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Feeding a Family of Four on a Budget: Five Quick, Easy and Healthy Meals for Around $10

Updated on February 14, 2021

Eating Well Doesn't Have to Cost a Fortune!

As a young married couple with children my wife and quickly discovered that buying groceries for our household was a major expense. It seemed that no matter how hard we tried to live on a budget, groceries included, the check out line at Kroger was one of those places where we would most often find ourselves winching as the total appeared.

This led to some problems in our marriage and one of us inevitably blaming the other for being the culprit. You know the conversation. "Well we wouldn't have over spent if you hadn't insisted on those steaks" or "We would have been on target if you didn't require that we buy only name brands." The arguments ensued until going to the grocery store became a chore for either of us for fear of coming home having over spent.

When if ever, we made the attempt to go together that was even worse often resulting in a serious argument in the frozen foods section or at the dairy case. Our much maligned grocery buying woes continued on a pretty steady path for the better part of a year only to be further exacerbated when more often than not when we had to fore go a movie or skimp on a birthday gift because there simply wasn't enough money to pay our bills due to our overspending from the grocery budget.

One evening at a particularly trying point in the month when there just wasn't enough money to go around we sat at the kitchen table lamenting to one another about how hard it was and how life often just wasn't fair. When a knock came at the door. It was my friend Billy who I had grown up with (he was more like a brother really) and he being in the neighborhood had just stopped in to say hello. I assume that by our demeanor as a couple it must have been obvious that we were stressed and struggling because after a minute of small talk Billy looked at both of us and said "What in the hell is the matter in here? Y'all look like somebody just died.

I have always been one to believe that things happen for a reason and immediately became impressed that this social call might not have been pure coincidence but rather maybe we were destined for my friend, whom I knew to be very good with money, to stop by as he did and when he did. I answered "well I tell you buddy we are just sitting here worrying about what we are going to do. We are critically short on money and there is good little while yet until either of us get's paid again. Even then we'll be starting out behind the eight ball because we will still have bills from the previous month to deal with."

I didn't look at my wife because I knew if I did I would most certainly get the glare of death as she, by nature a much more private person than I, would have much preferred that I had never started along this line of conversation. Furthermore she had not known Billy as long as I had and I guess it is conceivable did not know just how close we were.

None of that mattered by this point. After all, the cat was now in fact out of the bag and I for one was past the point of ready to listen to someone who might potentially help us to find a way to dig out of this hole that was only getting deeper by the week.

Billy sat a scratched his head for a minute as I have seen him do a thousand times after which he began to speak. "Well, I can't be sure, but my guess is you are going about this all wrong. I bet you are letting your money control you instead of you controlling your money." Those words hit me like he had thrown a glass of ice water in my face and I don't think I will ever forget them as long as I live. He was exactly right. Our money was controlling us and not only that it was on a regular basis kicking our butt.

Surprisingly my wife spoke next. "How do you mean? We get paid, we sit down and pay or bills then we set aside what is left over for upcoming expenses and that is where it gets tricky. The groceries seem to gobble it all up before we have a chance to take care of anything else."
Billy smiled and responded "That's exactly what I mean you can't let the groceries take control. You have to pay everything else first, the take what is left over and make it work at the grocery store even if it's only $20."

That sounded like the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard. $20 to feed a family of four, my eye! That is something that simply cannot be done. Before I could say anything Billy spoke again "I can help you. I can show you how to get out of this mess. You will have to promise me one thing though. You will do exactly what I tell you, the way I tell you without argument or exception or it simply won't work and I don want to waste my time."

I looked at my wife and she at me. We both shrugged and said "OK what the heck, what have we got to lose and it will be pretty difficult for it to make matters worse." Little did I know that on that spring night in our little kitchen, seated around our little table, I was about to embark on a plan that would forever change my thinking and would allow me never again to worry about buying groceries. Since that night I can honestly say that there has always been a "reserve" meal on hand (more on that later)in my home though I have never had to use it and that I have always bought enough groceries sufficient to feed myself and my family whether I had $5 or $500. If you'd like to know more, read on!

The Grocery Store Doesn't Have to be a Place of Intimidation

Think and save money at the Grocery store

What my friend Billy essentially taught me that night and in days to come was a simple yet uniquely profound principle. You don't have to always prepare and thus buy that which you think you WANT in order to eat well. Rather shift your thinking to that of providing that which meets your family's needs.

Your goal is to provide an appealing and nutritious meal without going broke. Keep your focus on that and you will do fine. Here are some helpful hints to better prepare you for your trip to the grocery store.

1.Make a list the meals you intend to prepare in the coming week and the required ingredients.

2. Plan your trip to the grocery store in advance and allocate adequate time. Shopping in a rush or at the spur of the moment can cause mistakes

3. Never grocery shop hungry, you will most likely buy too much if you do.

4. Don't over buy, if a small box will feed a family of four don't buy the larger more expensive one. Leftovers are not a requirement and most often end up in the garbage anyway.

5. Name brands are not essential. They are generally more expensive and are often the very same product in a different package.

6. Take advantage of buy one get one free specials and store the additional item for later use.

7. Watch for day old and other markdowns in the garden, bread and meat sections. Often you can make a super buy and there is nothing wrong with the product especially if you plan to prepare it soon.

8. Candy, cookies, and snacks, otherwise known as Junk food can be expensive. Purchase those items sparingly and with forethought. They are not really good for your family any way.

9. If your budget will allow it buy and store one reserve meal per week. Don't cook that meal unless you have to. In a few weeks you will have a weeks worth of meals on hand in reserve and could make it a week without grocery shopping at all should disaster strike.

Billy taught me that eating is a necessity not really an indulgence and while it is important to make sure you provide your family with the proper nutrition, it is not a crime to prepare the foods they need and not necessarily those that they want. Of course and occasional splurge is acceptable as long as you don't let it become habit and stick to the plan.

In the final analysis the situation is this. You can spend $150 per week at the grocery store or $50. In one case you might be stressed over the money you spend. In the other maybe not overly excited about tonight's meal. Either way however, you eat and feed your family and the latter in a stress free situation.

To help you get started what follows is one full recipe with shopping list, ingredients and cost breakdowns followed by four other potential meals in less detail but along the same lines. I hope you find the information helpful and that you can put it to good use. Good luck as you embark in your effort to shop more wisely and thus efficiently.

Meal number one spaghetti with meat sauce

Complete meal for four including bread and salad $9.75
Complete meal for four including bread and salad $9.75

Cook Time

Prep time: 5 min
Cook time: 30 min
Ready in: 35 min
Yields: Serving for four


  • 1/3 box Spaghetti noodles, White enriched or wheat
  • 1 Jar Pasta Sauce, Tomato Basil
  • 1 lb. Ground beef or turkey, Turkey is recommended
  • 1 bag Caesar Salad, Full salad kit
  1. Brown ground meat in frying pan, drain grease
  2. Pour pasta sauce in small sauce pan warm over medium heat slowly bring to boil, reduce heat. Add ground meat to pasta sauce stirring in slowly again bringing to boil, reduce heat to simmer.
  3. Fill small boiler with water, add a small amount of butter, olive oil, or cooking oil (this will prevent the noodles from sticking together) bring water to boil on high. Add noodles, reduce heating to medium, bring back to boil and cook 7 to 10 minutes
  4. Empty contents of bag salad in bowl, add croutons and dressing. Toss
  5. Placed cooked noodles on plate, ladle cooked sauce over noodles, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Serve with bread and drink as desired

Price list

Pasta sauce $1.89

Noodles $ .99

Caesar mix $2.69

Ground Meat $3.89

Total $9.46

With Tax $10.17

Four other money saving meals

Meal 2 - Chicken and Noodles (using canned chicken two cans), green beans, sliced tomatoes and pear salad. Est cost $10.72

Meal 3 - Beef tips on Rice, corn, white acre peas and pineapple salad
Est. Cost $10.18

Meal 4 - Salmon Patties, scalloped potatoes, English peas and fruit cocktail
Est. Cost - $9.98

Meal 5 - Hot dogs, baked beans, tater tots and brownies (A Friday night treat)
Est. Cost - $10.02

Bring your grocery budget under control and enjoy dinner with your family

Please rate this recipe

Cast your vote for Quick, Easy and Inexpensive Spaghetti with Meat Sauce

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