What We DON’T Eat Saves Money

It isn't what we buy that is the question. It's what we DON'T buy.

We spend roughly $800 per month on groceries. We don’t go on extravagant shopping sprees every week. This surprises most people, even other large families who spend twice as much with half as many children. The question they ask is, “What on earth are you eating?”

A better question may be, “What on earth aren’t you eating?” We rarely eat out or buy processed food. Boxed meals or frozen dinners are not in our stock. We fill our kitchen with with meals we love, largely made from scratch with natural ingredients. For specifics of meals, check out my cookbooks here.

Lots of great shopping ideas in my cookbooks.

Are you struggling with keeping your food budget manageable? In my second cookbook Love in the Kitchen Volume 2 you will find a whole section on keeping your grocery bill light. I have several principles for saving money. Here are five:

  1. Before you shop take a survey of what you already have in the freezer and refrigerator and make a list of possible meals you could make from those items. Your shopping list will be much smaller than if you just went shopping.
  2. Buy meat in bulk or family packs. I often find meat marked down considerably, hardly ever buying at full retail price. I freeze the packs in our freezers.
  3. Buy fresh vegetables and fruits in season. They are less expensive and better tasting. These are usually the fruits and vegetables that are on sale at the time. Buy them up and enjoy them with the family.
  4. Keep track of prices of things. Know your prices in different stores. Know whether canned goods or dry foods really are a bargain.
  5. Don’t be fooled into buying foods just because they claim to be “healthy.” There are obvious junky foods like chips and sugar-coated snacks, but things like veggie sausage and organic rice (both more expensive than regular) are not worth it.

These are just a few starting points to shopping wisely, principles on how we keep our grocery bills low. What are some of your best shopping tips? Use the comment section below to share.

For example, we make homemade popcorn by the case. Pictured above is microwave popcorn. Though the cost difference is huge (like 10:1), most people eat microwave popcorn. I would love to hear your shopping tips on saving money, as I’m sure others would, too. Write them below!

About Wendy Jeub

Yes, Wendy Jeub has brought 16 children into the world, and loves each and every one of them. So much so, she'd welcome more!

  • T. Gates

    I make casseroles to stretch my meat further.  We buy generic and also try to stay away from foods that are boxed as much as possible.  We have 5 children, and we spend less each month than many of our friends with only 2.  I think some of the reason may be that it is easier to go places more often with only two children so there is always a bigger chance of needing quick, convienience foods that cost more. 

    • Stevie

      I like to have “meatless mondays” to save money.  Having a theme really makes my kids more enthusiastic to try lentil chili or barley mushroom soup. I buy all beans, grains in bulk and store in old glass (BIG!) pickle jars.  The pickle jars have been cleaned well of course.  I enjoy your website. Thank you!

  • Clara

    How do you know organic rice isn’t worth the money? Do you know what chemicals they contain?  Have you done a study of the health effects of these chemicals? Do you know the effects of the chemicals on the rice? Can you name even one of the chemicals or pesticides that are used to raise such rice?

    Buying organic is generally the better choice. But it may be one of the things you have to sacrifice with a large family. It’s disingenuous, however, to say it’s not worth the money.


    • http://www.jeubfamily.com Chris Jeub

      Wendy and I have done quite a bit of research on organics, but that’s really not the point of this post. Wendy wants to share menu habits that save money. Do you have any, Clara?

      • Clara

        I have lots of ideas, but most people already know to buy in bulk or in season.

        When you say you’ve researched organics, do you mean scientific research or google university?

        • http://jeubfamily.com Wendy Jeub

          What is the difference between Tyson chicken and organic chicken?

          • Memoriesmama

             Actually, there can be a difference. Tyson seems to have two different labels (one yellow with red writing and one red with yellow writing) and one is natural with no hormones or antibiotics and the other says natural, but must use either hormones or antibiotics or something as it messes with me physically when I eat it. It’s been a while since I bought Tyson chicken since we butchered a number of chickens last fall, but if I remember correctly, the yellow with red writing is the “good” stuff. Also, there has to be a difference in the chicken as the price is always different.

        • http://www.jeubfamily.com Chris Jeub

          Clara, you seem to be a hyper-critical person, consistently demanding scholarly credentials for the simplest conversations. You keep doing this on our blog posts, and no one is helped nor edified. Like I said in response to you, share your ideas on the topic of the post. Trolling for a ridiculous argument will get you blacklisted.

  • Anonymous

    I think you have some great ideas. Gardening can help out and so can canning or freezing.
    It was told to me long ago that buying only meat when on sale and then doubling up can make a difference.  Do you count household cleaners and such in this amount?  It would be wonderful to have natural or organic in everything but unless God changes something drastic in our lives it is not feasible.  I found over time that trusting in God comes in many ways.  Long ago I thought I should be making all our bread by scratch and so on but as God blessed us with children and me with a difficult disease  I found it not always possible and at times in the last few years impossible.  God our bodies amazingly strong.  He knows all about the way things are grown today and the chemicals.  I do not take it lightly that things in food today are not always wonderful for creation but we CAN pray and do our best with what He gives us.  

    • http://jeubfamily.com Wendy Jeub

      Yes to canning and freezing. We freeze blueberries, pumpkin butter, pumpkin mash, our own broth, and spaghetti sauce. We also have hunters in the family so we get elk and venison that is free range, organic and hormone free. When you don’t have to buy much meat it does cut down on your food bills. Yes my cleaning supplies, pet food, light bulbs and misc items.

      • Clara

        Organic meat is good, but organic things in the market aren’t worth it? Just trying to understand your rationale for this. Thanks.

        • http://jeubfamily.com Wendy Jeub

          Many things will make sense to you when you buy our wonderful cookbooks! You can become a student of The Jeub Family. Love in The Kitchen Vol 1 and 2 are available.

  • Ninabi

    Some nutritious foods, such as ground flaxseed, are an outrageous price at grocery stores. We buy ours at a local feed store, whole, and grind it in a home coffee grinder for 1/15th the store cost.  We ask for “food grade”.

    • http://jeubfamily.com Wendy Jeub

      I think this is a wonderful idea! Thank you for sharing it.

    • T. Gates

      What do you use flaxseed for?

  • Mrs. Miller

    We use a lot of the same strategies you do. Three other things that we do are: 
    1) We don’t buy baby food. The babies nurse til they are around 8 months and then they eat ‘normal’ food; peas, beans, applesauce, crackers, oatmeal, noodles, rice.
    2) We make and can our own refried beans, spaghetti sauce, and soups for quick easy meals for when there is a new baby or mom is sick or we have unexpected things come up.
    3) We don’t buy cold cereal very often. We eat eggs, toast, fruit, pancakes, biscuits, and/or hot cereal or make our own cold cereal.

    • http://jeubfamily.com Wendy Jeub

      I think it is very neat that you make your own breakfast items. We make granola and it tastes so good.

  • faytk

    I am amazed that you guys are able to eat so cheaply. We eat a vegan diet and have for 15 years. There are only 8 of us (until July:) ) Where it gets so expensive for us is that 6 of us have to eat gluten free. It is so expensive!!!! The oats we buy are more than three times the amount of regular ones. That is just one example. I wish we weren’t dealing with food issues because it would be much cheaper. We don’t eat convenience foods or out of boxes but our food bill is much higher. Thanks for sharing with us!

    • http://jeubfamily.com Wendy Jeub

      I can certainly sympathize with you. Many families are going Gluten free
      and Dairy free. Anytime you change things from how you used to do them
      it takes time and plenty of energy.

      The good news is that there
      is more and more information out there today then there has been in the
      past. You are now able to find recipes for you on-line too. There are
      even on-line support groups that swap recipes. Supermarkets are offering
      more items aimed at your type of need.

      May the Lord bless you with wisdom and energy as you move forward to take care of your family.

      In my 3rd cookbook I will have more Gluten free and Dairy free recipes.

  • Karen

    $800/month comes to 55 cents per meal per person.

  • gilora

    I buy chicken leg quarters in 20-lb boxes.  Even where I live (NYC suburbs) they cost about $.59 per pound.  I remove the backs and freeze for later use.  I cut the legs into drumstick/thigh pieces and skin them or not depending on use.  I use what I need at the time and freeze the rest in family meal sized portions.  The backs I cook in the pressure cooker with some water.  You can take the meat off the backs for sandwiches and freeze the broth.  Here’s an inexpensive, easy recipe for chicken pieces (which my kids love):

    4 each drumsticks & thighs (bone in, skinned)
    2 tsp. salt
    2 tsp. paprika
    1 tsp. chili powder
    1 tsp. onion powder
    1 tsp. thyme leaves
    1 tsp. white pepper (can use black)
    1/2 tsp. garlic powder

    Combine salt & spices in a gallon size bag.  Add chicken pieces and shake to coat evenly.  Let sit in the fridge overnight.  The next morning, put the chicken pieces in the crock pot, cover and cook on low 6-8 hours.  (Do NOT add liquid.)

    Also, if you live near any “ethnic” stores, shop there for spices.  Usually spices are far cheaper and you can get greater quantities for a fraction of the price the little glass jars cost in the supermarket.

    • http://jeubfamily.com Wendy Jeub

      Excellent ideas! Thank you for posting.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_BZXHT7XDXDDSOBCWGPTUGYGV5Q Elizabeth

    Do you have a garden? I know if I had a large family I’d have a garden so I could grow a lot of our food. I’d have a garden now if I wasn’t in an apt. My Dad grew almost all of our vegetables and some fruits, and he had only an acre of land.

    • http://jeubfamily.com Wendy Jeub

      Currently we do not garden. We have in the past and it was wonderful! My grandma grew all her own veggies too! Sometimes her lettuce would turn out bitter though do you know why that happens?

      • Kate

        Can you grow a garden in CO?

        • http://jeubfamily.com Wendy Jeub

          It is January and I have not put much thought into it yet. Maybe later on in the season. We do have rhubarb that comes back every spring. We have done green beans (they grow purple) and zucchini. Peas, lettuce and mint. How about you? What have you done in the past? 

          • Kate

            Oh wow rhubarb! Is mint for the Kambucha tea?  I hope to have a garden one day. I was thinking Chris had mentioned you couldn’t grow many things in Colorado.

            Your cook books are wonderful! I am looking forward to using the techniques you speak about in both.

            • http://jeubfamily.com Wendy Jeub

              We use to live in northern MN and so our garden here is NOTHING compared to there. Some places just have wonderful black dirt.

      • jenny

        Lettuce can turn bitter if it is left out to bolt, or in other words, use it when it is fresh and don’t let it grow long tassles on the top.   Sometimes too much heat can cause it to become bitter too, so I plant lettuce in the spring and the fall.   
        You should have your boys build you a large “Hot Bed” for your lettuce, that would give you fresh lettuce for a early sprin, late fall, and sometimes throughout the winter.
        DH built me one and used some throw-away windows to be placed on top of the frame.

      • http://www.blissfuldomesticgoddess.com/ Charity

        It could turn bitter from too much heat/not enough water

  • http://www.trooppetrie.blogspot.com/ Prmpetrie

    I would love to know what make popcorn by the case means, we love popcorn and tend to buy the generic microwave popcorn because the bag type you pop does not taste well. we do have a air popper we love but the bottle of kernals is not cheap. i love your suggestions and in case you have not heard anyone say it today, i think you are a wonderful encouragement to large families

    • http://www.jeubfamily.com Chris Jeub

      Good question. We buy our popcorn in 50 lb bags from Sam’s Club. Here’s a picture:

      • Abby

        I can just imagine the mess made if that gets torn open too far :)

        • http://www.jeubfamily.com Chris Jeub

          Ha! Actually, we dump them into three big sealed containers and some jars. We buy a new bag about every year.

  • Anonymous

    This isn’t food, but it’s an expense that most people have.  I was in Sam’s Club today and noticed a 3-pack of foaming hand soap in holiday packaging.  I thought it might be marked down, so I checked the price.  $5.41 or 24 cents per ounce.  Directly below it was regular hand soap for refills (the Simply Right brand), which cost only 4 cents per ounce.  What is even more incredible is you can refill an empty foaming soap dispenser with regular soap by mixing it with 1 part soap 2 parts water–meaning that refill of regular hand soap (which sold in pairs in huge bottles) will pretty much last for the next 20 years.  :)  For refilling foaming dispensers in this way we have found that the clear liquid hand soaps, with no beads or other additives swimming in it, works the best.  We love foaming soap because our kids don’t use too much and it rinses away easier (meaning less water waste as well).

    We also switched to using a thinner (cheaper) toilet paper.  I thought I would hate it.  My husband explained some very real advantages the thinner stuff has–it flushes easier, it actually rips less, and he uses less.  I still wasn’t convinced…until I noticed that the kids use much less.  I guess if I need to keep a roll of softer stuff hiding in the cabinet for my own personal use, I can, but I have actually been ok with the switch. 

    I am a slow learner sometimes, or maybe just slow to change my ways, however I have recently found that typical “convenient” foods can be easily imitated with no more work involved…it just takes a recipe.  I found recipes for cream soups, hamburger helper type dinners, and taco seasoning.  I didn’t think we ate a lot of processed stuff, but I have found that my grocery bill is dropping already.  I have a 5-week menu that I rotate.  Every now and then it needs freshened up, but it’s a good starting point each month.  Because I buy a lot of the same things, I can spot good prices and also know when I need to stock up.

    • http://jeubfamily.com Wendy Jeub

      Really good ideas! I like how you rotate your menu.

    • http://www.kjllovemylife.blogspot.com ~kjl

      We actually had the opposite happen here with the cheaper toilet paper… more clogs because kids were using more (too much!).  After one big box we switched back to our “regular” brand. 😉

  • Lara

    Buying meat on sale and stashing in the freezer helps us a lot. Meals made of soups and fresh homemade bread ( we are gluten free and continue to make our own bread to save money). Chili and rice, rice pasta and a veggie/tomato sauce can be eaten twice. I like the challenge of cooking for our big family, most days that is:)) 

  • Wendy, Mom to 7 thus far…

    We have a Mennonite Market near us, so buying things in bulk for cooking there is awesome!  We also buy their big bulk bags of Rolled Oats and the kids add Jelly or Polaner’s Simply Fruit to it…Or I canned apple pie filling last year, they like that on it as well.  I also can my own Applesauce from Apples we get from local orchards and even can Fried Apples, like you eat at Cracker Barrel.  We garden and I can all of that too, as well as breads and cakes.  My kids love it and enjoy it so.  My only problem at present is i have no pantry to store anything which is difficult. But, we are thankful for chickens for farm fresh eggs, a goat for milk, and family that gives us different meats to freeze from their hunts ( my  DH doesn’t hunt or care for the meat or goat milk).  Also, check around for any local meat plants…for instance we have a local chicken processing plant from chickens raised by local farmers, and they sell excess out of a truck at their plant 2-3 times a month for reduced rates.  No Hormones, Antibiotics, etc.  These work for us since we are an hour away from anywhere that has a Sam’s/Costco/Walmart or major Super Market.

    • http://jeubfamily.com Wendy Jeub

      I really like your ideas! How wonderful that you can shop at the Mennonite Market. Thank you for these tips.

    • jenny

      Wendy, how do you can these fried apples?   I need to learn this…………already have the apple sauce and apple pie filling, but canning fried apples, I’ve got to learn that one. 

  • jenny

    Every winter I pressure many many quarts of chili, cheeseburger soup, and country hamburger soup.   I then use these meals throughout the year as my quick meals, they are so much tastier and economical than pre-made or boxed items.  Healthier too………

  • jenny

    The other big thing on saving on food is shopping at local dent and bent stores.   I also buy items that have been outdated recently, they are often still good for quite awhile.

    And we have 20 laying hens! 

  • Mollymomto7

    One thing that we do, is a meal swap. One night a week I make dinner for another family… The whole meal is delivered at dinner time, ready to eat. The next night she makes me dinner. This saves money, it is less expensive to double a recipe than make two different meals. We also enjoy having a homemade meal without having to cook it one night a week. This gives me one afternoon I am free to clean more, do school or a fun activity. I think it is also nice to eat someone else’s cooking. Of course, you have to have another large family in close proximity and similar meal expectations. This has been such a blessing to our family for over 10 years.

  • Manyhandsmusic

    Buy and eat what is in season. Have at least a Potato night ( a potato based meal i.e. scalloped potato or baked potato bar) and a Soup night each week. Even better, have a theme for each night as was mentioned before . Like: Monday/ soup. Tuesday/ pasta, Wednesday/potato, Thursday/ rice, Friday/ beef, Saturday/ TACOS! Sunday/ leftovers. :) and popcorn, lots of popcorn. I don’t have the time and energy to worry about coupons, BUT I do glance at the local grocery sale paper they send free each week and try to snatch up the things that are really a bargain. I find that if I shop too much at Costco, I spend too much money each time, so I try to get most things at the local store and then keep a list of the Must Haves from Costco and go only every other week or once a month. Another wonderful thing that is worth your time, is to write out in a little notebook what is your top price for an item. Like you don’t want to pay over $3.00/lb. for lunch meat. This way you KNOW when you go to the store that you are willing to pay such and such amount for something and what the good deals really are.

  • Bernadette

    One way in which we keep our grocery bill down is to always take a picnic lunch with drinks if we are going out ie; parks, zoo, beach etc. With five children and two adults this saves a considerable amount of money. We also go shopping on full stomachs with drinks in my handbag (water usually) for the children. Lastly, I always have a list with at least two weeks worth of meals planned out and the ingredients needed, what is not in my pantry etc, to be purchased.

    Oh and a heads up to miss Clara, different countries have different legislation about which “pesticides/herbicides and chemicals” are deemed safe and to which amount is “safe”. Yes in an ideal world this would not be necessary but unless you are growing your own, much smaller scale, it is usually a “necessary evil”. Life is all about choices and I think if you read up on it and make up your own mind (and not jump on the latest marketing ploy or fad bandwagon) then thats all that matters. And as for “organic” do a little research on the companies that endorse these claims and the legislation  to which they are bound and you might be surprised to find that they only need a certain percentage of organic product to be able to make the “organic” claim.

    • http://www.jeubfamily.com Chris Jeub

      VERY good points, Bernadette. You’re a thinker!

    • Wendyjeub

      You are right on about the organic thing.

  • Vixthemom

    one thing we do that saves is to use a lot of reusable items, cloth napkins, kitchen towels, cloth disputes, paper plates very rarely, gladware instead of bags for packed lunches. … learning to cook things from scratch instead of buying like creamed soups, biscuit mix, pancake mix… some might not be practicle if my family we double its size (currently only 8 of us w 1 on the way)……but for now its working.. .that and once a month shopping.

    • Wendyjeub

      You are right. We do many things from scratch and that saves money. We do wash and reuse many rags, kitchen towels and face clothes and this saves. Cynthia also likes to cook up a big pot of dried beans and then we freeze those to use for cooking instead of canned.

  • Vixthemom

    diapers not disputes…lol

  • tereza crump

    ok, here is my question, Wendy. How do you buy fresh fruits and vegetables only shopping once a month? I shop every week. We are 6 people at our home and our children eat fruits and veggies every day. I buy 8lb bag of apples, 2 dozen bananas, 3 lb bag of oranges, frozen strawberries and blueberries and all that lasts about 10 days. Then shopping for more I go!!

    The same goes for veggies. I buy fresh organic leaves, carrots, celery, potatoes (all kinds), tomatoes and more and they last about 7-10 days. Then shopping for more I go!!

    How do you preserve fresh fruits and vegetables for a whole month?

    • Wendyjeub

      I do have to go shop for fresh more often but when I do I don’t buy much. I make this a quick run. I do get frozen fruit too and it lasts a bit longer. We like to add the frozen fruit to our homemade yogurt.

  • chestnut ridge

    Just found your blog… Loving it!  

    We have ten children and people are always amazed that our grocery bill hovers between $400 to $600 a month…($120 of that is for milk!) … less in summer when we are eating from our garden.  I go to the store when I need to — usually when we’re out of fresh fruit or milk.  In our region of the southern United States, we have a multitude of grocery-salvage stores, at which I can usually find great deals.  Every now and then I go to a “real” grocery store, if my seventeen-year-old gourmet-wanna-be daughter needs some obscure ingredient not found in my very simple pantry.

     I didn’t read all the way down the comments to see if this has already been mentioned, but I’d like to put in a plug for making your own broth from bones.  My kids know, whenever we have a cut of bone-in meat, the bones are placed on the “bone plate” not the garbage.  I throw the bones in a crock-pot, cover with water, add salt, a half an onion, maybe some garlic, or that leafy inner stalk of celery no one wants to eat, and simmer for at least a day.  Strain it and, Voila!, absolutely delicious bone broth, full of healthy benefits.  If I don’t use it right away, I’ll freeze it in gallon zip-top bags for another day.  I am trying to get away from bouillion cubes as they are loaded with MSG.

    By the way, I love the photo of the 50 pound bag of popcorn from Sam’s!  Looks just like mine!  We keep ours in five-gallon buckets with “gamma-seal” screw-off lids, same as our bulk rice, flour, and sugar.

    • http://www.jeubfamily.com Chris Jeub

      Great idea with the bones! We sort of do this with ham-to-pea soup bones, but your idea seems much more productive. We hunt, too, and we always throw the bones to the dogs, but now you have me thinking of broth. Thanks!

    • Wendyjeub

      I really like to make my own broth and I freeze it up and use it as I need it. I like your idea about adding in the onion and garlic, great idea!

  • Pingback: My Nephew, The Chicken Palletizer | Affordable Palletizer()

  • Lisa O.

    One of the biggest zap to our monthly shopping budget was cleaners.  With lots of little ones, I was constantly cleaning up one mess or another.  I researched online and found all natural recipes for everything that I was buying.  Double bonus I now save over $100/month between household cleaners and laundry detergents, and our home is now chemical free!

  • Jeannette

    for a few of our children we have gone on the feingold diet, removing artificial colors, flavors and preservatives, another has multiple food allergies in addition to this.  the learning curve was hard, and very expensive at first, but I have learned now to make so many things from scratch.  “how to make your own…” became my new google standard.  The only thing I can add is about eating healthier is that my food bill may be a bit higher, but I would rather pay money for FOOD than for filler.  I am still learning ways to save within my parameters.

    Discount store prices aren’t always cheaper, meats are ‘enhanced’ with up to 30% ‘solution’ so you paid for less chicken and more chemical water, canned products even have added ingredients, breads have lots of unnecessary ingredients.

    Take a regular inventory of your pantry and ask if there is anything you could make yourself, a marinade? a snack product? a canned soup staple?  most are easy, there’s bound to be a kid that would like to try their hand at it, and chances are most ingredients are already on your shelf.

    In addition to buying it in bulk, I find cooking ahead large portions of ground beef and cut up chicken and then freezing allows me to use ‘less’ than a recipe may call for, stretching my meat budget.

    Mus-go soup: homemade broth and everything else in your fridge that ‘mus go’ is a weekly meal here for us.  when you pay more for ‘real’ food, you don’t EVER want to waste a mouthful of it.  There have been some strange combinations, but it always gets eaten!