Thriving on a $20 Weekly Grocery Budget

When your weekly household income is less than what the average American spends on groceries per week, you are obviously going to need to have a grocery budget that is a bit different than “average.” Fortunately, we had been working on living off of a $35/week food/toiletry budget for about a year (thanks to the practical ideas found on Biblical Womanhood and Money Saving Mom) before we reached the point where we needed to lower our budget even further.

When we first started working down this budget category, we admittedly cut out meat and milk from our diet, and yes, enjoyed lots of beans and lentils (not necessarily a bad thing!). There were also several times where we were given food–including meat, milk, and fresh fruit and vegetables–an incredible blessing and clear provision from our Jehovah Jireh!

(Edit: Wedo include meat in our diet. I grew up on venison, and we usually get some from my dad each season. We also have a few friends who hunt here who pass along their “extras.” It’s much healthier and less expensive. We do also eat other meats, too!)

But shortly thereafter, the Lord allowed me to learn a lot about CVS, couponing, and some special food deals in our area. (In fact, for the month of January we’ve been trying to restore our savings a bit and have actually been able to make do with an average of less than $8 a week, actually spending $0 out of pocket for 3 of those weeks and including what I purchased for making meals to freeze ahead for when our baby arrives.)

We are able to stick with this budget by prioritizing our spending in the following order:

1. CVS ($0 – $3.00 per week)

By learning to roll the ECB deals and using $/$$ coupons at CVS, we are able to get almost all of our needed toiletries, non-prescription medicines, and diapers for less than a dollar or two each week. In addition, we also get milk and eggs weekly, as well as many packaged foods such as tuna, peanut butter, crackers, juices, etc… (Of course, we also end up with a lot of other edible items that we don‘t need!)

Right now we have a CVS gift card and actually don’t pay anything “out of pocket.” We anticipate this lasting us at least 2 or 3 more months. My husband also recently began CVS-ing, and is quite the pro! (My friend also went on her first CVS trip this week and got some amazing deals! Make sure to check them out at her blog.)

103_0595.jpg

We have over 2,000 diapers awaiting our daughter’s arrival. They are all from CVS, with the exception of a few we received as gifts–we have not had to pay for any of these diapers (the large blue tub is also full of diapers)! Eventually, I’d love to transition to cloth…but free is cheaper for now!

2. Sav-Mor Food Yardsale/Sidewalk Sale ($6 – $12 every 2-3 weeks)

This is a local thing, but every 2 to 3 weeks, Sav-Mor (a discount food store) has what they call a “Sidewalk Sale.” On Saturday mornings, they line their parking lot with banana boxes filled with expired or “unwanted” food from various grocery stores in the area. It is a blessing that so many of these foods come from stores like Whole Foods and Ingles.

Hundreds of people line the perimeter of the boxes, and when the store representative says, “go,” people dive into the boxes filling their own banana boxes (provided by the store). You can fill up a banana box with as much food of your choice as you can find, and each banana box you fill costs $6. Though the variety changes each time, we have a general idea that they will have things like cereals, crackers, pasta, canned goods, and flour every time. This last week we only needed flour, and were able to get over 60 pounds of organic, pastry, and whole wheat flour for just $6!

103_0406.jpg

This is 2 banana boxes worth of food ($12) from a recent food yard-sale

3. Local Grocery Stores, Target ($5-$15/week)

Since we are able to get most of our non-perishable items through CVS and Sav-Mor, we purchase mainly dairy and fresh produce (and meat when needed) from our grocery stores. Our best “coupon” store is Bi-Lo, which doubles coupons up to $.60. Bi-Lo also marks down soon-to-expire produce and meat. I only buy salad when it is marked down to $.99. If I go on the right day (not a weekend), there is almost always some variety of salad and vegetable marked down. (I’d love to shop where I’ve heard some store double even higher coupon values!) I also follow the Target deals on iMommies, and am usually able to get things free there every month.

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Free cheese from Target! (HT: moneysavingmom)

4. Aldi (any leftover budget $)

We are blessed to have several Aldi around here, but to be honest, I now only go once or twice a month for things were aren’t able to get less expensively through the previously mentioned venues.

I then plan our menus based on what we are able to get at all of these stores, rather than the other way around. However, after shopping this way for several months we have a pretty reliable pantry of foods, and only need to vary what we have as our side dishes. I still have much to learn!

Sample menu: here.

~

Within a few months we do hope to “up” this budget category to be able to get a little more fresh produce, particularly as we’ve been trying to spend as little “out of pocket” as possible for the last month. Of course, this type of budget may not be feasible in all areas, and we realize that this is God’s provision for us during this season of life. We one day anticipate being missionaries in Madagascar, and I know I will have to learn a whole different way of shopping there. (Of course, the Sav-Mor yard sale shopping atmosphere might be good preparation, but I doubt the markets will accept coupons! :) )

We praise the Lord for His present provision and pray that He will allow us to use the lessons He has taught us during this season to be better stewards of whatever He may provide for us in the future.

For more frugal tips, check out this week’s Frugal Friday here.

Comments

  1. 2

    nourishingyourchildsmind says

    Wow! I’m impressed! I thought I knew what I was doing with my couponing and freebies, but even an old pro can learn new tricks! Thanks so much for the advice! I’m glad Ash guided me to your site! Oh, have you checked out Angel Food Ministries? It’s available to anybody!

    Kendra

  2. 3

    keren says

    Kendra,

    Thanks. I do need to check them out. Actually, Ash gave me your “list” of money saving ideas when we were first married, and I’ve used several of your ideas/sites, but I’d forgotten about Angel Food Ministries. Do you use them? For meat, mainly?

    I’ve enjoyed reading your blog, too! I’d love to get the Fridge Phonics one day. :)

  3. 5

    Tracy says

    I found your blog from Crystal’s. That’s some awesome deals that you got! I’ve just recently started CVS-ing and couponing and LOVE IT!

  4. 7

    says

    Excellent Savings! I found you thru Crystal’s blog. My goal is to get our grocery budget down to $35 per week. I have been CVSing since last Oct. We were spending (in 2007) about $2500 a year at Walmart and this is just for tolietries and mostly non food items. Because of shoppin at CVS, we had practically stopped our Walmart shopping. Since Oct we have gone about 4 times and we used to go every 2-3 weeks.

  5. 8

    Joanne says

    With the baby due any moment, you may not have the time right now, but then again, you may want lots to do to keep you from feeling like time is dragging! If you do have the time / if you feel up to it / etc, etc, could you please let me know about Sav-Mor? Where the sale is held, what times and so on?
    Thanks!

  6. 10

    says

    It sounds like you may qualify for food stamps or WIC. Have you looked into this? Your methods of feeding your family for $20/week are ingenious, but there’s no shame in taking advantage of social welfare programs when you need them. God bless, Catherine

  7. 11

    Lisa says

    Thank you for this beautiful post. It was so wonderful to here HIM at work again. He is so good to provide the knowledge we need in order to help meet our needs. I truly started getting welled up with tears in the eyes when I read your post, along with the song, “Tis so sweet to Trust in Jesus”. It truly is the only way. He is always faithful.

  8. 12

    Julie says

    I just found your site and I’m SOOOO excited! You must be in the Greenville, SC area, right? I’m in Travelers Rest and it ‘s so great to see someone in my area doing so much to save. I can’t wait to keep up with your savings at Bilo, Ingles and Sav-Mor plus others. I”ve seen the signs for the yard sale at Sav Mor but had no idea what it was. I’ve GOT to check that one out! Blessings to you and your family! I’m looking forward to “getting to know you”.

  9. 13

    Julie says

    Forgot to ask, is Sav Mor doing a side walk sale this Sat, Feb 2? What time do these sales begin? Do you need to get there extra early? I looked as saw that your church is on Ceader Lane Rd. That is near where I grew up (just down the road from Bethel Baptist Church on Sulper Springs Rd) How exciting to “know” someone from my area is on the world wide web! (Yes, I get thrilled over the little things!)

  10. 14

    says

    Thanks for sharing that! What an inspiration! I have one question though…how did you find out about Sav Mor? How could I go about finding one in my area?

  11. 15

    says

    I’m also interested in the date for the sidewalk sale at Sav Mor. It would be worth the drive. Also the Salvation Army store on Rutherford gives away free bread. I usually have the best luck on Thursday afternoon.

    It’s awesome how God provides for us!! BTW, thats an amazing pile of diapers!!!

  12. 16

    Theresa says

    Wow! I am impressed! Our daughter is 2 months old and I’m jealous of the 2000 diapers, but I’d advice you not to stockup on more diapers until you know what will fit your baby. We were blessed with a diaper shower before she was born but unfortunately certain brands never fit her right. Keep up the good work and I hope y’all make it to Madagascar!

  13. 17

    says

    Angelfood just went up to $30 so I’m rethinking it. I’ve just found your blog. I hope you’ve posted some menus! That’s such a great effort–$20!!

  14. 18

    says

    You know what you’ve written here that impresses me the most: Your budget for CVS. I hadn’t considered that option, but that really makes for a great way to budget overall. I’ve just had a weekly total for ALL groceries and haven’t been able to keep it, yet. But, by saying only X can be spent at CVS, then that will force me to stay within that amount. I’m sorry … thinking as I type here. It seems like a Duh for me since I’ve been budgeting to the dollar. But, duh! Great job. Good for you and your family.

  15. 20

    says

    That’s amazing! I just found your blog through Crystal/s and as I explored your site a little, I realized that you were nearby and I think that my husband and I actually talked about buying your house about seven years ago! I’m not sure about that, but it’s the right neighborhood and looked like I remembered it. Either way, it’s nice to find someone that’s finding all of these deals in my own neck of the woods. I’ll be back for more neighborliness and to find out where to shop! :^)

  16. 24

    says

    I am not sure where you are located and I know with a 20 dollar budget – 30 dollars is stretching things too tightly – but as most of this can be frozen – it might be worth checking to see if it is available in your area.

    http://www.angelfoodministries.com/

    I heard about it last week and told my mom, who is a Quaker minister and who runs the food pantry for the her towns ministry and counsel about it for those who can do something but not a lot.

  17. 25

    says

    Wow, even though I live in England, I can relate to your fantastic post. I would say that this is one of best blogs I have ever read, and I don’t say that lightly. Total inspiration for people wishing to sacrifice for the Faith.

    Kevin
    newbie christian

  18. 26

    happyhousewife says

    Wow-
    I am really impressed with your shopping ideas. I don’t live near many of the stores you mentioned, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t deals near me waiting to be found. Your post was inspiring!
    Thanks,
    Toni

  19. 29

    Rob says

    Do you garden? That’s a great way to get fresh produce with all sorts of veggies — you can even grow your own beans and lentils (one of our faves is snow peas).

    Learning to garden and compost and use organic methods will provide a bounty of free veggies (there’s no need to ever buy fertilizer, bug sprays, etc. if you learn the organic methods our grandparents and great-grandparents all used). Plus, you’ll find yourself never throwing out any extra foodstuffs (like apple cores, eggshells, chicken bones, etc. — it can all be composted and returned to the earth).

    If you have enough land you could also consider fruit trees for apples, etc.

    You can learn more about organic and sustainable gardening at iVillage’s GardenWeb sites. My favorites are the soil forum and the seed and plant exchanges (many folks will offer free seeds if you let them know you’re just getting started).

    http://gardenweb.com/

    The soil forum (learn to make your own “fertilizers”): http://forums2.gardenweb.com/forums/soil/

    The exchanges: http://forums.gardenweb.com/forums/exchind/

    Once you’re growing your own food you can easily mash it up for homemade baby food! And the best is you know exactly where it came from and how it was grown. Best to you and your growing family!

  20. 31

    says

    Wow! God is so incredibly faithful! What a great use of your local resources. I’m very inspired to find more resources in my area. Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

  21. 32

    says

    Wow, you are awesome!!! Hey, if you did nothing but get those diapers, you’d be way ahead of the game. I can’t believe how expensive those things are now!

  22. 34

    says

    How wonderful!! I am AMAZED at your talents,you certainly beat me:)

    You should definately start your own weekly series sharing your ideas! I’m sure everyone would agree!!

  23. 35

    Jennifer says

    All I can say is WOW-ZA! GREAT JOB!! Thanks so much for your blog. Could you share how you were able to get so many diapers for free from CVS? I know about usings Extra Care Bucks and rolling them over and such, but what kind of coupons are you finding? Do you just use any and all extra ECB’s (after getting some to rollover) to buy diapers? we are really trying to cut our expenses. Maybe this is something for us to look into. Thanks!

  24. 38

    Heather says

    Wonderful! How exciting! I would love some menus too! What kinds of recipes do you use for the beans? We are vegetarian and always looking for new ways to eat beans and lentils!

  25. 40

    says

    great article. and good luck to you. check out my site if you’re intested in maybe some some paid surveys and free offers you can complete online to boost your budget… best!

  26. 41

    swandiver says

    I just came across this post because it was featured on the WordPress page. There’s a CVS right around the corner from our house and while I use it often, I never thought to fully utilize those coupons printed on my reciepts. You’ve given me a whole new perspective.

    Since moving back to western Massachusetts from Charlotte, NC, the sticker shock at the grocery stores (for meat especially) has been reeling. Before getting reaquainted with my home city, I practically became a vegetarian. But thanks to my sister, I am now spending less money on more healthy foods. You seem like a pro at this but these are some of the things that I’ve found helpful.

    1. I don’t know what it’s like in your area, but you can’t throw a rock in the summer without hitting a farmer’s market or community garden. If you hit them at the end of the day, you can find some great deals. Also, there are a lot of people who will barter their products for labor and/or whatever you have. For instance, my sister and husband barter wood cutting services for their off-the-grid friends in exchange for honey, eggs, chickens, etc.

    2. CSA’s, “Consumer Sponsored Agriculture” – Is a big thing in this area with at least 5 farms within a short drive. You basically buy shares of food every year for anywhere from $200 – $500 (roughly $7-$20/week)depending on the farm. Then you either pick your own or pick up your share every week. As a single person, I shared 1 account with 4 other singles and still had produce to give away.

    3. Bulk Buying Groups – Our household is part of a group that orders staples like rice, oatmeal, nuts, flour, beans, etc. from a local health store in bulk. That way, we can get our dose of whole foods without giving Whole Foods our whole paycheck. But we’ve found that you really have to go with a locally owned, independent health store to make it work.

    I apologize for using so much comment space but reducing our household costs is an ongoing challenge and source of innovation for us. I’ll will keep checking back to this blog for sure.

  27. 42

    says

    Thanks for posting this. People often get stuck in ruts: thinking they need more money; or that it is impossible to get out of debt. This post challenges the conventional wisdom. Thanks again and keep up the good work.

  28. 43

    Julie says

    Thanks again for the info on Sav Mor yard sale. I went this morning and got 2 boxes for $12. I got TONS of ORGANIC foods that other wise I would not have been able to afford for my family of six. What a blessing you have been to my family. I’m sharing this information with my mom and brother so that they will be blessed as well.

  29. 44

    says

    Good job saving so much!

    I think the gardening suggestion is great, as my only big qualm is that so much processed food (from CVS, Sav-Mor) might not be great for your health or that of your developing baby.

  30. 46

    says

    Have you tried sprouting for fresh produce? It’s so easy and you can use any beans or lentils (except kidney beans).

    Here’s the instructions:
    http://www.living-foods.com/articles/sprouting.html

    I put 2 tbs. small beans/lentils in a mason jar, and soak overnight. Cover the top with a piece of cheesecloth (we’ve even used clean gauze bandages in a pinch!). Rinse twice a day, then put upside down in the dishrack or somewhere to drain. We don’t keep ours in the dark, although some people do. Just rinse and drain until they sprout. When the root is about as long as the seed, eat them! Or grow them longer if you like more flavor.

    2 Tbs. of beans will fill a quart sized mason jar with fresh sprouts in 3-4 days.

  31. 50

    keren says

    Thank you all for your kind and helpful compliments in response to this post! I’m afraid I went into labor a few hours after posting this (Thursday night/Friday morning), but I do hope to get back to them soon!

    Meanwhile, we’re enjoying every moment we’re able to spend with our new daughter! God is has been so merciful to us!

  32. 51

    says

    This is such a GREAT article. I had to link this to my website. I am trying my hardest to get our grocery budget down. Thank you SO much!

  33. 54

    Jessica says

    I found out about your blog through a friend and wanted to check out your shopping tips. Since I live in Greenville I called Sav-Mor and they are having a yardsale on Sat. Feb 16th. I would like to give it a try but wondered if I needed to bring cash or if check or debit cards are accepted. Are you allowed to look at the items first, or just stand back and then make a run for it. Can the box be overflowing or just to the brim? Just wondered.

  34. 55

    kerej says

    Hi, Jessica,

    To answer your questions about Sav-Mor:

    1. I believe you do need to pay in cash. (There is a man collecting before you leave).

    2. You can only “look over” what you can see from the edges of the “sidelines”. Once the manager says, “go,” everyone just makes a run for it.

    3. Boxes must be near level on top (of course, for items that are tall, they can go over the box).

    If you can go with someone, I find that is very helpful for one person to be able to go back and sort through things. Another tip: make sure you get there about 10 minutes before it starts. It starts at 9:00a.m.

    Hope it goes well for you this weekend!

  35. 57

    Rachel says

    Hi!
    My husband and I are missionaries living on a really tight budget and have recently tried to save more. I stumbled on this and I have to say that this is so uplifting. My husband can eat so much it is hard to keep up with him on the grocery bill, but this is great advice. Thanks!

  36. 59

    Leah says

    It’s true that in other countries, savings would not be the same; I recognised barely any of the stores you mentioned, and I’m just across the border in Canada! Here, I think farmer’s markets/buying directly from farmers is probably the best way to go.

    In Madagascar, shopping is likely to be done at local outdoor markets with street vendors with whom you can bargain (although the prices are likely to be extremely cheap anyway).

  37. 60

    Kris says

    But look at all of that processed food…you are still paying more for chemicals and preservaties than for the actual food. I saw Stove-Top stuffing and tons of cereal…yikes!! I would rather pay more, eat healthy, and support local farmers instead of brag about my $20 budget. Or plant a garden…there is a real budget helper and gets you back to eating whole foods that you know were raised with love…unlike your Pillsbury Cake Mix…

    Keren Here: Yes, there is processed food, but this was at a time when $20 was all we could spend on anything each week. So this got us a lot more “bang for our buck,” as far as quantity. We are now in a better situation where we can use $ to buy gardening supplies, hunting license etc… We did have a garden this year and used most of our produce there. We also ate beans and rice and other inexpensive staples. We definitely prefer whole, healthy foods, but eating processed foods for a short time is survivable.

  38. 61

    Glezy says

    if people can live with RICE, life would be cheaper. beat my budget: $20/month.

    i always buy from kroger. they are the best. this is what’s in my grocery list:

    1 bag of rice – $6.00
    kroger value hotdog – $3.97
    kroger medium eggs (12pk) – $1.27
    Kroger corn (4) – $2
    Kroger ketchup – $1.59
    Kroger carrots (fresh from produce pack of 10-12)- $1
    Value (Kroger) Bread – $0.89
    Maruchan Ramen (12 pk – chicken) – $0.96
    Maruchan Ramen (shrimp ) – $0.96
    Maruchan Ramen (beef) – $0.96

    Total of $19.60

    There are months i don’t have to buy rice, because it lasts for 3 months with me and my brother. That gives me an opportunity to buy whole chicken (usually $4 with kroger card) and chicken broth.
    Sometimes I fry the rice with the leftovers and corn and carrot.
    We never feel weak and groggy. And I wish I can lose weight lol. I eat a lot of rice, i guess.
    Sometimes I buy pizza 4/$3 (with club card).
    Kool aids are $0.69 each.
    and sometimes soda goes down to 5/$10 in CVS phramacy accross the street.

  39. 62

    says

    Would you be so kind as to email me? I have some questions for you. I live in a small town where the grocers won’t double coupon and we don’t have places like Target.

    I have some questions for you about CVS and the deals you mentioned. Is this a physical location store or something you do online?

    Thank you for your help.
    ~A mom trying to save for her family.

  40. 63

    Missie says

    We have been shopping at Amazing Savings–hole in the wall salvage grocery at the White Horse Road Flea Market. They have good for you-healthy-organic food CHEAP CHEAP CHEAP!! Most things are $1 or less. If you are in the area give it a try. They are open Wednesday-Saturday 9-1ish

  41. 64

    Beane says

    Looks like I was a bit late on this one but it’s really a good post. I’m thinking about a reply on my site . . . Art Of War

  42. 66

    Patt says

    I like your site very much and I have some advice for those who want to garden. First, I have never grown a $60 dollar tomato.There is a book titled SQUARE FOOT GARDENING by Mel Bartholomew that was very helpful to me when I stated gardening . It tells you how to make the most of your small garden. The basic idea is that if you can plant a seed 3 inches apart in a row you can also plant the seed 3 inches apart in all directions thus he plants a whole square foot with one type of plant. He tells you in his book how many plants of a certain kind you can plant in a square foot. He, also, talks about growing vining plants like cucumbers and melons vertically. My garden is made up of 4 patches 8 foot x 4 feet, with a garden fence made of hog fencing in the middle. The hog fencing only cost me $10.00 apiece, that was 20 years ago, but they are nice and strong and will last forever. Every year I rotate what I grow in each patch. It is amazing how much I can grow in this small garden. Mulching your garden will help many ways. I use grass clippings in the walking part of my garden and when the plants pop up I put grass clipping around each plant. Doing this almost completely prevents weeds from growing, keeps the ground moist and fertilizes the garden. In the spring I just work last years grass clippings into the soil. Seeds from this years veggies can be used for next years garden as long as they are not hybrids. A good place to get non hybrid seeds is SEED SAVERS. I grow peppers that I got from my neighbor. His great grandfather brought the original seeds with him when he came here from Italy. You can plant some things very early, spinach and snow peas can be planted here in Ohio on St. Patricks Day. They grow well in the cool weather and when they are done producing you can plant a second crop of something else. Companion planting is when you plant crops together that benefit each other. The classic of these is corn, pole beans and pumpkins.The Indians called them THE THREE SISTERS. Corn provides something for the pole beans to grow up. Beans take nitrogen from the air and deposits it in the ground for the corn. The pumpkins cover the ground to help keep the weeds at bay. One thing about pole beans is that they do not produce all their beans at one time like bush beans. Once they start to produce, they will produce until frost so about every three days you will have fresh beans. I also grow bush beans, as a second crop after my spinach. Lastly there are some plants that are perennial, plants that come back year after year. Oregano, Salad Burnet, tastes like cucumbers, asparagus and berries are a few. I hope this has helped those who are interested in gardening.

  43. 68

    says

    I’m happy I discovered your website on ask. Thanks for the sensible critique. Me and my wife were being just preparing to do some research with this. I will be thrilled to see these kinds of great details getting shared freely out there.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] One Week Ago Today… Posted on February 7, 2008 by kthrelfall Almost one week ago today, I went into labor for our precious little girl. Little did we realize that it would be over 40 hours from then until we would meet Hana Kate face to face. God was so kind to us in giving us the whole day Thursday together, and though I had contractions all day that day, it was not until late Thursday night/early Friday that the “real stuff” started happening…right when I started to cut my hair. And right after I posted about God’s material provisions for our family. [...]

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