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How to Eat for $500 a Month: Our Take on a Cash Only Grocery Budget

Phew. We made it. Today was my last grocery run for February. Five hundred dollars in a Hallmark card envelope to feed us for the past twenty-eight days.* A challenge, yes. Especially considering a month ago, our average grocery costs were hovering around $1000/month. This month, we halved it. And then some. In fact, at this moment, there is $8.45 remaining in that crinkled, well worn envelope. So really, we only spent $491.55 this month. Yay us!

Truly, it’s you guys who are deserving of the praise. So many of you have messaged me with different techniques and advice you use to minimize your monthly grocery bill. You guys have been so inspiring! So, thank you. Your ability to keep me accountable towards this end goal has been invaluable.

While I will not profess to now be an expert at this, over the past month, I have picked up some tips and tricks that have enabled this challenge to be quite manageable:

  1. Cash is the way to go. Prior to using a cash budget, I would always use VISA to pay for groceries. Our VISA card is set up to give us 4% cash back each year for grocery purchases. I was one of the ones who was easily scammed. If we had an abnormally high grocery bill one week, I would justify it by thinking about the amount of cash back we’d receive at the end of year. Ridiculous, I know. For me, having a set amount of cash in hand and the inability to swipe my card proved to be the best way to go. True, at the end of 2018, I may not receive a huge check from VISA for all my over-spending on food. But I’ll wager a guess that we’ll have saved a lot more by not using our VISA card for groceries. (For those of you who are more money conscious, I’m sure you’re rolling your eyes at my naivete right now. I do realize that I am a sucker.)
  2. Price-match everything! I used to be the person that would scope out the grocery check-outs for the line that didn’t have price-matchers in front of me. Or if I happened to unfortunately get stuck in line behind a price-matcher, I’d huff and puff my impatience as they flipped through flyers or pulled out coupons. The other day I had the privilege of being the price-matcher. And true to form, my former self (albeit, he had a beard and wore a lot of plaid) pulled up behind me and kept sighing, drumming his fingers on his cart and rolling his eyes as I took my sweet time price-matching each and every item. Sorry, not sorry, buddy. He finally made it through the check-out. I couldn’t help noticing that he purchased a lot of the same items as me for almost double the cost. I almost wanted to tell him all about the wonders of price-matching, except he was shooting daggers at me as he whipped out his plastic grocery bags (those cost 10 cents each, dude!) and clunked his items in as quickly as possible before he breezed past me.
  3. Go vegetarian! I love meat. There is nothing better than steak. With butter. And garlic. And onions. And lots and lots of butter. Until you realize that you just ate $30 worth of meat. Which in a $500 grocery budget is a lot. Our original weekly meal plan includes one vegetarian meal. However, we discovered that if we ate less meat and consumed more beans, we still got in tons of protein at a fraction of the cost. (As well, I think Zoe may be a closet vegetarian. Unless meat comes in the form of chicken nuggets, she avoids it like the plague. Slam a plate of beans down in front of her, though, and it’s demolished.) There’s no way that we’ll ever be able to go fully vegetarian. But we have started to incorporate more than just one vegetarian meal a week, and the cost savings are substantial! (If you want to save even more on beans, buy them dried! It takes some forethought to soak them the night before, so it’s not as convenient as canned beans. But it’s so much cheaper!)
  4. Find economical ways to snack. Every Friday night, we go out as a family to the grocery store and let the girls chose a fun snack. However, we added up the amount that we spent on snacks this past month and it came to a whopping $80! That’s 16% of our monthly grocery bill! For the month of March, we’ve decided that we’re going to snack smartly. Instead of purchasing one snack per person, we plan on buying a big tub of ice-cream and all the fixings to make phenomenal ice-cream sundaes. The tub of ice-cream will likely last us the whole month, as will the toppings that go along with it. Hopefully it will prove to be much cheaper…I can’t really see us buying $80 worth of sprinkles and chocolate syrup. (Yes, we could always cut out snacks entirely and save a bunch. But that’s not going to happen. The kids love our Friday night ritual, and so do we. Ordinarily, we eat quite healthily during the week. Friday nights we let our hair down.)
  5. Consider making some of your regular grocery items. We go through copious amounts of applesauce in our house. Applesauce is easy to make (I do mine in the slow-cooker) and freezes well. As well, we go through about five big tubs of yogurt a week. While I have never made yogurt before, I’ve heard that it can be done in a slow-cooker. (Anyone done this before? Any tips would be appreciated!) So this month, I’m going to attempt making yogurt. As well, I’ve started to use ingredients that I already have on hand for cleaning and skin-care products. (White vinegar, lemon juice and coconut oil, which can be used in a myriad of different cleaning products, are fairly inexpensive and last forever!)

So, we completed our $500 grocery budget mission. I didn’t feel deprived or that we ate less. In fact, I’m left scratching my head at what we spent that additional $500 on in the first place. It’s safe to assume that we plan on continuing the challenge to remain within the $500/month constraints. In fact, we’ve begun brainstorming ideas as how to continue to lower our costs even more so. (Stay tuned for a post about doubling our vegetable garden size and the potential for adopting some backyard feathered egg-laying friends.) As for now, we still have $8.45 left in our envelope. At this rate, I’ll be able to afford a cup of coffee at Starbucks with my leftovers! So you’ll have to excuse me, world. This price-matching momma is about to whip out $8.45 and treat herself to a really big coffee.

 

*What we considered groceries: all food, snacks, toiletries, cleaning products, and diapers. We did not include restaurants or take-out coffee in this budget. We’ve also significantly cut back on the amount of times we go out for dinner, however. It’s been over two months since we’ve gone out for a meal. Instead, we’ve been opting to make more “adult” type dinners (i.e. never chicken nuggets) after the kids go to bed, in order to keep our restaurant costs down. (Going out to eat was actually a huge portion of our monthly costs, so we decided that we needed to do something. Truth is, while I love a meal prepared for me by someone else, making food together as a couple is so much fun and such a great bonding experience. Plus, we can crack a bottle of wine, listen to whatever music we want, not feel rushed to pay for the check, not have to worry about who is drinking because someone has to bring the babysitter home, and our bedroom is literally fifty steps away. It’s a win/win situation.) I realize that this might not be everyone’s cup of tea. If that’s not your thing, than I’d either recommend budgeting a separate amount for going out to dinner or increasing your grocery budget a bit to accommodate restaurant fare. 

 

7 thoughts on “How to Eat for $500 a Month: Our Take on a Cash Only Grocery Budget”

  1. I can send you my yogurt recipe! I LOOOOOVE it much more than regular yogurt. I made 4 L of milk at a time and have 2 huge mason jars that it fits in (bought them at Home Hardware, bought a case and it was totally worth it for me because I also like to make kombucha and use them to store that as well)
    I am seriously so impressed how you halved your budget. I have been spending so much lately. But, I’m also very happy with the choices we’re eating. And my pantry and freezers are so stocked, so I know that’s partly why. I think my first goal in the next while is to eat up what we have so that sooner than later I can “start clean” and bulk shop again so that I don’t have to worry about rotating food and stuff expiring. Then maybe a try a month of cash and see what happens. I’m a PC mastercard collector all the way 🙂 and I shop at No Frills so I sometimes find that their prices are cheaper to begin with than the ones in the flyer. I’m just lucky that its a new No Frills and has decent produce! But then there’s Costco…. I also shop there. haha and those bills are giant.

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    1. Yogurt
      1 L milk + 2 TBSP yogurt
      1. Heat milk to 185 F (just before boiling) – will take approximately 10-15 minutes.
      Can cover to speed it up, just keep an eye on it!
      2. Cool down to 110 F in the sink in cold water (can add ice to speed it up or stir it).
      3. Temper milk with yogurt and then combine it with the remaining milk. (This means to slowly warm up the milk so it does not curdle – you add small amounts of the warm milk while stirring often. I usually have my yogurt in a medium glass bowl and add 1/4 cup of milk 3-4x. Then I add that entire bowl to the rest of the warm milk.
      4. Put it in containers to store.
      5. Leave it on counter wrapped in towels with stove light on or leave it in the oven with the oven light on. It needs to be in a warm location but not hot. Leave it until set. If you make it in the afternoon or after dinner you can leave it overnight.
      6. Refrigerate.
      7. If you like thicker yogurt, pour off the whey that separates to the top. Or if you like the consistency then just mix it in and enjoy a bowl!

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      1. This is awesome, Em! Thanks for the recipe! I’m definitely going to be trying to make my own yogurt this month. Is there a certain yogurt that you like to use to stir in? (I know you probably use a portion of your original yogurt that you’ve made. But before you had that on hand, was there a brand that you used/preferred to stir in?)

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    2. Ahhhh Costco. I know. I never leave there without dropping a couple of hundred bucks. Probably why we were able to maintain our budget this past month – I didn’t go to Costco. I have run out of some of my Costco items though, so it’ll be interesting to see if I will be able to maintain our budget for the month of March.

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  2. I make yogurt every week. It has saved us so much money. My pressure cooker has a yogurt setting though, so I use that. I’ve heard you can do it on the stove too but I’ve never tried it. Would you share some of your meatless recipes? I’m trying to incorporate more of those meals in our rotation.

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    1. I would definitely love to share some of my meatless recipes. Some of my favourite meatless recipes comes from Oh She Glows. I have the cookbook but her website has a lot of recipes on it as well. I’ll start working on a post though about meatless meals, though! 🙂 Thanks for the suggestion!

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