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Feeding a Family of 4 Adults on $200 to $250 Per Month -- Recipes, Shopping Lists, Menus, and More

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When our household's income was significantly reduced, our grocery budget was the first area to be slashed. Many budget items are difficult to reduce. We can't reduce our property taxes. One can only keep their home so cool. Cars need to be repaired and maintained. And it wouldn't be wise to cut back on funding our retirement accounts this late in the game. As a single-earner household, it's been challenging to amass a significant retirement savings. And now, my husband is in the last decade of gainful employment. With his reduced income this spring, we decided that we want to do everything in our power to continue adding to our savings. This leaves the one last area of spending that is flexible and can absorb a large reduction -- our grocery bill. God has blessed me with the ability to cook, budget, and shop wisely for a purpose, and perhaps this is it.

As of March 2019, we are down to $125 per month for all food for 4 adults. When we first embarked upon this journey, I was really not sure if this would be sustainable. Three months in, and I'm still not certain. However, we continue to live at this level and are eating well. Sure, we don't get pizza delivery or have boxes of snacks in the pantry, but we are doing well. If you'd like to read more about how our family is managing on $125 per month, click on any of the following links:

The very beginning of this current journey

**new-5/25/19**  Basics for a Very Low Grocery Budget
The backbone of keeping my grocery budget so low is the creation of a stockpile of pantry staples, such as flour, beans and other legumes, rice, steel cut and rolled oats, corn meal, popping corn, barley, sugar, vegetable oil, baking essentials, and some canned fruits and vegetables. I can pull together a meal with just these items. I mostly find my lowest price per unit at an institutional food service outlet -- the type of place that small businesses or charitable organizations shop for their supplies. The size of packaging that I typically buy are considered suitable for institutional use, such as number 10 cans or 25 to 50 lb. sacks. The ingredients in the extra large cans can be divided into smaller containers for the freezer. This post from 2013 provides an idea of the size of packaging, how I store and use, and some pricing that I find at SmartFood Service Cash & Carry.

In addition to buying my basic supplies in institutional sizes, I also shop the clearance racks, loss-leader items, farm stands, and specialty markets. This post from 2014 provides a list of 30 places to look for rock-bottom prices on groceries. I compare prices online and in-store for every item that I purchase. Prices can fluctuate a great deal from one month to the next, so as I make out my shopping list each month, I search several stores online to find my best deal for each item that I am buying that month.

We also keep a large garden, which provides at least a little bit of fresh produce from March through November. For 32 years, we've kept "gardens" in pots on terraces, in-ground at a rented duplex, under lights indoors, and at our own home in raised beds. We have always had some sort of garden for this entire time. A garden not only saves some money in the present, but it is a back-up plan of sorts. If we should need to live on even less income, we could provide even more using our garden. Think about the space that you currently have. Is there a place that you could add a bed of vegetables, a fruit tree or two, or even fill the pots that you would normally use for flowers instead with tomato plants and salad greens? There's a patio at the Pike Place Market in Seattle that is populated with galvanized troughs filled with vegetables and berries. Any space that receives some sunshine can become a garden.

In addition to buying foods at rock-bottom prices and stocking up on basic, inexpensive ingredients, it's also extremely important to not allow food to go to waste. I look for unusual uses for produce that may not last or even ripen. And I look for recipes that cook the parts of vegetable plants that aren't normally eaten, like squash blossoms, radish leaves, and cauliflower and lettuce cores. I salvage produce that is past its prime, by cooking it or giving it a good soak in cold water. My mother always threw away the fat from cooked meat. I save it to use in cooking later. I use the strained milk skin from heating milk when I make yogurt by blending it with an immersion blender then using as part of the "milk" in baking. In addition to all of this, I use my freezer a lot and push the limits pretty far on sell-by dates on eggs and milk. The food that I salvage, rescue, or set aside in one month can often be enough to feed my family for an entire dinner.

**As of August 2019, our grocery budget is now $135 per month. We're doing well and still meeting our savings' goals toward retirement. God is good.

**2020 -- During this pandemic, our grocery spending has gone up and its gone down, but mostly it's gone up. Food is more expensive and I can't shop in-person to find deals. I've had to pay a premium at times to have groceries delivered. We've now settled into a routine of me getting curbside pick-ups from one store in our area, Walmart. Over the summer, I put together a significant emergency pantry, using our vacation money for 2020 to finance the purchases. This fall, I've tried to scale back my monthly spending as I begin to use some supplies from the spare pantry. If I have calculated correctly, my emergency pantry will last through spring 2021, when I hope our country is in a better situation with the virus. The value of my pantry, when averaged out over the months, is about $100 per month of use. So, if I spend about $100 to $150 per month, now through spring 2021, that plus the value of what I use from my emergency pantry will put our grocery spending around $200 to $250. That's a far sum higher than when I began this page, reflecting increases in our expenses to buy our groceries, but also reflecting our eating every single meal prepared at home. If you find you're spending more on groceries, take heart, we're all finding ourselves spending more on food right now. As my lovely and wise mother-in-law would say to me, "this too shall pass."

**2022 -- I'm grocery shopping in-person again, meaning I can score more deals than during the shutdowns. Two things from 2020 and 2021 that I've carried into my current grocery shopping strategy: 1) I now buy some of our groceries online, if that's the least expensive option; 2) I'm keeping an emergency pantry. In 2020, the emergency pantry countered the periodic shortages. Now in 2022, my emergency pantry is allowing me to wait out some of the price hikes until I find a clearance deal or good sale. My food spending now averages around $225 per month. I grew my largest garden ever this past summer, and I believe this has tremendously helped with food spending.

That's the beginning of this leg of our story. Go ahead and poke around a bit in the following posts. You may just find something helpful.

Basic Ingredients With Multiple Uses posts:

Many Ways to Use Tomato Paste
Many Ways to Use Rolled Oats
The Basic Seasonings Associated with Different Cuisines
Condiments and sauces that add spark to everyday meals

Holiday cooking and baking -- Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years

Substitutions and recipes for foods or ingredients: Beverages

Substitutions and recipes for foods or ingredients: Desserts
Substitutions and recipes for foods or ingredients: Breads, Wraps & Pasta
Substitutions and recipes for foods or ingredients: Breakfasts
Substitutions and recipes for foods or ingredients: Ingredient substitutions
Substitutions and recipes for foods or ingredients: Meatless Entrees

Holiday Treats on a Budget

Comparisons and calculations

Miscellaneous posts to save money on groceries

Monthly Grocery Spending Totals for 2019
January $174.13
February $90.62
March $123.13
April $126.35
May $124.62
June $122.70
July $128.07
August $118.05
September $128.77
October $159.67

Check back often, as I'll be updating/editing this page weekly.


  1. Love this Lil!
    Thank you so very much for this. This is going to be so very helpful in this season of my life.
    I truly appreciate it.


  2. Lili, could you do a post on how you make your lentils and rice? I am not a fan of lentils but I want to be! Hoping you have hints to make them more appealing?
    Vivian (a fellow Seattle area follower)

  3. Hi Vivian,
    I'm not sure why your comment just now showed up in my inbox, but I'm so sorry that I wasn't able to respond when you made your comment! Anyway, yes, I'll write up something about how we do lentils and rice in our house. We do seem to eat a lot of that combo!
    Thanks for your patience! And glad to know someone else from the Seattle area is here!

  4. Hi, Lili,
    What are your substitutes for sweetened condensed milk and brown sugar?
    Thanks, Maude

  5. Hi Maude,
    for brown sugar, I use a combination of white sugar and molasses. Here's what I posted to someone else a while back in the comments ( from a srticle on restaurant and institutional supply shopping ) about "2 teaspoons to 1 tablespoon of molasses to 1 cup of white sugar, for golden brown sugar and about 1 1/2 tablespoons to 2 tablespoons molasses with 1 cup of white sugar for dark brown sugar.

    I stir with a spoon, using the back side of the spoon to thoroughly mash the molasses into the sugar, and store what ever is leftover in a tin in the cupboard, so I often have some all made.

    If I'm making something that doesn't have to be precise, like granola, I just add the molasses and white sugar separately to the sugary base."
    For the most part, I don't keep brown sugar prepared, but make it as I need it. During the holiday baking season, though, I will make up a large batch just for ease of measuring when making lots of recipes.

    I'll type up my recipe for sweetened, condensed milk in the next week and will include a link to it on this page. It's easy to do, but requires cooking down (condensing) the milk for about 30 minutes. The ingredients are milk, some sort of sweetening (honey, sugar, corn syrup), and butter, plus optional vanilla. I use this when I make the layer bar cookies that call for sweetened condensed milk poured over the top of layers of ingredients.

    Hope this helps, Maude.

  6. Hi Maude,
    Here's the link to the sweetened condensed milk recipe:
    Homemade Sweetened Condensed Milk


  7. Hi Vivian,
    I'm sorry this took me so long. I wanted to add photos to a post and I didn't get to making rice and lentils until yesterday. But, here's the recipe for how I do rice and lentils.
    Tastier Rice and Lentils That Won't Make You Feel "Poor"

    I hope you like this dish, Vivian.
    By the way, nice to know you're also from the Seattle area!

  8. Lili, thanks so much for the post on rice and lentils. It looks absolutely delicious! I think this will help me to change my opinion of the dreaded yet cheap lentil! I love your blog and am getting so many ideas from you. Many thanks, Vivian

  9. Thank you for your very kind words, Vivian!


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