Tag Archives: Food budgeting

5 Tips to (Actually) Spend Less on Groceries

$2.19 lunch
$2.19 lunch, all purchased at a grocery store. I made a sandwich with the (asiago cheese!) bagel and lunchmeat.

<- What is this?

If you said, “A bagel, a banana, and a single serving of lunchmeat,” you are correct. It was also my lunch for today, and cost $2.19.

I hear you whispering to yourself. I know that normally that is not an impressive thing. However, I have been traveling for a conference, and a $2.19 lunch is hugely different than a $5 or $10 or more lunch from eating out. (I will also argue that it is healthier than eating out. Because there is a banana. Fruit.) One of my colleagues even asked me where I got my sandwich because it looked good. What a success!

Occasionally someone will still ask me if I am still doing the $50 food month, or how it went. Although I didn’t finish it, I feel that I learned a lot and am still learning about how to cut costs on food. I see a lot of articles about how to cut spending, and they inevitably list something like, “Stop buying coffee at cafes! A $2 coffee every day adds up to $60 a month!” I think that is a totally valid way to cut spending – if you drink coffee. As I do not, I’m looking for other ways to lower my spending.

These are the guidelines I have come up with to follow for food budgeting.

1. Probably the most important one is set a dollar amount and stick to it.
– I keep every single receipt from my grocery trips, and enter them into an excel spreadsheet with my monthly budget. Sounds boring, but it makes you see the dollars add up. You can’t lie to yourself about your spending if it’s right in front of you.

2. Buy at the best price
– I buy fresh produce at Schnucks and everything else at Aldi. (Okay, I like good produce.) I suppose that I’ll shop at Wal-Mart for more specific items on my grocery list, but since I’m flexible about what I cook and eat, I don’t have to very often.
– You don’t need name brand stuff. Food is food.

3. Consider substitutions
– Can you get yourself to use frozen broccoli instead of fresh? Cream of potato soup instead of mushroom soup because the potato is on sale?

4. Buy on sale if you would purchase it anyway
– Before I left for the conference, I made a quick trip to Aldi to buy snacks for the flight (waaaay cheaper than airport food). Normally soups there range from $0.80 to $1.50 depending on size and type, but this time they had the small cans on sale for $0.40. I use cans of soup when I cook chicken and rice – dump it on top, instant sauce. Buy a few and it’s $1.50 saved. That’s a lot!

5. Let yourself be rewarded by the savings
– This is the one I’m really bad at. When I’m under budget on groceries, I kind of say, “Oh good,” and then forget about it. But if it’s a motivating factor for you, use it for something that makes you happy. $10 under budget? Go see a movie with friends. $20 under? Get a nice bottle of wine. Whatever motivates you. (Just a note – this will probably only work if you are budgeting other things, and thus limited on your spending in other ways as well.
– If you can think of a better way to see your progress, go for it.


A trip to the ER and an anti-climactic end to $50 food month

An interesting thing happened to me today. I went to McKinley to get a tetanus shot since it’s been ten years since my last one, and for a (still) unknown reason my body went into a state of shock/something. When I came in to the clinic the nurse asked me if I have a problem with needles or if I thought I’d pass out, and I told her no, that I’ve always been fine before. She gave me the shot and it felt as shots do, just a normal little sting, and I felt fine, then a touch lightheaded, then I warned the nurse that I was going to pass out and I leaned forward on the counter.

I was awoken from a strange dream by the sound of my name. “Rose! Rose! Rose! Rose!”

“What?” I finally said. Instead of one nurse there were now about seven. They helped me into a wheelchair and (apparently) moved me into a different room and had me lie on my back. I was in and out of consciousness for a while, but eventually I gathered that my blood pressure and heart rate were very low. They put an IV in me (though I don’t remember that happening either) to give me a saline solution to help get things moving again. It was cold, and it made me so cold I was shivering. I asked them if they could just knock me out because I was in such pain/discomfort, but they apologetically said no. They did give me some orange juice though.

My hallway hospital setup

They called an ambulance for me and I went to the hospital, but by the time it came I was at least more sentient and was feeling embarrassed that I was being rolled out on a stretcher. The ER was so full that I was given a bed in the hallway, but I didn’t mind because I was feeling alright at that point and I liked watching the people walking around. They did blood tests and an EKG and found nothing weird. I asked what the reasons might be that that had happened (is it because I got the shot while I have a cold? stress from grad school? should I gain weight?), but since everything came up normal and I ate a good-sized breakfast, they didn’t have any straight answers.

I’m back at my apartment now and feeling normal, though still not at 100% because of my cold.

I don’t think that my $50 food month diet is unhealthy or caused this to happen, but I’ve decided to give it up anyway for the sake of having fewer things on my plate to juggle.

For posterity, here is the ending state of things:

image2 (2)
$5.61 worth of food

I have $1.06 left to spend because yesterday I spent $5.61 for week four. I estimated that I had 3 breakfasts, 10 lunches, and 6 dinners remaining for the last 10 days. I tried to get items that could be used for a couple different types of meals, and I splurged on the OJ and tomato soup as comfort items for my cold. I had more milk left than cereal, so I got the pudding mix to use it up and have more snacks for my lunch. I think I’ll keep doing this in the future, because it’s a great lunch item,  it took only about 5 minutes to whip up, it’s more economical than buying the prepackaged individual puddings, and there is much less waste. Whoo!


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Food remaining after 21 days and $48.94 spent

I piled together all of the food that I have left. If I were to continue, I would have this food to eat for 9 more days (since today is day 21), plus the $1.06, which I likely would have spent on bananas. Some of it’s hard to see because of how it’s packaged, but you can get an idea. (Look how cute the puddings are! There were originally six, but I’ve eaten two because they’re delicious and easy snack foods.) You can consider for yourself if you think this is enough food for 9 days or not.

In terms of my own diet plans, I expect to eat almost exclusively these items for the next 9 days anyway because it’s what I have already. The biggest differences that I foresee from ending the $50 food month early is that I will eat cereal for breakfast instead of eggs or toast (as was my plan for this last stretch) and that I will probably get some more fruit and maybe some lettuce.

Well . . . I guess that’s it. I will post my thoughts on how this went and of what I’ve learned and what I plan to change about my usual grocery budget in the future. Thanks for following along! 🙂




My budget for this week was $15.64 and I have spent . . . $15.93.


This means that I am $0.29 in the negative, so I’ll start next week with only $9.71.

However, I I feel no regret and this is why.
1. Cereal was on sale at Aldi, so I bought two boxes, which will probably last well into week four, and I saved $0.60 on each box!
2. I bought more milk so that I don’t have to go back to the store just for milk when mine runs out in 2-3 days. This will also last into week four.
3. Aldi also had some old Christmas items on sale, which included giant chocolate santas, shortbread cookies, and chocolate covered pretzels. Each of those items was a cool twenty-five cents. They are not healthy, but they will be great to take in my lunches and their calorie per dollar figures are very high.

Seventy-five cents (plus about three cents tax) for 2620 calories of mostly fat, a tiny amount of protein, and negligible amounts of anything else useful. (Or 3359 kcal/$)
Seventy-five cents (plus about three cents tax) for 2620 calories of mostly fat, a tiny amount of protein, and negligible amounts of anything else useful.

The other two items I bought this round were bananas (2) and polish sausage. The polish sausage was $1.99 for seven servings, and though it has a little less protein per serving than the canned sausages, it’s calorie per dollar count was higher. It also tastes much better than canned sausages. The bananas are similar to apples when it comes to cost versus calories, so even though I have many apples remaining, I got bananas to add some variety.

Quick update on the calorie count – yesterday I got to around 2100, which includes a little bit of the chocolate santa. I had two servings of vegetables, one serving of fruit, one serving of meat, two servings of dairy, and 3.5 servings of grains. Not too shabby.

Week three starts on Wednesday. Since I don’t have to worry about staple items for a while, next week’s allotment will probably be spent on veggies, peanut butter, and maybe a little more meat.