There’s something about the winters here in New England – being stuck inside where the germs multiply like rabbits and the air stagnates is a special kind of torture. And it seems like once a virus breaks into our home, it’s guaranteed to take down every last one of us.
We spent almost three weeks fighting colds, viruses, and a nasty stomach bug, which meant that no one wanted to each much of anything. Good for the budget, bad for our health. When we did eat, it was scrambled eggs or toast, and dinner was whatever could be scrounged from the deep freezer.
But here we are, healthy and back on track (mostly). I’ve planned the week’s menus and scheduled groceries for pickup tomorrow morning. No matter that I forgot to buy bread while at Whole Foods today or that I’ve been to Target twice this week and each time forgot to buy Kleenex (my southern roots are showing, aren’t they?). I’m trying to be kind to myself as the whole family attempts to get back to normal.
This Week’s Menu:
- Monday – Grilled chicken with chipotle seasoning: Good for fajitas, burritos, sandwiches, and more! Tonight we’re having it on a bed of Texmati rice with a side of black beans.
- Tuesday – Cooking a big batch of spaghetti sauce to freeze! Spaghetti with meat sauce, frozen mixed veggies
- Wednesday – My mom cooks dinner. SCORE!
- Thursday – Chicken and cheese quesadillas.
- Friday – Grilled Salmon with honey/soy glaze, roasted asperagus
- Saturday – Pizza night (because I fear there will be a mutiny)
- Sunday – Leftovers
- Whole Foods: $59.33 I’ll buy the salmon Friday morning so it’s fresh, adding another $10 later in the week.
- Stop and Shop: $44.31
- Total Spent this week: $103.64, $113.64 after the salmon.
- Savings this week compared to the original $140 weekly bill: $26.36, bringing my total savings since beginning this 4-week budget experiment to $136.36!
This is my last week to post on the blog about my adventures in grocery shopping and budgets. What did I learn?
- Small changes in your purchases can really add up.
- Shopping in the store isn’t necessarily worth your time. If you have delivery or pick-up options, shopping online is worth the additional $5-10 you may spend, depending on how much time you have and how hard it is to shop in person.
- You don’t really have to sacrifice quality or the foods you love to decrease your weekly grocery bill. Planning ahead, keeping in mind what’s on sale, and choosing meals that you can adapt for other nights can all help keep costs down.
My goal this week was to fit in some new recipes while stretching the foods I knew we already had in the pantry and fridge. Honestly? My fridge and pantry are hot messes. The best thing I can say for my pantry is that there is nothing growing in it – my fridge, on the other hand, is a science experiment gone awry. I’m too sick this week to tackle it, though, so as I pushed past what used to be sour cream, I made note of what was still hanging out, waiting to be eaten.
In the freezer, we had spaghetti sauce from a couple of weeks ago, along with some mexican-flavored shredded chicken. I also knew we had some burger buns that were gathering ice crystals (I just knock those buggers off and warm ’em up in the oven…unless they are too far gone and even the bread has crystalized).
This week, our menu is:
- Monday: Stove-top “grilled” burgers, oven-baked fries, and steamed frozen veggies
- Tuesday: Whole wheat thin spaghetti with meat sauce (left over in the freezer)
- Wednesday: My mom cooks up at her house and sit back and drink wine. Bliss.
- Thursday: Enchiladas with the leftover shredded chicken. This was a hit last week. Not really healthy, I suppose but at least the chicken was free-range organic? (let me have my delusions, please)
- Friday: Slow Cooker Balsamic Chicken. I know we have some boxes of couscous in the pantry to go with this.
- Saturday: Pizza night. I’ll be saving up some calories for this, folks. I can pack away 4-5 pieces.
Last week, Amiyrah and I talked about couponing. She has found it’s not worth her time and I have to agree. Most of the Sunday paper coupons are for processed food or H&B products, not really my jam. But I do print off the Whole Deal coupons each week from the Whole Foods website each week. This week, I saved $3 with three coupons! Worth the time.
This Week’s Spend:
- Whole Foods: $69.89. But I timed the shopping trip poorly and had to buy both kids a hot lunch to eat in the store’s food court. Easily $15 of my cost. So let’s subtract that from the “eating out” budget and count only the groceries: $54.89.
- Stop and Shop Curbside Pickup: $42.81. See that $3.00 in parentheses? Because I hit up S&S each week, I made VIP status. I know, you’re impressed. For my “queen of the grocery store” award, I got to pick one free gift. It was spaghetti sauce. For $3.00. Store brand. Yay.
- Total Cost: $97.70.
- Total Savings vs. my original weekly bill of $140: $42.30. So far, that’s $110 since beginning the budget project!
Well, we are on week two of grocery shopping and I’m pleased with how a few small changes are affecting our budget. Especially considering the money I dropped in a boutique up by Loon last weekend (oops).
I decided to go back to the Stop and Shop curbside pickup this week. The savings compared to shopping in person in Market Basket just weren’t worth my time. You can see the comparison by clicking here.
I started by checking the Whole Foods website for coupons, sales, and their weekly special circular. I noted any items that I wanted to add to the list for meal planning, and made my meals from there. Because I made extra spaghetti sauce, spicy shredded chicken, and vegetarian chili last week, I had three meals already complete and in my freezer.
- Monday: Soup and Sandwiches – Prepackaged fresh soup was on sale at WF this week.
- Tuesday: Spaghetti with meat sauce – leftovers from last week in freezer
- Wednesday: I spend the night in NH and my mom cooks dinner. WINNING.
- Thursday: Chicken Enchiladas – chicken filling from last week wrapped in tortillas and smothered in sauce and cheese.
- Friday: Veggie Chili and Quesadillas – leftover chili from last week
- Saturday: Our Anniversary – Going OUT!
- Sunday: Hamburgers or Sloppy Joes – buns in the freezer, meat on sale at WF, frozen veggies, and sweet potato fries
As a special treat this week, Amiyrah from Four Hats and Frugal was kind enough to visit with me and give me some pointers for keeping our food budget low but our meal quality high. I won’t give away all her secrets. You’ll have to visit her wonderful blog for that, but I’m excited to try some of the things she suggested:
- Budget the impulse buys. If I know I’m going to want a vegan scone and a coffee with almond milk, put it into the budget.
- Don’t be afraid to overspend one week to stock up. Chances are, the next week, you’ll find your costs lower and it all evens out.
- Plan themed meal nights. It makes it fun, adds to the meal variety, and can help you stock up.
So, how’d I do this week?
- Whole Foods: $60.17
- Stop and Shop Curbside Pickup: $21.24
- Total Spent: $81.41
- Anticipated Additional Shopping this week: $15
- Savings compared to $140 original bill: $44
- Total savings On a Budget so far: $68
I have a few things to get later this week, including an anniversary dessert and apples (which S&S ran out of after I ordered them), so I expect another $15 before Friday, but even $96 is a marked improvement!
Tell me. What is your favorite trick for planning meals and keeping costs low?
I’m very fortunate to be able to stay home with my girls and work part-time for myself. Privileged. And while there is an element of luck to everything my husband and I have, we also put in many long hours. He worked for years in an industry job that crushed his soul in order to gain the experience needed to apply for his current job. And because of his incredible work ethic and talent, he won both a salaried sabbatical from work and a scholarship from a prestigious ivy league school. His PhD candidacy comes to a close in a year and a half (this is when I will begin calling him “The Doctor” and it will be awkward for everyone).
This is his dream, just as mine is to work for myself as a teacher and writer and mother. So the upcoming “lean times,” as we jokingly call them, are worth the sacrifice. You see, for the last year of his program, he will be unsalaried. We will be living on our savings alone (and whatever small amount of money I bring in teaching). It has me adjusting my expectations and budget.
But this comes at the worst time, because the next year holds big things for me. Conferences. Writing gigs. Opportunities that require a little investment. And though I (really and truly) don’t judge mamas who work full-time to support their families and lifestyles, I’d rather adjust our lifestyle than go back to work full time.
Where is it that we try to cut back when times are tough? Grocery-shopping. I’m a firm believer that our culture is obsessed with cheap food – it’s all we have known. But the more I have learned about where our food comes from, the more I am convinced that food is the fuel you give your body. Isn’t it worth spending more of our budgets on? Amyirah of Four Hat and Frugal shops for $70 a week! I know I can’t do that and continue to buy my organic meats and produce at Whole Foods. But maybe with some adjustments, I can bring our weekly grocery bill down from $140 a week to $100. $40 a week is $160 a month – or over $2,000 a year!
So bring on the coupons, the sales circulars, and the actual setting-foot-in-the-grocery store. I’m taking a break from the Stop and Shop curbside pick-up to see if the money I save by shopping IN Whole Foods and Market Basket each week is worth the time it will cost me. It might not – that hour-and-a-half-with-two-kids-in-tow might be worth the extra 40 bucks. We shall see…Wish me luck!