How to Spend ONLY $40 at the Grocery Store Each Week

The first thing you think of when it comes to cutting the budget probably doesn’t have to do with food. After all, you have to have food – especially if you have kids. If you do have kids, you probably have already figured out that you need lots of food.

But when you have cut everywhere you think you can cut, you have to start cutting in places you didn’t think you could.

It started with a new way of budgeting – which is actually an old way.

Many years ago, when I had first started my freelance writing career, I put the envelope method into practice. Every time I got paid, a percentage went into each envelope (based on a outflow budget we set up). I only used the money in the envelope to pay for what was intended.

It worked. Our finances got back in balance, and I could focus on the writing and not worry about how to pay the next bill.

That’s a good feeling.

Flash forward to a new business and a new direction and new financial issues, and it was time for me to implement the envelope plan once again.

The first week, there was only $40 in the grocery envelope, so instead of cheating – which you know I wanted to do – I determined to make it work.

It helped that I had a freezer partway filled with veggies and meats. The pantry also had odds and ends I could piece together. I took cash to the grocery store and got what I could get based on the $40.

Hint: Prioritize the list. Instead of putting the list together by aisle, I put it in order from “must have” to the “would be nice.”

The first week, there was nothing left for pre-packaged snacks. I knew I had zip lock bags back at the house, so I purchased two large containers of snacks and then put them in the baggies when I got home – ½ cup per bag.

The next week was a little tougher. I got sick, and I didn’t want to say the word “food,” much less cook anything. I knew I needed to boost my immune system, so I used what was in the pantry to come up with some soup ideas.

    Do you have a can of diced tomatoes? Sautee some onion, garlic, and those tomatoes – add a dash or two of cayenne pepper and then some cumin, and top off with chicken broth. Call it spicy soup, tortilla soup, or tomato broth – as a matter of fact, you can name your meals whatever you want. No matter what you call it, the entire dish will only cost around $5 to cook – even less if you make your own broth (which is what I do every holiday with the turkey carcass).

Weeks four and five are a little bit of a blur. I was still sick (and tired from being sick). My husband did most of the shopping, so we edged over the $40 a little – but only a little. Still, most of the meals were made from the freezer stash.

By the sixth week, I was back to myself. Even though the freezer was not quite as full as I had last seen it, it still had a few surprises for me. I went back to working off the $40 because that was guaranteed (and because I now challenged myself to keep it up – and I can’t resist a good challenge). I broke down and got some chicken breasts, which I then slowed cooked in the crockpot for a day (add some diced onion, garlic and butter and you can use the cooked chicken in a variety of dishes).

I used the first breast – shredded – in a chicken salad. The second one – again shredded – went into a stir-fry dish. The last went into the freezer.

Hint: Freeze your extras. It will make fixing a quick meal easier if the main component is already cooked.

Last week was week seven. I made my list by priority, but there was way more left than there was purchased. It’s about time for a “once a month” shopping trip and cooking day – I totaled up what that would cost and was shocked it would only be around $220.

After I got home, my husband asked me about sandwich bread. Bread had not been on the grocery list, and if it’s not on the list, then odds are it’s not coming home with me. Instead of trying to figure out how to buy bread from a budget I had already spent, I made bread.

I was blessed to have been given a Kitchen Aide blender as a gift shortly after I got married. I set it up, attached the dough hook, and then added the ingredients:

I will continue to get creative with both my cooking and with my purchasing. My grocery budget has shifted from $250 per week to only $40 per week plus $220 once a month. That is a lot of savings.

It Takes a Plan

I always plan my meals by the week. When I was planning for a picky eater, I rotated the menu so that the main entrée never repeated more than twice in a week, and never within a couple of days of each other.

Here is that template.

This is the template filled out with rotating entrees

When I don’t have to plan for a picky eater, I give myself an idea of what I want to do, but I allow myself grace if something else gets done. Also, be okay with “fend for yourself leftovers” day.

You can see by the picture from my Focus Folder that I don’t fill out all days and I don’t always cook what I do fill out. That’s okay. Move the idea to a blank place in the week or to a different week completely.

Here is that template.

Having a plan – even an outline of a plan – will make it easier to cook your meals quickly so that you don’t find yourself falling into the habit of “it’s quicker to pick something up.”

No matter what you do, there will be an investment. Either it will take more time and less money or less time and more money. You have to choose what is right for you and what works for you and your family.

The Struggles – They Are Real

I always plan my meals by the week. When I was planning for a picky eater, I rotated the menu so that the main entrée never repeated more than twice in a week, and never within a couple of days of each other.

The hardest expense to cover is the snacks. If a bag of chips gets opened around my house, it gets eater. It doesn’t matter if the bag is a single serve or a family sized bag. The same goes for most snack foods. The best bet for me is to buy the large containers and divide them up separately.

OR . . . and this can be more fun than it sounds . . . make the snacks yourself.

Cheese crisps – one tablespoon of shredded cheese topped with a dash of seasoning. Bake on parchment paper or a Silpat for 5 – 10 minutes at a375 degrees. Not only are these a great snack, but they also work as toppers for salads and baked potatoes.

Boiled eggs – my boys love these for meals and for snacks. They even come in their own container. 😀

Granola bars – all you need is some rolled oats, chopped nuts, honey, butter, brown sugar, salt, and vanilla extract – plus anything you want to add in to spice up or dress up your bars. There are literally hundreds of recipes out there, so try some or make up your own.

The next hardest thing is meat . . . and I have a house full of meat eaters. In the past, we have gone in with a group of folks to purchase a locally raised, grass-fed cow. That meat usually lasts us about a year. When I break down the budget, it fits into my new plan. The key will be to save up for the big buy like I need to save up for the “once a month” buys.

I’ll keep you up to date with the progress.

So, what are your top grocery budget tips?

The Mom

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    1. Hey Sammie – thanks for stopping by. What do you think would help the most with balancing the budget in this area?

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