My first year living on my own, a fellow cheapster friend of mine offered me a challenge: to spend only $30 a week on groceries. She had pretty much gone full-out vegan and was on her own frugal grocery plan, spending around that amount each week.
A few weeks into the challenge, I got into a rhythm and managed to get my weekly grocery spending down to $30. Fast-forward to the present, I recently visited Trader Joe's to see how much my former frugal grocery list would cost me today. It turns out I would be spending about $45 a week (hello, inflation!) buying pretty much the same things.
When I first made this grocery plan, I set a rough budget for each of the three meals of the day, plus set a bit of money aside for snacks and splurges. Then, I did some comparison shopping to see what kinds of meals I could come up with for that amount of money.
I pretty much bought generic items when I was shopping at the supermarket. But at Trader Joe's, most everything gets slapped with the TJ's label, and the cost doesn't change. So when I shopped there, I didn't have to take out my calculator and do the math to know that I was staying on track.
I changed up what I ate for lunch from time to time, but stuck to items that were low cost and were enough for about four to six meals.
Dinner was the same kind of deal. I bought low-cost fare and cooked meals that lasted for several days, and the ingredients were pretty much the same price. When I switched things up, I just made sure I was staying within my dinner budget.
Alternately, I would enjoy a simple dinner of fish nuggets ($4.49 for a box of 16 nuggets) drizzled with a bit of tzatziki sauce ($3.49). In 2021, this adds up to a little over $8.
As for snacks, I pretty much subsisted on brown rice cakes (13 for $2.99) smeared with peanut butter ($1.99), or some rice crackers (2.99 for a bag). I also would nosh on some pears ($2.49 for a bag of six).
Besides my regular grocery shopping, I would load up on non-perishables that were high in nutrients — cans of beans, bags of frozen veggies, tinned fish, and occasionally grains. Adding them to a meal or eating them à la carte packed nutrients and satiated my hunger.
I found it interesting that a little over a decade later, my then-weekly grocery haul went from about $30 to $45, or a 33% bump. It turns out that since 2008, inflation has increased about 27.06%. But you gotta give it to TJ's that the price tag on some of the items didn't change much or at all.
Where have you seen your grocery bills going up? Share the items that you've noticed getting spendy in the comments.
And for more stories about life and money, check out the rest of our personal finance posts.