Day 1: Grocery Challenge

In previous years I’ve done a big shop the day before the beginning of the spending challenge and counted it as the previous month’s budget. This time I did a medium shop and since we didn’t actually eat any of the food I bought til September, I decided to count it in the September budget. Even shopping carefully, I spent– ack — $99. So that means I have $51 for next week’s shopping. Should be interesting. The picture here is what I bought. Not shown is a $13 bag of dog food, also included in the total.

Sept grocery trip #1

You can probably pretty much see what I bought. You can click on the picture to see it bigger. But I’ll list it out here too.  Keep in mind that I also have food in the freezer and pantry.

One of the big ways that I save money on groceries is to stock up on things on sale.  If butter is $1.75 a pound, I’ll buy 6 pounds and put 4 of them in the freezer.  So I am well stocked, but I did NOT do any more shopping than usual.  In August I spent about $840 for groceries, which is exactly normal for our family.

Another point about my shopping strategy is that I rarely use coupons.  In my experience, couponable items aren’t usually the cheapest ones.  I buy lots of generics, store brands, and single-ingredient things  (apples, onions, rice, flour, etc).  And even if I could find lots of things to use coupons on, frankly, I don’t have the time or patience to wade through heaps of coupons every week.

I know coupons work great for many people– kudos to you if you are one of them.  But I’ve found that I can keep my spending low without them.  (Just fyi, if you’re looking for coupon tutorials in my book, you won’t find them. That’s not my forte. I focus instead on the many other ways to save money.)

So what did I buy for that $99?

  • 1 gallon milk ($2)- we already had 3 gallons from Costco -$1.75/gal
  • 2 lb butter ($1.88/lb)
  • 2 lb lasagna noodles
  • 8 frozen OJ’s  (0.99/each)
  • coffee creamer– I tell ya– ESSENTIAL! 🙂
  • coconut
  • 6 lb apples ($2 for 3 lb, yeah!!)
  • 4 loaves cheapo bread (88 cents each- I will be baking this month too)
  • 4 pks hamburger/hot dog buns (0.38/each- yeah)
  • 3 lb popcorn (bulk)
  • 1 lb honey (t make granola)
  • 4 plastic lemons/limes (2 /$1 at dollar store)
  • 2 pkg cream cheese
  • pepperoni
  • 4 cans tuna
  • peanut butter
  • toilet paper
  • big bag of generic cheerios
  • salt
  • peaches (0.78/lb)
  • bananas
  • bulk spiral pasta (0.84/lb)
  • 5 lb onions
  • 2 lb hot dogs (cookout this weekend, otherwise I would have skipped them)
  • 5 lb carrots (0.42/lb, cheaper than baby carrots))
  • two 2-lb blocks medium cheddar ($4.78 each- was going to only buy one, but that price was too good to pass up)

Looking at the list I know exactly where I went over the $75– the bag of cheerios ($3.75), the second cheese ($4.78), and the dog food ($13).  It will be interesting to see if I can do next week’s shopping for only $50…

Meals Today

Breakfast: French Toast with OJ

Lunch: leftover mac and cheese, leftover refried beans/tortillas, cantaloupe and cukes from garden

Snacks: fresh almonds, from my sis and her almond farmer hubby (thanks you two!) and peanut butter cookies

Dinner:  Stir fry chicken, veggies and rice with Asian Ginger dressing (p. 268 – Family Feasts)



  1. in what part of the country do you live that you can buy food so cheaply? we’re a family of 9, and live in central pa, which is way cheaper than the florida panhandle where we lived last year, but still, milk at its cheapest is still about $3 gallon here. i usually spend about $150 a week for groceries, that includes everything, paper products and food/treats for 2 black labs, but it’s been tough to do that consistently month to month.

    love the challenge, though and will be trying to do that–
    wish i could afford your book right now, but it’s on my amazon wish list until we spend again later this year

    you are appreciated!

  2. We are doing the Month of Nothing as well. We are trying to keep our weekly grocery bill to $100 a week. Today our grocery bill for the week was $97.

    I wrote up a long post on my blog about the Month of Nothing and linked back to you. 🙂

  3. Hi Mary,
    I think I will enjoy your grocery challenge month!
    I’m now thinking about getting your book – I live in NZ so postage can be a bit of a putoff through Amazon though. But I’m grateful you have mentioned that you don’t write about the use of coupons in your book – it’s made your book a lot more appealing to me as we don’t have the number of coupons here in NZ. Get the odd one, but not like you do in the US.

    Perhaps that can go on my Christmas wish list!

    Cheers, Wilma

  4. Wow I am going to give this a try in the UK, giving myself £75. Is that cheating?? Can I just ask, plastic lemons??? What is that all about?!

  5. Mary, Do you just buy the store brands at your regular grocery? Do you ever shop at Aldi? I would be excited to hear if all of the store brand items are as good in your opinion as the “major” brands. Are there certain items that you just won’t buy store brand due to taste or quality? Thanks!!


  6. Oh, concerning my question above… Sorry if this is addressed in your book. I haven’t gotten a chance to buy and read it yet, but will! 🙂

  7. plastic lemon/limes are lemon/lime juice in a plastic lemon/lime.

    Today I spent nothing but got my foster daughter’s WIC for the month. 2 boxes cereal, 4 gallons milk, 1 lb cheese, 1 doz eggs, 2 juices, 1 peanut butter

    Milk is around $2 here in western Ohio. I actually hesitated today they had milk dated tomorrow for $1 a gallon. My freezer is too full for it though since I’m getting a food bank order tomorrow.

  8. When I see your prices I can understand why I can’t do it as well. Milk–we buy a lot of it is closer to $3. Bread at $.88??? Hamberger rolls/hot rolls for $.38. I can’t even do that well when I happen to be at the bread store. I had been thinking of asking if you made your own, as they’re expensive! (here at least—)

  9. Location–
    I live in Idaho. Most of the prices that I mentioned were extra-good on-sale prices at THE very cheapest grocery store in town, a chain called Winco. We don’t have Aldi’s.

    Most of the time I pay $1 a pack for hamburger and hot dog buns, and $1.25 at least for a loaf of bread. The orange juice is often more expensive, as is the cheese….but yesterday I found quite a few lower-than-average prices, which I very much appreciated. I’m guessing that even people living in my area often pay more than I paid yesterday. But I keep an eye out for sales and shop where I’m most likely to find the lowest prices. Helps a ton.

    A lot of generics are great. Some are not. I don’t buy the cheapest toilet paper. I ALWAYS buy the cheapest generic ziplocks and plastic wrap. I personally hate all hot dogs except for Falls Brand beef….many of my kids prefer the 78 cent generics. Go figure. You just have to try the generics and see if they will work for your family. Even using SOME generics will save you money.

  10. I agree about coupons – I recently joined The Grocery Game and although I love have the convenience of a list sent to me I find that it’s mostly expensive items and I can find generic items cheaper. Plus it doesn’t give me prices at other stores – just one in my town – and often times wally world is cheaper.

  11. Well, I had planned to do some stocking up yesterday, but it didn’t happen! :0 I planned meals for the week, until grocery day, see them at

    Also went to the bread store and bought a month’s worth of bread, buns and bagels for $35, that leaves me $40 for Friday….for 9 kids…..I’ll start praying now…..:)

  12. Well I am not doing my grocery shopping until Fridays now (so I can plan better for the weekend) but I will post about it when I do. I am all for trying this (and I agree about the coupons, usually even with the money off I would have to pay more than for a generic brand. And I always find the coupons I’m given, or find are for stuff I rarely use!). I did wonder about the plastic lemons too, lol 🙂

  13. I live in Manitoba, Canada and I somehow have shaved my grocery bill for our family of 4 going on 5 to $400 a month which I am very proud of.
    At the cheapest store up here:
    Milk is $4.50 a gallon
    Butter is $3.50 a pound
    A 3 pound brick of cheese is $25.
    Chicken averages about $3.00 a pound.
    Needless to say, we eat alot of beans and rice and beef and potatoes. 🙂

  14. Melissa that is scandalous!! Your $400 is amazing at those prices. Just for comparison’s sake . . .
    I live in northern IL outside of Chicago and here are our cheapest prices:
    Milk is $1.49 a gallon
    Butter is $1.99 a lb.
    An 8 oz. block of cheese is $1.49
    Whole chicken is $0.88/lb

    I am clearly living on easy street here!

  15. Mary, I’ve been reading your blog for over 2yrs, but have never commented.

    Anyway, I probably won’t officially join your challenge as it’s just my me and my husband. However, we are moving soon and so I’ll mostly be pantry/freezer cooking so that we have less to move.

    In any case, I did want to give people some comparision with Boston prices:

    Milk is $4.49 a gallon
    Butter (storebrand) is $2.99 a lb – Land o’ Lakes is $3.79
    An 8oz block of cheese is $2.99
    Whole Chicken ranges from $0.99 a lb to $1.89 a lb

    Good luck with the challenge everyone!

  16. I live in Indianapolis and believe that our food prices are dropping! We don’t have kids yet, but I do the stock-up method and work my meals around the sales.

    Kroger has started running sales for 8 oz. bars or shreds for $1.25
    Kmart SuperCenter rarely runs a sale for the same for just $1, so I stocked up last night and have loads of cheese!
    Milk has been $1.99 for some time now
    I buy cream cheese when I find it for $1.00 per 8oz bar
    I buy most of our bread at the bread store, but we don’t have much freezer space.

    I use lots of coupons and stack them with store sales and get a lot of food for cheaper than the generic price, but it has started taking a lot of time. I love Aldi. It’s so simple!!!

  17. Oh, and we’ve been eating well (2 adults) at $150 per month and I’m hardly baking anything.

  18. Obviously, you get to make up the rules for your own challenge, but unless you’re feeding your family the dog food, it doesn’t seem fair to count it.

    I’d like to participate, but we just moved from the US to Canada and I don’t yet have a good idea of what a month of groceries costs us here (I’ve noticed differences in individual items–milk is more expensive and salmon is much cheaper). Plus I’m starting a new job, my husband is starting grad school, and my son is starting kindergarten, so I have enough to deal with this month! Maybe next year.

  19. I am enjoying reading your book and trying recipes. I want to cut down the cost of my groceries too, I did this week for $77. Not bad for me! Milk here (NS Canada) is $7.20 canadian for a gallon of milk, outrageous!

    • Crystal says:

      i know what you Mean I’m in NB Canada and its 6.45 but its going up again… and people wonder why i buy raw milk when i can get 12 litres for $10