Updated: Jan 6, 2021
For the month of March, Kenton and I set out to try a variety of methods of saving money on groceries. We took on a different challenge each week. The goal was to save enough money to cover our food costs for a trip we have planned for the fall.
When I planned for us to do this month of grocery challenges I did not imagine that the COVID-19 situation would affect our lives so much, especially in the grocery shopping department. It truly was a struggle to find a balance between wanting to be prepared, wanting to complete the challenges and recognizing the importance of frugality at a time like this.
So with that said, here is a summary of the challenges and how they went.
Week One: shopping our pantry. This involved taking stock of all the food we already owned and planning our week’s meals around that. This is a fantastic practice that admittedly I need to work on. It’s an easy way to save money, waste less food and keep your pantry and fridge organized. This is a practice I think is feasible for anyone to incorporate into their weekly meal planning.
Week Two: $55 food budget. This was the most challenging week. I had planned to cut our week’s food budget in half ($60) but then after I planned all the meals and figured out all the costs I realized we could do it for even less. For this week I was not allowed to use anything from the pantry, fridge or freezer that hadn’t been accounted for in the $55 budget. We ate pasta, beans and rice, and soup for our dinners/lunches and eggs, toast, and/or oatmeal for breakfasts. I made a very simple granola to eat with yogourt and simple oatmeal bites with peanut butter and chocolate chips. For fruits and vegetables we had bananas, apples, oranges, strawberries, carrots and frozen mixed vegetables. I enjoyed planning it out, figuring out how much of everything we’d need and how much that would cost. The take away from this experience is that it is possible to eat mostly whole foods on a strict budget. If you need to save money over a short period of time you might be able to cut your grocery budget in half if you are willing to take the time to plan everything out. This practice can help you figure out which foods are most efficient for your budget and your health. If we do this again I would plan for less grains since we didn’t use them all and use the extra money for more vegetables or protein.
This is what our pantry looked like for the $55 week. Spices were not included in the cost.
Week Three: roasting a whole chicken. As a tribute to Sunday dinners growing up and to make use of a chicken that was given to us, we decided to base a week’s worth of meals off one chicken. It was a 10lb chicken so we had plenty to spare. I have always known this is a great way to save money on meat but I just can’t seem to be bothered to do it. Mostly it’s the inconvenience of having to take all the meat off the bones that deters me. Luckily for me, after a week of not much meat during the $55 budget week Kenton was so excited to eat chicken that he offered to take all the meat off by himself. After that, the week was a breeze and we had delicious chicken based dinners, including my Hearty Bean and Vegetable soup (a recipe I made up last year during our $70 week challenge.) Basically, my Mom and Mother In Law were right. It is smarter and cheaper to buy the whole chicken rather than the boneless skinless chicken breasts I usually get. This is a practice you can easily incorporate into your meal planning to create cheap and healthy meals.
Week Four: buying only sale items. Aside from a few exceptions for staples that rarely go on sale (bananas, oats, milk and eggs) I had no grocery list other than meat on sale, produce on sale, grains on sale, dairy products on sale. I am a planner so I usually go into the grocery store with a list of every single ingredient I need to buy to make all the meals I’ve planned. Often when I make my plans I forget to consult the sales flyer. This challenge was meant for me to see what it was like to shop first, buying only items that were on sale, and then plan meals using those ingredients. It was interesting. I had fun scouting out all the sales items and it got me to explore outside my usual produce and meat choices. I even enjoyed getting creative with the items I got to make meals. However, I think I can cook better, more involved meals when I have a plan.
Conclusion: After testing all these methods I think that the best thing for most people, including us, is a combination of all these methods. See what you have in your pantry. Then see what’s on sale (maybe a whole chicken.) Plan your meals around that or use the sale items in next week’s meal plan if you can. If you’re in a financial bind or you just want to test your grocery budgeting limits you could try cutting your budget to a specific amount.
Money Saved: We saved a total $177 on food this month (even though I broke down one day and stocked up on essentials due to my fear of being unprepared in this pandemic. I also locked myself out of my car in the parking lot that day. Probably serves me right). If I hadn’t done that we would have saved even more, but I am still glad we chose to replenish our freezer and pantry a bit after depleting them through these challenges.
With the money we saved by doing these challenges combined with our usual grocery/ dining out budget I think we saved enough money to cover the food expenses for our upcoming trip in the fall. Here’s hoping the pandemic is cleared up by then.
Have you tried any grocery challenges? What do you find to be the most challenging part of saving money on groceries? I’d love to hear from you!