She feeds herself, her husband, and their three dogs for $600 a month. Here's how.
Judy Cru

Judy Cru lives in Dover, Delaware with her husband, George, and their three beloved dogs: Charlie, Piper, and Rosie. Because they're retired and living on a fixed income, their budget is pretty much set from month to month. "We're retired, so saving on food is a big deal," she explains.

Their typical spend is about $600 per month on everything the couple and their furry family members need. She "could never live without" pasta, rice, and fresh produce in her kitchen, she says. But the family hardly subsists on the staples alone: They make room in the budget for regular indulgences like filet mignon; always have fresh produce on hand for flavorful, inventive meals; and gladly consumed leftovers. Here's how they make it happen.

Use a Designated Credit Card

Cru is able to keep close tabs on her grocery budget by maintaining a dedicated credit card she uses only for that purpose. "We pay it off every month, and it's the type of card that has a percentage off," she says.

(Pro tip: Frequent grocery shoppers might want to check out cards like American Express' Blue Cash Preferred credit card, which offers a whopping six percent cash back on supermarket purchases.)

For paper products and dog treats, the family typically shops at Sam's Club. Otherwise, their go-tos are Food Lion, Safeway, or Walmart.

Become a DIY-er

Cru cuts down on her grocery spend by eschewing premade products whenever possible, and making as much as she can by herself. "Instead of buying prepackaged rice or pasta sides, I make my own by mincing carrots, celery, onion, and garlic in my pull chopper, and I saute it to add to rice or orzo," she says.

The approach is not only cost saving, but it also allows her family to eat more whole, nutritious food — with fewer processed mysteries. "It saves dollars and is much healthier," she says. "Anything I can make from scratch is a money saver, and I know what's in the dish. 

Splurge Strategically

Cru abides her fixed-income budget, but she also makes room to indulge in favorite foods. "If we feel like a splurge with groceries, we don't deny ourselves," she says. "Our grocery splurge is tenderloin steaks — filet mignon — especially in the summer when we can grill."

To stretch her grocery dollar, she buys four steaks at a time at Sam's Club's reasonable price point, then splits the package into two and uses her food saver to freeze them. And it's worked out great, she reports: "I've never had any freezer burn doing that."

In addition to those tenderloin steaks, Cru splurges on a whole turkey breast. In the summer, she grills it, or she roasts it in the oven during the rest of the year. "It can be pricey," she explains. "But I can get a few meals out if it."

When it comes to fresh vegetables, Cru won't compromise on flavor or variety, and always makes room in the budget to have plenty on hand. "I love roasting cauliflower, butternut squash, and sweet potatoes, and we also enjoy spaghetti squash," she says. (Check out her five-star recipe for Italian spaghetti squash.) 

Onion and garlic are everyday essentials: "I find it really difficult to cook without fresh onions and garlic," she says. Overall, "there's just no substitute for fresh produce."

Rounding out the splurges is real butter, every time: "Margarine just doesn't cut it for me."

Buy in Bulk and Freeze

Cru's approach is to always buy in bulk whenever possible — especially meats, as with her approach to filet mignon.

Typically, she buys a large package of ground meat; when she gets home, she splits it up into about three-fourth pound portions, wrapping each in plastic wrap. Then, she puts all the portions in large plastic freezer bags. Using this method, she swears, "It never turns gray on me."

For chicken breasts, she places each breast in a sandwich bag, then puts them in a large freezer bag. "I can pull out one package or more if needed for company," she says. "I also usually can split the breasts horizontally to make two nice-sized pieces for dishes such as chicken Parmesan."

Make Leftovers With Intention

Cru saves not just money but also time by planning ahead to use leftovers intentionally — and far from grudgingly. "I like to make a big pot of homemade spaghetti sauce and meatballs," she explains. "We'll have it over pasta one night, then I might use some for stuffed shells, and I've also used it for pizza sauce on homemade dough. It's a real meal stretcher and it freezes so well. I've recently tried Chef John's Bolognese sauce and it's perfectly heavenly."

Among Cru's other go-to recipe stretchers? Homemade chili. "Besides having a bowl of it, we love it over linguini with shredded cheddar on top and sour cream," she says.

She also likes to cook a chuck pot roast and have hot roast beef open-faced sandwiches as leftovers. And she uses the same approach for other proteins, too. "If I've made a turkey breast or whole chicken, I'll make yummy chicken or turkey salad with leftovers," she says. "It's good for sandwiches, wraps, or to have with crackers."

With thoughtful cost-saving measures like these, Cru is able to stretch her budget far — always leaving room for the good stuff.