6 Things to do to Shrink Your Grocery Bill

"$30 a week in groceries? That's impossible!"

I cannot tell you how much I've heard this statement in the past month. Even after posting 4 weeks of my journey in the budget, explaining what we purchased and how we did it, coworkers and friends still seem to be in denial. But it is the truth...It may not be exactly $30 each week, but for the past 30 days my grocery bills added up to $138.56, an average of $5.61 for the two of us to eat each day. Two weeks' bills were very close to $30, the other 2 were closer to $40...but regardless, we saved a lot of money.

When Andrew and I went on this budget to save for a house down payment, I thought we'd be eating rice and beans most nights. I was so wrong! With the right planning, we haven't had to sacrifice quality just to save money. Actually, we have already met our goal for a house down payment, but we have no plans of stopping the budget. Why would we? I now have all my meals planned out and go grocery shopping once a week. The amount of money and time I'm saving is too good not to keep going!

So I'd like to share what I've learned to help you start your goal of eating on a budget. Whether its cutting back just a little bit or going as extreme as I have, these 6 "rules" will help keep you on track so you can go from wondering where all your money went to being proud leaving the grocery store.

Always, Always Meal Plan

Never go to the store without a list, a plan, or any sort of direction. I will admit that in the first 4 weeks of my $30 budget, 2 of them I went to the store without a clear-cut plan. The outcome? A bill that cost me $40, not $30. Always plan your week's meals ahead of time. You may use my schedules or come up with your own, but here are the pointers for really making it work:

  • Plan on buying only 1 type of meat to stretch out between at least 3 meals. My staples are a whole chicken, pork shoulder, and beef chuck. This ensures you won't spend an excessive amount of money on meat for the week which is usually the most expensive component on your shopping list.
  • After the 3 meals of meat, plan on doing at least 1 salad entree and 1 pasta dish. Both of these shouldn't add many expenses to your bill.
  • Plan on workday lunches to be leftovers from previous nights' dinners. Or, make a simple pasta salad. From experience, I suggest not purchasing food for sandwiches. A half pound of lunch meat is at least $5 for less than a week's worth of meals...its just too expensive if you are sticking to a low budget.

Stop Buying Snacks

Have a meal plan and stick to it. And don't put snacks into that meal plan. No more random purchases of chips, cookies, and other unsubstantial foods. Don't tempt yourself by putting these items in your shopping cart. If you really need some sort of "snack", you can easily make your own by buying raw ingredients.  My favorite snacking item these days is homemade hummus and carrots. Now, I will confess that I will buy a bag of potato chips now and then just to have to accompany my lunches, but in all reality I could just slice up a potato and fry it to save a few dollars. Just stay away from the typical snacks you don't need other than to literally "snack" on. This includes cookies--just make your own and it will REALLY feel like a treat!

Stop Buying Processed and Prepackaged Food

So this goes hand in hand with the previous statement but is so important, it deserves its own section. Stop buying processed and prepackaged food. Processed food is not only bad for you, its expensive because you are paying someone to do the work for you. So don't buy that jarred spaghetti sauce--buy simple, canned tomato sauce and add spices to make it your own. Don't buy salad dressing; find a great recipe on pinterest or concoct something yourself. Even boneless, skinless chicken breasts should be avoided--they are more expensive since someone had to make it convenient for you to cook with. Finally, please please please stop buying shredded cheese. Buy a block and shred as much as you need as you go.

Stop Buying Frozen Food

Another similar point is to stop buying frozen food. Thanks to Pinterest and my love of cooking things from scratch, I had naturally been avoiding the frozen food aisle for quite some time. Then I randomly needed a bag of frozen peas and carrots for a fried rice recipe on my meal plan, and realized I hadn't been to this section of the store in a long time. And then I looked around at what food surrounded me--just a ton of frozen dinners and side dishes for people that don't know how to cook. Save your money on these prepared foods. Some frozen foods can be great for your budget--like that $1 bag of peas and carrots I bought. But for the majority of frozen meals, you're paying extra just for the convenience of it. And unfortunately this applies to ice cream too. Take the expensive ice cream off your shopping list and instead buy a $1 pint of heavy cream. Then you can make your own.

Stop Going Down Every Aisle

Okay, so we've gone over having a meal plan and a list. So naturally, if you don't need something down that cereal aisle, you shouldn't go down it, right? Its amazing how many of us still will. Don't tempt yourself with foods you don't need by avoiding every aisle possible. I'm pretty proud of myself for never going down the chip and cookie aisle or the frozen foods section. And I get out of the grocery store pretty quickly which is always a bonus. If you are in the habit of browsing the aisles because that's what you do each week, break that habit!

Only Grocery Shop Once a Week

Before the days of budgeting, I was a culprit of stopping off at the grocery store at least every other day after work. I'd get all excited about a recipe I discovered and disregarded the wonderful amount of food I had in the kitchen from previous shopping trips. One week I realized I had spent over $100 in groceries. Woops! It was time to stop. Now that I'm on this budget, I only go to the store after I've made at least 7 dinners for us. If I forgot to buy an ingredient for a recipe I planned, I just have to find something else to make with the ingredients I do have. Applying this rule to your plan is possibly the most effective way you can save money, I promise, because it will force you to find meals out of your existing pantry items.

So bottom line: pay attention to the foods in your pantry when you plan your meals for the week. Go to the store with a list of what you need and stick to it. Try not to make recipes that call for processed foods. And don't go down any aisles you don't need to. Good luck on your budgeting journey and comment if you've got any other rules you go by at the grocery store!

To see the first 4 weeks of my $30 grocery budget goal:

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

Eating on a Budget: The $30 Grocery Budget Goal Week 4

I'm pretty sure the girl behind the counter thought I was crazy while checking out at the grocery store last week. As she scanned my little pile of food, I stared at the screen itemizing my purchases...probably with a crazed look. I told her I've been on this $30 a week grocery budget goal. She said that was impossible. Then my total came out to $35.92. I sighed with a little disappointment but still walked away feeling positive. $35 in groceries for the week is still pretty impressive. And that batch of groceries lasted me 8 days.

It is safe to say that my $30 grocery budget challenge has become something I look forward to every week now. I have found meal planning to be super fun; it takes a few hours to plan out, but the rest of the week is great because I never worry about what's for dinner! I could not be happier that I started doing this and have no plans of stopping.

The Plan for Week 4

I still do not consider myself a pro at meal planning, but by week 4 I should have known better than to go into the grocery store without some sort of list. For some reason, last week I really struggled making a meal plan. The first week I bought chicken, the second I bought pork, the third chicken...what was I to do for week 4? I wanted something different and that really threw me off. My plan was to just go into the store and buy things on sale to make dinners. Yeah...I don't suggest you do this. Always meal plan! As a result of this lack-of-meal-planning, we ended up eating a lot of Mexican-inspired dishes...which are really easy and affordable if you have the basic ingredients like tortillas, avocados, and limes!

Chicken thighs and legs were ridiculously cheap (0.99 a pound!) so I bought two packs and threw them right in the freezer. We actually only had chicken for 2 nights this week, everything else was vegetarian. I also "splurged" on the first night and bought shrimp for $3.29. On a $30 budget we haven't bought any seafood but it was on sale so...splurge!

Week 4 Menu

Day 1: Shrimp Scampi (inspiration here)

Day 2: Mexican-Avocado Salad with Cilantro Vinaigrette

Day 3: Chicken Thighs with Ranch (I just used my own seasonings, not a ranch packet) and Mashed Potatoes

Day 4: Mac and Cheese (recipe coming soon)

Day 5: Black Bean Tacos (inspiration here)

Day 6: Avocado Chicken Soup (it was sooooo good)

Day 7: Mac and Cheese Leftovers

Day 8: Mexican Rice Skillet

Extras I made: Peanut Butter Ice Cream (check out my chocolate stout and peanut butter float post!)

Lunches: I made a big batch of this orzo, cucumber, and tomato salad

Groceries Purchased:

  • Elbow Macaroni $1.00
  • Black beans (2) $1.38
  • Cheddar Cheese $2.99
  • Whipping Cream $2.29
  • Eggs $2.19
  • Milk $2.89
  • Avocados (4) $3.16
  • Limes (4) $1.00
  • Bananas $1.10
  • Bread $1.50
  • Frozen Broccoli $1.00
  • Frozen Peas and Carrots $2.00
  • Chicken Thighs $4.46
  • Chicken Drumsticks $3.42
  • Cucumber $0.99
  • Carrots $0.33
  • Tomatoes $1.34
  • Cilantro $0.59
  • Shrimp $3.29

Total Spent: $35.92

To see inspirations from the first 3 weeks, here are the links!

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Let me know if you're following along with my $30/week grocery budget goal! And since I have no plans of stopping, I could always use more recipes. If you have any budget friendly meals you've made that you recommend, I'd love to read them! Comment below!

Happy Budgeting :)

Eating on a Budget: The $30 Grocery Budget Goal Week 3

Week 3 was a total winner in my book--we spent $31.50 on groceries and managed to get 8 days of food before going back to the grocery store!

If you missed it, Andrew and I have gone on a super-mega-raging-budget in attempts to save as much money for a down payment on a house. After moving and getting married this spring (and going on an awesome--but expensive--honeymoon), we realized its time to buckle down for our next project: stop renting and get a place of our own by next March.

The $30 a week budget has been difficult, but I must say it is overall turning into an awesome routine. After week 3, I am feeling confident and content with limiting my grocery bill to only the necessary purchases. Gone are the days of buying fancy cheese "just because I feel like it" or a ridiculous amount of veggies that would go bad before being used. With a plan for the week's meals, I've eliminated all unnecessary purchases. It feels great!

Something I have learned, however, is to not punish yourself if you don't need to. If you are as extreme as we are being by not going out to eat AT ALL, go ahead and buy yourself that fancy steak for a Saturday night in. Its a lot cheaper than if you had gone out to a restaurant. That's actually what we're having tonight...and I'll be doing a special blog post about it!

This Week's Menu

This week I purchased a pork tenderloin and slow cooked it with minimal seasonings. Then we shredded the meat and used it to cover 3 meals! Plus, we froze an additional 4 servings allowing for 2 future meals. Thanks to having some chicken thighs from last week and pork chops from week 1 in the freezer, we covered 3 additional meals. Finally, eggplant was on sale for $1 each this week so I made a delicious eggplant Parmesan which fed us twice more. The result was 8 dinners before going back to the grocery store. All for $31.52!

Day 1: Pulled Pork Sandwiches and Cole Slaw

Day 2: Lemon-Ginger Chicken Thighs

Day 3: Pork Fried Rice

Day 4: Pulled Pork Quesadillas (for inspiration, click here)

Day 5: Eggplant Parmesan (recipe coming soon!)

Day 6: Eggplant Parmesan Leftovers

Day 7: Chicken Thighs Leftovers

Day 8: Seasoned Pork Chops and Cumin Rice

Notes for Week 3

  • Andrew only has a coffee for breakfast and I get by with yogurt and granola. I buy the yogurt in bulk and make the granola to cut down on weekly costs. No expenses were towards breakfast this week.
  • For lunches I made these easy bean and cheese burritos. Luckily I had all the ingredients so did not need to add anything to the grocery bill.

What I Bought

  • Milk $2.89
  • Butter $2.99 (I didn't buy the expensive stuff! I'm using this for cooking, and keeping the good stuff for eating)
  • Frozen Peas $1.00
  • Fresh Mozzarella $2.99
  • Fresh Parmesan $3.50
  • Pork Tenderloin $8.52
  • Lettuce $0.99
  • Eggplant (2) $1.98
  • Onions $2.29
  • Corn (4) $1.98
  • Garlic $1.39
  • Buns $1.00

Total: $31.52

I hope this post is inspirational for you to plan your meals and save money! When we first started this I thought we would have to eat beans and rice four times a week...but we haven't had to do that once yet.

For more inspiration on what you can do with pulled pork, here's a great article I used from buzzfeed. And if you missed week's 1 and 2 of our budget, here they are! Week 1 and Week 2.

Happy Budgeting!

Eating on a Budget: The $30 Grocery Bill Goal Week 1

Hi friends! Last week I started our "mega raging budget" challenge of only spending $30 a week on groceries while still maintaining our healthy lifestyle. "How is that even possible?!" you may ask. Well this week I went over a bit, but hey it was the first week! We have had a lot of friends doubt that this can happen so although this post isn't about wine pairings, I want to share with you how with a little planning and good mindset we are severely minimizing our grocery bill every week.

Why Dani, Why?

We want to buy a house! Yes, we just moved to Reno in March and just paid for a wedding. But this is a goal of ours. Housing prices are skyrocketing in the area because the town is growing. If we were to wait a few years, we'd be spending a lot more on the same house we were to buy this year. Besides, the rental we are in is nice and all, but its far away and just doesn't feel like home.

Queue the $30 a week grocery bill goal! Now you'll have to excuse me, some recipes I make for blogging purposes can't be in this total. Andrew and I agreed that the blog should be on a separate budget, so I am allowed one pricier meal per week to blog about (steak doesn't exactly fit the $30/week idea). But after this week I will be posting what we did in a 7 day timeline so you can see how we stretched our grocery bill over an entire week. Oh and all these pairings I've been doing? I'm just going through the inventory at my house...no wine buying for me till we reach our goal!

Overview of Week 1

Like exercising, isn't week one always the hardest?? That's what I told myself. Week 1 did have some challenges. There were a few impulse purchases and bad planning that tacked on about $10 extra to the bill (I didn't use or plan for the $6 bacon I bought for Andrew. But I will be using it to make multiple meals next week!). Overall I spent $38.22 on groceries this week.

Biggest mistake in week 1 was that I did not plan for our weekend meals--with good reason! Saturday was my birthday and Sunday I planned on blogging all day. I also worked late one night so Andrew just made himself an egg. So this week I only have 5 dinners to report. Please don't yell at me saying the grocery plan was only for 5 days though! Instead, let it inspire you to find ingredients in your freezer or pantry to make up for the last 2 days. Or simply have leftovers! The chicken corn chowder soup I made gave us a whopping 7 servings. We've been eating it for lunch all this week but it could easily have served us for dinner too.

Recipes Made

This week I focused on creating multiple meals from a whole roasting chicken. The chicken cost $6.39 and we made 3 dinner meals, a ton of leftover soup for future lunches, and 9 cups of chicken broth that I'm storing in the freezer. This is one of the easiest ways to stretch your budget for the week.

Day 1: Pan-Fried Pork Chops and Green Beans

Day 2: Slow Cooker Roasted Chicken

Day 3: Chicken Burrito Bowls and Slow-Cooker Chicken Broth

Day 4: Chicken Corn Chowder Soup (made 7 servings!)

Day 5: Walnut and Parsley Linguine

Notes on this week:

  • We are not Breakfast People. I buy $3.29 bulk vanilla yogurt at whole foods and make my own granola. This feeds me breakfast for about 2 weeks. This week I did not need to buy any breakfast yogurt. (Get out of the cereal routine...making your own granola is so much cheaper!
  • Lunches this week were purely sandwiches with the lunch meat, lettuce, and bread I bought. In the future I will be omitting lunch meat, however, because I don't have $5 a week to spend on that. I will be doing leftovers, salads, and PBJs (if necessary) for future weeks' lunches.

Final note: Some ingredients needed for these recipes we already had in the pantry. Obviously if you are duplicating what I did this week but you don't have, say, rice...that will add some dollars to your grocery bill.  Use my schedule as a motivator to see what you can do with $30 of groceries for the week based on what you have in your pantry!

What I bought at the grocery store:

  • Cheddar Cheese: $2.49
  • Whole Milk: $3.29
  • Eggs: $1.99
  • Cilantro: $0.99
  • Whole Chicken: $6.39
  • Pork Chops: $4.39 (for 6 thin chops, had 4, froze 2 for a later date)
  • Russet Potatoes: $1.04
  • Green Onions: $0.69 (not used this week)
  • Green Beans: $0.82
  • 4 Tomatoes: $2.06
  • Romaine Lettuce: $1.29
  • 1 Anaheim Pepper: $0.28
  • 1 Summer Squash: $0.72
  • Bacon: $5.99 (not used this week)
  • Lunch Bread: $1.50
  • Lunch Meat: $4.69

Total spent on groceries: $38.62

Total $ of items actually used this week: $29.88

Ingredients I Already Had

  • linguine
  • walnuts
  • parsley
  • chile in adobo sauce (1 can was used for two meals!)
  • rice

Last Note

Unless you live within 10 miles of me and shop at the same grocery store in the same week, the price of your groceries WILL be different! So please use my meal plan from week 1 as an inspiration for you to make one of your own! I think buying a whole chicken and making multiple meals with it is amazing, but do what works for you--if you have a ton of chicken in the freezer, focus on that instead and use the $30 to purchase veggies and pantry items. I'll be reporting next week on our 2nd week of $30 groceries...and hint hint...we did much better in week 2!

Happy Budgeting!

Pork Chops and Applesauce Paired with Oktoberfest

Quick—what is the best beer to pair with pork chops and applesauce? Did you guess Oktoberfest?! How did you know? Was it because you read the title of this blog post? :)

Fall is my absolute favorite time of year for beer. It also happens to be my favorite for food too….what a coincidence! This recipe pairing was actually not even intended to be a blog post, but after I made this dish, it was so good, I knew I just had to share it with anyone and everyone. ACTUALLY, this blog post exists purely because I bought a 30 pound box of apples a few weeks ago and made two huge batches of applesauce. What is the best thing in the world to pair with applesauce? Pork Chops!

Now, the applesauce should be another blog post on its own. But honestly, its so easy to make--Cut and peel about 10 apples, throw it into the crockpot with 1 cup of water, about 1/2 cup of sugar and some cinnamon. Heat on high for about 3 hours. After 3 hours, the apples should be soft enough to mash. Just mash with a potato masher or puree if you want it less chunky.

The Pairing

If you were to ask me what my favorite amber-colored, malty, lightly hopped ale in the entire world is, it would be Oktoberfest. That is pretty specific, but it’s the truth. Oktoberfest is definitely up there with my other favorite beers—right behind saisons and sours—and I think it deserves such a high placement. Oktoberfest is one of the easiest beers to pair things with since it isn’t too hoppy, has a great maltiness, and is light enough not to overpower most dishes. However, it can also stand up to big, flavorful foods as well. Think about what the Germans eat during Oktoberfest—sausage, brats, sauerkraut, cheese, pretzels…Oktoberfest beers go with all these. But what makes Oktoberfest even better is that it goes with sweet accompaniments too, like the applesauce in my recipe, which is a little more difficult for other beverages to do.

Sam Adams is my favorite domestic example of the Oktoberfest style. Note: American versions of Oktoberfest beers are usually darker, stronger, and maltier than examples from Europe. I’m also in love with a local Las Vegas brewery, Tenaya Creek’s, version of Oktoberfest. Unfortunately they don’t bottle theirs, but I’ve got a keg coming my way in just a few days for the house :)

Paulaner Oktoberfest and Spaten Oktoberfest are my favorites from Germany, and actually, I think the Paulaner went a little better with this dish than the Sam Adams. Maybe not better, just different. Its worth it to pick up both and compare them for yourself, not only to learn what you like better but to get an understanding of the differences between an American Oktoberfest-style and a European.

The Recipe

This recipe is nothing fancy--in fact, I take pride in knowing its a simple, weeknight-dinner kind of meal. The kind of meal you can make quickly and enjoy a beer with. I made these pork chops with the applesauce and also potato pancakes, making for a complete anything-but-green meal. I originally found it on The Pioneer Woman and make it whenever I want to make a nice meal but have zero time. I hope you enjoy this one!

Easy Pan-Fried Pork Chops

6 thin-cut, bone-in or boneless pork chops

3/4 Cup All-purpose flour

1 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tsp seasoned salt

1 tsp black pepper

1/2 Cup canola oil

1 Tbsp butter

Instructions

1.  Combine all dry ingredients in a shallow pan. I use a small casserole dish.

2. Salt and Pepper both sides of the pork chops. Place into the dish with the dry ingredients and dredge both sides, making sure every side of the pork chop is covered in the flour mixture. Repeat with all pork chops.

3. Heat oil and butter in a saute pan over medium-high heat. When hot, place 3 pork chops in the pan and cook 3-4 minutes per side. When finished, set aside and continue with the second batch of pork chops. Serve with homemade applesauce and potato pancakes, and of course, Oktoberfest.

How to Make Simple Iced Tea

How to Make Simple Iced Tea

I told myself when I uploaded this blog a few weeks ago that today would be my first post of a food and drink pairing. Well, unfortunately, shopping took over my day and at 4:00 when I got home, I knew I wouldn't be prepared to create an entire meal in time.

However, guess who needed to make Iced Tea for the boyfriend? And who needs to practice taking photos of food? So...here's my first take on professional food photos...

I just learned how to make Iced Tea this spring...this will be my first batch. And it dawned on me today that when you search "Iced Tea" on Pinterest, there's really not a lot of options on how to make the simplest of teas. Maybe I'm too dependent on recipes to figure out how to do anything simple, but I'd like to provide a little guide for those aspiring cooks like me who don't know where to start either. And this was great practice for taking pictures for my first post :)

How to Make Simple Iced Tea

1. Find a tea suitable for making iced tea. I have a huge box of Orange Pekoe Black tea that is great. But there are many others to use, like Oolong or Earl Grey.

2. Steep 4 bags of Tea (or 3-4 tbsp of loose leaf tea, depending on how strong you want it) into 2 cups of freshly boiled water. Honestly, I always just put my 2-cup measuring cup right into the microwave and heat for two minutes. Its very easy.

3. Let the bags steep in the hot water for about 15 minutes, more if you'd like the tea to be stronger. 15-20 minutes is my ideal time. Just make sure you don't steep for two long, otherwise your tea might develop astringent (bitter, mouth-coating) flavors.

4. If you'd like to make your tea a little sweeter, this is the time to add sugar or simple syrup (you want the sugar to dissolve in the tea, and it can't do that if you add it when its already cold). I added about a cup to this batch, and the tea isn't too sweet, which my boyfriend likes.

4. Let your tea cool down to room temperature, then pour into a 2 quart pitcher and fill the rest with water.

5. Fill a glass with Ice Cubes, garnish with a lemon wedge, and enjoy!