The Family Dollar Menu: Dramatically Reduce Your Grocery Bills Without Coupons

Full course dinner

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Want to lower your grocery bill without coupons? Try managing the amount you spend per meal.

Last week, I used national averages to help families figure out if their food budget was too lavish. It was refreshing to see so many who responded that they’d managed a budget below what the Federal Government had determined to be the minimum food plan. However, if you want to go even lower, managing your food cost by meal is the way to go.

How much do you spend on your groceries in a month? A day? Each meal? According to the bureau of labor statistics, the national average for household spending on food is $531/month. For a family of four, that works out to $17.70 per day; and with three meals a day, $1.48 for a meal. There isn’t much in the grocery store that can be purchased and eaten for $1.48 and it takes only a little extra spending to have a huge impact on your spending. At $2/meal, you’d spend $720 a month on your grocery bill.

It also means that small reductions in per meal cost can save you a lot of money each month. Our family goal is to make meals that cost $1 per serving or less. At $1 a serving for a family of four, the grocery bill would come to $360 a month. That leaves plenty of breathing room for the occasional snack food items and dining out when compared to the national monthly average of $531.

(Check out Mrs. SmartFamilyFinance’s weekly frugal recipe; all recipes $1 per serving or less)

Families should do what works best given their unique situation. However, if you are struggling to find a food budgeting strategy that works for you, or you want to try something new, my family has found a lot of success and saved a lot of time budgeting each meal. Here’s why it works well for us.

Per Unit Comparison

Any experienced shopper knows that when comparing products, you need to look at the unit costs. Buying bulk costs more at the time of purchase, but it is usually cheaper. The same goes for meals. If you don’t know the per meal cost, you could be spending more and getting less.

Manage Your Leftovers

If you know how many servings your meals produce, you can manage them better and prevent food from spoiling. It will save you money by reducing waste.

Fits with your Budget

Here’s the way most budgets work. You set an amount for the month that you’ll spend on groceries, then you try and fit your spending to that budget. Managing your cost per meal fits well with keeping your budget. If your goal is $1 a meal, then your weekly bill should be around $84.

Forces you to Keep Up to Date

You’ve got an expense tracking system: now how long will you keep it up? Managing your food budget by meals forces you to keep track. Hopefully, the success you are seeing will also encourage you to go further.

Food budgets are one of the largest expenses you have and one of the few you can do something about. Find a way to get control. If it fits for you, try managing your expenses by the meal.


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