My Hundred-Dollar Challenge

Do you think you could grocery shop for a family of four for $100 or less each week? I didn’t think I could, but I accepted the challenge from my husband for the month of January. Let’s face it, gas prices are up, health insurance premiums are up again from last year and food seems to get more and more pricey. So I have become the queen of eating cheap and still staying gluten free. Mike wanted to see just how cheap I could be!

Week 1: I lucked out and scored meat that had been marked down. So I grabbed 5 pounds of ground beef and 5 pounds of chicken at a significant discount. I can make 10 pounds of meat last about 2 and a half weeks if I’m smart about it. My total grocery bill for the week was $97.

Week 2: Since I didn’t have to buy meat, I was able to stock up on a lot of fresh produce. We had a lot of meatless meals that week! My grocery bill came out to $86.

Week 3: Well, there were no deals on marked down meat and Mike had filled his personal grocery list (He makes his own lunches. Yes, how awesome is that?!) with fresh produce and a couple pounds of meat. Add to that a bag of walnuts and a pound of almonds and I was struggling to stay below $100. I also wanted to try making a recipe for Cranberry Pecan Chicken Salad that I found on Pinterest and decided to pick up some gluten free crackers to spread the chicken salad on. And cheese went up .20 cents a block. After stressing a little bit, I remembered that I had been under the week before and could go over a tad. The bill that week was $110.

Week 4: I underestimated a few prices for different things when I was making my list this week. (And I absolutely needed some potato chips or I was going to freak.) So I went over again this week. I squeaked out at $104.

After 4 weeks, I was averaging $98.75 a week for the month’s grocery shopping. But alas, I wasn’t off the hook yet since January was a 5-week month. Those 5-week months always get us when we are trying to stay within the budget. It’s been tough. And it’s really made me pay close attention to the prices of food.

Week 5: I totally blew it this week! We have been scarfing down all the nuts and I was really feeling like I needed some variety with the kids’ lunches and snacks. So, after spending $14 on nuts, and buying some snack food, yogurt, dried fruits, frozen fruits, and too much fresh produce, I checked out at a whopping $135 for the week.

For the month, I averaged out at $106 per week. Technically, I failed my challenge, but it sure doesn’t feel that way! According to my budget-welding husband, I saved us just over $150 on groceries for the month.

Now, just how did I do it? I plan out my weekly meal menu every week. I pay attention to what I already have in my pantry and freezer. I also try to piggyback meals. So week one, I was making a meal for a friend who had just had a baby. I made them a Chicken Enchilada Casserole. Since I knew I would be buying ingredients for a Mexican meal, I planned one of my own. This way, I was able to buy things in larger amounts, which is always cheaper per ounce. I also had a ham bone in my freezer that I had saved from our Christmas ham. Pick up a .78 cents bag of dried peas and vegetable broth at .96 a can, add the ham bone, carrots and onion already in the fridge and I have the ingredients for a big batch of split pea soup that only cost me $1.74. The soup fed all of us for 2 separate meals.

When I have my meals planned out for the week, I sit down and write out all the items I need to buy. Then I write down what I think the price is for that item and add it all up when I’m done. If I’m over, I re-work the menu to incorporate fewer ingredients. The first week, this was tough because I wasn’t familiar with all of the prices of the things I needed. So I went shopping in the evening, alone, with my list, a calculator and a pen. I wrote the actual price next to the item so that I would know it for next time. And I could add up my items as I went. I did this for 4 weeks to get a good sense of prices.

Here is my 7-meal dinner plan for Week 4: 1. Black Bean & Spinach Enchiladas  2. Cauliflower Casserole  3. Shepard’s Pie, vegetable side dish  4. Stuffed Cabbage  5. Chicken Tator Tot Casserole, vegetable side dish  6. Avocado Cream and Chicken Enchiladas, vegetable side dish  7. Coconut Chicken with Hawaiian rice, side of peaches

Here is my grocery shopping list for Week 4:

Hummus: $1.98

2 avocados: $2.36

fresh spinach: $2.18

bananas @ .57/lb: $2.00

5lbs chicken breast: $9.65

8 oz bacon: $2.48

7 oz can green chiles: .88

can enchilada sauce: $1.38

can chicken broth: .96

5 blocks cheddar: $10.88

1/2 gal. whole milk: $2.56

dried cranberries: $1.48

chips: $2.68

Cauliflower: $2.98

Bag green onions: $1.22

Bag of carrots: $1.64

Corn tortillas: $1.98

Bag of tator tots: $2.00

2.5oz bag of bacon pieces: $1.66

can black beans: $.68

bag of coconut: $1.72

8oz cream chz: $1.98

2 18-count eggs: 5.76

canned chicken: $1.88

Cabbage: .58 cents/lb.

Cilantro: .93 cents

3lb bag of apples: $3.37

5lbs ground beef: $14.88

3 bags frozen vegetables: $2.96

pineapple salsa: $2.28

can diced tomatoes: $.64

2 blocks MJ chz: $4.36

coffee creamer: $3.28

whipping cream: $1.78

gf crackers: $2.78

All in all, I feel like I was very successful with keeping the grocery bill low. Once I find some more meals to add to my dinner menu rotation, I think I’ll be able to predict what each meal will cost and plan accordingly every week. If you are interested in getting some of these recipes, 4 of the meals listed above are located on my Pinterest board: Gluten Free Recipes. Follow me at: http://pinterest.com/tamaranoyer/

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