Grocery Geek: Pantry Challenge More than Halfway

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During the last pantry challenge in July, I ended up spending $600 on groceries. Some folks commented that they didn’t think I was trying really hard. This time around I’ve really tried to cut where we could without making my family too uncomfortable.

If push came to shove and we really didn’t have the funds to spend on milk and a box of cocoa powder, we would find a way to live without it. A pantry challenge reminds me of that.

On the same token, I don’t think I could go a full month without shopping when we do have the cash. The inconvenience would be hard on my family without a real point other than maybe my pride.

I tend to think that we do okay on $800ish a month for a family of 8, eating few processed foods and buying mostly organic produce. I know we could spend less if we really had to; that’s one of the great reminders of a Pantry Challenge.

I thought I took better pictures during the week, but I was wrong. Here’s how the shopping has gone since my last update:

Vons (bananas, avocado, cilantro): $3

Costco (milk, cream, cheese, eggs, tortillas, bread, honey) : $51

Ralphs (coffee): $13

Abundant Harvest Organics (organic produce): $36

Walmart (above): $54

Sprouts (all organic produce, except the mushrooms, cilantro, and yellow onions): $22

Total spent this week: $179

Total spent this month to date: $343

I guess that isn’t so bad after all, especially as I bought enough produce and miscellaneous stuff to last us through next week. We’ll need more milk. And it’s going to be tough to do all the baking and stretch the little meat that we do have on hand. It may be very tempting to eat out since there isn’t a ton of anything.

My teenager is wanting more food, so I think a baking day is in order. Now that we have flour, we can go to town on that.

I am grateful that I haven’t seen any great sales. I’m not passing up anything. I hate to miss out!

How are the numbers crunching for you?

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  1. I spent $132.67 on groceries from Sunday to today. Then we ordered pizza ($33) so our weekly total is $165.67 and our month to date total is $414.50. This INCLUDES ordering out once a week for the last three weeks, so if I don’t count that, we are coming in right around $324 which I am SUPER happy with!!

  2. Normal budget is $85/week and I’ve spent $86.76 for the month and a lot of that was paper product and household items.

  3. Although I keep saying I need more eggs and milk, I keep putting off going to the store to get it. I don’t like not having eggs available, and the milk is just about vanished, but we’re still finding other things to eat and using recipes that don’t call for milk. I do have powdered milk if push comes to shove. I’ve been to the store only once this whole month, and bought very little. I’ve still spent only 15% of the total monthly budget. If only I could say the same thing about the pet food budget!

  4. I just got caught up on your last several posts…first chance I’ve had to get on here the last few days due to the busy-ness of life.

    I did grocery shopping today. Spent $202. First major shopping since Dec 29. Today’s trip included quite a few expensive items that we were completely out of – – olive oil, pecans, walnuts, tahini, coffee; that’s probably $30 right there. The next 2 weeks are chock full of evening meetings and school activities so I was sure to include quite a few easy meals on the menu plan and several of those required me to purchase items while shopping today. Healthier and cheaper than fast food! We’re still below our usual grocery expense by $100 and the miscellaneous odds and ends have been used up from the pantry & freezer! That in and of itself is enough for me to declare the pantry challenge a huge success!

    I’m a new fan of the mark-down bread rack at our grocery store. Today I purchased 2 loaves of french bread for $0.49 each, a loaf of english muffin bread for $0.99, a loaf of homemade white for $0.99. I prepped the french bread with a garlic spread and put one loaf in the freezer, the other with tonight’s dinner. The homemade white will become a french bread casserole for Sunday’s breakfast and the english muffin bread will be good tasted for breakfasts this week.

    Like you, I’m a grocery geek. I tallied our grocery expenses for 2012 last week. We spent $5,594.19 for a family of 4. That equates to an average of $466.18/mo. or $107.58/wk. That doesn’t include eating out as that comes out of our entertainment budget. Not too bad considering how well I think we eat.

    • @Nancy, so glad to hear that you’re ranking a success!

      I loved the bread clearance — until Sprouts took it away. Now they donate it instead of selling it. Good for someone, just not us.

  5. I’ve spent $292 (calculated from Dec 30 on) for four. No take out. About a third was for marked down meat that went into the freezer, another third for very well priced things I can stock up on and store like flour and pasta or had run out of, like ketchup – we use about one bottle a year, should have seen it coming. The rest was fresh produce and dairy. We’re good till month end on dairy, will need some produce by the end of next week.

    I’ve been making a lot of stock – one turkey carcass left – and jam from berries I froze from the garden last summer. I don’t mind the kitchen heat this time of year and I’m gaining tons of freezer space.

    I am learning that the concept behind this challenge is something I should be doing on an ongoing basis. By making a point of using what I have here, I was able to purchase more meat for the freezer than I expected, stock up on staples and get the fresh produce and dairy. I wanted to take about 20% off our grocery budget from last year. I’ve got just over $100 left, twelve days and only produce to buy about halfway through. I’m pretty happy with how this is going. If all goes well, I’d like to stash that 20% away for some grassfed beef for the freezer this fall.

    • @Karen, yes, the concept of shopping your kitchen first is a great way to save money, particularly if you’re stocking up on lots of sale items that might not always go together.

  6. Heather M says:

    Very jealous of Sprouts! Where we live that amount of produce would have cost more than $22 not even organic. And mostly organic? yeah, about double what you spent. Ah well. Such is life. My grocery spending on solely food is about $300 so far, and I won’t have much to buy this coming week. I think we’ll keep it under the $500 mark which will be about half what we usually spend. And hoping February ends up about the same. At some point I’ll probably start freaking out about the stores in my home not being full. I like to have a serious stash, in case something were to happen. But we’ll see how I do. There’s still a ton of food in the cupboards, fridge, and freezer (and I don’t have more than the one standard in my kitchen).

    • @Heather M, our organic produce is very expensive here as well, and so is dairy! In fact, all organics are twice or three times the price of conventional. That’s why I love the summertime when we can garden and grow so much of our own stuff.

      • Heather M says:

        @Angela, Oh a garden. How nice! I have a black thumb. but also a patch of grass so tiny and lacking in sun that even when I tried container gardening, it was pretty bad. 3 tomatoes on a plant. 2 peppers. A few hours of sun a day doesn’t cut it. Guess it’s the price we have to pay choosing to live where we do. Enjoy the fresh produce all summer!

    • @Heather M, what we Californians save on produce, we pay in gas and real estate. That’s how it goes, I guess.

      • Heather M says:

        @Jessica, I’m actually from San Diego, and get out there at least once a year. The produce is something I really envy. Growing up, I had no idea how good everyone has it in CA, re the produce. But I hear you. Our gas is cheaper. But not our real estate. Taxes are better here too, as is what we get for our tax dollars (much better managed state/local govt in Northern VA than in CA… we live just outside of WDC). Enjoy those avocados! I have to buy them at Costco, or else it’s tiny little wimpy things for at least $2/piece!

  7. I just got back from the store. We’ve been hit with a stomach bug and I had to pick up some extras – gatorade, popsicles, cereal. Total spent for this month (so far) is $181.25 for a family of 5. Not to bad. Most importantly, we haven’t eaten out yet.

  8. I have picked up random coupons deals here and there.. With my priority to work down the deep freeze and pantry. I have spent the majority of my cash this past week on stocking up laundry and dishwasher soaps and toilet paper.. There were some great coupons recently and some local stores have had super low pricing to make the deals that much sweeter. So where I have not spent on food I have built up MONTHS of supply on these other higher priced items.. and I am very ok with that! I think you are doing a great job! Such an inspiration to me!

  9. I know exactly what you mean…hubs wanted me to get a few things for him today, and I really struggled…but if the family feels deprived at home, they tend to want to EAT OUT, which is much more expensive (and less healthy) than giving in to a few desires on the homefront.

    That said, I will probably stretch ‘minimal spending’ into February, as we’re not as successful this pantry challenge as I’d like.

  10. Girlfriend, I think you do an AMAZING job raising 6 kids (and 4 boys, mercy!) and keeping your food costs so low. We have our ten yo grandson every day after school for 2-4 hours and that kid can eat like a lumberjack! It does add to our grocery bill some but I don’t mind. I love that he is such an active part of our lives.

    I’ve stayed away from the grocery store but need to get milk today and stock up on chicken breasts. Our last delivery of AH for the month will be Tuesday so I ordered a large basket. We’re getting a Sprouts here and I’m super excited to see what it will be like. I plan to make lemon curd from our Meyer lemon tree this weekend. and make a couple of apple pies for the freezer too.

    • @Laurie, aw, thanks. I hope I didn’t sound too whiny. I think I was tired when I wrote it.

      I can’t wait until my dad’s lemons are ready. Your lemon curd sounds great. Do you can it? Yum!

  11. I totally agree. A pantry challenge is not supposed to make the family miserable. It’s purpose is to reach a goal.

    I had no intention of participating in the challenge this time until I impulsively spend 25% of my grocery money for the month on a grass-fed beef order. Now, out of necessity, I am making up for what I spent. I’ve used up some beans that were hanging around–made some wonderful hummus. I also dug around the freezer and found some gyoza meat and wrappers. That supplied a meal plus leftovers. I made stuffed salmon one day for lunch, once again out of fridge and freezer “scraps”.

    My attitude right now is to “eyeball” everything with the goal of putting off getting one more item at the grocery store. I”m completely happy with my progress in using up valued ingredients plus making up for my big meat purchase.

    I wish you continued success in your pantry challenge!



    • Jessica, I’m sorry that people criticized you on your last pantry challenge. I’m amazed at how well you feed your family and spend so little at the same time. It’ takes a great deal more effort to make all the homemade food that you do than to buy pre-made. I agree with why make yourself and your family miserable, Life is too short. Don’t be afraid to go out and buy something if you need it. I won’t judge.

    • @Sally, isn’t it wonderful how far “freezer scraps” can stretch. I’ve got two more soup nights in the challenge, so that’s what I’m doing with them.

  12. So far in January I’ve spent $86.13 on Food/grocery ($30 milk + $56.13 fresh produce) + $67.67 on beer/eat out. In 2012 we averaged $1200/month on groceries + $200+/month on beer/eat out. By “shopping” my pantry/freezer/fridge/garden first, I’m amazed at how well we are eating, even though I have spent less than 10% of what we normally spend on groceries. I’ll probably need to get more milk before the end of the month, but our total spend should stay below 10% of normal & our pantry/freezer/garden looks to be full enough to aim for less than 25% of 2012’s average for our February grocery spend. Menu planning is an amazing resource to save money & time.

  13. I’ve spent $94.05 so far this month and haven’t made a discernible dent in the supply. It’s usually just two of us although our son and his girlfriend live in our guesthouse and we invite them to join us for dinner about once a week. My goals are to consume enough from the chest freezer that I can defrost it and organize the contents in such at way that I have enough room for some homemade pre-cooked meals for busy nights. I also want to use up some items I’ve had hanging around awhile, learn some new kitchen skills (making corn tortillas, for example), and find some new and creative recipes for ingredients I have on hand. Here is the link to my post about it:

    • Depending on what you have in the freezer, you can thaw and make some freezer meals and just replace it in the freezer transformed. I researched this while writing the book. Thawing, cooking, and refreezing is totally fine provided that it was thawed under proper temps. Even a thaw and refreeze uncooked is okay according to the USDA. (The times that you wouldn’t want to do that, would be if the freezer had a power failure and you don’t know if the temps stayed cool enough to prevent spoilage.)

      I’ve got a tutorial on corn tortillas when you’re ready for it.

  14. I made a grocery run this AM for milk and Cottonelle. I had a $2 coupon for dw detergent and it was BOGOF so I bought it while it was half price. I also had a couple other coupons for a couple things on sale so I picked them up as well. But I am not buying extra pantry items and I didn’t even look at the meat on sale. I think we have about 2 more weeks worth of meat in the freezer before we have to get really into beans and cornbread. I am able to start organizing and rotating what little we have left. I haven’t run a total on spending, but I am pleased with our challenge results so far.

  15. The goal of the pantry challenge is to make the best use of your resources. Sometimes the best use is “spoiling” your loved ones a bit. My family has been quite cooperative about the pantry challenge and eaten Mom’s dinnertime creations with surprising good grace. As a thank you to them, tonight I prepared a mini Thanksgiving dinner. I roasted a 7 lb turkey breast and served it with mashed potatoes and gravy, dressing and cranberry sauce. Dessert was pound cake with whipped cream and sliced strawberries. Smiles all around the dinner table tonight!

  16. You’re doing great. You’re actually closer to 2/3 through. With 11 days left I’m betting you’ll end up even lower than last year for your first month. Do you get to bank the difference between this month’s grocery budget and the $800 you’ve allotted to grocery? I’d love to see you do a series on how you’re planning on making your European vacation a reality by doing a variety of things like cutting grocery costs.

  17. Right now we are still at $50. This week we need nothing well maybe some eggs depends on my baking. the boys only drank a gallon of the 2 gallons of milk that we bought last week. And this week’s menu is all items we have on hand or they can be.

    This coming week for suppers its:
    tuna pasta salad
    hotdogs and baked beans
    whole chicken
    grilled cheese
    chicken soup

    Its’ below 0F here so I better go get the car warming up while i do my hair.

  18. Wow – lots of food for not a lot of money! It really is important to shop around – but sometimes exhausting!

  19. Yesterday, M’honey came running into the house from an afternoon in his shop & said “lets go!” Hes been known every once in a while to do this.. its fun & crazy and I never know where we’re going.. We wound up 2 towns over to go to a Mexican store & bakery that I love.. On Saturday they make these HUGE pots of tamales (like many, many hundreds) but they dont last till the days end. So we bought 32 tamales (mostly for the freezer) fajita meat, chorizo, queso oaxaca, corn & flour tortillas, Mexican squash, a large can of whole poblano peppers, some hot sauce, chicarones , a box of Mexican Peanut Marzipan, a turnover for him and a pan dulce for me.. Yay! This came out of his pocket & $$.. not mine.
    He also went to Aldi a few days ago to pick up milk, bananas, lettuce, and mushrooms and he bought 2 boxes of very necessary Molten Lava Chocolate cake mixes.. haha.. He has no concept of a pantry challenge nor does he have any interest in one if he did.. I just have to suffer this.. 😉

    I did include his spending in my total though it doesnt really come from the same budgeted money.. Other than the Mexican store goods, I would have bought the rest of the groceries. With it, our monthly grocery spending has been $177.29… without the Mexican store goods, $82.93. That includes the organic oranges from Texas that was horribly expensive due to shipping.. but that was my super splurge.

    I will have to hit the grocery store tomorrow for more milk, eggs, sour cream and a few other things I’ve been adding to my list..
    We’re really not doing too bad and I’ve come up with some recipes I havent had in a good long time that Im enjoying.

  20. I am curious about your cheese. Is that what the organish reduce rectangle is in your Walmart purchase? Do you just buy the whose thing uncut from the deli? Is it for sandwiches? What kind is it? Like I said curious. We eat A LOT of cheese here. My 7 love it!

    • @claire, that is a block of Tillamook. They come in 2.5 pound blocks. We slice or shred depending on what we need. It’s hormone-free and about the tastiest cheese around. I do prefer the sharp, though. Walmart only carries the medium.

  21. So far $120 for groceries, about $185 total (including paper goods, medicine for the babies, cleaning, etc.) … did eat out 1x and did take out once (and plan to again friday b/c friends are coming over). We are fortunate that grandparents are gracious and feed us on Wednesday nights after watching the kiddos so mommy can work part-time. Hoping to make it to $250 or less …. we have a few chicken breasts, meatballs, and chicken nuggets in the freezer, but that’s about it for meat. Also – my 2 year old and husband go through a galon of milk every 3 days!

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