How my $40 weekly grocery budget "works"

Lately I’ve had lots of questions about my $40 weekly grocery budget, and it’s been awhile since I started it, so I thought I would clear up a few things and answer some of the questions that I’ve received.  On January 1, 2009, I decided to challenge myself to a $40 weekly grocery budget.  Since I started using coupons consistently, I have really been able to cut my budget, but I had no idea if it would work.  Seventeen months later, we’re still living off of the same budget, although I will admit that lately it has been a bit of a challenge for me because the grocery deals lately do not seem to be as good as they have been in the past and so our stockpile has been dwindling.

We have a family of four:  my husband, myself, a six year old daughter, and a three year old son.  We have no allergies or dietary restrictions.  We live in a low to moderate cost of living area and we have a number of grocery stores in close proximity and we also have Super Target and Super Walmart.  We also have several grocery stores that double and triple coupons.  (I throw all of this out there for comparison purposes so that people can understand our situation and why a $40 weekly grocery budget may or may not work for them.)

When I started this “challenge” I had a fairly extensive “stockpile” to work with.  If you’re wondering what I stockpile, I pretty much stockpile everything that we use on a regular basis.  To get some ideas about the things that I stockpile, you can check out my “What’s in my pantry?” post.  I also made a commitment to start menu planning regularly and I can assure you that has made a HUGE difference because we are actually using the things that I buy and it helps with rotating the stockpile, too!  If you’re new to menu planning, you may wan to check out my “menu planning tips” and my “Menu Planning Monday” posts for some ideas.

What does your $40 weekly grocery budget include?

I know that “grocery budget” means a lot of things to different people.  My grocery budget includes only food items.  Since I learned how CVS and Walgreens work, I don’t really spend much on health and beauty or household items anymore (we budget a total of $20/month for that).  “Eating out” is also in a separate category (since I started meal planning regularly, we have been able to cut that category down to $50/month).  We also have one dog and her dog food and treats also are in a separate category.

What about fruits, vegetables, and meat?

One of the most common questions I get is if our budget and meal plan includes fruit, vegetables, and meat.  My kids love fruit (helping them to love vegetables is still a work in progress) and I believe in the “five a day” philosophy, so our budget definitely includes fruits, vegetables, and meat.

For fruits and vegetables, we eat what’s in season.  I scan the ads each week to figure out what’s on sale that week and that’s what we get.  I don’t like to spend more than $.99/lb for most fruits and vegetables (asparagus, berries, and melons are my “exceptions” because it’s pretty hard to find them at those prices although it does happen every now and then).  I also stock up on frozen fruits and vegetables when I can find deals on them (I can usually get them for free or close to free using coupons) so that we have things to “carry” us if it’s a tight grocery week or if there aren’t really any good sales.  We also have canned fruits and vegetables in the stockpile.

With meat, I also stock up when it’s on sale.  You can find out what I consider my “stock up” prices in my “What I’m willing to pay for things” post (keep in mind that cost of living may be different in your area so different pricing might apply).  I plan our weekly menus around what’s on sale and what I have on hand in my freezer.  If there aren’t any great sales that week (and lately good sales on meat have been hard to come by), I also check out the “Manager’s Special” section of my grocery stores where they mark down the meats and incorporate what I find there into our weekly meal plan.  Over time, I have figured out when my grocery stores tend to do these mark downs so I can check it out while the selection is still good.

Do you spend exactly $40 each week?  Do you ever go under or over?

We took Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University class in March 2009 and made a decision to switch to “cash only” for most things including groceries.  So, when I fund our grocery envelope for the month, it is based on exactly $40 per week.  For the most part, when I’m making my grocery list, I try to plan so that I am right around the $40 mark.  Sometimes I go under and if I do go under, I keep that extra money in our “grocery” envelope to have on hand if a great sale comes along so I have extra money to stock up.  So, if I have extra money from previous weeks and there is a great sale, sometimes I do go over the $40 mark, but I still stay within a $40/week average for the month.

If you keep your grocery money separate from your other money, how does that work when you go to check-out at the grocery store?

For the most part, since I get most of our health and beauty and household items at CVS or Walgreens, this isn’t an issue because I am typically only buying grocery items at the grocery store.  But, every now and then, especially if I am at Target or Walmart, I will have other items and I usually will separate out those items using a divider and pay for them from separate envelopes.  Since I use so many coupons anyway, I usually try to shop at “off” times when the store is not very crowded and if there are other people in line with only a few items, I will usually let them go before me to be courteous.

How do I know what a reasonable weekly budget is for my family?

Our weekly budget is a work in progress based on what “works” for us.  In creating my blog and sharing my posts, I never meant to imply that this would work for everyone as there are a number of factors that will affect your budget including cost of living in your area, family size and circumstances (I am certain when my son becomes a teenager, we will be making significant adjustments and if you have allergies or special dietary needs or eat organic foods, you can expect to be paying more).  When creating a weekly budget for your family, you have to consider your circumstances and what “works” for you.

I would recommend tracking your grocery expenses, week by week, for a month or so to get a “feel” for what your average weekly grocery expenses are.  Focus on menu planning and planning your grocery list around your menu plan so that your shopping is “purposeful.”  Once you get a feel for your average weekly grocery expenses, set a goal to “cut” your average weekly expenses (perhaps $5 per week at first).  If you are not starting out with a stockpile, you should also know that you will probably be spending more in the beginning, but you should be able to cut your expenses considerably once you have an established stockpile and a menu planning system in place!  As your family size or circumstances change (you may have a new baby, a child may leave for college, or the cost of living may increase), you can adjust your budget accordingly.

*This post may contain affiliate links. Please refer to my disclosure policy for more information.

Milk and contact solution for $.50!

One of the biggest comments I see and hear from people who are new to couponing or who are “coupon skeptics” is “I can never find coupons for the things I need.” I also have people ask me how they can save on the things they REALLY need but don’t often see coupons for like milk, meat, fruits, and vegetables.

The answer is that it’s a bit like a game. There are sometimes coupons for milk and when they come out, it’s good to jump on them and get your hands on as many as you can (that’s why coupon clipping services are so handy!). I often am able to get frozen fruits and vegetables for free or close to free using coupons and combining them with sale prices (again it’s a matter of getting multiple coupons when they come out).

Meat is a bit trickier. Sometimes there are wine tags for meat (wine tags are basically coupons that you find around the top of the wine bottles – sometimes they will say NWPN which means “no wine purchase needed). If you can find wine tags for meat, that is one way to save on meat. Another way to save is to stock up when it is on sale. You can check out my “What I’m Willing to Pay for Things” post to get ideas about what my “stock up” prices are for meat. Most stores also have a special section for marked down meat and this is a great way to get meat inexpensively if there haven’t been any good deals on meat. Just make sure you plan to use it quickly or freeze it right away.

Another way that I am able to offset the cost of milk, fruits, vegetables, and meat is by using OYNP (on your next purchase) catalina coupons, Extra Care Bucks from CVS, Register Rewards from Walgreens and gift cards from Target that I earn.

Here’s an example of a deal I did yesterday.  In my CVS ad, there is a deal where you buy milk for $2.99 per gallon and you get a $1 ECB (this is a regional deal, so check your ad for details).  The Biotrue contact solution is also $2.99 and you get a $2.99 ECB making it “free” after ECBs.  I had a $5 ECB from a recent “deal” and a $.50 ECB from my quarterly earnings.

Here’s what I did:

Buy 1 Oak Farms milk – $2.99
Buy 1 Biotrue contact solution – $2.99

Use $5 ECB
Use $.50 ECB

Spend $.50 OOP (there must have been a little bit of tax in there), get a $1 ECB and a $2.99 ECB (plus I got an additional $1 ECB from using my “Green bag tag”)

Buy 1 Biotrue contact solution – $2.99

Use $2.99 Biotrue ECB

Spend $0 OOP, get a $2.99 ECB

So, I started with $5.50 in ECBs and ended with $4.99 in ECBs plus I got milk and contact solution (both items that I needed) for just $.50 and saved $8.47!

Make sure you check out my CVS weekly deals post for more scenarios, match ups, and information about CVS!

*This post may contain affiliate links. Please refer to my disclosure policy for more information.

Happy New Year and my goals for 2010!

Happy New Year to all of you!
I love the start of a new year because it gives me a chance to put the past behind me and to make a fresh start! I’ve been thinking a lot over the past few days (and weeks) about what I want my “goals” (I prefer to call them goals rather than resolutions because resolutions have a tendency to get broken) for 2010 to be. I think putting my “goals” in writing helps me to be more accountable. If you’ve blogged about your goals for 2010 and would like to share, please feel free to “link up” below!

I know that some people set “blogging goals” and I just have to say that this blog has more than surpassed any expectations I had for it. I started this blog a little over a year ago as a way to share my bargain hunting tips with family and friends. Along the way, I’ve picked up a few more readers, I’ve “met” some great people and I’ve had a lot of fun. My goal for my blog continues to be the same this year – I just want to share my experiences and the things that I’ve learned to help other people save money, too! I also want to take a minute to thank all of you who read my blog for joining me in my journey!

Having said that, here are my goals for 2010:


If you’ve been reading for awhile (or if you read my post yesterday), you’ll know that we took Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University class in the spring last year and the things that we learned and have started doing have truly changed our lives. We’ve got a long way to go before we’re “debt free” but I truly believe that we will get there!

If you’re familiar with Dave Ramsey’s “plan” the first step is to get a Baby Emergency Fund into place. We were able to do this fairly quickly after we started the class and we’ve managed to keep this intact in spite of different financial difficulties that we were faced with throughout the year. My goal is to keep this Baby Emergency Fund intact (or to rebuild it quickly if we do have to use it) and to continue working on “step 2” which is our debt snowball. We haven’t been able to do much “snowballing” over the past year, and one of my goals is to find some creative ways to get extra money to put toward our debt snowball.

I plan to do a summary post at the end of each month about our progress toward paying off our debt and I plan to share ideas throughout the month as I come up with them about how we’re making that progress.


This was a goal for me last year and it’s a goal again. I hope you guys will decide to join me in this journey. It is completely possible and I can’t tell you what a relief it has been to realize that we won’t be hit with monstrous credit card bills from the holidays in a week or two.

I will be writing different posts to share my ideas about how I’m doing this with you, but basically I plan to put the “extras” I get from things like garage sales, eBay sales, rebates, surveys, writing articles, and other things toward our Christmas fund.


When I shared my goal last year to have a $40 weekly grocery budget for my family of four, I had a pretty good sized stockpile to work with. I posted these disclaimers last year and I’m going to share them again this year.

At this point, my grocery budget does not include paper products. I don’t really budget for these things because I basically have a six month to year supply of most of these products (toilet paper, paper towels, paper plates, etc.) thanks to CVS/Walgreens. Any additional paper products I do buy will most likely be covered by ECBs or RRs. It also does not include health & beauty products (I have at least a year supply of most of these and buy most of the rest using ECBs or RRs) and does not include our expenses for eating out. This comes out of a separate category in our budget.

The $40/week will be based on my out of pocket expenses. If I use gift cards, coupons, RR, or ECBs, those will not count toward the $40 weekly budget. When I post pictures from my grocery trips, I will let you know what coupons/gift cards/etc. I used.

**I wanted to add that I see this as a possibility for me because I have a stockpile of items already to work with. If you don’t have a stockpile, it may cost you a little bit more to get started, but I will be posting items that you should stock up on while they are super cheap as they come along. Also, two of the major grocery stores around me triple coupons up to .39 and double coupons up to .50. We also don’t have any food allergies or dietary restrictions that we have to accommodate and I don’t have any babies eating baby food or formula right now. Finally, this is what “works” for our family, but it may not work for your family (my kids are youn right now, and I don’t have teenagers that are eating us out of house and home!). Set goals that are realistic and will work for your budget and your family with a plan to reduce your grocery expenses for the year!


I’m pretty good about putting together a meal plan each week, but I’m not always extremely consistent about following it. I confess ~ sometimes we end up eating a frozen pizza out of the freezer or even hitting up a fast food restaurant rather than following the meal plan that was supposed to be “in place” for that day. Neither one of these options is very healthy for my family. Usually when I end up in this position, it’s because I didn’t do the preparations in the morning. I work full time and by the time I get kids rounded up from school and daycare at the end of the day, I’m beat, and the last thing I want to do is have to prepare a big meal for everyone. Doing the prep work in the morning helps with this, but I don’t always use my time wisely in the mornings and I am going to work on that this year.

In terms of “creativity” with meal planning, there are a few things I’d like to do. First, I’m not always good about using all of our leftovers, particularly when we have things like shredded meat left. I want to be better this year about making sure that our leftovers don’t go to waste. Also, on Money Saving Mom, she is doing an “Eat from the Pantry” challenge. We do this a lot already, which is why I am able to maintain our $40/week grocery budget, but I’m trying to think of some ways that I could possibly be a little bit more “hard core” – maybe spending $20-30/week instead of $40 or something to that extent! Before I do that, I need to get a handle on what exactly I have in my pantry (and freezers, and shelves….)…. If I could do an extreme cut in our monthly grocery budget, that would give me some extra money to put toward our debt snowball!


Don’t get my wrong ~ my family has ALWAYS been very important to me. But last year as we were faced with various challenges, I had plenty of time to reflect and think about my priorities. Between work and other activities, sometimes I have a hard time keeping it all together. My friend DeAna started a blog last year called “Balancing Act Basics” and I just loved the title because many days I feel like my life is just that – a balancing act. I want to be better this year about prioritizing and managing things and I want to make sure that my family is my #1 priority. This year, I am planning to share some ideas for fun, budget friendly family activities at least once a week.


Organization has never been my strong point and with a stockpile and coupons and two kids, it gets extremely overwhelming at times. My goal for 2010 is to come up with some better systems to organize things that will work for our family. I’ll share what I learn with you along the way!


I talk a lot on my blog about “fiscal fitness” but don’t focus nearly enough in my life on physical fitness. Melissa, who also reads this blog, posted on her blog yesterday about a challenge at Mama Notes called “My Body After Baby Challenge.” My “baby” is 2 years old now, so I don’t have much of an excuse and I realize that it’s all about priorities and I guess this has been low on the priority list for me. But…my goal for 2010 is to make it a priority again (for my sake and for my family’s sake!).


Bargain hunting has blessed my life in many ways. This year, I want to focus more on ways that I can give and help out others with the items I end up acquiring along the way.

Items to Stockpile this week: applesauce, apple juice, cereal, and refrigerated biscuits

If you’re new to stockpiling, I thought I’d give you a “heads up” on a few items that you can stockpile this week and still stay within your budget:

*Applesauce and apple juice: This week Target has a deal where you get a $5 gift card when you buy 5 Mott’s applesauce or apple juice products. These ranged in price from $1.69 (for the “natural” items) to $1.75 at my store. Hopefully you already have a Target gift card on hand from a previous deal!

If you do, here’s how it breaks down ~

Buy 5 Mott’s applesauce – $1.69/each

Use $5 Target gift card

Spend $3.45 OOP, get a $5 Target gift card – you get the applesauce for $.69/each!

Buy 5 Mott’s apple juice – $1.75/each

Use $5 Target gift card

Spend $3.75/each, get a $5 Target gift card – you get the juice for $.75/each!

*Cereal! Randalls has Kellogg’s cereal on sale (the ad runs through Tuesday in my area) for $1.49/each when you buy 5 selected varieties (varieties priced at $1.49 included Apple Jax, Fruit Loops, Raisin Bran, Frosted Flakes, Rice Krispies, and Crispix). There were also several varieties that are $1.99/each when you buy 5 (this included the flavored varieties of Frosted Mini Wheats and Raisin Bran Crunch). There were $1/2 Kellogg’s cereal “blinkie” coupons right in front of the cereal. There were also $2/2 coupons in the 8-30 RP insert and several $1/1 Rice Krispie coupons and one coupon for a free box of Rice Krispies that I had gotten from Vocalpoint.

I got 20 boxes of cereal for $7.01 this weekend. I bought a variety of Apple Jax, Fruit Loops, Raisin Bran, Frosted Flakes, Rice Krispies, and Crispix. I used several of the $2/2 coupons (thanks Martha!), my $1/1 Rice Krispie coupons, and the free box (and they took off the full $3.79 for the free box, which was the amount BEFORE any discounts!). That’s .35/box and we won’t have to buy cereal again for a LONG time.

Even if you don’t have the $2/2 or Vocalpoint coupons, you could still buy 10 boxes for $9.90 using the blinkie coupons found in the cereal section, which still ends up being less than $1 per box!

*Refrigerated biscuits – This week, Kroger has Pillsbury biscuits, crescents, or rolls – 3/$5 (through Tuesday in my area – check your ad for details)
$1/2 Pillsbury Grands e-coupon
$1/2 Pillsbury Grands coupon
$1/2 Pillsbury crescent rolls e-coupon (there are two separate ones if you loaded them on your card perviously!)
$1/2 Pillsbury sweet rolls e-coupon
.50/2 Pillsbury sweet rolls e-coupon (no longer available to load)
$1/2 Pillsbury Grands printable on
$1/2 Pillsbury sweet rolls on
.35/1 Pillsbury Grands biscuits from 7-12 SS insert (will triple)
.30/2 Pillsbury Grands from 8-9 SS insert (will triple)
$1/2 Pillsbury Crescent rolls 9-13 SS insert
.50/2 Pillsbury Grands sweet rolls 9-13 SS insert (will double)
.40/2 Sweet rolls or Grands sweet rolls – (will double)
.30/2 Grands biscuits – (will triple)

Check out my post here for $1/1 crescent rolls printable (there are two separate links, so you should be able to print a total of 4 coupons from one computer)

Between 10/5 and 11/1, buy any Pillsbury refrigerated baked goods:
Buy 3, get $2 OYNO
Buy 4, get $2.50 OYNO
Buy 5, get $3 OYNO

SCENARIO: (will work Monday/Tuesday only)
Buy 3 Pillsbury crescent rolls
Buy 2 Grands biscuits

Use $1/2 crescent rolls e-coupon
Use $1/2 Grands e-coupon
Use 3 $1/1 crescent rolls IPs
Use $1/2 Grands IP

Spend $2.33 OOP, get a $3 OYNO catalina (it’s like paying .46/can of biscuits!)

Buy 3 Pillsbury crescent rolls
Buy 2 Grands biscuits

Use 3 $1/1 crescent rolls IPs
use $1/2 Grands IP
Use $3 OYNO catalina

Spend $1.33 OOP, get a $3 OYNO catalina

(you should be able to continue to “roll” this catalina and get more)

Stockpiling on a budget: dog food and cheese sticks!

I know that a lot of people think that Target is an “expensive” place to shop, but I save SO much money there and it is one of my favorite places to shop! Here’s what I got at Target today for $2.32 out of pocket: 7 bags of Chef Michael’s dog food, 14 cans of Chef Michael’s dog food, 21 cheese sticks, and 2 packages of Bounty paper towels (2 rolls in each package).

Target has the small bags of Chef Michael’s dog food on sale for $4.26/each. There are $1.50/1 Target printable coupons and there is a manufacturer’s coupon for $3 off. So, I got .24 in “overage” for each bag of dog food.

Target also has BOGO free Chef Michael’s canned dog food coupons. There is also a BOGO free manufacturer’s coupon. So, you get two for free using both coupons.

There is a $1/2 Market Pantry cheese items Target coupon. The single cheese sticks are .40/each at my store.

The packages of paper towels were on clearance for $1.98. I had two $1 off Bounty paper towel coupons making them .98/each!

My Target only allows one “like” Target coupon per transaction, so I did these in single transactions at two different stores. I basically bought one bag, two cans, and three cheese sticks in each transaction. On the last two transactions, I bought the paper towels also.

In the past week, I bought a total of 18 bags of dog food and 36 cans. With what we already had on hand (six big bags of Iams from another Target deal), we have at least six months worth of dog food! If you don’t have the $3 manufacturer’s coupon from the inserts, there is a $2.50 printable here, so you can get it for $.26/bag with the Target IP.

Here’s what I got last Saturday for FREE (using coupons and the overage from the Chef Michaels):

(Thanks Martha for all of the extra dog food coupons!!!!!!!!!!!)