1.5 months, 4 people, 5 pets and $250 for groceries…. it sounds like an impossible challenge, unfortunately, it was our reality. You can read about how this challenge came about by clicking HERE.

This was by far, no easy task.

It took days of preparation to finalize the grocery list and meal plans.

I had paper, pencils, calculators and no less than 6 different computer tabs open at any one time.

Here’s how I did it.

Saving money on groceries starts in your own home.

I took my paper and pencil and listed every food item I had in the house.

Deep freezer meats and veggies, canned pantry items shoved in the back dusty corners unseen in weeks.

Literally, everything was listed.

pantry stocked and ready for the $250 challenge
Our stocked pantry after shopping. Notice the canned items at bottom, there was a lot of canned items this month.

As I was making that list, I organized it by where in the house I had found it, freezer stuff with freezer stuff, pantry with pantry.

I then decided that I had to redo the list on another paper to organize it by product type.

Separating meats, baking/seasonings, dairy, and miscellaneous items until everything had a spot.

This made it much easier on my eyes to piece meals together.

But now I needed another piece of paper. Crossing out items from the last sheet I made, I assembled them into a written meal plan on this new sheet.

Some meals were able to jump out at me, others required creativity to piece together.

By substituting one or two items or excluding something from a familiar recipe I was able to save on cost by not needing to buy all that extra stuff and provided me the capability of stretching what I already had.

Pinterest and Google came in very handy for helping to get creative meal ideas.

Constantly searching phrases like “made from scratch” “poor man’s recipe” “depression era recipes” “budget dinners” this helped me to compile several dinners and after I had enough to work with I took to the internet to begin my hunt on savings.

Our grocery ads change on Wednesdays but are visible online on Tuesdays for early previews.

Using this to my advantage and looked at my stores Aldi and Kroger.

Then I looked at coupons available at Kroger, not just the ones that I could simply clip to my card.

I also compared to the digital/printable coupons from websites such as Coupons.com. If I thought I stood a chance at finding a coupon anywhere for something specific, I searched product name on my favorite coupon search engine, CouponTom.com.

Having been a great couponer about 2 years prior and knew a few things about sale ads, coupons and savings, I entered this challenge with background knowledge, which I feel helped significantly.

Creating an Excel spreadsheet kept me organized. Listing items in one column along the Y axis, and including columns across the X axis for regular price, sale price, quantity, if there’s a coupon and how much it cost per each, cost per total, cost per total after discounts, cost I expect to pay.

couponing shopping list

The more details I included and kept track of, the less surprises I had and the more in control of my budget I was. 

Every item I needed to buy to complete my meal plan had been listed.

I compared store prices from Aldi with Kroger prices after coupons and sales. Believe it or not, most of my shopping was happening at Kroger.

Aldi was there for fresh items and moral support, but Kroger had a Buy 5 Save $5 deal that won my wallet shaped heart.

So now I knew what I needed, where to get it and how much it would cost in the end.

But I wasn’t done yet.

New Excel spreadsheet was created.

This time I arranged all the boxes to look like a calendar.

Not only did I input my meal plans so that every day had a dinner, but I also wrote down the main ingredients and the costs.

Each meal had a total cost included in the end, so I knew exactly which meals cost how much, choosing to repeat the cheaper meals to fill in the month.

Themes fell into place, such as Breakfast for dinner Friday.

My daughter looked forward to the canned peaches every week, she loved Fridays because of this, which helped to boost the mood and make the month of poor foods feel less like a prison.

Sundays were bigger meals, usually whole chicken or a ham with sides.

Providing shredded/diced meat for the weeks dinners and sides for lunchtime leftovers or the weekly leftover dinner night.

January meal plan cheap dinners and costs spreadsheet broken down with ingredients

Our January Meal plan. Color Coordinated and every item priced. The things that were “free” were items I had in stock at the house already.


So now I had an actual month of laid out, planned dinners for $100.

I was still in budget with some room to move.

Time to add in the pets. Bunny food, litter liner, cat food and litter, dog food. The pets alone were about $50.

Bringing my total to $150 so far.

This meant I could afford the luxuries of cheap ground coffee, flavored creamers (only .99ea 32oz from Kroger after sale and coupon) also allowed me to have room for taxes, impulse buys, fresh produce, cold cereal and sandwich items for lunches, etc. life was good.

So I put it into action and started actually shopping. Yes, after days of lists, hours of research, and countless trees sacrificing themselves so that I could stay organized.

I was finally ready to shop.

Aldi had discount meat, off-brand Kool-Aid packets for under $2 a pack, flour, sugar, canola oil and a few other small items I knew I could utilize to stretch our budget.

Kroger had all my deals, exactly as I had prepared for them, and since I always round up when I calculate my costs, I was at my budget with pennies to spare.

Clearance meats from Aldi impulse buys
My clearance meats and impulse buys to help stretch our budgeting.

To read my actual meal plan and details on how I did it you can read How we survived 1.5months on $250

forced to survive on $250 for food had to make it last for 44 days this is how my family survived
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