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Family fed on $100 a month

You may not be able to save as much on food as this blogger does, but many of her tips apply to everyone.

By Karen Datko Jan 22, 2013 1:55PM

Image: Peppers (© imageDJ/Jupiterimages)Can a family of four -- Mom, Dad and a teenage boy and girl -- eat for $100 a month? Brandy Eldridge, who blogs as "Mavis Butterfield" at One Hundred Dollars a Month, says that's what her family does, and she posts weekly updates and photos as proof.


Back in 2008, she was spending $814 a month on food. In a year she cut it to $632 "by being more mindful of sales and unit prices," says an article in The Seattle Times. The following year, she was at $417.


Most frugalists would probably call it quits at that point. That's about $100 a month for each of four people -- a very respectable accomplishment.


"In 2011, with the extreme couponing movement gaining steam, Eldridge made it her mission to spend just $100 per month on groceries," the Times story said. "She met that goal, did it again in 2012, and plans to do the same this year."


However, Eldridge wrote that she burned out on extreme couponing in 2011 because of the massive amount of time spent and the processed food her efforts bought. "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," she wrote on her blog. Her goal is to double the amount of homegrown fruits and vegetables this year. (Knock on wood for agreeable weather.)


Some of her methods are very specific to her lifestyle. She's a professional blogger with a knack for publicity who doesn't work outside the home.

  • Big garden. CNN says she works 12 raised-bed gardens and a greenhouse on 1.25 acres. Since Eldridge lives in Gig Harbor, Wash., she has the benefit of a moderate climate and lots of rain.
  • Barter. For instance, she trades produce or surplus store-bought staples with families that hunt wild game. While deer is what's for dinner where I live, that won't work for city dwellers. 
  • Freebies. The example in the story is a free $20 grocery credit for each $100 spent on Home Depot gift cards. She also gets free boxes of unsold produce weekly from a local market, ostensibly for her chickens, but her family also benefits. 

Much of the rest of her advice is pretty normal stuff that anyone can duplicate: Compare unit prices, stock up when your staples go on sale periodically, use coupons (and no doubt stack them with sales whenever you can) and stick to your list. Another crucial aspect is cooking from scratch.

Her blog -- which is a mix of food shopping and gardening updates, recipes, craft ideas, and affiliate links -- includes a year-to-date accounting of how much she's spent on food and garden supplies.


What does she do with the money she saves? One example: "Actually my daughter and I just got back from a trip to Europe paid for by not shopping at the grocery store," she told KOMO 4 News.


This is not the only blog dedicated to drastically reducing spending on food, but it's among the most balanced, sustainable approaches we've seen.


A Midwest blogger spent only $30 for food for one month and dropped 10 pounds in the final seven days, subsisting on a diet of about 500 calories per day. This blogger turned down all free-food invitations and didn't eat anything already in the house before the month began.


A blogged named Jeffrey embarked on a "Eating Well on $1 a Day" Challenge in 2010, with coupons as a major component of his strategy. "I bought $597.96 worth of food and other stuff for $27.08 during the month," he wrote


My favorite account was by Rebecca Currie on Less Is Enough, who found that Jiffy biscuit mix plus more healthy foods bought from bulk bins kept her sufficiently fueled during her Dollar a Day project in 2009. It was widely covered in the media, including an appearance on Rachael Ray's show.


These were experiments to see what eating on a tiny food budget would be like -- and all those involved were glad when they came to an end. But there were still lessons learned, Currie said, like reducing portion size and not letting food go to waste.


More on MSN Money:

Jan 22, 2013 3:21PM
This story is kind of stupid, in my opinion. How much money was spent on Home Depot merchandise to get those $20 grocery cards? And how much money was spent on building her 1.25 acre greenhouse and 12 raised beds? This isn't a story of savings, because she didn't actually save anything. The grocery money just went elsewhere.
Jan 22, 2013 3:24PM

Most staples are remarkably inexpensive and many can be bought in bulk for even more savings.  Fruits and vegtables can be reasonably priced when bought in season, raised yourself and canned or frozen. 

I see nothing wrong with someone doing these things.  After all it takes time and energy.  Something the welfare crowd would never consider doing.  Good for this woman.

Jan 22, 2013 2:36PM
How about those of us who live in a concrete and steel jungle and have no place to grow food?

All of these "frugal" ideas are great. Lets get to the real issue......JOBS.  Companies put ads for employment out everyday and the job goes unfilled no matter what anyone does.

This is why people have to make these decisions.  Should not be this way.

Jan 22, 2013 11:37PM
Did she add up her time spent on gardening and all the tools, fertilizer, seeds, water spent on the garden?  I doubt it.   Gardening is a hobby and it is not farming.   She likely did not also add in the extra gasoline she needed to run around for bargains.   This story is totally misleading.   If you added it all up, she is still spending 450 dollars+ to eat.   She is just hiding the other money spent.
Jan 22, 2013 3:27PM
All the prep crap is happening because of the current regime and their inability to function properly.  Their agenda is working so we'll see more and more articles of survival like this as time rapidly progresses the next four years.  No money, no food, no ammo, no guns and no freedom.
Jan 22, 2013 3:22PM
And now back to the big bash in DC, I'm glad somebody's not in need & having fun on my dime!!! LOL
Jan 23, 2013 11:20AM
Definitely can not be shopping at Whole Foods.
Jan 23, 2013 3:03PM

I have cherry trees in my backyard that produce 40-50 quarts each year.  My raspberries produce up to three gallons a day.  My gooseberries produce more than I pick.  Same with my apples.  Of course, one has to buy and plant these plants, but once they're in the ground, they produce a lot of food and I live on a standard city lot.

Jan 23, 2013 11:29AM
Lot's of good American jobs in China that pay 50 cents a day
Jan 23, 2013 5:40PM
There are things every single one of us can do to save money on our food bill if you want to, but the thing is, not one of the poor people I know does anything to help themselves.  They think somebody should deliver everything, and they eat and dress better than I do.  Middle income, working poor people are doing all of the growing and harvesting, saving and clipping.  Poor people do all of the waiting in line for freebies, complaining, and informing each other of how to cheat the systems and how to double dip on the programs. 
Jan 23, 2013 2:03PM
Many of us do not have year round growing climates.  Living in Michigan, the only  "gardening" I do in the winter is water my 3 planters of annual flowers that I bring indoors in the Fall (they flower all winter too - I do spray them first for spiders).  I'm going on my 4th winter with them - it does save me some money in the spring.  I plant about 12 feet of low growing green beans in front of my foundation plants along the side of my house and have beans up the wazoo mid summer until frost.
Jan 23, 2013 11:45AM
Wish her luck. I found a new way veggies are being grown without GMO these guys are going to bring down the cost to stores and better tasting food. 
Jan 23, 2013 3:17PM

When does malnourishment begin to set in? I can get close to $200 and I'm just one person...



Jan 23, 2013 3:06PM

It's a nice story if you have time to do the whole extreme couponing thing and raise 12 garden beds worth of vegetables.  Some of us are a bit too busy for that.  Is she taking into consideration the opportunity cost of spending her free time figuring out food savings instead of using it to bring in some form of income?

Jan 24, 2013 1:07AM

A very misleading article.   The time she spends gardening, canning, hunting down bargains, etc has value.   That value is not counted.  If she spends 20 hours a week at this, what's that worth?  If you make $20hr that's $400 x 4.   What's the cost of starting the garden and puchasing supplies (implements, seeds, feritilzer, etc) and why isn't that included?   Lying to your supermarket to get free produce is just plain sleezy.  Then there is the cost for food storage units (tupper ware, jars, etc).


I get that saving money is great and she is probably ahead, but they negelect to include all these cost.


Clip coupons, buy bulk when possible, buy no-name brands of canned (if you find some you like) and you can cut your costs by a third.   That's real, and you don't have to lie, cheat, or eat road kill to do it.

Jan 23, 2013 2:43PM

For one I try to do it on a hundred; for four (including two teenagers) I would be challenged.

But I might suggest these short-cuts to stretch any monies spent:


If you don't know where the money went, you can't be on the alert to divert it in the future.

So, track expenses to get a feel for that cash-flow.  If you're not INTERESTED in FOOD

MANAGEMENT, you'll squander, waste and probably eat miserably.  So, if it's your main

role to produce meals, purchase groceries and buy within a budget, accept your fate and

jump in.  Master your role and then manage it before it manages you. The cheapest food

is the freshest, least manipulated food, so take the hint and eat healthier while your at it.


Teach kids how to eat, what to eat, cook, hunt, grow and fish. then there's preparation and

planning, basics to management techniques. The English aren't usually an obese people, perhaps because table manners are enforced from a tender age.  Taking time to prepare an

eating area for a meal delays food consumption but enhances dining pleasure.  A fast nugget

in the driver's seat is another matter entirely.  Using lovely stem and flatware enhances

eating experience as well as do major serving utensils (beyond a compartmented styrofoam microwave containers). 


Growing one's foods teaches a RESPECT for process as well as QUANTITY of food; time-

staking preparation puts ingredients in focus as well as the completed dish.  Waiting 3 hours

to catch a fish that can be gobbled in 15 minutes gives a fisherman another 'sacred' take on

food and it's rarity. 


Making diners LOOK AT THEMSELVES BEFORE EATING  should also influence one's intake

and food selection, so scatter great mirrors in food areas. How about dragging out checkbooks and reviewing budget balances instead of saying grace to convey heavy cost of eating? Then

we should do grace because GRACE implies delicacy and gratitude.  No time to eat right?

Who are these people who haven't time to do 'it' properly? The country could use their leadership

if we but just knew who they were ...     

Actually trying a greenhouse myself...much smaller scale and they are alot of work. What with everyone having the notion that things will go on as they always have ...and as long as they don't drop the bomb on my street mentality...think a few survival skills are in order. On the plus side not using irradiated seed and really enjoy my time game shows and reading blogs Good luck all!
Feb 21, 2013 12:36AM
really helpful advice i really enjoyed these great savers
Jan 23, 2013 4:13PM
Yeah I could probably get by on less but I do shop a grocery outlet and then what I can't find there  i go to the regular grocery store but I feel to purchase healthy foods  for me and 4 pets I spend about 200.00  a month.  This includes packing a lunch to take to work during the week.
Jan 23, 2013 12:56PM
If you $39,000 per yr in Iowa you get $ 260 per mo. of free food stamps. I think the tax payers are paying for this or is it the Feds?
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