Grocery Geek: Early July Pantry Challenge

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grocerygeek-gceSo, this is Pantry Challenge month. I’ve already established some of my goals for the challenge and my particular budget.

I had to do some serious thinking about that whole budget thing. If I was going to do the challenge for only two weeks, it seems I had to make rules for the other two and a half weeks in the month. It makes no sense to scrimp for two weeks but then splurge in the balance of the month. That would undo my hard work.

By creating a weekly budget for the whole month, I found that I could have a plan for grocery shopping each week. That, my friends, has been hard. It makes it really a pantry challenge MONTH, instead of two weeks after all.

By Wednesday, the allotted $200 grocery money was gone. And there was an egg shortage afoot. I haven’t found eggs on clearance lately, so that has made my egg stock less than we all like it. The kids and I talked about it when they couldn’t understand my running out for more. We’ll just make do. And we have. And it’s been fine.

Here’s how we shopped this week:

walmart july



At Walmart I bought some regular staples. Turns out I didn’t “need” them all this week (like the smores fixings and Asian ingredients), which means that I could have diverted some of those funds toward eggs. Live and learn, eh?

Total spent: $44.60

ralphs july



Ralphs had some good sales and some good mark downs, but no clearance eggs. I made two trips in the hopes of finding eggs with these prices, but no. And again, I bought things (like those bars) which were a great price, but not necessarily needed. Nor were they that good, actually. Hmmm….

Not pictured: two MORE gallons of milk, a pound of butter, and a dozen eggs.

Total spent on both stops: $42.42

costco july


I did a little freezer cooking with all that meat this week, thus a stock-up of sorts at Costco. I made taco meat (3 meals reached the freezer), meatballs (1 supper’s worth) and hamburgers (1 meal worth). That sets us up for some proteins along with what’s already in the freezer.

We were out of poorman’s parmesan (romano cheese), olive oil, and pizza cheese. Turns out I forgot I had just bought whipping cream at Walmart, so I didn’t really need to buy the whipping cream. Again, live and learn.

This week was a great warm-up for the real challenge next week.

Total spent: $113.31

grampa jack's produce box


The Produce Box

You’ll remember that I put the produce box on vacation this week. That allowed me to use those funds in other ways as well as catch up on what was already on hand and use it up before it went back.

Thankfully for me, my dad is an avid gardener. And he came to visit this weekend. So, I got a produce box from a different source this week. And it was FREE!

We’ve got lots of delicious, homegrown tomatoes, peppers, squash, and lemons to fill out our meals until next week’s box arrives. Yay, Grampa Jack!

Total spent: FREE

I planned to spend $200 this week and I came in pretty close to the wire. My grand total was $200.33.

July Week 1: $200.33

pantry challenge sum 13

The Plan for Week 2

Next week, I’ve got the produce box coming in at a whopping $38. That leaves $62 to buy eggs, milk, cheese, and whatever else we think we need. That might be a challenge. We’ll see what we can do. We’re out of — or will be soon — eggs, milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, sour cream, fruit.

I’ve brainstormed a few ways how I can save money:

  • baking our bread
  • making more meatless meals
  • using dry milk in baking recipes
  • doing a little more freezer cooking
  • take a full inventory so I know what we have

I’ve also considered where to save money, in terms of my shopping: I probably won’t go back to Costco since buying in bulk ties up funds. I think it’s a great practice, but not if you don’t have the cash on hand. Walmart, while cheap, doesn’t really have rock bottom pricing on everything. It can be a slippery slope. I’ll probably focus on whatever’s on sale at Sprouts or Ralphs.

There are plenty of ways to save on groceries. The trick is to find what works for your locale and situation in life. It used to be that clipping printable coupons really helped me. The availability and time investment just doesn’t work for me anymore. So, I’m finding other ways of saving money on food costs.

That’s it for the Grocery Geek Report. 😉

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  1. G’day! And really enjoying reading your series, true!
    Indirectly you inspired me to look in my pantry, freezers and fridges and see what I could create…am only up to the pantry items…but today made a dent in ONE of the freezers too!
    Here is my blog post today should you wish to view
    Cheers! Joanne

  2. Great post Jessica – I always appreciate hearing your ‘thinking it through’ moments. I think in NY they don’t put eggs/milk etc on clearance – I’ve literally NEVER seen it done in any store – yes, could be that I’m just missing it – but in all these years of looking for bargains? I think maybe it’s not allowed – bummer LOL!

    • Fishmama says:

      Did you see the post I linked to with the clearance eggs? $1.50/dozen for Organics. I bought ten packs I think. I find Organics all the time.

      • I did see that post – so jealous LOL! I’m paying $4 / dozen for free range – kills me LOL

        • Jessica says:

          That’s the regular price here, too. That’s why I really wanted to find the marked down eggs.

          • On another blog I was told the organic free range eggs go from $5-$8 a dozen.. I just about choked! I was mentioning that I thought $3.25 was pricey for them from my CSA.. On second thought… guess Im happy Im not paying that!

          • That was in NY & Va I think…

    • I’ve never ever seen eggs on clearance in my 23 years here in N Fl, either. Sometimes there will be a store discount if milk is within 24 hours of the sell-by date, but even that has only been seen twice.

  3. Eggs are frequently advertised for $.20-.30 off here, but I have only ever found them on clearance once. Milk does go on for half price ($2.50/ 4 liters – about a gallon) in fits and starts. And you have to be at the store pretty much when it opens at 6. Most of the time I get it at 20% off on Thursdays only, at a local drugstore. I find that making our yogurt from The Frugal Girl’s recipe saves us a lot. It is super easy! I have been draining it lately to make a greek-style product and then use the whey in place of at least some of the milk or all of the water in baking.

    I don’t often buy meat that is not marked down by 30%, and keep my freezer stocked that way. The downside is that sometimes I end up with quite a bit of one type and very little of others. My pantry challenge is usually to even out the ratios a bit.

    We are having a break in the 100 degree temperatures today, so I’m off to the store to pick up carrots and tomatoes because we are still waiting for them to be ready from our small but very helpful garden and then I am going to try my first venture into cheesemaking and do a batch of yogurt to use a jug of milk that was not opened before a newer one and another that was left by a houseguest. That will still leave me with enough milk to last till midmonth or better, but I will replenish a bit next Thursday, so I never have to pay full price and we never run out.

    I’m glad you have decided to do a full month challenge after all.

    • Fishmama says:

      I am not sure I’m doing a whole month. But the numbers affect the whole month, so it might as well be a whole month.

  4. I have never seen eggs on clearance either. Luckily, we have 12 chickens , so we get a dozen fresh eggs a day. Love these posts! They really help me to think my grocery purchases through!

  5. Harriet says:

    I love these posts too. It not only helps us think things through, but it lets each of us know that we aren’t in it alone! I always seem to get in line in the store behind the lady with a full cart of name brand things and an unlimited budget.

    Eggs here were $.99 last week at Walgreens drug store. By the time I found them, this old man had a buggy full and the case was empty. I wanted to ask him what he was possibly going to do with 6 dozen eggs at his age?!

    We are on vacation this week so I plan to make out a freezer cooking agenda for when we get home.
    Keep up the good and encouraging posts. They are appreciated 🙂

    • I bet he was gonna do the same thing you wanted to do with them.. eat them!! Perhaps he was going to make his bedridden wife her favorite Egg Custard.. and ice cream.. and deviled eggs… and the list goes on. Just because he was old doesnt mean he doenst deserve to have as many eggs as he wanted. Perhaps its the only thing he knows how to cook.. and its the mainstay of his life.. Beyond that.. eggs last a very long time..contrary to what “the experts” may tell you.

  6. Just found your website and I hope to find some inspiration for my tight food budget of $150/month for a family of 4. Since we had a BBQ for the 4th, I spent a mostof our budget for the month and have $45 left. I think the freezer and new recipes will be my lifesaver this month!

  7. Patricia says:

    OK – I think I’m okay in this challenge. I bought only fruits, veggies and milk (oh yes and Arnold 7grain sandwich thins (they’re really the big pitas) – so I became a bit refrig-creative. For lunch yesterday I made sliced cucumber and roasted pepper pitas – they were delish – and we had a granddaughter sleepover so I pulled out some pizza dough and made pizza with stockpiled shredded moz cheese and crumpled sausage – then this morning we had Van’s Buckwheat & berry toaster waffles with fresh berries. Its hard being creative when up until now I’ve been the more “flying by the seat of my pants” type of gramma – and we do eat out somewhat rather than the freezer-find, defrost and cook type. I’m defrosting 1/4 leg portion of chicken and a boneless chicken breast – its going into the crockpot with a bit of low-sodium chicken broth – then divided into two, 1/4 chicken will go in a small pan with bbq sauce on it and be browned in the oven – while the breast will be cut in 1/2 and half will become a tiny chicken & dumplings and the other half will become chicken fried rice. So that takes care of 4 dinners. While digging out the chicken breast from the freezer I found a single serving of stouffers mac & cheese and pulled that out to eat with fresh frozen peas for lunch today. Yes I’m really enjoying this challenge. Tomorrow will be the defrosting of two thinish strip steaks that I will revive in the crockpot with carrots and served with broccoli and/or sugar snap peas – another two dinners! Then I begin searching for more in the freezer – you’ve heard of those people who live in poverty who have taken to “dumpster diving” – well I’ve begun freezer diving, thanking God as I go on my search, that I’m not headed to a dumpster.

  8. Vanessa B says:

    I have not been keeping close track of my spending for a few months and it has gotten increasingly out of control. Thank you for reminding me to be more deliberate with my purchases and track my spending more closely. I think I may have enough stock for a pantry challenge. I need to pull the reigns on my spending so I will have some money to spend on back to school in august. I’ll be following along.

  9. Here’s our plan for this week:
    I definitely spent more than I wanted to, but considering the fridge was next to empty, it’s not terrible. I’ll be minding my pennies a little more this week.

  10. Just love reading about how you feed your family. It does make me feel guilty about my spending, which is for food for just my husband and myself. I don’t do too badly, but nothing like as well as you do! I used to get The Tightwad Gazette, Amy Dacyczyn’s newsletter where she chronicled her frugal ways- she was also feeding 6 kids, and at the time was spending about $400/month. This was about 20 yrs ago, however, and in Maine, and she had a huge garden, so I am not comparing the 2 budgets. But I am curious as to whether or not you’ve read her suggestions on how to manage a food budget? Her method was to have a fully stocked pantry of goods purchased mostly on sale, and decide no earlier than 24 hours in advance what would be served for dinner. Her purchases typically didn’t differ much from month to month. I could never have followed her methods, I am way too lacksidasical, but was interested in your thoughts on her methods.

    • Jessica says:

      I tried to read her book a few years ago and just could not get into it. I should probably give it another try.

      And please don’t feel guilty. We all have different priorities, situations, and needs. I know someone who spends far less than we do, also with a large family, but she also has a large expensive home and we don’t. There are different ways for everyone. Just find YOUR happy place in it all.

  11. Jessica,
    I love this blog series and the idea of setting a weekly budget for the whole month. At the start of each month I know how much I have to spend on groceries and I usually find myself scrimping by the last week. It totally makes sense to set a weekly budget so I don’t run into that pitfall. I really need to try this when I get back to town!

  12. I’ve not done much shopping in July.. I stopped at Aldi & got a bunch of chips, bananas, milk, & bread.. That was a whole $9.. Then I went to Good Cents and got some Country ribs & 3 Rib eyes and I dont remember what else.. I cant find my receipts. The total was roughly $45.

    I picked up my 5th week of my CSA share and have plenty of veggies to get me thru the next week.. I paid for it in December so it doesnt come out of my current funds.

    I have to stay out of Costco though.. My girlfriend & I went one day last week & I spent $93 on mostly stuff I did not need. That store always “gets me!” Love it anyways. 😉

  13. Yogurt is much cheaper to make than to buy as long as you still have some yogurt left to use for the starter.

  14. So as I mentioned in another comment my husband and I are in for the month. We are trying to cut our 600$ grocery/dining/ dog food- treat budget to $200. On the 2nd we went grocery shipping and spent 85$ mostly on fruits, veggies, milk etc and DOG FOOD! Our two very large dogs eat super expensive dog food that is all natural not wheat, soy, corn etc. I was able to get 10$ off of their food because of a store coupon.

    We did a massive freezer inventory and kinda went over the pantry. I pulled everything that was close to expiring and put it out on the pantry in my face, so I would remember to use it. Then I used an old storage container in my fridge to put all pershiables that were in their way out. So this weekend has been a no food waste/ pantry/ no spend weekend! I feel like we will be able to do it this month, but it’s only 6 days in!

    Hopefully the 400$ or so we save can go to replenish the emergency fund after a 1400$ car repair popped up!!

    • Oops I said 200$ but our budget will be 300$ because we are including the fur babies. Hopefully it will work 🙂

  15. Heather M says:

    I actually tracked grocery spending since July 1. I spent $83.82 on a variety of food, mostly at Target and a regular grocery store. Next week I have to pick up a few things at Costco. I really need to be watching the spending, as we just purchased plane tickets to CA (we live by DC) to visit my family and also do college visits. We go every year, but the price of tickets still stings. Strangely, the nonstop(there are only two airlines that fly nonstop between the two, and they only have a few flights a day, so typically not cheap) flights were cheaper by at least $150/each than flights WITH stops! But we also had to buy a new printer, since ours just died. And, my car is making strange and not good sounds, so off to the mechanic tomorrow, where we’ll probably drop more $$, because it probably won’t be something covered under the warranty. Definitely a good time for a pantry challenge. Hoping to keep it well under $400 for the month.

  16. Danielle says:

    Laughing about your poorman’s parmesan. I started buying Romano at Costco because it was cheaper too, but turns out we prefer it actually.

  17. Since you shop at Walmart anyway, a great way to save some money and time is to price match all the best deals from the other grocery stores. Especially the ones that you don’t normally shop at! I need to get by with only buying milk this week as I have spent the bulk of my budget on our 4th of July BBQ so I have $45 left for the month!

  18. our local Kroger’s has 4 dz eggs/$5 thru wed 7/10. wondering if your local Ralph’s might perhaps have this offer early this week. these were not advertised as organic.

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