Grocery Geek, January Week Three

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Want a peek into our grocery cart? Here’s how I’m grocery shopping and feeding eight people on the cheap.

walmart jan 3

We’re winding up our third full week of the Pantry Challenge. My log dates don’t coincide with the dates on the calendar because I didn’t start reporting our meals until the 4th, however, these grocery geek reports reflect all our purchases in January. And no, we didn’t go over budget in December.

Our home has termites and will need to be fumigated in the next month or so, so this Pantry Challenge is doing double duty, to help us save money as well as save me from having to pack up a whole lot of food during the tenting. I figure the less we have on hand, the less I have to bag up.

The added benefit is that we’ll get to start fresh on the other side of the tent and buy groceries that we really want to buy. It’s amazing what grocery clutter can collect over time!

I’m feeling pretty good about our efforts so far this month. My grocery shopping has been basically what we need to round out what we already have or to save my mental health when the challenge gets tough.

Grocery Geek

Here’s the rundown on my shopping this week. As you read, keep in mind who and how I’m shopping:

My grocery shopping profile

To update you on my grocery geekiness:

  • I’m feeding eight people, ages 52, 43, 18, 15, 13, 11, 9, and 7. Five of those people are males. They eat A LOT!
  • I’m shooting for a budget of $1200, per the USDA food cost reports the last time I added up for people of our demographics. I live in Southern California where produce is cheap, but meat and dairy are not.
  • I’m trying to feed us mostly unprocessed foods, with a few “healthier” convenience items thrown in and a junk food splurge* here and there.
  • I work at home and teach six kids, so I don’t have as much time for fiddling in the kitchen as I would like.
  • I no longer use coupons on a regular basis, though I do love the coupons that Ralphs offers.
  • I have at least ten grocery stores within 5.5 miles of my house. It is easy (for better or for worse) to stop at several stores to get the best deals.
  • We mostly eat at home. My husband often packs lunch and breakfast to work, but sometimes has lunch out. We eat out for a date once a week. FishPapa takes one child out to “dinner with dad” once a week. We eat out as a family on average once a week.

Obviously, your mileage may vary. But, I’m constantly amazed at how well we eat without spending a crazy amount of money.

Here’s how the shopping went down this week:


For some reason it’s much easier for me to buy just a few things at Walmart than at other places. Maybe because I don’t really love being there; I just want to get out. So, since my grocery list (not including produce) was pretty small, that’s where I headed for those hopefully cheaper basics.

  • coffee $7.48
  • sandwich bread $2.82
  • pepperoni $3.86
  • eggs $4.78

Total spent: $27

sprouts jan 3


Sprouts is a great place for produce. Since that was the bulk of my list, I went there again this week to stock up:

  • baby carrots $0.88 each
  • strawberries $1.98 each
  • cucumbers $0.50 each
  • pears $0.98/lb
  • bananas $0.69/lb
  • olive oil $6.99
  • kiwi $3.98
  • org potatoes 5lb/$2.50
  • sparkling water $1.69
  • Larabars $1 each
  • frozen blueberries $2
  • org apples 3lb for $3.48
  • mushrooms $1.99
  • org tomatoes $1.98/lb (not sure why I paid this much. Huh.)
  • org romaine hearts 3/$2.99
  • cauliflower $0.98/lb
  • xlg avocados $0.98 each
  • jack cheese $1.99/lb
  • grapefruit $0.25 each
  • peppercorns on clearance $0.99
  • milk $2.99/gallon

Total spent: $88


We ended up needing two mid-week stops at Ralphs. I didn’t anticipate going through as much bread, cheese, and milk.

  • mini bagels $2.49 dozen
  • sandwich bread $2.49 
  • cheese $1.88 each

Total spent: $9

Ralphs again

FishPapa made this stop for me. He wanted chocolate Larabars. They weren’t on the list, but the guy is so good about sticking to the list 99.9% of the time, I am not complaining.

  • 2 gallons milk $2.49 each
  • 2 dozen eggs $2.49 each
  • Larabars $1 each

Total spent: $14

Total spent this week: $138

Total spent this month: $369

So, we’re doing pretty well! We’ve spent less than 1/3 of what we normally spent in a month! I know that next week will be much more since we will be out of proteins by then, but I’m really pleased that we’ve done so well AND not resorted to extra take-out meals. Yay!

Did you grocery geek out this week?

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  1. FYI–I just recalculated my family’s stats according to the USDA grocery costs. I aim for the thrifty plan as well. Last yr., according to my family make-up, the thrifty plan was about $1,300/mo. This year it’s $1,500 (as of January). I was surprised how much it had jumped. I know the kids are getting older, but I’m sure part of this increase is also due to increased grocery prices. So you may be pleasantly surprised if you recalculate your family’s numbers 🙂

    P.S.–You’re the reason I joined Periscope. I still don’t “get it” real well as far as interacting goes, but I’ve loved the ones I’ve watched so far! Good job!

  2. I had freezer white space yesterday but lost it today. Cooked black beans from a container on my counter. Used 2 cups full in my cowboy beans. Froze 4 containers. Also made 18 oatmeal chocolate chip muffins. Froze a dozen of them. I can’t figure out if I am winning or losing. We are eating and not purchasing much. I haven’t kept a fully accurate amount but estimate it must be around $ 40.00 this month give or take $ 5.00. It has to be a win. Oh, and the bean container is still on the counter but only half full. I texted son and ask if he likes couscous. Thank God he does and will stop and pick up the rest of mine! I have tried different recipes and none of us can say we like it. I hate to throw stuff out but I was close to it. Won’t be buying that again.
    Friday B – egg sausage sandwich
    L – Free Friday mac and Cheese plus LO peas. Peas are now all gone.
    S – BBQ chicken on hot dog buns and couscous casserole

    • Laurie in CA says:

      My family loves this couscous recipe (you can leave out any ingredients you don’t like but we found the flavors really married well):
      2 cups chicken broth
      2 tsp curry powder
      1/2 tsp. salt
      1 tblsp olive oil
      1 handful of golden raisins
      1 cup couscous
      2 scallions slice on an angle
      1 grated carrot
      1 orange peeled and chopped
      2 oz. sliced almonds
      bring broth to a boil with curry powder, salt, oil, and raisins. Place couscous in a bowl. Add boiling liquid to bowl and cover. Let couscous stand 10 minutes. Fluff couscous with a fork and combine with scallions, carrot, orange pieces, and almonds.

    • Audrey, would you mind posting your recipe for cowboy beans? I tried a recipe for them last week and we were not happy with the taste. I’ve found several recipes. The one that I made did not include any beef. Is that the difference?

      • Cowboy Beans
        1 # ground beef or turkey (sausage also works), 1/2 cup diced onion browned with burger, 1/4 cup each of ketchup, bbq sauce, and sugar, 2 TBL each of. molasses & mustard, 1 TBL chili powder, 1 tsp each of salt & pepper, 2 cups each of of 4 kinds of beans (I use what ever I have on hand. Most of mine are made from dried beans like navy red, black, pinto, or lima. Can use canned beans entirely. I added 1 can of baked beans today along with the first 3 dried beans mentioned.) It’s never the same every time. Then add about 6 to 8 slices of cooked bacon broken into pieces and 1/2 tsp liquid smoke. Simmer on stove or in your crock pot until flavors meld. It’s kinda a dump type of recipe and very good in a PC. There are many variations of it on recipe sites. It makes a lot so is good for pot lucks too.

    • A pantry challenge totally teaches you what not to buy. Also, you’re winning because you’ll be eating what you have (eventually), avoiding take-out and waste. 😉

  3. This was my best week so far this month.

    I spent $10.79 on a gallon of orange juice, 11 oz bag of New England coffee, two 8 oz bars of Montery Jack cheese, 2 canisters of Hershey’s Unsweetened Cocoa at .99/each, 2 boxes of Stove Top stuffing and a loaf of Mountain Bread.

    Sales, coupons and a free loaf of bread made this a great week of deals!

    Total spending during my JAN Pantry Challenge so far is $36.91.

  4. Laurie in CA says:

    Last Sunday I bought staples like milk, bread, eggs, tortillas and and some fruit and veg at Trader Joe’s for $40. I picked up a partial veg order from Abundant Harvest today for $22 and spent $11 at Costco on tomatoes and organic greens. That puts me at about $133 for the month. We should have plenty of protein and veg to get us through to next weekend. Hopefully we can make the milk and bread stretch. The USDA thrifty plan for our family is $527.30. I usually spend around $450. Even if I go slightly over $150 for the month I’ll be thrilled. I don’t think I need to stock quite so heavily on protein in the future. We had a lot of it in the freezer.

  5. Heather M says:

    So I ended up spending more than I wanted this week. Around $82. $48 at Trader Joe’s, on produce, dairy products, tortillas, eggs, etc. That was all planned. Then two separate trips to Target, the first $14, was planned.. OJ, sour cream, bread, etc. The second trip was NOT. $20 on junk. Call it succumbing to the pre-blizzard madness. I bought the guys a variety of chips, frozen pizza, etc. It was bad. We have plenty of food and are eating well. They’ve been enjoying all the junk. January totals at $209. I don’t think we will need much through the rest of the month. Maybe milk, green onions, and a few other items. I think we will stay under $250. Which is great. And I’ll continue into Frebruary, modifying a little more (as in, I’m buying salmon and shrimp and maybe a few other things). But still trying to use up the things that have been hanging around too long. Especially all the random stuff in the pantry. Otherwise it’ll end up tossed. 🙂

    • You’re doing great. If I was gonna be snowed in for three days, I woulda done the same.

      • Heather M says:

        Funny thing is, we ended up not driving the car anywhere until Tuesday, and the storm started on Friday early afternoon! And school was canceled the entire week, parking lots and traffic the rest of the week have been a mess, so it worked out! 🙂

  6. We had a great no-cost dinner tonight: pasta with herbs and garlic. I also baked some shrimp to add to it. We had all the ingredients already, thanks to freezing herbs in olive oil when we don’t use them all up. I’m so glad I learned to do that!

    My no-cost dinner savings was kind of un-done by some random house supplies that we ran out of and had to shop for, but we’ve definitely been clearing things out of the freezer.

    Cheers! : )

  7. I just read the food guidelines for a family of four with two adults and two kids ages 9 and 6. It has us at $648 a month for the thrifty plan. I normally spend around $800 which is lower than the low cost plan, so I guess I was already doing okay. This month I spent $500 due to doing a modified pantry challenge. It made a huge difference. Anyone spend $500 a month for a family of four? I would like to keep aiming for $500 a month. We do eat meat and rice and beans won’t really work for everyone in this house. Any thoughts? Thanks!

    • What will you adjust to get your spending down by $300? You just need to think about what was the excess you had on hand that made up that difference in this month’s spending. Does that make sense?

      • I think what helped the most was planning prior to shopping and using what we had. Also, I took most left overs to work. I also made a lot more homemade items. I may need to spend closer to $600, but I will keep tracking and get there. Thanks!

  8. The calculator has our family of 5 at $599.80/month for the thrifty plan. I aim for $500/month so that’s not too bad. This month I have spent $197 and should be good through the next weekend. I am so glad we did this any everyone was in board. I know I don’t need to spend like I usually do and we an still eat well. I just love grocery shopping! I didn’t clear out as much room in the freezer as anticipated but we had a decent amount of chicken from a Zaycon delivery last fall and a deer my husband took in November. Finishing the challenge with excitement!

  9. Our thrifty food cost for 4 is $626, which is about what I spend. This month, I’ve spent around $450 so far. However, we have been eating out alot less! My daughter wanted to get Chinese takeout on the way home today, I almost did. But, I decided not to and made it at home! I didn’t have the right noodles, but, she liked it, I think lol. She’s my picky one and she ate it all and didn’t complain, so, she either liked it or she was really hungry! Regardless how not great I’m doing at cleaning out my pantry, I find that I’m more mindful of waste and using up leftovers. That maybe the reason the pantry isn’t going down much, we’ve been eating leftovers regularly!
    Hopefully soon we’ll be moving. I plan on continuing the pantry challenge to eat it up so I don’t have to move it all. Thinking about it makes my head hurt, lol.

    • Jessica S says:

      Chinese food can get really expensive! We rarely ever have it and coincidentally we have had it 2 times this month alone! The first time was a local buffet and for 5 with only drinking water it was still $45+tip.UGH.. Last weekend inlaws came over and I thought they were buying dinner.. I was wrong and that was close to $30 in take out.

      Great job on using the leftovers and avoiding waste. that is HUGELY important! Even if the pantry slim down is taking longer than you thought.. you are saving money by not tossing food!

      • It can get expensive, especially for what it is! We always get lo mein, $15 for 2 plates of rice, noodles and a sprinkling of veggies and meat is a bit much. Mine cost maybe $4 and fed 4 of us.

    • Heather M says:

      We’re in the same boat not seeing a lot of food moving. We’ve been really good at eating leftovers and not wasting a thing. I really want to get older stuff out, so we’ll continue spending less and using what we have, just supplementing with fresh produce/dairy and the odd thing we run out of (Come February 1 I’m looking at more salmon, shrimp and bacon! can’t go forever without those!).

    • I am still working on perfecting the chinese food at home, thing. I’d love to know what you made.

      • I used Rachel Ray’s recipe as a base, the sauce minus the hot sauce, I’m a wimp when it comes to hot stuff, lol. And I just added some leftover pork lion and some vegetables that needed to be used. I sautéed an onion, carrots, some cabbage and some sad looking in bok choi, then I added the meat until heated thru. Then I added cooked udon noodles and the sauce and toss until coated and heated through. Here’s her recipe, I’ve made it a few times verbatim, it makes a ton of food, so I don’t make it very often. The way I did it, we had no leftovers. Also, udon noodles are ok, but, are a bit wimpy for lo mein, I prefer lo mein noodles, but, used what I had.

  10. Wow, your prices at sprouts is amazing! We don’t have a sprouts:( But we do have whole foods and even though I can’t afford most things their fish is great. I stopped eating farm raised anything and tilapia a long time ago, but whole foods does a good job with salmon and I’m eating farm raised and its 6.99 a lb.

  11. Tastycook says:

    So far this week I spent $18 on regular supplies for the 2 of us.

    I did however spend about $30 on extras as we are having friends for supper tonight before they leave for a 6 week vacation. This included $10 alone for mushrooms but seeing as I was at the mushroom factory I bought lots of extras for us to use and freeze. The $30 also included local farm raised chicken which is so much nicer than store bought. so I really think it is worth it. I will have extras from our meal tonight to feed us at least one more meal.

    Including my splurge I have only spent $150 for the month – less than half of my usual. I certainly count that as a win!!!

    • What is the mushroom factory? I’m fascinated!

      • Tastycook says:

        The mushroom factory is where mushrooms are grown locally by a big name mushroom seller. They have a small outlet store – the mushrooms are great and about half price compared to the grocery store.

        Unfortunately it is about a 15 mile drive, a pretty drive but all along country lanes.

  12. Yesterday I had 2 eggs (free from my daughter’s chickens) and two slices of whole grain bread (from freezer)
    Lunch – a can of Progresso Beef Barley soup – am addicted to this soup – with crusty Italian bread (from freezer)
    Dinner – 1/2 chicken breast chopped in fried rice (left over rice from chili) w/romaine salad
    snack – about 12 semi-sweet morsels from the freezer

    My freezer is still packed – it will take me all next month to use up the meats. I buy only milk and a few veggies and bananas and, sometimes a cantaloupe) (my daughter has a jam and marmalade business so to supplement what I buy I get some berries, citrus and grapes from her when she has extra).

  13. Today I am making up our beef barley soup. Using the other half of my Hamburger package bought at 30% off. I have 8 buns ready to go in the oven, mixed in the bread machine, and proofed in the oven before I heated it. Along with the soup we will have roast beef and mustard buns. Dh doesn’t like vegetables in his sandwiches ( bunwiches) so I put a lot in the beef barley soup, with the help of a cup and a half of mixed frozen vegetables, 2 chopped med. onions, 1 chopped potato, about a glass of clamato juice ( finished jug), couple of bay leaves, and a tin of mexican tomatoes ( usually just use stewed tomatoes , but out. and won’t buy more till there is a good sale).

  14. I wish I had the same pricing here in Hawaii! So far, I spent $630 of my $1000 monthly grocery budget while on the pantry challenge. If I can find a way to manage this, I?d like to get our budget to $800/month, downsize my pantry and waste less food!.

    • The way I figure. If you saved $300 this month, you know that you can lower each month by $25. That’s the amount of surplus that was gathering in your pantry. But, if you are more intentional with your shopping and using things up, you could lower it more.

  15. Judie Ashford says:

    Does anyone use a bread machine on a regular basis? I haven’t bought bread (OK, an occasional single jalapeño bagel) for many years, and wonder if a responsible child could be assigned the duty to keep the household in bread and sandwich rolls. If there are several children, a rotating schedule might work.

    From what I see of bread prices, this could be a big money saver, and eliminate those grocery runs for bread alone.

    Same for yogurt. It is dead simple to make for just the cost of the milk and a little electricity. I incubate mine in a thermal cooker, which takes no power at all, and it turns out FAB-ulous!

    • I have had a bread machine for a little over a year now. We use a couple of times a week and I have taught my 11 year old and 13 year old daughters to use it. Since it is not hot during the assembly process, I think as long as your kids can read the recipe and measure accurately they should be able to make bread. I do not let my daughters remove the bread when it is done. I think it would be too easy for them to get a burn taking out the hot pan.

    • Tastycook says:

      I have used a bread machine for well over 10 years and wouldn’t be without it. I have made bagels but still usually buy them. My only concern with children being responsible for breadmaking would be the need for accurate measuring. I only use the dough cycle if the ABM – shape manually and bake in the oven – that may not be wise, depending on the age of the child involved! Could be a good way of involving children in the kitchen.

    • We did this during our sugar fast a few years ago. My daughter helped me load the machine or I assigned one of the boys to do it. However, our bread machine broke and I haven’t replaced it.

  16. Week three of The Pantry Challenge. First time for us. Does help with meal planning and being mindful of what we already have.. No great savings yet, but the last trip we definitely got much more for our money. Lynda in Charlotte NC

  17. Michalene says:

    I spent 73 dollars on groceries which included 4 pounds of chicken wings, produce, eggs, chips, English muffins, yogurt, deli meat, cheese, and some clearance rolls.

    The pantry challenge has made me use up some unhealthy things that I could very easily buy organic but bought because it was cheap. Reevaluating that, I’m happier to spend the extra money and buy everything organic when available, and then only buy conventional. There are so many things that I can easily buy organic, and yes even though my bill will be higher, I feel better about what I’m putting into my family’s body.

  18. I didn’t track my expenditures. But I spent a lot less than normal.

    Tried to use the USDA food budget site. Thrifty seems to say my family of 5 (50, 46, 17, 15, 9) should spend 1063.50 monthly on the Thrifty Plan, and 2687.20 on the Liberal plan. I must be calculating incorrectly because that’s an insane number to me.

    • Yes, the liberal plan is always INSANE. I have no idea what those people are eating. It used to be that the thrifty plan seemed extravagant to me, but not with 4 teen boys….

    • Not sure what gender your children are, but using one of each for the teens, I got a Thrifty price of $882.90 (parents 387.40, male teen 172.90, female teen 165.20, any gender 9yo 157.40) and Liberal price of $1741.30 (parents 773.60, male teen 351.20, female teen 303.50, any gender 9yo 313.00)

      Some of their calculations make me shake my head. Why is that cost for a family of 2 is higher than cost for a single male and single female in the same stated age range? Dunno. MY food budget is about 60% of what they say my thrifty plan should be. I’m careful about what I buy, and I shop sales, but the kid’s a meativore and huge seafood lover so it is not all rice and beans here. Maybe they calculate prices as if everyone lived in Hawaii.

      • I can relate to a family of two being more expensive than a single male, or female of same age. If my hubs is out of town, sometimes I’m happy eating a bowl of popcorn for dinner. He would never do that. 🙂

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