Today’s 64 Dollar Grocery Budget Challenge post is from my dear friend Dawn of Mama Harris’ Kitchen. Dawn is a culinary guru, and is a super shopper when it comes to groceries, so I was so happy that she agreed to be a contributor to the challenge. Check out how she did at WinCo!
When I first saw Amiyrah’s $64 grocery challenge I was so excited. I’d done this! The reason I started blogging about recipes in the first place was because in the few years prior we had struggled a lot financially and I’d realized that cooking from scratch was much more affordable than purchasing processed and canned items. A 10 lb. bag of potatoes makes about 10 times more fries than a regular bag of frozen fries does, and they are roughly the same amount of money. The same goes with dried beans vs canned beans! Once I realized that I started buying the more affordable items to stretch my grocery budget further for a family of six (at the time in 2009). Then I had to get creative with the foods. I bought cookbooks, got recipes online or by word of mouth or really just experimented. That’s when I really fell in love with cooking.
During those times, I had a budget of $50 for 6 people per week. The other $20 we had would be spent on diapers and toiletry items. I’ll admit it was hard and frustrating, but it was able to be done! I’d study the circulars and write down what was on sale at each store and then make my rounds. However, once Winco came to town a few years later, time and again I’d see that their prices were cheaper than any of the others. When my husband and I first moved in together back in 2006 he had taken me to Winco. At that time the closest store was a few towns over, so we’d go there maybe once a month to stock up. So when a Winco came to our town in 2010 we were so excited! I quickly got to know my prices in the store and after a few comparisons to other stores Winco consistently had the lowest prices and we could stretch our dollars so much further.
These days my budget is usually a bit higher than it used to be, so I was excited to see if I could still work a smaller budget for a big family. Now we’re a family of seven and shopping with $64 would definitely be a stretch, but I was up for the challenge! My husband and I went on a day date to our local Winco while the kids were at school. We came armed with a plan, a grocery list, and $64. Since the kids are in school and usually eat there, we didn’t need to purchase many lunch items. I typically eat leftovers from the previous nights dinner for my own lunches, so my focus was mostly on dinners since we already had cereal and eggs at home. Here’s my meal plan for the week.
Monday: Chicken Alfredo Pasta with Garlic Bread
Wednesday: Strawberry Chicken Salad with Baked Potatoes
Thursday: Burrito Rice Bowls
Sunday: Beef Stroganoff with a Side Salad
For drinks we usually have milk or water, and we also enjoy making smoothies and fruit infused water. Occasionally we will have some juice, but one of my weaknesses is sweet tea. Of course that made the list.
- Know your stores prices. I’m a regular shopper at Winco and I know my pantry staple prices by heart.
- Take inventory. Before leaving our home I went through both our refrigerators, freezers, pantry, and spice cabinet. I wrote down the necessities we needed (milk, some seasonings, etc.)
- Meal Plan. It’s super helpful to plan your meals based on what you have already, that way you only need to pick up a few necessities you might be short on. Or you could also plan your meals based on sale prices in your own store based on the circular. Winco doesn’t really have a store circular because they already keep costs pretty low, although around the holidays they often send free and low price product coupons which is also GREAT!
- Stick to the outside aisles of your store. Typically, the less boxed meals and processed foods you purchase, the more you can stretch your budget. The outside aisles usually consist of fruits and vegetables, meat items, dairy items and breads. I do go down a few aisles for some sauces or pastas and cereals, but I tend to keep it on the outer portion, especially if I’m really trying to stretch my budget.
- Know your necessities. It’s pretty much understood that there’s certain items I’ll buy every time I go to the store. Milk, chicken, lemons, limes and bananas are purchased weekly. Eggs used to be a part of that list as well, but I buy those in a 5 dozen package biweekly, which ends up being more affordable for us. Potatoes are usually purchased every other week as well since I buy it in a 10 pound bag. Other necessities like sugar and flour are purchased monthly and spices are constantly revolving based on needs.
- Take advantage of bulk bins at Winco. In the back of our store is an entire bulk section of so many items. There’s spices and seasonings, pasta, chocolate chips, snacks, cereals, rice, honey and even dog treats in the bulk bins. You pay by the pound (or ounce) and they end up being far cheaper than buying in the specified aisles and you can buy just as much as you need for the week rather than an entire package, so that is a money saver as well. On this trip I ended up paying $.08 for dry oregano that will last me at least two weeks!
- Use a calculator. Most phones these days have a calculator function. Use it! I add up every single item as I’m adding it to the basket or weighing it. This makes it easy to never go over your budget and most of the time I’m only pennies from my budget, but I never go over! It may take some planning and extra time at the store, but you will get the hang of it and it will be so worth it.
Tips for shopping at Winco
Pay special attention to the green price tags at Winco. This indicates an even lower price than normal!
When you first walk into Winco there’s a long aisle filled with products that are all on sale and can be found in one place. If you’re in a hurry this is a good place to grab essentials and know you’re getting a great sale price.
Don’t pass up those bulk bins, there’s a huge amount of savings that can be found in this area.
For meats, sometimes it’s cheaper to head to the butcher and purchase there rather than the prepackaged items. The fish I bought was prepackaged for $3.98 for one pound of fish. At the counter it was $3.18 for a pound, and the cuts are thicker and it’s relatively fresher. Plus there’s something to be said about a fresh wrapped package of meat.
Check out the aisles of prepared lunch items like sandwiches and salads and even pizzas. My husband loves to throw these in his lunches and it’s much cheaper than eating out!
We ended up getting 38 items!
Milk, sweet tea, pepper jack cheese, sour cream, vanilla lowfat yogurt, hot sauce, Italian bread, two loaves of wheat bread, spinach, cilantro, Italian parsley, green leaf lettuce, strawberries, bananas, green bell peppers, lemons, limes, carrots, onions, garlic, mushrooms, breakfast sausage, ground turkey, one pound of fish, beef strips, tofurkey sandwich slices, boneless skinless chicken breasts, dry oregano, dry cilantro and lemon pepper.
About halfway through our shopping trip, my husband looked at the basket and declared we MUST have already reached $64, I proudly showed him my calculator and we were only at $38. Amazing, right? I ended up being below my budget by spending $61.80. Corn on the cob was on sale for $.33 each, and I considered buying four, but by the time I was done it was on the other side of the store and we had to get to the kids school. I still wish I’d gotten it, but that keeps a little extra change in my pocket for another time.
It was interesting to go through this exercise again, as it’s been awhile since we had shopped like this. I think planning ahead is key, both with meal planning as well as making a list and a budget and sticking with it. Even though our budget is typically a bit higher than this now, I still do write a shopping list, only buying necessities and using my calculator when I’m at the store. What is also helpful is having a stocked kitchen and pantry. That way, items are replenished as needed. Pantry cooking is one of my favorite ways to experiment in the kitchen, so it’s great to have a good amount of spices and seasonings, as well as broths, pastas, rice, lemons and limes.
I really enjoyed this challenge, thanks Amiyrah!
How great was that?! Dawn rocked the heck out of the 64 dollar grocery budget challenge! Be sure to visit Dawn at Mama Harris’ Kitchen for budget-friendly and delectable recipes for your family.