Eating Less Expensively: Week 3

When last we left off in my family’s month-long adventure of trying to trim our food budget, I’d sent my husband to the grocery store with a list and a challenge: to spend less than $40.

He ended up visiting two stores, but got everything on the list and spent … drum roll … $30.05. This included an $8 bag of frozen, wild-caught cod fillets (the type of fish featured in the USDA’s thrifty food plan booklet), as well as some staple veggies (onion, celery), fresh fruit, milk and pasta.

When Craig got back from the store, he commented what a different experience it was, going in with a finite amount of cash. He had to try to come in under a certain number (which eliminated the impulse purchases he inevitably brings home) and find the best deal on everything. I was surprised and impressed that he purchased generic baking soda and O-shaped cereal. These are two items I typically buy name brand, for no good reason, I now realize.

This week, our meals included several dishes from that USDA booklet: cheese-stuffed baked potatoes, tuna macaroni salad and potato soup (though I did tweak the recipes for those last two, adding in more veggies). I also made Seven-Layer Hotdish, a favorite of Craig’s passed along by his Grandma Elaine. (UPDATED: Find this recipe in the comments below.) I even baked a pan of Rhubarb Cheesecake Bars on our meager budget.

We did stumble. I went through the McD’s drive-thru one afternoon, but kept the bill to $8 for lunch for the three of us. And a craving for ice cream on Friday night sent Craig back to the store, spending $6.49 on a half-gallon of cookie dough ice cream and a jar of hot fudge. This was a far less expensive option than getting blizzards from DQ, and still kept our out-of-pocket food costs for the week under $50.

Random lessons taken from this week:

  • I realized how fortunate I am in this challenge to have a cupboard full of staples after reading this blog post from  While the amount of money I’m pulling from the cupboard to prepare meals is minimal, the investment to obtain those items is significant for someone on a tight budget. We used up the last of our canola oil making fried chicken Saturday, and my flour is almost gone, so I’m going to need to stock up again.
  • It’s amazing how much food I had in my cupboards. How much do you have that just sits there, when it could be feeding your family? (BTW, as a farm girl, I LOVED this column by Tammy Swift about the need to have a well-stocked pantry.)
  • I’ve been trying to plan meals close together that use the same ingredients in different ways. A pound of bacon from the freezer (bought on sale for $3 awhile back) was divvied up between a pancake breakfast and the top of that Seven-Layer Hotdish. The two green peppers purchased for 88 cents each in Week 2 added crunch and flavor to the hotdish, the tuna macaroni salad, a makeshift jambalaya, as well as last week’s breakfast skillet and pizza meatloaf. It’s a good way to stretch more expensive ingredients.

Craig actually did most of our Week 4 shopping on Saturday, as we were out of milk and we wanted to make the trip worthwhile. He spent $30.10, which included more than 2 pounds of sirloin steak (at $3.98 a pound). Yes, we’re eating steak on a thrifty meal plan.

I’ll need to make one more grocery run later this week, to stock up on Cash Wise coupon deals and a few of those cooking staples we’ve depleted. Hopefully we’ll finish out the month frugal and full.

3 thoughts on “Eating Less Expensively: Week 3

  1. Would love to have the recipe for the 7 Layer Hotdish. While I live alone (keeping the grocery bills to a minimum after two boys!) I like to make hotdishes and break them into portions for work. Much, much cheaper than eating out. Good luck on your grocery plan!

    • Absolutely, it’s a great dish! Here you go …

      Seven Layer Hotdish
      3/4 cup uncooked rice (not instant)
      1 cup canned (or frozen, thawed) whole kernel corn
      2 8-ounce cans tomato sauce
      6 ounces water (3/4 of a sauce can)
      1/2 cup finely chopped onion
      1/2 cup finely chopped green pepper
      1 pound uncooked ground beef
      4 strips bacon, cut into halves
      Salt and pepper, to taste
      Place rice in 2-quart baking dish. Top with corn. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pour one can tomato sauce and 1/2 can water over top. Sprinkle onion and green pepper. Sprinkle ground beef and season with salt and pepper. Pour remaining can of sauce and 1/4 can of water. Top with bacon. Cover tightly and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Uncover and bake 30 more minutes.

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