Breaking Down the $40 Weekly Grocery Budget for Two

It’s tempting after a long day of work, classes and studying to stop by Taco Bell--especially when the fridge is empty. Impulse food buying is one area it's easy to give in to on the spot. It's easy to stop yourself from big shopping sprees that you know I can’t afford, but it’s harder to say no to a bag of Twizzlers as you're checking out at Walmart for only a buck or two.  Solution? Set a weekly (or bi-weekly) food budget and stick to it. I tend to set a budget of around $40-$50 a week, depending on what items I still have left over from the previous week of shopping. Below I will break down my grocery receipts from the week with meal plans that are cheap and at least semi-nutritious. Here’s a few quick tips before we begin:

Set a budget

Setting a budget forces you to take some responsibilty and hold yourself accountable every time you swipe your debit or credit card.  I usually stick to a weekly budget of about $40-50 for two. Some weeks I spend a little more, some less, but ultimately, I stay close to this range. On weeks I need to stock up on eggs, butter, or meat my trips tend to cost a bit more. It can be extremely helpful to do a quick inventory of your cupboards before heading to the grocery store so if there is something you are running out of you remember to buy it instead of stocking up on things until you’re literally out of everything!

Plan meals you’ll actually have time for

 I usually pick three or so “real dinner meals” I know I’ll have time to cook. For me, these days usually fall on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays—days I have more time. Expecting a full course meal every day isn’t incredibly realistic for most college students, so instead, set a realistic goal of a few nights a week you'll actually have the time to commit to!

Plan “easy meals”

Easy meals or snacks are just that—easy. They aren’t always the most budget friendly, but they make life doable and therefore are needed. PastaRoni is a relatively cheap lunch option, along with Cup of Noodles (not at the campus store, but bought in bulk at a grocery store). I always try and have some of these on hand because sometimes life is just crazy and quick easy food is needed. To spice up PastaRoni you can always add a side of veggies—I’m a fan of brussel sprouts or asparagus sautéed in butter. Ramen packets can be improved by including eggs and veggies like carrots corn and peas. (You can find a mixed bag of frozen veggies for $1.00 a piece at Walmart).

All of that being said, let’s take a look at my week's receipts and some potential meals they can produce!

This Week’s Shopping List:

18 English Muffins..........$4.17

Loaf of Bread..................$0.88

Ranch Seasoning………$0.50

Taco Seasoning…..........$0.50

Mushrooms…………..…$1.88

Broccoli Crowns……..…$1.22

Bowtie Noodles………...$1.00

Pasta Roni’s………...(3) $3.00 

Brownie Mix………….....$1.00

Bananas……………..….$1.32

Butter………………...….$5.88

Ground Beef……….…...$3.44

Tillamook yogurt………..$1.32

Eggs ………..(18 count) $1.62 

Applesauce..…………….$1.43

Kidney Beans…………...$0.58

Corn…………………...…$0.50

Pinto beans……………...$0.58

Alfredo Sauce…………...$2.12

Rice.................................$1.49

                            Total: $34.56

 

Potential Meals

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Bread ($0.88/loaf)

Obvious. I know. But at $0.88 a loaf this item can save a lot of time and money for meals! Beyond the classic peanut butter and jelly sandwhich, here’s a list of other meal ideas:

  • Grilled cheese (I’m a huge fan of tomato soup which you can usually find for just $1.00 more!)
  • Egg Sandwich
  • French Toast (this recipe uses a bit of flour to make the toast fluffier)
  • Garlic bread (this is great for a night you make soup or pasta!)

Beef ($3.44/lb)

Beef is extremely versatile and pretty low budget. From noodle dishes to soup, ground beef can make it a meal!

  • Taco Soup  (I've made simplified versions without tomatoes or fancy spices from recipes like this)
  • Spaghetti

Side note: For a healthier alternative, I often cook with chicken as an add-in for more a more filling meal. I stock up and buy a 5-10lb bag of frozen chicken breasts. I didn’t have to purchase chicken this week but it is relatively cheap as well!

Rice ($1.49/2 lb)

Rice can be paired with just about any meat or veggie. It is filling and very cost effective.

  • Black Beans and Rice with Asparagus
  • Egg Fried Rice (here's an easy recipe that can be modified to whatevers in your cupboards)

Pasta ($1.00/lb)

I always grab at least a few PastaRoni’s for much needed quick meals whether it be lunch of dinner. But, when I have time, I love cooking my own noodles and spicing up bottled sauce just a bit by adding grilled mushrooms and onions (and chicken if I’m feeling really fancy!)

  • PastaRoni or bulk Ramen Cups (because sometimes you just need a quick and easy meal on the go!)
  • Alfredo (I love adding a cheap but delicious veggie like broccoli that can easily be steamed in a crockpot!)
  • Pasta with Red Sauce 

English Muffins ($2.00/12 muffins)

These premade muffins are great for any time of day. From breakfast to dinner, there are ways to make simple, yummy meals with these guys. Since you can freeze these, feel free to buy in bulk, freeze, and use later!

  • Toasted English Muffin (with jam or jelly)
  • English Muffin Pizzas (here's a quick preview of potential toppings to try out)
  • Egg Muffin Sandwich

Snacks ($1.00-$2.00)

Every college student needs some ready-to-go snacks for those long days on campus, so here’s a few relatively cheap options that aren't fruit snacks:

  • Applesauce cups (I found an off-brand strawberry flavored option for only $1.43!)
  • Yogurt (super easy breakfast when paired with fruit or granola. The big containers of one flavor are cheapest but I usually opt for individual cups I can take to work for about $0.44 each)
  • Bananas (perhaps the cheapest, most filling fruit out there! I got a large bunch for only $1.32!)

Desserts (varies)

Dessert is needed, at least in small quantities! I try to limit myself to a purchase of one dessert or treat a week, and this week brownies won!

  • Brownies (a pan of brownies is hard to pass up, especially when it only costs you $1.00!)
  • Homemade Texas Sheetcake (here's a recipe to try out)

Tips

  1. Note that some meals such as taco soup tend to make larger portions that can serve as two full meals, which brings the cost down significatly. 
  2. Find out what you can buy in bulk and freeze for later. Fruits, veggies, breads and meats can often be frozen in ziplock bags.
  3. Fruit and vegitable prices vary depending on the season so be aware of when prices for items are going to be cheaper and/or more expensive.

Disclaimers

It should be noted that every week's list is going to look a little different. Some weeks you have to stock up on the basics such as flour, sugar, and oil which takes away from your total shopping budget for the week. Prices are going to vary by store (mine were based off of a local Walmart prices in Salt Lake City). That being said, there are lots of ways to maximize every dollar you spend and it all begins with a budget!