Six More Ways I’m Going to Try to Save on My Grocery Budget (Plus a Quick $25 Giveaway!)

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Matt and I have exactly one more year until we have two kids in college. At that point, assuming all of our kids choose to go to college after high school, we will have two in college until 2024. Thinking of the financial hit we will take because of this…

I pass out cold.

The good news is that having more than one kid in college offers additional grants for students. The other good news is that our kids have been working hard for years and saving money to help pay their own way through college. More good news is that my kids have worked hard to receive and maintain good scholarships to make their college bill lower.

I start to pick myself up off the floor…

But the bad news is that even a “lower priced” college costs around $25,000/year. I can pretty quickly do the math on that, because four kids times four years equals $400,000. And with that…

I fall down dead.

Praise God for scholarships and hard working kids that make that total much lower, but still. Matt and I have made plans to help each son with a specific dollar amount each year. To state the obvious, when we have two in college at one time, we will be forking out twice that dollar amount every year.

Someone please throw a glass of cold water on my face.

One would think my grocery bill would go down as the kids fly the coop, but so far, that hasn’t been the case. As our personal savings account has dwindled recently because of a business investment for my husband (allow me to introduce to you our town’s newest Radon Mitigation Specialist), and then our family van died suddenly, I have felt challenged to reconsider what I wrote a few weeks ago about my huge grocery budget.

In that post I said:

  • There are no other ways I can cut our grocery bill.
  • My teenagers eat an enormous amount of food.
  • I give up.

Or something like that.

It is true that my teens eat huge portions. This isn’t because they are excessive. It is because they are hungry. (A mom of one tiny baby recently suggested I simply cut them off and don’t let them eat as much. That is only a good idea on opposite day.)

But I am challenging myself to think even more frugally about groceries as we move toward our near future with buying a new vehicle and sending boy #2 to college in a year. (I shan’t skimp on Kleenex. The tears have already started about next year’s graduation. I can’t help it.)

Ways I already save on real food

  1. I make a lot of our food from scratch.
  2. I keep our meals simple, not elaborate.
  3. I price-match to get good deals on produce in my small town.
  4. I preserve food from our garden if there happens to be any excess.
  5. We only eat out when traveling, and then often we pack our food to take with us.
  6. I avoid expensive produce that is not “in season.”
  7. I buy our meat in bulk and our eggs and milk from local farmers, all for reasonable prices.
  8. I watch for mark-downs on any of our favorites at the grocery store.
  9. I stock up on anything we use often whenever it is on sale.
  10. I stock up at Aldi on staples whenever I make a trip to the city.
  11. I stopped buying everything organic even though it makes me cringe a little bit.

6 More Ways I'm Going to Try to Save on My Real Food Grocery Budget

Ways I think I can do better as we try to rebuild our savings

  1. Go to the store about every week and a half instead of every week. (Sounds like a good experiment, huh?)
  2. Don’t buy pre-packaged snacks for the boys to eat at games, even if they are “healthier” and even if they are a good deal.
  3. Serve more eggs and meatless meals. (I might have a revolt. To be continued…)
  4. Stop buying cereal. (I rarely buy this anyway, but what if I stopped altogether?)
  5. Eat some of the “random stuff” hanging out in the back of the pantry and freezer whether it’s exciting or not.
  6. Cut back on cheese, or let cheese replace meat sometimes. (Like in this recipe.)

30 Real Food Money Saving Tips

I plan to peruse this book again to trigger more ideas (get yours here – it’s free!). Knowing my family situation (four teenage sons, big eaters, focus on eating nourishing foods instead of fillers), do you have any more suggestions to share?

I’ll share an update in a few weeks once I see how some of these experiments go!

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Comments

  1. Kimberly says

    Wow—-I am praying for you and your sweet family re: these dilemmas as soon as I finish writing this. And I’m not saying that just because of the giveaway! :-)

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    Laura Reply:

    You are so kind, Kimberly. Thank you!

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  2. Jessica says

    I am looking at some build your own options, but I’m not totally sure it’s in our budget. Going to look for some wiggle room:)

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  3. Laura T says

    Oh the grocery budget dilemma is so real in our house too! I have two young children and a not-so-young husband who all eat a lot. We don’t eat out and I cook from scratch. everyday. Single. Day. We too have a large garden and preserve and freeze what we can. I buy local meat in bulk as available and my mom raises hens so we have eggs. Still, many months our food costs are $800-1100 for the four of us. This does not include household items like cleaning supplies or toiletries. I whole heartedly agree that food is our healthcare as we do not have helpful insurance except for catastrophes. Each month I look to ‘spend less than last month’ but somehow that rarely happens. Mid winter months we do spend less but this time of year our costs are higher. I know I could significantly reduce our food costs but worry that compromising on quality would have a negative impact. I do not buy all organic anything and often will opt for conventional produce if it’s more locally grown. Meat is a big one for us, at an average of $6/lb for local beef and pork, and more like $10/lb for chicken, I do my best. We have plans to purchase a quarter beef critter and half out this fall which is fabulous!

    I think your ideas are sound and worth trying. Avoiding ALL convenience foods, even the healthier options is a good starting point. We don’t but many either, but I am going to try cutting them out altogether. It also makes a lot of sense to incorporate vegetarian protein to help bulk out meals or replace meat occasionally. Eggs are my go-to for this as we have access to organic free range. Shopping my pantry first is also on my agenda moving forward. I plan to inventory my pantry and freezer at the start of each month and will do my best to use what I already have.

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  4. Lori Payer says

    Our daughter was able to do her undergrad studies and graduate in 3 years instead 4 by averaging 20 units per quarter which saved a years tuition. Both of her grad programs were 2 year programs that waived her tuition and provided a job teaching undergrad students while she was in the programs. These things along with scholarships and grants helped her get through her college career.

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    Laura Reply:

    That is awesome! I am incredibly thankful for scholarships and hard working kids!

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    Sharon Reply:

    Have you looked into CLEP exams? That is another way to save on college courses if they can CLEP out of certain classes. Many of the graduates from my daughter’s school have graduated in 3-years due to AP college credits and CLEP.

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    Lori Payer Reply:

    Forgot to add: I really like the Healthy Family bundle.

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  5. Amber says

    Laura, I salute you and your family for how hard you are working to save and plan for college! Few teens seem to understand the significance of $100K plus.

    Have you ever heard of CLEP and DSST tests? They are like great big finals, but they are very doable, especially for smart kids like yours, and they cost about $100 and are worth 3 to 6 credits each. They are fully accredited and are accepted at many (most?) accredited schools and some non-accredited. I received my degree for around $20K total by getting 80 credits through CLEPs. For the rest of my degree, I took online classes from various accredited colleges and transferred to Thomas Edison State University. TESU specializes in helping self-directed adults transfer credits to finish their degrees.

    I highly recommend Lumerit Education (http://lumerit.com/), formerly CollegePlus!, a Christian coaching system that guides students through CLEPs and DSSTs and helps them plan their degree with TESU. Also, because TESU is geared toward adults, they really like to see younger students (normal kids entering college at 18 or so) pursuing a degree if they come from Lumerit (they have an association with Lumerit).

    Sorry for bombarding you with all this info! Just wanted to let you know how my sister and I were able to get our degrees very cheaply. :)

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    Laura Reply:

    Yes! I’ve checked into this for our kids. Our two oldest are good students but not good test takers when it comes to tests like this. So they’ve opted out of clepping, however they take college classes for dual credit beginning their sophomore year of high school, which saves quite a bit of money in the long run for them. I’ll look into lumerit! That is awesome that you got 80 credits this way. Wow!

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    Amber Reply:

    Oh, sure! Clepping is definitely not for everyone! So glad your kids can do dual credit, that’s great! Thanks for putting up with all my rambling. :)

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    Laura Reply:

    Very helpful! So much to learn from other people’s experiences!

    Lynn Reply:

    Just a thought too on college. Both of my kids have to pay for their college careers via scholarships and working. CLEP tests work for some and you don’t have to pass by a huge margin to get credit for a class. My daughter has a 4.0 average and she took a CLEP test passing with a C. However, she passed, got the credit, and the grade on the CLEP does not affect her GPA.
    My son will have to work and try for scholarships to pay for his college if he attends. I suggested that he can work part time and go to school part time. The sky won’t fall if one doesn’t get through in 4 years.
    Also, I am old, didn’t have my first kid until age 38. I have told my kids again and again that college is not a “right”, but a privilege, and they will have to earn the privilege as Mom and Dad aren’t paying for it. However, we are not total meanies as we do help out here and there. It is amazing how much better my kids do with college when they “own” it. (We homeschooled too, btw.)

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    Laura Reply:

    Yes! I’ve been amazed at watching my oldest work incredibly hard to earn and maintain scholarships to help pay his way. He received a high academic scholarship, which means he has to maintain a 3.75 or higher GPA to keep it, so he WORKS SO HARD at keeping his grades up! Allthewhile, he spends hours a week working with his soccer team to keep that scholarship and a few more hours a week for his choir scholarship and a few more hours a week with work study. So basically, he doesn’t sleep. Ha! Whatever is left after all of this and after the amount we’ve agreed to help with is on him. You’re right – when they own it, they work for it. It’s great to watch them take responsibility for their education and the money it takes to pay for it!

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  6. Christa says

    I’m going to be building my own bundle and most likely taking advantage of the buy 2 get 1 free deal.

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  7. Jocelyn says

    My husband and I were just talking about how we could reduce our grocery bill–it is so hard! I’m also going to try reducing the number of trips I take to the store and using up all the things in our freezer. We are going to try to make it a family project in hopes that it will reduce the complaining!
    Thank you for the BYB contest–I would like to either build my own or the Elementary #2 package :)

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  8. Serenity Summers says

    I’m actually not interested in the giveaway but I had to tell you that you made me laugh:). The cost of college is staggering…. If I were to send my 6 kiddos to Harding (where Lucas and I graduated) it would cost almost $800,000!!!!! I don’t love Harding that much ????

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  9. Rh says

    I don’t have older kids like yours, and you may do this already, but often I use either beans/lentils/quinoa to mix in with my ground beef or turkey to make it go further and keep some protein. I also sometimes purée white beans or chick peas to add to homemade Mac n cheese to add protein while trying to hide the beans. (Adding a little nutritional yeast can make this taste a little better I think.) I always walk past the meat at any grocery store to see if anything is marked down and I can freeze it until we need it. We also try to use cheaper whole foods like carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, beans, rice, or other grains like barley or quinoa as ‘fillers’ to go with some meat.

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  10. Mitzi Layton says

    Plant your own garden and learn to harvest your own seeds. I save a ton by making our own salsa and spaghetti sauce etc from my own garden produce.

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  11. Alexa says

    From following all your grocery posts for a few years now, I have one tip that will save serious money but may cause a major revolution…… Stop buying more expensive produce regardless if its seasonal or not. We do this when trying to save. No berries, melon, avocados, pineapple, prepackaged lettuce, sweet peppers etc. Figure out how much of these you eat per meal and they quickly become much more costly than cabbage, carrots, bananas, potatoes etc. You may need to swap some of those around depending on whats cheapest where you live but we have a set per lb limits we will pay for conventional (.99) and organic produce (1.99). If its above the limit, we dont buy it.
    I absolutely love these posts by the way! They are my favorite for sure!

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  12. Rebecca H. says

    I totally agreed with your first post on why you spend so much on food, we are in the same boat. Like you though I am always re evaluating and trying to find ways to save!

    As for the book bundles i like the early learning!

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  13. Kristin says

    We cut back on our grocery bill by switching from organic or regular milk. The thought still makes me cringe, but if you can’t afford it, you can’t afford it. And we would go through almost 4 gallons a week. So cutting that expense in half was huge for us. And like you say…I’m leaving it to God to be bigger than the food we eat. He can cover that. (We have 4 boys still at home)

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  14. Jen says

    I can’t imagine having to feed that many growing boys! You definitely have some great ideas for food budgeting. When we feel the pinch we try to eat out of the freezer and pantry for a couple weeks which helps. Having a small garden helps too as long as it produces. Our 11 year old van just died so I feel your pain. I would be interested in any of the elementary bundles. They all look good!

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  15. says

    Laura, I have been a “whole foods” home cook for about 25 years. However, during the recession, our income went down drastically and has remained lower. I did research on frozen versus fresh fruits and veggies and really feel good about serving my family frozen as opposed to fresh when there is a cost saving and there usually is. Aldi has great frozen veggies, one of our favorites being the steamable mixed. (They taste the same as Cascadian Farm to us.) They also have great prices on frozen fruit for smoothies. Also, I know I asked you about Zaycon a couple weeks ago, perhaps think about being an affiliate with them to lower your protein costs. Maybe they would deliver to your church like they do in our hometown. Blessings! (I don’t need the bundle, I homeschooled my sons for 23 years with the last one graduating last spring!)

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    Laura Reply:

    Thank you for your ideas! I checked into Zaycon because I would love to be a part of what they offer, but the closest they deliver is an hour away, and it would not be convenient for me to schedule in the pick-up time. Otherwise, I would definitely do it!!

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  16. R says

    I don’t homeschool, but some of those books would be fun or helpful, such as the Ancient History Cookbook!

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  17. Bethany says

    I can only imagine how hard it is to keep your boys filled up! We switched to grocery shopping every 2 weeks with a set amount of cash and it has made a huge difference in how much we spend. I usually have extra every month which allows us to save for 1/4 beef share, 5 gallon tub of coconut oil, etc.

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  18. Christina says

    Character studies bundle, CM or Unit Studies, and A Journey Through Learning. It would be really hard to choose! :)

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  19. Kathleen says

    We’ve had to work hard on keeping the food budget as low as possible. While the overall dollar amount has stayed the same ($1000/mo, 3 teen boys, 2 parents) for years, the boys are growing and eating more and prices are going up. To combat that we:
    1) Beans & Rice supper once a week. We do add some cheese or guacamole for fat satiety.
    2) Save enough supper for lunch the next day. This seriously has cut our expenses because the boys don’t eat a meal while preparing their meal. (Only the moms of teen boys would get this one!)
    3) Set a per pound price limit on produce and buy accordingly. Strawberries in January are never a good deal. Neither are apples in July. Preserve what you can when it is in season and cheaper. Can, freeze, dehydrate.
    4) No prepackaged individual portion anythings. Need a quick snack? Eat a carrot. Don’t want a carrot? You aren’t hungry.
    5) Drink water. Not juice, coffee, tea, soda, etc. Water is cheap. Everything else is a treat.
    6) Set a monthly budget. Set aside a portion for “pantry” items, such as pasta, beans, rice, flour, peanut butter, cooking oil, etc. Divide the rest by the number of weeks. That is ALL you have to spend each week. (Those who buy a whole cow or other once a season meat purchases can set aside a portion each month for that as well.) Sometimes the last few days of the month will be beans and rice. You aren’t poor, you are wise.
    7) Don’t go to the grocery until the fridge is empty. If you can make a meal out of what is in there, wait one more day to go.
    8) Read blogs like this one to realize you aren’t the only one in this boat, and glean for that one idea you hadn’t tried yet.

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  20. connie says

    hi laura………my husband is a home inspector which often includes doing a radon test and referring a mitigation specialist to his clients. too bad we live a couple states away, otherwise he would obviously refer them to matt!! good luck with the new business – and saving grocery money! :)

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  21. C. Webb says

    Thanks for sharing your challenges. My second child graduates this year, too.

    I love looking at the bundles, but I’ve never actually purchased one. I’d like to get the Special Needs bundle.

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  22. 6SweetViolets says

    I’m praying for you and for the search for a new van. May God bless you big–and I look forward to hearing the story of His provision! Love your suggestions for cutting the grocery budget. I’m working on trying the “shop less” one, too, even when I come home and the kids say, “I forgot to put this and this on the list…can you go back and get them?” I’ve been saying, “Put it on the list and I’ll get it next time…we’ll have to survive without sour cream (or whatever) for a week or so!”

    It’s hard to decide on the bundles. I’d like to build a bundle to go with our curriculum this next year–so much of it looks great!

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  23. Charity says

    I love the build your own bundle feature! Being able to choose which curriculum will work best for me is great.

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  24. Amber says

    Early learning bundle and healthy home bundle look great! Thank you for being so honest. Sometimes reading blogs makes it seem like I’m failing because I have to choose places to cut corners. Nursing twins took so many hours of my day, I’m just trying to get back on track now! With time and money in short supply, I am going to try some of these new ideas!

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  25. Rhoda says

    Thank you for all the insights, encouragement, chuckles, and smiles along the way as you share your heart and your family with us. Just one thought on grocery savings–can something be substituted for something else? One thing that comes to mind–those that buy yogurt and sour cream–if you buy Greek yogurt you can substitute it for the sour cream. In fact, our family likes it better than sour cream. Can dual use the yogurt while saving on the cost of the sour cream. BTW my family loves your sparkling juice recipe. Instead of being an holiday treat, we now enjoy a healthier version every couple of weeks.
    As to a bundle–I usually make my own bundle as there is a little here, a little there from most bundles that I want/need. Thank you for the give away. What a blessing!

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  26. Amanda says

    Venison is another helpful option to consider for saving $ on meat. Even if you don’t have hunters in the family (we’re not very successful gamesmen), if you let it be known that you’re interested, you may often be a recipient of free meat. We have several friends that enjoy hunting but don’t want to shoot more than they will eat. However, they like having a reason to go out more, since they know we use it. We butcher it ourselves (weather permitting, putting it on ice that we refresh daily for several days gets any extra blood out and totally removes the strong “gamey” taste usually associated with venison). We love knowing exactly how it’s prepared (no weird fillers added and the work area is well-sanitized) and we get to choose what cuts are most helpful to our family (we use a lot of ground and roasts). Plus, it’s usually almost totally fat free, there are no antibiotics or hormones and it’s definitely grass fed and humanely treated. :) On a practical note,  we’ve found that Ziploc bags are about the only ones that don’t leak, and cleanup is easy if you put out disposable plastic tablecloths covered in paper from a big roll. Everything bundles into the trash when we’re done and the surfaces can be disinfected easily. We use a Kitchenaid grinding attachment on our mixer and it works great; no need to buy a super-expensive grinder unless you want to.

    Even if you don’t want to handle the butchering yourself (there is a small learning curve to becoming efficient at it), deer processing plants will sometimes sell unclaimed meat for its processing fee (they’re not allowed to charge for the meat itself).

    It is work, but the savings and learning are well worth it. We’ve had some excellent biology lessons and family talks over the cutting boards!

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  27. Elizabeth says

    Hi Laura,
    I have two teenage boys amongst my kiddos, and I feel your pain.
    I actually would not do too much meatless…I find that by actually increasing meat and reducing the cheaper sides like rice and bread and noodles, we ate less and were less hungry. The meat was more filling.
    Also I agree with the cheese, which I love! By me it’s about $4/lb.Well I can get chicken breasts for less than $2/lb all the time. So I would buy more meat and just accent with the cheese. Also stronger flavored cheese you can use less of, so I get sharp cheddar instead of mild. We are a low income family and pretty much lived for years off rice, beans, pasta and eggs. We were the stereotypical fat people who were starving. Slowly I switched to meat and the cheapest veggies per pound. Also eggs. We all ate less, were less hungry, and had more energy and lost weight. My food budget has not changed.

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  28. Marcie Engelhardt says

    Laura-

    We switched more to meat and less bread, pasta, rice- we are now eating less as well. ‘I will only buy cereal when it is on an extreme sale. Grandparents took over buying snacks for the family several years ago when I stopped because of the cost.

    When my daughter first started college (she is graduating this weekend), the bill came electronically to me. I was aware of the cost but actually seeing the bill made me sick to the stomach and very anxious! I forwarded to my dear husband and told him to change the email to his account! One kiddo down and 4 more to go- we over lap every third year of college.

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  29. tammy says

    We too are tryin to do some of those things. We love cheese!!!! Would prefer it to meat most days. We have chickens and that helps with the egg thing. I had to let go of my beloved Kind bars (maple and pecan & dark chocolate cinnamon almond i will miss you) and my children those organic Cliff bars for kids (although my kids are big :-) ). It is ok , cause we have so much in America ,most of the world’s population would be amazed at what is in my house right now!! So at Kroger i did REALLY well with coupons (the ones they send out), manager specials (mark downs), and the weekly sales. I just need to conform our meals around their sales. That is fine. It is just a new way for us on this new chapter of unemployment. I praise God we have the food we do!!!! I think gratitude is key :-) !!! I am trying, although not always great at it!!! Thank you for the continued encouragement!!! My girls are both workin while attending college and it is hard, but it can work out well. Lord bless ya’ll as you seek to love, serve, and help you children!!! So encouraging to hear!!!!

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  30. Michelle L. says

    My kids are grown so no bundle needed for me. As far as the grocery bill, we had 17 years of off and on unemployment for hubby. I have 3 kids, 2 boys who always ate tremendous amounts (one could eat 2 whole chickens by himself!) and were not overweight at all, they were both body builders in their teens so they REALLY ate then. I learned to forego organic unless it was on a very reduced price which does sometimes happen. If that happened I bought huge amounts and canned or froze. I also spent a lot of money on meat and vegetables, little on grains, etc. Lots and lots of eggs. Quiche and frittatas were a once a week menu item. Little cheese but strong cheese which imparts a lot of flavor – extra sharp cheddar being an example. We had two meatless meals a week, one the aforementioned quiche/frittata and one beans and rice dish – usually chili –
    because the men in my family hate homemade soup which made it doubly hard to save money. Sometimes we had mac and cheese as the main dish and there were ALWAYS pureed white beans added and they were never the wiser. I had friends who hunted and fished and I had no problem whatsoever accepting whatever they gave me. That helped a lot on the really lean days. And, every month I did a week long pantry challenge where I did not grocery shop and we ate from the pantry and freezer, we had some very creative meals. And lastly, at Thanksgiving/Christmas I always bought at least 6 turkeys for the freezer. Around here I could always get them for $.29 a pound if I watched the circulars closely. Cheapest meat ever except for free!

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  31. Julie says

    Healthy family bundle .

    Beans are so good even if you just add them to your chicken or beef meal. I have cut out cheese from my meal plans although kids can snack on it or melt on popcorn . I do think skipping shopping trips or shopping less often helps because we finish the produce before buying more and then are less likely to waste. We really like Zaycon, but I know you said that isn’t as close for you . It might be worth timing appointments in the city for , though.

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  32. Angela Wezowicz says

    So kind of you to offer this. We would probably look at the build your own, healthy families, or another we found interesting.

    praying for a van for your family.

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  33. Nicole says

    Please keep these coming! I think all of us are constantly reevaluating our food budget priorities. I would also love to hear from some parents of bigger families. We are blessed to attend a school in which many families have 6,7, 8 or more children and no one appears to be starving. It seems that college is a foregone conclusion in our culture, but I can’t help but wonder if it’s overrated. :) We have many successful family members who are tradespeople or business owners or homemakers…of course, this isn’t for everyone, but surely there is room for balance!

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    Laura Reply:

    You are so right! All four of our boys are interested in college, but there are so many other great options!

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  34. Megan says

    Regarding legumes, I have noticed we eat less and are less hungry when I add them to our meat dishes versus serving meat alone. For example, instead of 2lbs of ground beef for tacos, I use 1 lb ground beef and 2 cans refried beans or 1 cup dry lentils + chicken broth. I thought it was just us, but I read a study recently that found bean+meat eaters stayed fuller longer than meat only eaters.

    At the recommendation of my doctor, I cut our dairy last month. Not only have my female problems improved dramatically, but my grocery budget has decreased! I didn’t think we were big dairy eaters, as we don’t drink milk or eat lots of yogurt. But that sour cream, heavy cream, cheese, and kefir really add up. Surprisingly, we don’t miss it.

    We’ve also started to treat fruit as a treat or dessert item rather than a staple, like vegetables. This has also reduced our grocery budget. Even in season and on sale, fruits are still more expensive than veggies for us. Berries for dessert last a lot longer than berries as a side dish.

    Someone else mentioned frozen produce. I have to agree that frozen broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, and mushrooms are significantly cheaper and higher quality than fresh in our stores. Plus, they’re convenient! All the washing and chopping has been done for me. I keep a stash in my freezer to avoid running to the store for produce between my weekly shopping trips.

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