Budget Day 1: Getting Organized

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Wow, day 1 is barely over, and I already feel like I’ve proven that organization is key when it comes to budgeting! I spent almost an hour this morning figuring out what we had on hand (too many greens), what meals I could make with those items, and what exactly I needed to buy.  The days of going to the store with a partial grocery list are definitely over, but we did end up with some tasty lasagna tonight as a result. More on that later though, first things first…the votes are in! And based on everyone’s feedback it looks like we will be attempting to eat real food on a budget of $125/week. It was a surprisingly close race between $125 and $150 and I appreciate everyone who shared their opinion (but especially those who wanted me to have more money to spend! LOL).

So here are the rules:

  • We have $125/week to buy food for our family of four, which includes my husband, our two daughters (ages 3 and 5), and me of course. This budget will cover our food from Monday through Sunday each week, and if for some strange reason I end up accidentally going over-budget it will be deducted from the following week (yikes!).
  • What’s not in the budget:
    • Eating out: We will have $20/week for eating out and since most fast food restaurants don’t fall under the realm of “real food,” I am estimating that the four of us could eat at a restaurant maybe two or three times a month. I will be tracking and sharing the outcome of this category.
    • Household products: These expenses will not be part of this project, and will cover things like household cleaners, paper products, and alcohol. No one needs to know how much we spend on our alcohol, which helps us get through these pledges in the first place. :)
    • Garden Harvest: I already spent about $30 on seeds and plants for the fall, which just about filled up 6 out of our 7 raised garden beds. Any veggies we harvest ourselves will be considered free!
    • Pantry/Freezer Stock: With the exception of meat and seafood (which can obviously be a big expense) we can use any ingredients, pre-made frozen meals, canned goods, or other items that we already own at no charge. I will also make a point to restock some of these items as I go, but I do believe an important part of budgeting is learning to use what you have on-hand!
    • Travel and Entertaining: If we are out of town or entertaining guests we will obviously be under different circumstances. Therefore food that falls under these categories will not be part of our weekly budget nor will it be tracked for the blog.
  • As far as what we can eat…we are going to stick to our original real food “rules” from our first pledge as much as possible, but we will have to the ability to waiver on occasion since the focus this time is on how much we spend.

So back to my morning….as I mentioned, organization and planning are key, but I still have a long way to go before I master this whole real food on a budget thing. I started off by figuring out what produce we have on hand and pictured you will see the overwhelming amount of greens that I uncovered (from some recent CSA boxes). And I am not kidding when I tell you that I have no idea what the three items in the bags are or how I should cook them for that matter. I am also not kidding when I say I don’t even think I like most greens and my daughters are pretty much in the same boat as me on that one. So after that fun discovery I made a list of things I can make this week:


Monday: Swiss Chard Lasagna with a side of Green Beans (mission accomplished!)

Tuesday: Leftovers and a Salad (for the adults)

Wednesday: Bell Pepper Fajitas (I will attempt to throw some of the greens into the pepper mix)

Thursday: Butternut Squash Soup and Zucchini Bread or Biscuits

Friday: Eggplant gratin with some sort of meat (if we can afford it by Friday!)

I am not sure what I will end up doing with all of the greens that are not accounted for…maybe give them to my neighbor or just force feed them to my husband? I will do a lot for this new budget, but eating some sort of mustard or other greens on a daily basis is not one of them! Anyway, I also made a grocery list for Earth Fare this morning so I could get what I needed to make these meals, and I set a goal to not spend more than $60. I came up with this number because it would allow me to save $30 for our milk bill (we get 4 gallons delivered every Thursday morning…I know you are wondering how long this will last on our new budget!) and about $30 for the Farmer’s Market on Saturday. Plus it is always good to have a few bucks you haven’t accounted for yet, which unfortunately already came in handy.

I did my shopping and stuck to my detailed list, but while I was checking out I seriously had to give the cashier back at least a half a dozen items that I couldn’t afford to buy (mental note: bring calculator next time). After we got through that little embarrassing moment my bill came to $67, which I was okay with. I used to very easily drop $200 or more at Earth Fare so I feel like today was A LOT of progress for me. I had to suppress my desire to impulse shop many times and let me tell you it was not fun! Later in the week I will share the list of what I bought for the $67 and an update on how our little weekly meal plan is going so far!

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127 comments to Budget Day 1: Getting Organized

  • I am wanting to take the challenge. I already do a lot of your suggestions. What I am concerned about is the food budget. I try to keep our food expense to 75 a week for a family of 4. Can you offer some suggestions.
    Thank you,

  • Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

    Hi Maeghan. This post offers some great suggestions: http://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2011/09/30/real-food-tips-12-ways-to-keep-it-cheap/. Also, be sure to read through our reader comments that follow the 100 Days on a Budget posts:http://www.100daysofrealfood.com/category/100-days-of-real-food-on-a-budget/. There are many perspectives and suggestions offered there as well. ~Amy

  • Ok, so I already follow a LOT of the rules, feed my family lots of fruits and vegetables,etc. but how do I have my morning coffee without sugar?? And, what’s your view on alcohol?

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Mara. If you are doing the pledge, then honey or maple syrup are sweetener options. Beer and wine within moderation are fine. ~Amy

  • Rachyl

    Where do you get your milk delivered from and what kind do you use? Is there a place to order organic meat and bison from? We don’t have any stores around the area that offer this.

  • Alicia

    Hi, does the budget include all breakfast, lunches AND dinners for a family of 4? I can’t seem to pull it off with a family of 3 and have it include all 3 daily meals (plus snacks).

  • Jennifer Bethea

    Where do you get your milk from? I noticed you had it delivered weekly. We recently moved to Charlotte from Nashville and finding local milk has been a struggle for us. Any tips would be great! Thanks.

  • Pam

    I have a family of 4 and provide 3 meals per day plus snacks. I cannot seem to come remotely close to this budget. Suggestions please!!

  • Andrea

    I feel it is important to eat whole, organic and nutritious food. And local when possible. At this point in our life, if we want food, we need to buy it. (our goal is to someday soon be able to grow most of our food including meat and milk) And quality food is expensive. $125/week is a low number to budget for a family of four. From experience it can be done tho! We have gone through points in our life where we have eaten a lot of dried organic turtle beans for protein instead of the desired roast. I feel sad that Americans spend so little of their disposable income on food. Maybe the key is a budget on all expenses, not just groceries? But I guess it all comes to priorities :) Thank you for your blog! I enjoy it daily!

  • Dawn Behrens

    Hi Lisa,

    I use your site a lot for snacks for my kids.

    You are not going to be able to buy meat at $125 per week. I would suggest you up your food budget a bit.

    We eat one vegetarian meal a week to save. The thing that will keep your family fuller longer is protein (meat, eggs and cheese). I am a Paleo diet fan.

    You could make some dishes with eggs like quiche and frittata’s to use your greens up.

    Thanks for all the great recipes you post!

  • Some things that I do to budget and still eat majority of organic products is that I will buy whole organic chicken or if I can’t find it I will get free-range or as healthy as I can find. That turns into about 3 meals. I will roast the chicken for dinner, use leftover meat to make chicken salad sandwiches, then I use the bones for stock for soups as well as boiling veggies to add flavor.

    When I buy organic beef, I try to only use half a pound and fill with more veggies per meal. I noticed that we didn’t miss the extra meat and that saves money as well.

    We try to have at least 1 fresh piece of fish a week (the really good expensive kind-wild caught) and then 2 other nights I will make the already frozen kind that costs a lot less. I always check the market to see what fresh fish is on sale and choose that one.

    I try to buy all of my fruits and veggies organic and I start at the least expensive store (usually Walmart) to see what they have, where it came from, and how good it looks, then I work my way up to the most expensive (i.e. Whole Foods) that way I buy the fewest things there.

    Our budget is approximately $125-$150 per week for family of 3 and 3 dogs and that includes all our house cleaning products, toiletry, and I usually make my husband a lunch for work.

    My husband and I give ourselves an “allowance” for extra things like coffee and eating out, extra spending. It is actually kind of neat because we find ourselves buying meals for each other when we go out which is kind of sweet. :)

  • nikki

    Budgeting is difficult, but the more you plan, the easier it is. We ditto what amanda says above. Our household budget is $150/wk for a family of 4 and this includes household items as well. My hubby and I have a separate allowance for ourselves also for lunches out or coffee. I also give myself incentives to stay on point. ie, any savings each week goes into my shopping fund or nails/hair fund.

    We buy organic as much as possible and always search the store ads for what is on sale that week. I plan my meals around that. We also have a leftovers night every week if hubby doesn’t take for lunch. Amazing what you can create when forced to use what is in the cupboard…..soup anyone?

  • Suzanne

    We spend $150 on food PER MONTH for our family of 3 (going on 4) and are still able to eat most all real food. But once a year we do go in with family to butcher hogs and that helps a lot with our meet. But other wise, making your own bread, condiments, etc. is the key. And not buying convenience snacks helps too. Now we have not been able to go organic, but we do our best with what we can get. So a tight budget while eating healthy IS possible!

  • Mel

    Our budget is $50 per week and includes “meat” and eggs because we raise free range chickens. We buy them corn $10 for a 50 lb bag every so often. We use some food type items for cleaning and shampoo and make our own laundry soap. Have a garden, nut trees and fruit trees.. so many pears, apples, tomatoes and hazelnuts, and too little time. There are berries of all sorts on my property and in the woods collected for snacks. We collect acorns and process those into acorn burgers. I love butternut squash and have bushels of it. Even our water is filter from our own well. Sometimes we’ll get steak or hamburger on sale and we are looking into fishing as an additional protein source.

  • Laura

    I am coming to the conclusion that I am terrible went it comes to budgeting, we eat mostly organic food and 80% vegetarian and I have a very dificul time not spending more than $150 a week just for the two of us. This is starting to worry me because I and expecting our first baby I and not able to work and will not go back to work till next year on September.
    I want to help my husband, by helping save but I haven’t been able to do any mallor improvement to my spending, I will continue to try.
    Last week he give a pressure cooker to help my save time and energy went I cook beans and lentil and it really help me and give me encouragemente to continue to work hard for our family’s well been, I and learning to used it am really love it food is coming out super delicious and healthy. Ok just wanted to thank you for all your wonderful posts it is helping me a lot and I am sure is helping many others. 💚😃 I will be posting my recipes on Facebook soon.

  • [...] still of course be eating “real food”), but I am pretty sure I will be giving myself more than $125/week to spend. And it is hard not to look forward to that! In the meantime I will just have to keep [...]

  • Ana Weill

    We are retired on a fixed income and up until a year ago my budget was $50 a week for both of us. When I found I had the beginnings of diabetes, I upped our budget by $20 a week to allow for considerably more meat and protein. I do not separate out non-food items and occasionally buy a bottle of wine. I do can and freeze when I can find things priced to make it cost effective. So currently I have canned green beans, pumpkin and chili beans, frozen corn and broccoli, and enough meat for approx. 2 months. Our meat comes from a reputable butcher. I only shop once a month with a pick-up trip for salad greens. My idea of processed food is a loaf of French bread, or bottle of salad dressing. Mostly I buy real food. For example: 1 bag of pinto beans (2#) makes 8 or 9 pints of chili beans with garlic and bulk chili powder and sea salt at a cost of about .25! Every meal I fix is one of our favorites! We eat eggs and bacon or sausage every morning. I love the order and control of budgeting.

  • [...] one thing I forgot to mention about this whole real food on a budget project. Yes the food has to be “real” and yes it cannot exceed $125 a week, but the other part [...]

  • Laura

    So what if I don’t have a family and it’s just me? Would the budget and everything be different for me do you think?

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Laura. The recipes and shopping lists would stay the same unless you decide to cut them in half. That is up to you. You can always freeze your leftovers and stretch your meals to last. :) ~Amy

  • Shannon

    I’d like to start this with my family of five. Two older large boys, one large adult male, one small adult female and one short/too-skinny girl who can pack away food.

    First, my daughter has to have high calorie foods. She’s always been underweight. 3% in weight currently and that is high for her. Her first five year she was considered not thriving, because we could not get her to gain (even with adding heavy whipping cream and other high calorie stuff to her food).

    Second, my boys and husband have the opposite issue. They are over weight. I’m kind of on the fence. Could loose 2-5 pounds.

    Third, my kids like things like spinach, broccoli, other greens, salads, sweet potatoes over white, whole-wheat breads…healthy foods. They also like sweets (not so good). My husband hates greens and most fruits. The only fruits he does like, he can’t eat. One makes him vomit each time (Bananas) the other, apples causes acid reflex. Plus, he likes bread. He will eat whole wheat, but he loves bread. He also loves meat and white potatoes. He refuses to eat sweet potatoes.

    Any ideas to help out my family.

  • I am super excited to start this challenge starting today! My husband and I are looking over the meal plans as we speak and planning a grocery trip. This is exactly what I was looking for and already told all my friends and family. Thank you so much!

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