By Shannon, Contributing Writer
“I wan’ some B-nana.” My 2-year-old’s sweet voice rang out, throwing in, “Pleeease Mama.”
He must have sensed I was about to say no.
He tried again. “I wan’ some apple, Mama.”
I shook my head apologetically.
Finally, “I wan’ some peenubudder.” He was smiling and nodding enthusiastically now, sure he’d win me over, but the answer was no to that one, too.
A year ago, my family was in a much different place financially, and there was one month in particular when I found myself having to say no to my 2-year old a little too often.
Now, don’t be too concerned, he was still getting plenty of healthy foods to fill his little belly. It’s just that there wasn’t any extra in the budget to buy many of his usual favorites.
Our relative poverty was mostly self-induced. You see, we were three months into our laser-focused mission to get out of debt as fast as possible. To help us save even more than our usual tight budget allowed, we were in the midst of doing a “No Spend Month” to help us get even closer to our goal.
Those of you who also live on one income probably know, when the budget is already stretched to the max, the only place left to cut is usually the grocery budget.
I had already slashed our grocery budget by half, while still feeding my family mostly natural and organic foods. That January though, I was determined to do even more to save money.
$170 Grocery Budget Challenge
That January, I fed my little family of four for only $170.
Ever since I mentioned our experience in another blog post, I’ve had readers asking, “What did you eat for only $170?!”
Luckily, nerdy writer than I am, I took notes! Below, you’ll find suggestions to do your own grocery budget challenge along with a 1-week sample meal plan. For more grocery savings strategies, you can access my free 3-part video series, the Ultimate Grocery Savings Guide.
How to Do a Grocery Budget Challenge
1. Find out what’s back there.
Even when times are tough, the majority of us in the developed world are so richly blessed. Our homes are filled with an abundance of food. It’s easy to become so accustomed to it though, that we stop seeing the resources that are really there.
If you’d like to do your own grocery budget challenge, take a close look around your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer.
What are the foods that have gotten shoved to the back and forgotten? See that little half cup of barley in the back of the pantry? Did you notice that not-quite-empty bag of sweet potato fries in the freezer?
Not only will you save money by finally using up these foods, you’ll get a clean and organized pantry out of the deal, too!
2. Get Creative.
Once you’ve taken note of all the foods that you have available, get creative!
I must admit it is my husband, not I, that is the master at getting creative with the food we have on hand.
To help me with this challenge, over the years I’ve learned a handful of recipes that are flexible enough to allow me to use up whatever I have on hand.
These are a few foods I like to prepare that can’t go wrong, even if you need to use up a little of this and a little of that: easy fried rice, basic soups, simple smoothies, casseroles, and scrambles to name a few.
3. Eat the less-than-favorites.
As mamas, it’s so hard to say “no” to our sweet little punkins, but we all know there are times when it’s best for them and our families if we do.
If you’ve decided to do a grocery budget challenge to move your family toward your bigger financial goals, this is one of those times.
This is the time to fill their little bellies with the healthy foods you have available, even if they aren’t their favorites.
Eat the freezer meals that didn’t quite turn out. Use up the ingredients you bought for failed healthy living experiments. (Frozen fish head, anyone?)
Yes, even use the foods you bought in bulk and have since abandoned as “unhealthy.”
4. Plan Ahead.
Once you decide on a few creative meals and commit to eating a little differently this month, create a meal plan. It’s ok if it’s less than perfect.
Looking back on our meals from that month, I have to laugh. They were a downright weird mishmash of odds and ends.
One night, we actually had salmon salad and peach pie for dinner! Still, we didn’t go hungry, and over the course of the month, we probably got pretty good overall nutrition.
1-Week Sample Meal Plan
Here’s a sample 1-week meal plan from our $170 grocery budget. This was from the first week of our pantry challenge, so there was a bit more to choose from than there was by the end.
Breakfast: Eggs (We had a dozen chickens at the time, so we ate a lot of eggs this month!)
Lunch: Roasted Chicken with Leftover Pasta
Dinner: Steak, Sweet Potato, and Green Beans
Lunch: Leftover Steak, Sweet Potato, and Green Beans
Dinner: Leftover Chicken and Pasta, Carrots
Lunch: Chicken soup, leftover steak and carrots, toast
Dinner: Leftover chicken soup, eggs, potatoes, toast
Breakfast: Eggs, Gluten Free Waffles, Sausage
Dinner: Roasted chicken and Green Beans
Breakfast: Eggs and Gluten Free Pancakes
Lunch: Lunch with family.
Dinner: Leftover Hamburgers, fresh juice
Lunch: Leftover Hamburgers
Dinner: Tortilla Soup and Lasagna from the freezer
Lunch: Leftover Tortilla Soup
Dinner: Chicken soup (using leftover chicken and stock from Day 4) with Salad
Our grocery budget challenge helped us to get closer to our goals and we learned a lot along the way:
- As a direct result of the grocery budget challenge, we were able to put an extra $235 towards paying off our student loans that month.
- I had already slashed my grocery budget in half before the challenge. After finishing up our January grocery budget challenge though, I learned that there were a few more ways I could save. As a result, I cut the budget even more until we paid off all our loans.
- Right there in the midst of our shrunken budget and let’s be honest, feeling a little deprived, my eyes were opened to just how crazy blessed we are. I was so thankful to have that abundance of healthy food to feed my son, even if he didn’t get his favorites for a short time.
I now teach my simple, coupon-free method for saving money on groceries to other busy moms. Course registration is open now. If you need some quick strategies, you can also sign up for my FREE 3-part video series, the Ultimate Grocery Savings Guide.
Have you done a grocery budget challenge before? What was the weirdest meal you served your family?