Budget Day 1: Getting Organized

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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  • Comments

    1. Debbie |

      It is just myself and with my SS, I get $70 a month for groc.
      I do not usually eat a lot of processed foods no do I eat out, maybe once every 2 or 3 months. Could use a little help with what to make on that kind of budget. Thanks in advance.
      or and I do not have cable, buy clothes, and use dial up for my internet.

    2. BK, the Oceanskater |

      Do you have any examples of how this might work with a gluten-free budget? 3 out of the 4 are also soy & dairy free, and 1 is corn free.

      • Amy Taylor (comment moderator) |

        Hi BK. Not sure what you mean by examples? But, we have plenty of readers with various allergies and sensitivities who make the rules and the shopping work for them. It shouldn’t effect the bottom line too much but I acknowledge that it adds a whole other level of difficulty to shopping and cooking. :) I shop/cook gluten and dairy free for myself but not for the rest of my family.

    3. BK, the Oceanskater |

      Amy, thank you! I’m glad to hear you’ve made this work! I do wonder if you eat bread? I can make a whole grain bread with no starch, but it does contain xanthan gum. Certainly, we could live without bread, but having so many other allergies makes it challenging! My kids eat a lot of PB toast :)

      • Amy Taylor (comment moderator) |

        Hi again. You know, I really do not eat a lot of bread. Our local Great Harvest has a gluten free bread that is really fabulous and I will buy it from time to time. I am also hypoglycemic and have been since my 20’s (after years of treating my body unkindly) and can’t do many carbs, in general. There are a few gluten free crackers and flat breads with pretty good ingredient lists that I do use fairly regularly that fill that void for me. If you are making your own gf bread, that’s great…even if you are using a binder. The commercial gf breads are full of refined ingredients. :) FYI, you can also use chia, flax, and psylium to bind but there is a bit of a science behind it which I’ve not had the energy to work out. ~Amy

    4. Deandr |

      I am very disappointed! I was sent to your site by a friend and I had high hopes that this would really help, but unfortunately, it did not.

      All of the rules you have listed are ridiculous. First of all, a family of four on 167 dollars a week in food stamps means the household income is less than 11,000 dollars A YEAR. There is no such thing as eating out, entertaining, traveling, or alcohol. Furthermore, not many people on a budget, especially inner-city, especially low-income and poorly educated about health, would have anything akin to a garden! I do not know anyone on food stamps in a tiny apartment that has room for 7 RAISED GARDEN BEDS. This is a terrible starting place for anyone impoverished.

      Contrary to popular belief, my family does not have food stamps because I spend it on booze and fast food! Raising my own vegetables is limited to buckets in and around my home. Please see the true obstacles to health and help others like myself to find new ways to feed our families the nutritious food we deserve! With so much confusing information as to what is and is not healthy it is just depressing that places of counsel such as this are truly ignorant to the ways of the world.

      Please also offer substitutes in the future for healthy foods and recipes from places like Wal-Mart. Whole foods stores are fantastic, but the nearest one to me is a two hour drive and the gas money is almost a waste after the food spoils in 4 days!

      I will be looking forward to more useful budgeting ideas in the future.

      • Camille |

        Hi. I have a family of four and we live on one income. We do not have food stamps but we only have 100-120$ a week left over for food after we pay all our neccissry bills. They only way I have found to make this doable is price match at walmart. That way I always get the best deals at the lowest prices. I also only buy stuff at the lowest price. I won’t buy broccoli if it’s over 1.99$ a pound, apples over .99$ a pound and peppers over 1$ per pepper. I have slowly learned what prices I will spend my money on. I meal plan around the sales. Good luck! On and if you download an app called flipp it has all the flyers in your area so you can price match easier.

      • Jessica |

        I applaud your bravery and honesty in coming forward to represent those who face real challenges to eating healthy. I am in a similar boat and am currently at the “How will I ever make this work?” stage. I don’t know about anyone else’s state, but my family of 6 only receives $300 a month in food assistance. That’s nowhere near $167 per week. I also have a family with a wide range of ages and I worry about meeting their caloric needs while serving food that they will probably not eat (nor would I, quite frankly). We eat bread, we eat meat and we don’t drink. For my family and myself, I am choosing to start with adding more whole foods, as much as possible, and lowering the amount of processed foods that we consume. I think that’s the overall point of the blog, whether the budget and recipes are relevant or not.

      • Sarah |

        First, she didn’t write this to offend you.

        Second, the chosen budget was based on collective feedback from readers.

        Third, everyone lives in a different environment under different circumstances, and this experiment was based on the author’s environment, not your’s. Take what applies to you, and modify where you can. If it doesn’t apply to your situation, that’s because it wasn’t written for your situation. The food choices would obviously have been different if her experiment was done within different boundaries.

      • |

        Just because you live in the city dosen’t mean you can’t have a garden. I found this company that offers a tower garden, you can grow your own fruits and vegetables with limited space. So many benefits including saving money and working with a limited space not to mention you don’t get all those nasty pesticides that the imported fruits and vegetables come with!! Check it out, you will be happy you did!

      • Patti |

        My daughter and her husband have been using these tips, and cooking from the 100 Days of Real Food cookbook for almost 2 years, and have benefitted greatly from it. They sit down weekly and make their grocery list for the week. They set their weekly budget for the 3 of them (1 daughter) and don’t very often go over that budget. I was with staying wth them for 2 months and watched as they worked their “magic” with their one income budget. I was not only amazed but also inspired to the point that I bought the book and am now using it in Scotland where I live.

        My daughter admitted it wasn’t easy to get started but once they did it was easier to follow the ‘rules’ and eat well than just shop for what ever they thought they wanted. There is hardly any food waste in their house as opposed to before when things they thought they wanted and then decided they didn’t went back and had to be thrown away. She said they feel healthier and working on a budget isn’t as hard as she thought it would be.

    5. Deandr |

      Thank you for all the information! WalMart does not always have the best produce, but it is really the only store we can afford and it is definitely because of the price match! I would love to live in an area someday where I can grow my own food. Living closer to a whole foods store would be fantastic, but moving to either just is not feasible right now. I did just recently find a farmer’s market 25 minutes from us that accepts food stamps! To anyone reading who is also struggling in this way be sure to check your area for something similar! Thanks again for your kindness and wisdom, Camille! Blessings!


      • Deandr |

        This was so helpful! I could not be happier about leaving my initial comment. Honestly, it scared me to share my situation on a public forum because of so many trolls and devil’s advocates on the web. It is so nice to have replies from truly helpful people like yourself! Thank you very much!

      • Lisa Sciolle |

        Personally, having read of Walmart’s owners (3) each worth billions,
        I choose not to add to their coffers. In our area the Walmarts (visited 3)
        are not well run. Produce is not less expensive. They constantly have
        turnover of personnel (my neighbor’s input) No, I will and have found other places to buy. Of course, Whole Foods is simply hype. No one
        with average or low income can hope to shop there. I am saddened when I see what some people put into their shopping cart. Purified water?
        instead of Spring water is one example. They both cost the same., the purified being right out of a tap and put through a few filters.
        White bread, Twinkies, Pepsi (diet with the poison aspartame)..on and on.
        Wish everyone well no matter what the heck they put in their cart.

    6. peggy |

      I have been over the last few months eliminating processed food from our home. When I received your book, I was so excited to try everything in there. We are a gluten free household so I have had to adapt but meat is a staple in our household. Most of your recipes seem to be veggie based. Hubby does not eat veggies with the exception of a salad and a couple other veggies he will eat 2 bites of. How in the world do I make this work?

    7. Rachel |

      I’m a little late to the game, brand new at this. We don’t eat green foods in my house (lettuce, broccoli, pepers, etc. Actually it’s a veggie, unless it’s sweet corn or canned we really don’t eat it at all (well I do but the boys don’t). How can I do this $125 budget a week for food when all the recipes are “green”

    8. kim |

      I came here to find ideas to eat healthy on a budget, and while your pledge comes closest its another false reality for most people. I can not plant a garden, even if I had time and space to do so, and since veggies and fruits are a huge budget eating cost in healthy eating, your counting grown veggies as free severely makes this challenge far from budget friendly for the average family who doesnt even have access to the other things not included in your budget. I would love to see you do this again without including garden grown veggies as “free” especially since your meals typically call for less meat and more veg.

    9. Eileen |

      I don’t understand all the comments regarding how the blog should be done differently: different budget, no garden, gluten free, less veggies. The author is simply sharing her family’s experience and experiment. Take what applies to you/your situation if you like. You can also start a blog of your experiences.

      • Lisa Sciolle |

        Hear hear…that is right. Read and learn or read and go on.

    10. Hielena |

      I started the challenge of eating real food about 1 month ago or maybe more after I noticed all the ingredients my little frozen meal had when I took a bite of what it was supposed to be a chicken taco. Let me tell you, chicken was not in the list of ingredients. Anyways, i love it. Eating whole and organic makes me feel healthier, my kids who are also 3 and 5 love it, their only complain is when they eat a new vegetable they don’t know. But they love the whole wheat waffles and the brown rice, and the milk…OMG the milk in the glass container from earth fare is the best. Where do you get your milk delivered from? I have not made it possible to spend less than almost $200 every week I go. I follow the meals and the shopping list I got from the email, but all of those prices are wrong. Everything is off.. maybe you should re-evaluate the prices on the shopping list. I know it must be from when you started but it needs an update. I make my own adjustments according to my budget and what we like to eat but I cook most of the items from the meal plans. Oh, and I am so glad I did it. Some people should re-adjust their priorities for the best if their health and family and stop complaining. I rather make my own manicure and pedicure and leave that money to spend it on real food , I make my own hair and save a ton of money on that. If it doesn’t work for you, just don’t do it and period.

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