October 27, 2013 | Posted in:Living on less

SHARE

Fried Eggs with Raja - foodie

Today I’d like to introduce a friend of mine named Anne. She’s a foodie blogger who currently lives in the Windy City of Chicago.

Since this site is about saving money and retiring early I challenged Anne to maintain her foodie status, but in the confines of $75/week.

After you’re done reading her post you can check out the rest of her blog, A Squared.

If you have ever read my blog, you will know that food– both the restaurant and homemade varieties– is a big part of my life. You may even call it a passion.

I consider myself to be pretty money-conscious, as a general rule. I was raised by hardworking parents that started their married life (and our family) without a whole lot of money, so the principles of budgeting, saving, and worth vs. value have been instilled in me from a young age. My husband and I have both been laid off (twice each) over the past 5 years. We have since bounced back and are frantically trying to save up enough money to buy our first home so that we can start a family– not an easy task on two modest incomes in downtown Chicago. Living in a city known for its amazing restaurant scene and its amazingly high taxes, we do all that we can to keep our cost of living on the low side: limit our dining out, cutting coupons, cooking at home…

Even so, when Johnny Moneyseed challenged me to be a foodie on $75/week I realized I had no idea what a REAL food budget actually looked like. This challenge was a big wake up call for me and a really great exercise in learning how to budget, plan, and cook effectively– and to still be able to enjoy what we are eating!

Today I want to share a few of the biggest takeaways that I learned in this challenge. But before I do that, here’s how the whole thing transpired:

I first got to work on meticulously planning out a menu for the week with a corresponding shopping list. Staying within JM’s budget constraints was tricky, but I did make it work. In total, I spent $87.61 on groceries for the week. However, a lot of of the items that I purchased weren’t used in full during that week and could be frozen or used in meals the next week. After doing some nerdy calculations about how much of each item I actually used during the challenge week, the grand total came out to be $69.82 spent.

You can view my Weekly Meal Plan and the Shopping List here.

One other caveat to mention: I did not include what I consider to be pantry staples in my budget. These are items that I think most home cooks have on hand to use on a regular basis: oils, vinegars, butter, salt, pepper, and dry herbs. I didn’t use anything too out of the ordinary in terms of seasonings this week– just the basics like garlic, oregano, basil, parsley. If I were to have used something a little more obscure that you’re not likely to have on hand then I would have included that in the budget.

I’ll be posting some of the dinner recipes from this challenge week on my blog!

How to be a Foodie on $75/Week:

Delicious Italian Dish Mozzerella - foodie1. Plan, plan, plan! Even before this challenge, I have always planned out a weekly menu and shopping list before heading to the grocery store on the weekends. It’s a great way to keep yourself from buying too many items that you won’t need or that will go bad before you can use them. It will also keep you sane at the store and when you come home from work– you already know what you’re making that night, so there is no guesswork involved.

I also recommend using your grocery store’s circular as the basis for planning your meals. For the challenge week, I found my store’s circular online and noted that chicken breasts were buy one get one free and that pork chops, potatoes, tomatoes, broccoli, and a few other items were on sale that week. I added them to my list and started creating meals around those ingredients. It’s a great way to keep your costs down and because sales change each week, it will also add some variety to your dinners week to week.

2. Shop with coupons and look for unexpected deals. I’m not suggesting extreme couponing, but coupons are a great way to shred a few dollars off of your grocery bill without a lot of extra work. My store, for example, sends a $5 off purchases of $50+ coupon to me in the mail each week. That’s a big deal– especially when you’re working with $75/week! Additionally, about every other week I go to coupons.com and check for new coupons on products I use. You just print them off and take them to store and it’s an easy way to score some additional savings.

This challenge also taught me to look for deals where a foodie like myself may not always be looking. Buying generic products when possible, for example, is a great way to save some money. I’ll be honest that I don’t do it for everything, but for staple items like milk and cheese, I bought the store brand this week, saved some money, and didn’t notice a difference. And don’t forget the day old bread shelf! I’m a bit of a bread snob, and I found some great discounted (and still good) take-and-bake Telera deli rolls there.

3. Find multiple uses for the same ingredient. This step is key for avoiding food (and money) waste– and boredom. Nobody wants to eat the same thing for dinner every night, no matter how much money it saves you. This week I made a big batch of BBQ chicken in my slow cooker, which became sandwiches one night and then a topping for Irish Nachos later in the week. And I only needed a little bit of heavy cream for the Fried Eggs with Rajas recipe, but knew I would have some left over so it was incorporated into the tomato cream sauce for our spaghetti and then whisked into the omelets we had on Sunday morning.

4. Meatless Monday may be cliche, but it works. It doesn’t have to be Monday, but it is true– going meatless is good for your body and for your wallet too. Even the cheapest cuts of meat can be expensive (and then they can be difficult to cook). Instead, use other ingredients like cheese, eggs, legumes, or squash to add some heartiness to your meal. You’ll notice in our meal plan that we enjoyed a few meatless dinners like Fried Eggs with Rajas and a Baked Spaghetti Squash. I could go meatless everyday, but my husband would disagree. I have to say, however, that he cleaned his plate after both meals so I think we are on to something with these recipes!

5. Buy seasonal ingredients — or grow your own (if possible). Cooking with seasonal ingredients is a great way to save money because produce that is in season is abundant and doesn’t have to travel as far to get to your store. These items are easy to spot when you’re shopping because they are typically on sale and prominently displayed in the front or center of your produce section. The other huge benefit of using seasonal produce is that food tastes best when it is in season.

Delicious Slow Cooker BBQ Pork - foodieAnd if you have the space, patience, and the green thumb then growing your own fruits and veggies is about the cheapest and most convenient way to enjoy fresh produce. I live in a downtown loft and don’t have the luxury of growing a full garden. However, I love to cook with fresh herbs (and that’s some of the priciest produce of all!) so I have planted a few window boxes on my little deck and just snip and cook with them whenever I need them. I don’t have to buy an entire bunch of parsley when I only need 2 tablespoons for a recipe and I don’t have to worry about a $4 package of herbs going bad in my fridge before I can use them all. At the end of the season before it started to get really cold, I picked all my herbs, chopped them up, and then froze them in an ice cube tray filled with olive oil so that I can cook with fresh herbs all winter too.

6. Use online deals and loyalty programs when dining out. If we are being completely realistic here I can tell you that dining out is something that I can curb, but not give up completely in the name of budgeting. However, I have learned a few tricks to make it more budget-friendly. One option is using online deal sites like Groupon or Gilt City to get discounted deals on new or favorite restaurants. Another great way to save money when dining out is to join restaurant mailing lists and loyalty programs. It’s a great way to earn points toward freebies or receive coupons or deals from your favorite places. There is a Chicago-based group called Lettuce Entertain You and they own/operate over 30 restaurants in our area. They also have a great loyalty program where every time we dine at one of their restaurants, we earn points. Between the points we had banked and the $15 birthday gift certificate they sent me, we were able to enjoy a free dinner out at one of our favorite LEYE spots during the $75/week challenge. Not bad!

I’m no financial expert, but this experience certainly opened my eyes to ways that I can balance being a foodie, while still being frugal. I hope you found it helpful too!

To see more from Anne, check out her blog, A Squared.

Start your own Kick-Ass blog in less than 10 minutes.

I will help you via email for the first month of your blog’s existence, free of charge. You can bounce ideas off of me, ask me for tips on building up a following on social media, among other things. Whatever you need help with, I’m here for you.

How to create a Kick-Ass Blog in 10 Minutes

17 Comments

  1. anna
    October 28, 2013

    Leave a Reply

    Great post, and the pics look delicious. I agree with buying seasonal since they’re almost always on sale – that way it’s varied month to month (or season to season), and it’s great for the wallet.

    • Anne [A Squared]
      October 29, 2013

      Leave a Reply

      Thanks, Anna! Buying seasonally has tons of benefits– it is budget-friendly, it provides you with some variety, and you know you’re getting produce when it tastes its best too. And it’s a great excuse to hit a farmer’s market toO!

  2. This Life On Purpose
    October 28, 2013

    Leave a Reply

    We spend on average about $60/week on food, sometimes less. We cook almost everything from scratch and have the advantage of parents having us over for dinner usually once or twice a week :)

    • Anne [A Squared]
      October 29, 2013

      Leave a Reply

      Wow, your low grocery budget is amazing to me– I found it pretty tough to do $75/week, so bravo!

      And free dinners by mom and dad are the best. So jealous that you live close enough to them for that!

  3. Holly
    October 28, 2013

    Leave a Reply

    Great post! I think you did great on $75 per week!

    We spend about $500 per month on food for the four of us (most of the time). We don’t eat meat so we spend a lot on produce. Fortunately, my grocery store regularly marks down organic produce that is about to expire. I only live a few blocks from the store so I regularly stop by and pick up whatever I can find for dinner.

    • Anne [A Squared]
      October 29, 2013

      Leave a Reply

      Thanks so much, Holly! And I am super impressed by your budget.

      When we’re not following JM’s more strict guidelines ;) we are usually spending $100-$130/week on groceries for the week for the 2 of us. Not bad, but I could certainly afford to tighten that up on a regular basis too!

  4. marilyn moffatt
    October 29, 2013

    Leave a Reply

    I remember when my husband and I were married in 1962 and we had very little money to buy our groceries and we had access to the navy commissary. We always had to be very cautious about what we spent as there was not a lot of money to spend and when our daughter was born we had to be extra thrifty because then it became money for baby stuff. At that time we actually used cloth diapers which we had to empty out and rewash . Wasn’t a pretty site but was a money saver for sure. But then of course one would have to think of the water usage which some people do have to pay for. I remember my mom lived with us and she was buy one can of vegetables and feed the whole family of 6 with that (of course we had potatoes and meat). But we would get one small piece of meat, one pork chop , one hot dog, etc. but we never got fat or overweight and we were always satisfied. Hopefully the younger generation has learned how to stretch a meal so that everyone has enough to eat but doesn’t overeat.
    Even if a person has a lot of money it is fun to eat a bowl of stew , or pasta and meatballs and hearty soups. I call them comfort foods. No need for all those fancy so called gourmet foods that require 30 ingredients. Plan ahead, Use what you have in the fridge, waste nothing. Even the bones can make a good soup.. So thanks for the advice and keep up the good work.

    • Anne [A Squared]
      October 29, 2013

      Leave a Reply

      Thanks for your response, Marilyn– and a great story to share with today’s generation, for sure!

      We grew up hearing “Waste not, want not.” My grandfather learned it in the Depression and passed it on to my mom and I still hear it in my head when I am surveying the refrigerator to come up with dinner. And you are correct– planning ahead is key to avoiding waste!

  5. Justin
    October 30, 2013

    Leave a Reply

    We eat like foodies on $100 per week. For a family of 5! Lots of hispanic or asian dishes. Our cheap local hispanic and asian grocery stores help a lot. Pad thai, pho, stir fry, empanadas, tacos, tamales, pork tomatillo chile verde, check!

    We do the grocery store sales paper, buy what is one sale thing. Big savings on dairy, fruits and vegs. Aldi powers our veg and fruit addiction, with most items being $0.30-$0.75/lb. For fresh freakin produce! I guess it means we are also eating seasonal produce, since that is probably what is cheapest. Just like people have been doing for thousands of years (before the invention of the modern grocery store).

    The downside of cooking awesome stuff all the time is that it is hard to eat at regular restaurants now.

    • Mrs. Moneyseed
      November 1, 2013

      Leave a Reply

      I think we experience the restaurant disappointment sometimes too. Although, I have always been a firm believer in nothing beating a home-cooked meal! …unless it’s Chipotle…that is our main weakness.

      • Justin
        November 1, 2013

        Leave a Reply

        I do like the occasional meal out, and it is usually very inexpensive. I’m more of a Moe’s person than Chipotle. Moe’s is my usual “meet a friend for lunch” spot because I can eat for under $8 and sit and chat for 2 hours without a waiter bugging me. And I can put a hurtin’ on the salsa bar.

    • Anne [A Squared]
      November 1, 2013

      Leave a Reply

      Ethnic grocery stores are great places to shop on a budget. And your at-home menu sounds delicious– I wouldn’t want to go out either!

      • Justin
        November 1, 2013

        Leave a Reply

        We can’t ever move away from our slightly low income neighborhood. We would lose our ability to walk to awesome ethnic stores. If we bought a McMansion in the burbs, we would have to “make a trip into town” to patronize these places. Save money on housing, check! Save money on food, check!

  6. Stefanie
    October 31, 2013

    Leave a Reply

    I go meatless all day, every day and I love it! Great taste, great health, great savings!

  7. Mrs Y
    November 4, 2013

    Leave a Reply

    I have become a foodie recently after watching all those cooking shows. Being a foodie is more like eating where the local eats when traveling and trying to cook things we never tried before. That means making French macarons to Italian risotto and many many more. Buying what is in season always give you freshest ingredients and is easier on your wallet. This is a great challenge.

    • Anne [A Squared]
      November 6, 2013

      Leave a Reply

      Thanks for your comment, Mrs. Y.! I agree– cooking shows are like a gateway drug to becoming a foodie. :) They also give me tons of inspiration to keep things fun in the kitchen instead of making the same old dishes every week– I have found that having some variety to look foward to makes it much easier for me to want to cook dinner instead of ordering takeout.

Leave a Reply

*



You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>