Frugal. A word I never knew till I was getting married, and my mother will back that up.
I started off marriage making A LOT of money, and my husband made the OK money. We ate out alot, we went on trips, and we did whatever we wanted – neither of us regret that. Just a little over one year into marriage changed all those luxuries for us. We moved to my hometown so that my husband could start a new career as an electrician, and it was a great time to do it because I was still making a lot of money.
Then we decided it was time for babies…
I was working away two weeks at a time, so I requested an office position in my company, and praise Jesus, they gave it to me. Huge pay cut though…almost half of what I was making previously. One month flew by, and just like that, I was pregnant.
Fast forward one year, and I’m on maternity leave with a 3-month-old while my husband is in school for his second year of electrician. ‘Frugal’ became a real word in those months. Really, really real. I learned how to budget, how to stretch meat through meals, and to appreciate meal-planning.
My best effort in that process was being able to spend just $200 a month on groceries for the two of us. I’ve been asked several times how I did this, and I can tell you the biggest lifesaver was the meal-planning portion. I shopped my pantry first, we ate canned beans at least twice a week, $5 frozen pizza’s for Friday’s (our token cheat day) instead of doing takeout, and I would use a whole chicken for 5 meals! Oh the things you can google, my friends.
Super fast forward to today…and we are buying our first house as my husband is finished his journeyman electrician (hello bread-winner!)! Naturally, I want to talk about what our food budget looks like for a family of four while we are saving! The rest of the budget as a whole can be talked about in another post, but food really does deserve it’s own in the spotlight as it’s one thing that can get out of hand easily.
Meal-planning! It sounds easy in theory, but when you go to do it, it’s hard, but really…it is easy! The way I started out for us was something very simple:
SUNDAY: Lunch (Chicken Soup & tuna salad sandwiches)/ Dinner (Crockpot beef chili)
MONDAY: Lunch (Chili)/Dinner (Pork chops, salad, rice)
TUESDAY: Lunch (Leftover Pork chops, salad, rice)/ Dinner (Chili mac N/ cheese with raw veggies)
WEDNESDAY: Lunch (Chili Mac N’ Cheese with raw veg)/ Dinner (Chicken stir fry & rice)
THURSDAY: Lunch (Chicken Stir Fry & rice)/ Dinner (Pancakes & sausage)
FRIDAY: Lunch (Sandwiches with raw veg & fruit)/ Dinner (Frozen pizza)
SATURDAY: Lunch (Egg salad sandwiches)/ Dinner (Tomato Basil soup & french bread)
I didn’t even schedule breakfasts, I just made sure to have enough eggs, greek yogurt, and bagels/bread for the week! This is definitely not my healthy eating plan, I made this one up when I was a couple months postpartum with my first and we were just scraping by. As you can see, I made sure to portion out enough for meals that there would be enough for leftovers. I save about 2 cups of beef chili from a crockpot meal to use later in a week for Chili Mac n’ Cheese…because who doesn’t want a super easy comfort food supper! Anyways, once your plan is written, (painstakingly) write every single ingredient you need for all of it, and buy just that.
As for the actual shopping & price-hunting, this took some practice and guidance from others I knew. But here we go…(remember, I am located in Edmonton, AB CANADA)
Bread/bread products: I was that sucker that used to pay $4-$5 PER LOAF until a very dear friend showed me a magical place called McGavin’s Bread Basket. It’s where they send the day or two old bread for a discounted price. Depending on what day you go, you can find that $5 loaf of bread/bagels/pitas there, for just $1.50 or so if you buy in groups of 10. This is where my beloved deep freezer comes in handy. I shop for bread just once a month, I spend my $12-$14 and freeze the bread for the rest of the month.
Produce: I go to H&W Produce where most things are cheaper than the big grocery stores, but you have to be careful and check prices as the odd thing is sometimes higher. I walk away with an apple box full for $30…more than enough fruits & vegetables for the week and carrying into the next.
Meat: This one can vary. I like to support local, so if I’m buying for a dish that only gets a bit of meat, I try to purchase a quality cut at the farmers market or butcher. Lately though, and this might scare some people, but I’ve been finding some crazy cheap deals on discounted meat at Safeway. If you go first thing in the morning, or at night, the meat department has marked down meat that needs to be used in a day or two. I’ve been scooping up 5lb packs of drumsticks, legs, and thighs for just $5 each! (straight into the freezer they go) or whole chickens for $4. I actually skim all the sections for markdowns before I even look at anything else.
Other items: I go through all the flyers the night before to find the best deals. Cans of beans can sometimes be 10 for $10 which is basically my dream come true 😉
Costco: This one is really hard…I love it! but sometimes I try my hardest to stick to a weekly budget, and if I need quinoa, my budget takes a $12 hit for that one bag from the big place. These days I am that person literally only buying 2 items in there.
Some other tips to help cut that grocery bill:
- Have ‘meatless monday’! We tried it. Not only did it get me more creative with meals (falafels, vegetarian lasagna, beans & rice etc) but it was actually a relief to not worry about thawing meat that day.
- Have “breakfast for supper” one night a week! There are all kinds of meals you can do with eggs (Such as Turkish Eggs or Shakshuka) that are delicious in a way you may have never experienced. There’s always pancakes and sausage too though!
- Make your own snacks. I find snack food prices can really add up quickly, especially with toddlers AND husbands. If you have the time, bake muffins for the week! There’s a seriously easy Carrot Spice Muffin recipe on Pinterest that you probably have all the ingredients for. There’s even No-Bake bars or “Energy Bites” that you can roll together and refrigerate for the week. Hummus, peanut butter, and celery sticks are also an easy idea.
- Make it a game to only spend $100 a week on food/household supplies with cash in hand. You really will feel like you’re winning when you accomplish it! Pretending you’re poor is optional (I do it!).
Stay tuned for my next post where I’ll show one of my current healthy meal plans and what I spent!