|not to hijack the thread, but for those families of four that spend between 400-500, will you list what you buy and make to eat for the month? What kind of toiletries do you buy?|
But in general we make two loaves of bread a week and one batch of yogurt (using powdered milk purchased via co-op in bulk). We eat oatmeal for breakfast most days (bulk, slow cook, about 40 cents/pound) and homemade waffles or toast on the weekends when we "do breakfast up right" (the oatmeal leftover during the week goes into the waffle batter so as to avoid waste).
We get a box of CSA veggies once a week so we eat a lot of omlette/scramble with fresh veggies. We also make a lot of what DH calls "hobo stew"... chop up some chicken (when we have it), some veggies (potato, tomato, beets, squash, greens, carrots, whatever), grab some dry rice and some dry beans, some herbs, throw it all in a pot and let it simmer for a day or so adding stock/bones/veggies/etc as necessary to keep the pot full-ish. It uses up scraps (veggie scraps and bones go to make stock, but we have a nice compost pile too) and tastes pretty good too... though sometimes we make a batch that is divine and of course, we can never re-create it! Same thing with bean chilis and heavy vegetable stews.
Lunch is often stew, or toast with cheese and veggies, or homemade pasties (I make a pizza dough, make triangles, fill with whatever, fold over and bake... it's a medieval calzone essentially), or pasta, or baked veggies with beans/rice, that sort of thing. Dinner is often the same. Maybe a chicken and biscuit meal now and then if I find a good deal on chicken, or sometimes a homemade pizza, or we'll go all out with some sort of yummy ethnic meal (like Thai noodle or Chinese stir fry, or Indian, or recently Ethiopian). Actually, I have some wonderful ethnic cookbooks that are great for "low cost meals" and a few monastery cookbooks that are brilliant for soups and stew-meals.
A lot depends on what is in the CSA box (for a while we ate beet greens with almost every meal, and recently with the all-you-can-pick free tomato crop we've been eating and preserving a lot of tomato products... juice, sauce, crushed, etc.). The rest is generally beans, rice, oatmeal, with whatever "extra" we have put on top.
We do drink coffee and tea so about once a month we buy a container of store brand coffee and a box of tea. And for special meals we may have a bottle of wine (which is never more than 10 dollars, and yes... there are some nice wines for under ten bucks!). We get most of our herbs from our garden or the CSA, spices we can't grow we use very sparingly and re-stock rarely (bulk co-op), and specialty items (like rennet) we save for and/or barter for.
Fruit is whatever we can buy/scrounge seasonally (right now it's apples, and there are wild apple trees around here too) and while we stuff ourselves we also preserve what we can (applesauce joins the melon chunks, blueberries, and raspberries in the freezer and we make jam/jelly/marmalade for ourselves and to give as gifts).
We cloth dipe dd2 and dd1 is potty learned, but both girls wear sposie overnight dipes. So that's 10 dollars per girl per month. We do use toilet paper (and a nice brand because I have ongoing issues from dd2's birth) but we coupon/buy on sale for that and DH uses TP he brings home from work (the janitors set out the almost empty rolls for people to take). I use cloth pads.
Dish soap is whatever is cheapest and unscented... usually store brand. And we use cloth towels and cloth napkins so that's not a cost issue. Our water is just hard enough that things like Charlie's Soap aren't really cost effective... we buy it when we can, but often get the cheapest Free/Clear (with coupon, on sale it's usually All). Shampoo/body soap is dilute Dr Bronners. Toothpaste is Toms but we don't go through it quickly. DH uses an electric razor and a homemade deoderant, I don't shave or use makeup and I use the homemade deoderant too.
General cleaning is Dr Bronner (bulk, co-op, when diluted it last forever), baking soda, vinegar, and a few EOs or herbal rinses I make. I think I restock that stuff about twice a year?
Honestly, we're nor super frugal (though our current situation means I need to trim our budget more... we really need to get below 100/week. So I'm thinking the chicken is going to go, the eggs and yogurt will get scaled back (probably for the girls only), and I'll be buying more via co-ops or on trips to urban areas where I can find more ethnic shops to bulk buy staples.