Guys Trying to Survive on a Budget… Or… 5 Ways to Save on Your Grocery Bill

My daughter Lucy wrote this for us guys trying to survive.  She and her husband Matt minister to students in Southern California.  Being in student ministry means you’re on a budget and no joke.  Let’s read what Lucy has to tell us from her experience.  Take it away, Lucy.

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Dollars on a Plate photo credit: Dollars on a plate via photopin (license)

First let me say I’m not a guy.  I am trying to survive but my survival is through a tight budget not through a relationship lost.  So feel free to take my words with a grain of manly survival salt.

The average American spends $151 on food a week.  I spend half of that a week.  My husband and I are not rich by any means, and we’re still able to go on vacations and have a savings account.  I think a bunch of this is due to how we buy food!  So here we go!  Also, I have attempted to make these points sound more masculine.  I found that cooking and budget talk sound girly.

1.  Stop going out to eat!!!

As a guy trying to survive this may be harder for you than some, but take what works for you and spit out the rest.

I know it’s tempting to grab that $5 footlong.  So cheap right?

No way!

If you eat three meals a week out (you and one other person) that’s $120 a month on $5 footlongs!  You can feed two people for two weeks easy on that amount.  Limit your going out as much as possible, even if it means eating a boring PB&J once in a while.

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Fancy Restaurant photo credit: 7 portes restaurant, Barcelona via photopin (license)

Have a goal in mind when you say no to fun things (like a footlong BMT).  My husband and I do vacations.  When we see our friends with those tasty subs or burritos I have to say to myself, “It’s ok, because by eating this PB&J, we’ll be able to go to San Francisco/Disney World/Washington DC/Whateverville sooner.”

P.S. if you’re always needing quick meals, like fast-food, find foods you can make at home really quick.  I’ve gotten able (with help from my husband and practice) to make fajitas (with homemade tortillas) in 30min and pasta in about 15.  By the time you drove to get that BMT, ordered, paid, and drove back to wherever, you could have had that pasta made.  Also, a single serving of pasta with red sauce is about $0.55!

2.  Coupons = as helpful as JarJar Binks!

I don’t care what the other blogs say, I think couponing is dumb!  I know, I know you can get that frozen dinner a dollar cheaper and save 50 cents on that can of tuna, but let me explain.

All coupons are for name brand items (and prepackaged foods, more on that later).  I’ve found that even with the coupon, that item is still more expensive (or at least the same price) as the off-brand.  I can save tons of time and money if I don’t coupon.

Get use to the off-brands.  They’re not that different.  If there are some things you just can’t stomach in that brand (I got to have me that Jif peanut butter; Great Value just doesn’t cut it), then by all means look for coupons for those but otherwise scrap them!  As a guy trying to survive, you probably don’t have the time to clip coupons and sort through the pile of them at the checkout anyway.

3.  Handcraft things!

Aka:  make things from scratch.

This can be time consuming, but if you have a Saturday afternoon to make stuff ahead of time, do it!  Here are rough (very rough) estimates on what it can save you.

Bread at the store (another item I can’t do off-brand in) is $2.50ish.  Bread you make is about $0.50 (If you do that, invest in a bread maker though).

Remember those homemade tortillas?  $0.30 for 8 vs. $2.50 for 8 (we can’t eat store-bought anymore; they’re nasty to us).

There are many other examples.  Learn to utilize that freezer so it’s easy for you to make stuff on the weekend and whip it out quick when you get home from work.  I’ve found that about 75% of things are cheaper (and worth my time) to make at home vs. buying the off-brand and about 98% of things are cheaper to make if you were to buy the same quality at the store.

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Mr. Toast with Jif Peanut Butter photo credit: Mr Toast with Jif Peanut Butter via photopin (license)

I made peanut butter once, it wasn’t cheaper than the off-brand, but if I bought the fancy peanut butter, which was an equivalent quality to my homemade, mine would have been cheaper, but not cheaper than my Jif!…I stuck with my cheaper Jif.

[Drew here:  I’m a Peter Pan man myself.]

4.  Shoot prepackaged things in the face.

This goes along with #3 but bears repeating.  All those prepackaged snacks, meals, etc. are very convenient, but they are so much more expensive than just snacking on a banana, making your own chocolate chip cookies, drinking water instead of soda (easier said than done for some), etc.

Also, it’s healthier because there are so many hidden things in that stuff!

“It’s Fat FREE!”

Yeah, but to make it taste good they put a ton a sugar in it.

“SUGAR FREE!”

Yeah, but they put another cup of oil in it to make it taste good.

There are also tons of preservatives.  It’s scary.  My homemade bread stays good for about 4 days, and that’s pushing it.  Bread off the shelf lasts about 2 weeks!  I’m scared to know what they put in it to make it last that long!

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Apfelbaum photo credit: Apfelbaum via photopin (license)

Food that remembers where it came from is healthier and mostly cheaper than food that doesn’t.  Feel free to use this as an excuse to eat whatever at home!

I know this is my 6th cookie today but I made them from scratch.  There are no preservatives.  HEALTH FOOD!

5.  Many crunches make a nice six pack.

This last point is just a bunch of little things/thoughts that can save a good chunk of money when piled on top of each other.

  • Use cloth napkins, not paper.
  • Use cloth towels, not paper towels.
  • Buy in bulk.
  • Look at that price per unit in the corner of the price tag at the store.
  • Shop at cheap stores…yes, you may have to brave Walmart to save money instead of going to the calmer/nicer Ralphs or Target.
  • Freeze leftover things. Only need half a pepper for that recipe?  Freeze the rest!
  • Separate “out to eat” budget money and “grocery” budget money. That way one won’t eat away at the other.  This forces you to either cook at home or go out and have fun and not feel guilty about it.
  • At the end of your list of meals to make for the week? Look through the cupboards, if you have time, to see if there’s one last meal you can scrounge up to make that week of meals go a little further!  We like to do this with a waffles and egg night.

I know some of these may be hard and take a bit more time than grabbing that BMT on the drive home, but it will save you tons of money!  My husband and I spend half of what the average American spends on food, and we still are not eating beans and rice every night.  If you work it right, you can still eat fish, meat, dessert, go out 2-3 times a month, and still come out with money for that vacation/boat/football ticket/concert ticket/bike/*enter other manly thing*.

Also, as you save you will be amazed at how expensive other things are.  I’m always saying to my husband words like “$10 for this?!?!?  I could make this at home for $1.50.”

Good luck men!  You can do it.  My husband, who has only been cooking a couple years now, can make bread, homemade tortillas, and a pasta cream sauce, among other things, easily these days.  If you have a significant other around or kids, get them on board, too!  Set a goal for that extra money together to motivate them to help you make that extra pizza dough on Saturday or cook a quick meal together when you get home from a long day instead of grabbing that BMT.  Time cooking decreases a bunch if you have a helper, even if they’re just chopping things for you.

Have fun saving money and eating tasty things!

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Comments

  1. Hannah May 6, 2015 #

    Great tips! Out of curiosity, what recipe do you use for the homemade tortillas?

    • Lucy May 6, 2015 #

      2 cups bread flour
      1tsp baking powder
      1tsp salt
      1/4 cup oil (canola or vegetable)
      3/4 cup water.
      Mix it all up. Roll out each tortilla (makes 8) and cook in hot pan on both sides.
      Enjoy 🙂

  2. Louise Turner August 3, 2015 #

    Very good tips, Lucy! And thanks for the homemade tortilla recipe–I will try it.

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