Writing about No Spend Month, I’ve received lots of questions about how we keep our food expenses so low during that month since the $250 budget plan includes not just food, but also gas, entertainment, and personal expenses.
Let’s talk about some of the strategies for that and the questions I receive the most often:
Don’t you want to buy healthy food?
Absolutely. I’ll be 8 months pregnant in July, so I’m not going to deprive myself of good food. I haven’t eaten Ramen noodles since college, and I don’t plan to do it again.
We have to eat healthy food. Doug is on a wheat, dairy, and corn-free diet, and Lane can’t have wheat or dairy either. The diet restrictions mean no high fructose corn syrup, no cheap fillers, no chemicals, and no MSG. It’s just not an option. Most of our food is prepared at home using whole foods, and since I’m not an amazing cook, we keep it simple. Seriously, there’s a reason this blog is about simplifying and organizing, and not cooking. (If you only knew how many times I’ve set toast on fire…)
Fortunately I can fix delicious salads and smoothies that take full advantage of the fresh produce available (and on sale) during the summer.
Do you stock up on food ahead of time?
No, I feel like buying a lot in advance would defeat the purpose. I also don’t have the space to store excess food. I’m lucky this apartment has a cabinet in the kitchen for food storage, but it’s not that big.
Do you eat out of the pantry or freezer?
Yes, for the first week. We usually have some leftovers to finish up. There is always something in the pantry that we weren’t going to eat as long as better options are available. Then we start buying more food to have enough to eat. I don’t want to end the month with a bare cupboard, because later I would have to make a big shopping trip to refill it. I’d rather stretch our weekly budget to cover what we need.
Do you use coupons?
I don’t use coupons because there are very few coupons for foods that my family can eat. I do watch the weekly sales fliers to find sales on meat and produce at my favorite grocery stores.
Couponing can be an effective strategy for saving money, but there is definitely an art to it. It can take a while to figure out how to combine coupons and coordinate all of the different offers. Money Saving Mom is a great resource if you want to learn how to do that.
What do you eat during No Spend Month?
This year is going to be different and far more challenging for us, because it’s the first year we’ve had to cope with a limited diet. Truly, gluten and dairy-free alternatives are not cheap. In past years we relied on homemade breads, oatmeal, and pasta. This time we’ll have to figure out more ways to cook staple foods like beans and rice, eggs, and potatoes.
I’m thinking about adding variety with stir-frys, soups, and homemade treats. I want my family to feel disciplined, not deprived. If a bag of chips is out of the budget, maybe I can make a cake or some zucchini muffins to enjoy. Popcorn is a great substitute for chips.
The month of July does have its advantages. Fruits and vegetables are abundant and on sale. I look for produce that I can buy for less than $1 per pound such as peaches, bananas, carrots, potatoes, onions, broccoli, and sometimes even grapes.
My balcony garden is small, but I am growing basil, chives, mint, and parsley so I will have fresh herbs to cook with. I also have tomato plants that I hope will produce a lot.
Summer is grilling season, and the grill makes plain food taste better. Our apartment building offers a grill that we’ll be able to use for free.
When I shop for meat, I focus on the store’s featured sale of the week to choose quality meat for $1-2 per pound. The meat becomes a side dish, and the vegetables become the main course. When making chili, there are extra beans and less hamburger meat. Taco soup has more tomatoes and less chicken. We’ll cook a whole chicken on the grill, instead of paying more for chicken breasts.