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.)
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!
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.
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.