Keeping Our Household Budget Under $300 a Month (Part 1 of 4)

ImageBy popular request, I bring you my first frugal living post.  Since I don’t believe budgets can just ‘copy and paste’ from one family to another, allow me to clarify where my family is in life.

We are a four-person family with two-adults and two children under four.  Our $300 budget covers our groceries and common household products (shampoo, laundry soap, toilet paper, etc).  It does NOT cover any other bills like utilities, subscriptions, etc. or our once-a-week date night (which we spend about $15 total on).  Our eating philosophy follows along the lines of trying to eat healthily (good protein, fruits, veggies, and whole grains) but we don’t stress about eating ‘organic’ or ‘additive-free’ or anything like that.

On average, this budget allows us $10 a day as a family (about 3-4 dollars per person, depending on what percentage you think the children eat).  It’s a challenge sometimes, especially as Washington seeks to ‘help us out’ with their constant inflating game, but I’m not without my competitive streak.

I’ve decided to split this topic into four sections:

  1.   Saving by Planning
  2.   Saving While Shopping
  3.   Saving Money at Home   and
  4.   Keeping Things in Perspective (which is a huge part to living on a budget)

So, without further delay…  Let’s hit the planning!

Menu planning is probably the most commonly overlooked step of the four, but it’s so, so important.  Have you ever heard the warning ‘never shop while hungry’?  Well, shopping anytime with ONLY your appetite as a guide will end in similar results.

First, crack open that recipe book.  There are a few tricks that may take a few minutes of set-up time if you’ve never done them before, but will ultimately pay-off a lot.  I have a binder where ONLY my tried-and-liked recipes are kept.  It will take a bit of practice to realize which dishes are both yummy and budget, but eventually you’ll find yourself with a nice stash of them to keep on hand.  (Find the tour of my recipe binder here!) I love to try new recipes, and I’ve gotten to where I can scan the ingredient list and estimate at the dish’s price tag.  Any dinner within the $2-$5 range (that tastes good, obviously) I try to add to our regular rotation.   We eat the more expensive dishes as well, but not as frequently.

When I add a recipe to the binder, I write a ‘price estimate’ alongside it.  It doesn’t have to be precise (groceries change prices all the time anyway), but it’s helpful to realize whether it’s a $4 or a $12 dollar dish.

After I’ve compiled the recipes I want for the week, I’ll make a shopping list and stick it next to my car keys so I won’t forget it.  Remember, shopping without a list is like shopping blind.

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A couple of helpful tips:

1) Plan to cook for leftovers, or even double the recipe and freeze it!  Often, doubling the recipe is a much more efficient way of using up the leftover ingredients, and it saves you labor later on as well!  You paid for all that whipping cream, didn’t you?  Especially if it’s the most expensive ingredient in the dish, make sure it doesn’t go to waste!

2) Don’t get bored with the cheap stuff!  Thanks to pinterest, there are now ten gazillion ways to cook potatoes, rice, noodles and other cheap ingredients.  Dress it up, be creative, and make it appetizing.  Take it as your personal challenge to make cheap food taste great!  Seasonings are cheap, after all.  The worst thing that can happen would be to look at your menu plan just before dinner, groan because it’s THAT unappetizing dish AGAIN, and hop in the car to get better-sounding restaurant food.

3) Guesstimate your shopping bill from your shopping list to prevent any shock at the cash register.  Usually I underspend when I do this before my shopping trips, since I tend to estimate on the higher range of things.  It definitely helps me discover which things are ‘wants’ and not necessarily needs.  If you’ve never paid close attention to ingredient pricing in stores, then start now.  It may take a few months, but soon you’ll find yourself able to write them down without thinking twice.  It will also make you better able to stock up on things when you find an item for a really good price!

4) Don’t forget to shop your fridge and pantry before you take off.  

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Since I know you all are going to ask, here are a few of my favorite ‘dirt cheap’ dishes.

Patatas Bravas (Brave Potatoes)

  • 6 potatoes
  • 6 T mayonnaise
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 3 hot dogs, diced
  • Salt to taste

Fry the potatoes and hot dog pieces, dry off excess oil on a paper towel, and toss with remaining ingredients.  Serve hot alongside a green vegetable and salad.  Estimated cost: 50 cents per serving.

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Capellinni Pomodoro (a classier version of spaghetti night)

  • 3 large tomatoes diced
  • Basil to taste (fresh is better, but dried is cheaper)
  • Drizzle of olive oil
  • Salt to taste
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced
  • A box of angel hair pasta

Heat up the tomato sauce mixture over the stove and serve over cooked pasta.  This recipe is basically free if you are able to grow the tomatoes or basil yourself, but otherwise should be about 75 cents per serving.

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Haystacks

  • Tortilla chips
  • Refried beans, seasoned with taco seasoning
  • Cheese
  • Lettuce, sliced
  • Tomatoes, diced
  • Onions. diced
  • Sour Cream
  • Salsa

Basically a taco salad, with beans replacing the pricier meat option, this quick dish comes to about 75 cents per serving.

I’d love to hear about your menu-planning tricks or dirt-cheap dishes!  Remember, you’d make my day by leaving a comment!

Next up, Saving Money While Shopping

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206 thoughts on “Keeping Our Household Budget Under $300 a Month (Part 1 of 4)

  1. Heather Vaughn says:

    My kids love tater tot casserole. I usually use boston burger. I brown the meat and drain it. Then mix in some cream of (mushroom, celery, or chicken) soup. Whichever is your preference. Then I add some seasoning, whichever you prefer and some shredded cheese. Sometimes I put the tots on the bottom and sometimes on the top. It is good either way. Then I top with more shredded cheese and bake @ 350 until the tots are crispy and cheese is bubbly.

  2. Heather says:

    This is really great! thanks for taking the time to share!

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