Category: Eating Well on a Budget

use coupons effectively 101


Ahhh clipping coupons – a pastime that might conjure images of a raised-in-the-depression housewife from the fifties, snipping up a newspaper to save pennies on bread or canned soup. Today, though, I often hear complaints that clipping coupons is just not worth it, because there is usually a generic product that I still cheaper. I had the same issue for the longest time – why bother with taking the time to hunt out and clip coupons if it just doesn’t bring the cost down enough? I still desperately wanted to bring my grocery budget down as far as possible, so after some research on couponing for beginners I learned that there are some simple yet crucial steps to using coupons effectively.

1. Find Your Coupons

The more coupons you have, the better coupons will work for you. Find your coupons and choose a way to store/organize them that works for you. If you don’t know where to start, try a coupon binder. You’ll need to keep your coupon stash updated to get the best value out of it!

Here’s where you can go to stock your coupon stash:

  • Good Ol’ Sunday Newspaper – This is my personal favorite. Sunday newspapers have a significant chunk of coupons inside, both from grocery stores themselves and from manufacturers. If you really want to go for budget gold, buy an early edition Sunday paper or get your Sunday paper for $1 from the Dollar Store, but you can also subscribe to the Sunday paper only and have it delivered to your home.
  • Coupon Websites – Did you know there are entire websites devoted to printable coupons? There. Are. Tons. I’ll give you just a few that I’ve had success with in the past:
  • Manufacturer’s Websites – This can be a little more hit and miss, depending on the manufacturer, but if there is a specific brand of product you know you want to buy, it never hurts to just pop over to their website and see if they’ve got a nice little discount for you.
  • Valpak/Mailers – Most likely, you already get these coupon packs in the mail, but if you don’t, you can request an envelope full of coupons here.
  • Store Coupon Clubs – Depending on where you shop, your grocery store of choice may offer coupons and/or discounts of their own. Often these are now in the form of an app (like Safeway’s Just for U or Fred Meyer’s self-named coupon app). You can also check out individual store’s websites for printable coupons.



2. Stack Them Up!

The key to getting the best value is to not just take a coupon and slap it on a product you want to buy. Much of the time, there is a generic option that still ends up cheaper than the brand name with a coupon.

The trick is stacking. In most stores, you can use two coupons on the same item, so long as one is a store coupon and the other is a manufacturer’s coupon. To maximize the value, you can also stack these on top of a sale price (to know for sure, check your grocery store’s website to find their coupon policy, and read the fine print on the coupon). Here’s an example of one such deal:


coupons for beginners

Large can of beans:

Original price $1.25

Sale price: 99¢

Manufacturer’s coupon: 50¢ off

Store coupon: 25¢ off

New price: 24¢

You can find these kind of deals by matching up your store’s weekly ad with coupons in your stash, but there are also coupon websites/blogs like The Krazy Coupon Lady where people go to post the deals they find for specific stores so you don’t have to find them for yourself! Why recreate the wheel?

3. Stock Up

Most coupons allow you to purchase more than one item at the discounted price. Whenever you can fit it into your budget, purchase the maximum amount that the coupon allows (provided that you will use the product). You can know for sure how much you can get by reading the coupon. There is usually some text that will say “Limit ___.” Buy as many as are allowed and fit your budget.

Purchasing several products at cheap, stacked coupon prices means you will have a pantry full of items (purchased at rock bottom prices) to use for weeks to come. That’s how to get the best bang for your grocery buck!

So there it is – couponing 101! You can get started couponing with just this little guide, but if you really want to dive in to the depths of coupon discounts, check out The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Couponing by The Krazy Coupon Lady. Give coupon stacking a try – it can be a lot less work (and save you a lot more money) than you might think!

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prevent food waste to save money


Wouldn’t you love to know how to keep produce from going bad?

We’ve all experienced the sad breakup – when you look in your produce drawer and see the wilting broccoli you bought two weeks ago looking sadly up at you.

You were going to eat me for snacks, remember? I was going to be good for you!”

But,” you think, “you’re past your snacking prime! And I already have dinner plans that don’t involve you. Tomorrow’s not good either. I don’t know when I’ll get around to eating you.”

You sigh…and if you’re a conflict avoider, you slide the drawer shut to deal with it another day. If you’re a rip-the-Band-Aid-off person, you toss it in the trash right then and there. All your good intentions, all your dreams for your broccoli relationship dashed, and all that good grocery money wasted.

I know you know what I’m talking about.

It is frustrating to see a piece of produce nearing the end of its usable life, knowing that you will not realistically have a chance to eat it before it sees the other side.

Well, I have a solution: catch-alls!



I’ll tell you how it works. Let’s go back to poor Mr. Broccoli. He’s laying there, wanting to be nutritious, but you know he doesn’t have a chance in the next few days. Right then, you place him in your veggie catch-all container. This is a large plastic container or gallon zipper bag full of all of your previous veggie good-intentions-gone-bad. Then they all go in the freezer to commiserate together. Don’t worry about peeling, chopping, dicing, stemming, or anything right now (unless you have time). Just toss the whole darn thing in the bag and put it in the freezer. Keep a separate container for your fruit catch-alls.


food saving hack to save money
Some of your produce may change color when you freeze it – it’s okay, it’s still good!


Then, when your catch-all bag is full, put a catch-all on your meal plan for the next week. Catch-alls are meals that you can make with just about any combo of frozen fruits or vegetables past their prime, but not yet covered in fur. Here are some examples:

Veggie Catch-alls: stir fries, soups, curries, breakfast scrambles/frittatas

Fruit Catch-alls: smoothies, compotes (just simmer diced fruit in a pot with some cinnamon – add a little water if they aren’t juicy fruits – until it thickens, serve alone or over ice cream!)

Catch-alls make it so that you don’t necessarily have to do anything with the produce the minute you notice it is on the way out. Often, you don’t have time right then to do much about it, but you can take a second to toss it in the freezer. Then, when you use the catch-all, you have an entire meal’s worth of produce that you don’t have to buy!

Here are a couple of tips to make catch-alls work their very best:

  • If your catch-all meal requires slicing and dicing, take the catch-all bag out to thaw about 30-40 minutes before you need to prep the produce. You don’t want them totally thawed (they’ll be soft and messy to cut), but you don’t want them frozen solid either.
  • There are certain types of produce that work best in certain types of recipes. For example, frozen mushrooms work best when diced small. Greens are best used for green smoothies or for soups after they’ve been frozen (I keep these in a separate container from my veggie catch-all bag for this reason). You’ll learn some of this by trial and error too.
  • If you have a second to peel a banana before putting it in your fruit catch-all bag, do it. Trust me on this one. They are much easier to peel before they’ve been frozen.

To get you started, here are a few recipes for good catch-all recipes. You can exchange the produce in the recipe for whatever you have!


VeggieRed Curry Soup

FruitGreen Pumpkin Pie Protein Shake

VeggieSalmon and Red Potato Hash with Dijon Aioli


Give it a try – you won’t regret saving all that money and keeping all that food out of the garbage!



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budget meal planning bulk shopping


Last week, I walked you through how I meal plan on a budget of $100 per week for a family of four. I’m going to walk you through my meal-planning process again, this time for a stock-up week. If you haven’t read that first post yet, start there, because I’m not going to explain each step this time. I am going to show you how I stay within budget, even when I need to stock up on more items than I did last week.


Besides the amount that I’m buying, the main difference between a “stock-up week” and a “top-off week” is that I make sure to go to a store with an excellently-priced bulk section (Winco) for a stock-up week. Buying items in bulk is not only cheaper, but more customizable, and prevents food and packaging waste. Buying food in bulk allows you to select the exact amount that you need, want, or can afford, and can help make staying within budget much easier. I’ll start with a quick walk-through of the meal-planning process, then I’ll show you how bulk buying makes my $100-per-week grocery budget possible.


save money bulk foods



So here we go! Follow along with my budget-conscious meal planning process this week:


Know your budget

If you read last week’s post, you’ll know that my grocery budget last week was $85 for a “top-off week.” Since this week is a stock-up week, my budget will be higher. Today I’m working with a budget of $115. That gets me to an average of…you guessed it! $100 per week.

Utilize food distribution programs, if you can find them.


This week, pickin’s were more slim, so I only ended up with a nice little green bell pepper and a bag of chips.



Shop Your Cupboards/Pantry/Fridge/Freezer

Here’s where I’m at this week:

Need to use up:

  • mozzarella cheese sticks
  • a few random Swiss cheese slices
  • leftover tomato sauce
  • lots of dinner leftovers – I won’t need to buy any lunch stuff for this week
  • salad
  • baby carrots & other snack veggies
  • deli meat


  • dried grains: pasta, rice, quinoa, oats
  • dried chili beans
  • trail mix
  • lots of canned goods
  • cheese
  • 1 gallon milk
  • potatoes, onions


Use a master list

For stock-up weeks, I use a “supermarket staples list” that I modified from a post on Pinterest.


meal p


This lists all of the things I like to always have in stock (plus a few that I rotate through, like snacks). On stock-up week, I skim through the list and go through my kitchen to make sure I don’t miss anything that we might need or might be out of. Add them to the list!

Take stock and decide what to make

Tonight is our monthly “family fun night,” where we go to a local restaurant/arcade and hang out, so that covers dinner. Since I need to use up tomato sauce and cheese sticks, I’ll make a family favorite – pizza rolls – that uses both of those. We haven’t had fish in a while, and Winco has some really affordable salmon, so I’ll grab some of that and we’ll have steamed broccoli and mashed potatoes with it. Thursday’s a busy evening so I’ll make that a crock pot meal. Maybe a pot roast with some of those baby carrots. Friday I know we will be at a high school football game, so we’ll probably snack at home beforehand and maybe grab some snacks at the game.

That’s okay to do, by the way, just in case any clean-eating policeman ever told you it wasn’t. 

Aaaand for breakfasts I’ll use that lunch meat and extra cheese to make some breakfast sandwiches.



Make your shopping list (include estimated prices)

After going through my stock-up list and the meals for the week, here’s what my list looks like:


affordable healthy food meal plan


Click here for a copy of this shopping list/meal planning template.

On a stock-up week, I try to leave a bit of budget room for whatever meat might be on sale that week. Sale meat at Winco can be a heck of a deal, so Winco trips are good opportunities to stock the freezer.

My estimated costs for this grocery trip were only $92.50, so I’ll add ~$23-25 worth of sale meat to the list. If we weren’t going to be eating out of our restaurant budget for two meals this week, I probably wouldn’t be able to do quite so much but in this case it worked out.



As I was shopping, I had some extra room in the budget, so I tossed in an extra dessert and a few snack foods that I’ll save for next week. We have a part of our pantry where I save up food when I get a good deal or have extra room in the budget. That helps each week be a little easier budget-wise, since I’ve always got odds and ends saved up in there.


cheap healthy food for a family of four


Here’s my haul, for the grand total of $114.04! I love when it comes out so perfectly. 

If you haven’t already, go check out part 1 of meal planning on a budget – both posts are important to understand the whole picture! And stay tuned for more tips on eating well on a budget!


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reduce food waste


Today we’re talking about one of the most infuriating things that can happen to you when you’re working hard to stick to a food budget: food waste! You’ve been there – you take all the time to meal plan, budget accordingly, shop carefully, and then…10 days later, your beautiful broccoli is limp and gray, your spinach is slimy, and – do you smell that? Yep, it’s half of a tray of raw chicken leftover from Monday’s meal. To the trash it goes!

Few things are as obnoxious and maddening as tossing beautifully budgeted money and carefully chosen nutritious food into the trash because it made its way to the depths of the fridge and was forgotten. All those good intentions, covered in fuzz…

A few years ago, when we were really focusing on getting our household budget zeroed in (here’s lookin’ at you, Dave Ramsey!), I was working so hard to get our food budget down that I would about lose it if I had to throw food away. Especially – and Heaven forbid – expensive meat! I had to come up with a solution to stop wasting food and money. So I played around with a bunch of different options until I found a flexible fix that actually takes less work than what I was doing before. It is definitely worth a try if you, too, are sick of tossing good money in the trash.



If you read my meal-planning-on-a-budget post, you may have noticed that there were two dinner plans that might seem a little strange: “scrounge” and “whatever.”


budget meal plan


These are two days that I schedule into every week’s meal plan as built-in “use up” days. These dinners are specifically set aside for the sole purpose of eating up food that is already in the fridge (in our house, we affectionately refer to them as “Whatever Wednesday” and “Scrounge-It Sunday”).

Use-up days serve a few purposes: 1) it gives the chef(s) in your house a day off, 2) it pleases the free spirits in the family who like to eat what they “feel like” eating, and 3) it gives you the chance to dig things out of the dark corners of the fridge and pantry before they start to become fuzzy.

Because fuzzy food = dollars wasted.

So plan at least 1 (possibly 2) use-up days into your regular routine. Trial-and-error will help you figure out how many is the right amount for your household. Too many and you’ll be short on food, too few and you’ll be tossing fuzzy food (aka money) right in the trash.



When a use-up day rolls around, we usually approach it one of a few ways:

  1. If we have a lot of leftovers that need using up, we dig into all the corners of the fridge/pantry, pull out all the stuff that needs to go, and put it on the island/bar/table. Then it’s a free for all!
  2. If there’s a variety of leftover options but not so many that we desperately need to eat certain things, then everyone just gets what they want to eat for dinner out of the fridge.
  3. If there isn’t much already made or if I have a hankering to be creative, I will sometimes use leftover ingredients to toss together something easy. This can lead to some interesting combos, but they usually turn out tasty! Chopped-up cheeseburger patty with roasted vegetable garlic pasta, anyone? 🙂

Ultimately, the goal is that your perishable ingredients basically get wiped out every 1-2 weeks. This keeps you from having to toss all that great, paid-for nutrition, and keeps your fridge tidy and fuzz-free!

Sidenote for those with kids:

Depending on how old your kiddos are, use-up days can be a fun opportunity for them to learn and practice nutrition and balanced eating.

  • Ages 4-8: Sort the options into piles based on their food group (fruit, veggies, dairy/dairy alternatives, protein, and grains). Challenge your child to eat one from each for a complete meal! This also helps assuage the inevitable mom-fear that your one child (you know the one) will eat 7 yogurts and nothing else. Sometimes I offer a special use-up day dessert for those who choose something from all 5. This gives them a chance to learn and think about food groups, and you a chance to see what they tend to choose on their own!
  • Ages 9+: You can still challenge your kiddos to hit all five food groups, though they likely won’t need the visual of the sorted groups at this age. You can take advantage of use-up days to host your own cooking show-style challenges using the ingredients that need to be used up. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just throw something together as a family with the ingredients you have. This helps kids enjoy and be creative with food, all while learning to cook!


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healthy meal plan on a budget


To kick off my series on Eating Well on a Budget, I’m going to start off by showing you how to meal plan on a budget. The easiest way to do that is to show you as I do our meal planning for the week! I’ve been feeding a family of 4 (2 adults and 2 currently 15- and 12-year-old boys) on an average budget of $100 per week for about 4 years now.

At first, it was a struggle and required a lot of work, but after a few months it became much easier and now I would venture to say it’s second nature. Don’t feel like you have to incorporate every money-saving tip all at once. Add in one at a time. Every little bit helps, and taking it on all at once can be overwhelming.

There are a few clarifications I should give on this:

  1. This does not include non-food household items (toilet paper, aluminum foil, hygiene products, etc) – we have a separate budget for those.
  2. This does not include our boys’ school lunches. That comes out of a separate budget. During the first couple of summers, we stuck to the $100 per week budget during the summer without much trouble, but in the last couple of years we’ve had a teenage boy so…we upped it to $125 per week. 🙂
  3. Some of the things that help make this budget easier require a bit of advance planning (canning and freezing food in the summer, for example). At first, I only dabbled in these (and still stayed within budget – it just took more work to do so). I have a decent routine for these now and hope to add more (garden, here we come!) in the future. When you first start, it’s unlikely you will have these benefits right off the bat, so keep that in mind. It’s a little easier for me now for these reasons, but throughout the course of the next few weeks I’m going to teach you how to do all of the things I do to save money on food. Yes, we’re going to talk about canning!

Previously, I did a post on how to meal plan (including a free printable template!). That is an excellent supplement to this article – in fact, you may want to start there, read through step 2, then come back here and continue on. This post will be a much more in-depth look at using your budget as a jumping point, as is mentioned in that article.



So here we go! Follow along with my budget-conscious meal planning process this week:


Know your budget

You can’t very well eat on a budget if you don’t know what your budget is! Decide how much you’re going to spend. For us, I tend to alternate between “stock-up weeks” where I go to Winco and buy regular groceries as well as bulk dry goods to top off our supplies, and “top-off weeks” where I fill in the gaps with produce/meat/whatever else we need. Winco is the cheapest option in our area, but it’s a bit farther away from us than some other stores, so my top-off weeks are sometimes done at a closer store like Fred Meyer. I spend more on stock-up weeks (typically about $120-125) and less on top-off weeks (about $75-80).

This particular week is a top-off week, so this week’s budget will be $85.

Look for food distribution programs in your area.

I’m not referring to food banks or need-based programs (though please seek out those valuable resources if you need them), but rather food waste prevention programs. In my area, for example, there is a large warehouse where loads of nearly-expired food and produce collects every week. From there, people deliver it to different food distribution locations around the area. These programs are a win-win-win. Grocery stores have a place to send food they can no longer sell, landfills avoid thousands of pounds of food waste, and we get the benefit of free nutritious food! Search for food waste prevention programs online to see what might be available in your area.

Since this food source is not predictable (some weeks there is a lot, and other weeks, nothing at all), I do my meal planning after I go, so I know what I will have. Here is this week’s food distribution haul – totally free!


free healthy food


There was quite a bit available this week, so this will help my grocery budget a lot! Keep in mind though, this food is nearly expired, so you’ll want to plan to use it soon. Don’t dilly dally with this stuff – it’s on its way out!



Shop Your Cupboards/Pantry/Fridge/Freezer

One of the greatest contributors to high grocery bills is buying duplicates of things we already have, then trashing wasted extras. You’ll notice that a lot of money-saving tips are also food waste-prevention tips because, well, food wasted = dollars wasted.

Do a quick skim of your fridge, produce, cupboards, and freezer before even starting your meal plan. Take special note of the things that need to be used up soon, particularly meat and produce. Here’s my list for this week (not counting my food distribution goodies):

Need to use up:

  • cilantro
  • avocado
  • apples
  • cauliflower
  • spinach
  • fall harvest muffins (leftover)
  • chicken breasts (4)
  • mushrooms


  • dried grains: pasta, rice, quinoa, oats
  • baking stuff (flour, sugar, etc)
  • dried chili beans
  • clementine oranges
  • yogurt
  • trail mix
  • whole grain crackers
  • mozzarella cheese sticks
  • lots of canned goods
  • cheddar cheese
  • lunch meat
  • eggs
  • 2 gallons milk (we go through 4 per week usually!)
  • fresh-pressed apple cider (YUM)

I don’t usually write them all out like this, but for the sake of walking you through the process that happens in my head, here it is. Be aware that since this is a top-off week, I have more available than I will on stock-up weeks.


Check for sales and coupons

I’ve provided a lot more detail about this step here, (definitely check it out if you wanted to get started with strategic couponing). Either find a store that puts out a weekly ad, or a store that has killer prices all around (yay Winco!). If there’s a weekly ad, check for the best sales, especially on meat and produce, and make a list of those. What’s on sale and healthful is what you’re making! Use any coupons you have to create more good deals.


Take stock and decide what to make

Look at the list of what you’ve got available and what’s a great deal at the store. What can you make with these? If you’re struggling to come up with ideas, use a search-by-ingredient database  to help you find recipes.

This week, we have several Mexican-type ingredients (tomatoes, cilantro, avocado, green pepper, onions) so I think I’ll make an enchilada quinoa casserole with those. My kids have been requesting mac and cheese (I have a recipe that uses an entire head of cauliflower and a butternut squash in the sauce!) so I’ll put that in there too. My husband loves Vietnamese steak sandwiches that use the cucumber I got from the food distribution, so I’ll include those. I’ll round out the week of dinners with pork chops and chicken parmesan.



Make your shopping list

Go through your planned meals and add to your shopping list anything that you don’t already have and need to buy. I like to divide mine roughly by sections of the grocery store just to save time wandering. Include a rounded-up price estimate next to each item.

For us, lunches are typically dinner leftovers, and/or salad with canned chicken, so I’ll put salad and chicken on the list. I usually make sure we have two different types of breakfast options besides eggs, and oatmeal. This week, I have the bagels from food distribution and my fall harvest veggie muffins, so I’ll just make sure to pick up another type of breakfast protein to pair with those. We have quite a few fruits, veggies, and snacks already, and plenty of smoothie ingredients. I also typically plan to have dessert once or twice a week, so I’ll toss in some ice cream as well. Here’s my completed list:


food budget meal plan and shopping list for family of four


Click here for a copy of this shopping list/meal planning template. And to answer your question, no…my grocery list is never this neat. I used my best penmanship and avoided using too much of my made-up shorthand for your sake. You’re welcome. 🙂 Also, if you’re wondering what “scrounge” and “whatever” are all about – they can seriously help decrease your food costs and waste! Click here to read more about those.

Quickly tally your estimated prices to make sure you’ll be within your budget. If not, drop off unnecessary ingredients (garnishes, extra snacks/desserts, etc) until your estimate is within your budget. You’ll notice that there are a few ingredients on my list that are not particularly “low cost” items, like flank steak, Dave’s Killer Bread, and vermouth for my pork chop recipe. Regardless, we want to eat these and my estimate is still at budget. If I cut those or swapped them for cheaper alternatives, I could bring the cost down even further!



Take your budget-conscious shopping list to the store and get the goods! If my estimate is very close to my budget, I like to keep a quick, rounded-up tally on the calculator on my phone as I put items in my cart to avoid overspending. If I have a bit of a buffer, I don’t bother with this. You’ll notice that I underestimated the costs of some things (hello, $13 PER POUND flank steak! Sheesh!), but rounding up on my estimates usually gives me some wiggle room.

So here’s my haul and the receipt for it – I spent $81.06 on all of my “top-off” items.


cheap healthy grocery haul

cost of healthy food



Combined with (most of) the ingredients I had from food distribution and my pantry/refrigerator, here’s a look at our food for the entire week.


affordable healthy food


Even if it seems overwhelming at first, this process gets easier with more practice. Now it only takes me 10-15 minutes to make my meal plan and stay in budget. Plus, we eat healthful, tasty food – all for an average of $100 per week!

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for more tips on eating well on a budget – I have a lot of exciting posts planned to share with you! I walk you through a stock-up week in this post, so click there to see what my other weeks look like. Comment below with your favorite ways to keep grocery costs down!



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You liked, you tagged, you voted, and the results are in…


eating well on a budget with cheap healthy food


Over the next three weeks, I will share with you the nitty-gritty of our food budget, along with every tip I’ve got for making healthy eating affordable. Stay tuned for more info on budget-friendly eating!

Congratulations to Kristin for winning our tiebreaker giveaway! I hope you love your new quick slice!

Eating Well on a Budget