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So, I’m really glad I started this challenge (click here to read about what the challenge is) for a lot of reasons, one of which is that holding yourself accountable online can be incredibly humbling and inspiring.
I got great feedback from you all, and many of you were baffled that nearly $400/month for 2 people was considered “thrifty” by the USDA. Quite a few of you spent that much for a family of 4 or 5 (with teenagers!).
So what are Casey and I buying? Caviar?
Buying More Than We Need
That’s the thing: We eat very simple meals. When I stock up on $1.79/lb. chicken thighs and stuff our meals with potatoes, rice and pasta, how on EARTH did we spend so much? I really blame the lack of meal planning/last-minute shopping and splurging on too many snacks (which I normally never purchase).
But what I also didn’t take into account was how much we ALREADY HAVE that I wasn’t using. By failing to meal plan, I ended up re-purchasing things we already had “in stock.” The #1 rule of meal planning is “shopping” your pantry first. Instead, I was shopping like we had an empty fridge, which we didn’t.
Our Previous Food Spending
I’d like to make myself feel better by noting that last month was a HUGE outlier in our budget. I had increased our September food budget from $250 to $300 (still $84 under the USDA Thrifty Plan), considering our move to a more expensive area, and then I managed to blow our food budget entirely — eek! Thus the “challenge.” And even though the USDA Thrifty Plan doesn’t include household goods, that $413 that we spent last month did. I’m just too lazy to go back through my receipts and figure out what we actually spent on FOOD.
For reference, we spent $315 in September and $289 in August. In July, when we had no income for a whole month but I wanted to make freezer meals for when the baby came, we spent $114.
In other words, we typically stay FAR under the Thrifty Plan, but I let myself get lazy and it’s time to take meal-planning seriously again. One bad month is ok, but making it a habit could mean we’re spending $200 or more than we need to every month, and that’s terrible.
But to answer most of you: Yes, $384 is a LOT to spend on groceries for two people.
The *Updated* Challenge
So I do feel like I’m cheating a little bit with this challenge because some of the $413 we spent last month is going to fund this month’s meals. But then again, stockpiling is a wise way to buy, so I won’t feel guilty.
BUT, I do want to update the challenge for myself: Use everything we already own and try to buy as little else as humanly possible.
Once we use all that up, I’m still going to allow us the “thrifty plan” budget. The goal, of course, isn’t to spend all of it, but to spend as little of it as possible — especially since we have easily spent under $300/month in the past.
So, here’s what we already have in our house:
- 2 lbs. ground beef
- 4 lbs. pork loin
- 4 lbs. chicken breasts
- 5-ish pounds of potatoes
- 5 onions
- Lots of garlic
- 3 lbs. baby carrots
- 1 bag of frozen fries
- 1.5 bags of frozen brocolli
- 4 bags of frozen peas
- 2 frozen sleeves of English muffins
- 1 unfrozen sleeve of English muffins
- 2 brownie mixes
- 2 muffin mixes
- 2 cornbread mixes
- 3 lbs. pasta
- 3 cups of rice
- 9 boxes of mac n cheese
- 3 coffee bags (normal size)
- 3 canned soups
- 2 kidney beans
- 2 baked beans
- 2 cans of alfredo sauce
- 1 can of pasta sauce
- 1 large container of oatmeal
- 1 container of breadcrumbs
- 1 dozen eggs
- 1.5 lbs. of butter
- 1/2 gallon of almond milk
- 1/2 gallon coconut milk
- 1 coconut milk creamer
- 7 partially-used marinades
- 1 pancake mix
- 1 Pillsbury cinnamon buns can
- Soy sauce, Worchester sauce, and ketchup
- Flour, sugar, brown sugar, cornstarch, honey, spices
Can you say, YIKES!?!?! That’s a lot of “hoarded” food. So let’s use it up!
Week One: What We Ate
I really hate lunch, so our goal is to eat left-overs for lunch each week. Therefore, you’ll only see breakfast and dinner listed. Casey typically brings grapes and some snacks as well, and I have a “second breakfast” of two eggs and a banana each weekday 😉 This is what we ate this week:
Sunday: Cinnamon Buns; BBQ Chicken with peas and fries
Monday: English Muffin or Cereal; Ham, red potatoes and carrots
Tuesday: English Muffin or Cereal; Soup made from leftover ham, potatoes and carrots (plus half a bag of frozen peas)
Wednesday: English Muffin or Cereal; We were invited over for dinner at a friend’s house
Thursday: English Muffin or Cereal; Chili with cornbread
Friday: English Muffin or Cereal; Shepherd’s pie (using potatoes, 1 lb ground beef, Worchester sauce, 1 bag of peas and some baby carrots)
(What We Will Eat On…) Saturday: Muffins; We are having a family get-together and are bringing cake and veggies, but those will be bought with next week’s groceries because I needed to shop a day “early” since we won’t be home on the weekend.
Week One: What We Bought
Because I hate going to grocery store, we decided to make one big grocery shop to stock up on great meat prices for the rest of the month, and get what we needed for this week. I love marinading and freezing meat into meal-sized portions so I just pull it out of the freezer in the morning and cook it at dinner time. I meal plan based off of what meat was the best deal.
From here on out, I plan to use Amazon Fresh to buy the rest of our groceries.
After seeing a lot of recommendations to shop at Aldi, we went there to get most of what we needed, but ended up needing to run into Stop and Shop because Aldi didn’t actually have a great selection or the best meat deals. In fact, our best deal was ground beef from Walmart (we were there for some home decor items, but stopped into the meat department and I’m so glad we did!)
Here’s what we bought:
- Smoked Ham (10 lbs. — $9.67)
- Linguica (3 links — $5.49) Not the best deal. I read the tag wrong and thought it was $3.49 for the package, not per pound. But alas! Live and learn. T
- Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts (~5 lbs. — $10.92 or $1.89/lb.) We thought Aldi would be our only stop, but since Stop and Shop is in the same plaza I ran in and found they had breasts for $1.69! Agh. We kept this one package because it was getting late, the baby was fussy and I didn’t want to deal with returns, but I’m bummed we overpaid.
- Olive Oil Spray ($1.49)
- 9 Bananas ($1.01)
- 5 half cans of tomato sauces ($1.45 or .$29/piece)
- Pringles ($1.28) Gotta have a treat every now and again!
- Whole Milk (1 gallon — $2.43)
- Crunchy Granola Bars ($1.79)
- Red Grapes ($2.02, $.99/lb.)
- Ground Beef (20 lbs. — $28.86 or $1.44 lb.) This was ANOTHER mistake on my part. The meat was priced to clear and SO CHEAP! I didn’t realize until I got home that it wasn’t 80/20 meat, but 73/27. I paid for more fat than usual, but hey, it won’t kill us (today!). Once again: Read the labels carefully.
Stop & Shop:
- Almond Creamer 32 oz. ($3.89)
- Muenster Cheese ($4.69)
- Triscuits ($3.00)
- 2 Polish Kilbasa links ($3.49)
- Boneless chicken breasts (11.13 lbs. — $18.81)
So we got our weekly snacks and essentials, plus approximately 50 lbs. of meat, for $100.29.
Honestly, I’m quite pleased with our haul. Yes, mistakes were made, but I think we are well on track to keeping within the Thrifty Budget, since we’ve already covered the most expensive part of our meals: Meat.
We have three more weeks to go and $284.51 left in the budget.
How Are You Doing?
Tell me: How are you doing? How was your first week of the challenge?