How I Feed My Family of 4 on $500 Per Month

How I Feed My Family of 4 on $500 Per Month - picture of parents with two kids at dinner

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Once, in a far off land, Greg and I seriously struggled to keep our food budget under control.  Well, come to think of it, the main reason we struggled is because we didn’t even have a food budget.  Yep, it’s true! In fact, once we had a reality check and started tracking our spending, we realized that we were easily spending over $1,000 on food for two people and an infant.  Eeeeekkkkk!  Anyways, we’ve since wised up and changed our ways.  These days, we budget around $500 for food for the month for our family of four and we manage to stay within our budget most of the time.  Anyway, I recently got this email from one of my amazing readers:

Could you do a post on what your feed your family every month with the budget of $500.00?  I am really struggling with this myself. Thank you. Kind regards,  Cynthia

Oh Cynthia, where do I begin?  First, let’s start with a few disclaimers:

  • Since we don’t eat meat, we usually don’t spend any money on it.  The only exception is when I buy the kids chicken fingers or lunch meat.  That doesn’t happen very often.
  • My kids eat lunch at daycare Monday through Friday.
  • Greg eats a peanut butter sandwich and Lay’s potato chips every freakin’ weekday.

How I Feed My Family of 4 on $500 Per Month

For the most part, I’m just paying for breakfasts and dinners for everyone Monday through Friday.  I eat lunch at home seven days a week, but I usually just try to eat leftovers. Moving on…….

The main way we keep our grocery spending under $500 is by eating extremely cheap meals several times a week.  During any given month, we usually eat the following meals at least 3-4 times:

  • Vegetarian spaghetti with toast
  • Eggs and toast with fruit (the kids)
  • Grilled vegetables with toast (usually mushrooms, sweet potatoes, and zucchini with some olive oil and salt)
  • Vegetable Stir-fry (mixed vegetables, rice)
  • Zucchini Boats (Zucchini cut in half, drizzled with olive oil then filled with tomatoes, cheese (fake Daiya cheese for the adults), basil, and onion)
  • A pot of soup
  • Bean Burritos

Making Soup

soupI cannot follow a recipe to save my life, but I do make delicious soup.  How?  I just throw a bunch of veggies in a pot with vegetable broth.  Usually my soups include some combination of onions, carrots, tomatoes, celery, lentils, and zucchini, although I add extra stuff in if I have something I need to use up.  The spices I add can vary, but they typically include basil, thyme, and coriander, and of course, salt and pepper.  I always make a huge pot of soup so that I can freeze portions and unfreeze them when I am feeling lazy.  Sometimes I make Pillsbury Crescent Rolls for dipping (they are naturally vegan!) and other times we use Ritz crackers which are also naturally vegan.

Eating Beans

falafelWe eat so many beans in this house that I’m surprised our house has never exploded.  We eat them in burritos, on top of salads, and in prepared dishes such as falafel.  The pic to the left is of some homemade falafel and guacamole wraps I made the other night.  They were so good.  I don’t really have a falafel recipe per se (Try this one?) but it really is a cheap to make.  A $1 can of organic chickpeas can make enough falafel to feed 8 people, just by adding the right spices and seasonings.

Eating Leftovers

I go to great lengths to make sure we’re not throwing food away.  This strategy is two-fold.  First, we aren’t wasting perfectly good food.  And second, we are saving money by not buying as much.  Sure, I get complaints from the peanut gallery.  But do I care?  No.  We’re eating leftovers, kids.  Deal with it.

Buying What’s On Sale

We eat a ton of produce but we only buy what’s on sale.  For instance, asparagus and raspberries were on sale at my beloved Kroger this week.  So guess what we’re having this week?  Asparagus and raspberries.  Next week it might be something completely different, and that’s fine.  I try not to buy produce that isn’t on sale unless it is absolutely necessary for whatever I’m making.  If it isn’t necessary, I’ll substitute for something else.

Making Things From Scratch

In order to save even more, I’ve learned to make a lot of foods from scratch.  I’m not a great cook, but I am a resourceful one, so I’m usually able to pull off a decent meal just by following and modifying the various recipes I find all over the internet. I started with mail order, ready to cook meals, but found them to be a little too expensive and the recipes were not any  better than what you can get online.

Pinterest is another great resource for cheap and easy meals as well, and that’s basically the only reason I ever get on Pinterest.  I also steer clear of the deli and prepared foods section of my store, which also helps me save.  I absolutely love all of those prepared salads you can buy (Has anyone ever had the Wheatberry salad at Kroger?), but they have a tendency to make my grocery bill explode.  If I can’t find a recipe and make something from scratch, I no longer buy it.

So that’s it.  That’s how I feed my family of 4 on $500 per month.  Any questions? 

What is your grocery budget?  What are your favorite ways to save on food?



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  1. I use a lot of he same techniques as you have listed here and they are indeed beneficial. A couple of other things I’ve been experimenting with is buying only what is on sale and making meals from those ingredients and categorizing my food purchases. This last one will suck if you’re not into tracking things, but it has allowed me to see which food items last the longest for the money spent. For example, I know I get far more bang for my buck when I spend on grains, rice, oats etc. as well as vegetables/fruits than I do when I spend on dairy products like milk, cheese, ice cream etc. The cost for dairy products is far more expensive and doesn’t last near as long.

    I’ve just started doing the categorizing this month and it has been an eye opener.

  2. We spend less than $300 a month for the two of us. We keep the total low by couponing, planning meals, and eating leftovers. We also only eat chicken, which you can get a big bag of for relatively cheap. On a side note I’ve definitely considered going vegetarian in the past, but I’m not quite there yet.

    1. I was mainly just eating chicken when I became a veggie too.

  3. Ahhh soups! I love making me some delicious soup. Crock pot meals turned leftovers are my go-to! I’ve also found that Greek yogurt with berries is a completely satisfying meal. There is so much protein in Greek yogurt that it keeps you full and it’s insanely healthy for you. Win-win.

  4. Great tips – especially not spending on meat. I am sure that saves you a lot of money. Not only money but animal products are SO bad for you, so good on you there. We spent probably more than $500/month on two people but we live in Canada (prices are higher on.. everything) and we try to eat organic.

    1. We do save a ton by not eating meat. (Plus it’s gross!)

  5. Well, we are spending a good deal more than this because we do eat meat and I’m feeding six instead of four, two of which are nearly teens…Yikes! Does the $500 include money spent on eating out or is that a separate budget item?

    1. No, it does include eating out. We just don’t eat out very much. It also includes paper products, but we don’t use a lot of those either (other than toilet paper).

  6. Our budget is $400 for three, but we eat meat and that takes up a good amount of the budget. It is expensive. We easily stay under this amount, but that is because I eat the same thing almost every day, like Greg. We also do really well with leftovers.

    1. Eating leftovers makes a huge difference. I know people who never eat leftovers because they think it’s gross. WTH?

    1. Yes exactly. Same thing with soup. You can put almost anything in soup!

  7. Making from scratch is the biggie in our experience. Even if you add meat to the diet, it’s still amazing how much you save by eliminating prepared food. Of course, when both parents work full-time, that can be a time challenge. Two words for those folks: creativity and crockpots. 🙂

    1. Yes, that is one of the great things about working from home. I actually have time to make homemade meals now. When I worked outside of the home from 9-5, we were lucky to have boxed mac-n-cheese for dinner. It sucked.

      1. I make sure that I prep things in bulk on weekends or start them the night before- ie if i want rice for dinner (which takes awhile to cook) I’ll make it the night before.
        Also I buy meat/fish/poultry on sale and freeze it.

  8. Great tips Holly! We’re at $475 for five of us, but usually come in around $400ish per month. We do a lot of these same things – buy what’s on sale, leftovers and gardening. Plus, with both of us working from home it’s pretty easy to just eat whatever is in the house for most meals.

    1. We are having a garden this year for the first time ever! I cannot wait!

  9. We’re at an average of $350 for three of us (plus two cats as I buy cat food and litter at the grocery) – and we’re *huge* meat eaters. Every single lunch and dinner has at least 4oz of meat in it for the adults, the kiddo gets 1oz to start, then we add if she finishes it. Cooking from scratch really helps, as does buying cheaper cuts of meats and watching for the meat we want to go on sale, then freezing it until we need it. One of the things we do is buy a lot of meat at once when it’s on sale and prepare meals to put in the freezer. Right now, we have 4 months worth of food in the freezer – all prepped and ready to go. We just need to thaw and cook it – and some of the recipes don’t even need thawed first. Having the food all ready to go makes it less likely that we eat out because it takes less time to just grab something from the freezer than to go out (or even order in!)

  10. We aim for $600 per month for two, split $350:250 on groceries:eating out. The Mr really likes his eating out, and it’s a sizable part of his work culture, so we make allowances for it.

    1. I hear ya! Sounds like it’s a hobby and you guys can certainly afford it!

  11. Impressive. I consider us doing well if we can stick to $500-$600 a month – this includes restaurants – for 2 adults. I am trying to have less meat for health reasons, but my penchant for expensive Greek yogurt and precut veggies affects the food budget.

    1. I like those precut veggies too. I just have to avoid that aisle!

  12. I try to make things from scratch too. On top of beans I could have lentils most days and not get bored. I use meat but more for the taste than a big steak. Have you ever tried to make your own bread instead of having toast?

    1. No, I haven’t. To be honest, I don’t eat a lot of bread. Just the kids do and they are so picky about it!

  13. Our grocery/household stuff “budget” is $550, but we’ve been closer to $600 a lot of months. And only our oldest eats real food, and not very much. I doing we do okay but could definitely be better.

  14. I was amazed at how much money you could save by cooking at home. Before I moved in with my boyfriend I very rarely cooked. And by cooked, I mean making ramen noodles. I spent a TON of money on take out. But now that we’re together, I’ve started cooking for us and every time I go to the grocery store, I’m shocked at how inexpensive ingredients can be compared to a meal at a restaurant. They’ve obviously made a lot of money off me!! LOL My tip of the day to people who want to learn how to cook: Become best friends with Pinterest. I’ve found SO many super easy recipes on there!! 🙂

    1. I agree. The internet in general is a treasure trove of recipes and dinner ideas.

  15. Great tips and an amazing food budget for 4 people! I’m vegan 95% of the time (I’m flexbile when eating out or at friends houses) and I don’t miss spending money on meat! That being said, organic fruits, veggies, etc. are definitely not the cheapest things in the grocery store! Keep up the great work on your food budget.

    1. I would say we are 95% vegan too. There are just some things I cannot (or will not!) avoid like items with honey in them. Plus, when we do go out to eat, I can only make my best guess whether a meal is vegan or not.

  16. A $500 a month grocery bill for a family your size is definitely impressive. It seems the difficult part would be making the initial switch from when you were spending much more. In other words, stripping things out and making cuts/sacrifices would be tough at first, but probably not so bad once you’ve gotten more in the habit.

    1. To be fair, my kids are only 2 and 4 and eat very little. We may have to adjust as they grow up!

  17. I’m like Greg…I can eat the same thing for a while and I don’t get tired of it. My wife is not like that. And as to left overs…it pains me when people throw them away. They’re perfectly fine to bring for lunch or to eat for another meal.

    1. I wish I had a dollar for every time the boy ate peanut butter toast!

  18. Oh, I love falafel. It is my favorite thing to eat in a pita, just barely beating out a gyro.

    We’re big fans of beans, too. They instantly make a meal more hearty, and they’re cheap, too. When I worked at WIC, beans were at the core of of a lot of our nutrition education: how to soak and cook them, and how to use them as an alternative to meat. Huge savings are possible there.

    1. Totally. I also happen to like them which helps. You can make so many things with chickpeas too!

  19. We are a family of three and a few months ago I started using a grocery delivery service; it has saved us money because we now plan our meals, and prevents us from unnecessary impulse purchases. Hmmm, I think I’ll have to write a post about that!

    1. My sister gets produce delivered and says she saves for the same reasons!

  20. One of my goals this year is to reduce my grocery bill. Last year it was an average of $600/month for 2 people. This month we got it down to $495. My goal is to get it down to $450/month. One of the things I started doing was buying more items on sale and only going to the supermarket once per week.

    1. I really need to go to the store just once per week….I am awful at stopping by 3 or 4 times. Those little trips add up!

  21. Mmmmmm soup! I could eat soup all day. Sometimes I do. I make a vat of it and just snack for hours.
    But I digress–these are great tips, Holly. And I second the making stuff from scratch thing. It’s fun! And, after the first time, easy. I make bread like nobody’s business nowadays. I made bread bowls a while back. For the soup. Mmmm soup.

  22. We used to be around $1,000 for 3 people and then we became more mindful of what we were doing and now we are at $400 for 3. Although this week we bought $25 of veggies at a farmers market, so I am trying to get our weekly total to $30 all-in. The biggest things for us are using what we have in the house (I had a STUFFED pantry and freezer of things that never got used) and eating what is on sale. If chicken is on sale, it’s chicken. If pork chops, then pork chops are the winner! It helps to be “nimble” with meals when you are food shopping that way you know you can go with what’s on sale.

    1. We go through the pantry and eat what’s there occasionally. It’s easy to forget about the things you already have!

  23. Tara @ Streets Ahead Living says:

    I love soups too! now that I got an enameled cast iron pot (a cheaper Le Creuset knock-off) I make soups like crazy now.

    I have a tendency to buy too much of a vegetable like celery and I don’t know what to do with it. But when it’s starting to get limp, it’s great in soup! I figured out that in my opinion, you can never have too much celery in a soup so now I just dump everything in after a quick chop in the food processor. I also love celery, lol.

    I will say that I bought some Better than Bouillon at Costco and that stuff is the bomb diggity. (they have vegetarian ones). It ensures my soups come out with that je ne sais quoi that is sometimes hard to achieve without real soup stock. If I have real stock on hand, I’ll use it, but my soups come out better if I add the Better than Bouillon when I’m out of stock. But I also haven’t been patient enough to let my soups set so perhaps I should try cooking an all day one to achieve more flavor?

    1. I throw all extra celery in soup. I agree- it goes well and soaks up all the flavor. Plus it’s good for you!

  24. I’ve cut my grocery expenses literally in half (to an average of $140/week) by creating a menu of meals for a full week (inexpensive dishes, btw) then using my grocery store’s online shopping function (Harris-Teeter). I order everything I need for the week’s menu (and other supplies we may need, like pet food), then I pick up my order the next day. I may forget to order something once in a while, but I never impulse-shop!

  25. I’m working on a post about our food budget- we spend $250/month for 2 adults and 1 kid. We aren’t vegetarians, but we do eat a lot of fresh veggies, beans, lentils, pasta, and some meat. We eat lots of leftovers too. I think if you give in to all those convenience foods and processed stuff, that’s when the grocery budget blows up.

  26. Agree with all the tips posted in the blog and will add a few more … stating up front that I’m a meat-eater (sorry!) but it’s not the majority of what I eat, and I never, ever buy it if it’s not on sale.

    First, I’m a big believer in batch cooking. There are a few things in my heavy rotation — bolognese sauce, chicken pot pie, chicken chili, beef & red bean chili, Cajun red beans and rice — that I always cook in my giant pot and then freeze in 4-portion sizes.

    Also, am I the only unabashed yellow-sticker shopper? Those of you with Harris Teeter nearby will know what I mean. My eyes scan the shelves and kiosks for things that have been marked down because they’re about to expire. 🙂 I’m the queen of buying up rotisserie chicken (or even better, roitisserie chicken breast!) once they’ve tacked those $2 off and $3 off stickers on. Aside from making soups and such, you can add the chicken to a pasta dish or make chicken salad or whatever you like.

    You see it a lot on meats, cheeses and packaged foods too. I don’t tend to buy perishable foods with the intent of freezing them. For better or for worse, I shop as I need things. So if I have a choice between a package of chicken sausage that expires in 2 days with a $3 off coupon on it and one that expires in 2 weeks that’s full price, I know which one I’ll choose every time!

    Also, I pined for years for a Le Creuset cast-iron pot. I finally read in Cook’s Illustrated (love!) that the Tramontina brand performed nearly as well in their tests. I picked up a big one for $25 during a Wal Mart black friday sale and I’ve been using it happily ever since.

    Last but not least, I selectively coupon. A few years ago, I found I was buying thigns I didn’t use or need because I had a coupon, hehehehe. Now I know there are certain things I will always need — chicken broth, brown rice, canned tomatoes, cereal, etc. — and I buy coupons for those things on eBay. Paying full price for anything really irks me, so I’m always checking to see if there are coupons for my ‘staples.’ Just this week I hit the jackpot with a super double $2 off coupon and was able to get 35 cartons of my favorite chicken broth, which I use more than almost anything else in my kitchen, for 99 cents each! My stockpile will last until this time next year. Including the cost of the coupons, I had a net savings of over $125.

    1. I seriously need a good cast iron pot……been looking for one!!!

      I like stocking up on things we use a lot….like certain types of spaghetti sauce or vegetable broth! I

  27. My grandma makes delicious, simple chicken soup that I’ve always loved. I’m lucky in that she makes a huge pot and gives me a container to take home. Our grocery budget (for 2) is around $250-$300, but I’ve been trying to buy organic when possible. I only get meat when it’s on sale. My boyfriend has been on a PB&J kick lately which is nice, since he has a huge appetite.

  28. Have you ever thought of becoming a crazy coupon lady? I watch extreme couponing shows on youtube sometimes and I kind of want to be them but then I remind myself I can’t be the coupon lady, the credit card lady, and the blogging lady all at the same time lol.

  29. I like the use of beans… provides a lot of protein and can be very cheap, especially if you buy them dry!

  30. Prudence Debtfree says:

    You come in $200 less per month than we do with the same number to feed. (I’ve got two teens at home though.) I really think it’s the meat that makes the difference. I have tried a few times to go the bean route, but I have a hard time coming up with appealing meals. I don’t have the creative cooking gift that you seem to have – I need to follow directions. Your post makes me want to try again though. The idea of spending $200 less on food per month is very motivating. Thanks : )

  31. “We eat so many beans in this house that I’m surprised our house has never exploded” ha ha ha. I think thats great you can feed your family on 500/month. I’m at around 300/month and that’s just for ME!

  32. That’s incredibly Holly. We eat a lot of soup and beans too, which really helps cut the costs. One giant pot of soup that has $7 worth of ingredients will end up being 3 or 4 meals for 2 people, which really isn’t bad at all. But we do need to trim our food budget, as for the two of us I’d say we’re spending close to $350/month. Definitely room for improvement there!

  33. $500 per month for four people and really impressive! I really struggle to stay under $300 per month for just me. It’s the more difficult item in my budget to stick with, but I’m constantly on the goal and haven’t cut back enough on coffee shop visits, occasional meals out, etc. Keep up the good work!

  34. We are ALL about the beans lately. I’ve been making almost all veg meals at home because it’s just so much cheaper than eating meat. And while I don’t want to cut out meat completely, I am totally fine eating it just every once in a while.

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  36. do not call “leftovers” leftovers call them planed-overs. why leftovers it make a mind think gross, there leftover got to throw them a way but if you call them planed-overs what a good idea i think ill take that for lunch tomorrow

  37. Hi Holly! I spent about $600+/m on just me for going out about 2 times every day for about a year when I got my first full time job also. All my co workers would go out all the time and I would like to tag along. Not only that but I am a big guy that eats a lot! 280 lbs. So it takes me a little bit more to get full therefore I typically buy more food to eat. But just recently noticed how expensive it is to eat out everyday! Especially twice! I’ve been shopping at cosco for some bulk ideas. Still spending about the same but at least I am stocking up on food and when going out it only feels that so much special! :))

    Thanks for sharing this you’re very inspiring,
    Nickolas O’Neal

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