How using Cash Drastically changed my Grocery Budget

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How using all cash drastically changed my grocery budget

It’s a funny thing about my grocery budget. It goes up and down, without rhyme or reason. Some months, I’m super successful in managing it and some months, I don’t know where I went wrong.

After so many months of trial and error (and laziness on my part) I’ve learned some tips and tricks. Now, for the most part, I can confidently keep my grocery budget to a reasonable limit per month. Although there are some months I know I could have done better. I’m continuing to learn.

Let me take back a few months. December 1st, I decided that I’m going to only use cash for my groceries and any food related expenses. It was a drastic plan, but it gave me some great wake up calls.

Fast forward to this month (May), I’m still using only cash for all of my groceries.

Here’s what I do to plan for the month.

I take out a total of $400 in cash for the full month.

Budgeting money

This includes $300 for groceries, $50 for miscellaneous toiletries, and $50 for other miscellaneous items that may come up during the month. $300 is the lowest grocery budget I’ve had for my 4-person family, so when I first started, I was definitely a little nervous for the lack of funds. I was also a bit excited for the challenge and couldn’t wait to see how it panned out at the end of the month.

I want to give you some context so you know how drastic this food budget really is. I live in Los Angeles, CA., one of the most expensive cities in one of the most expensive states in the U.S. Thankfully, I survived this challenge without pulling more funds from the bank, so I hope this serves as motivation for anyone living in an expensive city that it’s possible to lower your grocery budget as well.

This month, I’m sharing with you my weekly goals and accomplishments/failures, so you can see a real budget applied in real life.

Here’s what I have planned so far so that I was prepared.

I’ve made a weekly grocery budget

My weekly grocery budget is $60 for 5 weeks. I’m hoping that this will keep my spending at a steady pace so I don’t run out of money the last week of the month and we end up eating ramen noodles. Haha.

I planned out all of the groceries I will need for the month

meal plan

This is helping me map out where I’ll be spending my money from week to week. The first week’s spending tends to be larger than the following weeks, probably because I know I have enough to cover. I’m sure that will die down as my remaining funds dwindles from week to week. We’ll find out together.

I made a meal plan with pantry and food items I have on hand

I think what really helps me in this grocery challenge is that I have a stand alone freezer, which houses a lot of meat, seafood and poultry that I purchase at rock bottom sales. This can help me make some really great meals without having to replenish my meat items as often.

I also keep a lot of staple items like pasta, rice and potatoes on a regular basis. They’re not the best healthy sides, but they help build up a meal enough to keep my family full each day.

Week 1 shopping- How did I do?

I shopped at 3 places this weekend for my weekly groceries: Superking (International market in SoCal), Food 4 Less and Costco.

Here’s what I spent my first week in May:


Food 4 Less-$15.25

Costco-$51.83 ($34.32-groceries, $17.51-toiletries)

Superking is where I get all of my produce and Middle Eastern food items (I’m Egyptian and we eat a lot of traditionally Egyptian food throughout the week)

Food 4 Less is my go-to store to buy milk, yogurt, and bread items. Their canned soups (which I use to cook with sometimes) are a good value as well.

Costco is where I go to get my meat, eggs, and paper supplies (toilet paper, paper towels, etc.). This week was larger than usual because I needed to replenish my ground beef and eggs, as well as toilet paper. I have yet to find a more affordable place for these items and the items are good quality. If you know of a better place to get these items, please comment below! 🙂

Week 1 Grocery Total: $74.56, budget $60, difference $14.56

Remaining balance for my toiletry budget: $17.51 spent, budget is $50, difference $32.49 left for toiletries.

You can see that I’ve already overspent for week 1 by $14.56. But, I’ve purchased enough ground beef to last a month, so if we split that expense by all 5 weeks, then, I’m a little under.

For my meal plan, breakfast and lunch are simple. We are all out of the house during those mealtimes, so my husband and I take breakfast sandwiches while the kids take a simple breakfast sandwich or oatmeal. For lunch, we either take cold cut meat, PB&J, or cheese sandwiches or leftover dinner from the night before.

So, that leaves dinner as being the main meal that we eat together as a family. It’s also the only mealtime that gives us a hot, fresh meal to eat for the day. Here is my dinner meal plan for the week:

Sunday: Steak, mashed potatoes, broccoli

Monday: Chicken Milanese, spaghetti with tomato sauce

Tuesday: Stewed meat with peas in tomato sauce, with rice as the side dish

Wednesday: Baked chicken, salad, rice

Thursday: Stuffed vegan grape leaves, leftover baked chicken, and a green soup called jews mallow (molokia)

Friday: Homemade sushi, ramen noodles

Saturday: Homemade burgers, fries, salad

What I’ve learned so far

saving money

Cash is much different than card. I found that I spent less and was much more mindful when I used cash. It really does make you think twice before putting an unnecessary item in your cart. I questioned everything I picked up, and as a result, I came out of each store with only the items on my shopping list. I felt accomplished somehow. It was a great feeling.

Cash is tangible. It’s real, so when it’s gone, it’s gone. This makes me nervous for end of the month purchases,  I have to be very careful to be a good steward of the money I have. I don’t want to fail in this experiment.

Have you used cash to buy groceries in the past or do you currently use cash as your grocery spending method? I’d love to hear any tips you have for staying on budget.

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6 Responses

  1. Great article! I agree with you that using cash is a very good thing. Me and my partner travelled south east asia and europe last year for 5 months and each time we got to a new city we’d take out cash which limited us on how much we could spend. The only time we didn’t do this was when we got to London! We used our cards and spent large, in the end we racked up $2000 dollars – bad financial move that we’ve learnt from. Thanks again for your sound advice.

    1. Hey Marco, so glad you liked the article! Yeah, cash hurts more so you spend less, ?. That sounds like an amazing trip you and your partner had!

  2. Man I grew up in California…proud you are able to keep your budget so low…how about Aldi? I know there are a few out there. My budget is $600 a month…for 2 kids, 2 adults and 6 animals….I know don’t ask…I live outside of Atlanta…there is a new awesome store called Lidl

    1. Hey Shelley! It honestly took a lot of trial and error to get to such a low budget ? but I’m glad it works!
      I’d love to visit Atlanta one day!! What’s your favorite thing about living there?

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