I spoke a while back about how randomly I got obsessed with Jordan Page’s videos. She’s a specialist in being frugal, budgeting, paying off debt, scheduling, productivity… all that good stuff. While I’ve heard some so-so things about her since (just google it), a lot of her videos and blog posts have inspired me in my house and life. The main ones here related to the #Shelftember and #Stocktober challenges. You limit grocery spending in September to $25/week and eat from your pantry, fridge, and freezer as much as you possibly can. In October, you stock back up on the essentials.
I realized in January how I spend SO much money on groceries. I only grocery shop during my lunch break because I’m in a town with way more options (Trader Joe’s!) than the town I live in. I tend to buy smaller bits of groceries throughout the week but sometimes find myself going WAY over budget because of so many small trips to different stores. Can’t get Velveeta for the Superbowl at Trader Joe’s? Guess I’ll also stop at Stop & Shop and oh wait they have all these other things I may need sometime soonish! – me all the damn time. Believe me, it’s good for my computer-facing eyeballs to leave the office at lunch (and during the warm weather I love to just read a book outside!), but I don’t need to go to a STORE multiple times each week.
Enough was enough – we have an expensive ass wedding to pay for next year! Enter: my February $20/week grocery shopping challenge. Woof. It’s broadly based on Page’s #Shelftember idea if you want to look there for more information and ideas. I just want to use up ALLLL of the pantry and freezer items I keep forgetting about, save some money, and better inventory my life.
After Superbowl Sunday food was made, prepped, and mostly eaten, I planned to take an inventory of my fridge, freezer, and pantry. I included my first weekend of February’s groceries in that Superbowl-related trip to TJ’s, so there were some things stocked up and leftovers from the SB. I cleared out the fridge over the weekend to make room for the new stuff and really scope things out. I had an okay amount of canned items and new sauces/dressings, boxed rice and pasta, some frozen meats and fish, a lot of opened dressings and sauces, and plenty of oats for quick breakfast things. While the inventory was fresh in my mind, I made a quick list of meals (I think I ended up with around 17!) using only things I had on hand. That’s crazy, that I could go half a month without having to grocery shop, potentially.
The Rules & Reasons
(1) Grocery budget of $20 per week (maybe allowing $25 once or twice if I’m desperate for more meats)
I wanted to really keep it low and only spend $80 for the entire month on groceries. Like I said, I may be flexible to $25 in a week or two if I find that I genuinely need more meats than expected and run out of things later in the month. I consider it a new week each Monday because I only grocery shop on weekdays and Monday would reset my week. The groceries each week will be specifically for meats, fresh fruits and veggies, and replenishing important canned items and various items as I run out, if can afford them in the weekly budget, and need them for recipes.
(2) Meatless Mondays on the 10th, 17th, and 24th of the month to save money on meat
I would include the 3rd but I know I’ll be having some Superbowl leftovers and definitely some meat. I also haven’t weekly meal planned yet to figure out what Meatless Monday recipes would even work for me. So, there will be 3/4 Mondays without meat to save money on that. We usually eat a decent amount of beans in our meals for protein so I’m not super worried about this one. I will be doing some vegetarian meal planning though!
(3) Attempt to follow a weekly schedule for meals
Going along with that theme, I find its pretty easy to come up with a theme or specific protein to build meals around based on the night of the week. We tend to eat out a lot on the weekends and/or have leftovers from the week and/or go to our family’s houses for meals, so most of the meal prepping and plans relate to weekdays and weekends become a free-for-all. Anyways, I’ve outlined this in the past, so I will probably attempt something like this:
- Sunday: slow cooker
- Monday: meatless
- Tuesday: tacos or fish
- Wednesday: Italian-related (pizza, pasta, etc.)
- Thursday: Asian dish
- Friday: salad, basic food, or date night
- Saturday: freebie, leftovers, or out
(4) Use up things from the freezer, refrigerator, and pantry
I know this is obvious because I’ve said it but the point is to use up all the things I buy, store, and forget about. I never remember what I have on hand so half of the time I end up with five cans of black beans but realize later I have zero cans of corn. It’s annoying. I hope the inventory will help me with this and inspire me to remember what foods I have everywhere.
(5) Utilize ingredient-based recipe searches and budget food websites
I’m a big fan of All Recipes because they have an ingredient-based recipe search. You put in some ingredients you want to use up (any combination of things that sound reasonable together) and it’ll pull recipes with those ingredients. Then, you end up using what you have in new ways and limiting what you buy. I think Jordan Page calls it “shelf cooking” because you pull stuff from your inventory and use them up before buying new things. I also enjoy Budget Savvy Diva‘s recipes and Budget Bytes as far as blogs go. They both feature cheap and easy eats. And, as usual, I’ll use Pinterest.
(6) Get back to simple meals that don’t call for as many ingredients
I always tell Chris that I constantly stress myself out about always trying NEW recipes. While they’re all easy, a lot of them require a number of ingredients, which means I sometimes pop into the store for “just a few things” that turns into more and more. I hope this will also be an exercise in creating simple meals with basic ingredients, plus a fun sauce/marinade since I always have them. For example, just marinating some chicken I pull from the freezer with a side of broccoli and cup of brown rice is a meal. I don’t need to make crazy chicken bowls with four different vegetables on top of the rice with a new sauce from TJ’s.
(7) Only buy what I genuinely need
…not just “I’ll get this while I’m here since I don’t know the next time I’ll be at this store.” I always do this at Trader Joe’s. I try to not go there EVERY week for groceries, so usually means I’ll be picking up everything that is TJ’s-specific even though I don’t necessarily need it right away. I always get those annoying moments of panic where I assume I won’t be going to the grocery store again for freakin months and need to stock up, despite that not being the case at all. I should also say with this rule that I need to limit my time at this store specifically because I tend to browse a LOT and buy random shit. I really should only hit TJ’s 1-2 times this month when I’m dying for 99% fat free ground turkey, or need to refill my freezer
(8) Chop and prep things when I get home from the store
I always have an issue with using up produce before things to bad too, so I hope this is a practice that I can also use going forward. I want to eliminate food waste, which saves money, by making sure things are ready-to-cook when I get home from the store. I want to wash veggies and fruits, cut the tops off strawberries, slice peppers and maybe onions (if I’m using it soon)… etc.
(9) Eat out the same amount we normally would
I don’t want to eat out MORE because we don’t have groceries at home. I want to only eat out or get takeout the same amount as usual! That means mostly weekends and Friday nights. We typically order food (takeout or in a restaurant) 4 times a week? Sounds like a lot but usually it’s 1-2 lunches or dinners during the work week and then again on Friday and Saturday and/or Sunday. We don’t have as many activities around here so we usually like to go out to eat and hit a brewery or something before/after.
(10) Only FOOD is considered groceries, not household items and alcohol
Maybe this is obvious, but I’m not including household goods or alcohol in the budget. This is specifically for food-related groceries. If I need paper towels or alcohol, I’m not including those kinds of thing in the budget. We don’t drink a lot of alcohol but if we have events this month that require alcohol, like a gathering with friends, that won’t be in this budget.
* Keep in mind that we always eat random fruits throughout the day and/or for breakfast. If I don’t mention breakfast, we probably had yogurt with granola and a banana. I won’t usually include snacky things either unless it makes up a meal.
Week One (2/3 through 2/9)
EATS: We were blessed with a lot of Superbowl leftovers, some made by me and some made by others and left behind! We had a selection of chicken wings, pizza bombs, marinara sauce, meatballs, and other snacks to eat for lunch on Monday. For dinner, I made sausage and peppers/onions with pasta from things I already had in the fridge, freezer, and pantry.
EATS: We had leftover sausage and pepper/onion pasta for lunch and then I stopped for Panera for dinner. I know that doesn’t really help from a money-saving perspective, but I had a hair appointment after work and – long story short – Chris is without a car this week, so I just kept it easy!
EATS: Tuesday night I made some shrimp ramen stir fry. This recipe is really simple and off the top of my head. I just cook two blocks of ramen in boiling water, per the package, and discard the seasoning. Then, use the noodles in a stir fry with shrimp, veggies (I had a broccoli slaw mix and matchstick carrots), soy sauce, and sweet chili sauce. Cook until it’s all mixed and blended together, then top with some scallions and sesame seeds if you want. Chris ate this for lunch but my office ordered lunch in, so I got a steak salad from Ted’s Montana Grill. For dinner, we had shitty days so we got some takeout pizza that Chris paid for, so I don’t even feel bad. I forgot to defrost the salmon anyways.
SHOPPING: We ran out of bananas (something we both eat every day) so it was time to grocery shop for the week. I knew I didn’t need a lot of food since I still have so many things I didn’t use up yet this early, so I went to Trader Joe’s to get some things I needed. As you’ll see from the list below, I spent $21.31. Not bad! Obviously a touch over the budget but I have no issues with this since I bought candy for the movies this weekend and that’s kind of not what I mean by groceries.
Yogurt 6 pack for Chris – $2.99
Very Berry Cereal – $3.29
Super Sour Scandinavian Swimmers – $2.99
Sweet potatoes – $1.79
Broccoli – $2.29
Bananas (7) – $1.33
Butternut squash zig zags – $3.49
Sparkling water (1) – $0.44
Canadian bacon – $2.49
I didn’t need anything this week on the meat front but thought Canadian bacon would be nice for some breakfast sandwiches over the weekend. I got a few fresh grocery items because I had some ideas for side dishes and veggies are really what I’m lacking at home right now.
EATS: I should mention that I’ve bought breakfast out the past few days because I’ve had to drop Chris at work early and need to spend 2 hours in a coffeeshop before heading into the office, but I’m not exactly worried about those days. Anyways, I had my ramen stir fry for lunch and Chris had leftover pizza from the night before. For dinner, I finally defrosted the fish I wanted to cook, so we had salmon for dinner. Chris ate leftover rice and a side salad, while I put my salmon directly on the salad with ranch dressing.
EATS: We still had some leftovers for lunches, which was great. Chris had the ramen stir fry while I had leftover pizza from the other night. This weekend was actually the Oscars movie weekend blitz for us so I knew we’d be eating out a little too much possibly, but we ended up with Subway for dinner Friday night.
EATS: I finally dipped into some of the groceries I bought a few days prior. I defrosted some English muffins for the sandwiches and used a fried egg, cheese, and Canadian bacon from TJ’s. Chris’s parents have chickens so we get free eggs from them! I had a small snack plate for lunch while Chris went skating (crackers with spinach and kale dip and hummus). For dinner, I made homemade turkey burgers including some sauces and breadcrumbs I had on hand and my ground turkey from the freezer. We put them on hamburger buns and topped them with the usual burger things in the fridge. We also made TJ’s butternut squash zig zag fries in the air fryer. On Sunday, we went out to brunch with Chris’s sister, which lasted us most of the day! We had leftover turkey burgers for dinner again on Sunday since I didn’t get my other recipe in the crockpot in time.
Week Two (2/10 through 2/16)
EATS: I made some of my two-ish-ingredient breakfast cookies on Saturday (this time was banana, oats, and raspberries) so I had that for breakfast on my way to the gym. After the gym, I was SO hungry so I stopped at Dunkin for a breakfast power sandwich. I did manage to cook my BBQ pulled chicken in the crockpot on Sunday in order to put it on hamburger buns for lunch Monday. I also made homemade coleslaw to go on top of the sandwiches. For dinner, we had the TJ’s mandarin orange chicken that’s been in the freezer forever, along with the broccoli I just bought and brown rice.
SHOPPING: I ended up stopping at Target to get a few household items and grabbed a tiny amount of groceries as well. I noticed we were running low on mayo and I wanted some post-gym protein bars. My total (half of my grocery budget for the week! WOOF!) was $9.95. Honestly I knew this would be a $25 week instead of $20 simply because I was running low on meats and such, but my gym-related needs definitely didn’t help!
Perfect Bar Kids – Peanut Butter – $3.99
Perfect Bar Kids – Chocolate Chip – $3.99
Light mayonnaise – $1.99
EATS: We had breakfast cookies, yogurt, and bananas for breakfast as usual. For lunch, we still had leftover BBQ chicken and coleslaw sandwiches on hamburger buns, along with some chips and whatever other snacks throughout the day! I found a recipe a while back for homemade Instant Pot hamburger helper that I ended up making for dinner using a bit of the groceries I grabbed during the day. I also made a side of broccoli since we didn’t eat all of it the night before.
SHOPPING: Even though I spent half of my budget the day before, I knew I needed to grocery shop again relatively soon. As you’ll see, I was going to be out of town all day Wednesday, so I wanted to get a few groceries early for Chris to eat the next day and for things to just be ready/done when I get back. This was a quick TJ’s grocery trip. Because of the amount I spent on protein bars, I allowed myself to have this be a $25 grocery week. This trip cost me $24.99. Yes, I went over my weekly budget by $10 because of the damn protein bars. I also bought Chris a burrito for dinner the night I was going to be gone.
Yogurt 6 pack – $2.99
Ground beef – $3.99
Brown rice – $2.99
Diced fresh onions – $1.79
Spinach – $1.99
Kale broccoli slaw kit – $3.29
Icelandic yogurt (1) – $0.99
Corn tortillas (12) – $1.49
Salsa verde burrito for Chris – $3.99
Sparkling water (1) – $0.44
Bananas (6) – $0.95
EATS: This is a bit irrelevant but I can tell you what Chris ate! I went to Maine to visit my sister so I unfortunately, for my wallet/grocery planning, ate out all three meals. Chris continued to eat some leftovers for lunch and then took care of his own dinner.
EATS: We had donuts from Portland for breakfast. Luckily there were leftovers for lunch still because I was not about to pack lunch after getting home late on Wednesday! I had leftover Mexican food from the night before and Chris had the leftover hamburger helper, plus the burrito I bought him. We had BBQ chicken and coleslaw tacos for dinner with the leftover meat/slaw and tortillas I bought.
EATS: Portland donuts again for breakfast! I ended up using the sweet potatoes, black beans, onion, and spinach to make some bowls for lunch. I had cooked the veggies and beans during dinner so they’d be all set and prepped for lunch the next day. I don’t know why I didn’t think to add quinoa to these?? Oh well, they tasted good with my garlic ranch seasoning. For dinner, we went to Sugar Factory in Foxwoods for Valentines Day.
EATS: We had the bagels (from Portland) with cream cheese (from Between Rounds) for breakfast, followed by a smoothie. We had a quick lunch out for poke bowls because I was craving them. I always try to make foods that take longer on the weekends, since we’re home and can start cooking earlier in the day. I had a half pound of ground beef left that I didn’t use during the homemade hamburger helper meal, plus a full container of ground turkey. I mixed those two together to make a meatloaf (along with the Lipton soup mix, my favorite way to make it!) for dinner. We had it with some instant mashed potatoes and green beans. (This also yielded 4 meal prep containers for 2 lunches.) I went out for brunch Sunday morning with my book club. For dinner, I made tilapia with green beans and rice pilaf. I love when I can make a meal to just eat once and don’t have to worry about lunch the next day, since I still had meatloaf ready to go!
SHOPPING: We stopped at TJ’s when we were running errands because we wanted some more flowers. I picked up just a few frozen fruit packages since I’m trying to make more smoothies. I ended up spending $6.47. Yes, I’m over budget for the week.
Frozen pineapple – $1.99
Frozen blueberries – $1.99
Frozen strawberries – $2.49
Alright folks, that’s it for part one! I’ll be back when February is over (aka March) with the final two grocery weeks and shopping, plus the lessons learned from this experience. Fingers crossed I continue to be moderately successful! haha.