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Four Ways We Feed a Family of Five for $575 a Month

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Shopping cart in grocery store aisle
Dave and Les Jacobs/Blend Images
Simply put, grocery shopping is expensive.

The Department of Agriculture says that groceries can average $600 to nearly $1,300 for a family of four. However, the monthly bill for my family of five comes in at or below what the USDA considered "thrifty," and a considerable fraction of what we buy is organic food.

You, too, can save a lot of money on groceries -- if you make it a priority. Here's how we keep our grocery and dining-out budget under $575 per month.

Have a Meal Plan That Yields a Grocery Spending Plan

My wife and I started meal-planning about five years ago when we realized that we'd eaten chicken tacos for dinner three nights in a row. Our lack of a plan left us scrambling to pull together suppers, which meant we were using whatever was easy and on hand. That gets repetitive fast, and when we got bored with those meals, we were more likely to eat takeout, which further bloated our food budget.

You may be thinking that meal-planning takes too much time, and we thought that too, at first. But it only takes us 15 or 20 minutes a week to build a meal plan around what's on sale and what fits our dietary choices, that falls under our budget.

You can plan for a week or for a month, but don't give in to the fear that having a plan limits you. In fact, we've found that it brings us greater flexibility as we can swap things to save time as needed.

Buy in Bulk -- Wisely

One of the biggest ways we're able to minimize our grocery spending is by selectively buying in bulk, mainly at Costco. (COST) (The savings on toilet paper alone make it worth the membership.) Seriously though, we find that with our food plan in hand, we're able to more effectively use warehouse club shopping to save money on everything from oranges to chicken.

Of course, you have to do this wisely: Wasted food equals to throwing money away. If you find you're throwing away produce every week, think over what you ate that week instead of fresh fruits and vegetables. If your meals were dominated by boxed and canned foods, there's your answer. Next time you shop, buy fewer boxed and canned goods, which will force you use more of the produce you buy. If, on the other hand, you're eating a ton of fruits and vegetables, and still throwing some away, you may just need to decrease the variety of produce you're bulk-buying.

We all know that our food savings can be taken a step further by adding in coupons. However, remember: The stores and manufactures offer coupons to lure you into buying things you didn't plan to. Don't let coupons lure you into spending more than you were planning.

Make Loss Leaders Your Friend

Loss leaders are those items that grocery stores use to get you in their doors. They will sell something at a loss -- like a half-gallon of milk for $1 -- with the expectation that after you're there, and have the milk in your cart, you'll spend more on higher-margin items to make up for it. You can turn this on its head and only purchase the loss leaders, which give you instant savings -- if you need the items. Buying loss leaders also:
  • Adds variety to your meal routines.
  • Allows you to stock up.
  • Adds the possibility of a luxury item in your meal plan.
Grocery stores usually make their loss leaders fairly obvious. They are typically in larger pictures on the front or back of their weekly circulars. Just keep in mind that not everything in the circular may be on sale.

Shop in Season

My family loves strawberries. However, they're not in season year round where we live. When they are, it's common for us to find them going for $1 a pound. In mid-winter, we could easily pay triple that, if not more. As you can guess, we're not buying strawberries in February.

Applying that logic across the produce aisle can be a simple way to save money. Freeze your extras for out-of-season enjoyment. Grocery chains such as Aldi's commonly carry produce at a significant discount.

John Schmoll is the founder of Frugal Rules, a finance blog that regularly discusses investing, budgeting, and frugal living. He is a father, husband, and veteran of the financial services industry who's passionate about helping people find freedom through frugality. He also writes about wise ways to manage your money at WiseDollar.org.

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11 Comments

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georgettec28

The one thing that you can't buy cheaper at Costco or any warehouse store is paper goods of any kind. You can always do better in the supermarket where they go on sale regularly. Everything else I agree with.

June 27 2014 at 6:46 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
hollemantom

This must be some kind of joke, $575.00 a month is enough to feed 8 or 9 people, what are they eating, steaks everyday...

June 26 2014 at 10:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to hollemantom's comment
georgettec28

No it's not. I shop carefully for my family of 9 and the bill is regularly $300 weekly. I use coupons, shop the sales and write a list. For the most part, my meals are from scratch too.I avoid processed and canned foods opting for fresh or frozen. We don't fill up on junk food or too many carbs either. Once a week, we have a veggie main meal. The other days its beef, poltry, fish or eggs.

June 27 2014 at 6:51 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
welcome timothy

I spend about $5/week on food for myself at the most. $575/month for a family of four still sounds high

June 26 2014 at 7:42 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to welcome timothy's comment
georgettec28

$5 A WEEK? C'mon, you don't expect anyone to survive on that.

June 27 2014 at 6:51 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
pllove49

Oh dear...has the cheese slipped of this persons cracker or what?

June 26 2014 at 7:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tom Harrell

John Schmoll, You'd make a GREAT Politician.
They TOO are out of touch with Average Americans !

June 26 2014 at 7:04 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
mario_kristina_lira

I got them beat, we spend $350 a month to feed our family of 5.

June 26 2014 at 6:36 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to mario_kristina_lira's comment
ralescott

$2,00 per day per person ... doesn't sound legit. Do you live on a farm in Ohio?

June 27 2014 at 4:38 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
RMS

Very hard to do, especially if you live in a state like New York, where groceries are very expensive. My monthly food budget for one person is $200 a month, and I find it hard to stick to this amount even with coupons and taking advantage of sale items. I don't waste food, and many days eat leftovers.

June 26 2014 at 5:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
MISANTRHOPE

ramen noodles

June 26 2014 at 5:04 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply