Have you ever thought, “Man, I wish I didn’t have a grocery bill every month?” I felt the same way a couple of years ago.
Actually, we were facing some rough financial times, and I needed a way to feed my family of 5 for basically, free.
So our homesteading dream began and now almost 6 years later, we are pretty much doing it.
Now, don’t get me wrong. You don’t have to be a full-fledged homesteader to feed your family for free.
But I did want to share a few of my tips on how we are able to do this and also share a small meal plan to give you some ideas of what we eat when we eat for (practically) nothing.
Let’s get started!
My Tips on Eating for (Practically) No Cost
1. Sprout Your Veggies
The first thing we do to feed our family at no real expense each month is we grow a large garden each year. We usually raise corn, potatoes, tomatoes, green beans, squash, peppers, carrots, and many other common vegetables that you see with each trip to the grocery store.
However, I realize not everyone can grow a huge garden each year. What I would recommend is grow as big of a garden as you can. If you live on only an acre, you can still plant a pretty decent size garden. In our earliest days of marriage, we lived on less than a ¼ acre! (Crazy to think about it now!)
But we still had a small raised bed garden that fed us for the summer. Even if you live in an apartment, you can try container gardening on a balcony or next to a really sunny window. Maybe your landlord would even allow you to put your pots outside of the apartment building.
Just remember, the more you are able to grow, the greater chance you’ll have at being able to preserve food at no additional cost to you.
2. Pick Your Fruit
Next, we grow and pick our own fruit. When we lived on our smaller homestead, we lined our driveway with fruit trees. I chose the dwarf size because they produced faster.
Also, we planted a berry patch right next to our garden so it was out of the way but still got adequate sunlight.
Then we grew grapes along our fenced-in yard. This was only a few ways that we were able to sneak fruit onto our smaller property.
Now, we live on a larger homestead. This means that I have a larger grape vineyard. I have a muscadine vineyard as well.
Then we have a large blueberry patch, blackberry patch, and raspberry patch. We planted a large strawberry patch when we moved in so we haven’t gotten a lot of fruit from it yet.
Plus, we have multiple peach, apple, lemon, fig, and nut trees. I realize not everyone has the room to plant this many different types of fruit.
So what I would recommend is decide on the fruit that you have the room for where you are living and plant that.
Then if you find more room, add to it. You may not have a super large variety to choose from, but when you are eating for basically no money, you will be surprised how little you care about variety.
3. Raise Your Protein
Meat is an important part of most people’s diet. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, then this just got a little easier for you because you can skip this step.
However, I live in a household with meat eaters. My guys love their meat!
So we have to raise our own meat. I like this because not only do I not spend a fortune on meat anymore, but I also know what goes into that meat and that they are given a humane life and death.
Just be sure that you take great care of any animal you are raising whether you plan on eating them or not. It is important that meat animals are given quality care and given a great life. Not only is this the right thing to do, but you’ll find that the quality of meat will be better as well.
We have friends around us that have items that we don’t raise and the same goes for them as well. That is why we will trade with each other so we can have some variety without taking on more work.
For instance, we have a friend nearby that raises large hogs. I’ve raised smaller pigs when we were at our smaller homestead, but have not been at our larger homestead long enough to raise larger pigs on pasture.
So for the time being, we trade with this friend for pork. But his wife is just now learning to can, so I give her canning lessons, preserved canned goods, and food to take home from our garden in exchange for a smaller hog.
Keep in mind, a small hog will still give you over 100 pounds of meat.
5. Use Your Animal’s Byproducts
We do our best to raise multi-purpose animals. This means that everything we raise has to be good for more than one purpose.
For instance, I raise goats. I prefer them for dairy and to keep our pastures mowed down, but I’m not against eating them if I really needed to. We raise chickens for meat and eggs, ducks for meat and eggs, and rabbits for meat and to keep parts of our yard mowed down as well.
So anything that your animal’s produce or can do for you, then figure out how to use it. Our goats make milk, but there are a ton of things I can use that milk for. Just be creative and don’t let anything go to waste if you can help it.
6. Can It!
As I’ve already shared a little bit, we can our own food. This means the vegetables we raise will find their way into a jar. The fruits we raise will most likely be frozen or canned.
Now, keep in mind, you can make multiple items from what you grow.
So for fruits, I’ll make pie fillings, jams, and jellies out of them. With vegetables, you can preserve them whole, freeze them, turn them into soups, and so much more. We even can our meat to have on hand for quick meals.
7. Grow Your Own Herbs
An herb garden may not be something that a lot of people think about, but I do because I like to make my own herb mixes for cooking. Again, that is fewer items that I have to buy.
But the great thing about herbs is you can grow them outdoors in a garden, in a container, or indoors.
So don’t overlook your herbs if you are considering trying to raise your own food.
8. Raise Natural Sweetener
This is my husband’s favorite part of homesteading. He raises bees and loves it! I like bees, but I’m not nuts over them like he is. If there is a video on the internet about a bee, my husband has probably seen it.
So if you would love to have a hobby and get something out of it, then you should consider beekeeping. The great thing is even if you live on a small amount of land, you can raise bees. You’ll just have to keep a small number of hives.
However, be sure to check into the laws where you live before you make the investment in raising bees. But the upside to raising them is that you get tons of natural sugar—honey. That is my absolute favorite part, but I also appreciate their pollination as well.
9. DIY Condiments
You probably don’t realize how much money you spend on condiments when grocery shopping. I didn’t until I stopped buying them.
Now, I make all of my own condiments. For instance, we make our own ketchup, barbecue sauce, sour cream, vinegar, butter, coffee creamer, and mayonnaise. This will save you quite a bit of money (even if you can’t produce all of the ingredients.)
10. Eat What You Have
Next, we eat what we have. As I said before, especially when starting out, you may not have a ton of variety.
But if you can gradually grow what you can produce on your own property, before you know it, you’ll be adding other options to your family’s menu.
However, you have to begin by learning to eat simply and be creative with what you have. It isn’t always easy to create a menu strictly from what you have on hand, but it can be totally worth it.
11. Hunt for It
Finally, we hunt for our food. My husband’s family are really big into hunting. The funny part is that a lot of them don’t eat meat.
Then I’ll fill a third of the freezer with chicken, duck, and pork. We fish as well to help fill our freezers and give us a variety of meat throughout the year.
Items I Do Buy
There are still a small variety of items that I will purchase from the store or someone local because I have no way of producing it myself (or haven’t gained that knowledge yet to produce it myself.)
My husband and I love our coffee. I have not attempted to grow my own coffee yet so I stick with the store bought stuff for now.
I do not raise my own olives to make my own oil. Again, for right now, I stick with the store bought stuff. I try to buy it in bulk though so that it cuts down on me having to purchase it.
3. Green Tea
I am a green tea fan. I love the benefits of it and how it detoxes your body. This is another item I have purchased because I have not gotten around to learn how to grow it, but I plan on learning this in the near future.
4. Certain Spices
There are certain spices I don’t use enough to justify growing. I love this recipe for Chinese 5 Spice Chicken.
However, I don’t make it enough to justify growing the different spices to create this concoction. There are a few others that I feel the same way about. So if I need a specific spice to try a new recipe, then I’ll go buy it if I really want to try it.
I haven’t had enough room to grow enough corn to make my own meal until now. I only had room to grow what we’d eat instead of a variety to make different items with. But we moved onto our larger property a little late this year to try it.
However, here is a great tutorial on how to grow your own cornmeal and hopefully next year, I can create my own to show you how we will then be making it ourselves.
6. Dried Beans
This is another item I’ve been purchasing in bulk simply because I had limited garden space in my old garden.
Now that I have much more room, I’ll probably try my hand at raising a variety of beans such as pintos and black beans.
Then I can focus on drying them myself so it will be one less thing I purchase.
7. Gluten-Free Flour and Oats
Finally, my son and I both were recently diagnosed with a gluten sensitivity. Since I have only recently been made aware of it, I haven’t really had the time to figure out how to produce gluten free flours and oats.
But over time, I hope to be able to figure this out as well. For now, I purchase them in bulk so I rarely have to make a grocery store run.
8. A Few Others
The other few items that I’ll buy in bulk include chocolate chips for baking and protein powder. I’ve been using protein powder to make low carb, gluten free bread for our family as this fits in with certain food allergies as well as my husband’s low-carb diet.
I also purchase fresh mushrooms because I don’t have a great place for growing them myself, and I’m kind of busy growing everything else. We don’t eat them enough for me to really justify slowing down to focus on that right now.
Keep in mind, all of these items mentioned that I do purchase from a store or someone local, I try to only do so once or twice a year so my pantry is ready to roll.
Also, I prefer to stock up using a tax return or bonus money so it doesn’t actually come from our usual paychecks.
Our Menu Plan for a Week
Gluten-free oatmeal with honey and berries, or I’ll make cinnamon toast for the kids who don’t have allergies.
We usually enjoy a piece of fruit, and I’ll drink green tea.
Sweet potato with butter and cinnamon and a salad with oil and vinegar. Our kids will eat a peanut butter sandwich with some applesauce.
We will eat boiled eggs or homemade black bean chips with homemade salsa.
- Pinto beans, green beans, fried potatoes, and cornbread
- Barbecue pork shoulder, fried apples, and corn
- Deer tips with mushroom gravy and mashed potatoes
- Eggs, bacon, sautéed peppers & onions, and homemade muffins
- Protein bread egg salad sandwiches
- Fried fish, green beans, and salad
- Vegetable soup made with deer burger
A Word of Encouragement
Anything you do from scratch will usually lower your grocery bill. As I said, we feed our family for (practically) no money.
However, we do accrue expenses with canning. It is an investment to purchase what you need for canning. Once you have all of your canning equipment, the expense drops drastically.
Now, we just have to purchase lids each year and canning salt.
Also, if you have picky kids (like I do) or kids with food allergies (like I do), then you’ll face some challenges. Just keep at it because eventually the hard work will pay off, or at least that is what I’m telling myself.
Trying to feed your family strictly from what you produce requires a ton of organization. You have to think about it at the beginning of the year when you are deciding what to grow, every week when you are creating your meal plan, and every day as you thaw out your food in time for it to cook.
So if things don’t always come together, it’s okay. During our move, I did anything but feed my family from what we had. I have had to transition myself back into cooking 5 times a day and making sure I had quick meals in a jar for rushed days. Three months later, I’m back in the swing of things.
Remember to be kind to yourself. This way of life isn’t always easy, but it is super rewarding and totally worth it for the money saved and the improvement to your health as well.
I hope that this post has helped give you some ideas. Even if you can’t totally quit the grocery store right away, maybe this will give you something to work towards.
As I said, this is just what we do. How we do things may not work for your particular situation and that’s okay.
But I’d like to hear from you. How much do you spend each month feeding your family? Do you feed your family for basically free each month? If so, how do you do it?
We love hearing your ideas and thoughts so please share them with us in the space provided below.