How to Feed a Family of Four for $200 a Month

If you are frustrated, feeling like you are doing everything you can to save money at the store and still CANNOT cut your grocery budget, you’re not alone.

According to CBS News, the overall cost of groceries has risen 25% since 2020. However even a cursory glance at the shelves will reveal that the cost of individual, popular items (like meat) has far out stripped that statistic.

This is left the average family struggling to keep food on the table, while not increasing the amount in their food budget. I have a long believed that even when most people think their food budget is as low as it can be, there’s still ways they could minimize spending and maximize savings.

So, in 2023 I put my theory to the test, when I radically cut our family grocery budget to $200 a month. Given the fact that we are a family of four, which includes two always-hungry teen boys, this was a tall order, indeed.

What does that $200 grocery budget include?

I use that money for food only – No personal care products, cleaning products, pet supplies, or anything else we don’t eat. It also did not include restaurants or fast food.

Although we don’t have a garden, I do some social media work for a local farmer and he pays me in some produce each week during the growing season. That is the basic supplemental food that we had coming in.

We are plant-based. So, yes, that did help us keep costs down. But, the strategies I used will help you drop your grocery budget, no matter what your dietary choices are.

We discuss our $200 budget in detail and show examples, in this video.

Here are the most important habits that we regularly used to spend no more than $200 a month on food.

1. Create a weekly perishable food inventory

Once a week, schedule a time when you simply open the refrigerator and create an itemized list of everything that is perishable. This list should be prioritized, which means the items with the shortest shelf-life go at the top of the list. This allows you to easily see what needs to be used up first.

Using this list, you’ll create a menu plan, adding ingredients which you already have on hand in your pantry and freezer. By using this method, we generally found enough food in the house to feed our family for three full days.

This kept us from not only making unnecessary trips to the grocery store, but also prevented food spoilage so we were no longer throwing spoiled food into the garbage can.

2. Plan a menu each week

Although many plan using a daily view of their meals, I prefer topical menu planning. In this method, you use broad categories of food, rather than the days of the week for planning purposes. For instance, you’ll find: main dishes, sides, salads, soups, and desserts grouped together and listed on the form .

Topical planning allows us to mix and match food throughout the week and it seems to make it easier for us to plan for using leftovers and not cook TOO much food.

Whether you choose a traditional daily menu plan or a topical menu plan, one of the most effective ways to create a list of meals is to use reverse meal planning. In the system, you focus on using ingredients which you’ve already purchased and are in your refrigerator, pantry, or freezer. This reduces food waste and allows you to use ingredients which, hopefully, you have gotten on sale, clearance, or for free.

Preplanning using a weekly menu plan is a great example of how you can save on groceries, before leaving home to head to the store.

3. Focus on buying loss leaders

When you look at a grocery store flyer, loss leader items are generally those on the front page with ultra low prices. These special sales are designed to get you into the grocery store, where, hopefully, you’ll complete all of your weekly shopping.

Stores are willing to take a loss on these items, because they are banking on the fact that they will be able to make more more money when you purchase items which are higher-priced or not on sale.

The key to using loss leaders to stretch your grocery budget lies in centering your weekly menu around them. For instance, if broccoli is on sale for $1.59 per bunch, then you need to plan three or four different ways you could cook broccoli that week.

By consistently using the lowest price ingredients, you will spend less money on food and your grocery budget will drop.

4. Find the markdowns

Grocery store has mark down items for a variety of reasons. Here is a partial list.

  • The store will not be carrying that brand any more.
  • It is a seasonal flavor or has a specific season or holiday portrayed on the packaging.
  • It is close to the “sell-by” date.
  • It’s a weird flavor and it is not selling quickly enough.
  • They bought too many of that item. (These are generally listed as “manager specials”.

No matter the reason for the mark down, the reduced price does not mean the food is spoiled. It is considered safe to eat. Markdowns are most often found in the following departments: produce, meat, dairy, and general merchandise.

Pro tips for grocery store markdowns

  • Don’t assume every department does their markdowns at the same time. Ask an employee in that department when markdowns are done. Time your shopping trip for when you can find the most plentiful markdowns.
  • Be sure to locate and check all markdown areas while you are at the store. If you don’t know the markdown locations, ask an employee for help.
  • Be sure to find out when the markdowns are done at your local stores. For instance, I’ve discovered that the magic time at my local Kroger is about 1pm on Saturday afternoons.


I have often used markdowns to create an entire weekly menu plan. When you plan several dishes that you cook each week utilizing markdown merchandise as the main ingredient, you will find substantial savings on your grocery bill.

5. Buy in Bulk

Buying in bulk can save money in the long run, especially for non-perishable items like rice, pasta, and canned goods.

Buying in bulk can save you between 35 and 50% – depending on what you are buying and the price the vendor has been able to get from the supplier. Usually savings are passed on to you. Especially if the deal the store owner got was based on the fact that the items were close to the expiration date.

Many bulk food stores also sell salvage food. This food is sold cheaply for many of the same reasons that grocery stores put merchandise on the markdown shelves. Buying salvage food can mean savings of 75% or even 85% for you!

If you plan to allow for periodic bulk food purchases in your tight food budget it’s best to reserve an allotted amount of money ahead of time, setting it aside specifically for the purpose of bulk buying trips.

Here’s an example.

I know that we will go to our local Amish community twice each year to buy large quantities of shelf-stable items. I budget $240 for each of these trips. That means that each month I reserve $40 of our grocery budget (a total of $480 a year) and set it aside. I can spend this cash for our bulk buying and avoid overspending or stressing out the food budget.

6. Avoid processed foods

If you want to save money at the grocery store, there are some things you should avoid purchasing. Being frugal, means considering each purchase carefully and knowing exactly how many meals each item will feed your family. Pre-made meals and boxed mixes may be more convenient, but they can be very pricey.

A simple example of processed foods, which people don’t often consider, yes produce which has been prepped for you. In general, the more work that someone does before you buy a product the more you will pay. For instance, cut up fruits or vegetables are always substantially more expensive per pound than buying it whole.

A more traditional example of processed foods is, of course, items that you will find in the frozen food section or in the middle aisles of your grocery store. Although these are quick and easy solutions to weeknight dinners, they are incredibly expensive. Buying the raw single ingredients and making the same recipe at home is nearly always less expensive.

Your Turn

Tell me about your grocery budget goals in the comment section and what’s working for you.

6 thoughts on “How to Feed a Family of Four for $200 a Month”

  1. Kudos to you Hope. I do a lot of my budgeting, shopping, and planning much like you. However, I do include meat for grandson mostly, or just for seasoning other foods. This is very hard work cooking from scratch and careful planning is time consuming. I do have lots of stuff for compost d/t so much vegetable processing. I mostly just wanted to let you know how hard you must work to do all of this. Still, you are amazing and so helpful and nonjudgmental whn you realize some of us are just not willing to give up certain things when we could save if we did. My weakness is coffee and love good brands. Larry, best I remember has a favorite brand and I cannot recall the brand. Was it Yuban? Best wishes for you and Larry, and giving your channel an A+

    Reply
    • I have done hot water bath canning. But it’s not my favorite thing to do. I generally freeze or dehydrate extra produce.

      Reply
  2. Hello Hope,
    I’m curious what items you would buy in bulk from the Amish twice a year?
    I live in Australia, so I’m wondering where I might find something similar.
    Currently, I can get steel cut oats and wheat berries from an organic grower in my state, but with the shipping, it isn’t much price difference to buying at the supermarket.
    Cheers

    Reply
    • We mainly buy bulk bags of beans, rice, oats, cocoa, and cream of wheat. Plus, a few other items less frequently. We focus on shelf-stable items which we use a LOT of.

      Reply

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