What Happened When I Put Myself on a $50 Grocery Budget for a Week

Jan 3, 2018 at 12:00 p.m. ET
Image: Ashley Britton/SheKnows

I can easily spend upward of $150 a week on groceries for a typical week. No, I'm not feeding a family. I'm only buying for myself, but I try to buy all organic, and organic ain't cheap. I eat salmon 3 to 4 times a week, and organic salmon can really run up your grocery bill. Pair that with my love for the delicious (but expensive) Humboldt Fog cheese I like to treat myself to a few times a month, and it's not hard to see how my weekly grocery bill adds up to well over $100.

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While going over my expenses last month, I decided to challenge myself. I put myself on a strict $50 grocery budget for one week. I've been wanting to build up my savings account a bit more, and I figured groceries would be a good place to start. I work from my home in upstate New York, so I can cook a little bit more than people who work in an office five days a week, and I'm hoping this helps me stretch my tiny budget. Since protein is usually the most expensive portion of my budget, I decided to add in a few vegetarian meals to help keep my costs down. I also decided to ditch my go-to grocery store, Wegmans. This was tough because I have a very deep love for Wegmans, but they can be pricey, so I did all my shopping at Aldi. Here's the breakdown of my week on a $50 grocery budget.

What I bought: 

  • Wild-caught Alaskan salmon (6 pieces)
  • 1 box white rice
  • 1 head cauliflower
  • 3 sweet potatoes
  • 3 peppers (1 red, 1 yellow and 1 orange)
  • Onions (I think there were 4 in the bag)
  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 dozen eggs
  • Romaine lettuce
  • 1 jar yellow curry sauce
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • 1 tub plain Greek yogurt
  • Frozen Mediterranean quinoa (quinoa, chickpeas, kale, lemon-garlic sauce)

Total: $51.16 (OK, I went a little bit over my budget, but just barely)

What I already had at home:

  • Almond milk
  • Spices
  • Cucumbers
  • Vegan protein shakes
  • Caesar salad dressing
  • Olive oil
  • Whole-wheat bread (half a loaf)
  • Coffee
  • Cheeses (Parmesan, cheddar)
  • Butter
  • Honey
  • Dijon mustard
  • Sriracha
  • Garlic
  • Lemons

Day 1:

I have a vegan protein shake for breakfast every day, and I already have the protein powder on hand. I blend it with almond milk and cold-brew coffee that I made myself the night before and get to work. Around 11 a.m., I hard-boil an egg, slice it up along with half an avocado and put it on a slice of toast that was also leftover from last week. I squeeze Sriracha on it and drink a big glass of water. For dinner, I cut up all my veggies so I would have them ready for the rest of the week. I sauté a handful of them in some olive oil and mix in a few spoonfuls of curry sauce. I put this over some rice, and it is delicious.

Day 2:

Breakfast and lunch are repeats of Day 1. For dinner, I bake a piece of salmon, cut up some romaine lettuce and make a salmon Caesar salad with some dressing and Parmesan cheese I already have in my fridge. The salmon is good, but I'm not feeling very satisfied and am really wishing I had bought some croutons for my salad.

Day 3:

I have my usual shake for breakfast. I meet up with a friend for lunch and she pays the bill because I paid last time. When I get home, I'm realizing I've already gone through a lot of my veggies. I bake another piece of salmon, cook some rice and sweet potatoes, heat up some of the black beans and mix it all together in a bowl. I mix some honey, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper and drizzle this over the whole thing. It's surprisingly delicious.

Day 4:

I am not feeling a shake this morning, so I scramble two eggs and slice up the remaining half of my avocado. I drizzle the whole thing in Sriracha. For lunch, I'm craving protein, but I'm not in the mood for salmon. Because it's the only meat I have, I cook it up anyway. I also have some cucumbers in my fridge that need to be used soon, so I chop them up, mix them with some salt, pepper, Greek yogurt, garlic and lemon juice to make a tzatzikilike sauce. I put this on top of the cooked salmon and make a sad little salad to go with it. It's not the least bit satisfying. For dinner, I microwave the frozen Mediterranean quinoa mix, fry up an egg and put it on top. It's OK. Just OK.

Day 5:

Back to my usual breakfast shake. At lunchtime, I'm looking at my remaining groceries and feeling pretty sad about the next few days. I repeat my rice, sweet potato and black bean bowl, but leave out the salmon for lunch. For dinner, I scramble two eggs and add some melted cheddar cheese on top. I put the eggs and cheese on a piece of toast and add lots of Sriracha. It's kind of a sad Friday night dinner.

Day 6: 

It's Saturday. My dad wants to get breakfast at our usual café, and he pays. A friend asks if I want to meet up for a late lunch. It's torture because she suggests one of my favorite restaurants, but I decline so I can stick to my budget and ask if she wants to come over later to watch the final episode of Outlander later instead. I make a salad for lunch — lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, hard-boiled egg, cucumber and peppers. I make creamy dressing out of the Greek yogurt, olive oil, spices and lemon juice. Normally, this would have been pretty good, but because I have had similar meals all week, it's pretty lackluster. For dinner, I roast up the last of my veggies, put some honey and mustard on a piece of salmon and bake it. With no veggies other than lettuce, tomatoes and onions left, I'm really dreading tomorrow.

Day 7:

It's Sunday. I'm going for a hike, so I make a shake, put it in my Yeti and head out the door. I end up hiking 2.5 miles further than I expected, and I am ravenous. I almost order pizza. It takes all the willpower I have to put the phone down. I have rice, eggs, yogurt, curry sauce, onions, black beans and one piece of salmon left. I cook the rice, black beans and onions and add some curry sauce. I fry an egg and put that on top. The carbs and protein are very satisfying after my long hike. When dinnertime rolls around, I just can't bring myself to eat more salmon or curry. I pick up the phone and order a pizza.

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Takeaways:

Aldi is my new favorite store. I am going to do as much of my grocery shopping there as possible. The prices are seriously dirt cheap and they have so many organic options! If I had gotten my groceries at another store, it would have easily cost me closer to $75. This store is a true gem.

But $50 a week for groceries is really tough. I'm glad I was able to save about $100, but by the end of the week, I was really sick of eating the same thing. It put a damper on my mood and had I not had a few "cheat meals" that other people paid for, I'm not sure I could have waited until Sunday to cave and order some pizza.

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