Let’s face it…times are tight…At least one in three families have faced an economic setback in the last year. When tough times hit our family this past year, I was glad that I’d already learned to feed our family with next to nothing. Even at our highest income level, I was only spending around $250 dollars a month on groceries (and this included things like trash bags, furniture polish, etc.) When people would complain to me that they “only” had $500 a month for groceries, I was a little shocked….Feeding a family on a limited budget is VERY doable. I’ve done it for the last 8 years. (And ya know what, we’ve never gone hungry.)

Now, if you are expecting a post telling you how I did this by making my own yogurt and starting my own in-home bakery, you are at the wrong blog my friends. I am not that mom. (I don’t have any desire to be that mom.) As mentioned in my post, Imitation is Suicide,I am not going to attempt to be someone I’m not. If you are into that way of life, more power to ya sister. However, I found a few different avenues to take to save my family money, while saving my sanity at the same time.

1.Plan Ahead!!!!

On the blog, I put out a weekly menu planner. (You can find all past weeks here: Menu Archive)However, in my real life, I have always planned my meals a month at a time. I print out a blank calendar template, or just hang a cheap calendar in one of my cupboards. I sit down a few weeks prior to the start of a new month with all of my favorite cookbooks, recipe websites, etc. Then, I make my list of the meals I want to make for the month. Next, I cross-reference the ingredients needed to make those meals with what I already have. Then and only then do I start to make my shopping list. I write down ONLY what I will need to make those meals for the next month.

Which leads me to my next point…

2. Only Buy What You NEED:

Buy for one month ONLY. I know a lot of people who swear by the “stock up” method, and have even gone to the extremes of buying 50+ of one item when on sale etc. However, for MY family, (and you have to do what works for YOU), we only had enough money to buy just what we needed for the month. So, I ONLY bought the items on my list that I needed to prepare my pre-determined month’s worth of meals. If you go into the store with a list, you will do MUCH better than just wandering in and buying what looks good, or what you “think” you’ll need.

Which leads me to my next point…

3. Learn to Do Without :

We don’t buy a lot of “snacks.” I buy what we need for dinner, and just the basics for lunches and breakfasts. Things like chips, snack cakes, and gourmet items just don’t make it into my cart.I had someone tell me once that Trader Joes was the best place on earth, because they had such cheap agave nectar….It would never occur to me to buy agave nectar because we’ve learned to just buy the basics. We don’t purchase the “frills.” My kids eat less junk food, and things like Lunchables, Capri Suns, and Twinkies have become special rare treats for them. (And, my husband and I have learned to do without all those extra things we love that are awful for us, like Pizza Rolls and ice cream.)

4. Buy Generic:

With a few exceptions, (mac and cheese, canned spaghetti sauce) I always buy the cheapest brand. You won’t find much difference in flavor (if any) and can make your dollar stretch a lot father if you are willing to let go of “status.”We buy our cereal in bags, drink fake pop, and have a pantry full of cans with store-brand labels.

5. Beware of the Shopping Myths:

It is NOT always cheaper to buy in bulk. Costco can save you money on certain items, but pay attention to the cost per ounce. Often, you are paying more for the bigger size.

Just because it is at an outlet store, does NOT mean it is cheaper! Stores like Grocery Outlet are again, great for some things, but often have items priced higher than a regular grocery store.

It is ALWAYS cheaper to make it yourself. It probably will always taste better, and be better for you….However, some things really are just cheaper to buy. The can of Ragu is cheaper than buying the bunch of tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, spices, etc….

6. Canning/Freezing:

When fruit and veggies are in season and CHEAP, do some canning! We can green beans, carrots, and pizza/spaghetti sauce each year, and have enough to last the whole year. I also make my own freezer jam in the summer, and never have to buy store-bought jelly. If you don’t have a garden, find a u-pick farm, ask a neighbor with fruit trees if you can pick some, go in on a crate of fruit with a friend, etc. I also freeze shredded zucchini and fresh corn each year.

7. Shop Once a Month:

I do my grocery shopping for the month in one trip. The only items I will buy more than once a month are the perishables like milk, fruit, and bread. We’ve all been there…We say we’ll run into the store for peanut butter and eggs, and fifty dollars later, we’re leaving the store with three bags of food. If you plan ahead and limit your trips to the grocery store, you’ll spend less and won’t give yourself the opportunity to impulse buy. (*As a side tip, I do my auxiliary perishables grocery run with my two year old. Taking a small child with you will help you to get down to business in the store, get in and get out with just what you need….ya know, before they throw a fit…) =)

So, eat your leftovers, use your pantry to its fullest, be content with what you have, learn to be okay with your kid eating Marshmallow Mateys instead of Lucky Charms, and plan, plan, plan. These shopping rules have allowed our family to eat (and eat fairly well) on around $200-300 a month. My tips and way of cooking and shopping are not for everyone. I’ve said it before and will say it again, that I am not the organic mom. I’m not a gourmet. I’m a pantry chef kind of mom who is on the lookout for the Supermom trifecta of Cheap, Easy, and The Kids Will Eat It meals. If not everything resonates with you or works for your family, maybe one or two of my tips will spark something for you and help save you a little money. Here’s to saving money, eating and living well, and being true to ourselves as mothers. Happy saving.