Ways to Stretch the Real Foods Grocery Budget

strawberries

Today I am (finally) going to share a few ways our family has made our grocery budget stretch as we’ve been on Our Healthy Eating Journey.  My husband and I strongly believe that if you truly desire to do something for your family, through prayer and hard work, you can make it happen.  There are creative ways to save, creative ways to earn, creative ways to come up with food sources.  Nothing is too weird…think of some ideas and give them a try!

I loved this comment that Cery left on my Very Limited Income for Real Food Purchases post:

I am a single mom with 2 teenagers and haven’t worked a “real” job for a year and a half. Since then I have done mostly cleaning and odd jobs, so I don’t really have a monthly budget, since income varies. I pay the bills first (electric, rent, and house phone) and then buy food. I bake all my own bread and barter that with friends for organic, grass fed beef and free range chicken (it’s cheaper to buy baking supplies than meat, and I use a sourdough starter). I have also recently started selling baked goods. I am blessed with friends who have fruit and berries and allow me to pick all I want to can, and another friend who keeps bees and gives me honey in exchange for cleaning. I have a garden in the summer and can and freeze as much as I can. I even have friends that buy fruit and veggies in bulk at the Farmer’s Market and let me have half if I will can it for them! I am truly blessed! Strangly enough, I think we eat healthier now then we did when I worked 60 hours a week and had a grocery budget. God is good!

I love how God works and I love how being creative and working hard can provide your family with exactly what they need.  How inspiring!

Here are some of the ways we have found to stretch our grocery budget:

  • I make just about all of our food from scratch.  Occasionally I buy something ”pre-made” if I’m in a bind (and for the record, I feel like there are certain seasons in our lives where boxed/packaged foods can be a lifesaver, if used sparingly).  But if at all possible, I make our breads, tortillas, cookies, muffins, noodles, sauces, pizza, dairy products, peanut butter and salad dressing from scratch.  It saves loads of money to do this and is much, much healthier.  Even organic processed food isn’t the best nutritionally and WOW is it pricey!  Making homemade food REALLY isn’t hard, and it tastes SO delicious (except for when I burn things, but let’s not talk about that.)
  • We garden.  We’re blessed with a large yard – one that’s big enough to handle soccer games and a garden too.  We grow tons of tomatoes so that we can make all of our own tomato sauce, spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, tomato juice and tomato soup for the year.  We also grow and freeze a year’s supply of green beans and peppers each summer.  We eat up all of the lettuce and spinach we grow, but that sure saves money in the late spring!
  • We keep our ear to the ground and have formed many wonderful relationships with people in our community who have an abundance of produce and other items they’re willing to give away or sell at low cost.  This is how we have been able to acquire so many delicious berries and peaches and apples and pears that we freeze and preserve.  This is also how we’ve gotten our hands on venison.  Sometimes the meat has been free, sometimes we’ve paid for processing…either way…what a fantastic deal on great meat!
  • We’re willing to work hard and go about finding food sources non-conventionally.  We love that our kids are learning that food comes from trees, animals, farms, gardens, fields and bushes….not just from the top shelf at the store.  Yeah, sometimes our food comes off of a truck, but you know what I mean.
  • We’ve done what we needed to do to stretch and grow our income.  I’ve almost always done something (from home) to supplement my husband’s income.  We felt this was extra important once we decided that Real Food was a high priority even though it would increase our grocery budget.  When there wasn’t any wiggle room in our regular budget, any money I could earn from home went to help buy healthy groceries.  One summer I sold baked goods each week at our local Farmer’s Market, earning enough to buy our Nutrimill Grain Mill, fresh produce all summer and quite a few of our other grocery needs.  (In case you’re wondering, these Soft Pretzels were a huge Farmer’s Market hit!)  I’ve had babysitting jobs, mended clothes for people, sold Stampin’ Up! products…just about anything I could do to help add a few extra dollars to our single income.  Starting this blog and writing ebooks three years and a half years ago was another way I decided to try for a little supplemental income.  I sure am glad I did…otherwise I wouldn’t have met you!  (That sounded cheesy, but I really did mean it.)  Deep down from depths of my soul.  (That added bit of cheesyness was on purpose and written just to make myself sound ridiculous.)  Be sure to read this post for more ideas on great ways to earn extra money for your family’s needs!
  • We’ve turned our Swagbucks and Shop it to Me  “earnings” into groceries.  These two are great because it doesn’t cost anything for anyone and you can earn points toward gift cards by referring people.  I’ve been blessed to share these with you here on my blog, and through referrals have been able to earn some lovely Amazon cards and Whole Foods Gift Cards.  While I could have turned my points in for other fun things…I really just wanted to be able to buy organic groceries.  Does that make me a geek, do ya think?  Don’t answer that.  I highly encourage signing up for Swagbucks (a search engine that helps you earn points that can be turned into quite a few things – I just always turn mine into Amazon cards to use for groceries, or books if it’s school time).  You can read more about Swagbucks here.  AND…Shop it to Me  is a very fun (and free) way to earn gift cards.  I’ve turned mine in for Whole Foods cards because who could pass that up?  Not me, because I’m a food geek.

What other ways have you found to creatively save money or earn money to stretch your grocery budget?

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Comments

  1. Holly in Virginia says

    I live in an urban area, most people don’t garden and those that do have the space either grow flowers only or are not allowed by their home owner’s associations to grow vegetables. I’m slowly growing a network of people who know I like to can, but last year that only added up to one bushel of small green cling peaches.

    The best way I have found to stretch my grocery budget is to shop seasonally. Right now kale, collards, turnips, celery root, and the like are pretty cheap at the grocery store. If something is a phenomenally cheap price I buy it and then come home and learn how to cook it. People tell me there are no green things that are seasonal to winter but they are wrong. They just have to be willing to find out how to cook something new and maybe scary.

    We eat a lot of vegetarian proteins, which means to get a complete protein we often combine grains and legumes, like making cornbread and serving it with a hearty white bean soup. I also like to replace half of the ground beef in a recipe with cooked beans, especially lentils. If you use brown lentils then the color is the same, and beans have a very similar texture. Tonight I made a batch of your sloppy joes using about 1 pound of ground beef and 1 cup (dry) lentils, cooked and drained. We should be able to get 2 dinners and a lunch from that. Tonight we had sloppy joe sandwiches and tomorrow I will make sloppy cornbread. I get about 2-3 cups lentils from 1 pound, which costs me $0.69. Also, always make vegetables the largest portion on your plate. You will get fuller and they cost less than meat.

    Instead of cookies or sweeteners buy fruit.

    [Reply]

    blair Reply:

    i agree about the fruit.. last month we got almost 40 apples for $20 from azure standard. and i only make sweet things once a week. on friday. i look forward to that and so do they, so we are all ok having oranges or apples or whatever fruit we have for dessert. on fridays, my 3 year old says, “nooo i dont want a cookie, i want fruit”. but always ends up having a cookie after his fruit. and he has been known to leave half a cookie on the table, knowing he couldnt come back for it, to go take a bubble bath. i love how kids are! :-)

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  2. Angela says

    Hi Laura, I’ve been reading your blog for some time and really love it. Thank You!!!! I’ve been curious what “pre-made” or “pre packaged” food you will buy for your family if you’re in a crunch, versus any you would never buy. I’ve been able to make some changes to my families diet with all your help, but I find it difficult to make everything from scratch. (I don’t love the kitchen.)

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  3. says

    Amen to finding ways to supplement a single income! It’s easier than ever to find ways to earn a little extra here and there. I run two Etsy shops, sell books and CDs on Half.com, and list the occasional item on Craigslist, in addition to earning the aforementioned Swagbucks. It really doesn’t take that much time, and everyone has *something* they’re good at that other people will pay for. Sometimes the only way to make the budget work is to have more money to work with!

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  4. Joanna says

    I just want to thank you for making this site! Both of my children suffer from asthma as well as both my husband and I. My oldest son has ADHD. We are all overfed but yet undernourished. I want to get back to the basics. I think I will be dragging my family kicking and screaming with me – BUT I know it will help them in the long run.

    I live in Central IL and you would think it would be easy to find free range, organic just about anything. But it is turning up harder than it seems! I am finally joining a CSA this year (tried last year but tried too late) and I took your advise and asked him about free range meat and other natural food sources. Haven’t heard back but I am excited to start!

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    [Reply]

    Jen Reply:

    I grew up in central IL and my extended family still lives there. While researching local food for myself, I came across MANY sources of great food in central IL! Try searching these websites: http://www.localharvest.org/ and http://eatwild.com/

    I admit I was a little jealous of all the wonderful food my family could get… if they didn’t still eat SAD.

    Good luck in your search!

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    Joanna Reply:

    Thank you1 I had found the local harvest but not the eat wild site. I actually heard back from the farmer of my CSA and she gave me some great places to get meat – bison, beef and pork. i am excited for this new journey of my life. I also just need to get over my shyness and just go out and look around atwood and arthur as these are great places to find things – I just don’t know my way around and it overwhelms me!

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  5. says

    Our ways of saving:

    Meatless Meals- it’s okay to have a meal that doesn’t include meat!

    Cutting the meat in half- meaning if I’m making a casserole that calls for 1 lb of ground beef, I’ll only use half. Of course this doesn’t work with things like meatloaf, but works great w/ spaghetti & meat sauce, chili, vegetable beef soup, casseroles.

    We can’t afford organic anything. Here in AL we just can’t find it much either.. and our grocery stores are far from anything special! But I do stay away from a good bit of packaged foods! Even if you can’t buy organic, buy whole milk, real butter, eggs, and fresh produce.

    [Reply]

    Caroline Reply:

    Hi Crystal, Curious-by AL you mean Alabama, correct? If so, I too live in AL, Huntsville, to be exact. We have had to search hi and low but have been able to find sources for whole, organic foods. Maybe I can help! What part of AL do you live in? :)

    [Reply]

    Crystal Reply:

    We’re about 50-60 miles east of Birmingham. We do use a local dairy often, they sale free range eggs, milk, butter, cheese and beef. Their beef isn’t 100% grass fed but it’s much better than what you get in the grocery stores. We are on the WIC program (state provided nutrition for children and nursing moms for low income families) so our milk is free but of course we can only get store brand. We also get whole wheat bread, eggs, cheese and buttermilk on this plan (along with a few other things). I have contemplated not getting this service because the foods lack what I’d like to be feeding my family but right now at this stage in our life, we need the assistance.

    Like Laura said, we have cut out everything. And that is just to pay bills in general, not to help feed our family. The only ‘extra’ we pay for is our phone (landline). My in-laws graciously pay for our internet and cell phones.

    My daddy plants a garden every spring and we get to eat from his hard labor during the summer! We rent right now and don’t have the space to garden. I did have a few potted tomato plants last year along with basil and thyme.

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  6. sharon says

    I to will be dragging my family, kicking and screaming, into a healthier diet, given my sons recent diagnosis of adhd. My husband won’t be kicking, but the kids will be!! lol. Never-the-less, GOOd food is expensive!! No wonder there is a recent hike in adolescent obesity!! BAD food is CHEAP and GOOD food is EXPENSIVE??!! makes no sense to me!! but, I think to make it work, u must cut out the extras and stock up on more healthy staples that u can have on hand to cook. I’m having trouble finding Grass fed beef, but other than that, all is going good!! My sisters and i supplement each others households.If i’m low on grocery funds, she buys two of everything thats on sale. If she is running out of groceries, to my freezer we go to get her some ground beef and veggies! Reach out!! I babysit occasionally for extra income. and when the weather permits, he does side construction jobs. Currently, he works second shift and i work first. given my sons recent diagnosis and multiple doctor and therapy appointments, we r considering me staying home. so i have dived into ur making money from home blog! and i plan on selling goods at the farmers market next year! so thank u for the ideas!! But babysitting has been a good source for extra income for us! we also had a yard sale last summer. yard sales r great ways to de-clutter an dmake extra money!! Buy whats on sale and then adjust ur menu accordingly!!! and always plan a menu ahead of time for the week………and use COUPONS!!!!! blessings to all!!!

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  7. says

    Are you required to have any sort of licensing or certifications from the health department to sell baked goods at the Farmer’s Market? I feel like that might be something that could work for me!

    [Reply]

    Rachel Reply:

    Farmer’s market is the only thing
    we are allowed to sell at w/o a proper kitchen/license.

    [Reply]

    Tiffany Reply:

    Rebecca,

    It depends on the state you are in on what is required to sell baked goods at a farmer’s market. In KY, you have to have your recipes reviewed and accepted and you have to grow a major component of your ingredients (like zucchini in zucchini bread) to fall under the “farmers market umbrella.” Otherwise you have to follow a completely different list of rules. Our extension office has been a great source of help for those of us who sell at the farmer’s market.

    We are beekeepers and I make soaps and salves and balms (etc.) to sell at the market. This year our 6 year old son is going to sell herbs and dog biscuits. I have friends how sew purses or knit and felt items…other bake goodies and another makes flower arrangements. People love to see a variety at the market. I would encourage you to see what your local market already has and even if they have another baker, you might be able to specialize in something. We have 3 or 4 that bake at our market. One fellow specializes in sourdough breads and he sells out weekly. He started small and has slowly built up his variety and amount of baked goods.

    Not only does our farmer’s market supplement our income, but it is a lot of fun. We enjoy our weekly time to see people and to catch up with our friends.

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  8. Hezzie says

    I have no extra source of income. Hubby’s job is our only source. My job is to manage that money to the best of my ability. Some weeks I do very well, others…not so much.
    I agree that “real” food will always be cheaper in the long run. In fact, I think it’s priceless~ I’m teaching my kids that homemade is healthy, real is the only way to go, and that processed food isn’t the best choice for their bodies. What a great legacy to leave the family!!

    Thanks you for your blog. It’s the first thing I check every morning right after the email! This series has been expecially great! God Bless.

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  9. says

    I haven’t seen this mentioned yet, so I apologize if it has been. I know several people grow all their tomatoes, green beans, etc. Did you know that you can also grow black beans, pinto beans, red beans… It isn’t any harder than growing green beans, but it does take a little longer growing time. I have grown them in the past and had a year’s worth of beans for chili, side dishes and more. I know beans are inexpensive at the store, but if you want organic they are more expensive or not available (like my area).

    [Reply]

    Sonja Reply:

    How many rows of plants did you grow for a years worth of beans. We had terrible garden conditions this year and lost a good portion of our veggies. I got about a pint out of each section of beans grew. Any suggestions?

    [Reply]

    Miranda Reply:

    I planted 2-3 (24) foot rows. I have to admit that we don’t eat beans as often as some.
    They grow just like just like green beans, but you leave the pod on the plant until it is dry. Then
    you shell them. Instead of doing rows, you could easily plant them in or around other plants, in
    between you tomato plants, etc.

    We usually have great gardening conditions, but last year was terrible for us, too. I didn’t get
    much of anything last year. Here’s hoping this season will be a good one!

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  10. Kim says

    Love this post!!! It is so encouraging!! Sometimes it is hard to stay motivated to keep doing real food from scratch. You are an inspiration and incouragement to keep on keepin on! Thanks for your blog.

    [Reply]

  11. says

    I found you while searching for a French salad dressing. I already make my own bbq sauce and decided that it’s crazy to continue purchasing French dressing and catsup.

    Since over the past three months we’ve become a modified income family, I’m looking for ways and means that fit in our schedule to save here and make there. Looks like your site will give me many ideas, recipes, and other inspirations.

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  12. DreamingofSpring says

    I have found that the best way to find organic sources of food, especially meat and milk, is to walk into the health food store and ask them where they get their raw milk and meat. I have met some amazing people through word of mouth and they in turn have led me to more sources of local produce and meat. I have found several farmers who are unable to afford the license to be “certified” organic, but have been raising grass fed beef on land that has been in the family over 100 years and the land has never been sprayed–and they sell their 1.5 lb packages for $2.00 each. I also have found farmers that sell their milk through word of mouth. I have found that our local–and very small– health food store has been a blessing to us. I don’t buy much there because I usually make my own, but they are still usually willing to help out the locals because they also depend on them. I know that each state has a list of Certified OG farms so that could be a starting place. I have found that it takes ALOT of time to dig for the information to find these sources and word of mouth has been my best source so far. It took me about 2 years to find all of the people who make my healthy eating journey possible. I believe that God has placed these people in my life at the time I needed them most and for that I am most grateful–never give up– and keep praying!!

    [Reply]

    DreamingofSpring Reply:

    Another thing I forgot to add–Wild edibles. Get a book or go to your local extension office and read up about what God has already placed in your area that you could pick for free!! I found out that half of the weeds we were picking out of the garden in the early spring were edible and great source of extra nutrition–who knew!! We also found many great wild edibles walking through our woods and down the local bike trails–mind you we are in the coutry and our bike trails are not sprayed!! Check it out–Gods bounty could be at your feet and you may not even know it!

    [Reply]

  13. says

    Glad to see Swagbucks on your list :) I’ve been earning Amazon gift cards from them since they first started. Up till now I used them to buy gifts, stuff for the kids, and some kitchen gadgets (like my bread maker). However, for 2011 I’ve decided to designate all of my gift cards to organic food/items, with the exception of a yogurt maker and maybe a food dehydrator, which have been on my ‘to buy’ list for a while now.

    I just placed my first organic food order yesterday, and I have 4 containers of organic coconut oil, 1 container of organic raw honey, and 1/2lb of Celtic sea salt on the way :) I also should have enough gift cards to get organic maple syrup and organic whole wheat pastry flour later this month. Using swagbucks Amazon gift cards is a great way to get organic food, without it affecting your budget!

    [Reply]

    Rebecca Reply:

    Can you share how you earn so swagbucks? I just signed up but it seems like it would take a lot of time to get enough!

    [Reply]

    Crystal Reply:

    It depends on how often you use the computer. I do swagbucks and it does take me a while to earn. I think it took me about 4-5 months to earn $20.00 worth of Amazon g/c but considering I didn’t have to do anything but use my computer it’s nice! I used that money to buy maple syrup (we use Coomb’s Family Farms) and some coconut oil (Nutiva) Both of those are on Super Savings so you get free shipping. The total comes to around $35.00. So, I get 32 oz of Grade B organic maple syrup and 30 oz organic coconut oil for $15. Now, I could just wait until I got a few more cards but I was needing maple syrup! :)

    My problem is forgetting about swagbucks! I would earn much more if I just remembered to use the toolbar!

    [Reply]

    sara Reply:

    Rebecca-I’ve been with them since the beginning, and I’ve gotten
    quite a few referrals under me-and that means I earn whatever bucks
    they do, up to 1,000 per referal. That’s definitely been a huge help! I also
    have them set as my home page, so I remember to use them for all
    my online searches. I no longer use book marks etc. I take the time
    to type out my searches-it all adds up!

    Amber Reply:

    About the yogurt maker- I found a very simple recipe that makes yogurt in a crockpot. I was thinking of buying a yogurt maker until I found this- it works wonderfully, saved me money, and I don’t have to store an extra appliance.

    [Reply]

    sara Reply:

    Amber-I’ve tried using a crock pot to make yogurt several times,
    and for some reason it never worked for me.

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  14. elizabeth says

    I love this series you are doing! I will second using Swagbucks for groceries. I get sunbutter that way for one of my sons. Sunbutter is impossible to make (for ME -lol) and it is way cheaper on Amazon than in the store. Also, maple syrup is often cheaper on Amazon so I will get the grade B with the Swagbucks.

    You all are really motivating me to start a garden. Produce is my *fail* area. I do not know how to can so I probably would not do that. But getting enough produce just for weekly meals would be awesome.

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  15. Maggie says

    I see you make your own dairy products,which ones do you make and how? What do you do about sliced cheese? Thanks for these great posts, I told myself after we got back from vacation, I am going to do better about making my own food and you are encouraging me more and more. Thank you

    [Reply]

    Laura Reply:

    You’ll find all the dairy items I make following this link: http://heavenlyhomemakers.com/recipes-2/dairy

    As far as sliced cheese goes, I buy Raw White Cheddar from our health food co-op and just slice it as needed. (Which means that I actually don’t make ALL of our dairy products…I purchase our cheddar!)

    [Reply]

  16. says

    Our local produce store saves us a ton of money. At first I thought it was a nursery because of all the plants surrounding it. I went in to ask about one of their flowers and discovered a goldmine! I can easily walk out of there with a bag almost too heavy to carry on my own, for less than $20, all produce! They also sell nuts and beans in bulk so I can bring in my own reusable bag and not have to come home with any plastic!
    Another thing we do to save money is eat a very limited amount of meat. Most of the world only gets to eat meat once a week, and we feel that is adequate for us. Most of our protein comes from dairy, eggs, and beans.
    I would never claim to do well on a grocery budget though. We both really struggle to pass up luxury items.

    [Reply]

  17. Jean says

    I would love to know how many tomato plants you planted last year and how many jars of tomato products you were able to can. We planted 12 plants last year and they didn’t do too well. There were enough for eating, but not enough for canning. I have friends who have gardened for years and they said that it was a bad year for tomatoes, so at least I know it wasn’t my fault. :o) I would like to plant more this year. Actually it would be interesting to know how many other plants you planted as well. Thank you so much for your help and encouragement!

    [Reply]

  18. Monika says

    We live in a flat and don’t have a car, so no garden and no serious bulk buying. However, we grow herbs on the balcony in the summer which saves a bit of money. We have an extra freezer so we can cook and bake a lot at one time – saves electricity and makes us less tempted to eat out or takeaway. We’re working on avoiding out-of-season produce (in Sweden, a lot of stuff is out of season most of the year). Sprouting and fermenting (like sauerkraut) gives some variety in the winter months when only cabbages and root veggies are in season. Oh, and we usually don’t eat meat, but now we do once a week because I’m pregnant.

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  19. Allison Low Bognar says

    Laura,
    The next time you show one of your video tours, I would LOVE to see your freezer(s) since you utilize it for so many items.
    Thank you!

    [Reply]

  20. Jennifer says

    One way we have saved on real food is having chickens. We made an initial investment of building the coop and buying hens but after that its minimal. Right now our hens free range in our privacy fenced backyard and eat scraps and regualar feed (though I wish we could afford organic). They give us the best tasting eggs! and much cheaper than I can buy even from local farmers. Also, we got baby chicks and so we are going to have meat (roosters) and more hens for eggs. I hope to begin selling the eggs if we can get enough extra from our new hens once they start laying. I live on less than an acre in a neighborhood in the middle of the city and one of my neighbors didnt even know we had chickens until I told them. The hens are really much quieter than a dog and less maintenance! Totally worth it to me!

    [Reply]

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