That grocery budget

Since summertime I’ve been trying to do all our grocery shopping with cash, which has really helped keep our grocery budget down. My monthly goal is $700. You can see in the sidebar how we’ve been doing.

Most months since I started with the cash we’ve kept it right around $700. Two exceptions– in October we butchered our steer which filled our freezer but put us over budget for the month. Then in December I didn’t bother to get cash out for groceries and went back to my old debit card habits. Sure enough, we went $158 over budget. Now in January we are back to cash shopping, which always makes me more thoughtful at the grocery store.

I thought some of you might be interested in seeing my meal plans for the rest of the month.   Breakfast is usually oatmeal or eggs and toast or pancakes.  I buy 5 dozen eggs at a time for $4, which is just about the most affordable protein out there, so we eat them for breakfast at least a couple times a week.  Lunch is almost always leftovers.  So really I only plan out my dinners.  Here’s what we’ll be having for dinner for the rest of the month:


  1. We use cash for all of our grocery shopping, too. My husband is paid twice a month and I used to put all of my grocery money together for each pay check. Now I split that money up to weekly grocery money and have found that that works so well for our family. It feels good to start the second week with all new money. 🙂

  2. I don’t know if I could go with cash all the time, but you are inspiring me to get the grocery budget down. We’re a family of 7 and it’s usually $200 a week, with diapers and gluten free foods for me. I’d love to get it down to $150. 🙂

    • Dana, we have to buy gluten free food for my son who’s a growing almost 7 year old (he’s actually the size of an 11 year old!! which tells me we’re doing well on the diet!)
      BUT Our grocery bill is out biggest buster of the budget! We’re a family of 6 with diapers and I can’t imagine doing $200 a week, but would love to do a whole lot less! I’m super curious how Mary does it–I’ve just discovered the blog–for about $700 for 10 people a month! If I could do even $700 for the 6 of us, it’d be great! How do you save money on gluten free foods? What kind of recipes do you do that are money savers? What about snacks for yourself? thank you! Jen

      • Jen:
        This is late but you might see it. My biggest money saver when it comes to a gf diet (we are Casein free as well) is to look at any speciality ingredient and ask my self what regular item can I use instead. F.ex I have not made lasagna for ages but I do make various versions of Moussaka or make potato lasagne omitting lasagne sheets for finely sliced potato slices or even mashed potatoes.
        We never do pasta but we do rice noodle dishes.
        I find that asian and indian recipes are often naturally gf or simple substitutions can be made without shelling out big bucks for speciality ingredients.

        The only specific gf things I buy are cereal and a thickener for gravy.
        I then have on hand a few gf flours and bake on average one loaf of bread a week (we rarely eat bread) and once a week we have a sweet snack time when I bake a cake, muffins ect.
        Instead of focusing on breads and pasta like a lot of the western world we focus on rice, root vegetables, gf whole grains like quinoa and some corn occasionaly as our carbs. Looking around the world it is mostly the western world that is so heavily wheat based. I find it easier to find naturally gf recipes in almost any other part of the world.

  3. I bought both your books and love them both. I have 6 kids (ages 1-11) and am constantly struggling with my grocery budget. I want to go to cash, but I don’t want to because it would be harder. I have 2 picky eaters who make it difficult to try new things more than once a week. I’m also thinking about switching out breakfast from mostly cold cereal to eggs or pancakes, but I hate getting up in the morning and am having trouble picturing myself hopping out of bed to make food. I think I mostly know what to do, but lack the discipline to do it.

    • Hi Lynn,
      Just start small. Maybe Saturday would be a good day to do eggs, if it is a quieter day for you. (I’ve actually taught all my kids age 8 and over to make toast and fry their own eggs. So on the days we do eggs, it is strictly DIY.) And as far as pancakes, try making a bunch of extras and freezing them in packages of 4 or 6. That makes it super-quick to microwave them.

      Every small change you can make will get you one step closer to your goal!

      Best Wishes,

  4. I always spend more when I use my debit card. I want to go back to cash but my hubby doesn’t like the idea of me carrying all that cash around.

    I think I could estimate my spending and then just carry some of it. Or maybe do a stash and dash around my purse so that any “lurkers” would not see a huge amount of cash. That is what my hubby is concerned about I think, my safety. (Plus, he’s also seen the way I lose things in my purse, lol!).

    • Try just keeping a week’s worth with you, and leave the rest in the bank. I think that is a reasonable compromise, allowing both convenience and reasonable safety.

  5. Great post and very timely for me. 🙂 My issue is lunch – we never have enough leftovers from dinner to feed all of us again at lunch. I am feeding 8 (but 2 are babies). Are you doubling or tripling recipes to have enough for lunchtime leftovers?

    • I make soup at least twice a week and ALWAYS double that recipe. Anytime I make rice, I’ll make extra so that it is easy to make fried rice. (So, not a true leftover, but some of the work has been done, so it is quick.) Extra beans from a previous meal make great burritos when combined with cheese and sour cream. Often I have a couple servings of casserole or pasta dishes leftover, not enough for a whole meal, but I’ll serve them combined with a couple other options, and allow people to zap their own in the microwave. Occasionally we also make sandwiches or ramen noodles at lunch– not really leftovers, but again, definitely quick.

  6. I have a better solution for budgeting without using cash. I used to use an all cash system for budgeting called the envelope system. I would cash my paycheck every 2 weeks and divide all of the cash into various envelopes labeled with the corresponding expense and dollar amount. For example, my grocery budget would be $500 a month, so I would put $250 every 2 weeks into the grocery envelope. Once the cash was gone so was my shopping. It was a great system but it was a pain in the butt for numerous reasons. Then, I found a website that will do all of this for me and let me manage my entire account via text message. The website is called The first step is to enter my net income and how often I get paid. Then I create a spending category for each expense I have. Then, when I get paid I send a text message to my account telling it to budget the amount of my paycheck and all of my categories are filled with the correct amounts based on my paycheck amount. All I have to do now is send a text message when I spend money with the dollar amount of the purchase and what category to take the purchase amount from and it is logged into my account and a reply text message is sent to me with my new category balance and new total account balance. I am always in balance and on budget and don’t have to carry cash with me. I love it! There are a lot of other features and the website has a lot of tutorial videos that can help. They also have a dedicated customer service center that you can call and get help. I hope this site helps you as much as it has helped me. It’s

  7. If you have never shopped with cash (and only cash) it is fun to see how close to your target you can get. I have a daughter who is a whiz at keeping our tally and then figuring the tax and seeing how close she is to the final figure. The cashiers are always amazed that she is able to figure this within a penny or two and that is keeping the amounts in her head, no paper used.
    Another help for lunch is to plan on having the same meal on the same day, ie: Monday is for mystery lunch; Tuesday is for tacos; Wednesday is for a wacky lunch; Thursday is for tuna; Friday is for fish; Saturday is for soups; and Sunday is for leftovers–if you are a household that does not have enough leftover from each night to carry into lunch the next day.
    One of our favorite lunches has to be soup of any kind or chili with our ‘french bread sandwich’ which is: french bread sliced lengthwise smoothered in butter and minced garlic (to taste) then piled with spinach leaves, tomatoes, onions, cheeses (and just about anything you want) put top back on all your delectable veggies cover with aluminum foil and bake in 350 oven for approximately 30 minutes. Also good if grilled. ENJOY this cheap and fun sandwich.

  8. Mary,
    Love this post as I’ve been so lax with shopping since the holidays! We keep saying, “We need to get back on cash spending…” Maybe this will be the encouragement we need. Praying about adopting again, food is always a huge expense in a big family, so spending less is great! Can’t imagine feeding so many on 700 a month…guess that’s why I bought your book. Loved it so much I had to buy more for my frugal-wannabe friends 🙂
    Many thanks!

  9. I agree that using a “card” to buy our groceries makes it all too easy to slip a few extra (and very un-necessary) items into my basket; making my quick dash in for only 2-3 things cost $20+. Yikes! I gotta go to cash… and have more discipline about making a list and sticking to it.

  10. My Boaz's Ruth says:

    Your Frugal Feasts book mentions a cheese slicer you love, but I can not find it on the Pampered Chef site. Do they still sell it?

  11. We have made the Ethiopian Sloppy Joes that you have listed on your menu. It is so good! Thanks for sharing the recipe. My Ethiopian son chose it for his birthday dinner and it is one of those recipes that every one of our 13 children likes! Love it when I find those kinds of foods. We actually just eat it like a thick stew alongside a green salad and hot rolls. Thanks again! Becky McKenzie

  12. It seems like you can budget food purchases more successfully if you’re willing to put the time in to make things from scratch. And I see that you are. I’ve been doing it all my married life, but you have more of a challenge than I do because your household is larger. I remember all the veggies and fruits you canned this summer, and I’m sure they help out. I didn’t can anything this year, but froze lots of summer foods. I’m so lucky to have lots of freezer space.

    You have my admiration for your life style. Keep smiling!

  13. Shelly Roberts says:

    Mary, LOVE this post!! Really working on our grocery budget. How many are you cooking for now? Also, how much of your food is purchased and how much are you using from what you canned? Also, do you guys purchase meat at store also?, or is your meat already accounted for from when you did the beef? Trying to compare and see where we’re comin’ out. 🙂 Blessings, Shelly

  14. We do many household expenses with cash envelopes — groceries, haircuts (for the two people who have to have it done by a pro), household supplies, babysitting $, entertainment, etc. We spend $100 a week for 5 people, which includes accommodations for dairy, egg & peanut allergies. I love using the cash system because truly, if the envelope is empty, we get creative until the next payday!

  15. I am trying to switch to an all cash system- but I always slip in extras which is why I have not been successful- I do however have 1 question…since your kids are older they can do for themselves or help out since it seems you do alot of from scratch cooking- BUT I have 6 children (the oldest is 7) which requires me to do almost everything. I use canned, I use shortcuts where I can which makes my budget higher than I’d like. How did you do it when you had all littles and no bigger kids to help out?? thanks 🙂

  16. Mary-
    Love your cookbook. YUMMY!

    I had to laugh at this post. My hubby and I have been working to pay off debt and have been using a cash system to help us stay on track with our spending. It has helped us more than we could have imagined. HOWEVER, today I discovered that I LOST $150 from our grocery money for the month. That is a great way to save money, right? By losing it!

    Thankfully we have a semi-full pantry and freezer so we should be able to squeeze only $10-15 on produce to get us through the week. 🙂

  17. I am new to your site, but I see I have a lot to glean from you. :)I have been trying to shop wisely for some time and it payed off this last week! On Wednesday, my husband, who never comes home sick, did just that. He was very sick and in turn I got sick and our 3 children. It was a miserable week, but because of advance preparation we did not need ANYTHING from the store the whole week. I went tonight and got just essentials…milk, cheese, eggs, etc., but it was such a blessing to not need to go for anything. This has also tightened our budget quite a bit and I am planning to spend no more than $75 per week this next several weeks. I’m looking forward to the challenge and am planning to make the most healthy meals possible.

  18. I would love to try the cash system as well, but am afraid to carry around all that cash. I’m terrible about setting my purse down:) Has anyone ever tried taking a month’s worth of play money and putting it into an envelope and using that as a tangible way to keep track? Move the money from the month’s envelope to a different one to represent spending, but use a debit card for the actual payment? I’m wondering if it would help keep track, or just add one more thing to keep track of. I’ve thought of this to teach my preschooler how budgets work as well since debit cards seem like magic money to her!

  19. I have not used the cash/envelope system, but have heard of people using something like a VISA gift card for their groceries – they reload it with the budgeted money each time they get paid. I’ve wondered about paying the fee to load the card, but it might be worth it if you’re concerned about carrying around cash.

    Just a thought…

  20. Paying for groceries with cash does help staying on budget. I keep a copy of all my receipts in excel. He gets paid every 2 weeks, but I still break it up in half. Our budget is under $100/week for the 6 of us. It works well for us. Finding websites to help us make meals frugally makes a huge difference! I love to stockpile the loss leaders, too.

  21. I am brand new to this site (I just checked Family Feasts out of the library and discovered Mary Ostyn!!!) but when I saw your comment I had to reply. I am the homeschooling mom of 7 (5 bio, 2 adopted). Our youngest daughter was born with a genetic condition called 5p- or Cri du Chat Syndrome. God is good and she is an amazing little girl, but she will require hands-on care all her life. She is LOTS of work…I understand exhaustion! We live on my husbands income and I am no stranger to budgeting for EVERYTHING especially food. I am a night owl by nature…it is sooooo hard to get up each morning at 5:30.

    Making hot breakfast every day was a huge challenge before I learned to use my late-night habits to serve my mornings. I prepare as much as is humanly possible the night before. I prep the coffee maker, set the table, cut up fruit, mix juice, mix the dry ingredients for pancakes, waffles or muffins in a bowl and leave covered on the counter. I mix the wet ingredients and leave in the fridge. Combining them in the morning is easy. I even make bacon or sausage the night before and re-heat them quickly the next morning. On cereal mornings (rare, because cereal is cost-prohibitive) I set out bowls, boxes of cereal, the toaster, bread or bagels…everything but the milk. On omlet mornings I prep all the fillings and store them in the fridge in little containers. I even beat the eggs ahead of time and refrigerate them. It is sooooo much easier to get up and face making breakfast when I know that most of the work is already done…and done when I have energy and am motivated. I am also motivated by my wonderful husband who has gotten up every morning 5-6 days a week for the 25+ years of our marriage to work and take care of me and our children.

    I don’t know if I will EVER get to the place that getting up early is a pleasure, but sitting down each day to a home-cooked, budget-friendly, health-conscious (at least on the days we don’t eat cold cereal!!! :)) breakfast is a great feeling. It’s also awesome to begin my day with the knowledge that I have nurtured the most precious people in my world with good food and loving attention. I am rewarded by their shining faces and happy voices as we eat and share the beginning of our day.

    I hope this doesn’t sound preachy…not my intention AT ALL. I also hope it doesn’t sound sugar-coated…with purposeful planning my family rarely misses having a warm and comforting start to the day.

  22. The above comment was in reply to Lynn. When she mentioned how hard it was to get breakfast each morning, it really resonated with me! I know my comment seems off-topic…sorry! I also shop with cash and totally believe that it DOES make me more careful at the market…it’s so easy to go over-budget when you’re just swiping that card!

    I also am a complete believer in purchasing in bulk! (Always compare unit costs, though…some bulk items are no bargain!)

    Thanks for this site…I am so excited to keep reading!

  23. Michelle says:

    Thanks for all the great ideas! Here’s an example of how I plan our weekly menu. I’ll start with baked pork chops with onion gravy for dinner say on Sunday. Sunday night when I clean up I’ll cut up the remaining pork chops and pour what’s left of the gravy in a large crock pot. One top of that I’ll add a bag of pinto beans and add enough water to cover the beans. Cook them on low all night until dinner on Monday. On Tuesday, I’ll smash some of the beans for tacos or nacho supremes. This way there’s no waste!
    A pork but is also a good way to save. Cook the pork then seperate into three portions. Day one Pork -n- gravy, day two shredded Bar-b-Q pork sandwiches, and day three pork tacos or burritos. Hope this helps!