Feeding a Family for $400 a Month?

Tawra Kellam, editor of LivingOnADime.com , does something that most people think they can’t do today. She feeds her family of 6 for $400 a month. Most people say that’s an impossible feat but what’s even more impressive is that she does it without using coupons.

How does she do it? First, Tawra says, "I use what I have. If I don’t have milk in the house, I don’t make a special trip to the store for it. The kids won’t die from malnutrition if they miss drinking milk for a day or two. If I’m out of bread, I’ll make some cornbread or muffins. If I’m out of fresh veggies, I will use canned or frozen instead. Stop going to the store for one or two things. I shop for food 2-3 times a month and that’s it."

Shop the clearance sections. "I regularly find milk on clearance for $1.75 a gallon. My store marks the milk down a few days before the "sell by" date. The great part is that milk stays fresh for 1 week after it’s opened. I just throw several in the freezer and then I don’t have to make a special trip for milk. Just thaw, shake and serve."

Purchase meat only on sale or on clearance. Again, butchers mark down their meat a day or two before the "sell by" date. Generally, meat is good for 3-4 days after the "sell by" date in the fridge or 6 months in the freezer. Tawra says "I never buy meat unless it’s on sale for $1.99 or less a pound. If it’s not on sale, we don’t eat it. You can get some great unadvertised deals just by watching the meat counter’s clearance items. I found 5 lb. rolls of hamburger for $2.95 each after New Year’s Day. Of course we stocked up and will have enough hamburger to last 6 months. I can get "soup bones" with enough meat on them to make a great vegetable stew for under $2.00 for the entire family! Add some rolls and you have a complete meal for 6 for less than $3.00. When chicken is on sale for under $2.00 per pound, I stock up. I do this with all my meats. This way we can always have a variety of meats."

Ask. Most people are intimidated by asking, but Tawra regularly asks when things will go on sale or be marked down. By asking, she found out that bananas, milk and meat are marked down each morning. She tries to shop in the mornings to get the best deals. She says, "When we lived in another state, they marked things down in the evening so that’s when we went shopping. Adjust your shopping times to find the best deals."

Serve your family proper portions of food. "Most parents give their kids way too much milk, juice and soda. My kids get soda on special occasions only. They eat milk with their cereal. For snacks, they eat a piece of string cheese, fruit or one or two cookies. The kids don’t sip on milk or juice all day long. They drink water and are just fine with it. As a general rule, I try to give them one vegetable and one fruit for lunch and dinner and then a piece of fruit with cookies or cheese as a snack. This gets their "five a day" in very easily. Stop letting kids just "graze" on chips and other snack food all day. My kids get one small "bowl" of chips a day and that’s it."

So what do the Kellams eat? Tawra shares some of their menus with us:

  • Slow cooked roast, brown gravy, onions, carrots, potatoes, buttermilk muffins and a fruit plate

(The next day, the leftovers from the roast are used as BBQ beef along with potato salad, green beans and strawberries or grapes.)

  • Pizza (homemade), tossed salad and fruit
  • Maple glazed chicken, scalloped potatoes, glazed carrots, applesauce and dinner rolls
  • Sloppy Joes, cucumbers and tomatoes
  • Tacos, refried beans, green beans, sliced apples and tortilla chips w/ honey

With savvy shopping, you too can cut your grocery bill even when prices are going up!

Jill Cooper and Tawra Kellam are frugal living experts and the authors of the Dining On A Dime Cookbook. Dining On A Dime will help you save money on groceries and get out of debt by cooking quick and simple homemade meals. For free tips & recipes visit http://www.LivingOnADime.com , sign up for our free Living On A Dime Newsletter and learn to save more!


  1. Carol York says:

    Why do we have to figure out a way to live on $400 a month? The corporations, CEOs, Oil Barons, and War Mongers are the ones that need to start making more sacrifices. I am DONE making sacrifices so the rich can HOARD their money in bank accounts in the Cayman Islands and other banks where they do not have to pay taxes on it. MAKE THEM PAY THE TAXES ON THE MONEY THAT THEY STEAL FROM US!!!

    • They don’t steal it from us, we give it away happily! The corporations are not doing anything wrong except providing a product that we want to buy. If we buy their junk, it is our own fault! Stop buying the junk they produce, they will go out of business, and instead follow advice such as this article freely contributes, and buy the essentials, not the “I wants”! These “sacrifices” are not entitlements. You have to earn it if you want it, and that is exactly what the corporations did. It is elementary really, nobody holds a gun to your head when you buy from the corporations, it is a self-imposed debt you are in. By the way, a home cooked meal, and learning how to live debt-free is not a sacrifice, it is a blessing!

      • I think Carol has a point. Why does a CEO get to make 5 million a year? While some of his employees in production have to make 2 jobs to make the ends meet? And the prices go up so the CEOs and financial officers can keep on making MORE money. I think there definitely is a LOT of GREED.
        Olivia, I agree that we must live on what we make and avoid debt. And we do have more than people in other countries. I don’t think that we can completely stop buying from corporations. Can you make a car yourself? Do you make all your own clothes? I don’t have the time or the desire to make toothpaste, ride a horse, make furniture or make cast iron pots and pans. I have to shop from retailers. And it is hard to feed a family of 5 on $400 in Montana. Most of our food is shipped here from elsewhere and local food is extremely expensive.

        • If you wanted to be a CEO with that much money, why don’t you? The reason is that being a CEO is a very difficult and demanding job that usually requires years of experience. If you can actually get to that point, you deserve to be much better paid than your employees who accepted their pay and chose to do the work they’re doing!

    • Well said Olivia. I thank the CEO issue and corporate ripoffs are for a different forum. Time to prepare home cooked meals is my issue. Any good advice?

      • Mary Ann says:

        Hi Bobbi – I highly recommend the steps in the Busy Cook’s Pyramid. I bulk cook ingredients and it saves me a lot of time, and cooked meat takes up less space than frozen meat. When I make dinner, if I can bake a double batch, I put one meal in the freezer. My freezer is always full and it makes putting dinner on the table a lot easier.

      • This is a bit late, but oh well. I agree with Mary Ann that freezer cooking is a great idea, especially making double batches while you’re cooking anyway. Something I’ve really been wanting to try lately is a freezer meal swap with friends and relatives. Each participant makes a certain number of the same meal and then you swap – so everyone ends up with a variety of meals, but without having to go through the effort of gathering all the different ingredients and cooking each separately, etc. It’s so much easier to make 10 of the same thing and just trade. 🙂

  2. angry, young and poor says:

    I hate this situation so much. My kids are both very small, and we do not get enough caloric intake on our budget.
    We live in the capitol city of California, my husband has a college degree, and hey works at a phone store!
    Keeping up with food giveaways helps. Look for resources in your county for giveaway dates and what you need to show if you need to sign forms.
    WIC is available to pregnant women, infants, and children up to six years old. You can get monthly vouchers that you use at the store like checks for things like milk, eggs, cheese, peanut butter, bread, dried beans, peas or lentils, six dollars of produce, and twenty dollars of vouchers, one every summer, to spend at farmer’s markets.
    Now, if only I can start getting this orchestrated smoothly while dealing with chronic pain and crippling mental health issues. 🙂

  3. angry, young and poor says:

    Oh, there is also free breakfast and lunch at most school’s during the summer. They can get meals and adults can pay a pittance for a pretty healthy meal. The standards require some good things these days, like a little salad bar, milk and water, etc. Vegetarian options, for sure! 🙂

  4. Lauralee Hensley says:

    Well we’ve cut back a lot on our budget even though right now it is just me and my husband. I planned out my menu’s through December 1st. Yes before I went grocery shopping (I checked on all the sales first) I checked what I still had left on hand. We had plenty of Tilapia fish in the freezer because I purchased it when it was on sale for $1.99 pound and divided it up into portions of one meal each. Today grocery shopping I bought plenty of chicken because it was on sale for 88cents a pound and this Saturday was military discount day at a couple of stores in town. You can bet we ask for the 10% discount. I would suggest anyone that is in the military or retired from the military who still carries a military ID see if any of their stores have this discount and on what day. The two grocery stores that do this where I live, have the discount available on the first Saturday of each month. Also if you need to get something at your home improvement stores, check if they have a military discount available and on what days. Some have it all the time if you carry one of their cards that you can apply for. You don’t have to use the cards as a credit card and still get the discount, so check that feature out. Anyways, since the cost of meat has really gone up and we have to be very careful with what my husband eats now due to three medical conditions, we eat meatless meals 3 days a week. One night per week we have dry beans that I soak and cook (usually I do this in really big batches and freeze in meal size portions for the whole month or even two months worth) over brown or sometimes white rice, and than spinach as our side vegetable. I don’t care if the spinach is fresh, frozen or canned, as long as it is affordable. I have even grown spinach before, yet I find it takes up a lot of planting space for very little yield. Then one night of the week we have Tostada’s made with refried beans and top them with chopped tomatoes and onions. However like you if tomatoes are not on hand we don’t worry about it. If Salsa is on sale I’ll stock up on it and when you have Salsa you won’t miss having fresh tomatoes on the Tostada’s. One night of the week we have bean burgers. These are made from a dry bean powder mixed with water. I make them according to one serving size indicated on the side of the big bucket we purchased them in. This bucket will last us the whole year eating them once a week. Though we didn’t get hamburger on sale, since we have to eat at least 93% lean, we don’t use as much as most recipes call for. If a recipe calls for a pound of hamburger (except in meatloaf) we will use about 1/3 a pound. When I make meatloaf we stay within portion sizes so that there will be leftovers for meatloaf sandwiches the following day. I do try and grow some of my own vegetables, but this year has kind of been a bust. I even amended the soil this year, but the weather bouncing around so much this year has really affected my plants this year. We did have a salad yesterday and today though made with home grown onions, bell peppers, cucumbers, carrots, but had to use a store bought tomato. I made an apple cider vinegar solution to marinate the salad in, it had some left over dill pickle juice, some water with sucralose (husband can’t have real sugar), apple cider vinegar, black pepper and salt substitute (hubby is not suppose to have too much regular salt anymore either). Anyways I keep check on the canned vegetable sales . Now sometimes I am lazy and if no fat refried beans are on sale I’ll use them instead of taking the time to make my own from dried beans and dry seasonings. Our budget does take a hit on milk (which I never find on sale), the kind of milk we have to have is Lactose free (because of me) and Fat Free (because of my husband). Yes there are some milks that are out there that are both Lactose free and Fat Free. We requested that Walmart carry it in their Good Value Brand at the local Walmart store. Their brand is usually 50 cents a carton cheaper than other brands. Good thing is we only usually use it on cereal or in a few casseroles. We don’t buy microwave popcorn. Yes we do it the old fashioned way on the stove popping it ourselves. That way we control the type of salt on the popcorn and the type of oil to pop with and how much oil. I find the cheaper brands of yellow popcorn pop just as well or even better than the expensive name brand popcorns. I bowl up my husbands portion of popcorn so he doesn’t eat too much and up his blood sugar or stay within his calorie count for the day. I’m not saying our little family is doing as good as you are with your grocery budget, but like you I watch sales and stock up on some things when they are on sale. I don’t just buy things because they are on sale though, they have to be items we use and are within the dietary restrictions this family here needs to follow due to Doctor instructions.

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Lauralee. I am familiar with the home improvement store discounts for military but hadn’t heard of grocery stores. That’s a great tip.

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