Before we begin talking about food budgets and kitchen stuff let me give you my caveat, this is not my strong point. Want to get ideas about scheduling, planning, cleaning, organizing, homeschooling? No problem. Want to talk about feeding your family? Not so much.
That said, we feed our family for less than half of the average per person cost. My husband loves meat, our kids are big eaters and we eat healthy.
There are also 3 other moms who are going to be tackling the topic of budgeting to feed a crowd, so be sure to see what they have to say.Connie at Smockity Frocks
The Deputy Headmistress at The Common Room
KimC at Life in a Shoe
From what I researched the average household spends $150-$200 on food per person per month. Our grocery budget (which includes personal care products, cleaning supplies and paper products) is $800-$900 per month. That’s $75 for food per person per month. (Well, it would be $75 if we were eating the shampoo and toilet paper, we don’t so it’s actually less than that.)
Feeding your family on a budget is all about balance, the balance between time, health and money. Each of us are going to have different priorities and different tolerances for what we consider “healthy” and what we consider “expensive”. Sometimes healthy choices will save you money and sometimes they will cost you money, they’ll almost always cost you time. It’s just a matter of balance.
Here are some tips that our family has learned that can keep our expenses down.
Have a food budget and know what it is.
If you don’t have a food budget or at least a number to shoot for, it’s pretty hard to plan to hit it. My hubby is the budget guru in our family and so I know exactly what I am able to spend. Our food budget also includes personal care products, cleaning supplies and paper products (more about saving on these items later) so I usually take a certain amount out for those things. For menu planning purposes I figure out how much we have to spend per meal.
Have a menu plan.
I have a menu plan for breakfasts and lunches that we only change occasionally. We currently bulk cook freezer meals for dinners, but before that I planned out several weeks of dinners using the same planning methods that I use for my breakfast and lunch plan. (See above link for my “secrets” to menu planning. 🙂 ) As you plan your menus keep your budget in mind. I like planning some meals that cost less, so that we can splurge and have more expensive meals at other times.
Have an extra freezer.
This enables us to stock up when something is on sale and to do a lot of freezer cooking. You can purchase a used freezer very inexpensively and we’ve found that it has more than paid for itself.
Buy in bulk.
I suggest looking for a food buying co-op in your area. If there isn’t one already, it may be worth your while to start one. Our co-op enables us to buy basic staples such as wheat, oats, rice, beans, honey, etc. at prices much lower than we would spend at the grocery or health food store.
We purchase our beef directly from the farmer and then pay the butchering fees. We work together with other families so that we don’t have to buy a whole cow at a time, but are able to buy a quarter or half.
Cook from scratch.
Bread, hamburger and hot dog buns, bagels, granola bars, tortillas, granola, yogurt, buttermilk, kefir, desserts and sometimes even pasta are supposed to be made from scratch. Doesn’t always happen, but that is the plan and it saves us a lot of money. Usually if we’re not making it from scratch we simply go without. That is good motivation to get cooking again.
Shop at discount groceries.
This is not something that we do much anymore, but before we made all of our own bread, we would shop at the day-old bread store. I’ve also found great deals at salvage and other discount grocery stores.
Shop at produce stands.
In my effort to balance health and budget I set aside a specific amount of our food budget to spend only on fresh fruits and veggies. I find that I can cut my produce costs by about 20% by shopping at local, side-of-the road produce stands.
Avoid fast food by keeping some quick meal options in the pantry.
My standard for “instant” meals is not as high as for regularly planned meals. I don’t mind spending a bit more per meal and they don’t have to be quite as healthy.
Some of our “instant” meals:
- Pasta and canned spaghetti sauce for a quick spaghetti dinner.
- Saffron rice and canned black beans for beans and rice.
- Canned chicken and/or refried beans, cheese, salsa and tortillas for burritos or chicken quesadillas
This is one of those things that short term can seem more expensive (fresh fruit and nuts are more expensive than Little Debbie’s and chips), but long term yields healthier kids, fuller bellies and less cravings.
We have dessert every Sunday and whenever we have company. Outside of that we skip the sweets.
Um, self-explanatory. We serve milk or juice each morning for breakfast, but other than that it’s all water.
Don’t forget to plan for hospitality.
Our food budget is tight. However, we believe that we should practice Christian hospitality. The way that we reconcile these two concepts is that our “hospitality” does not come out of our food budget. This enables me to plan much “nicer” meals for company and to not cringe at the thought of feeding a large crowd.
I mentioned earlier that paper products and cleaning supplies come out of our food budget. With 12 people these things can add up very quickly. (Seriously, we recently won a month’s supply of toilet paper. When the children opened the package they all exclaimed at one time, “That won’t last us for a month!!”) To cut down on these expense we don’t buy a lot of disposable items.
We generally use cloth napkins (click link to see how this helps with dinner time spills and I avoid spending all day washing napkins), old cloths rather than paper towels, cloth diapers and wipes.
We do on the other hand purchase toilet paper, lot’s of it. Here’s a tip I read recently, before you place the toilet paper on the roll, smash it so that you bend and flatten the cardboard tube. This helps cut down on toilet paper waste. We’ve noticed a big difference!
Make your own cleaning supplies.
We make our own laundry soap and disinfectant cleaners. We are talking serious savings on this one. We do buy some cleaners for heavy duty cleaning, but our day to day cleaning is done with homemade, non-toxic cleaners.
For more grocery budgeting tips check out these other posts:
What tips for saving money on your grocery budget have I missed? Do you use coupons? If you do, do you really save money on the basics? Should I reconsider my “no coupon” policy?