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How Dave Noriega feeds a family of five on $400 a month

(Photo: Damian Dovarganes, Associated Press)

The average American spends more than $644 on food every month, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and if they’ve got kids, those grocery costs get a lot higher.

It’s one of the toughest parts of a budget to manage. It’s one thing to cut back on video games and monthly subscription fees, but when it comes to grocery bills, we’re dealing with something we can’t just do without.

And those costs can get completely out of control. In fact, one KSL Newsradio listener with six children told us: “We spend more on groceries than we do on our mortgage.”

But budgeting your groceries isn’t impossible. KSL Newsradio’s Dave Noriega has a unique solution to keeping grocery costs under budget, and he says that he uses it to feed a family of five on just $400 a month.

Rule #1: Go grocery shopping every day

It might sound a little counterintuitive, but Noriega says that he doesn’t just go grocery shopping once a week. He goes to the grocery store every single weekday – no exceptions.

“I lived in Europe. That’s the school of shopping that I learned, and I liked it,” Noriega says.

It’s a different approach from the “running through Costco with a fistful of coupons” technique most of us are used to. But Noriega says that, for him, it actually works better. It allows him to pick up fresh food at discount prices instead of having to stock up on cans and preserved food.

Rule #2: Keep a strict budget

That doesn’t mean you should blow a fortune on the finest produce you can find, though. Noriega says that he limits himself to a budget of $20 per day and makes sure that everything he needs, from food to toiletries, fits within that tight budget.

“It turned into a game for me,” Noriega says. He found himself challenging himself to make sure that he could pay off every purchase with just a $20 bill without going over by even a penny, and that challenge opened him up to focusing on his budget in a way he never had before.

Rule #3: Only buy it if it’s on sale

If you go into a grocery store with a recipe and a grand meal in mind, Noriega says, you’re going to have a hard time getting out with anything left in your pocket. That fresh lemongrass and tarragon you just absolutely need make that meal work is going to force you to buy when prices are highest, and that’s going to make it hard to shop for deals.

Go in without a plan, Noriega says, and pick up whatever’s on sale.

One of Noriega’s favorites? “Oatmeal. Super cheap,” he says. “Two dollars, I just fed you for the entire week.”

Rule #4: Don’t be picky

“Kids don’t need to enjoy everything they eat,” Noriega says. “They just need some calories.”

That might sound like cruelty to some parents, but he says that kids only complain about their food until they’re hungry.

“Your kids aren’t nearly as picky unless you’re feeding them chips and salsa and Oreos. Then, when you try to sell the onions and peppers – yeah, they hate it, because it doesn’t taste like Oreos,” Noriega says. “But when they’re hungry, they’re a lot less picky.”

When healthy food is the only thing in the fridge, kids will eat healthy food. That’s better for them – and it can be better for your budget, too.

Rule #5: Don’t set yourself up to fail

Dave Noriega can keep his family fed on stockpiles of oatmeal and $20 a day, but that doesn’t mean it’s going work for everybody. A lot of people know they’re going to have a hard time if they try to get their kids to give up Oreos or have to make daily trips to a local store.

The most important thing is to make sure that, whatever you do to keep costs low, you make sure it’s something you can succeed at.

“When you set yourself up to fail, you’ll go: ‘Well, forget it! I’ve got to eat!'” Noriega says. And that means pulling out the Grubhub app or blowing the grocery budget on lobster tails.

Pick the plan that works for you

Noriega’s approach is just one of many he and co-host Debbie Dujanovic talked about on the air. To hear the approaches – including the strategy one woman uses to feed a family of five for just $300 a month – listen to their full conversation on the Payday Monday podcast.

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon on KSL Newsradio. Users can find the show on the KSL Newsradio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play.

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