Mondays with Mavis – How to Feed Your Family for $100 a Month

mondays with mavis

Seriously, who buys this much mayonnaise?

Alright, let’s get this party started, shall we?

For those of you who thought I was going to bag the idea of couponing, and go Whole Paycheck on you, you were totally wrong. Believe it or not, I am going to try {for the third year in a row} to adhere to a grocery budget of $100 a month for my family of 4.

And I DO have a plan.

Back in 2011 when I challenged myself to feed my clan for $100 a month, I was knee deep in Extreme Couponing. At the time I was very confident I’d be able to rein in my spending and still keep the cupboards stocked. What I didn’t count on, was that I’d be spending so much time clipping coupons, and running to the store constantly to find deals, that I would gain 10 pounds because I was stuffing my face {and my family’s mouths} with processed crap in a box that no great great grandmother on the planet would be able to recognize as food.

As I headed into 2012 I decided to dust off my garden tools, and try something new. I set a goal to grow 2,000 pounds of food in our backyard. I figured I could shed those 10 pounds of processed food that had stapled themselves to my backside, by spending more time in the garden GROWING food rather than SHOPPING for food at the first sign of deal. And it worked. Mission accomplished.

Now, as we head into 2013, I want to continue my goal to feed my family good, wholesome food. I have a few new things I’d like to try. First, I’d like to see if I can double what I grew last year by trying to grow 4,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables in the backyard garden. Secondly, I want to see if I can slowly transition my husband and son away from eating/wanting so much crapity crap food.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to take away their beloved Doritos, I’m just going to  trick  silently go about how I introduce healthier foods to them.

I don’t want to give away all my plans yet {in case the HH is reading this}, but I do want you to know, I have a “general idea” as to how I’m going to go about this.

So, I’m still here, I’m still on a mission to feed my family for $100 a month, and I’m still going to use coupons. I’m just to going to go about it a bit differently this year, I hope you’ll stick around.

♥ Mavis

Here is what I purchased this past week:

costco shopping trip

Costco – $219.59

Well, well, well, someone fell off the wagon, that’s for sure. I think I said everything I wanted to say about this purchase HERE.

grocery shopping trip

QFC$5.96 for 1 gallon of fresh, local milk. WOW everyone sure had a lot to say about this.
Local Produce Stand $4.80 for cucumbers, peppers, grapefruit, broccoli, and avocados.
Bartell’s Drug Store – $17.70 for pasta sauce, Nutella, dried prunes and apricots.
Fred Meyer – $2.01 for oatmeal.

reclaimed food
Reclaimed Food Scraps – FREE

I can’t even begin to guess how much money we’ve been able to save over the past 8 months on fresh produce. Produce that was going to be thrown away.

Target Shopping Trip

Target $2.84

I picked up some junk food for the boys. I gave them one box of the fudge covered Ritz crackers and hid the other 3 boxes along with the Pretzel M&M’s.

Total Spent This Week $252.90
Total Spent This Year $252.90
Total Spent This Year on Garden Seeds/Supplies $0

Go HERE to read more Shopping Trip Stories.

mavis one hundred dollars a month

Here are the One Hundred Dollars a Month Challenge Guidelines I have set for myself:

1. I will be keeping track of all grocery money spent this year. I do not include toiletries, medications, newspapers {because I don’t buy any} restaurant meals {we rarely go out} or money spent on vacation {because when we travel we use money from our “vacation fund.”

2. If I {or anyone else in my family} receives a gift card to a restaurant it does not count.  Why? Because the gift cards were a gift.  We did not have to pay for them out of our own pockets.

3. If I win a free gift card, redeem credit, or barter with my neighbors, the street value of the products don’t count because I did not have to pay for them out of my own pocket.

4. If I am able to score a free $10, $20 {ect.} catalina from the purchase of a gift card {ie: Amazon, Home Depot, iTunes ect.} the amount I spent on the gift card does not count towards my food purchase total.  Why?  Because we don’t eat lumber, music or books. But we do eat food, and if buying a gift card to a store I already know I’ll be shopping at within the next 6 months scores me some free food, I’m going to do it.

Okay, that’s it. I think I’ve covered everything. Any questions?

Will YOU be trying to reduce your grocery budget this year?

What is a realistic goal for your family?


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  1. Kari says

    Everything in your fridge looks so yummy and healthy, and stacked very OCD-friendly. I love it! Thanks for listing your rules. I always wondered if you secretly used the Sears catalog instead of TP :). Good luck this year on meeting your goals. I can’t wait to follow along.

  2. Angie D. says

    You go, Mavis! I was able to reduce my grocery budget to $150 a month in 2012, but more importantly, I started tracking how much I spent. It was a real eye opener, and I kept a spreadsheet of all my spending so I can see trends throughout the year.

    I’ve decided to shoot for $100 a month in 2013, while incorporating more healthy stuff into our diets. No yard, but I’m going to try growing some veggies on my little patio this year. Thanks for the inspiration!!

  3. says

    I love following your blog! I like that you put your guidelines out there to clear up any misconceptions of your way of budgeting. You have inspired me to try gardening again, my biggest problem is our location in West Texas, but I will research and give it another go. Thanks Mavis for sharing!

  4. says

    I will, yes. One of my 2013 goals (along with running the 35th annual Rhody Run!!!) is to spend $400 or less/month on groceries, toiletries & household items for my family of 5. That means I’ll be couponing & keeping track of all money spent.

    I don’t know how you manage to keep under $100. That’s just, well, you know… crazy. And crazy inspirational! But you do it. In Washington. That’s impressive. You know I’ll be watching!!!

  5. says

    Awesome plan! We’re planning on stream-lining our gardening en devours this year- focus on the foods we eat the most so we can keep things in tip top shape in the garden. The challenge is going to be keeping ourselves to this goal because it is so much fun to plant, plant, plant (I may have to actually hide the seed catalogs from Jamey):-).

    Keep up the amazing work!

  6. Penelope says

    My grocery budget is not quite set as yet. I plan to stick to it, but mine will include toiletries/meds/pet foods. I should be able to firm up a number by next Monday. I spent more than I planned at Costco last weekend as well. Don’t we always?

    We made some significant food changes starting last spring. My husband wasn’t thrilled about it because it involved a lot less meat and cheese and treats, but he has digestives troubles (genetic) and our diet change because of finances ended up improving his issues a great deal. So even if I have more money available, we will be keeping our current food plan.

  7. Deborah says

    Mavis, I love your plan. My plan is $100 a month in groceries and 750lbs from the garden. You inspire us all! Keep up the great work!

  8. Kathy says

    I’ve been doing groceries for family of 4 on a very limited budget for years, about $120 a month. Does not count personal items at all, those don’t count in food budget. It’s nice when one of my sister’s hits a HUGE sale at her local Meijer’s and get’s extra and passes it along. It’s hard but do-able. You’ve inspired me to go more healthy, less crappity crap. Can’t wait for the spring when the Farmer’s Markets get going again.

  9. Marcy says

    Are you going to weigh your eggs to include them in your garden total? Or just keep a tally of how many eggs you get in a year, I’d be curious. Eggs here at Fred’s not on sale are $4.39 for an 18 pack.

  10. Lesa says

    Good luck with your $100 a month grocery challenge!

    My husband and I have decided to quit eating out so much this year (Looks like we spent around $800 – $1,000 a month last year just eating out. OMG!). I’d like to get it down to maybe twice a month, which would be major for us.

    I think $100 a week for groceries might be achievable for me this year. I work full time and I’m going to college to finish my degree, so I won’t have the extra time to spend on shopping for bargains.

    But if I can accomplish these two goals this year, it will save us a boatload of money!

    • Heidi says

      You are not alone with your dining out addiction. We love it. Are spending is very similar. I too have similar goals this year. With my childrens athletics it makes it really hard to not pop into a restaurant. This week we have four away basketball games all on different nights. We leave our house at about 4:45 and get home about 9:30. Doesn’t leave much time for dinner at home! Packing dinners gets really tedious and repetitious but I will move forward with a good attitude and give it my best. Couponing our personal items really helped our overall budget.

  11. Ann T. says

    I had a strong feeling you were not going to stop your One Hundred Dollars a Month Food Marathon. Back when you said, “Knowing full well what my grocery budget goals are for 2013, I happily filled my cart with things my family loves.” You knew, but you just wanted to buy freely before taking on the race.
    My grocery budget is like yours, I just add up the food that we eat at home and nothing else. My goal is to spend less, but yet eat better. I plan to have a bigger and better garden this year. Maybe no corn, the corn just didn’t grow right and the rows took up a lot of space. I enjoy following your blog and not only getting pep talks from you, but also from all the great Girl Scouts that voice in on this blog.

    • Heidi says

      I agree with the corn growing weird. I’m going to give it another try only because I have the space to do so. I kept waiting for the great corn sales 10/$1.00 etc. last summer and it never happened. If I knew corn would be cheap I’d skip growing it.

  12. Kelly R. says

    I have high hopes for moving somewhere that I’ll have more than just a tiny balcony to grow food. We shop only at Trader Joe’s, so there is t much I can do to alter how much I spend there outside of growing more of my own.

  13. Cheryl F says

    I added an F to my name as there seems to be 2 Cheryl’s from West Texas on here!! Hope I don’t forget in future postings.

    I love your blog. Is there a way to easily read the last 2 years on how you only spent $100 a month?

    You have inspired me to try my hand at gardening – no way on your grand scale as my yard is very small compared to yours. I am going to have to research it some as I personally have never had one although we did when I was growing up and we have very harsh summers – called drought and we go on water restrictions.

    My plan is to have 100 lbs in garden food – which will help me with my weight loss goals too!

    My parents have a limited garden but always share and I need to figure out if anyone else here will barter.

  14. alyssa says

    Love your well-stocked fridge with all the good stuff. Not sure if you’d be still interested but thought I’d share anyway… milk is only $0.99 for half gallon at FM this whole week. Would be nice to stock up in case you ran out of the local fresh milk. While you’re there, don’t forget to score some free store credit by playing the Pop to win game on their website (kroger). I won $10 off of purchase which I’m going to spend on fresh produce :) Good Luck & looking forward to your awesome posts

    • Leanna says

      Kroger (parent of Smith’s) and Albertson’s NEVER do the great things like double coupons (unless they mail 2 once every other month) or Pop to win here in So. Nev. Man it’s hard living in the desert and couponing.
      Glad for you bummer for me. :-)

  15. Mary Ann says

    I probably won’t set a dollar amount monthly budget, but I will still be coupon shopping as much as possible while trying to put better quality food in my cart this year. I already cut out frozen dinners last year, but I’m going to try to go even fresher this year.

    We also used to eat out a lot and cut that down to only a couple times a month last year. It’s amazing how much you can save just by doing that!

    I pay nothing to very little for all toiletry items, but still can’t get paper products free (but I don’t buy them if they’re not a really good deal).

    I wish I had a larger area appropriate for gardening, but I will try to produce as much as I can in my 11 x 12′ raised bed. After making my own marinara sauce from my garden grown tomatoes last year I think more space will be devoted to tomatoes this year. It was awesome!

    Thanks for all your inspiration, Mavis. You rock!!!

    • MargieL. says

      We plant a lot of tomatoes in our garden, but we use tomatoes too. I canned home made soup, puree, salsa, spaghetti sauce, regular stewed tomatoes and hot stewed tomatoes using home grown peppers, canned yellow tomatoes too because hubby likes the lower acid ones when his Crohn’s Disease is acting up, and also canned quarts of regular tomatoes to use in recipes. I also canned juice to freshen up the (onsale) store bought puree I buy to make homemade ketchup. Cooking tomatoes down to ketchup consistency takes a lot of time and electricity and sometimes ends up scorching. I want to can string beans this year but might end up buying a bushel or two at the farmers’ market so I can do them when I have the time and not when they are getting too big out in the garden. I also make pickles. I froze butternut squash. My beets and zucchini didn’t do well this year. We used to grow broccoli and cauliflower but I don’t like to use spray so aphids usually attacked them. Yuck. I also put in leaf lettuce and radishes, and buy herb plants at the nursery to use all summer. We use black plastic to keep the weeds down and the soil warm. We are in western MD, so we have a shorter growing season than a lot of other people. We’ve had frosts the end of May and the end of August some years. If we cover the tomatoes, sometimes we end up with two extra weeks of growing for them. Good luck with your garden this year!

    • Heidi says

      I think 11×12 is a pretty great space for gardening but if you are concerned with space have you taken a look at vertical gardening or companion gardening? There are really great books on the subjects or you can most likely find info by googling the subjects.

      • Mary Ann says

        I haven’t, but after I wrote my post earlier today I started thinking about what else I could do. We have a platform right next to the raised garden bed that was supposed to be for a hot tub, but I have outgrown the idea of having one. I think we’ll build some growing boxes and use that space for things that will grow well in containers. Yay, for more veggies!

    • Dena says

      I am addicted to my home canned pasta sauce. I can’t use the store bought stuff anymore! I canned 19 quarts last fall and I only have 6 jars left. :( I will can twice as much next fall. I can’t wait!!!!!

  16. suzanne says

    I admit I buy the big jugs of mayo/whip but I make all tarters/sauces, salad dressings and condiments from scratch with the exception of the mayo itself. Scratch is where its at 😉 I must admit I’m suprised that you would need to purchase salsa or tomatoe sauce or even yogurt with your mad skills in the garden and kitchen but then I’m so bad I brew my hubs beer and make my own wine. Gotta have a hobby.

      • says

        My thoughts are – if they can do it for mass production, why can’t I do it myself? I’m still working out how to can beans so I can take our family chili recipe and can that up too… dried beans would expand and already cooked beans would end up too soft after processing…

        A quick google search brought up lots of recipes for homemade canned tomato paste. At quick glance I like this one:

  17. Cristie says

    My goal this year is $100 a week in groceries for the first 6 months and $80/wk for the next six, not including one night eating out a week. We are not used to tracking that expense and I finally added a 3 month total last night and was floored at how much we spent. I know that for many people $100 dollars a week for 2 people is extravagant, but this requires learning to cook differently and to plan better and if I don’t make these changes slowly, I’ll get frustrated and give up.

    I’m also taking great inspiration and guidance on gardening and hope to make a lot better use of space for growing my own produce this year.

    • suzanne says

      Christie, you are so right about that. Baby steps. What really helped me was menu planing and learning what I could freeze so it wouldn’t get wasted. Stuff like cilantro and ginger and dicing onions and peppers if I couldn’t use them up before they turned.

      • Heidi says

        One of the best tips I ever received was to dice up your onions and freeze them. I do this all of the time now. When a recipe calls for onion I open the container in the freezer and scoop out what I need & the rest goes back into the freezer. Fast & easy. Then I’m not weeping every time I need to chop an onion.

  18. Tricia says

    I have a husband, 5 boys (ages 23-11) 4 still live at home and my grocery bills are too high at least that is what I think. I coupon shop sales etc. I live in Eastern NC on the beach. My goal this year is to make more soups and healthier foods. I have no idea what a reasonable budget is– last week was $155 for food alone.

    Your blog is truthful and inspirational. Good luck and I look forward to following along.

    • Heidi says

      I have 4 children (3 boys, 1 girl) ages 11-24. The 24 year old is here at least 5x a week to eat. Can’t seem to get rid of him. Tee He He…just kidding. I’m with you as I don’t know what a reasonable budget is as well. I’ve set a $200. a week for food (including eating out) and personal stuff but I still have a challenge keeping to that amount. Maybe I’m due for a Mavis intervention:)

  19. Sakura says

    My goal for 2013 is $350 to include food, toiletries and cleaners. I’ve been keeping track on a spreadsheet, so far so good. I have an old scale from the restaurant that I’ll be using to weigh what I grow, I’m hoping for 800 lbs. either grown or gleaned from other growers. Good luck on your goals!

  20. Diana Smith says

    I was rooting for you to acheive your 2000# harvest…..even my hubby got involved! As retirees we have to keep our food budget low so we can have anything left for fun stuff. Coupons deals here are few and far between and I’ve found most are for junk that we don’t eat. As old hippies we prefer real food. But we are so fortunate to have 120 acre farm here in the Ozarks. Chickens,cows,bees and a huge garden and orchard plus a greenhouse . Enjoy reading about your gardening adventures in a climate totally different for our hot droughty midwest area. You go girl…..

  21. says

    Last year I found your blog in March and immediately jumped on the bandwagon. I had already been couponing for a year but was appalled at how much I was still spending. My goal last year was for $100/mo for groceries/HBA/pet supplies for myself and my large dog and 3 cats. Well, at the end of the year, my average was $142/mo – much better than 2011 but room for improvement!

    This year I am separating alcohol purchases from the tally and giving them their own goal. So the grocery, etc. goal will remain $100/mo. Having last year as my “practice” and having this goal firmly in place from the very beginning of the year, I’m sure I can do it!

    • Mavis says

      I love keeping track of the spending. Even if you are only able to shave a wee bit off each year, it still adds up in the long run.

  22. says

    I’m quite intrigued about how you are going to accomplish the $100 while cutting out the processed stuff. I applaud you for it though. I find your site to be wonderfully entertaining and helpful and I always love it when you come into the shop. However, I will admit, Jenny Any (our Summer helper) and I were reading your site once and were a little stymied by the processed items. We found it odd that someone who would grow a ton of food would still purchase processed food. I completely understand how though.

    I do like that you bring up a good point about the weight you put on (which you totally can’t tell). I’ve always thought it to be odd that the coupons that are available for purchase are for processed “non”food. We wonder why there is an obesity issue in the US. Could it be that retailers are only making the unhealthy food affordable to consumers.

    Here’s to a 2013 of healthy eating and saving money!

  23. says

    One of the coolest things you discover once you start to grow your own food is that you can do it year-round. I have garlic, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, leeks, and broccoli growing now. And in a few months, we can plant potatoes, peas, beets, carrots, and chard. A few months after that, summer garden. It really is not hard to grow your own food. Might be challenging to figure out what to do with it all, but everyone with even a small plot or patio can grow.
    Mavis, you are an inspiration to me, keep up the good work!

  24. Gwenn Ferguson says

    I’m planning on doing a few more raised beds for root veggies; improve my potato towers (think the soil I used was too good..weird I know); window boxes for lettuce. I’m also hoping to get a plot in a local community garden to grow some of the on the vine veggies. I have two dogs one of which LOVES to gnaw on vines and run over my garden (thus the raised beds). Fortunately she doesn’t like tomatoes so they have been safe.

    You have inspired me Mavis. I live in NE Wisconsin so I’m going to do some research and hopefully be able to grow some veggies all winter without a greenhouse. Fingers crossed.

  25. Robin says

    Ok I can sleep at night now knowing what your 2013 goals are, HA! You go girl. I love that you are buying less of the crapity crap food. Now we are simpatico and I’ll be joining you as we wean the testosterone filled ones in our homes of their processed nonfood snacks. Last year I weaned us off of most prepackaged foods including soups (unless it is a organic offering). The Albertson’s in my town closed and I raided the organic isles when everything was 50-60% off. Better than couponing (no paper cuts!). So I will be growing more and I am currently growing year round ( thank you SoCal weather). I guess I should jump on the band wagon and track my grocery expeditures so I too can make some adjustments (hey I’ve got a HS junior and college isn’t going to be cheap). I consider all the wonderful tips you post and have loved so many of them, including some of your recipes. We grow a lot of the same veggies so nice to compare our results. You inspire me and I love your all in or nothing attitude. You are extreme which I think is the only way to be!

  26. Maile says

    Yes! Thank you for posting. I stopped couponing about 6 months ago and cemented the deal when I saw Genetic Roulette documenting what processed GMO foods are doing to us.
    Grew my garden (followed your blog religiously), but was a bit confused with the lush garden bounty coupled with the over the top processed foods. I now read labels, place my $ on real food, and prepare traditional foods the traditional way. So nice! Look forward to the new year with you. =}

  27. Sophie says

    Im throwing all my plans out the window this year!! We are expecting twins in March and I have no idea how much we will spend this year. We moved into a new house in July and I had grand plans for a garden, but I am on bedrest until the twins are born, so that put those plans on hold until next year. I still have every intention of continuing to coupon, especially since we will be buying loads of diapers and wipes, but we seem to be using them for food less and less. I am finding that I dont get to eat what I want when I hard core coupon for food because my recipes always call for real ingredients that I stopped buying. We are trying to stop eating out as well. I am just going to apply the concept of couponing and saving money to life in general and try to be frugal overall.

    Here’s to a hopefully healthy and happy year!

  28. Desi says

    I’m amazed at your accomplishments these last 2 years!! Last year we ended up using our entire $5oo a month budget for our family of 5. This includes anything our house uses up, from groceries, to cleaning supplies and toiletries. I want to go back to my original goal of $300 a month, I just need to stay away from the store.

    We do what we call a date night fund. At the start of every month we put $40 into an envelope. We can either use it that month or save it for something special. Sometimes it’s the entire family that goes out and other times it goes towards a babysitter and our dinner. If we’ve used up the money we don’t go.

    Thanks for the inspiration Mavis! I hope to have a bigger garden this year too!

  29. Tracy says

    Bought another freezer at the sears outlet last week . It’s so easy to quicky freeze produce as opposed to canning. Bought giftcards at albies and got 7 $15.00 cats. Then they sent me one with a dent so I got a big sears giftcard too! woo hoo it’s living in my garage to I don’t care.

    FYI to you all that are new at this buy a manual defrost freezer. all that auto defrosting makes your food funky after a few months.

    tomato paste person, crock pot it and freeze it. Works best cause its soooooo thick

  30. Madam Chow says

    Personally, I don’t think there is anything wrong with processed foods including Doritos, as long as they are eaten in moderation, which is what you seem to do, Mavis. I grew up in a home where we had NO junk food, just one bag of chips per year. Yes, per YEAR. Consequently, my brother and I would go nuts when we had access to it. Now, my family eats about 95% homemade food, but I keep some junk around so that no one feels deprived, including me! Over the holidays we had chips, dip and tons of homemade goodies. Thing is, no one went bonkers and ate the Costco sized bag of chips at one sitting, which is what my brother and I would have done back in the day. Another friend of mine would make “sugar sandwiches” because his mom felt the same as mine did.

  31. Angie Smith says

    Are you ready? 😀 I have no idea what we’re going to do – but here’s what I have so far: I HAVE to reduce the budget – by a lot – this year. We like to eat everything organic, grass-fed, wild-caught, etc. etc. etc. My first strategy was to scrap the rules about organic, but I still want to eat real food (no chemicals, hormones, white flour, etc.). I then proceeded to figure out how many calories we need and divide it by the amount of food money each month to figure out how many calories we have to get for our food budget. Then I looked at the things we like to eat & figured out how much we pay for how many calories. So far, even if we downgrade and buy non-organic foods, the only real foods that fit our budget are real butter, whole grains (not including quinoa – even at Costco prices), dry beans, shelled raw sunflower seeds, and flaxseeds. I take insulin (type 1 diabetes) & eating grain & beans make me much less sensitive to insulin, which means I have to buy a lot more of it, and the main reason I have to reduce the food budget is that I now have no medical coverage…so eating grain & beans is WAY too expensive for me personally, but my son can eat them…we’ll have a garden again in the summer, but there is no growing anything here right now, except the garlic that will be ready next July and the kale that is dormant for the winter but will hopefully regrow a bit in the spring while we wait for other things to be ready. My next strategy will be that we eat up all (or almost all) of the food in the fridge, freezer & pantry before we go shopping for more food (except that I may buy fresh local milk because my son thrives on it & doesn’t handle homogenized milk well at all). I’m hoping that if we save up our food money for a few weeks (or hopefully a month or more), we’ll be able to squeak by until the garden is producing food again. We do get random free things once in a while because I work in an organic deli (I make broth from the bones left over after we roast chickens to make chicken salad, I bring home the bacon grease when we cook bacon for sandwiches at work, etc.), so that helps. I’ve learned to make my own traditionally fermented sauerkraut & other fermented veggies so we can preserve some of the harvest longer into the fall & winter. I’ve also got a plan to grow a variety of veggies so that we have fresh summer-eating veggies, veggies to freeze, veggies for fermenting, and other veggies (like winter squash, carrots, potatoes, etc.) that store a while in the fridge or basement. I can sell a little bit of produce here & there from the garden if/when we have extra. If all of that isn’t enough, I guess I’ll eat buttered sunflower seeds and my son will live on air-popped popcorn with lots of butter…

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