How I Manage to Feed Us on $40

May 12, 2009

Or, why Bart is wasting away before my very eyes. Or a post with many many headings. Or the longest post I have ever written. Or why I should not write subtitles.

Prepping for the Grand Shopping Trip:

First, both of my local grocery stores send out their fliers on Wednesdays. One of the stores (Randalls) has excellent sales, but everything else costs an absolute fortune. The other store, my beloved and cherished H-E-B, is my main grocery store. I usually sit down with the fliers on Wednesday night, circle anything that looks worth buying and write it on my grocery list (with an “R” if it’s to be purchased at Randalls).

On Friday or maybe Saturday morning, I sit down with these things:

First, I make my shopping list. My mom used to do hers like this (no idea if she still does) and so I do too.

Second, I write down the days of the week on this pad, with spots for one main dish and two side dishes.

Third, I start filling in main dishes (I write the magazine or cookbook number or website next to it so I can find it again as my approximately 50 issues of Everyday Food all look very much alike). I add the ingredients I need to my grocery list as I go.

Fourth, I fill in side dishes and add them to the shopping list. I add anything from the fridge pad that we need. I ask Bart if he has anything special he needs. And ta-da. Ready to go grocery shopping.

Here is my completed menu and shopping list for this coming week:

You’ll notice that there are some major items missing from the grocery list like milk and eggs and more than one meat item. Because I shop every week, I end up buying most things every OTHER week, so last week there were frozen chicken breasts and milk and eggs and beans, where this week was more things like jam and cranberries and butter.

Meals, you ask? You shall receive:

Breakfast is one of two things. We either have:

  • plain Hill Country Fare brand Cheerios (they have the least sugar of any cereal we have found and it costs $1.68 cents for a very large box of them which lasts us a week and a half or two, depending on how often we eat them) with strawberries (about three strawberries each) and skim milk (which I buy by the half gallon because it is the only amount of milk we can even think about getting through before it goes bad and it also is the only size you can buy it in where it isn’t more expensive to buy skim milk than full-fat whole milk, which absolutely blows my mind).
  • If we don’t have Cheerios, we each have one of these muffins (I buy blueberries frozen for $2.99 a bag, which makes three batches of muffins).

Lunch is

  • a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (I buy the very smallest jar of HEB peanut butter because it is inexplicably the cheapest ounce for ounce) on 100% whole wheat bread (One loaf costs $1.93 and it lasts us almost exactly a week, with maybe a slice or two left over to make croutons or for a late night piece of peanut butter bread for me).
  • an HEB yogurt (45 or 50 cents each, depending on the week and maybe the moon). Bart eats his basically every day and I eat about one or two a week because, meh, I don’t love yogurt unless I am extremely hungry. I keep taking it, not eating it, and putting it back in the fridge at night. I have not yet gotten food poisoning.
  • String Cheese. I buy the Cheese Heads brand because, I am sorry, but the HEB brand is too gross for words and I am willing, on this item, to fork over an extra fifty cents. It is $3.27 for a pack of twelve.
  • A piece of fruit. Bart has recently developed a deep love for oranges (he’ll probably tell you he’s always loved oranges, but I have not seen it before) and I usually have a half or a whole apple. Oranges are currently between 77 and 99 cents a pound and apples are $1.29 a pound.

And then dinner. I plan for five dinners a week because I assume we’ll have one night where one of us doesn’t really feel that hungry, we get home too late to eat, we go out to eat, someone invites us over, or we have leftovers. I pick one main dish for each night and then I have two bunches of lettuce (usually red leaf or spinach) for salads and a number of fruits and vegetables that I can do for side dishes, depending on what was on sale. I don’t like to spend a lot of time prepping side dishes, dirtying up dishes, etc, so I don’t do anything very fancy. We do a lot of tomato/avocado/homemade crouton salads, grapes, strawberries, green beans, kiwis, pineapple, etc., etc., etc. Here are the main dishes I’ve done in the last few weeks:

  • Tuesday: Crockpot Tacos (I tossed everything in the crockpot the night before and turned it on before we left for school the next morning)
  • Wednesday: Stuffed Shells (I left out the chicken because I am cheap; this used up a big chunk of the ricotta cheese I had left over from the lasagna we ate later this week)
  • Thursday: General Tso’s Chicken (I used only one chicken breast because I am cheap. It still made so much that we both had it for lunch the next day)
  • Friday: Vegetable Lasagna (I made this and put in the freezer several weeks ago. It made a LOT. We had so many leftovers that even after eating it three times each, we finally threw away about a third of it)
  • Saturday: Went out to dinner
  • Sunday: Corn Chowder This is pretty much Bart’s favorite food ever.
  • Monday: BBQ Chicken Salad Likely Bart’s SECOND favorite food ever.
  • Tuesday: Fend for yourself (there were beef sandwiches at school and I had one in the late afternoon, so I wasn’t hungry. Bart had two or three boiled eggs for dinner).
  • Wednesday: Cincinnati Chili (I made this the night before and then reheated it when we got home from school while the pasta cooked. And I used ground turkey because I never ever buy ground beef because it is expensive and I can’t really tell the difference anymore)
  • Thursday: Penne Pasta (late night at school, so I made this the night before and we each took a tupperware of it. I also added some chicken that I had left over from. . .something. Now I can’t remember what. I also bought dried chickpeas, soaked them over night and then cooked them because its cheaper).
  • Friday: Chicken and Biscuits
  • Saturday: I went out to dinner with some friends and Bart had a shepherd’s pie from the freezer
  • Sunday: Dinner with friends

This week:

  • Monday: Risotto with a side of sliced kiwi. I had the kiwi from last week and the only thing I needed to buy for the risotto was the mozzarella ($2.99 for a container of fresh mozzarella). I use regular short grain rice instead of the real stuff because it’s about a quarter of the price. This recipe will also let me use up some of my basil that re sprouted in my back porch planters.
  • Tuesday: Honey Teriyaki Chicken (I’m using chicken breasts instead because Bart doesn’t like chicken thighs). Will make curried sweet potatoes for a side dish (because my sweet potatoes are probably only moments away from going bad).
  • Wednesday: Shepherd’s Pie. Bart loves this and it will let me use up the last of my celery that I bought last week (this may be the first time I have EVER used up an entire package of celery before it went bad). Will probably do a strawberry/lettuce/pecan salad on the side.
  • Thursday: Hawaiian Curry (I bought a big bag of chicken last week, so no need for it this week. I bought one can of coconut milk (99 cents) and more chicken bullion since I was almost out. Everything else I had. Probably just a lettuce/tomato/crouton salad on the side.
  • Friday: Salmon Pasta (I bought the smoked salmon a few weeks ago and just haven’t gotten around to this recipe).
  • Saturday: Pork Carnitas (I bought the pork last week when it was on sale for 99 cents a pound).

A few other things I bought ingredients for this week because they looked fun to make:

  • Orange Rolls. Bought orange marmalade. I have so much orange juice in my fridge leftover from our campout . . . two months ago.
  • Cranberry Granola. I bought dried cranberries and pecans. I have frozen cranberry juice in the freezer from Valentine’s Day.
  • Homemade Samoas. I had coconut in the freezer. I bought caramels.

Here is the grocery haul for this week, which came to a total of $41.97:

Any other questions? I’m more than happy to bore you all stiff with my grocery store tales.

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  • Reply Lexilooo May 12, 2009 at 12:56 pm

    you are amazingly organized!

  • Reply Allison May 12, 2009 at 1:53 pm

    I love this. I’m going to completely copy pretty much everything in this entire post!

  • Reply RA May 12, 2009 at 2:03 pm

    Okay, we definitely buy more meat than you, but beyond that, I am convinced that your overall grocery costs must be lower than the ones around here. And now I am developing a complex that we eat too much food.

  • Reply the cubicle's backporch May 12, 2009 at 3:04 pm

    Wow. That is amazing. I love this idea. I want to start cooking more meals b/c I know it would be better than the ‘eat whatever’ we normally do.

    Great post!

  • Reply Kelly J. May 12, 2009 at 3:41 pm

    This is really cool. I appreciate your sharing this because it’s helpful for me, as well. We have a “whatever” attitude and usually do all right with it – I think we spend between 150 and 200 for groceries a month, yet we only go once and then fill in as we need the rest of the month. Quite wasteful, really. This is so much more….smart. I’m stealing your ideas. Blatantly.

  • Reply megan May 12, 2009 at 3:49 pm

    Did you really meet 40 this week with the ice cube tray on the list?? 🙂 I am so glad you posted this because I was really wondering… of course, I have to feed 4, so I would need a bigger budget. I would almost be willing to pay you 40 dollars a week to plan my menu and grocery list! I have to get into a better habit! Thanks for the tips.

  • Reply Lady Susan May 12, 2009 at 4:17 pm

    I have to agree with RA–I think we eat more food than you AND your overall grocery costs must be lower. I guess I am o.k. with that. 😉 Thanks for sharing. It has given me a couple of ideas about how I can slim down our bill and be a bit more efficient.

  • Reply LeAnne May 12, 2009 at 4:26 pm

    Awesome. I do shopping/planning pretty similarly. I stock up on my staples when they are on sale and that helps costs even more. I got 15 lbs of pasta for free…gotta love that. (Pasta was on sale for .50/box and I had 15 coupons for .50/off a box = free pasta.) It is great how a little planning and organizing can really stretch your budget. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  • Reply Jodi May 12, 2009 at 4:47 pm

    Two things:

    A. I want to eat dinner at your house.


    B. Curried sweet potatoes? That sounds heavenly. Where can I find a recipe for that? (If that’s not too much to ask!)

  • Reply bawb May 12, 2009 at 6:04 pm

    It is interesting that string cheese quality varies so widely.

  • Reply Camille May 12, 2009 at 6:19 pm

    I have the same problem with celery and milk! Always feel so guilty throwing it out 🙂 You have some fabulous tips my dear, just wonderful!

  • Reply Bart May 12, 2009 at 6:31 pm

    A few things, Beautiful:

    1 – I’ve always loved GOOD oranges, but it’s hard to know which oranges will be good, and the disappointment a bad orange brings has deterred me from seeking them out for years. Now that I know we can buy good ones, and now that I’m eating more fruit, it’s the perfect situation to eat more oranges.

    2 – I think we’ve been spending less since I started eating less at the end of March. Wouldn’t you say? It has certainly limited snack and dessert items to a much more reasonable amount.

    3 – I value extremely highly your cooking skills, shopping frugality, and willingness to cater to my tastes. You (ful)fill me.

  • Reply Packrat May 12, 2009 at 6:35 pm

    You two definitely eat less than we do. My husband would eat all that fruit just by himself. And, at Bart’s age DH would have eaten quite a bit more.

  • Reply Gretchen May 12, 2009 at 7:01 pm

    You are SO right about the string cheese.

    Ah, what would it be like to have a husband who didn’t have to eat constantly or risk becoming a zombie? What you wrote is about how I eat (when I’m not pregnant), but M’s hypoglycemia is a grocery budget killer!

  • Reply Liz May 12, 2009 at 8:41 pm

    Ah, Gretchen has a good point. I am both hypoglycemic and pregnant, and our grocery budget is significantly higher. Plus we have a toddler, which raises prices in weird areas, like we drink 4 times as much milk now.

  • Reply heidikins May 12, 2009 at 11:04 pm

    Ooooh, grocery porn…this is awesome.

    Also–I big, pink, puffy heart Bart’s comment. Oh my goodness, be still my heart. He loves you for your grocery prowess…I seriously feel a tear welling in my left eye. What a Man.


  • Reply emandtrev May 12, 2009 at 11:34 pm

    I am super impressed–not only with your budgeting skills, but also your organization. I have GOT to try this method and save more pennies!

  • Reply emily kate May 13, 2009 at 12:24 am

    Will you marry me?

  • Reply Angela Noelle May 13, 2009 at 12:25 am

    1 – For some time I thought your white shopping list sheet bore the sub-heading “drylean”…and after much head-scratching about the unfamiliar term, I soon established it was NOT some Americanism I was unfamiliar with, nor your “dryCleaning” list without a “C”…but “dry/can”. The universe has been restored to its balance.

    2 – In NZ this would cost $80-90. 🙁

    3 – My husband eats a lot.

    4 – I love that you love lists (perhaps almost as much) as I do. Rather than sub-headings, my ingredients are in the order they are by aisle at the supermarket. Sometimes I even use my pre-made spreadsheet (maniacal laughter)…but that’s enough about meeeeeeeee.

  • Reply Diane May 13, 2009 at 12:55 am

    You are amazing. If I were only 1/2 as organized as you, I’d be happy. Great post!

  • Reply Lisa May 13, 2009 at 3:11 am

    I always write my list roughly in the order of our favorite store. We eat a LOT more food than you. While we’re planning to cut back now that the winter sloth is over, I’d starve on what you eat!

    You left out the most important thing though- how were the Samoa cookie bars???

  • Reply Sherry May 13, 2009 at 6:01 am

    I would say the key here is the limited quantities of meat. It’s how Eric and I make it happen as well.

    And I divide my sheet up the same as your mom, and the same as you taught me. But I fold the paper in half lengthwise and then fold it into thirds. So your paper is two rows of three, and mine is three rows of two. Seeing your picture totally threw me off.

  • Reply Sherry May 13, 2009 at 6:02 am

    Oh, and I’m totally with Bart on the oranges. Only I have similar feelings about apples also. I feel that eating fruit is very, very risky. I only like really good fruit, and I have a hard time finishing an apple that is even slightly grainy or an orange that is the teensiest bit bitter.

  • Reply Katie Rich May 13, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    Impressive! We do shopping lists and menus too, but we are not nearly this organized!

  • Reply La Petite Chic May 13, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    I love spying into other people’s grocery lives! However, we eat a lot more food than you two. Well, I should clarify; Jon eats a lot more food! He claims that he’s a growing boy, but I keep reminding him that he’s 28!

  • Reply Miri May 13, 2009 at 3:52 pm

    I kind of love that you post things like this, and also I think your method is really cool. Very nice.

  • Reply Elizabeth May 13, 2009 at 4:58 pm

    Wow. Jesus. I am working on budgeting myself better, but I can’t do this.

  • Reply Angie May 13, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    Thanks for sharing your tips.

    You’re so organized.

  • Reply Tina's Blog May 13, 2009 at 5:44 pm

    Great ideas! I am so jealous! And where is the snack food? I must eat a lot more than you do. Definitely things to think on.

  • Reply Jules May 13, 2009 at 6:54 pm

    A. I also adore HEB. Seriously.

    B. I plan and organize in almost the exact same fashion. It just works so well and I love a categorized shopping list!

    Kudos on being an inspiration to grocery shoppers everywhere 😉

  • Reply Megan May 13, 2009 at 9:39 pm

    Janssen–You are an inspiration. Someday I wish (and I’m sure my husband does, too) to be half as good of a cook/cool/organized/passionate as you are!

  • Reply karmacoy May 13, 2009 at 10:40 pm

    You are my idol!! I worship how organized you are!! I have longed for so long to be half this together…. and now there may be hope…. I have been trying to get it together with the menu planning for months now and now I have a template! Thanks so much!

  • Reply Janell May 14, 2009 at 4:53 pm

    I love seeing how other people do grocery shopping/meal planning. Thanks for sharing! You’ve inspired me to get my butt in gear this week (I generally follow the once a week shopping method, but lately have been lazy and the cupboards are getting bare…) By the way I linked to you from Kayla – she’s my neighbor!

  • Reply Allison June 1, 2009 at 12:07 am

    Wow. This is inspiring. I'm so impressed. Thanks for the tips/ideas. 🙂

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