UPDATED January 2020 – I redid this series in 2014 to attempt a healthier menu plan on the same budget.
Today is the start of my $27 budget challenge. I will be using only those $27, plus whatever was in my kitchen to begin with to feed ourselves (my husband and myself) for the entire week. I purposely waited until we were running quite low on food before I started this challenge, just so the results would be more fair. I updated this post each morning to update you on the last day’s meals. This budget is only for two adults. Also, this is just my experience and my interpretation of how to eat on such a limited budget. It will be different for everyone.
You’ll notice that quite a few of my meals will include ham. That’s because I snagged an incredible deal on a bone-in ham and still have a few cups of diced/shaved ham stored away in the freezer.
A few ground rules I’ve set for myself. These are key if you want to start a similar challenge.
- No coupons.
- Once the budget is spent, that’s it. No more trips to the grocery store.
- Items that remained in the freezer, fridge and pantry before the challenge may be used throughout the challenge.
- The meals don’t have to be extravagant.
My Cheap Grocery List
UPDATED 2020 – These prices are still similar as long as you shop at Walmart, Food Lion, Lidl, Aldi and even local Asian markets. We are comparing prices from seven years ago so this is pretty good. Dig deep for savings and think out of the box if you run a similar experiment.
I can’t see how I could have done this using Harris Teeter, Giant, Wegmans, Safeway and Publix.
Here’s my shopping list. In total I spent $27.13
- 1 lb. Bag of rice: $1.16
- 1 lb. Ground Sausage: $1.98
- Shredded Mozzarella Cheese: $2.00
- 3 lb. Bag of potatoes: $2.97
- 1 white onion: $0.74
- Flour Tortillas: $1.28
- Cheese (sliced): $1.25
- 2 pkgs. Butter: $0.92 x 2
- Pancake mix: $1.00
- 2 cans tomato sauce: $0.44 x 2
- 1 can corn: $0.68
- 1 can pineapple: $0.96
- 2 lbs chicken thighs: $3.54
- 1 gallon milk: $3.83
- Bread: $1.28
- Eggs: $1.74
Here are our meals for the day. Please excuse the picture quality. Since I will be blogging every meal, I’m just going to snap a quick pic with my phone for the sake of saving time.
Breakfast – I didn’t have a proper breakfast yesterday. Just a few cups of coffee. This is becoming more typical for me lately. I’m making some freezer pancakes today, so that should help us get in a quick breakfast over the next few days.
Lunch – We each had grilled ham and cheese sandwiches for lunch. Nothing special. Just quick and easy.
Dinner – I made a recipe from one of my greatest frugal inspirations – Clara of Great Depression Cooking. I’ve watched Clara’s Depression Era recipe videos for years now. It absolutely broke my heart to find out that she passed on. So in memory of Clara, I thought I would kick off the first dinner of this week’s challenge with one of her recipes – Poorman’s meal.
Clara’s recipe initially called for hot dogs. But we used ham instead since it’s what we had on hand.
Well that’s all for the first day’s meals. Not very exciting, I know. But day one is over and went well – we didn’t feel deprived of anything. I’m hoping we’ll be able to say the same towards the end of the week.
It’s day 2 of the $27 budget challenge. Like day one, day two was a pretty normal day of food. We didn’t eat any strange things to stick to the challenge. I thank meal planning for that. It’s so much easier to stick to a strict budget when you know what meals are on the menu. Make sure to try to use a meal planner like the one here. It makes life so much easier to see what you have going on for the week and there are no surprises.
Before I get into yesterday’s meals, I want to clarify a few things.
This self-imposed challenge is not meant to be a menu for a family. I am feeding two adults on this budget for one week. I’m just showing you what we chose to eat on such a limited budget. This also isn’t a typical grocery budget in our house. The budget is only so strict because I want people to see that it’s possible to eat something aside from Ramen Noodles if you’re really strapped for cash – if you’re willing to get creative. Look in your freezer and see what is there. Sometimes it means eating that chili that you didn’t love but it is in the freezer.
Now that I have that out of the way, lets get on with the meals. 🙂
Breakfast – I made scrambled eggs with buttered toast for breakfast today. Since I try to not throw anything away, I tossed in a few tablespoons of leftover corn from dinner last week. Surprisingly, eggs and corn make an awesome combination. I also had a few cups of coffee with breakfast. My husband isn’t a big coffee drinker – he’ll have a cup every now and then. So I am the designated coffee-guzzler of the house.
Lunch – I pulled a bag of chicken pasta out of the freezer. I stored leftovers from dinner a few weeks ago and this was the last bag we had left. After nearly a month of sitting in the freezer, it was still delicious. I didn’t get a chance to grab a picture of lunch today (phone died). Sorry! This is a great example of what I spoke of above-look in that freezer and get creative.
Dinner – I was so looking forward to tonight’s dinner. We made tacos – not very traditional. But hey, it’s still a taco. We used ½ lb of sausage, some rice, corn, taco seasoning and a few additional seasonings to make the filling. The rice was cooked separately and then combined with the meat. Then we just sliced up a bit of lettuce for the top and used a small amount of shredded cheese.
We also cut up a few tiny bell peppers and placed them on top for a nice crunch. It was tasty and filling. And there was plenty to go around. I had three tacos and my husband had six. There was definitely much more than I expected.
I admit, I could have made our meals a bit healthier. There’s no excuse for that. My initial goal when setting out on this challenge was to stick to the budget without feeling deprived rather than focusing on eating healthy meals throughout this whole challenge. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if healthy could happen on this budget.
If I had tried harder or thought more creatively when planning our meals out, it could’ve been done. Shopping at Aldi would be a great way to load your diet with fresh and inexpensive vegetables. Unfortunately, Aldi is too far for me to justify driving to just for one week’s meals. If it were a two week meal plan it would’ve been worth it.
It’s day 3 of my $27/week grocery budget challenge. I spent a lot of time in the kitchen yesterday, but it was definitely worth it. Making homemade bread is always extremely satisfying, as is setting aside something for the freezer, even if it’s just a few pancakes. Besides yeast, usually everyone has everything to make a batch of bread. If you want to make bread and still don’t have yeast, check out a no yeast bread like this one called Emergency No Yeast Bread.
Breakfast – We had pancakes for breakfast yesterday, along with coffee. I made up a big batch and froze the rest for future breakfasts throughout the week. I’ve blogged before about how to freeze pancakes.
Lunch – We had a late lunch yesterday. I made turkey melts. I popped a few pieces of bread onto a baking sheet, covered one side with cheese + shredded turkey (leftover from the turkey I bought after thanksgiving) and let them bake for about twenty minutes. I love toasting bread in the oven because it’s effortless and the toast comes out perfectly golden brown every time.
Dinner – I served spaghetti with homemade garlic bread for dinner. I made two loaves of french bread, used one for the garlic bread and saved the other to possibly use tomorrow. I’m not exactly sure what I’m going to do with the second loaf just yet. We had enough leftover spaghetti to store away for another meal.
Day three is a pretty typical day of meals in our household. So aside from all the time spent in the kitchen, this was an easy day.
Day 4 of the $27 grocery budget challenge has come and gone. Here are today’s meals.
It was another day of pancakes and coffee for breakfast this morning.
Lunch – For lunch I had some pasteles my mother sent over a few weeks ago. Every year, she makes a big batch of pasteles during the holiday season and kindly sends some my way, so I was pretty excited for this lunch. My husband isn’t really a fan of them, so he made himself a sandwich using a portion of the french bread I made last night.
After lunch we warmed up what remained of the french bread and snacked on that before dinner.
Dinner – I baked chicken thighs and potatoes served with corn. This was such an easy dinner to prepare. I seasoned the potatoes and chicken and cooked them in the oven. I served the canned corn that you saw on my shopping list from Day One. I used a portion of the canned corn on day two for the tacos and the rest for tonight’s side.
We only have two days left in the series! It’s hard to believe how fast it’s gone by.
Breakfast – We just weren’t in the mood for breakfast yesterday. We still have breakfast items left, it was just one of those days when we woke up without an appetite. Of course, I still had my coffee.
Lunch – We had some leftover spaghetti. We still have plenty left over, so the spaghetti might once again make an appearance on the menu at some point within the next two days.
Dinner – The french bread is all gone, so we didn’t have it with lunch. But I realized I never showed you a picture of the actual loaf, so here it is.
Yesterday consisted of a more exciting dinner. We made a homemade Hawaiian + pepper pizza. The pizza consisted of tomato sauce, red onion, purple peppers (I don’t know the name of the actual pepper. We picked these up at the farmer’s market last week so they weren’t labeled), red peppers, pineapple, diced ham and shredded cheese. The pizza dough is homemade.
To make the pizza dough, I used this recipe with the addition of a tablespoon of sugar to start the yeast and an extra two cups of flour to make a consistency I was comfortable hand-kneading.
Whenever we make homemade pizza, I like to make sandwich pockets or pizza pockets with the leftovers for lunch the next day or for the freezer. I made Hawaiian pepper pizza pockets using leftovers from all of the ingredients of the pizza. It’s an easy way to prevent waste and now we have an interesting lunch for tomorrow. Again, think out of the box using your leftovers to stretch the dollar even farther.
Only one more day left in the series!
Breakfast – We had scrambled eggs, ham and toast for breakfast yesterday. I had a few slices of ham stored in the freezer and decided to take it out today for breakfast.
Lunch – We had the pizza pockets I made from leftover pizza dough and pizza fillings. I don’t think I took enough care when filling them because two of them had almost no veggies in them and contained nothing but ham and cheese. Still delish but I should have slowed down a bit.
Dinner – I made sausage and bean chili served over white rice. The chili contained ground sausage, beans, red pepper, red onion and a few seasonings. This dinner came together in twenty minutes and it’s one of our favorite meals. I typically make chorizo chili, but I didn’t have enough in the budget for this week’s challenge to purchase chorizo since it can be about $4 or $5 per package. It’s hearty and is very filling.
A little tip for making white rice: Add in a few squirts of lemon juice. It prevents it from sticking together. I also add oil to the pot first, then stir the rice in the oil until it sizzles for about a minute before adding the water. I think it shaves a few minutes off of the cooking process.
Day 7 is upon us, and that means it’s the end of the $27 grocery budget challenge.
We had a simple breakfast – just toast with a cup of coffee.
I’m running out of coffee creamer, so I’m glad I can finally head to the store soon to buy some more! I like to make my own coffee creamer (I actually wrote a post on my homemade coffee creamer recipe a few months ago). But lately I’ve been buying this magical coffee creamer that can only be described as the best-taste-I’ve-ever-encountered. It’s called Southern Butter Pecan from International Delight (I swear I’m not being paid to say that). If you’ve had a taste of it before, you know why I’m nuts over it. But it doesn’t fit into this week’s budget so I’m going to make my own to get me through.
Lunch – We still had leftover pepper (red and purple) and about 1/4 of a red onion, so I threw together a quick burrito/wrap. It consisted of shredded turkey, red pepper, a bit of the purple pepper, red onion, a bit of seasoning and what was left over from last night’s rice. We had a tiny portion of rice leftover from last night’s dinner, so rather than throwing it away, I just included it in this lunch. That turkey was leftover that I mentioned above. It’s another reason I love to buy an extra turkey at Thanksgiving as it has a long life and can make so many meals.
Dinner – Two chicken thighs still remained from the package we bought at the start of the week (it consisted of 5 total and I served three a few nights ago for dinner, and two leftovers). I baked the chicken, then served it alongside the remaining spaghetti and a head of broccoli that I still had in the fridge. I seasoned the broccoli with salt, pepper, lemon juice and minced garlic.
OBSERVATIONS AND REFLECTIONS
I’ll start off with the most popular observation of the week. I could have created a more healthy shopping list, and therefore healthier meals.
What I would’ve done differently:
- Now, looking back, I would’ve purchased a few bananas for breakfast, iceberg lettuce and a cucumber or two to pair with the few vegetables I already had for lunch and maybe a bag of green beans if I could’ve found them cheaply enough. The only way I could’ve accommodated these purchases within the budget would be to remove a few other items from my shopping list.
- If you look closer at my budget for the week, this is what I was working with:
$27 over 7 days for two adults.
$13.5 per adult for the entire week.
$1.93 per adult, per day.
$0.64 per adult, per meal.
- That last one is the most telling in my eyes. $0.64 per adult, per meal. It’s hard to do much of anything with $0.64 per meal. But, as stated above, it would’ve been possible to create a few healthier meals if I had approached my shopping list differently.
- I believe I was way too ambitious to take on a $13.50/person budget for the entire week. But, the reason I set the budget so low was to put myself in the shoes of someone that had no choice but to survive on this for one week. I think this truly shows WHAT YOU CAN DO when really have to. And there will be times in all of our lives that we need to learn to skimp and cut back like this.
- A commenter mentioned that in order to eat healthily on this tiny budget, you’d have to eat lots of beans and rice. I think if that would have been the base of my menu, it would’ve opened up much more opportunity for fresh vegetables. Making soup would’ve also been a great idea since they’re so inexpensive and last for quite a few meals. I also would’ve allowed coupons since there are a few coupons out there for fresh vegetables, which definitely would’ve helped the budget.
- Around the three day mark, I almost started to feel like I was “hoarding” the few veggies I had for later on in the week. I wanted to get the least appealing meals out of the way first so I could finish off the week with the better meals. I’m not sure why it was my instinct to do this. Maybe I felt as if I would feel less deprived if I ended the challenge eating better food? I should’ve spread the veggies evenly over most days, rather than storing them for the last few days.
In summary, here’s what I would’ve done differently.
- Swapped out a few of my purchases with fresh vegetables
- Set beans and rice as the base of the menu
- Made soup at least once
- Set the budget higher. $13.50/person is an incredibly tight budget, even for a challenge
- I would’ve allowed coupons.
Overall, I do think it was a successful challenge. Not everyone agrees with me, I’m sure. However, we successfully completed the week without spending anything extra, without going hungry and without reaching for a bowl of Ramen. Those were my goals for this series, and they were indeed met.
Ginny Collins is a passionate foodie and recipe creator of Savor and Savvy and Kitchenlaughter. Indoors she focuses on easy, quick recipes for busy families and kitchen basics. Outdoors, she focuses on backyard grilling and smoking to bring family and friends together. She is a lifelong learner who is always taking cooking classes on her travels overseas and stateside. Her work has been featured on MSN, Parade, Fox News, Yahoo, Cosmopolitan, Elle, and many local news outlets. She lives in Florida where you will find her outside on the water in her kayak, riding her bike on trails, and planning her next overseas adventure.