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Ask DSM Readers: Setting a Grocery Budget

by Tara Kuczykowski on August 12, 2010 · 55 comments

grocery budget
Photo by Sarah Gilbert

Every week I'll pose a question for you to share your experiences and tips. If you have a question that you'd like me to post, I'd love to hear from you!

Recently, Carrie sent me an email with this question:

Hi, Tara. How do you decide on a reasonable grocery budget? We are a family of 5...including a baby...and it seems like $350 a month isn't working for us. Any ideas on a reasonable budget?

I think that your grocery budget is going to depend on how much time you want to invest in couponing and shopping multiple stores as well as on where you live. Those of us with grocery stores that double coupons up to $1 have a much easier time than someone whose stores don't double at all! I don't think it's possible for me or anyone else to tell you what your budget should be. Instead, just focus on cutting back a little each week until you reach a number you're comfortable with -- both financially and in regards to the amount of time you're spending and the food you're buying.

How did you decide on your family's grocery budget? What factors did you consider when deciding? How did you know when you'd gotten it as low as you were comfortable going? Have you ever made a decision to raise your grocery budget? Do you expect your budget to change as your family grows?

Join the discussion -- add your two cents to previous Ask DSM Readers questions too!

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1 Linda G August 12, 2010 at 2:39 pm

We use Angel Food Ministries each month so we know that our monthly food bill will be at least $110.00 for five people, then we just fill in with the staples (and trying to use coupons all the while!) : milk, bread, butter, cheese, etc. if we run out during the month. We have cut our bill from $400-600 per mo. to $150-200 per month.

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2 Juli December 31, 2011 at 6:04 pm

Hi Linda, glad to hear you use Angel Food Ministries. I was introduced to it through my sister. She had breast cancer and when she went in for surgery she got cards, flowers, gifts etc.. But, the most helpful was a donation of two months of food from Angel Food Ministries. (she'd all ready used up her paid time off from work with Dr. appointments and other things) It was more than enough food for her and her husband. I'm glad you enjoy it. If other readers don't know about Angel Food Min. just google it. It's a great program. They give people a hand-up not a hand-out.

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3 Lynn August 12, 2010 at 2:40 pm

I googled around for the USDA food-cost plans: http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/Publications/FoodPlans/2010/CostofFoodJun10.pdf
I picked the second level from the bottom and did the calculations based on my family size. This came out a HUGE number, so I cut it down to something that sounded reasonable and played with that for a month. Turns out the "thrify" level works well for us, and includes household consumables, occasional restaurant meals, and stocking very deep pantry. YMMV, but it's a nice place to start.

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4 Janice August 12, 2010 at 2:42 pm

Just curious...when you all say your grocery budget is XXX amount per month, does that include your household and personal supplies as well? i.e. cleaning supplies, deoderant, shampoo etc...?

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5 Carrie August 12, 2010 at 2:53 pm

I try to keep ours, family of "almost" 6 :o), to under $75/week. The first few weeks of grocery shopping using coupons was a bit of a struggle and not overly successful, but after 2-3 months now, our little freezer downstairs is PACKED with items. We could seriously go 2-3 weeks without buying anything except bread and some fresh fruits and veggies! Which is what I plan on doing in 3 weeks when Baby #4 arrives.

I started emailing companies to tell them how much I love their products (excactly what I like about them - taste, freshness, somehow personalizing it, not just saying "I like your product") and 90% of them have mailed me coupons if I gave them my address, MANY for FREE items! Today, I used up a bunch of those coupons, and received almost $80 worth of items and paid $3.28 for them :o) If you're creative, you can get lots of good food and household products for SUPER cheap! Takes time, but for us, it's totally worth it. I search out coupons and deals after kids go to bed when I have nothing better to do (besides clean lol!).

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6 Kimber August 12, 2010 at 4:06 pm

You made me laugh - I have a family of "almost" 4, and I too have been e-mailing companies and getting a lot of coupons these past few weeks. Some people get the "nesting" instinct and want to clean. I get the "nesting" instinct and want to fill my pantry - using coupons, of course! :o)

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7 Carrie August 12, 2010 at 5:53 pm

lol i've NEVER had the nesting instinct, but so glad you said that about filling your pantry! i thought i was crazy :o) i guess that's our way of getting ready. i'd rather have my husband clean than shop. $50 and one grocery bag - no thank you!

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8 Dani August 12, 2010 at 2:55 pm

My grocery is low. People think I am crazy, but it works for us. My budget is $40.00 a week for two adults and two toddlers. This includes household products, personal care, and diapers!!! Yes Diapers (& wipes too). No we are not vegetarians either! My budget was not this low until I had already built up my stockpile though. My first two months of what I call "hard core couponing" was getting all the cheapies and freebies, plus my normal groceries. Then the next month I cut down my budget and only got what we NEEDED for that week along with freebies. Then the following month I was down to the $40 a week. With this I try to get what we have to have and then as much stuff as I can that we will actually use with the rest. To be honest, I have even skipped weeks of shopping now that I have been doing this for awhile. (I've usually purchased milk and anything fresh toward the end of the previous week and it didn't expire til the end of the next week or so). I think the key to couponing is knowing the lowest price you can get something for and buying what you have to have first, then getting deals with the rest. People often wonder how I make a meal out of what I am buying when I tell someone of a great deal. They'd realize if they seen my cabinets stuffed with food. lol Anyways.. I realized mine was as low as I was comfortable with when I tried to lower it down to $25.00. (crazy... I know) I would go over every other week and it got stressful to mmake it work. Plus I budget my money carefully so I would have to pull money from other budgets and I just realized it would be easier to budget for it in the first place and I wouldn't stress over it. After all, half of why I coupon is because I enjoy it. It's like a game to see how much I can save. I upped out budget to $35 and that worked much better. We ended up settling for $40 and trying to only spend $35. If we need the extra $5 then we don't hestitate, but if it doesn't get used it goes in with our "fun" money or we roll it over to the nest week. Also I have 4 grocery stores, Target, Walmart, and two drug stores to choose from to shop at. It helps to have choices. I probably go to three of those eight stores each week too, if not more depending on the sales. To answer the last question, yes as the family grows, I expect the budget to increase too. At this rate it averages to be $10 a person per week. Hopefully we can stick with that!

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9 Jodi August 12, 2010 at 3:04 pm

My hat is off to you ladies! I have some major work to do.

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10 jen August 12, 2010 at 3:19 pm

Dang -- I need help.. ours budget is out of control.. I have 2 adults, 16yr old twin boys (that are almost 6 ft tall) & a 3 yr old. How can i have this kind of budget??

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11 Janet August 12, 2010 at 5:26 pm

Jen,

Do you live near a Publix? Publixs accepts all competitor copons this is massive. Publixs also accepts a Publixs coupon and Manufc coupon one each for each item you have that matches. Plus Publixs allows overage.

Know your stores coupon policy.

The first thing I say with 16 year old's is get a handle on the soda
I bought one 6 pk per child per week it was all theirs if they wanted to share with a friend then they would not have a soda for the next day.If they wanted a 7th one to fill out the week the cash came out of their pocket for that one soda per week.

Chips and Snacks is the next area I buy two bags of chips and one of cookies each week when they are gone they are gone if they want more again they can dig into their cash for more. During school these are off limits because they are for packed lunches.

These two rules really cut me back on how much junk my kids eat and how much $ I spend at the stores.

I made after school snacks and the teens loved them I always made a big pot of homemade soup and I always made a about 4 trays of mini cup cakes to go with . Example Chilli and cornbread mini muffins, Potato soup and either ginerbread muffins or fudge muffins ( I mostly used cake mixes to make the mini muffins) This makes about 4 trays which they ate all of them each day! And the pot of soup and dinner!!!! The muffins can be made in tons of varieties any yellow cake mix and throw in any flavor you wish them to be. Add chocolate chips to a strawberry cake mix kids love these !
When I was working I would make this up on Sundays enough for three nights per week after school this helped the budget tons!!!!
Kids can eat breakfast free at school.
I hope some of these ideas help.
Cheese and crackers also work for growing boys and mine liked hard boiled eggs but try to get away from the snack foods they are just even more hungry after they eat like $8.00 worth of snacks.
Limit the sodas !

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12 Carrie August 12, 2010 at 6:02 pm

jen - my husband is 6'6", and our 6 year old is already 4'3" i believe the last time we measured him a few months ago. i asked him how we are going to feed him when he's a teenager (along with his crazy energetic sister, our 18 month old son who i'm sure will be just as tall, and baby on the way). he said "he'll work in a restaurant of some sort and get his own food!). :o) i know that doesn't totally answer your question, i just thought it was a humorous way of looking at feeding your boys! actually, it won't cost you anything and they will be MAKING $. not a bad idea! lol

but i agree with what janet said. cut out sugary stuff, and they stay fuller longer. processed foods are quick and easy, but they don't fulfill our hunger for any length of time.

it took us 2-3 months of couponing and going "over budget", but now, my weekly grocery bill for 2 adults and almost 4 kids under 6 is less than $70/week, including diapers and toilet paper. most weeks i keep it around $40-50, with some weeks even $0! just depends on the sales and what coupons i have, and what my stockpile is.

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13 Asmith August 12, 2010 at 6:04 pm

Don't beat yourself up. Buy on sale and stock up and use coupons etc but everyone can not have the same budget. Every family is different do the best you can. I have seen a few teenagers eat and I know that can put the food away. I enjoy couponing but I also like to eat and I enjoy cooking.
There are a few treats that my family enjoys and life is too short for me not buy them and enjoy. :)

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14 molly August 12, 2010 at 3:23 pm

I'm lucky, I don't have to coupon or have an extremely defined budget, however, I grew up in a household where we carefully thought about purchases and I've had a hard time getting that thinking out of my head! So, I do view couponing as a game and I have a huge stockpile. I only buy staples each week and anything else we will use that's at a great price. Sometimes my husband laughs, like when I came home with 20 five-pound bags of Pillsbury flour...but it was 88 cents a bag! And we cook from scratch almost exclusively, including making bread, so it was a no-brainer to me. I would say that I feed my family of 4-5 (mom's frequently over) for $70 a week.

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15 Melinda M August 12, 2010 at 3:35 pm

Disclaimer: we've been lax about our budget lately, so I'll tell you what I did when we had a strict budget (and what I need to be doing again).

When we are doing well on our budget, I budgeted $100 a week for all groceries - food and non-food items - for our family of 4.

First, know that where you live will have a huge impact on your groceries. Several factors affect your ability to reduce your budget: number of competing stores in proximity to your home, whether they will double/triple coupons, access to drug stores (CVS, Walgreens, RiteAid), and cost of living.

I live in a decent COL area and I have access to 3 different grocery stores plus Target, Walmart, CVS and Walgreens all within a 2 radius. I get the most mileage for my coupons at the drug stores for cleaning and health and beauty supplies. Because I can save so much money with those items, I have more to spend on food.

Combine coupons with great sales (not all sales are great) for the most impact. That is when you want to stock up.

Create a stockpile - enough to get you to the next big sale. You'll know how often those come around as you start keeping tabs with a pricebook. By building a stockpile, you won't run out of something and be forced to buy it at full price.

Be flexible. There are very few items to which I am brand loyal (the only one that comes to mind is toilet paper and it's a low-cost brand).

Figure out what you are spending now and try to reduce it incrementally until you reach a level at which you are comfortable.

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16 Susan August 12, 2010 at 4:03 pm

You will need to take into consideration the ages of your children, not just family size. A family of four with small children will not eat nearly as much as if those children were teenagers. Also, during football season, my grocery bill HAS to expand...my guys are eating much much more than they do the rest of the year. Your grocery needs really may fluctuate throughout the year. Also, my kids are huge milk drinkers...a gallon a day minimum. There's $100 a month alone.

I do a lot of stockpiling, and will go to several stores, and several times a week if I need to. I still have 4 kids at home(18,15,11,7), so our grocery needs are still high right now. If I can keep it to $100 a week, I'm really doing great. That includes all health and beauty aids and groceries. It usually ends up closer to about $600 a month.

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17 Susan August 12, 2010 at 4:04 pm

I just wanted to add, I'm in Florida, and no stores double coupons. :(

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18 Christy August 12, 2010 at 4:10 pm

For a Family of 6 I spend 100.00 a week. This counts cleaners and diapers and paper products and I have 3 in diapers. As the boys get bigger though, I expect to spend more on food, HAHA.

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19 courtney August 12, 2010 at 4:14 pm

I have a hard time being consistant. We have 5 boys, ages 11, 9, 6, 5 & 3. Between then and my husband I can't seem to keep anything in the cabinets or fridge. They are already eating me out of house and home. LOL . We just moved in May so while our house was on the market I got out of couponing and just got back into it within the last months as we have gotten setteled into our new house. BUT I also have a job now, after being a stay at home mom of 10 years, and I'm enrolled in to go back to school which starts in a week. So I am feeling a little overwhelmed that I am not going to be able to keep up with coupons and going to 3-5 different stores and clipping and homework, etc, and work to keep my budget as low as I could. But my real question is, what is reasonable for a family of 7, 6 of which are growing boys (and YES I am including my husband as a growing boy, because he still eats like one,lol!!) ?? Now we spend about $150-175 a week depending on sales ,etc.. I also try to be reasonable with my coupons too, like with print limits, etc, or peelies, I don't like to wipe out shelves, I don't think thats right, my philosophy is I usually take one coupon per child. Anyway, thanks for listening, Any advice would be much appreciated. I know there is no "perfect" number, some weeks there truely are better sales then others, and I can stock up, but I feel like if I had a number that I knew that it was not unreasonable to spend on our size family that I would not feel so bad going to the store every week and getting a decent abmount of groceries to get us through. Like this week we prett much had an empty fridge yesterday, and we dont shop til fridays, and we dont eat junk foods, and lots of snack foods, they just eat all the time, anything...lol
again thanks for listing to the rambles : )

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20 Amanda L August 12, 2010 at 4:54 pm

I have also struggled with this same thing. My husband and I have had a constantly changing budget for months now. We also moved and have been living in a hotel. That makes it much more difficult because you have limited means to cook things. I am trying to keep our budget under 50.00 a week for food and 10.00 a week for health and beauty. Since shopping at CVS and Walgreens, I have been able to do much better. The only grocery store here though is very expensive. Our Target also has very limited grocery items.

My advice is to keep working on the budget. I seperate out food, health and beauty, and eating out. For me, its easier to track everything when its in its own category. Some people want 3 categories where as I have about 20 for the month. I like to be very organized..probably to a fault. I also don't have children and I can forsee things changing a great deal when that happens. Best of luck! And don't stress, there is no budget police if you go over what you had your heart set on. Just do the best you can!

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21 Julie August 12, 2010 at 5:01 pm

We spend between $40-$50 a week for the 2 of us. This is only food items. All paper goods and cat food, etc. is separate and I budget $25 a week for that but hardly ever spend that much.

I only have one grocery store, Wal-mart, Rite Aid, and Family Dollar to work with. When we lived closer to other stores, it was much easier. The stores here do not double coupons. I use some coupons but a lot of what I do is just cooking from scratch, getting creative with leftovers, and buying only what is on sale unless we really, really need it.

It also helps that last fall one of the dairy cows on my cousin's farm had to be butchered. So I got a half a cow (only ground meat though. dairy cow doesn't make very good nice cuts of meat) for about $195. Still going through it too.

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22 Siubhan P August 12, 2010 at 5:05 pm

Does anyone live in California?? These seem like non-California budgets.... I have a family of 3 adults & 2 kids (11,7). I work full time so I can't spend too much time coupon-ing or driving all over town but I do work hard to save some money with my weekly coupons and online sites like this one and we still spend atleast $600 month on groceries alone. No local stores double coupons that I know of and of course my high price items are the meat, fish, fruit & veggies. Any ideas on how to save on those big ticket items? I've tried to ward off Safeway as much as possible and stick with Target since that is way cheaper than the grocery stores but I still have to get the meat & veggies there. We are expecting a new baby and I will be home for a few months so any help on saving some extra money is definitely welcome.

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23 Dizzy Mommy August 12, 2010 at 5:12 pm

I honestly can tell you I think alot depends on where you live. My family in Iowa can spend $50 on a family of 4 for the week and eat like kings without coupons. Here in Detroit that would be impossible. Also I long ago learned not to be brand picky. I do know in Cali things are way more expensive in general but the income amounts are also higher. What my family makes in South Cali compared to what Dh and I make here outside Detroit is huge. Its like houses are 750 easy in cali, here 750 is a giant mansion with land. My uncle moved to Detroit from Santa Barbera and lives in a big house with a brand new car and even a horse. Plus he has money in the bank from selling his house. I think budgets are hard to compare because living in a big city, living in different regions or states everything is different. My wedding was $40 grand easy, my cousins couldve invited a thousands people for what I paid for a nice wedding here.

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24 Kathy August 14, 2010 at 10:40 am

I am with you! We live in CA and I am struggling to keep our budget to $500 a month for household and grocery. We have a family of 4. I use coupons as much as possible and stockpile when I find a good sale. If our stores would double coupons, I could probably cut my budget in half!

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25 Dizzy Mommy August 12, 2010 at 5:06 pm

Now that I am a major couper user I stock up on items like Pasta, PB and Jelly, Ragu, when prices are extremely low. We dont really have a budget persay, but I spend no more then $30 a week on my family of 6 plus my brother-in-law. I know it sounds hard but really I've found its easy. It even lets us go out to eat once a week. My husbands in construction and we live well basically in Detroit. I buy whats the cheapest things at Meijer and Kroger then supplament fresh veggies and meats. I have 2 kids (5 and 8) who wont eat meat really at all. Which is funny becasue I come from a cattle ranch family. We all dont eat alot and so its easier. My eldest isnt home 2-3 nights a week because she is at friends houses (shes 15). I also give my brother in law staples that are filling like this week he got 5 boxes of hamburger helper, the hamburger (thanks to Krogers school supplies money maker), PB, and a thing of Jelly with 2 loaves of bread. I also gave him pasta, kraft singles, and ragu. I never ever give him snack foods but for pb crackers. Some weeks I spend 10 bucks some weeks I spend 50, but as long as my cupboards are full and we can afford Columbus in Oct. for the Pro Bull Riding event its all good.

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26 Karen August 12, 2010 at 5:09 pm

It might be easier to look at cost per meal instead of weekly dollar amounts. I try to keep the cost of dinner down to $1 or less per person. It takes menu planning, but that helps me rotate things out of the freezer/pantry-use planned leftovers for lunch or other meals-and we stay out of fast food places cause I never have the "what am I going to fix for dinner" problem. I only buy fruit/veg that's in season. Using CVS/Walgreens sales keeps our personal needs stocked and I take care of household (detergents, cleaners) out of the grocery money. No double cpns here in Florida and no teens to feed right now!

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27 Janet August 12, 2010 at 5:11 pm

The first step for me was looking at the dinner meal. Let's say I am serving Steaks, Chicken, or something like Hamburger or Pork Chop or even Fish.
For me the place to start is how much do I need to reasonalby feed all 7 or us. So 3 nights per week I plan a full meal then one or two nights I pick to just add a bit of meat to a stir fry or a pasta dish , I almost always serve either breakfast for dinner with out meat or one additional meal of something not meat / something like loaded potato and salad, another pasta meal, a platter for everyone of just veggies, soup and bread for dinner in the winter.
We do many leftovers for lunch or free items. We do free or really cheap items for breakfast. So for me I try to spend $7.00 per person per day per household . This buys me all my food, cleaners, over the counter meds, makeup everything that comes into the home except for the few things I buy at Staples like ink and paper for our printer. Plus the items I buy at Lowes like special lightbulbs and filters for the ac/heat and RX Prescription meds are also additional.. Everything else I get for $7.00 per day per person If I run really short I order an Angel Ministry box or this past winter I swallowed my pride and went to the food pantry two weeks. However, I keep on budget because I have no choice. I hope this helps someone out there.

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28 Joy August 12, 2010 at 5:37 pm

I have three boys (ages 8 & 11). My goal is to stay under $100 a week for groceries. Some weeks it is easy to do depending on B1G1 sales at Price Chopper combined with Qs. Other weeks I go a little bit over. This does not include health, beauty, cleaning, etc. That is a sep. budget. My goal for that is $60 or less a week.

And yes I agree that boys eat a lot! I cannot keep up with them this summer. We have been going through three gallons of milk a week this summer. It used to be only one!

I stock up on frozen ravioli and cereal when they are B1G1 and bread when they are B1G2. I only buy bread when it is B1G2. And I only buy cereal if it is B1G1 and have coupons for them.

Buying healthy produce and meat is our biggest grocery expense. Luckily, it is summer so grandpa has been keeping us fully stocked with fresh veggies along with my cherry tomatoes.

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29 Joy August 12, 2010 at 5:47 pm

Forgot to add that unless it is a staple (milk, bread, butter, etc.) I will do without until a coupon comes along and a good sales, esp. on junk food like ice cream and snacks.

We do eat a lot of homemade popcorn as a snack at night instead of other snacks. We also only have soda about once a month, if that. And we don't drink coffee. So that cuts down on some costs, too. Actually, I take that back. Dh waits until he gets to work and then has free coffee at work. He doesn't do drive-thru coffee to save $$.

Some of our food is supplemented by stuff dh brings home from work. He works for a food distributor and sometimes they get to bring home full or mega size samples. Right now I don't have to buy ketchup for at least a year. LOL.

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30 Jenny August 12, 2010 at 9:53 pm

How do you make homemade popcorn? Sounds like something I'd like to try!

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31 Megan August 12, 2010 at 10:52 pm

I can't say what Joy uses, but I always use oil & plain kernels (Orvil Red. goes on sale often in Publix, in the chips aisle!) You can also get a huge bag of storebrand kernels from Walmart for like $1, but those don't pop as well.

Get a medium sized pot *with a lid*, throw in enough oil to cover the bottom, and heat the oil about a minute. Then add enough kernels so that they're just peeking out of the oil, and reduce the heat on the pot. Normally you need to shake the pot around a few times to get things going, but when there's a pretty rapid pop started take the pot off the heat. You could melt better to mix on, but usually they have a little oil left over from cooking that tastes nice enough alone.

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32 Gina November 21, 2010 at 7:50 am

Another easy and enjoyable way to make popcorn at home is to put 1/4 cup of kernels in a paper lunch bag with a 1/2 tablespoon of vegetable oil. Fold the bag over twice and crimp. Give it a few hard shakes to coat the corn with the oil and stick in the microwave for a couple of minutes. You will have homemade microwave popcorn in no time, much less expensive and with out all the preservatives. My kids like it plain but I add the super fine "popcorn" salt and sometimes a shake of cheesey popcorn seasoning. YUM!!

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33 Amanda August 12, 2010 at 6:48 pm

We are a family of two adults and one large dog. We spend $300 a month on food, tp, cleaning supplies,etc. We love fresh produce and try to do organic and natural to an extent. We also do mostly natural cleaning and beauty supplies. I know our grocery budget isn't low like some other folks, but i feel like with couponing and sales, we've been able to the quality of what we eat on that amount.

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34 Sarah K. August 12, 2010 at 8:07 pm

We're right with you Amanda-- but we have the equivalent of one large dog in the form of three cats. (o:

I'm moving us more and more to organic products when I can find them (our grocery store has all of one aisle dedicated to natural products... and the other store has none). Where are you located, if you don't mind sharing? It's nice to see someone with a similar budget!

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35 Sarah K. August 12, 2010 at 8:04 pm

I started seriously couponing and keeping track of our budget in January, with basically no stockpile. It's just my husband and me, and we live in a fairly rural section of Central PA where coupons are "doubled" to a dollar (i.e. a 75 cent coupon is a dollar off) with some limitations. I eat a lot of fruits/veggies and try to buy natural/organic products as often as possible, including meat, which gets pricey. We also have a garden and so some canning and freezing.

I have been gradually reducing our budget every month or couple of months (our budget includes more or less all "household" expenses like cleaners, hygiene products and food, and items for donation, but not things like clothing, eating out, gas...). I started at $450 a month and plan to be at $300/month by the end of the year. Based on the last two months I'm thinking we could do $200-$250/month-- I'm at about $90 for this month now, and we're nearly half way through.

I've really enjoyed reading everyone's budgets-- it's inspiring! Thanks all! Hope this helps someone else!

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36 Andrea August 12, 2010 at 8:17 pm

I'm able to feed my family of 4 organics and whole foods for $90 a week. I plan ahead and I stockpile when I can.

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37 Traci August 12, 2010 at 9:07 pm

My current budget is $250 per month for 2 adults and 1 toddler, however we eat almost all organic. I mainly shop at Earth Fare, but I do supplement with items from Target and Kroger. I have found that I can get cheaper organic produce and fruit from Kroger, but I buy all our meat from Earth Fare (I love their philosophy and values as far as animal produce are concerned-humane treatment from birth to slaughter). Also Earth Fare offers a lot of coupons and free items, so I can't resist going there each week!!!

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38 Renee August 12, 2010 at 9:39 pm

I shop only once or twice a month. I find that the more times you go into a store the more money I spend. Maybe that's my lack of self control but I find that if I go 3 times in a month I spend twice what I would if I only went once.

Buy meats in bulk. I buy a ten lb bag of chicken and ground beef at a much cheaper price. Check local butcher and delicatessens - most people assume they are pricier. I've found the opposite. At the mom and pop meat shop near us I can get ground beef 50 cents cheaper per lb and chicken $1 cheaper per lb. Then bring it home and store in freezer bags to the size your family needs.

My biggest struggle with budget is baby food. My daughter is 15 months and VERY picky with foods and textures (I have no clue why - my hubby and I are the least picky people and I offer her EVERYTHING). But baby food is super expensive - so I try to make my own when I have time.

Our budget is in the process of being cut back majorly. I stockpile whenever I can. I use coupons whenever I can. Find ways to make things yourself instead of buying it premade. Still our budget is way higher than it needs to be. It was $50 dollars a week for 2 adults and one toddler, but like I said I'm majorly cutting it back. In the past 2 months I've spent about $350 so far and I'm sure I'm done for the month.

If you have a BJs nearby go and ask for a sample membership. Once you're on their mailing list. They will mail you a sample membership for 6 months once a year or so. I go every so often with my mom who is a member and STOCKPILE.

Sign up for free samples. I haven't bought shampoo or soap or lotion in nearly a year because I get free samples in the mail all the time.

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39 Melanie August 13, 2010 at 7:46 am

I just wanted to mention that they types of foods you buy are going to vastly impact your budget as well. I live in New England and my husband and I are able to live on $150/month for groceries (not including toiletries or cleaning supplies) because we buy only basic ingredients and cook everything from scratch. No TV dinners, no snacks, no prepared foods (with the exception of spaghetti sauce).

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40 Megan August 13, 2010 at 10:22 am

My husband and I do about $120/month, but really lately I've needed to stock up on meat. Luckily there have been some good prices last week and looks like more good prices this week (in New England too.)

The thing to remember is too see what you have been spending, as that gives you a guide for seeing how you can reduce it. I'm stocking my freezer these two weeks and will probably go a bit over what we normally spend, but the weeks following will be lower. If you've ever seen a budget from any company, they look at their budget by year and then by month. Sometimes they go over one month and under another month. It's a way of moving around money.

I also have to decide if we can afford to stock up. Our finances are tight and I have to make sure we have money for our bills. This does make it sticky, but I often have some of those $5 gift cards from Target that I can use when our checkbook isn't looking so hot.

Don't get disheartened, as it takes time to figure out how to help your budget based on where you live. It took me a year to get in a good routine.

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41 Joyce August 13, 2010 at 11:27 am

I am a single mom of 4 teen boys, and we only spend about $200 a month on groceries because of my couponing skills! Sometimes it's more if there is a good sale, but my budget is $50 a week.

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42 fran August 13, 2010 at 1:12 pm

I am impressed. Where are you from. I am on Long Island and the prices here are through the roof........

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43 Stacy August 13, 2010 at 12:18 pm

Hi ladies! This has been an interesting read.
We are trying to learn how to be much more frugal at our home. Heck, I even talked my 13 year old into at least looking at a re-sale shop yesterday, for back to school. Well, guess what?!?! She found three pairs of perfectly good jeans at $8-11 each and it was buy two, get one free day! Yeah for us.
We are definitely on the beginning of a long learning curve, I can see from all of your posts. I guess my first step is to figure out just what we are spending now. I truly do not know! That sounds bad, I know.
My husband lost his job back in March and we are now learning to live of of our savings and what very little we get in unemployment (which right now is zero and is supposed to start up soon though). I'm trying to find coupons and we have been cooking and eating a lot of homemade things, such as beans. We have pretty much quit eating out. That was one of our biggest downfalls in the past. I can see that clearly now!! Even when one, or both of us, does find that elusive job, I am hoping to make cost cutting be a permanent part of our lives! I really need to get a handle on the food/grocery end of things. That is my goal right now, so this topic is quite timely for me. Thanks for the posts!!
Cheers,
Stacy

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44 Stacy August 13, 2010 at 12:20 pm

Oh .......we have a freezer, and I cleared out a hall closet to be a pantry.
We live in Arizona. Some prices are decent, others not so. We tend to buy organic milk and other dairy for our family.......2 adults, one 13 year old and one 9 year old. :)

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45 Elisabeth August 13, 2010 at 12:53 pm

We are a family of 5 including three small children. I was couponing every week and having a blast. However, I realized that without a set budget, I was spending way too much. My husband and I sat down and realized that our grocery/household expenses were around $500! When we actually matched up our income with our expenses we were forced to limit our spending to $150/month or only $37.50 per week. From this amount we determined what grocery items would be most important each week. We have a produce co-op here that is $16.50 a week for about 30-40 pounds of fruits and veggies. Here are a few other things that we have done that have helped us stay with our budget:

* I create a menu each week with three meals and two snacks. I make sure to build in times when we eat out, with friends or warm-ups from the fridge.
* I mix in some dry milk in the jug when about 1/2 of the store milk is gone. So far, my kids haven't noticed, but they don't quite drink as much when I do this :)
* I make a list of items that I want and about how much to spend on each. For example, I list cheese will cost about $3 each week and milk will be $4 for two gallons.
* I try to shop only one day a week. The more trips to the store, the more I spend and forget that I bought items.
* My husband and I communicate openly about what items we've purchased so there are no surprised on our bank account.
* I regularly check my money-saving blogs to keep up on where the good deals are.
* I print my coupons on "fast normal" which prints a good, lower quality coupon thus saving on ink.
* I bake my own bread, buns, rolls, and pizza dough. I also can fruits, veggies and meat. When I find an amazing deal on almost-expired chicken or ground beef, I buy 10-20 pounds and can it. It really isn't that difficult, and I feel awesome seeing all those jars in my pantry. Plus, it makes dinner super fast to prepare.
* Lastly, my husband and I try to keep our portions in control. It's easy to make and eat too much, but we both could use a little slimming down anyway.

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46 Beth in central Ohio August 13, 2010 at 1:06 pm

I do a bi-weekly budget (it just works better for me than a monthly one). I allow $50 per week for groceries, including all toiletries, cleaning supplies, pet food & litter, and my "adult drinks". I'm a single mom with an almost-17 year old daughter, a large dog, 2 cats, and 2 rats.

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47 Ana August 14, 2010 at 2:37 am

I was wondering if anyone does HFCS/preservative/additives free and organic grocery shopping? I used to be able to keep down our costs when I bought all pre packaged junk but now that we are trying to be healthier , some things are just ALWAYS expensive and do not have coupons ever.

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48 Jody August 15, 2010 at 9:24 am

Our grocery budget, for myself and 6 children (plus 3 fulltime daycare kids) is $100 per week. It was determined by what I could afford at the time, and once I started with that I stuck with it ... no reason to spend more if I don't need to and I'd rather other money goes towards debt - and really, as long as there's debt there's no "extra" money to spend. That $100 also covers all cleaning, paper, clothing, etc. products ... basically, it's what we can spend a week on whatever we need to buy. We are very limited on stores to choose from (Publix, Target, Walmart) and our stores don't double coupons ... maybe that makes it harder, I have no idea, but it certainly doesn't make it impossible ... set a budget and a plan that keeps you from going over it (I only shop with cash - that $100 goes into my purse each week, once it's gone it's gone ... no wiggle room there!) and you can and will make it work because you haven't given yourself a choice.

I think the biggest thing is to shop by what's on sale and plan meals that way, rather than shopping for what you want and hitting a sale item or two, if that makes sense. If strawberries are super cheap one week that's what we'll be eating, whether we'd rather have blueberries or not (unless we've already got frozen blueberries from the last time they were on sale super cheap!).

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49 Kris August 17, 2010 at 1:23 pm

I think my situation is different than a lot of others. It's just my husband and myself, no kids yet. I didn't set a budget for us, just focused on using coupons and getting deals for items we use. Then another lady I know who coupons, also a family of only 2 adults, mentioned her budget and I started to keep track of mine and it was way higher. So about half-way through the year last year I started to try and stay under $400 for grocery and household/personal items. Sometimes I did it, other times i didn't. This year I decided to make it $330/month and include dog food. So far I've only gone over $300 a couple of months. Part of the reason is that I want to start a family soon and husband freaks out about money, so if I can get us on a budget and used to it, then I have a better chance of sticking to the budget when we do start a family instead of trying to do all this once a baby comes and I'm freaking out as a new Mom.

Now..that being said. Since I've been doing a lot better than expected so far this year, I'm now focusing on eating healthier and staying within my budget. This includes buying organic/cage free eggs and meat, non-cow's milk milk, sugar that has no extra chemicals, organic items, etc. All this stuff cost a lot more. I'm slowly switching out staples with healthier alternatives. The challenge is in keeping within my budget and buying the more expensive items. Only time will tell how well I can do with this. I might actually increase the grocery budget for next year if I find I need to.

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50 Melissa August 18, 2010 at 3:11 pm

I am the world's worst couponer. I can't ever seem to remember to pick up the Sunday paper, I print coupons I never use, it's just horrible. Eventually, I decided to go another route. I decided to start making all our own personal items. To date, I make our own laundry detergent and we use Vinegar for our fabric softener. Turns out we all like our clothes better this way! We don't have issues with allergies (due to fragrance), our towels once again absorb water (softeners prevent this), and our clothes aren't stained anymore! Best part, since the kids all have either allergies, asthma or sensory issues I had to bye dye free, perfume free detergents and softener. Translation = expensive. It costs next to nothing to make your own detergent! I have all the things I need to try homemade dishwasher detergent now. Then we'll do homemade toothpaste followed by deodorant.

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51 Gina November 21, 2010 at 7:59 am

How much vinegar do you use in the wash cycle?

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52 leslie March 30, 2011 at 11:59 pm

melissa, what recipe do you use for your homemade laundry detergent? i made my first batch not too long ago, but i am wanting to try other recipes to see if i can find ones i like better. here is a recipe for dishwasher detergent. use equal portions of borax, baking soda, and water. put 2 to 3 tablespoons @ beginning of dishwasher cycle like you would normal dishwashing detergent. it works great. i also heard you can use vinegar in the rinse agent thing...

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53 sherry January 31, 2011 at 5:20 pm

Great work ladies!! I am really amazed Now can anyone help me in planning my budget? Now me and my husband work FT and we are using all our money. My new year resolution is to save money atleast one salary. So now I need to run all my house in 3000$ I have a daughter 3 months , we dont have publix here. The major grocery shops in my area are big y, stop n shop. Can any body help me organize and run the family in 3000$ ? I get fully reimbersed for day care. so its going to be rent (1350 ) + Groceries + everything? Do you think it is possible?

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54 Tara August 21, 2012 at 10:58 am

This is just amazing! you ladies are like wizards with the ways you can stretch a dollar.

Thank you for the inspiration!
Tara

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