Over the course of three years, local gardening and coupon blogger Brandy Eldridge — who blogs under the pseudonym Mavis Butterfield — reduced her family’s annual grocery budget by $8,568, or $714 per month. She now feeds her family of four (including two teenagers) on just $100 per month.
So, how does she do it?
In 2008, Eldridge, who lives in Gig Harbor, spent $9,768 ($814 a month) on groceries, and she thought that was pretty good. “I shopped at Costco and I thought I was getting great deals by buying in bulk,” she says. But after saving all her receipts and tracking where her money was going, she knew she could do better.
The following year, she was able to cut back to $7,584 ($632 a month) by being more mindful of sales and unit prices. By 2010, she was down to $5,004 ($417 a month) — half of what she had spent just two years prior. In 2011, with the extreme couponing movement gaining steam, Eldridge made it her mission to spend just $100 per month on groceries. She met that goal, did it again in 2012, and plans to do the same this year.
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To make such a drastic cut in spending, Eldridge relies on several saving strategies. She uses coupons regularly, but tries to avoid processed and junk food, so she also gets creative in other areas. Perhaps her biggest savings tool last year was her backyard garden, where she grew 2,000 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables. By planting everything from raspberries and spinach to squash and tomatoes, she saved on produce year-round. What her family couldn’t eat fresh was frozen or canned for later.
Another way she saved money was by bartering. Since several of her neighbors are hunters, she regularly traded her homegrown produce and coupon-acquired dry goods, such as pasta and beans, for meat. “I loved that, because you know there are no chemicals or added hormones in that meat,” she explains.
In addition to couponing, growing her own food and bartering, Eldridge saves by shopping at bakery outlets, where high-quality bread that’s just been pulled off grocery-store shelves is often marked down from $5 a loaf to $1. She takes advantage of store promotions for free food and gift card deals, too, such as spending $100 on Home Depot gift cards to receive a $20 grocery credit free. Since her family spends money there regularly throughout the year, she just stashes the cards away until they need them — but in the meantime, she’s earning free groceries.
While some of her methods may be more than the average family could do, slashing your grocery budget significantly is within reach, says Eldridge. Here are her tips for saving.
Mavis Butterfield’s tips for saving big
1. Have a six-month plan. “Don’t try to go from $800 a month to $100 a month immediately. Start just by saving your receipts and figuring where and what you’re spending the most money on, and then come up with ways to shave it down a little,” she suggests.
2. Stock up when prices are low. When an item your family regularly uses is at a rock-bottom price, buying enough to last you until the next great sale can save you significant money over the course of a year.
3. Shop with a list. “And don’t deviate from it!” she laughs.
4. Be mindful. “Really take time to think about what you’re purchasing. Is it really a good price? Does your family really need it, or is it a luxury? Is it helping you achieve the kind of eating and heath you are striving for? If not, skip it!”
5. Beware of Costco. There are good deals to be found in bulk, but Eldridge says, “Don’t automatically assume Costco is cheaper than buying local.” A recent example: Fuji apples were on sale at Tacoma Boys for $ .60 per lb. The same day, we found them at Costco for more than twice the price.
For more savings strategies, gardening ideas and recipes, visit Eldridge’s blog at onehundreddollarsamonth.com.
Andrea Dashiell is a freelance writer.