How to Grocery Shop for Five on $100 a Week
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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.
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.