How to Feed a Family of 6 for $9.16 a Day

Last February I wrote a 2 part article called “10 Strategies to Lower My Grocery Bill“. At the end of the first part I asked my readers to share their tips on frugal shopping and, if they wanted, to share how much they spend on groceries each month.  The comment below blew my mind:

Heather HH: Our grocery budget had been $275 a month, or an average of less than $70 a week for 2 adults and 4 children (under 7). Groceries are bought in a city of 100,000 in the Midwestern U.S. I make almost everything from scratch, and rarely even buy a can of beans (that’s a convenience item to us!). With prices for gluten-free items, I anticipate our grocery bill will probably be around $350-$400/mth or under $100/wk.

My goal at the time was to get my grocery bill under $600 a month and then work down to $400. I couldn’t imagine only spending $275!  So, I emailed Heather to ask how much she was spending now that they were gluten free and if she would be willing to share her tips. Heather graciously agreed and we exchanged several long emails.

A New Series: Over the course of this month, I’ll be posting Heather’s responses as part of a series called “Gluten Free Grocery Shopping on a Budget”. If you want to make sure that you get all of her great advice, then you can sign up to receive my posts by email (see the box in the top of the right sidebar) or find out about other update options in the tab at the top of the page.

Gluten Free Shopping on a Budget – Part 1:

Mary Frances: I thought about your comment on my grocery budget post when I was at the grocery store tonight. I am amazed that your grocery store budget was so small (at least it seems small to me) for so many people.How is it going now that you’re buying gluten free foods? I would love to know how you do that and to share that with my other readers.

Heather: I’m honestly not exactly sure yet how our budget is now that we’re buying gluten-free foods.  One way that we save money on our grocery
budget is by buying in bulk, and stocking up when items are on sale.
I’ve only been gluten-free for 2 1/2 months, so it’s hard to get a
good sample.  For example, I bought 50 lb of brown rice flour last
month, but I wouldn’t buy that every month!

Our meat supply in the freezer had gotten low, and there were good meat sales this past month.  So I stocked up on boneless skinless chicken, ribs, hamburger, pork sausage rolls, etc.  I won’t have to really buy any meat for 3
months.

Also, we’ve blown some money on trying new things that we won’t buy again.  For example, I can’t stand the taste of amaranth flour, so the rest of that got pitched!  I’d really probably need another 3 or 4 months to get a faithful average.

I actually discovered at the same time that I am lactose-intolerant as
well.  So, we stopped using real butter, and bought Light Blue Bonnet
Margarine, which is cheaper.  And, a lot of casseroles we used to have
included cheese, but now that’s being left out, though sometimes it’s
on the side for the rest of my family.  So, that’s actually saving us
money.  Though, there are definitely more expenses than savings!

I’d say our average monthly bill now is probably about $350-$400 a month
for 2 adults and 4 children under age 7, with baby #5 due in January.
That’s an increase of $80-$130 a month from the days when we didn’t
worry about gluten or dairy.

Let me give you the bullet points on how we save money on the grocery budget.

10 Ways to Save on Gluten Free Groceries:

  1. Stock up on items when on a good sale. A second freezer is a huge help in this category, because you can stock up on meat and frozen vegetables and shredded cheese when on sale.
  2. Make foods from scratch and avoid convenience foods; by this I’m even including buying dried beans instead of canned!  We used to grind our own wheat instead of buying whole wheat flour.  Once we use up ourbrown rice flour, we’re going to grind brown rice to get a flour as fine as we like without the expensive price of the superfine varieties.
  3. Buy generic whenever possible.
  4. Buy in bulk. Some of this is at Sam’s Club, but a lot can also be
    done at standard grocery stores.
  5. Know the cheapest place to get expensive items in your budget.
  6. Buy less expensive produce and less expensive cuts of meat. You can have huge savings in this category.
  7. Selectively have “normal foods,” as this makes for cheap meals when it’s not too difficult for the rest of the family.
  8. Garden.
  9. Make your own convenience foods for the freezer to have for busy days.  If you have a couple homemade casseroles, a pre-baked pizza crust, and a few dozen muffins in the freezer (or a few of your own just-add-egg-oil-and-water mixes), you’re less likely to resort to expensive pre-made items.
  10. Eat leftovers.

Be sure to check back for the rest of the series. In the next posts, Heather will go into very specific detail on the 10 points listed above.

P.S.  Here’s my post on “How to Make Gluten Free Bread Mix at Home” that Heather mentioned in  #9.

Comments

  1. Thank you for doing this series!!!! I am rather sad with the lack of frugal idea’s on the net for wheat and dairy intolerant people!!! I’m lucky enough to only be intolerant and not celiac and allergic…but I’m pulling my hair out here trying to figure out how to control grocery costs for this kind of eating!

  2. Stephanie says:

    Is there a good guide to grinding your own grains into flour? I’m intruiged by this! I’m about to start experimenting with cooking dried beans to save $ (The debate over slow-cookers is worrying me, though…someone suggested rice cooker, so I’ll try that first.).

    Remember that if you have a diagnosis of celiac, the additional expense for your gluten-free foods over “normal” food is a tax-deductible medical expense (so long as you have enough medical expenses to meet the floor and then itemize it). I know this only in passing, as I am only wheat-free and cannot take this deduction. But check with your tax preparer. (And if you are very low-income, check with your local public library for free tax preparation services.)

    For those with full-blown celiac, is it a risk to buy Asian rice noodles? They run about $.90/lb at most Asian markets. They’re refined, but if you just want an occasional variation from rice & potatoes for cheap starches…

  3. Christine says:

    You could also add “buying seasonal produce,” which really helps cut down on the price. And Farmer’s Market’s are also a really great way to cut costs on produce, often organic. At our local food cooperative, they have a reduced produce bin. For .35/lb, there’s usually something in there a little battered or bruised, yet most often still as tasty. American’s are too caught up on the esthetics of food. And while I’m all for plating esthetics (there’s something so appealing about digging into a plate of food artfully displayed), there’s nothing wrong with buying an apple slightly bruised or a potatoe with a few extra eyes. It’s easy enough to cut those pieces out and you’re still left with the taste, at a substantially reduced price.

    Mary Frances, I’m looking forward to receiving this week’s menu plan!

  4. Stephanie says:

    One more thing: Consider joining a CSA! (Community Supported Agrigulture). They are a big up-front expense, usually $500-$600 for a 20-week summer share. But you get 1-2 full grocery bags of fresh, organic produce every week. We split our share with friends, so it came to $12.50 weekly for so much good food! I probably spent about $15 weekly in addition on farmer’s market tomatoes, corn and cukes (because we eat so much of that) and I gardened. With all of that good, fresh produce, we cut our grocery trips to once every 3-4 weeks. That cut back on those impulse buys (as well as the delicious, nutricious, but overpriced Tropicana OJ we tend to go for…) by virtue of less walking into the building.

  5. Thank you for starting this series. With four of us(mom,dad,two teens) eating gluten free, we need all the help we can get. Cooking from scratch is the safest and cheapest option for us.
    Wendy

  6. Beware when buying store brand or generic because often these items contain gluten when their original name brand counterparts did not. I have seen it in anything from drink mixes, packaged meats to Worcestershire sauce.

  7. SOOOO GREAT!!! Thank you for doing this! It’s got the wheels in my head a-turnin’.
    http://glutenfreeanna.blogspot.com/2009/01/curbing-food-spending.html
    You’re awesome.
    Anna

  8. GF Domestic Engineer says:

    Hi, I am newly diagnosed with gluten-intolerance and am thanking God for this website-also thank you Mary Frances! I do have some questions after viewing some of the GF recipes. I live in Alabama and we have a lot of grocery chains like Publix and Whole Foods. What store can I shop for GF products like pasta, bread ingredients, and basic pantry items and Spend the Least? I am planning on buying a bread machine to make my own bread, but as for pasta…maybe one day I will have the time and patience to make my own. Also, is there anyone that is eating GF and following a Blood Type Diet? I have been reading Dr. Peter D’Adamo’s book on BT Diets for a couple of months, before going GF, and now I am trying to incorporate that diet with a GF diet. I am a little overwhelmed, but at least I am starting to physically feel better =)
    Carolyn

    • @GF Domestic Engineer: You can get GF pasta and most of the ingredients for my “Finally, Really Good Sandwich Bread” at Walmart. I generally order Bob’s Red Mill brown rice flour and xanthan gum directly from the Bob’s Red Mill site or Amazon, but you can also find those items at Publix or Whole Foods (I grab them there if I don’t have time to wait for shipping), however it’s much cheaper to order in bulk.

  9. Carolyn–I saw your question about the Blood Type diet. We did it strictly for two years and we still follow it loosely now. We have two type A’s. an O , and a B in our house and we’re all gluten free. Tricky at first, but works so well with chronic illness and getting back your health.
    Wendy

  10. GF Domestic Engineer says:

    Thanks for the help Mary Frances. I will have to request GF products to be stocked at my local Wal-Mart. Hopefully they will be helpful!

  11. Definitely some good advice in here, Mary Frances. Great timing for a series I’m sure many of us can use! Thanks for doling out the advice, Heather. I’m working on increasing my entirely made-from-scratch foods. It’s certainly a process with being gf!

    I do take a bit of issue with #7. Assuming by ‘normal’ foods Heather means foods with gluten in them, there’s a real danger of cross-contamination in a kitchen that contains both glutenous and gluten-free foods. (One knife spread on the glutenous bread before going back into the jam jar can make a person sick. One piece of glutenous bread on the toaster oven can leave enough gluten to make a person sick. Etc.) In our kitchen, my husband can have self-contained glutenous/allergen-containing items that I can’t have, like regular beer (contained in cans or jars that don’t come into contact with anything I use). But if he had wheat flour or wheat bread or items like that, I’d be at too great a risk for cross-contamination. . . . Also, gluten intolerance and food allergies can be enormously isolating experiences for the person going through them. I think it’s important for families to show solidarity by being willing to eat by the standards of the one who’s going without, at least most of the time. I’ve heard from a variety of blog readers that it helps with an allergic child, especially, if that child’s siblings and parents take on the cause as well, at least when they’re at home, and it’s been a huge boon to me that my husband has embraced eating by my restrictions at home with me.

    On a general note, I think it’s vital that, over time, we consider not only the cost to our pocketbooks of our groceries, but also the cost to the environment. There’s a variety of ways to do that, and some of them are cheaper than other options (like cooking from scratch). But some are pricier, initially. I think I maybe should just write a post about it instead of hijacking your comments ;), but sometimes a food that costs more initially is going to have greater societal benefits in the long run and may also be much better for our personal health, as well. Organic food and locally produced food (like the CSAs mentioned in the comments) are two examples.