrick Before Grain. The water on the food is to encourage them to consumer more water, which like most cats they don't drink much of. In the evening I give them each about a quarter can of cheap canned food, like Friskies or Trader Joe's Tuna for Cats. I prefered the Tuna for Cats because the ingredients are mainly just tuna and the protein is higher than other canned foods, but the cats seemed to stop liking it after awhile.

We also feed them meat scraps of all kinds in place of their canned food, when available. Their favorite seems to be cooked chicken livers and giblets, mashed up. Every time I roast a chicken I cook up the organs for the cats.

Guest's picture
JustAGuy

Carrie,

Even using your tips, I think some people would still have trouble staying in your budget. What foods do you eat a lot of? For my family eating lots of bananas, apples, cabbage, lentils, rice, pasta, and home made veggie soups seems to be what keeps us on budget. Its when we start eating ice cream every night, or other such indulgences that knock us off-budget.

Just wondering.

Guest's picture
Carrie

I think the reason we are able to stay below average is my aggressive use of coupons and promotions. For example several months ago I was able to get 10-20 boxes of whole wheat and veggie pasta for free after coupon. That's the basis of an inexpensive meal right there. I definitely only buy ice cream treats when they are on a special offer, but we do indulge in evening wine ($2.99, Trader Joe).

Our dinners this week so far: Monday -- cucumber/tomato soup from my dad's garden, kale/hambone soup from the freezer and homemade whole wheat rolls. Tuesday -- spaghetti (free) with Italian sausage and sauce from a jar, plus garden vegetables. Wednesday -- pork chops, potatoes, pan gravy and garden vegetables. (Yes, we're really blessed with the vegetables at the moment! We give my parents lots of drugstore freebies.)

Keep in mind that my kids are still small so they don't eat that much. I would totally expect a family with 3 bigger kids to have a higher budget!

Guest's picture
Staycee

I've fed my family of 5 (which includes 3 boys) on $100 per week for years. One huge tip is to stay out of the chip/boxed snack isle. My husband and oldest are also hunters and we eat a lot of venison, pheasant, duck and fresh fish - that helps as well. (Yeah, yeah, hunting licenses are expensive and so is the ammunition but those costs are included in our entertainment budget. The food is a bonus!)

Guest's picture
Carrie

When my dad hunted, I think his highest expense was the tab at the tavern after the evening's hunting! These days, I'd worry about the cost of gas for fall hunting trips. But I bet it still works out to less than buying the meat.

Guest's picture
Guest vanessa

Could you describe an actual list for the week and what you make with it. I am having a hard time believing I can eat organic food, buy baby formula, and still be at $100 a week. Is this 3 meals a day for seven days or do you eat out?

Guest's picture
Carrie

Hi Vanessa,

I will be blogging my actual shopping trips and weekly menus on this page of my blog (I start next week): http://chicago.frugalisticmom.com/category/feeding-5-on-100-a-week/

I don't have to buy baby formula and I know that is quite expensive. I don't believe that every family's weekly budget is going to be the same, but I do think it's very useful to set a specific budget to aim for. I also don't buy _all_ organic.

We do eat out sometimes, and this is not included in the budget. We probably average about one take-out dinner (often a Friday night pizza) and one lunch out (often fast food) per week. Oh, also my oldest daughter takes hot lunch several times a week.

Guest's picture
sweetpee

would like to see a discussion of how to do this for a pair of diabetics. my gf and I are type 2 and both need about 1800 to 2000 calories/day to move to an ideal weight. we are both carb limited (me - 100 gm/carb, she - 75 gm/carb). being diabetic means, no bread, pasta, beans etc. only meat, some dairy, limited fruit, and non-starchy veg.

Guest's picture
Tracey

I've tried so many times to bring our food bill down (family of four + cat) but no matter what I try I can't get it under $100 for a week. We don't have coupons here in Australia (unfortunately) and food is so expensive. I have managed to cut back a lot though. But still not near the magic $100 mark.

Guest's picture
kathryn

We are also in Australia, and it is just as easy to live on $100 or less for a family of 4 & a cat. There are always reduced meat,fruit and veggies. Lots of times there are reduced ready made meals such as lasagna and garlic bread. You just need to remember some stores are better for meat, other for staples and others for produce.
Bread is cheap too. (store brand)

Guest's picture
Tina

Depending on the sales at the grocers I would have to say that shopping at ALDI is your best bet to keeping you bill below that mark! They have local produce at insanely low prices compared to the local chain and their "generic" brands of pre-packed foods are all manufactured by big well know companies. I usually go every other week to stock up and including Toiletries and Meats I only made it over $100 the first time I shopped there - which also caused me to re-arrange my freezer to accommodate my bounty. If you have an ALDI near you go check it out! $1.19 for Spaghetti Sauce w/o High Fructose Corn Syrup ANY DAY, 100% Apple Juice for $1.79 ANY DAY...and they have great weekly offers too!

Guest's picture
Tanya Whitner

I found planting a garden helps tremendously. We have a little container garden on our porch and have herbs, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, jalepenos, soy beans. It was easy and really helps cut back the costs. Also I buy bulk food items such as dried beans, lentils and grains to make soups from. Our shopping bill is around $100 a week for 4 adults 1 toddler and a 90 lbs dog. Making things from scratch really helps and walking the aisles for deals. I also buy a lot of stuff at Aldi which is a real deal.

Guest's picture
Elizabeth S.

Great article! One thing I would like to add that has been hard for me, but always works if I stick to it, is to make a monthly menu. By looking at what you already have and only buying what you need you can get to that use 100% of what you buy.

Guest's picture

Pancakes are your budgets best friends!! We do that too. I'm printing this! I do better if I pay in csh at the grocery store. I try to leave the kids home so they don't throw any curve balls.

Guest's picture
Tiffany

I like that you mention that not only should you have a budget but you should stick to it. Eating what you have is also important to staying within the budget. To often I use to go get something when food was actually available to eat at home. $300 usually is enough for my family more than a month.

Guest's picture
Noah

It sounds hard to do but not really IF you scrutinize everything you WANT to buy individually. If you cut out most candy, soda, baked goods, basically anything that you eat based on desire & taste vs. nutritional value you can save a lot of cash. Also, drinking water vs. juice, soda is a helpful strategy because that is better for you and doesn't affect the quality of meals.

Coupons are great IF your only using ones for items you'd purchase anyways but they are a trap if your buying a package of cookies solely because of the price after the coupon.

Here in Arizona (and California) I like Fresh & Easy because their own brands are cheap and good in quality + the often have $5 off $25 coupons which can help you save even more.

Noah

Meg Favreau's picture

I love those Fresh & Easy coupons! My first LA apartment was in walking distance of a Fresh & Easy. I don't miss that apartment, but I do miss living that close to a reasonably priced grocery store.

Guest's picture
Jonathan

I spend about $50 a week for my girlfriend and I on grass fed meat and organic produce, and I shop at Fairway which is a high end grocer that is somewhat like Whole Foods. I should use coupons to cut that figure down more though.

Guest's picture
Guest

I want to give a shout out to my favorite grocery chain: the Grocery Outlet (aka The Gross Out). They have great selections of organics in both produce, meats, dairy and frozen stuff. And they just have some wacky stuff that can be fun with some creativity. And their wine is a great deal! I never pay more than $4.99 for a bottle and they often retail for $10-18.

I'm not a paid spokesperson, I just love that place!!

Guest's picture

Crazy. My wife and I try to do that for only two and two K-9 Americans. Way to go!

Guest's picture

Great article! I think the budget is the key and as simple as it sounds, a shopping list is critical. If you are very specific with that list, you may have a good idea of what your grocery bill be going into the store.

Guest's picture
Guest

My wife says no way now that we are a year from when this article was written. Can you still do this?

Guest's picture
kathryn

Yes, it can be done and I'd say even a bit cheaper. Will it be easy? Probably not. It will be easier if you both work as a team.You will need to change the way you normally shop. I rarely go to the store to buy groceries. I go to buy reduced and on sale items. If there is something I need, I will pick it up.We don't go to the same store for everything.
If you are serving steak for a meal, some people think each person should get a slab, as it is packaged. That is more than a serving. Meat is expensive, and should not be the focus of the meal.

Guest's picture
Noah

Another 3 pointers for cheaper grocery shopping:

1. Do NOT go shopping hungry as you'll end up buying more impulse items than normal and those are usually sweet & salty processed items.

2. Do NOT take kids with you to the store as someone else hinted at (the curveball). They want items I mentioned in #1 & a $4 box of cereal for a .50 toy. They'll also try to get you to buy overpriced toys as well even though some supermarkets have little if any selection.

3. Consider Costco for things used often but make sure the price is below most grocery sales prices after coupons. Our Costco has organic, grass fed beef at a reasonable deal. It tastes great and comes in 3 sealed vacuum packs so you can cut one off and freeze it right away if needed. One tip with this though is don't put it near vegetables, that seems to cause the vacuum pack to "puff up" and perhaps spoil quicker.

Noah

Guest's picture
Brittany

Uh, I can't even feed my family of 1 (i.e., myself) on $100 a week. Clearly I am doing something wrong!!!! Help!!!

Guest's picture
Guestblessedî

I consider that admirable. I one and only and I can't feed myself with a an hundred dollars a week. I shop sales, go for the fruit and vegetables, bought s filter for the faucet (water is harsh on my teeth). Very seldom buy bottled water or pop. Staying away from the junk food aisle is not very hard for me. I prefer fruits and vegetables. Well meat has gotten expensive. The price for free range chicken and other meats is three quarters of my budget. I give honor and praises to GOD for supplying my needs.

Guest's picture
Guest Harry

This must apply only for the United States.
I spend over $250-$350 a week on groceries for a family of five in Toronto, Canada.