Updated on 02.20.15

Four Tricks to Keep Your Food Spending at $50 a Week

Cash in wallet

Unless you have superhuman discipline, use only cash to help you stay within your budget. Photo: torbakhopper

My New Year’s resolution wasn’t very glamorous. I didn’t decide to learn French or perfect certain yoga poses or save the world one good deed at a time. Instead, my one and only resolution was to keep food spending at $50 a week.

In January, the first month I tried this, I was armed and ready. My husband and I managed to spend just under $60 a week, and we were extremely proud. Coming from people who could spend as much as $700 a month on food for just two adults, this was groundbreaking.

I am ashamed to admit that my average was $60 a week and not $50 a week because I have a weakness for wine and asked my husband if he would bring home wine and items to make s’mores one Friday night. Hey, I never said I was perfect. I’m doing better this month!

We’re in the second month of our resolution, and we’re on track again. To be honest, this is probably one of the hardest money challenges we’ve ever been through, but we’re thrilled with the results.

Here’s how you can join us on this journey:

1. It’s All About the Cash

Using cash — only cash — is one of the best ways to make this severe grocery budget work. If you have the discipline of a superhero, congratulations. You can use your credit card. If you’re like everyone else in the world, take $200 out of the ATM and don’t let yourself use a penny more.

If you’re out of cash and you have 10 days of the month to go, it’s time to start raiding your pantry. You might be eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich while your spouse eats some pasta and parmesan cheese.

2. Forget the Packaged Items

You pay a premium for packaged items like meals in a bag, fruit snacks, pre-sliced produce, chips, or even steamed vegetables. Anything that has been processed and packaged comes with an additional markup. I’m no Betty Crocker, but I’ve learned that even though peeling potatoes takes a lot of time, it is so much cheaper that’s it well worth the effort.

Now that my children are eating solid foods, I am even more likely to purchase raw vegetables and other produce. I want them to eat healthy foods, and although produce can get expensive if it’s out of season, it’s still better for you and your wallet than run-of-the-mill processed snacks.

3. Plan It Out

I don’t know who this new person is, but I find myself flipping through magazines and Pinterest to find recipes. In my previous life, I would never have done this, even if someone paid me. Now, it’s like a fun and exciting challenge to find recipes that fit my budget.

With very little cooking background, I have made great soups and casseroles, two types of dinners that are heralded in frugal circles as some of the best bang for your buck at dinner time.

I used to buy salad products all the time, including toppings and nice salad dressings. Although it was healthy, I recently learned that salads are far more expensive than soups. Now, I make split pea soup and kale soup and lots of casseroles to help me keep within my budget. Deciding on recipes and planning meals in advance has been a lifesaver.

4. Lose the Meat

I am a meat-and-potatoes Southern girl through and through. However, I’ve come to realize that creating vegetarian meals is not only easy but affordable.

We recently hosted our friends who are vegan. My husband and I had a great time making a whole spread for them that was delicious and healthy. We even made them cookies, which I was skeptical about — until I tried them and declared them the best cookies ever.

It turns out that having a meal without chicken or steak is a great way to save money and keep the grocery bills hovering around $50 a week. As long as you ensure you’re getting all the proper protein and nutrients, there’s no problem going without meat every now and then to save money.

Overall, trying to stick to a food budget of $50 a week has been challenging — but also enlightening. I’m learning a lot about discipline, planning ahead, and creating new dishes.

There was a time in my life when I ate fast food all the time and my idea of cooking was mac and cheese. Now, as a mother and wife, I’m learning many new skills — the least of which is sticking to a cash budget for groceries.

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