What Happened When I Put Myself on a $50 Grocery Budget for a Week
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.
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
- Vegan protein shakes
- Caesar salad dressing
- Olive oil
- Whole-wheat bread (half a loaf)
- Cheeses (Parmesan, cheddar)
- Dijon mustard
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.