Grocery Geek: I’m Back

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grocerygeek-gceDid you miss me? I had every intention to be popping my head in this space at least a few times this week. But, last weekend’s freezer cooking session followed by some small family emergencies kept me from chatting too much.

The best I could do was this awesome sandwich. Have you tried it yet? It’s a must-try. The grilled onions and spicy mayo make it so much more than just a turkey and cheese.

Once I got the freezer loaded with some meals last weekend, the week just seemed to run away from me. So, let’s do some catch up, shall we?

Pantry Challenge Savings

According to my informal poll, 74 of us participated in the Pantry Challenge, saving a cumulative $16,500. Isn’t that amazing?! Wow! Thanks to the reader who pointed out that together we did amazingly well.

$16,500! Good job, friends.

Grocery Shopping this month

Once the Pantry Challenge ended, I tried not to go too crazy. I had two purposes with my grocery shopping.

  1. to take advantage of the Ralph’s Buy 10 sale.
  2. to get what we needed for this month’s Freezer Cooking plan.

I was able to do both as well as include what we needed during the days. I stocked up on things that were killer deals as well as cooked ahead for the coming weeks. I figure I have dinners for 2 to 3 weeks socked away.

Here’s how it broke down:


ralphs feb

The Ralphs Buy 10 sale spanned two weeks. I think I shopped it at least twice, stocking up on Peets coffee ($7.99), canned beans ($.49), and cereal ($.99). I never buy cereal, but this was a quality brand for a buck a box, so I went for it. I don’t have great photos of any of those trips. They were usually late at night.

I also bought the well-priced items that I needed for freezer cooking, like chicken for $0.99/pound. I ended up spending $100 on groceries at Ralphs.


sprouts feb

Sprouts was nothing too exciting. A few odds and ends and some convenience items before I could get to Costco. Missing from the pic are the frozen berries I bought to bake pies. I spent a total of $32 at Sprouts.


costco feb

A lot of the Costco stuff was for freezer cooking, but there were also somethings to cover breakfasts and lunches. I spent $134 at Costco.

Trader Joe’s

trader joe's feb

My stop at  Trader Joe’s was a combination of Super Bowl, lunches, and freezer cooking. I spent $85 at Trader Joe’s.

Abundant Harvest Organics

abundant harvest feb 6

The produce box this week included collards, napa cabbage, spaghetti squash, a type of heirloom broccoli, dried thyme, mache, avocados, oranges, beets, carrots, apples, potatoes, lemons, and leeks. I ordered an add-on of baby artichokes.

I gave the collards and one squash to a friend. We’re slowly working our way through the rest. Love this box!

I spent a total of $38 on the box.

Total spent this month: $389

Just as a reminder: I feed 8 people, ages 50M, 40F, 15M, 12M, 10M, 8M, 6F, 4F. The guys far outeat us women. We shoot for $800/month. What we’ve spent so far this month has almost got me back in my comfort zone in terms of ingredients to work from. I’ve done some batch cooking so the freezer is back to half full. The veggie drawer is brimming.

I may have spent half of February’s money already, but we’re back to almost half full anyway, so I think we’re good.

Ways that I can save again this month:

The Pantry Challenge was a TON of work, but it also saved quite a bit of cash. While I don’t want to go that hardcore this month, there are still ways in which I can keep costs low(er).

1. Bake more.

The flour supply is running low. So, I’ll need to restock in order to really keep us in bread and baked goods. My list for next week includes both sandwich bread and flour tortillas, things I don’t really like to make myself. But, I can find suitable alternatives that I can bake on my own, time and motivation permitting.

2. Adjust the produce box.

Last month I put the box on vacation for one week, allowing us time to catch up on what we had. We currently have a glut of potatoes, turnips, and rutabagas. I’ll need to do some mashing this weekend, I think.

If the month gets away from me, I can put one of the later week’s boxes on vacation.

3. Shop my kitchen, of course!

Eating from the pantry is really my regular mode of operation. You’ll see in tomorrow’s meal planning post that we pretty much have everything we need for the week. All our meals except 1 (out of 21) use items already in my possession. My grocery list is merely “extras” that would be nice to have, like beef in Saturday’s chili or mushrooms on Friday’s pizza. We can live without those things if we need to.

So that’s the State of the Grocery Geek this week.

Are you back to shopping as usual or are you still on the Pantry Challenge?


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  1. I spent too much money at the beginning of the month (February 1st, LOL), so I am trying to have a short pantry challenge for the remaining weeks. While I spent $350 the first week thanks to a big Costco run, this week I only spent $75.

  2. I missed you! I figured you were tired of posting every day during the challenge so you just took a quick break. 🙂 I bought a couple snacky items – pretzels, trail mix – along with some basic perishables and some seafood. We love seafood but it is a definite price splurge. Otherwise, I’m still trying to stick with the challenge. There’s just still too much food in the house.

  3. Your vegetable glut puts me in mind of Corning (MI) pasty.

  4. Heather M says:

    I just figured you were taking a much-deserved break after posting at least once a day, sometimes more, for the month! Glad to have you back!

    We are continuing a modified version of the pantry challenge, much like January was. Still shopping for fresh essentials and the occasional deal, but trying to keep under our usual spending and use more of what has been stockpiled. Some of it needs to get used before I have to throw it out. Tossing 3 cans of beans that were so old they’d started fermenting wasn’t fun. On the other side, was completely out of tomato sauce, so I still bought 6 cans when they went on sale last month. We’re still eating out/taking out less, and the hubby is being very good about taking lunch to work. I usually get it together for him. Yesterday I didn’t and discovered he had grabbed some leftovers on his own! That’s progress.

    We kept the takeout/eating out to at most once/week and in the affordable range(under $40). Until Superbowl Sunday when we blew $97.50 on Thai takeout(gave us some leftovers, including extra chicken I threw into a fried rice dinner plus a few lunches). So worth it, but this weekend we’re eating in. All weekend. That’s the Challenge state of mind working. I just wish the huge snowstorm had tracked more south so we could have an excuse to stay in all weekend and truly put that to work. Instead, it’s windy and cold, but sunny and we’ll be out and about and I’ll be planning hard to eat in and not spend. Then I’ll head to Costco and Trader Joe’s next week and stock up on things that are almost gone, finally.

  5. Wowza! The collective savings of $16,500 is amazing! It has inspired me the next time around to save even more! It’s inspiring and encouraging to do this “together”! I missed your posts as well last week and am glad to know life for you is getting back to normal:)!

  6. I’m still on, too. Bought a couple huge roasts to cut up for the freezer because they were lower priced than ground beef, a whole bone in ham, more flour and sugar on the second, which technically put us over the weekly budget, but all went into the pantry at much lower prices than if I had waited till I needed them. By my schedule it was also a “January” expenditure because the bulk of the week was still in January and I calculate Sunday to Saturday.

    For February, I have spent just under $65 and that included ingredients to make nachos on the third. The rest was dairy and produce, most of which will last through this coming week into the next. I expect a small produce run this coming week because I see all the bananas are already gone.

    I’ve been baking – some of the previous bananas became banana bread, used some frozen zucchini for chocolate zucchini bread and some frozen pumpkin puree along with just under half a bag of chocolate chips for pumpkin chocolate chip muffins. Most of the bread made it back to the freezer for packed lunches as needed. The muffins got scarfed down. Used some of the jumbo pasta shells I had forgotten about with some thawed, marked down cottage cheese to make a manicotti type filling, forgot to add meat to the sauce last time, and since nobody noticed, I “forgot” again.

    And today the last batch of turkey stock will be finished so I can condense it down, defrost the previous batch and pressure can it all later today. I have one bag of beef bones for stock but need to wait for some onion ends before I start that. I may soak and can some kidney and yellow eyed beans in the meantime so I can have the kitchen heat while it is appreciated. The kidney beans were a large size bag clearout in the ethnic section of our local big box store and the yellow eyed were part of a $3 off coupon for a $10 purchase at a bulk food store. Your artichokes reminded me of a can (fresh are horribly expensive here) of artichoke hearts I think I will get marinating. I’m happy.

  7. I never did share what I saved in the challenge but since I dont truly track it I really dont know. I figure $400 at least.
    It worked out well for me since I was hanging on tight to my money since I got laid off in November & my unemployment was delayed until April..

    Im still going thru my freezer & pantries.. I have stocked up on fresh veggies and a few things here & there that we didnt have, mostly eggs, milk, butter, bread and the like.
    Its been wonderful to see space in my freezer.. its been quite a while since its been cleaned out like this. It still has a long way to go but there is definitely space there now for new deals I find.

    I dont think I’ve ever seen you speak about your flour stores.. Do you grind your own wheat berries? Have you ever checked out an LDS cannery? I’ve heard they have the best prices around and if you have one near, it may be worth your while to check it out.

    There is one on the other side of the city so Im planning on checking it out one of these days.

    • @KimH, I do not have a mill, never have been able to justify the expense. Someone has suggested that if I went gluten-free, that might help my hip pain. So, I won’t be investing until I ponder that.

      In the meantime, I either buy it in bulk from Azure Standard or I buy the non-bromated, unbleached Montana wheat at Walmart. That’s the cheapest place for that style. I’ll stock up on Bob’s Red Mill when it goes on sale at Sprouts, too.

      • @Jessica, Great, thanks for sharing your sources..

        I will share with you that I’ve had fibromyalgiia & chronic fatigue for almost 30 years and in the last 15 I started getting major amounts of joint pain, arthritis like symptoms. When I went gluten free as part of the Atkins diet about 12 years ago, the joint pains disappeared. I also had lots of energy I haddent had before. On top of that, my chronic sinus infections and respiratory problems went away as well.

        Today, if I eat any wheat, sometimes I feel it the same day but mostly I feel it the next day. I wake up feeling severe pain in every joint and I feel like someone beat me with a baseball bat and feel a thousand years old. There are times when I eat completely clean and all of the sudden Im hurting like I’ve been eating wheat. I start looking around and find something that has wheat in it that I didnt realize.. like Bulls Eye Caramels.. man was I mad at that one. 😉

        Im finding that I dont react as much to homemade products as I do store bought products but this is a recent sort of discovery so I plan to test it out some more and see if this was just a fluke or if its truly how I react. While I dont have a true wheat allergy or gluten allergy (at least the one they test for) my endocrinologist told me to consider myself allergic to gluten and eat that way.
        It makes all the difference in my life.. and my pain levels.

        One other thought.. if you’re only having pain in one hip, you might consider seeing a DO or a chiropractor. Sometimes, one of the muscle bands that goes around your hips can get bound and pinched. Mine do fairly often and I have a chiropractor who is truly wonderful. Some are good, others not so much, and some like mine are worth their weight in gold.


  8. I didn’t “really” do a pantry challenge, although I did manage to under-spend my grocery budget last month! That was so helpful since a trip to Sam’s for TP, tissues, etc. put us WAY over in another category. Plus there were all the diapers (disposable for night time) and wipes I stocked up on. Anyway, under-spending on the food helped with that. I think my little family will be on an unofficial pantry challenge all year, the way things are shaping up. We have so many big expenses coming. To name a few: new lawnmower (for over 2 acres of hill….), new roof (hubby can do the work!), trip to TX for a sibling’s wedding. Add to that the fact that tax and insurance premium changes took away almost all of the raise I got in the fall. So I’m seeing a lot of bean based meals. I’m so blessed that I have lots of options in that category and that my family loves them!

  9. Mary Mills says:

    I am still on the challenge was over my goal last week, but only eighty cents!! I feel liberated shopping, purchasing basically only staple items. We have two dinner parties that we are hosting this month, and I still feel very confident that we can serve delicious food from our pantries and freezer. I plan on taking this through May or June, we start getting Asparagus from local farms at the end of May, Strawberries in June and the circle of food life continues. Thank you so much for the inspiration you have afforded to me, this seems more like a blessing than a challenge!

  10. Thanks for putting this up! I have been going a little bit hog wild at the grocery store in an attempt to get a handle on what I spend if I have a month where I do go hog wild. Then I can look to lower my grocery budget from there. I have a budget amount, but I have been feeling that I am perhaps allowing too much in the grocery budget and that I can tighten that particular belt a little bit if I have a more realistic idea of what I spend when I don’t pay attention to how I’m spending it. Start unstructured, then move the structure in! The meal planning and shopping from my pantry that I got used to doing last month is a great skill set to have. I have been really using them, especially as I look at the receipts for February so far and start to get a little nervous what my end total will be. I’m looking at my pantry shelves and freezer and coming to grips with the fact that I’m going to have to bite the bullet and head to BJ’s soon, or I’m going to end up doing 8 zillion “band aid” shopping trips to the grocery store (which never, ever, ever ends cheaply).

  11. I’m still trying to cut spending by doing a modified version of the challenge. I am excited to use a few things that have been in the freezer for awhile. I had some brownies that were a little dry so I froze them for a future dessert. Thawed them today and made mini trifles in jars with nutella and whipped cream. So good and happy they weren’t wasted! Will be making baked goods for teachers at school this week and I have strawberry cupcakes already in the freezer and some chocolate chip cookie mixes that were bought after Xmas on clearance with coupons.

  12. I hadn’t made a costco run for two months so spent money there, plus had to restock fresh things. I am more mindful about what I buy (dried beans so I can control the sodium, etc.) It has been nice to not watch pennies as I did in January. I spent a total of $39.89 for groceries last month-I am still a bit amazed by that as usually it is around four to five times that much. The cupboards were pretty bare, and basically we needed a break from what was left. So after a bit of shopping frenzy, I have settled back down to meal planning and using what we have. I celebrated the end of pantry challenge by buying a new crockpot, as mine was on its last legs.

  13. I have not yet gotten out of the PC mode. I did make a trip to Sam’s yesterday but other than the 5 lbs of ground turkey for the freezer, I did not buy anything that wasn’t a perishable. I spent $87. I sat in the floor yesterday evening and organized the bottom shelf of my pantry. I now know everything we have and we are almost, but not quite, down to the nitty gritty. Maybe next week we can make a real grocery store run, but so far it isn’t needed,

  14. I spent a lot this week, but after restocking the freezer with some meal components, I’s content with it!

  15. This was the first pantry challenge I really participated in. It has opened my eyes to all the food just sitting here. I have been through the pantry, fridge, and freezer – and still am purchasing ‘extra’ when the prices are right, but am seriously re-thinking the way I shop. I
    have always ‘tried’ to stay about $100 a week, but was often WAY over. Excuses always included – oh but I bought toilet paper, or razors, or advil. These items are intended to be included in the grocery budget (at least at my house) so I never really had a good excuse. I just was keeping convienience foods, 12 cans of soup (for lunches – but no one likes them), and so much crammed into the pantry I could hardly see anything!
    Now I am REALLY trying to be mindful of what I already have, use what is there before any expiry dates – and try to figure out sale cycles so I can purchase only what I need to last until the next sale.
    So far I’ve spent $231 and have $169 for the rest of the month.

  16. I am still on the Pantry Challenge for the month of Feb. Though I am buying good sales, I’ve cut our grocery spending down by half and put the money on seeds for the garden and baking supplies and microwave meals to send to deployed soldiers. (Some of the units no longer have chow halls and are eating MRE’s only)

  17. I have definitely missed your presence on both sites. I could tell you were a little MIA.

    We are still pretty stocked up and have been using a once monthly Costco trip for fresh/frozen items, and the farmers’ market for produce. So basically we still have a ton of food.

    but i did manage to make crumbs out of all the bread heels in the freezer. yay me.

  18. I’ve spent about less than $80 at the grocery store and $50 now at the bulk food store so far this month and I still need to go to the cheese factory. But the good news is that I’m continuing to shop out of the pantry here too.

    Our menu this week is chicken based: 1 home grown chicken 3-4 meals from it… All GF as I’m going GF for the month.

  19. I am glad to say that we are officially off the pantry challenge. It’s so nice to see meat and veg in the freezer again but I still haven’t plugged in and reloaded the deep freeze. Thanks for the reminder to record my spending and BTW YIKES! It looks like we’re going to be way over this month but luckily I was about $200 under last month so maybe it will even out.

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