One of our financial challenges this year has been to drop our grocery costs from $650 a month to $400. The idea behind paring back these monthly costs was to free up cash that could be spent on debt reduction.
Now that 2012 is almost through, we've been tallying up our grocery expenses for the year and discovered that we hit our goal. Feeding a family on less than $400 a month really is possible though takes a lot of work and self discipline. Here's how we managed to drop our grocery and meal costs without sacrificing nutrition.
Expanded our vegetable garden.
In the past, our vegetable garden was adequate enough to supply my family with fresh produce from June through early October. This year, we tripled the existing garden space which provided us with both fresh food and enough surplus to preserve (through home canning, freezing, etc) for the lean winter months.
Embraced wild food foraging.
Wild food foraging is all about taking advantage of the free produce that grows in our communities. My teen and I explored abandoned homesteads, gullies, and river banks to turn up everything from wild grapes to apples, wild plums, asparagus, berries and other edible wild foods to supplement our garden's yield.
Cooked everything from scratch.
Scratch cooking means using fresh, single ingredients instead of reaching for something that has been preassembled. I dug into Grandma's old depression era cookbooks to learn how to make meals, snacks, and beverages for one-fourth of the cost of buying something prefab or easy to assemble.
Scaled back the meat.
We used to go "meatless" once a week at our house. These days our diet is rich in eggs, legumes, whole grains, and vitamin-rich fruits and veggies with meat showing up on the menu only once a week.
I'm not a couponer since most coupons are for processed foods that we don't eat. What I do instead is shop smarter by visiting off beat stores (such as remainder stores or wholesalers) to find the best deals on the groceries my family needs.
2012 has been the year of "portion control" for our family using Prevention Magazine's portion control guide. Cutting back the portions has been another easy way to lower grocery costs without having to try very hard.
Cooking everything from scratch (including bread products) is extremely time consuming. I used to spend 10-15 hours a week in meal prep; now I'm in the kitchen at least 30 hours a week and considerably more during canning season.
So how does our 2012 monthly grocery costs compare with the rest of the country? Statistically, the average middle class family spends about $600 a month on groceries with wealthier families spending closer to $800 a month. Families on food stamps by contrast have to get by on $400 a month. Newark mayor Cory Booker is the latest politician who has discovered just how hard living on a food stamp allotment can be.
Dropping this figure to $400 as our family was able to do in 2012 is doable but by no means easy. We were lucky to have a big yard for growing fruits and vegetables, plus easy access to hundreds of pounds of wild food. I also have the luxury of being a work-at-home Mom who can fit in bread baking, gardening, and home canning around my work. Without the time and resources needed to grow, prepare, and preserve food however, most parents will discover that feeding a family nutritiously for less than $400 a month is nearly impossible.
*Note: This was written by a Yahoo! contributor. Do you have a personal finance story that you'd like to share? Sign up with the Yahoo! Contributor Network to start publishing your own finance articles.More by this contributor: Why I shop at 9 different stores for groceries