$40 a Week Grocery Challenge

Keystone Heights, FL(Zone 8b)

I am astonished by the creativity required by eating cheap and eating well. After three pay cuts at DH's job, doubled credit card payments, and dwindling savings, our food budget has been whittled down to $40 a week. The challenge for me is to feed three adults well on this small amount of cash. That works out to $1.90 a day per person. Yesterday was the first visit to the grocery store on this reduced spending plan and we were able to keep it under $40. Only one item had to be crossed off my list.

The agreed-upon terms are: each meal must include meat and dessert/snack of some sort; the family must be willing to eat leftovers for at least two lunches and two suppers; pet food/bird seed is bought from some other source than the grocery money; breakfast is toast or skipped altogether except on Sunday; Saturday night is scrounge for yourself; and there must be as much variety as possible. (The last point is mine. After all, if you're eating the same thing for four meals in a row, I certainly don't want to have it again the next week.)

Here is the plan:

Tuesday/Wednesday: Quick Lasagna (ground beef, ricotta, mozzarella - $9.01; 1/2 bag egg noodles, 1/2 jar spaghetti sauce - already on hand), Collard Greens (on hand), Cornbread (on hand), Cookies ($1.99)

Thursday/Friday: Corn Pudding (cream corn, turkey ham - $8.20; peppers - out of the garden), Popovers (eggs, buttermilk - $3.58; pecans, flour, salt - on hand), Barbecued Peanuts (dry roasted peanuts - $2.69; barbecue sauce, butter, garlic, cayenne - on hand)

Sunday Breakfast: Bacon (on hand), Omelets (eggs, cheese, sour cream, dill, salt, buttermilk, pepper, butter - on hand; tomatoes - garden)

Sunday/Monday: Ham slices (other half of Thursday's ham - on hand), Bean Salad (green beans, leaf lettuce - $2.62; italian dressing, onion - on hand), Homemade Bread (flour, salt, sugar, yeast, butter, egg - on hand), Ice Cream Sandwiches (IC sandwiches - $3.99; choc. chips, sprinkles - on hand)

We spent an additional $6.39 on soft drinks. The scratched off item was Koolaid.

If you are doing this, by choice or by necessity, please share how you are approaching meal planning. I see plenty of recipes for inexpensive dishes and tips for saving on particular items (vinegar for cleaning, for example), but where is a comprehensive plan on saving money in the kitchen without feeling deprived? I anticipate that this will become a lot more difficult as we start running low on staples. Thanks for your comments and help.

Naples, FL(Zone 10a)

I salute you for trying to make this work for you. While we have drastically reduced our grocery bill we haven't gone as far down as $ 40 a week.

Here are some tips that might help:

Scour for coupons! Although many are only for name brand items which tend to be more expensive.
Check ahead of time where to buy certain staples such as pasta, bread, (I freeze all bread), rice etc. Grab those when they are on sale. Our Publix frequently has pasta at 2 for 1, and I always stock up at that time.
One rule I would certainly be flexible about is 'meat at each meal'. We have started eating much less meat and there are many good protein substitutes which tend to also be cheaper. I made a rice, artichoke (the splurge of this meal at $ 2 a can), carrot and hazelnut casserole the other day and DH was delighted with it and we had leftovers for lunch the next day.

Good luck! I look forward to seeing other people's solutions.

Keystone Heights, FL(Zone 8b)

Meat at each meal is ALL DH. I'm not certain what he would do is I offered him a vegetarian dish, but I'm sure it wouldn't be pretty. He was a long-time bachelor and has some particular eating habits. Mom and I would love the casserole, though. Artichokes are one of the nature's most wonderful foods.

I have started scouring the weekly grocery ads. As long as we're not paying for gas to go out of our way, it's definitely worth the time to go in to get a deal. Also, I've been watching our local dollar stores as their food selections increase. They offer many of the same items as the larger grocery stores, but at slightly better prices.

Naples, FL(Zone 10a)

Maybe you need to limit the meat at each meal to DH then? ;-)

I just happened to see yesterday on a TV programme where a ranch hand from Texas, a big burly, meat and potatoes kind of guy, was going to take a four week vegan challenge. He asked 'won't this make my blood sugar spike' - the doc replied that once he had been on that diet for a while he wouldn't have to worry about his blood sugar anymore since he would be losing that big belly....
It is my opinion that most people eat far too much meat, especially in America. But it's a habit that is hard to break.

Keystone Heights, FL(Zone 8b)

I agree that there are a lot of issues with meat, quality as well as quantity. We don't eat pork at all, not much chicken, and tuna covers most of the seafood. What can you do, though, when you love 'em and they're not your child? When I met him, he ate at a different fast food restaurant for every night of the week. Trust me, this is a LOT of progress.

Naples, FL(Zone 10a)

^_^

springfield area, MO(Zone 5b)

If it were me, I would cut back on meat.
The items you have 'on hand' will not always be 'on hand' somehow you have to budget for those when they run out.
I would drop soda all together. And desert. Unless it was fruit, or something like that.
Popcorn makes a good treat once in a while and is affordable.
Cake is fairly inexpensive and feeds several. You can bake it in 2 pans and freeze one for another week.
Everyone in our family takes a daily multivitamin.
Switch to Skim Milk if you haven't already, it's cheaper.
Margarine, not butter.

Pasta, Beans, Rice and Potatoes.
Homemade breads.

Meat and cheese are used just as 'flavorings'
Sandwiches are a staple food for lunches.
Make lots of soups and chilis.

springfield area, MO(Zone 5b)

Oh, I would never go without breakfast. I'm sick if I do.
You could buy oatmeal, maltomeal, or fix toast and gravy (you are using just a little meat to flavor it)
Egg sandwiches
cornflakes

Also beware of Dollar Store foods, as they may appear to be cheaper, but often they are inferior quality, or have less ounces in them.
Not long ago I looked at a jar of pears at a dollar store. It said product of China. I thought, don't we have pears here? There is no telling what all is in that food.
:(
Also you may try doing your shopping on Wednesday or Thursday. I used to shop on Fri or Sat, but found that frequently items I wanted were sold out, sale items especially, and that meant being forced to go with a more expensive brand or changing plans for the menu. Some stores will price match, keeping you from using gas to drive to other stores. I generally avoid coupons. They are usually still more money than buying a store brand.




Auburn, AL(Zone 8a)

I agree with the stockpile, coupon idea, although this is difficult at times on such a low budget. Another alternative is the day old bread store Flowers has a branch in Starke so they should have one. Not only do they have bread but also cookies, chips, noodles, well you get the idea.

Since repetition kills me when it comes to meals sometimes it's better to freeze items and recycle them several weeks later. After a month you have a large variety to pick from.

Allrecipes.com has a budget section that will give you ideas on meals. Can always type in the ingredients you have and it will find recipes that will work.

http://family.go.com/food/pkg-budget-recipes/recipe-643786-cheap-dinner-recipes-t/

http://www.5dollardinners.com/recipe-index

http://www.marthastewart.com/menu/five-great-meals-for-under-ten-dollars

Keystone Heights, FL(Zone 8b)

Several very good points. Chili is definitely a favorite if the weather would ever cool off and sandwiches are frequently the scrounge item of choice. We've been making our own bread for a couple of years now and we prefer it over bought bread. Milk we don't use at all; I use buttermilk instead for baking. I think it makes a much better finished product. We have had popcorn and cake both in the past couple of weeks. We've been having fruit as well. Pears came in and everyone we knew seemed to be giving away bags of them.

If it were just me and DM, we could go a long time without meat or dessert. However, for DH, unfortunately, these items are non-negotiable. If I don't try to accomodate him, he'll be blowing money at the convenience store or fast-food. I can see him now slipping out at night after I go to sleep and cheating on me with McDonald's. I'd rather face it and present it in a healthier way.

The soda is a guilty pleasure. I get three and make them last the week by using lots of ice and letting it water down. But what do you think will get cut out when the choice comes down to Sprite or toilet paper?? It did seem like I had a lot on hand this week. I can only hope that my vegetable garden can produce enough to fill in the gaps.

I've also made a deal with myself that I will spend the whole forty dollars and not try to squirrel some back to the next week. It's funny how the time you most want some useless item is the moment that you can least afford it. If I'm spending on what I feel like is some little luxury, then perhaps I'm less likely to feel like I'm doing without and triggering that whole "gosh, I really want that" feeling. We'll see if I can do better next week. I've threatened them with having PB&J every night if we can't make this work. Thanks!

Flora, IN(Zone 5a)

If you have farmers markets there they often have fall specials like whole basket of tomatoes or peaches that can be frozen. I just got a bushel of fall squash for 10 $ that will last us most of the winter. I find free pumpkins the day after Halloween, great pie.
The grocery stores here ''price match'' If you get adds from competitors they will give you the same price at the check out, saves a lot of running around.

Keystone Heights, FL(Zone 8b)

I'll keep my eyes open for good prices. There is still a couple of months left to the growing season here and that may make a difference on what kind of deal someone is willing to make. I can ask about the price match. I know Wal-Mart does that.

I sure didn't realize that about dollar stores. I may just stick to getting my paper goods there and start reading labels very carefully.

The internet has some good sources for inexpensive meals. Wish I'd had it back in the days when I was divorced with two children. I never want to have pasta salad again! I could have, for instance, made the Quick Lasagna (very good, BTW) even cheaper by getting a smaller package of ground beef instead of ground chuck, used half the cheese and substituted cottage cheese for the ricotta. I do have half the ricotta left to add to something next week and nearly half of the Lasagna itself to freeze for another time.

Flora, IN(Zone 5a)

My daughter is a vegetarian when we have hamburgers she has a eggplant burger.
Cut the eggplant about half inch thick dip in egg then seasoned cracker or bread crumbs. I use the same seasoning I use on the hamburger. Fry in olive oil. When you put a big slice of tomato and onion etc... almost as good as the real thing. sometimes I also fry a thick onion slice.
My husband will even eat it if I put cheese on it.

Keystone Heights, FL(Zone 8b)

I always have eggplant on my hamburgers! It's one of the few vegetables that have done well in my garden this year. Cheese, I've noticed, covers a multitude of ills, especially with DH.

springfield area, MO(Zone 5b)

we have a food program in our area, called Angel Food Ministries.
It is not income based, anyone can use it, you just have to sign up for it ahead of time to reserve your box.
I think it is once a month.
I don't have any contact info though, maybe you could call some of the charity organizations in your area, or churches and see if that is available to you.
I think the idea is that if enough people sign up, they can distribute food at bulk pricing.

Keystone Heights, FL(Zone 8b)

Thanks.

Auburn, AL(Zone 8a)

City Miles
HAWTHORNE Orange Heights Baptist Church 352-283-9474 19.1 mi
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MIDDLEBURG Evangel Temple Southwest 904-291-1426 17.9 mi
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904-282-5289 17.9 mi
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Auburn, AL(Zone 8a)

Above is the Angel Food info...Octobers orders have prob already been taken but you can sign up for Novembers. We bought several boxes last year to give to local churches in the area and from what we saw the quality wasn't bad.

Flora, IN(Zone 5a)

A whole chicken goes a long ways here.
First meal baked chicken with dressing.(made with dried bread)
the breasts are for lunch sandwiches.
The leftovers go for homemade chicken and noodles, or chicken rice broccoli casserole.
Our dog even gets the appropriate bones.

Keystone Heights, FL(Zone 8b)

What website is that from? I know several folks in worse shape than we are. This would be handy to pass along.

Keystone Heights, FL(Zone 8b)

It may be tacky, but I usually gather up the bones off everyone's plates to make stock. After all, it was only a fork and knife that touched them and any cooties are our own.

springfield area, MO(Zone 5b)

well I suppose you are boiling it, so I don't see the harm

But I NEVER give bones to my dog.
I have had 2 dogs choke severely on bones, One was a pork chop bone, and I had to put on gloves and literally pull it out of his throat or he would have died.

Keystone Heights, FL(Zone 8b)

No, no, I would never risk my dogs' lives on chicken bones. I will let them have skin. They'll have to happy with that. How scary.

Naples, FL(Zone 10a)

Another funny bone story - we recently had a flat tire - my DH checked the tire for a nail or something, and found a sharp 3 inch wedge of bone, like from a pork rib chop, standing straight up in the middle of the tire. That was a $ 130 bone...

Flora, IN(Zone 5a)

I knew the bones comment was going to get comments that is why I said'' appropriate ''
Penny is a happy healthy 13yearold dog and has always eaten appropriate bones, with my vets approval.
Sorry to divert your thread.

Auburn, AL(Zone 8a)

That was from the Angel Food Ministries website... Sorry for the delay was cleaning the house.

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Plano, TX

beans are so inexpensive. REALLY healthy and taste great

Keystone Heights, FL(Zone 8b)

Never apologize for pro-pet comments. My dogs are my children and I think sometimes I like them better than my own real children. My fourteen-year-old cat is named Pill - very well earned over the years - and gave me the username I had for years.

We do have still have some options before we are totally starving. I do have a cell phone and we've debated having the house phone (local only) taken out completely. That's another forty bucks. My mom lives with us as well. I'm letting her pick up the pet food and such. I just can't see her buying our groceries with the little bit she gets from SS, like she tries to do. I make sure to let her get some things, so she feels helpful, but the burden is really on us as it should be.

I've a brother, though, that works at Wal-Mart. He is just squeaking by and knows unemployed people in very bad shape. It just seems like everything is so expensive.

Corn pudding is in the oven and looks fabulous, a lot like a quiche. I've got my fingers cross that DH will like it.

Well, a bone is a nice change from the nails and screws that people normally get, I guess. Strange...

This message was edited Sep 24, 2009 6:21 PM

Houston, TX(Zone 9b)

I don't know what stores you have in your area, but there are two websites called www.shortcuts.com and www.pgesaver.com. Both link online coupons to your store savings card. The good point is that you can also use manufacturer's coupons on top of the discounts you put on your card online. One week, I had a .25 coupon for Bounty paper towels (I never buy Bounty because they are too expensive, but had cut out the coupon for this reason). My store triples coupons to .25, so that gave me a .75 discount. The pgesaver site had a .25 online coupon. The store had Bounty for $1 per roll, so I got the roll for free. I also got boxes of Ziploc bags for .50 each in a similar way. I admit that my budget is larger than yours (and I am very thankful for what we have), but I always feel good when I can save money. I can usually save 10-20% on my bill using coupons. They come out of the paper, but I don't pay for the paper so friends give them to me. They are for namebrands for the most part, but amazingly if you catch stuff on sale with a coupon, you can buy the namebrands for the same price or sometimes even less.

I admire you goal and the willingness you guys have to work together to achieve it. I agree also that you can't walk around feeling deprived all the time or else you won't be happy. I cook meals in my crockpot. You can buy less quality cuts of meat and when you get it out of the crockpot it is very tender and if you have a large crockpot, you can eat it at least 2 days. I cook pinto beans with sausage in the crockpot and it is very cheap. Also, roast with potatoes and carrots sometimes.

Good luck and I am looking forward to reading other people's ideas.
Sheila

Ripley, MS

My family is 3 also (adults) and we all like only chicken breasts. I have started buying only the fresh chicken tenders at Sam's Club--I can usually get about 6 meals from one package of about 12.00. I separate them and freeze them in zip lock bags, they thaw quickly and cook quickly.
When I make cornbread and have leftovers I crumble and freeze to make dressing with.
We waste a lot of food around here I know, I could use more tips on savings too.
We knew of a family in the Philippines that was 2 adults and 3 little girls, they only ate a bowl of rice a day--just one bowl, every day. My biggest problem is trying to keep from getting tired of the same old meals and I can not imagine living on one bowl of rice a day--but I might have to sometime.

Houston, TX(Zone 9b)

I plan my meals 2 weeks at a time and we can usually avoid having the same meal more than once a month (not including the day that we have leftovers of course). A big pot of spaghetti is good for 2 dinners for all of us and lunch for me for 2 more days.

Keystone Heights, FL(Zone 8b)

Variety is indeed essential because I don't waste food and will eat it for four or five days if necessary. I've modified the original week's menu already. There was still cornbread left last night, so I did not have to make another bread. I can save that for next week. The corn pudding was surprisingly good, but there was not enough there for lunches. However, I have enough of the quick lasagna to cover those lunches.

I think back to a few years ago and am appalled at how wasteful we were. Gosh, I'd like to have some of that money back, but life doesn't work that way. It's hard not to keep kicking myself because we should have been smarter. I told DH that we were the grasshoppers instead of the ants. It seems like a lot of folks were that way.

Absolutely agree on the crockpot. A crockpot can turn a tough piece of meat into a dream meal. One of the cookbooks I use frequently is called Slow Cooker Meals. I can sometimes find inexpensive pieces of some sort of steak, but roast prices have gone through the roof.

I do like rice well enough that I think that I could have it every day, but it would get old without something else alongside it. We occasionally have a loaf of bread that messes up in the bread machine. This always get frozen for bread crumbs. I've even been toying with the idea of freezing cooking liquids, like the water that the collards cooked in (if DM would have let me have it, that is; she carried the rest of that pot back to her little house after the second night).

Ripley, MS

Once every 2 weeks I cook some kind of dry beans in my small slow cooker. My daughter will not touch them and I usually cook 1/2 of a small bag. It has protein and DH and I love them, but we don't like to eat them day after day. That cooking makes 2 meals for us, and if I make pintos, you can make refried beans to go with a taco meal if you have some left.

Keystone Heights, FL(Zone 8b)

How do you turn a pinto into a refried bean. Just crush the cooked beans up and fry them in a little oil? I believe I have a bag of dried pintos. Good idea for next week.

Naples, FL(Zone 10a)

The traditional method uses lard rather than oil. It gets some seasoning too, of course.

Ripley, MS

I don't add any oil, but I put a little salsa into mine--makes it better ! Dry beans are a good source of cheap protein. Just mash them all up together and Yummy !!

Edited to add, if you have mashed potatoes left over, make potato pancakes to go with the next meal, just add egg, onion, flour and milk and fry like pancakes, another Yummy and does not seem so much like a left over

This message was edited Sep 25, 2009 8:40 AM

Flora, IN(Zone 5a)

My family likes potato pancakes better than mashed potatoes.
My sister-in -law adds leftover corn to her's.

Keystone Heights, FL(Zone 8b)

My grandmother used to fry leftover mashed potatoes and leftover grits that way. I've never been able to get it quite right. They also crumble. The only time I even came close was when I put shredded carrots in the potato. Do you think using instant potatoes (which I personally have always liked) might be the reason?

So, you don't actually cook the beans again. Just mash them and call them refried beans. I do realize that you are probably cooking them a second time again when you use them in the tortillas. DH grew up in the Appalachians, poor as church mice, and they lived on pinto beans, fried potatoes, bacon, and cornbread. His favorite still to this day.

I noticed last night that I've got several eggplant ready to be picked. More to add for Sunday!

Ripley, MS

Oh yes, I cook the pintos in the slow cooker, then use the leftovers for mashing and using as either refried beans or a dip with salsa.

Plano, TX

and to add to that--yes you do recook the beans --why they are called REfried--cook and mash in lard or even better bacon fat--but not healthy that way

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