$35/Week Shopping: Week 2

  • July 26th, 2014

For my second week shopping, I took into account some things I learned the previous week. And still having a decent amount of rice – and I went for better bread while re-stocking beans, eggs. I also sprung for vegetables to mix in to meals: peppers, onions, canned tomatoes.

This week I traveled to Wegman’s, which (somewhat) recently opened in Chestnut Hill. They have a huge frozen section – which ironically, I avoided completely. That being said, I’m not sure I will go back to Wegman’s. The store’s strengths are meats and frozen which are two categories I’m not buying much.

The Haul: Week 2

The Haul: Week 2

The Haul
Vermont Bread Co. Soft Whole Wheat Bread – 1 loaf – $3.49
Wegman’s Butter – $1.99
Wegman’s Organic Large Eggs – 1 dozen – $3.99
Wegman’s Garbanzo Beans – 2 cans – $0.69/each
Wegman’s Organic Diced Tomatoes – 1 can – $1.39
Old El Paso Vegetarian Refried Beans – 2 cans – $1.49/each
Jif Creamy Peanut Butter – 40oz. jar – $6.49
Tyson Chicken Liver – 2 20oz. containers – $2.09/each
Peppers, Mixed – 1.67 lb. – $3.99/lb.
White Onion – 1 at 1.17lb. – $1.99/lb.

Total: $34.88 (99.6% of $35 spent)

Food, Inc.

A day or two after my shop, I watched Food, Inc., a documentary about how agribusiness produces food that is unhealthy, in a way that is environmentally harmful and abusive of both animals and employees.”

I read Fast Food Nation about 10 years ago, so while Food, Inc. was not completely shocking – it was a staunch reminder of what really goes on in the food business. It definitely made me think a lot more about my choices and what it really means to “eat well”.

Here’s some of my initial thoughts on my purchases:

Chicken Livers

I bought these because I have found it hard to get sufficient iron as a runner on this type of diet. I am definitely happy with the concept, but after seeing Food, Inc. would like to move away from anything that has to do with Tyson. I am not going to describe some of the practices, but they are cruel to both human beings and to animals. If you have not seen the movie, give it a watch.


Expensive. Nutritious – but not many calories. I hate to say it – a bit of a mistake for the price.

Vermont Bread Co. Whole Wheat Bread

I wanted to improve the quality of my bread – and found at Wegman’s is the brand I used to buy in Vermont.

Seems like good stuff – no high fructose corn syrup, no artificial ingredients or preservatives – plus we get to support Vermont, the greatest place on Earth.

Jif Peanut Butter

Feel a little stupid buying Jif despite it being technically the most economical choice I had. In the future, buying only peanut butter that has the ingredients Peanuts and Salt. This stuff has added sugar as well as molasses, fully hydrogenated vegetable oils, mono and diglycerides (whatever they are).

Other Thoughts

In some ways, this is an improvement over the previous week. I cut out the frozen prepared foods. No Clif Bars!

I still feel like there is a ways to go before nailing something better down. More fruits and vegetables, really. Less stuff from companies who treat the people and animals like Hell.

One idea I have for the future is to not go for everything in one shop. Multiple grocery stores, farmer’s markets, etc. if need be. I will also start composing some additional rules to how I should be shopping “well”. Stay tuned!

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49 responses to “$35/Week Shopping: Week 2”

  1. Sean M says:

    What’s the caloric total per week on this diet? Per day? Per meal?

    Focusing on cost is great, but more important that this low-cost diet is compatible with life – i.e. getting adequate caloric intake for (at least) your lean body mass.

    • erik says:

      Hey Sean, thanks for checking out – I’m eating anywhere 1800 – 3500 calories a day.

      Last two weeks I’ve hit a personal record for mileage in a week (55 miles), a 18:50 5K and my fastest 12 mile run. I have maintained a weight of 165 lb. since starting 4 weeks ago.

  2. Genevieve says:

    This is a great idea and I’m looking forward to reading more. I have a great recipe for leftover/about to spoil veggies. This crockpot Black Bean Soup makes 8 servings for about $10 and freezes well: http://crockpot365.blogspot.com/2008/02/crockpot-black-bean-soup-recipe.html

    I hate being wasteful, especially with produce. I found that you can basically add any veggie and once blended in with the black beans, doesn’t change the taste. It’s my go-to to avoid waste.

    Good luck with your challenge!

  3. Matt says:

    Really interested to see where this series goes! My diet has been absolute garbage lately and I know I need to do something about it. I’m interested to see what all types of items you get in this series and what you make with them. Also, out of curiosity, how hungry are you from doing this? I tend to do a fair bit of physical activity and so I am wondering how that might factor in. Looking forward to future posts!

    • erik says:

      Hey Matt, thanks for checking out the experiment! It’s funny how if we’re not conscious of it – things can go south pretty quickly. And I’m not hungry very often! I eat between 1800 – 3500 calories per day and have not lost any weight from this experiment. And I just had my highest mileage week ever – over 55 miles of running. Some people are surprised but it’s true! Again, thank you for checking out!

  4. LiBM says:

    Try lentils; they are relatively cheap and a good source of iron

  5. Barry says:

    Really intrigued by your experiment in eating, look forward to seeing how your grocery runs and recipes evolve. One observation: so far it seems like your diet is light in more nutrient-rich fruits and veggies. Could be that we just aren’t seeing every meal, but I would suggest that you incorporate some of those frozen veggies into some of the recipes, and maybe get some frozen berries or other fruits (if you’re like me and have trouble keeping up with the perishable stuff). I’m a recovering Clif bar addict too!

    • erik says:

      Hey Barry, thanks so much for checking out! Fruits and veggies are coming along. It started off pretty rough! And good to know others out there were addicted to Clif Bars!

      Thanks again!

  6. Miriam says:

    Your efforts are good, but you aren’t yet shopping as well as you could. You are really overpaying on a lot of stuff. It takes practice to learn how to “shop smart,” but there are some rules of thumb. First of all, you should be buying store brands whenever possible. Compare labels. Watch unit pricing, not just the actual price. And buy what’s on sale, preferably combined with coupons. A couple of examples (this is sort of from memory, because I don’t have your blog post in front of me): 1. You don’t need to pay for Jif, or any other name brand peanut butter. Stop and Shop (I use them as an example because that’s where I shop) has their own brand for much less, and it’s identical. 2. Bread. I love good bread, but for day to day use I buy Stop and Shop whole wheat unless something else is on sale. Bread is a good example of something you need to watch unit pricing on–pay attention to how much per pound you’re paying. 3. Produce. Watch the sales and buy what’s on sale that week. Also, buy what’s in season. 4. Canned goods. Buy the store brand. 5. Butter. Ditto. You get the point. The “sticker price” is not always the best price. Get familiar with your store, and you’ll notice that, for example, at least one brand of ice cream is on sale every week (again, just an example–I don’t buy it much, either!), one brand of yogurt, etc. I don’t believe in spending extra money for cage-free eggs–there’s no difference in nutrition or taste. But that’s up to you. On your last list of groceries you could have shaved quite a bit of money off the tab; but you’re headed in the right direction, so keep it up.

    • Julia says:

      Vermont Bread Company is very good bread and usually priced comparably to store brands. But shopping on sale is paramount. 3.99 lb peppers are frankly way to expensive. I bought .99 lb local peppers a couple days ago. Buying fruits and veggies in season is key, when the supply is high the price adjusts down.

      • erik says:

        Hey Julia – thanks for checking out the experiment. I agree on both accounts, those peppers broke the bank! And agreed – everything I try to buy now is in season locally. Thank you again!

  7. Henry Juliao says:

    Try to add Kale to your diet, it’s cheap and good for you. I did not notice any greens on this week’s list.
    It’s really hard to do this on a limited budget, keep up the good work.

    • erik says:

      Henry – thank you for checking out the experiment! Working vegetables and fruits into my buying! Thanks again!

  8. cms says:

    Re mono- and diglycerides:

    A Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives (searchable at Google Books)
    The CRC Handbook of Food Additives (also searchable at Google Books)

    They are emulsifiers; that is, they keep the peanut solids from separating from the peanut oil. If you want to know what a chemical is and what it does, why go a blog like “Tales of Alohi” instead of a reputable scientific source?

  9. Jacroe says:

    Have you thought about making your own peanut butter? I don’t know what the cost-benefit analysis would be, but I assume that buying barely processed peanuts would be less expensive than buying jars of peanut butter. Food for thought.

  10. Emily says:

    Love this idea of yours and will look forward to these posts!! Some questions and a comment: what are you drinking and are you including this in your budget? I am not sure if this is the same for where you live, but plain green bell peppers go for 1.99/lb versus the other colors which go for 3.99/lb (slightly different taste, but just as nutritious!).

  11. Tiffany McIntire says:

    One of my favorite things that can go on or with anything is Greek yogurt.
    Greek yogurt is pretty cheap and can be used for any meal, while providing additional protein!

    Nontraditional ways I use it:
    -Substitute for sour cream (great with beans + Siracha)
    -Sub. Mayo (for tuna salads)
    -Add some spices and it’s a perfect veggie dip

  12. Jeffrey Cote says:

    If Market Basket was open and fully stocked and staffed then it might be a one stop shopping. Stop the madness, bring back Artie T.

  13. Colette says:

    Make sure you figure in the extra cost of fuel if you are driving to all those different stores for bargains….
    unless you are biking. Then you need to put a $ amount on your additional time spent too and deduct from the $35.
    Sometimes saving $1 is not a savings if you spent $3 to drive there for it….

    • erik says:

      Hey Colette, thank you for checking out the experiment! Luckily I live very close to many grocery stores living in Boston.

  14. Nicely done! As a Mom, and a vegan blogger (also living in that “low income” category) I was challenged, several years, ago to post what I feed my family – and HOW I feed them healthy, filling food on a “food stamp” budget.
    The posts are here: http://tofu-n-sproutz.blogspot.com/2010/08/21-dollar-week-challenge.html

    Don’t know if you’ll find them helpful or relative or not.
    I realize I’ve lived on this sort of budget for YEARS and have it down to a science.
    Finding inexpensive, yet INTERESTING and nutritious food for growing children becomes a second (or third) job all on it’s own, and I realize many people don’t have the time, energy, resources or motivation to do so.
    Two of my kids are in college now, and use a modified version of these same techniques to keep their budgets reasonable as well.
    I like what you’re doing – so many people can use this sort of advice and your pictures and guidelines. It CAN be done.

    • erik says:

      Hey Marti, thanks and you too! Your challenge is incredible and has given me a few ideas. Thanks so much for checking out the experiment!

  15. Nathan says:

    I make my own refried beans, it’s just black beans, garlic, onion and spices.

    Also, dried beans etc… are much cheaper than canned ones. It just takes time or a pressure cooker to get them ready.

    • erik says:

      Great advice, Nathan. Was wondering how much work would go into my own refried beans but it looks like not too much. And I’m going for the dried beans switch as well. Thank you for checking out the experiment!

  16. Lauren says:

    I started a similar war on expensive groceries when I was a senior at BU in 2011 – love the TJ in CC. Well, I never shopping smart and now I’ve got it down to a science! My husband and I spend $250 on groceries per month for 2 people – so about $30 per week. I eat a ridiculous amount of veggies (I even juice regularly) and I’ve found the key is to shop at multiple stores…especially asian markets like Super 88 or H Mart. I wrote a guest blog on shopping sustainably with a budget earlier this year if you’re interested: http://lefatquack.wordpress.com/2014/02/10/5-tricks-for-eating-sustainably-on-a-budget/

    I moved to DC but heard a new H Mart opened up in Cambridge. If you haven’t hit it up, it is worth the trip. The produce prices are unbelievably cheap!

    • erik says:

      Lauren – $30/week – that’s amazing. And I’m finding the same with multiple stores. Will give the 88 a go soon! I’ll have to check out H Mart as well. Thanks so much for checking out the experiment and for the suggestions!

  17. Lynne Fox says:

    I love lentils. (http://goo.gl/zsa50V) They have a great nutty flavor and are high in fiber. You can eat them cold in salads (don’t overcook!) Or warm them with various sauces or flavorings. Vegetarians can advise, but I think if you add nuts you get a complete protein or something (not a nutritionist or a vegetarian, so I’m not an expert)
    They are easy to cook. If you have a stove, a pot and can simmer water, the options are great. They take 20-30 minutes to prepare a potful. Then you divide out the portions you want and add flavorings (you know, like Sriracha) If you shop at a middle Eastern or Indian grocery you can buy in bulk to save over several weeks.

    Add some applesauce – you’ve got a cheap, high fiber breakfast food.
    Add some Italian seasoned canned tomatos
    Add some curry for another version.
    Add some almonds and honey for another breakfast option.

    You can add meat if you have it (those chicken livers might taste good. )

    • erik says:

      I have seen dried lentils at a good price. I will give them a try at some point! Thank you for the suggestion and for checking out the experiment, Lynne!

  18. Bananagram says:

    You’re on to a good idea with farmer’s markets. You can usually find seasonal fruits/vegetables there for a fraction of store prices, and they’re much better in taste (but do perish a lot faster). Out of season crops will always be more expensive, but you can generally plan around that.

    Also, you should be able to get organ meat (chicken/beef livers, for example) directly from butchers, farmers markets, or from ethnic/asian grocery stores. They tend to be fresher and more responsibly raised, at a comparative price.

    • erik says:

      Thanks for checking out – I have to explore a farmer’s market soon. I went to Haymarket this week but they had wrapped up. Thanks again!

  19. John says:

    Hi there – I found your blog via LifeHacker.

    So I’m always on-board with people demonstrating that it’s possible to eat healthy and not spend a lot of money.

    However, I’m going to contest that your past two weeks of food purchases are not good examples of this. Organic products are generally a waste of money, in my opinion. They appeal only to upper-middle-class white people. It’s very possible to get good nutrition for a decent amount of money — expensive organic products offer no real benefit other than making us feel better about what we’re buying.

    I think we generally need to just get away from eating cheap crap/processed foods (ramen noodles, hot dogs, canned soups, things like that) and into cooking. I know when I was in college, I ate a lot of hot dogs because they were cheap and easy. Looking back, if I had just spent a few minutes making meals, I could have eaten way healthier for the same price.

    $35 will go a lot further if you go with what’s on sale and in-season, and avoid “feel good about buying this” foods. If I was trying to get into cooking, I’d look at this post, say “…that’s all? That’s what $35 gets you?” and stick with my hot dogs and frozen burritos.

    • erik says:

      Hey John – thanks for checking out. I agree with you. If you look at the past two weeks – after taking a ton of suggestions and trying them out, Week 2 looks a bit silly. It’s all about figuring it out!

  20. Leah says:

    I’m totally fascinated here. Good on you for making it work while also upping your mileage. It’s inspiring! I look forward to seeing how things progress. God Bless! 🙂

  21. L Mc says:

    I already eat for somewhere around $35/wk or less, though my criteria is somewhat different. I highly recommend hitting up the bulk bins for whole grains. in general, they are super cheap and packed with good stuff (fiber, protein, minerals) as well as being on par calorie-wise with (nutritionally worthless) white rice (for example). Millet and sorghum are my current favorites and cost something like 50¢ per prepared cup. With my grains, I pile on the lentils, greens, and homemade cole slaw (and sriracha) and it comes out to something like $2 or 3 per (large for me) meal. I have the cost and nutritional info all calculated, as I’ve been developing new staple meals for myself. Personally, I’m going for maximum nutrition and disease prevention within a sustainable context (including financial sustainability among other things). overall, I am finding that in eating for maximum health that it ia mistly super inexpensive to get in the calories. Greens and produce are the bulk of my budget with the periodic whammy of nut priducts.
    I realize that you’ve already defined your dietary criteria for this experiment (calories per dollar), but I feel I must point out that the phytonutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals in plant foods are not reflected in their calorie count, but are vital to health (especially yours as an athlete) nonetheless. I hope that you will find a way to keep them budgeted in! Also, I am rooting for you the keeping better multigrain bread (I think it’s worth it).
    Your experience was mentioned in a lifehacker post, so I would brace yourself for a flood of comments! Good luck and be well!


    • erik says:

      Hey L Mc, thank you for checking out! Sounds like you have put together something amazing for $2/$3 per meal. As time goes on, I think more and more about cost per nutrients as well. Thanks again.

  22. Melissa says:

    I may have a few suggestions. If you want fresh produce, check places that mark it down to sell it rather than just tossing it out. I don’t focus on organic but I do focus on fresh. We have Kroger here and when I find things I buy them and sometimes freeze them. I shop at Aldi quite a bit and I save a ton. I’m not a runner, but I play roller derby and I’m on roller skates at least 8 hours a week, not cointing exercise. I’m also a professional poor college student.

    My foods I buy to keep things low cost wise:
    -Brown Rice (can be microwaved to cook)
    -Bagged Dry Beans (I suggest investing in a crock pot)
    -Bananas (if they start to get too ripe I freeze them for later and make peanut butter banana breakfast smoothies).
    -Iceburg Lettuse (basically no nutritional value but I use it instead of bread sometimes for health reasons)
    -Eggs (cheap protein)
    -Canned greens like Kale, Collard Greens, Mixed Greens (I hate canned but I need greens).
    -Carrots and Hummus (good if you need a snack).
    -Tomatoes and Cucumbers (I call this county lunch, just use a little salt and your good to go).
    -Whole wheat pasta. I just use butter and salt on it. (Also microwaveable)
    -Canned tuna in water (goes good with brown rice, butter, and soy sauce).
    -Sweet potatoes (in a bag, not individual, doesn’t matter if it’s organic because they are in the ground, and I recommend putting them in the fridge to keep them longer).
    -Apples, bagged (keep a long time in the fridge).
    -Cabbage (good boiled with a little salt).
    -Avocado (good for electrolytes and fats, if gotten fresh lasts a while in the fridge, mix with cottage cheese, tomatoes, and a little salt and garlic)

    Avoid unless on good sale:
    -Strawberries (go bad too quickly, unless eating within a few days).
    -Other berries and cherries (over priced typically)
    -Pre-chopped veggies and fruit
    -Name Brands (often times made by the same company that makes generic brands).
    -Asparagus (goes bad quick, hard to cook properly)
    -Fresh fish you don’t plan to use immediately (the day of, goes bad quickly, like within 2 days)
    -Mosy pre-made and packaged products. Look into making things home made. It’s usually cheaper and healthier.

    Avoid buying from:
    -Save-a-lot stores (poor quality and questionable items)
    -Discount or “dollar stores” (also poor quality and also questionable)

    Look into:
    -Coupon Websites for toiletries and laundry items, possibly even good items if you want specific brand names.
    -Possible food “auction” (buys food from stores at low cost that have dented cans or damaged boxes for cheaper; a local good bank here gets products from it to give poor families and they may have some in your area if your desperate).

    That’s all I can think of at the moment.

  23. Julia says:

    It’s nice to see you putting so much effort into making wise and healthy choices. If you have a slow cooker and are willing to cook overnight, you can cook dried beans in bulk and freeze for individual portions, and you won’t have to worry about all the sodium and preservatives. When you consider one pound dried beans will produce eight cups cooked, the price you’re paying for refried beans is disheartening. The money that you could save would make fresh greens and veg more accessible as well. Good luck!

    • erik says:

      Thanks Julia – over time it’s gotten better and better! Bought some dried beans this week. Great idea – thank you for the suggestion!

  24. Christine says:

    Hey – good luck! Two suggestions. 1) Look for beef heart in the grocery (though TJ may not have). Great meat and super-cheap: $1.99/lb vs $3+/lb for crappy ground beef. 2) Consider getting a breadmaker if you eat a lot of sandwiches: packing lunch is *so much better* when it’s homemade bread. (Plus, bread ingredients are cheap.) I’ve used one for nearly 20 years. OTOH, don’t do this if you need bread that’s perfectly formed :-D. I like to experiment and thus end up eating a lot of mistakes. Still taste good, though. Happy trails!

  25. TerryTreks says:

    This is inspiring. I’m getting ready for a two month camping trip around the USA, and need to keep my food costs down, but still eat healthy, but portable food. I’m going to try Sriracha rice and beans recipe.

    • erik says:

      Terry, good luck – and thanks for checking out! My PRIMUS camping grill is almost always cooking up some sriracha beans and rice!

  26. Sarah says:

    Have you heard of Ezekiel bread? It’s made from sprouted grains and pretty nutritious as far as bread goes. I also find it to be more satisfying and filling. I think it costs $3.99 a loaf near me.


  27. kathryn says:

    We also eat fresh fruits and vegetables, rarely frozen…except for a couple.
    Try to eat a varied diet, as not everything has all the nutrients you required. Celery, I just found out, is almost a super food. Trouble is, it doesn’t have many calories. For that, add extra olive oil to your food. It’s good for you, and packs in needed calories.
    I use the Cron-o-meter to track my diet, so I know if I’m lacking in my diet.
    Molasses is very good for you. Everything in moderation.

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