We spend $500/month for the two of us, a 17 year old boy and a 13 year old girl. This includes basically everything.
Meal planning – Monday through Friday – we have one poultry meal, one red meat meal, one pasta meal and one egg or meatless meal per week. Friday is always seafood. Weekends are leftovers and a nice Sunday dinner of our choosing. I purchase meat in bulk family sizes when it goes on sale and then we rebag it in quantities we would use for dinner. For the seafood meals, we buy tilapia or salmon on sale. The tilapia I dip in egg and then roll in shredded parmesan before baking. The salmon we drizzle with zesty italian dressing or teryaki sauce and broil. It doesn’t take a lot of extra ingredients to make fresh food taste great.
Limiting the quantities – the quantities you should be using are a palm-sized portion of meat per person. Most Americans tend to pile on the meat and eat twice as much as they need. We do up this a bit for my teenage boy who needs lots of protein, so he tends to eat 1 1/2 times the size we are eating. But honestly, no one has ever noticed the difference if I had 2/3 of a pound of hamburger instead of 1 full pound of hamburger to a meal.
Make and freeze – many people overspend because they don’t have meals ready and buy convenience food that costs a lot. Spend a day making up a batch of spaghetti sauce in a crockpot and then freeze it in smaller portions. Then you can pull a bag out of the freezer before you head to work, put it in the fridge, come home and boil some pasta and add your sauce. It will be healthier for you too if you make it yourself. I also make twice as much shredded pork than we need in the crockpot. We eat half for dinner and then I freeze the other half for a quick meal in the future. If you come up with 6 or so meals that can freeze and that you guys like, you can whip out a bunch in a weekend and put them away for later.
We buy lots of fruits and vegetables that are in season. A. They taste better in season and B. they are cheaper. I love strawberries but they cost an arm and a leg in the middle of winter. Its just like wedding flowers – if you want tulips in the fall, good luck and God bless your wedding budget. So purchase in-season produce.
We buy grains in bulk – quinoa, rice, pasta. Every meal we have a protein, a vegetable, a grain. Many nights we also have salad. Salad adds fiber, makes you feel fuller which is why you should eat it first.
When I spot a great sale on non-perishables, we stock up for 3-6 months. I know that we will use a 100 oz bottle of Tide each month. I ran into a super sale in January where I got the $15 bottle for $5. It was limit two per day. I had to go to the store 3 days in a row, but I got a 6 month supply of detergent for $30 instead of $90.
Most basic items go on sale as loss leaders twice a year – you just have to learn what is a good deal and isn’t. I never ever ever pay more than $1.50 for a box of cereal. Most times I pay less than $1 – and this is for name brand, General Mills, Kelloggs cereal. I know that in September, most stores run back to school specials on cereal, granola bars, pudding cups, etc. I collect the coupons in the weeks before and purchase 12-15 boxes of cereal at under $1 each. I get $60 worth of cereal for $15 – and it takes me into January/February when the cereals come back as loss leaders again.
When I buy liquor, I look for sales as well as wine tags and rebates. In January, I bought 6 handles of Captain Morgan rum which normally run $25. They were on sale for $17.99. I had a coupon for $2 off per bottle. Then I had a “wine tag” coupon for $2 off orange juice when you bought Captain Morgan. So I got 6 free orange juices. Then I had a rebate form for $25 when you bought five or more bottles of Captain Morgan. I paid just under $100 for the 6 bottles of rum and 6 orange juices and then got a $25 rebate check. Six full handles for about $12 each, half price. We will finish up the last of the rum next month. Same thing with beer – leinies usually gives you $2 off Wisconsin cheese and then has rebates online.
When I do stock up, it is for things that I know we have space for and will use before they go bad. I would never purchase a 6 month supply of toilet paper, for example because I wouldn’t have the space to put it. And I know that toilet paper goes on sale as a loss leader almost every month at one store or another. But if I can save $50-60 at a time by stocking up on cereal, liquor, toothpaste, detergent – well, that adds up. Last year I ran the numbers and figured out I saved $2500 by paying attention to loss leaders and buying in bulk.