Grocery Diaries

How a Costco-Lover Eats for $125 a Week in Greenville, S.C.

published May 13, 2019
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Welcome to Kitchn’s Grocery Diaries, where a real cook like you shows us what they bought, cooked, and ate over the course of a week.

Name: Sarah*
Location: Greenville, SC
Age: 32
Number of people in family: 1
Occupation: Risk Manager (banking sector)
Household income: $88,000
Weekly grocery budget: $125
Ingredients to use this week: Frozen chicken, frozen cherries, rice, a dozen eggs, Greek yogurt, and baking ingredients
Grocery store of choice: Costco

*Not her real name. All of our participants in this series use pseudonyms for privacy.

Day One: Sunday

Breakfast: I wake up at 7:30 a.m. and start the coffee pot. Sundays are my sleep-in day (although honestly I never really sleep in very late) and the only day I don’t set the coffee to brew automatically. While the coffee brews I stir together the dough for no-knead bread (from Kitchn) for this week. I often use the Mark Bittman recipe from the New York Times for no-knead bread, but forgot to get the dough started before bed last night. I hope this recipe is a winner — the timing of this one will be much more convenient! Once I get the dough done, I enjoy coffee while looking through recipes for the week. I use Paprika for recipe organization. It makes planning and grocery list-making really easy. As I check to see what I have already, I realize I will use the last of the chicken from the freezer so I add that to my Costco list.

At 9 a.m. I meet a friend for breakfast at a local diner. It’s always amazing and the food is really reasonably priced. I order fried eggs, bacon, toast, hash browns, and orange juice. I love eating breakfast out — I can never seen to get the timing right when I try to make all these things at home! My friend puts the bill on her credit card and I give her $12 in cash to cover my food and tip.

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Costco run: Straight from breakfast, I head to Costco. I love Costco — and Costco before the crowds is even better! (My friends joke I should work at Costco because I love it so much.) I spend some time wandering making mental notes of a few new items. I have a short Costco list this week: chicken breasts, grape tomatoes, and butter. Yes, I live alone and buy butter at Costco! It’s the best deal, butter freezes well, and I love to bake. My total at Costco is $38.48.

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Aldi run: After Costco, I run into Aldi for a few items. I grab broccoli, a can of tomato sauce, spicy hummus, a pineapple, marshmallows, and crisp rice cereal. I check out — and realize while bagging that the broccoli was not on the receipt. I mention it to the cashier and she tells me not to worry about it and enjoy the free broccoli. My total at Aldi is $5.61. I really save a lot getting what I can at Aldi and I have always been pleased with the quality.

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Harris Teeter run: For the last of my items, I head to Harris Teeter. Seems like a lot of stops but they are on my way home from Costco. I try to get as much as I can from Aldi and Costco but I am also trying to limit food waste so most weeks there are things to grab from Harris Teeter as well. I grab orzo, a sweet potato, red wine vinegar, fresh mint, a basil plant (cheaper than just buying fresh basil — hopefully I can keep it alive for a while!), a lemon, red onion, yellow onion, cauliflower, and 2% milk. Total is $17.40.

Lunch: I heat up leftover wonton soup and enjoy a cold leftover spring roll. I love cold spring rolls and always order an extra to take home with my leftovers. I make a sparkling water in the SodaStream and put a few drops of orange bitters in it — DIY LaCroix!

Dessert and lunch prep: I am heading to a friend’s house for dinner later and I am bringing dessert. When I asked if there were any requests for what dessert, my friend mentioned that her kids love Rice Krispies Treats. I always use this recipe and add in a few extra marshmallows — reminds me of making them with my mom when I was little. I make them now so there is enough time for them to cool.

While the dessert is cooling, I start making sweet potato chicken bowls. This recipe is one of my favorite to prep for work lunches. I usually scale it down a bit so it makes just enough for five lunches. I love this recipe; it’s really forgiving and the spice blend recipe that is linked in the notes is great. Once everything is done, I divide into containers and top each with some hummus.

Credit: Courtesy of Sarah

Dinner: Dinner is pizza with my friends and their kids. We ate on their back porch and I am so glad the weather is warming up! The Rice Krispies treats were a big hit as well!

Post-dinner baking break: Once I get home, I preheat the oven for the bread. Hopefully the extra rise time will not be an issue — I should have timed things better today. I make a sparkling water with grapefruit bitters (Fee Brothers is my personal favorite bitters brand and the easiest to find non-alcoholic). I chop the pineapple while the bread bakes. The bread is out at 9 p.m. and delicious! I have a slice with some sleepytime tea.

Day Two: Monday

Breakfast: My weekday 6:30 a.m. alarm goes off and I have coffee while getting ready for work. Setting the coffee pot the night before and waking up to a fresh pot is one of my favorite things. Before rushing out the door, I fill a travel mug with coffee, fill a water bottle, and grab a slice of bread with peanut butter for breakfast, which I eat on the go.

Caffeine break: I have a pre-lunch Diet Coke (brought from home) during a planning meeting.

Lunch: Once I’m out of the meeting, I grab the sweet potato chicken bowl I brought and refill my water bottle. My office recently got an ice maker and I still get excited about ice at work. We did not have a functioning ice maker for seven years!

Snack: A coworker stops by my desk and offers me a Reese’s egg — so obviously I have one! Candy is my weakness. I try hard not to buy it but I can’t turn down an offer. I refill my water bottle in the break room. I try to drink at least 60 ounces of water each day at work, and always bring a water bottle.

Gym break: I refill my water bottle on the way to the gym. After the gym I decide to walk the mile to the drugstore to pick up a prescription. I listen to a podcast on the walk (My Favorite Murder) and successfully avoid all temptation to buy more candy.

Dinner: I get home and decide on a tuna melt for dinner. Canned tuna is another Costco staple for me. I mix it with mayo, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, and fresh cracked pepper. Unfortunately, I am out of muenster cheese (my favorite on a tuna melt), so I use shredded cheddar since that is all I have. Then I have a water and sparkling water with my open-faced tuna melt.

Dessert: For a treat, I have a dark chocolate sea salt square (I love the ones from World Market) while watching Parks and Rec. I never watched it when it was on so I am really enjoying watching it from the beginning. Then I head to bed about 10.

Day Three: Tuesday

Breakfast: I wake up and have a cup of coffee with frothed milk. I work from home today so getting ready is really super quick. On days I work from home I brew the coffee really strong and add frothed milk to make something that resembles a latte. The Nespresso frother is the best. Not before long, it’s time for a second caffeine jolt, so I have another “latte” with coffee/frothed milk.

Credit: Courtesy of Sarah

For breakfast I have plain yogurt with cherry “sauce” and granola. I threw some mostly thawed (frozen) cherries in the blender until they turned into a jam-like consistency to stir into yogurt. It’s basically like fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt without all the extra sugar. Then I throw the extra sauce in a jar for breakfast later this week and fill up my water bottle.

Snack: It’s time for a water bottle refill. I also have a tiny slice of bread — it’s so good and right there! I am also going to a yoga class during my lunch break so I know it will be a late lunch day. I snack on the bread while working on training presentations for work.

Lunch: I’m back from yoga and heat up one of the sweet potato chicken bowls in the toaster oven. I have a water and sparkling water with my bowl and spend the rest of the day on calls.

Snack: I eat some of the pineapple — I finally picked a good one! I am always nervous about choosing a pineapple, but this one is fantastic!

Dinner: I’m headed out to meet a friend for dinner at one of my favorite local spots. I order a burger without a bun and sweet potato fries and have a beer with dinner. Great evening catching up with my friend — and a burger is always a treat since I don’t cook a lot of red meat at home. My friend’s brother just started working at this restaurant and hooks us up with the employee discount. I make sure to tip the server well. My bill is $14.04 after the discount and I tip $6.

Day Four: Wednesday

Breakfast: Another 6:30 a.m. wake-up. I have coffee while getting ready for work. Then I fill up my travel mug and head out around 7:30. Once I’m at work, I make oatmeal for breakfast. I keep instant oatmeal packs in my desk for mornings when I rush out and don’t have a chance to eat at home. I hate buying things at the work cafeteria. It’s way more expensive and honestly not that great! I also refill my water bottle.

Lunch: I eat a sweet potato chicken bowl cold (surprisingly tasty cold as well as warm!) and have a Diet Coke and a water. I browse Amazon to try and find some ideas for my sister’s birthday next month.

Snack: For a snack, I have some of the sliced pineapple while doing my expense report. I really hate expense reports so I try to time them with a tasty snack. Also time to refill my water bottle.

Dinner: I head to a local brewery to celebrate a friend’s new job. Her husband coordinated a group to surprise her — it was a great time! The weather was perfect and it was a great to spend a few hours celebrating a good friend! I pay for my beer ($6 plus a $2 tip). My friend’s husband ordered a bunch of tacos, guac, and chips/salsa for the table and insisted it was his treat. It took a few years, but I am really glad that I have found a group of friends who are really like family here.

Tea: Get home, make Sleepytime tea, and set the coffee for tomorrow.

Day Five: Thursday

Breakfast: I wake up late and rush getting ready — grab my coffee in a travel mug and water bottle. Once I get to the office, I make oatmeal. I switch it up and add in some pineapple. Strange but it works. I catch up on my emails while eating.

Water break: I take a quick break to refill my water bottle and take a walk around the building. I have a lot of meetings today so I try to move a bit when I can! I try to spend most of my day standing at my desk (I have a sit-stand desk — it’s the best) but days with lots of conference room meetings I sit a lot more than I would like!

Credit: Courtesy of Sarah

Lunch: I grab my sweet potato chicken bowl (shocking, I know!) and have an early lunch. I have a meeting from 12 to 2 and there is no way that I can wait until 2 for lunch!

Snack: Finally out of the meeting and take a break to fill up my water bottle and eat the rest of the pineapple I packed. Check in on a few projects while eating and then rush into my 3:00 meeting.

Dinner: Head home from the office and make this orzo salad. It’s supper club tonight. I use the term supper club loosely since its just 4 of us! Once I make the orzo salad (and sample it, of course!) I head over to my friend’s house. We have the orzo salad with grilled chicken, a green salad, and ice cream for dessert while catching up! I love this supper club tradition. We meet monthly, everyone comes in comfy clothes, and we always stay up way too late playing a board or card game. Tonight we played Apples to Apples — a classic!

Day Six: Friday

Breakfast: Today even more than usual I am glad to wake up to fresh coffee! I make a granola bowl for breakfast with some of the cherry sauce and fill my travel mug with coffee on my way out.

Hydration break: I refill my water bottle and make some lemon ginger tea. The office is pretty cold today and the tea is a nice treat.

Lunch: I finally have a minute to grab my lunch — it’s the same bowl! I refill my water and get a Diet Dr. Pepper from the vending machine at the office ($1 paid for with coins I scrounge up in my desk). I eat while going through emails that have piled up while I was on calls this morning.

Tea time: I make another cup of tea — this time peppermint huckleberry green tea. I keep a stash of tea bags in my desk drawer. The office temperature is often really cold so I drink hot tea at my desk all year! It’s also a good way to add a bit of fun to documentation reviews.

Gym break: I refill my water bottle on the way out of the office. I head to the gym, and after my workout I refill my water and head to Staples so I can get my copy of Dinner Illustrated spiral-bound. Any paperback cookbooks that I buy and love I end up getting spiral-bound. So nice to cook from a completely flat cookbook!

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Grocery shopping: I pop by Publix on my way home to grab puff pastry. I am going to try this recipe for a fun treat tonight! I usually have puff pastry but I am out and had not restocked. I grab two boxes for a total of $9.64. I am excited to try a fun new baking project!

Credit: Courtesy of Sarah

Dinner: Get home and decide to try the frozen sushi I impulse bought at Aldi a few weeks ago. I pull it out to thaw and get started on the cheater cinnamon sugar cruffins. The sushi is surprisingly good. I mean it’s not as good as fresh rolled sushi, but it’s better than most grocery store pre-made sushi! I will for sure buy it again!

Dessert: The cinnamon cruffins are out of the oven! I halved the recipe and of course have to have one. THEY ARE SO GOOD! I have made a lot of recipes from this site and all have been winners. I clean the kitchen, set the coffee pot, and head to bed a little before 10.

Day Seven: Saturday

Breakfast: I wake up at 6:45 a.m. (way before my alarm). I get up and enjoy a cruffin with coffee. I am meeting a friend at the gym at 9 so I package up one of the cruffins to bring to her. I get an email that I can now download the Kitchen Confidential ebook from the library so I download and read some before the gym.

I finish the workout and refill my water. I head to Waffle House for breakfast with a few friends from the gym. I realize after I order that I may have selected the most boring breakfast ever: a waffle and hash browns. I also have a water and Diet Coke. It’s great to catch up with three of my gym friends! Breakfast is $7.88 and I leave a $3 tip.

Credit: Courtesy of Sarah

Lunch: I make a smoothie for lunch — I throw in frozen spinach, half a frozen banana, frozen mango, a scoop of collagen peptides, and water in the blender. I am not really hungry but I know I need to have something on my way to the park. I have a friend in grad school and we often meet up in the park near his house to read when the weather is nice. It’s a win-win. I get to see a friend and get a couple of hours to read outside and he is not stuck reading alone all weekend!

Snack: I fill up my water bottle and grab the rest of the chopped pineapple to take to the park. The park has awesome shaded spots for reading and I spend some time catching up on news articles and then read more of Kitchen Confidential. My friend and I share the pineapple about 3:00. By the time I look up, it’s already 6:30? I am still getting used to Daylight Saving Time. It feels so much earlier than it is! I pack up my tote and head home.

Dinner: I get home and start making dinner. I am making chicken tikka masala. I decide to serve it over roasted cauliflower rather than rice and roast the cauliflower while the chicken is cooking. This recipe is hands-down the best Instant Pot tikka masala I have had and it’s a regular in the work lunch rotation in addition to dinner. I have a piece of Trader Joe’s frozen naan with the tikka masala.

Tea: I have a lemon ginger tea while cleaning the kitchen, watch a few episodes of Parks and Rec, and head to bed around 10:30.

1. How did you set your food budget?

My food budget has shifted a lot over the last few years. A few years ago I was spending a lot less on food so I could pay off debt. I knew once that debt was paid off I would be re-evaluating my food spending. A lot of my socializing is around food and it’s been so nice to participate more in the dining-out events! I live alone and some weeks work from home most of the week, so meeting a friend for a meal is a fun way to get out of the apartment. I experimented with a few different approaches and found that $125 gives me the freedom to say “yes” to these invites/make plans but not so much that I can just throw caution to the wind at the grocery store. It also makes me think twice about getting takeout or buying lunch at the work cafeteria and I try to prep something for work lunches each weekend. I am not about to blow $50 on mediocre (at best!) work food each week!

Some weeks are more spendy than others, and any funds I don’t use one week roll into the next week. A few times a year I have to get a bunch of spices or things at Costco so my spending is super high, but it all evens out over the course of a year. Food spending is my budget splurge. I review all my spending every week, and food and restaurant spending are never things I regret!

2. What are the kitchen ingredients you can’t live without?

I always have coffee, eggs, baking supplies (I like knowing I can make cookies or bread at any time!), hummus, rice, black beans, and canned tuna. I also like to have a well-stocked freezer. I always have Dave’s Killer Bread, chicken breast, chicken thighs, spinach, fruit, butter, and a Trader Joe’s frozen meal or two for my really lazy nights. I also have a pretty well-stocked spice collection — good spices (I love Penzey’s Spices) and fresh-ground pepper can take something really bland or basic from boring to exciting!

3. What’s the budget recipe you always rely on?

A tuna melt! I love them and they are so easy to make. Most of the ingredients are shelf-stable and I always have some sort of cheese in my fridge. I also love a frittata. I learned how to make them using this tutorial and make them a few times a month. It’s a great way to repurpose random leftovers. At this point I think I could make a frittata in my sleep! Shockingly a frittata reheats pretty well and I can eat it for any meal.

At Kitchn we believe setting a food budget for you and your family is an essential part in getting your financial life in order. Don’t know where to start? We have a guide for that. Want to share your Grocery Diary with Kitchn? See how here.