How Lindsey Ralston Feeds Her Family of 5 on $100 a Week While Saving for 'Big Goals'

She plans to retire at 45!

As a millennial personal finance blogger who has been living debt free and mortgage free since she was just 25, Lindsey Ralston knows her way around budgeting and discipline.

But that doesn't mean she lives an austere life. On the contrary, she stays frugal so her family of five can live well; even with three kids, she and her husband plan to retire at 45.

"Our overall budget is not tight," she explains. "We are frugal people on purpose and we enjoy saving money. We choose to look for ways to be frugal because we have big goals."

To that end, the family budgets just about $100 per week for groceries to cover Ralston, her husband, and their children, ages 8, 4, and 2. "We like to evaluate our food costs to make sure we are spending our money wisely at the grocery store," she says. Here's how they do it.

Lindsey Ralston
Provided by Lindsey Ralston

Switch to Shopping Online

While many shoppers have moved their grocery purchases online in response to the threat posed by COVID-19, Ralston had adopted the practice long before the pandemic as a way to shop efficiently and conveniently at her low-price retailer of choice.

"We have shopped online for groceries at Walmart for over five years," she explains. "It has literally been five years since I've pushed a cart of groceries around." She orders online for pickup or delivery.

While the family focuses on Walmart for cost savings, they're not ultra-rigid about it. "Sometimes, we order groceries from Kroger and pick them up because they carry the brand of flour we prefer," she says. "From Amazon, we order non-food items like chemical-free shampoo bars and natural deodorant."

Be Creative With Budget-Friendly Staples

Ralston makes some of her most budget-friendly and versatile staples go far. Exhibit A: oats.

"We eat a lot of homemade oatmeal at this house — my kids would actually eat it three times a day if I would let them," she says. "They have a bowl of homemade oatmeal every morning for breakfast, and we add different toppings like peanut butter, fruit, raisins, and sometimes a few chocolate chips."

Rice is another of her family's most affordable and hardworking grocery staples. "We buy five-pound bags of basmati rice, which is so delicious," she says. "I am the queen of using rice in as many ways as possible."

Here are some examples of her snack- and meal-planning around rice:

  • As a snack: "My kids like it plain with butter."
  • As a side: "I will cook it with chicken broth if we're having baked chicken breast with it."
  • As part of an entree: "I cook it with diced tomatoes, salsa, and seasonings to add as a filler in taco salad."
  • As a way of stretching leftovers: "I will add it to chili to stretch the meal."

Consider Frozen Alternatives

Despite their budget, Ralston's family stays eating their favorite foods, sometimes by selecting their frozen alternatives. This can be a way to cut prices on items like out-of-season produce, and also to stock up and freeze when a bargain is available.

"Frozen fruit, especially blueberries, can be expensive, but our kids love having blueberries, strawberries, and blackberries in their oatmeal, she says. "Buying them frozen makes it very convenient for me and I love that they love fruit!"

Another grocery item she considers a worthy splurge is frozen salmon. "Personally, I do not like salmon, but I eat it because it is extremely healthy," she says. "All of my children love salmon. It is expensive but worth it for health reasons."

Prioritize Healthy Eats

In fact, Ralston says she won't compromise when it comes to buying healthy food, even when it costs more. "We don't buy junk food and tend to only shop around the outside of the store," she explains. "That means — when we used to actually walk in the store — you would find us in the outer sections where the produce, dairy, and meat are."

Overall, she says, the family makes it a top priority to eat light. "Even though we are Southerners, you won't find biscuits, gravy, sausage, and pancakes on our table for breakfast," she says. "Yes, we do that occasionally as a treat, but we try to have a light, healthy breakfast."

That means her kids like — even "beg for!" — a bowl of homemade oatmeal with fruit or peanut butter in the morning. Her husband prefers a sliced apple with a small amount of peanut butter, and she usually chooses one over-easy egg for breakfast.

They limit snacking throughout the day, focusing on three whole meals with little munching in between. "This saves money and keeps us healthy," Ralston says. "However, there are times when our kids have been playing hard outside or supper is going to be late for whatever reason, and everyone is just hungry."

When that happens, her go-to is a homemade, protein-packed, and filling trail mix. "I simply mix together peanuts, raisins, dried cranberries, sunflower seeds, pretzels, and a few chocolate chips," she says. "It's my kids' favorite snack!"

Eat Leftovers First

There's no cost-saving benefit to leftovers if they sit in the back of the fridge on their way to going bad — and inevitably end up in the trash — while you make something new you'd rather eat instead. That's what Ralston's strategy for leftovers is to always eat them first.

"We eat leftovers before I cook anything new," she explains. "It's extremely easy for leftovers to get lost in the back of the fridge and that's just a huge waste of money. We do not like to waste food because we feel like it's not only a bad use of our money but also an irresponsible use of our resources."

Less Meat, Less Money

Ralston's guiding principle is the goal to eat as healthy as possible for as cheap as possible. "This means that buying junk food like sodas, chips, candy, and prepackaged food is a no-no," she says. "Buy whole foods like vegetables, fruit, beans, rice, and dairy to make healthy meals at home."

It also means choosing more plant-based options. "We do not eat a lot of meat because meat is expensive," she says. "I know people who believe that it's not a meal until there is meat on the table, but that is a wrong way to think. Sautéed vegetables with rice is a meal. Pasta with vegetables on the side and a slice of homemade bread is a meal."

Ultimately, she says, "I encourage people to think outside the box and prepare food that is inexpensive but healthy."

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