—Choose basic, versatile foods.
—Opt for store brands and items with price reductions whenever possible.
I thought staying within the budget would be easy because I usually spend less than $30 when I shop — but that’s just for the work week. For this challenge, I wanted to buy a variety of things so I could cook diverse meals. The challenge for me was coming up with different recipes and stretching out my groceries as much as possible.
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I had an idea of what I wanted to buy because I did some research on things that keep you full — sweet potatoes were suggested, so I made sure to buy a bag. I didn’t make a full grocery list so I could be flexible.
I went to Trader Joe’s for everything except meat, which I knew would be cheaper at my local grocery store chain. I had previously seen that Ralphs had great deals on meats, so I bought meat there. I looked for different deals, but for the most part, Trader Joe’s was more affordable. I’m familiar with shopping there so I know which things are cheap and which items are not worth buying.
Rowanne’s frugal shopping tips
—Pick filling foods.
—Research which items are cheaper at certain grocery stores.
What I bought at the grocery store
Because I ride my bike instead of driving, I chose to go to the grocery store closest to where I live.
- Wheat tortillas: $1.79
- Cheese: $2.99
- Rotelle pasta: $2.79
- Two cans of pasta sauce: 87 cents each
- Eggs: $1.89
- Romaine lettuce: $1.29
- 0.74 pounds of red apples: 73 cents
- Yellow bell pepper: $1.25
- Orange bell pepper: $1.25
- 1.31 pounds of Russet potatoes: $1.30
- Haas avocado: $1.99
- Tofu: $1.79
- Beans: $1.00
- A supermarket discount card provided $1.98 in savings.
- Total: $21.80
Biggest splurge: One avocado for $1.99. I bought it to eat as a mid-week treat.
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Best buy: Store-brand tofu for $1.79. Tofu can be prepared in many ways, and it’s the perfect protein for cheap, vegetarian meals.
Item I wanted but couldn’t afford: Granola bars. I usually rely on them for a quick snack when I’m out and about.
I stuck to Trader Joe’s for most of my purchases and went to Ralphs just for meat.
Trader Joe’s purchases:
- Two cartons of eggs: $1.39 each
- Marinara sauce: $1.39
- Brown jasmine rice: $2.99
- Frozen broccoli florets: $1.49
- 10-inch flour tortillas: $2.29
- Linguine pasta: 99 cents
- Spaghetti pasta: 99 cents
- 2 pound bag of sweet potatoes: $1.79
- Shredded Mexican cheese blend: $3.49
- Ralphs purchases:
- Taco seasoning: 49 cents
- Ground turkey: $5.99
- Total: $24.68
Biggest splurge: Ground turkey for $5.99. But I actually wish I had budgeted for more meat.
Best buy: Two cartons of eggs that lasted a long time. You can do so much with eggs — you can scramble them, make breakfast burritos, omelets, hard-boiled eggs and quiches.
Item I wanted but couldn’t afford: I really wanted snacks, though I did make chips out of the sweet potato.
What I ate every day
For breakfast, I would make something pretty basic like eggs or I would eat the free bagels we have at my office a couple of times a week. For lunches, I’d have a basic quesadilla with just cheese and tortillas, a meal that’s tasty and cheap.
In my research I found that grating your own cheese is cheaper than buying it already grated, so I bought the cheapest block of cheese from Ralphs, and I cut off a little square to grate for each meal.
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A typical dinner would be pasta with garlic and herb sauce with diced bell peppers and salt, pepper and paprika for more flavor, or quesadillas or burritos with black beans, bell peppers, cheese and egg or tofu. For a snack, I ate part of an apple. Apple skin is made of pectin, which reduces appetite, which I needed because I was eating a lot less than usual. Usually, I’ll have a Cliff bar during the day, but I couldn’t afford it. I usually have dessert, but even a bag of frozen berries was too expensive.
Chase’s cooking tips:
—Add different spices to basic meals to diversify flavors.
—Grate your own cheese to save money.
—Bring dinner leftovers for lunch the next day.
I made breakfast burritos for the mornings for the whole week using ground turkey, cheese and tortillas. For lunch, I ate fried rice using brown rice with fried egg, or leftovers of whatever I made the night before. For dinner, I usually ate something a bit heavier because I tend to get really hungry at night — that’s when I get my snack cravings — so I usually ate pasta or a brown rice.
On the weekends I tried to be a little bit more creative, like making a sweet potato hash with a fried egg or a broccoli omelet or broccoli quiche. The only snacks that I’ve had — aside from the free snacks at my office, which have been helpful, have been the sweet potato chips.
Rowanne’s cooking tips:
Make breakfast burritos ahead of time and freeze them for a quick, filling breakfast.
Take advantage of office snacks and other free food available to you like free samples at Costco.
The biggest challenges of surviving on a $25 grocery budget
The weekends were the most difficult for me. I usually meal prep on Sunday night and am out and about all weekend, so starting on Saturday was hard. It’s almost impossible to be social because you can’t go out at all. I’ve also been hungry. I ride my bike to and from work, which is a workout, so I’d get really hungry when I got home from work. I read that when you’re hungry, it’s usually because you’re dehydrated, so if I did feel hungry at all I would just drink water and distract myself by doing something else like going for a walk or reading.
Chase’s survival tip:
—Drink water to keep hydrated and stave off hunger.
My challenge was coming up with different things to eat every day. My meals were satisfying, but repetitive, which gets boring. I usually go out for tacos every week, so I really missed my tacos. I’ve been craving foods that I usually eat but haven’t been able to.
Rowanne’s survival tip:
—Research diverse recipes that use the same basic ingredients to prevent boredom and cravings.
Best advice to save money on groceries
After surviving on a shoestring grocery budget for a week, these were Chase and Rowanne’s biggest takeaways:
Chase’s money-saving tips:
—Buy pasta — a single 2 pound bag can make 16 servings.
—Make a definitive shopping list.
—Pay with cash so you are forced to stay within your budget.
Rowanne’s money-saving tips:
—Add the cost of each item in your phone calculator as you shop to see how much you are spending and weed out expensive items.
—Freeze your leftovers.
—Pick foods that you don’t mind eating every day.