I went a month without grocery shopping, then spent $165 the following month

It might not seem possible these days to not spend $300+ per month on groceries. But it is. I don't walk out of the store spending more than $100 these days, and certainly not over $200 for the month. For the past two years, I've been determined to cut down on groceries. It didn't seem right that I had to spend so much money on feeding my family well.

I find myself increasingly overwhelmed when it comes to shopping these days. Determined to go on bigger family trips, cut back on consumerism, and cut out debt, I really want to make our purchases worth it. It started with purging foods completely out of our diet that we just didn't need anymore. Then I went to our regular shopping habits and determined if we actually need the things we're buying. Fast forward to our grocery bill and a strong desire to eat healthy and teach my children good food habits, and I'd say our success is near!

Two summers ago, I started my first vegetable garden. This past summer, I included a greenhouse. I don't provide enough to sustain our family yet, but I do cut out some things when the harvest is good. I have a really small yard and very little experience, so don't be discouraged, it's possible and it helps drastically.

Before I get into how I've made these changes, let me assure you that you truly have to be determined to make these changes. It takes time set aside, getting through the adjustments, and being mentally and physically strong, but it also takes a lot of grace. For example, if you aren't someone who drinks water, it is really hard to give up the sugary and caffeinated beverages you usually have. In fact, water tastes utterly bland and boring. Your body needs it more than anything else. While I don't cut out everything, I allow myself to indulge from time to time, but it's not frequent and it's not going to affect my spending habits overall. You just have to give yourself and your body the time to adapt.

The first major cut on our food bill was NO fast food. Eating out can be a treat, so make it one. We used to eat out once a week, maybe two. Now, we maybe eat out once a month. So, here are a few of our most valuable tips and lessons we've learned.

  • You can grow many fruits and vegetables year round, you can grow many of those in containers right on your porch or in a sunny window spot. Money saver!
  • It is all in your mind. Set aside time to prepare fresh snacks (cut up fruits and veggies, cheese and meat, etc). If you don't have the time, there is no other option (this is one of the hardest thing to teach yourself).
  • One of my big problems while grocery shopping, were impulse purchases. If you can't justify a purchase, don't buy it. If it's easier to make yourself, do it. I am in constant debate with myself, but it's gotten so much easier.
  • My husband loves to roam aisles. If you don't need to go down an aisle, don't. Simple enough, right? I typically shop the outside of the store (produce + meat), except for flour and a few spices.
  • Sometimes we plan meals for the week, other times we don't. It really helps though, because it gives you time to be prepared. Being prepared is the key to eating healthy and spending less.
  • Eat what you have, not just what you want. Meal prep helps here. I heard someone recently say this is their biggest problem with using up what they already have and spending. Well, last month when I decided not to purchase anymore groceries, I would creatively come up with new meals based solely on what was on hand. When I couldn't think of anything, I'd type in a few items I did have into google and found new recipes to try! Win!
  • The biggest decision we made as parents is to feed our kids what we eat. There are no special kid-friendly dishes. We will leave our the extra spices and only add them to ours if it might make their meal too spicy, but that's about it. There is one exception - when you have small kids, they favor easy, finger foods. In this case, I cut up small pieces of what I'm preparing and make a plate for them that way.
  • When my kids ask for something at the store, our rule is that they have to be able to pronounce everything on the label. They also love picking a new fruit or vegetable we haven't tried or had in awhile.
  • I try to make lists, and usually stick to them, but I'm not the best at always remembering the list, or sticking to it. Either way, no impulses. 
  • This might be the biggest and most important part of eating healthy and saving money on groceries: STOP buying pre-packaged foods
    • For example: A box of prepackaged applesauce snacks range from $10-$30. A 20 lb box of apples from the produce market is $10-20. I can make over 10 jars of applesauce and apple butter with those. Then, I make cinnamon apples for a snack, oatmeal and muffins, and have plenty of apples left over for easy snacks. You're paying for convenience here and while it's nice to have, it's really not necessary.
    • Example 2: A package of decent granola bars are about $5. I can buy an entire container of oatmeal for about $2-3 and spend 10 minutes adding honey and raisins, chocolate, nuts, fruit, etc... and have an entire pan of granola bars. I could probably make 20 pans with the box of oats.
    • Don't have time to make those things? Sure you do, schedule time when you'll be home. It's an easy project to include your kids on and do together. You'll be amazed what your kids will like to make, mine love to make their own bread.
  • I go to the farmer's market when they're in season and a local produce stand for all fruits and veggies. And once a month, or every other, I'll buy meats and pantry staples.
  • When seasonally available, I purchase big boxes of fruits and veggies to prepare and can or freeze. If you don't can, that's ok. You can freeze things instead.
  • We cut our meat intake in half. One day, I realized that we didn't need to consume nearly as much as we were, especially because the cost of meat is pretty hefty these days. Start cutting up your chicken breasts and split that among your family (whether butterflying meat, shredding, or dicing). I can use 2 instead of 4 that way. 
  • Fresh herbs are way better. At the produce stand, I purchased 2 bundles of cilantro for $1. To get a good jar at the store would've cost around $5. Know what else, it's super easy to dry and store yourself. Better yet, growing your own herbs is super easy and fun!
  • Just over a year ago, I developed an intolerance to dairy. Sad, sad day. I kept buying the usual things for my family, because they were just fine with dairy. But over time, I kind of forgot. Guess what though? We only purchase one gallon of milk a week, some yogurt, and minimal cheese these days. None of us really miss it anymore either. Not only are you cutting back those extra calories, but tons of $ too! Side note: Calcium and Vitamin D are found in many vegetables!
  • We love our condiments, and they'll last a good amount of time, but there were many that we didn't need in our diet anymore. Ranch and Blue Cheese are the biggest ones for us. My husband wasn't thrilled with this, but I did come up with a dairy free ranch recipe (using things I have on hand) that even the biggest skeptics seem to love and it's a huge treat to have. Otherwise, it's been manageable to give up. Making your own salad dressing is super simple.
  • No more fruit juices or other flavored drinks. Water is easily flavored (with lemon, lime, mint, or fruit) and all your body needs! Milk, water, tea, and coffee - that's it! Calories cut, money saved!
  • It's an adjustment, be patient. My entire family didn't wake up and excitedly get on board with me on all these things. In fact, it was a labor of love, because I was determined. While I do most of the cooking, my husband can prepare good meals for us when I can't. He's learned just like I have. My husband and kids make their own lunches for work and school as well, and they know to look for leftovers (I always make an extra 2 or more servings per meal) or fresh foods to pack. 

I'm no expert here, but this is simply what I've learned over the past few years as I dedicated this part of my life and my family to eating well, developing good habits, and spending less. It takes time, I can't stress that enough. I give in to cravings when I have them, allow my kids treats sometimes. And I don't put extra stress on myself when I can't make everything I want from scratch. If anything, I've learned that it's ok to still purchase some items that simply make my life easier, but again, I always look at the label! Best of luck, friends!