Budget // Groceries + Meal Plan // Week Three & Four

I was going so strong with our budget and meal plan and then I decided to do a two week meal plan…

The initial idea was as a result of re-reading Ashley’s post about shopping for two weeks and saving money.  I figured that while I haven’t always been successful at two week meal plans and shopping that I would take on the challenge and see if I could indeed save money. The second motivator was that I needed to make a Trader Joe’s trip and since I try to only go there every 4-6 weeks it would be the perfect timing.

Here is how that entire plan failed:

Fail 1. Well my trip to Trader Joe’s had me going off my list and picking up extras that I hadn’t planned on.

Fail 2. I decided to go shopping at Fred Meyer first thing on Saturday morning so that I could have my shopping out the way and we could just enjoy the weekend. Plus we had no food for lunch. Well that was a TERRIBLE idea as nothing was restocked and I ended up having to make a lot of substitutions.

Fail 3. Due to Fail #2 I wasn’t was well stocked with fruits and veggies as we normally are and that resulted in us going out to eat twice this past week – both times for lunch.

Fail 4. I ended up going over budget for these two weeks.

Fail 5. I ended up doing a lot of extra grocery shopping because of our lack of produce from Fred Meyer.

Fail 6. We ended up eating out more in the last 10 days than we had in the previous three weeks.

Fail 7. I didn’t follow all of Ashley’s suggestions/”rules” to really make two weeks work.

Fred Meyer: $46.53

Bob’s Red Mill: $15

Trader Joe’s: $86.47

PSU Farmers Market: $16

Whole Foods: $31.84 + $35

Plus I might still need to pick up a few more things before the weekend.

Total: $219.84

What I Learned

Two week grocery/meal plans give me anxiety. Seriously. I felt so anxious shopping the first week because I knew I would still need to pick up some produce the second week that I just didn’t want to go over budget. In the end I ended up abandoning my meal plan all together and this week we are just winging it based on the few items I picked up at Whole Foods and the Farmers Market and what we had leftover.

Trips to Trader Joe’s need to happen more frequently and be more focused so I don’t pick up non-essentials. That being said I need to leave a few empty spots on my grocery list so I can pick up “treat”/non-list items without going over budget.

I really enjoy writing meal plans each week and doing my shopping each week. There is something therapeutic to me about going through this process. I also seem to save more money, although only time will tell with that one.

While Ashley had some good points two week meal plans/shopping trips are not for me. However, regardless of whether you shop once per week or once per month her tips apply so check out her post.


Budget // Groceries + Meal Plan // Week Two

I am really excited to share our most recent grocery trip! I seriously can’t believe that we came UNDER budget! Despite last week being an off week due to sickness and well just being bad at our “one grocery day” rule we still managed to make out well.

After checking out the sales flyers for our local grocery stores we decided that this week we were going to try Fred Meyer. This would be our first grocery trip ever to Fred Meyers and well we were a little nervous. Fred Meyer is a more conventional grocery store and I would compare it to Loblaws/Superstore for my Canadian friends or Shaws or Price Chopper for my East Coast friends (unfortunately I’m not familiar with any other regional grocery stores). Anyways as things go with a conventional grocery store you have to be a little more picky, keep yourself focused on your list and sometimes you just have to search a little harder until you become familiar with the store.

Upon first walking into the store I was immediately impressed with how clearly laid out and marked the organic produce was. The best part? The organic produce looked good and it was in some cases significantly cheaper than Whole Foods. Now I know the true test will be in the taste but for now I’m just loving that it’s less expensive. Also because I did check the flyers before going I knew that there were a number of organic items on sale. Also another thing I love about bigger grocery chains is that they mark down their produce when they are a day or two from the best buy date and they mark down spotty bananas aka the best bananas for freezing!

Once we left the produce area that’s when the panic started to set in; I mean where to next?? I headed straight to the ‘natural’ food section to check out what they had and while they have their own organic brand that was reasonably prices most everything else was around the same or often more than Whole Foods. I didn’t really need a ton of pantry items but I did pick up some of their organic tofu.

The only things left on my list to find were organic canned beans that weren’t $3.00 per can and I had to do some searching but finally I found them! I also located an extra large bottle of Frank’s hot sauce for Neil.

Overall it was a good experience and assuming everything taste good and holds up well for the week I think we will be making a Fred Meyer trip more often! Continue on to see what we bought and our meal plan…

Groceries Week 2 Random
Bulk Pecans $3.20
Bulk Nutritional Yeast $4.27
Bulk Lundberg Short Grain Brown Rice $1.36
Mushrooms (14oz) $3.69
Yellow Onions (3lbs) $1.58
Organic Tofu $1.79

Groceries Week 2 Beans
Frank’s $4.53
Organic Chickpeas x4 $4.00
Organic Great Northern Beans x2 $2.00

Groceries Week 2 Greens
Organic Red Leaf Lettuce $2.29
Organic Zucchini $1.31
Organic Romaine $1.79
Asparagus $1.78

Banana Almond Baked Oatmeal Cups
Groceries Week 2 Fruits & Veg
Organic Avocado x2 $2.50
Organic Green Onions $0.89
Organic Cauliflower $3.72
Organic Red Pepper $2.03
Fresno Chili Pepper $0.25
Organic Garlic (not pictured) $0.77
Organic Red Cabbage $2.55
Organic Cherry Tomatoes $2.50

Groceries Week 2 Fruit
Organic Bananas $1.75
Organic Extra Ripe Bananas $1.82
Organic Kiwi x4 $2.00
Medjool Dates $6.49
Tangelos $2.55

Granola $2.99
Applesauce Packets $2.99
Organic Raisin Boxes $1.99

Total: $71.38

Week 1: $90.92
Random Purchases: $40.84
Grand Total for Weeks 1&2 (February 27-March 14): $203.14

Menu Plan:
Thursday: Homemade Lentil Soup
Friday: Homemade Pizza
Saturday: Lentil Pasta
Sunday: Lunch: Vegan Caesar Salad; Dinner: Cashew Tofu
Monday: Quinoa Bowls with Creamy White Beans & Zucchini
Tuesday: Brown Rice Bowls with Veggies and Caesar Sauce
Wednesday: Roasted Cauliflower & Chickpea Bowls (inspired by this recipe)
Thursday: Brown Rice Bowls with Veggies with Tofu

Vegan Banana Almond Baked Oatmeal Cups

Lunches: Leftovers

Oatmeal Raisin Bites
Nutty Date Balls
Veggies w/Hummus

Budget // Groceries + Meal Plan Realities

So last weeks meal plan didn’t go quite as I had planned. We ended up with some extra leftovers and we were all hit by a round of sickness so things changed slightly. I would love to share that things went just as planned but that isn’t the reality and sometimes that is just what happens. We have for the most part stuck to the groceries we purchased and haven’t made any crazy changes to the meals just minor ones or shifted our days.


Last Week’s Meal Plan (see here)

What we really ate last week:

Friday: Planned Meal
Saturday: Planned Meals
Sunday: Breakfast: As Planned Lunch: Hoisin Stir Fried Noodles with Veggies & Edamame; Dinner: As Planned
Monday: Lunch: Neil- Leftover Curry & E & I -Cauliflower & Quinoa Bites with Marinara; Dinner: Pizza (we had leftover dough and toppings) and Green Salad
Tuesday: Lunch: Neil- Leftover Quinoa Bites & Green Salad; E & I – Soup; Dinner: Homemade Lentil Soup, Homemade Bread & Green Salad
Wednesday: Lunch: Smoothies; Dinner: Tofurky Sandwiches

So we ended up doing a little extras shopping this week that we hadn’t planned to and it doesn’t fit into our “rules” but we also didn’t plan on all of us getting sick, especially Edith. So we ended up picking up a few things to help with hopefully healing us all and I picked up a few extras <– this is why one shopping day per week is important.

I had also planned to go to our co-op to use our monthly 10% off but I think I will wait until the following weeks order when we have our budget replenished. Side note: Our budget is based on paydays so $230 1st-15th and $230 for 15th-Last Day of Month; this helps us to stay on track better so that we don’t go ahead and blow all of our grocery budget in the first half of the month. 

New Season’s $40.84 (unplanned purchases)

Frozen Wild Blueberries $4.99
Organic PB $6.99
Frozen Organic Corn $1.00
Frozen Organic Broccoli $1.00
Frozen Organic Peas $1.00
Frozen Organic Cauliflower $1.00
Organic Red Bell Pepper $2.39
Bulk Mushrooms $4.49
Tofurky $2.50
Bubbies Pickles $6.99
Sourdough Bread $4.99
Tomatoes $3.50

As you can see stopping in to get a few cold and flu items adds up because we end up picking up a few other things while we are there. I would like to note we also picked up white vinegar to clean our humidifier, natural vapor rub, raw honey, lemons, popsicles, squeeze packets for Edith and chamomile tea but that came out of our “medication” and cleaning budget.

So we are down to about $98 for our groceries for the next week which means I’ll have to get creative in the kitchen. I had initially planned our menu through Wednesday but because we went a little off schedule and we have been sick I am not planning on doing any major shopping until Saturday at the earliest.

Extended Meal Plan

Thursday: Soup
Friday: TBD
Saturday: TBD

Breakfast will be oatmeal or smoothies for the remainder of the week and lunches will be leftovers.

Budget // Groceries // Week One

I hope you have been enjoying this series so far on our budgeting plan for groceries. If you need to catch up here is my first post on buying Conventional v. Organic and my second on how we set a budget.

First things first here is our meal plan for the coming week. I have decided to try grocery shopping on Thursdays so that we can leave our weekends free to do other things. So these are our planned dinners and potential lunches based on leftovers. For breakfast most mornings will be oatmeal, chia pudding or quinoa hot cereal.

Meal Plan

Friday: Edith: Edamame, Black Beans & Hilary’s Bites; Neil & I: Black Bean Nachos & Wings (date night)
Saturday: Lunch: Chickpea and Sweet Potato Curry; Dinner: Homemade Bean Burgers & Fried Brussels Sprouts
Sunday: Breakfast: Biscuits & Gravy; Lunch: Leftovers; Dinner: Pizza Party
Monday: Edamame Hummus & Veggie Nori rolls
Tuesday: Crockpot Lentil Penne
Wednesday: Cashew Tofu

When I decided to go grocery shopping this week I decided to check the local flyers and found that New Season’s is having a huge birthday sale so there were a lot of good deals to take advantage of. I also took our pizza party into consideration and decided that Trader Joe’s had a number of the items I needed for this as well as for a few other recipes. Now we had planned to try out some new stores this week but based on sale flyers these seemed to be the best based on our menu for the week. So here is the breakdown of what I purchased and spent.


Trader Joe’s $26.45

Penne $0.99
Organic Tofu $1.49
White Button Mushrooms $1.69
White Button Mushrooms $1.69
Decaf Irish Breakfast Tea $2.49
Organic Sweet Onions $2.49
Vegan Mozzarella Shreds $3.49
Dried Green Lentils $1.69
Organic English Cucumber $2.29
Cannelini Beans- canned $0.89
Light coconut milk $0.99
Shiiitake Mushrooms $2.79
Crimini Mushrooms $1.79
Green onions $0.99
Red Onion $0.69

New Season’s $53.70

Almond Milk Unsweetened Original $2.99
Chocolate Bar $2.00
Chocolate Bar $2.00
Pepperoncini $2.99
Muir Glen Pasta Sauce $2.50
Muir Glen Pasta Sauce $2.50
Muir Glen Pasta Sauce $2.50
Nori Sheets $2.99
Organic Mini Corn Chips $1.00
Organic Mini Corn Chips $1.00
Nutritional Yeast $1.68
Organic Popcorn $3.15
Earth Balance $5.49
Organic Frozen Corn $1.00
Organic Frozen Peas $1.00
Organic Shelled Edamame $2.99
Organic Baby Kale $2.99
2.5lb Bag Organic Apples $4.99
Bag of 4 Organic Avocados $2.99
Organic Orange Bell Pepper $1.80
2 large Organic Yellow Potatoes $2.07
1/2lb Organic Brussels Sprouts $1.13 <– because Edith was insistent on buying them
Bag Refund -$0.05

New Season’s $11.77 (not photographed)

Orange Juice $4.99
Rolled Oats $4.39
Organic Salsa $2.39

Grand Total $90.92

Note we had groceries leftover from the previous week that are also being used in our meal plan and are not included in expenses. 

As you can see we are $24 under budget for the week! That is a huge success and honestly I don’t know the last time we spent under $100 for a weeks worth of groceries. Now I know I have some items leftover from this past week but I’m still pretty proud of myself that things worked out this way. As you can see we made a second New Season’s trip and that was due to my forgetting to put a few things on the list and Edith being a bit wild when I took her grocery shopping with me. I am actually thinking that I might try going grocery shopping after dinner on Thursdays so that I can go alone.

Budget // Groceries // Setting a Budget

We have been all over the place when it comes to deciding on a budget for groceries. Part of this fluctuation in budget amount is due to life events and jobs. When we dropped from two incomes to one we had to reevaluate. When we moved cross country and used up a chunk of our savings we once again had to reevaluate. When we decided to move before our lease was up we once again had to reevaluate (yes I see a trend of less than wonderful decisions but we are happy and doing well so that’s what matters). Now we have a second baby on the way and a big trip coming up so it’s time to once again take a look at our budget and with that how much of it we are spending on food.

In general I am not fond of divulging the actual numbers of our budget because really it’s not the business of anyone else however I make an exception for groceries. I think that sharing the actual numbers of a grocery budget can really be helpful for others especially when you are looking to save money and still eat well. Up until now we have been spending anywhere from $550-800 per month on groceries. You may be wondering why there is such a huge gap and I’ll tell you that gap is in large part due to the desire to make more complicated meals, heading to the market to pick up one or two things that “we just have to have right now” and buying more luxury items (prepackaged items, vegan faux meats, bagels and tofutti every weekend).

After really taking a hard look at what we are buying each month (we started this in January) we have come to see that we are buying items that are necessities, are a little more expensive than we need to and that we need to make some smarter decisions when it comes to shopping in general. As I wrote in my last post we are looking at buying a few more conventional items and we are also spending the next month or so trying out some new to us grocery stores in our area. We have also decided to stick to a strict grocery budget. While it is going to be a challenge at first I know after the first few weeks we will find our groove and it will start to become more natural.

Our Current Grocery Budget & How We Came To It

So as I said above we have been spending $550-800 per month on groceries and I’ll be honest up until January it was definitely closer to the $800 per month side of things. We just can’t be spending that type of money right now. We have a baby (including some birth costs) and a trip to save up for so we really need to make cuts. So our current budget is $460. I know a huge difference from the $800, although for the past two months we have been more at $550-580 so not as big of a drop from that.

How did we decide on this? Well basically we decided meals should be on average $5 (or less) and with seven days in a week and three meals per day plus snacks.

($5 per meal x 7 days x 3 meals) + $10 for snacks = $115/week

Our grocery budget does not include alcohol, coffee or other household items (paper towels, toilet paper, laundry detergent, toothpaste, ect) those all come from different budget categories. A meal for the most part serves 4-6 people so some days we have enough for leftovers for all of us and most days we just have enough leftovers for Neil to take to lunch. Also $5 is just an average; some meals cost us $10 and others will cost $2-3.

How are we going to make this work? That I tell you is the test of the month. We haven’t been on this low of a budget since it was just the  two of us but now we have a toddler who can eat just as much as we can and as this pregnancy progresses so does my appetite. In the end I really think we can make it work. Some of the steps we are taking to be successful include:

  • Checking out the weekly flyers for the stores in our area.
  • Taking advantage of coupons including Chinook Book coupons.
  • Taking advantage of our monthly 10% we get for being members at our co-op.
  • Menu planning and making a grocery list.
  • Being flexible with our shopping ie. being prepared to swap out items on our list for less expensive items.
  • Buying items in bulk to eat all week when it’s more economical. For example: buying a 3lb bag of organic apples for the week at $1.50/lb rather than buying a wide variety of fruit at $2-3/lb
  • Eating less diverse meals throughout the week. This one is a bit of a follow up to the step above but by choosing to use the same ingredients in different ways throughout the week I really think we can save some money.
  • Create simple meals most nights of the week. This could mean a variation on beans, greens and grains a few nights during the week. The thing is simple and cheap doesn’t have to mean unappetizing and unhealthy. This also doesn’t mean you can’t have a fun meal or two during the week either. Plan a night where you make a really awesome homemade pizza or a special themed meal but make the other nights of your week more simple so you can afford these fun nights.
  • Buy less convince foods and novelty items.
  • Make more from scratch when possible and when it makes sense. There is no doubt that homemade bread, chia pudding, bbq sauce, soups, spaghetti sauce, and so many other items can be made so much cheaper and healthfully at home rather than buying prepared.
  • Only go to the grocery store once per week. The more we travel to the store the more we pick up and the more we spend. One trip to pick up everything on the list and that is it. We eat what we have and wait until the next shopping day comes around before buying more. This will hopefully prevent over spending and the wasting of food.

So this is how we are going to do it. Now the true test will be how successful we are in the end. Things to note while we are planning to stay in our $115/week budget this is an average for the week as we are prepared to spend more some weeks when staple items are needed and less other weeks when we are not in need of staples. I am planning to share our weekly grocery haul and will share our current weeks in the next day or two along with details about or first shopping trip to a new store.

Do you have a set grocery budget? How do you stick to your budget?

Budget // Groceries // Conventional v. Organic

One of our family goals for the new year is to get ourselves on a solid budget. We have tried budgeting for years but half way through the month we seem to fall off our budget and then wonder where did all that money go? Now that we have second baby on the way and a pretty big (currently the location is a secret) trip coming up we are feeling a lot of pressure from ourselves to really stick to a budget. Over on Naturally Family we are discussing our budgeting process in more detail but I thought that I would share how we grocery budget here.

Throwback Photo: May 2013 Shopping at PSU Farmers Market

Throwback Photo: May 2013 Shopping at PSU Farmers Market

Grocery budgeting has really become a trial and error process for us. One of the big things for us is that we are still getting to know our new home and trying to find the best grocery stores. Up until now we have tended to only shop at Whole Foods, New Seasons (local store similar to Whole Foods), Trader Joe’s and a local co-op.  We shop at farmer’s markets in the spring, summer and fall as well.

The problem with shopping primarily at Whole Foods and New Seasons is that they can be expensive at times. Trader Joe’s while often less expensive is really hit or miss for me when it comes to produce and I know I’m not the only one who gets distracted by all the flashy items that they have for sale and end up walking out with more than I had planned. Our local co-op is nice however limited in the items they carry. That all being said we have yet to venture to the more conventional grocery stores or discount grocery stores, but over the next month or so that is going to change as we check out our other options and compare prices and quality of produce.ProduceRow

Currently 90% of what we buy is organic and while I prefer organic it’s not always the most budget friendly so we are choosing to make compromises when it comes to buying organic versus conventional produce. We are planning to avoid any produce that lands on the Dirty Dozen Plus list as these items contain the highest level of pesticides. We are comfortable with buying off the Clean Fifteen and as for anything else that kind of falls in the grey area/doesn’t make the list we will buy organic when possible.

Dirty Dozen Plus* 

(I say plus here because depending on what source you find the items can vary so anything that lands on a dirty dozen list is on our organics list)

1. Apples
2. Berries (Strawberries, raspberries, marion berries, blueberries)
3. Grapes
4. Celery
5. Peaches
6. Tomatoes
7. Cucumber
8. Nectarines
9. Bell Peppers and hot peppers
10. Greens (Kale, Collard, Chard, Spinach, Lettuce)
11. Summer Squash
12. Cherries
13. Potatoes
14. Fresh Sweet Peas

Clean Fifteen*

1. Asparagus
2. Avocado
3. Cabbage
4. Melon
5. Sweet Corn
6. Eggplant
7. Grapefruit
8. Kiwi
9. Mango
10. Mushrooms
11. Onions
12. Papaya
13. Pineapple
14. Frozen Sweet Peas
15. Sweet Potatoes


Luckily some of the items that are staples in our house (avocado, mushrooms, and onions) are on the Clean Fifteen list so we can start saving a bit by purchasing conventional. Now the next step in this process is a bit scary to me but we need to branch out and really evaluate our options. That next step is visiting some new grocery stores to really see what they have to offer. I decided to check reviews of stores online (taken with a grain of salt) to see which ones tend to get rated the best in hopes of setting us up for success. Then it’s time to see how prices and produce really stack up. Our first adventure will be this weekend and fingers crossed it will go well.

Where do you do most of your grocery shopping? Do you shop around or do you stick to the same store? Do you buy organic or conventional or both?

I realize now that the topic of Grocery Budgeting needs to be broken up into multiple parts because there is just so much to write about. Rather than write a lengthy post that you won’t read all of (and thank you to those of you who have read this far) I am going to continue our budgeting discussion another day.