How a Family of 4 Spends $100 a Week on Groceries in St. Petersburg, FL
Location: St. Petersburg, Florida
Number of people in household: 4 (me, my husband, and our two toddlers)
Occupation: I’m a teacher and my husband is a stay-at-home dad and full-time student.
Household income: $36,000
Weekly grocery budget: $79
Ingredients to use this week: Lentils and WIC milk and bread. (We are part of the WIC supplemental nutrition assistance program which provides whole wheat bread and milk and a few other things. I’m typically trying to think of creative ways to use the items.)
Grocery store of choice: Sav-a-Lot, Walmart, Lucky’s Market
Day 1: Tuesday
Coffee: It’s 5:15 a.m. and first things first — I make some instant coffee. I love store-bought cold brew, but I choose instant coffee in the mornings during the winter to save money. I use some chocolate powdered creamer with it to make it taste better. I quickly get ready and I’m out the door by 6:15 a.m. I ride my bike 8 miles to work every day to save money and get exercise.
I typically try to eat breakfast before my first class starts, but today, I didn’t have time. We have a teacher locker room that I use to change and get ready, which takes about 10 minutes. Once in my classroom, I got distracted by answering emails. Students begin to enter, and I hope I don’t get too hungry.
Breakfast: During my first break at work, I look in the teacher’s lounge for food. We often have leftovers, parent donations, or other food available for staff. I scrounge for breakfast most days, but also sometimes keep bagels or fruit in the fridge so I have something to grab. There have been packets of oatmeal on the counter for a few weeks. They aren’t my favorite, but I decided to eat one because it’s quick and free. I also get a cup of coffee. I brought a container of creamer with me today. It’s pumpkin-flavored and I’m bored of it but I don’t want it to go bad. I use a bit, and then leave the rest in the fridge in case anyone else wants some. I give back when I can!
Lunch: At lunch, I have leftover mini sweet pepper nachos that I made last night. I try to eat leftovers for lunch whenever I can. A few weeks ago, I made a mixture of ground turkey, diced tomatoes, taco seasoning, and black beans. I used some of that for quesadillas, but froze a bag of it too. I freeze extra food so that I don’t get tired of eating the same thing. Last night, I thawed the meat mixture, spread it over sliced mini peppers, put it on a baking sheet and topped it with cheese. After eating these leftovers for lunch, I have another cup of coffee.
Snack: I get home from work, and I am hungry. I make a mental note to remember to pack some more carbs to go with lunch since I notice that a more well-rounded meal keeps me fuller longer. I toast half a bagel and eat it with cream cheese while coloring and making paper airplanes with my two-year-old and four-year-old. Throughout the afternoon, I drink a couple glasses of ice water with lime. I love to have a can of LaCroix, but we don’t usually buy it to stay within budget. This is my alternative to plain water (which I drink throughout the day at work) and it usually hits the spot.
Dinner: It’s chilly this week (a rarity in Florida!) so I make some of our cold weather favorites. I make baked potatoes, using the Kitchn’s baked potato recipe for crispy skins, since that’s my favorite part. I make a broccoli and cheese sauce* recipe to go with it.
*We are part of the WIC program which provides basic, nutritious foods for families with small children. Every month, we get things like bread, milk, cheese, eggs, cereal, fruits, vegetables, beans, peanut butter, and juice. This is a helpful supplement to our budget. Because we have access to so much milk, I like to find recipes that use it all up. The cheese sauce is a great way to do that!
Dessert: I’m a dessert person, and always want something sweet before bed. My favorite is ice cream, but since it’s been cold out, I haven’t wanted it as much. I notice we have eggnog and whipped cream in the fridge that my in-laws brought over. I warm that up, froth it with a whisk, and top it with whipped cream. Sometimes, I like to take the extra step like whisking and adding whipped cream to make something simple feel special.
Day 2: Wednesday
Coffee: I make another cup of instant coffee, grab my lunch (a leftover baked potato) and head out the door. I bike to work especially quickly and get to work in 27 minutes instead of 35 minutes! I’m feeling the extra workout.
Breakfast: I make another cup of coffee right when I get to school. It’s only 6:45 a.m. I’m so thankful the school replenishes the K-Cups and powdered creamer for us. I take another oatmeal packet from the teacher’s lounge and eat it for breakfast. I’m glad I had time to eat before my first class today.
Snack: During my break between classes, I have another cup of coffee and eat a cupcake at my desk. I would have preferred something less sweet since it’s so early in the morning, but this was the snack available. I think the tray of cupcakes was leftover from a teacher event last night. The free treats tempt me.
Lunch: I eat lunch in the teacher’s lounge while we catch up about what’s going on around the school. I have a leftover baked potato topped with broccoli and cheese sauce. I don’t end up eating quite all of it since it was a big potato. I have another cup of coffee right after lunch.
Snack: This afternoon, I take my boys for a play date at a friend’s house. My friend offers me an Oreo Truffle while the kids aren’t looking and I accept.
Dinner: By the time dinner is ready, I’m quite hungry. Have you also noticed that all of those 5-minute Instant Pot recipes actually take 30 minutes? Today, I make the best Instant Pot lentil soup. Our local grocery store, Lucky’s Market, has a great bulk bin area where I was able to get the perfect amount of both red and green lentils. I double the amount of the spices and add a dash of sugar. I also use kale instead of spinach and homemade chicken broth instead of vegetable broth. I serve this with half a loaf of Italian bread leftover from the weekend. I try to only serve half a loaf at a time or it’s all gone. My kids try the soup but mostly eat bread. They aren’t big dinner eaters. I give a bowl to my husband to eat while he works at his desk and I eat at the table alone. I end up freezing three containers of soup and keeping a big container in the fridge that should last for several lunches.
Dessert: While cleaning up, I decide to cut up a pineapple that has been sitting on the counter for a few days. I put some in a container to take to work and some in a container for the kids. I snack on a few pieces. For dessert, I eat about 1/3 of a pint of “cookie fudge” ice cream. It’s the Sav-a-Lot version of Ben and Jerry’s, but it’s only $1.89 instead of $4.99. It’s pretty good. I eat it while reading a book.
Day 3: Thursday
Coffee: I have instant coffee with chocolate powdered creamer again.
Breakfast: I have a very busy morning today so I don’t have a chance to eat breakfast until 10:45 a.m. We had a special meeting, delayed class, and a weird schedule. I’m starving. Usually on Thursdays, the PTA brings snacks in the teacher’s lounge. Today, it’s candy and chocolates, which I skip. I have another packet of the free oatmeal and some of the pineapple I brought from home. I waited way too long to eat today! I have another cup of coffee after finishing my breakfast.
Lunch: I brought my whole container of soup to work case anyone wants to share. We end up having a potluck lunch in the teacher’s lounge — one person brought leftover pizza that she didn’t want to finish, another brought a big salad but wanted to share it because she was going to have some of the pizza, and a fourth coworker had meal-prepped chicken that she had for the week but didn’t end up finishing. We place everything in the center and take what we would like. I eat my soup, some salad with Italian dressing, and 1/2 a slice of pepperoni pizza. Two of my coworkers ask for the soup recipe! I love connecting with my colleagues over lunch during our busy work days.
Coffee break: I get home from work and make a cup of coffee. While I drink it, I start to think about my grocery list. I’m starting to like the packets of oatmeal I’ve been eating in the morning. I have two WIC coupons for whole-grain items, so I check to see if oatmeal is on the list. It is but it can’t have any added ingredients. I decide to get some plain big containers of instant oatmeal and portion it into small glass containers, each with some cinnamon and brown sugar. Homemade instant oatmeal packets!
Snack: My boys and I share a snack of peanut butter and jelly on crackers.
Dinner: Because I had that snack with my kids, I don’t start thinking about dinner until a bit later than I usually do. I have a pork loin defrosting in the fridge, but realize it’s still mostly frozen. I set a reminder to put it on the counter tomorrow morning so that it’s ready to be cooked tomorrow. We don’t have much else that’s easy to put together and I’m bored of leftovers. It’s the beginning of the month, and I ask my husband if he wants to order takeout since we have room in the budget. He agrees. I order sesame chicken and beef lo mein. It costs $15 and will feed my family of 4, so I think that’s a pretty good deal. I load the boys up on our bike and ride over to the Chinese place. It’s about a mile away. We have a big basket on the front of our bike which makes it easy to bring things home.
When we get home, I notice that I have about 1/4 a head of cabbage in the fridge that needs to be used, so I slice it very thinly, and my husband and I mix it into the lo mein. I love adding vegetables to make it feel more balanced and not like we’re just eating heavy, salty noodles.
Dessert: I eat a few bites of ice cream, but I’m pretty full, so I put it away.
Day 4: Friday
Coffee: Same coffee, but I ran out of chocolate creamer, so I use French vanilla. I’m out the door and on my bike by 6:10. I’m feeling energetic this morning, so I push myself during the ride.
Breakfast: As soon as I get to work, I have some oatmeal and pineapple. I don’t want to forget to eat breakfast again after yesterday!
Snack: The administration has made a cute popcorn bar for the teachers! I have some caramel/cheese mix, my favorite. I sample the peppermint, but it’s too sweet for the morning.
Lunch: I have more lentil soup. A coworker brings in a pot of chili to share made with sweet potato and ground turkey. I have a small bowl of it alongside my soup. She used a recipe with cinnamon and cloves, so it tastes very warm and perfect for winter. Also, more coffee.
Dinner: My boys and I don’t have any plans for the afternoon, so I decide to make a bigger dinner than I usually do. The pork loin from yesterday is thawed, so I decide to make cranberry pork, homemade rosemary yeast rolls, and roasted carrots with smoked paprika. I start to make dinner and realize that this recipe is going to take a while. The rolls have to rise and the pork should marinate. The boys and I get the rolls started, and I give them a mini science lesson about yeast and how it works. My 4 year old LOVES helping in the kitchen and learning about stuff, so we have a good time. Because this is going to take a while, I eat a small bowl of cereal.
At 7:30 p.m. dinner is finally ready. I fed the kids earlier (cereal and fruit), so my husband and I are going to have a “date night in” after the kids go to bed. I based this pork loin off of a Pioneer Woman recipe and it’s delicious! I usually do pretty quick meals during the week, so I donn’t mind taking some extra time tonight.
Day 5: Saturday
Coffee: I wake up with my two-year-old at 7:30 a.m. and make my coffee. I drink it while reading books to him on the couch.
Breakfast: I find some yogurt in the fridge that I forgot about. With WIC, we get two big containers of yogurt every week. I usually get one container of plain, whole milk yogurt that we use in smoothies, for cooking, or as a substitute for sour cream. For the second container, I usually get vanilla Greek yogurt. I finish off the yogurt with some of the sliced pineapple from earlier this week. And more coffee.
Lunch: I find a baked potato in the fridge from earlier this week. It’s the last one. I like when we finish our leftovers. And again — more coffee. I drink three cups most days.
Snack: We spend the whole afternoon downtown. This time of year in Florida is lovely, and there is a lot going on. We visited a “Shopapalooza” with homemade crafts for sale and other local goodies, stopped by a playground and let the kids run around.. I packed snacks for the kids and end up eating one of the granola bars I packed for them.
Dinner: We get home tired from all the walking. I heat up leftovers from last night for everyone — pork, carrots, and rolls.
After-dinner drink: I have two glasses of cold eggnog mixed with skim milk and rum. I top it with whipped cream and freshly grated nutmeg. My husband and I have been watching older movies together. Last week, we watched When Harry Met Sally. This weekend, we decide on You’ve Got Mail.
Day 6: Sunday
Coffee: I get up with my four year old and have a cup of cold brew coffee — my favorite.
Breakfast: On Friday night, I made way too many buns, so I decide to make breakfast sandwiches. I make 1/2 a pack of bacon, 8 eggs, and slice cheese. I layer it on the buns for mini breakfast sandwiches. I let my kids make their own sandwiches, which they really like. We have 6 leftover, which I will bring to work to have for breakfast next week.
Grocery shopping: I spend the morning putting together my grocery pick-up order for Walmart. I love using grocery pick-up because I can look around my house and see what I’m missing. I schedule the Walmart order for pick-up between 9-10. This afternoon, I’ll make a trip to Sav-a-lot to get our WIC items as well. I also go through the freezer and take out anything that needs to thaw in the fridge that we can eat for the upcoming week. I realize that I have three types of soup frozen, so I take out one of each.
Part of the reason we shop at Walmart is that it’s easy to bike to. I have a cargo trailer that can easily fit a week’s worth of groceries, plus two bags on my rear rack if we need to get extra things. There’s a lovely trail that weaves through a forest preserve, runs alongside a golf course, and then emerges at the back of the big Walmart Super Center. We used to shop at Aldi, but it’s across a very busy road that I don’t love crossing on my bike.
The pick up order comes to around $87. Last week, we only spent $57, so I’m still under budget.
Snack and grocery run part 2: We’re all home, with a full load of groceries. I have an apple and a cheese stick as I’m putting groceries away. I’m still pretty full from all of the breakfast sandwiches. The boys have a “snack lunch” (yogurt, cheese stick, muffin, strawberries). I go by myself to Sav-A-Lot. It’s only a few blocks from our house. I planned to get my WIC items since I can’t get those from Walmart Pickup. But I notice that Sav-A-Lot is out of ALL of the WIC approved items. I’m annoyed I made the extra trip, but I figure I’ll just go again tomorrow. I try to only go to the grocery store once a week because it helps me stay on track and budget better
Snack: I have a cup of coffee and make the boys hot cocoa. 60° in Florida calls for a warm drink. They are hungry, so I make them toast with butter and jam. It looks good, so I have a slice, too.
Dinner: My husband makes dinner tonight. He usually cooks 1-2 times per week. Tonight, he makes char siu (Cantonese bbq pork) with the other 1/2 of the pork loin and rice. I make simple steamed green beans with sesame seeds to go on the side. If we have leftovers, I will chop them up and freeze to put into fried rice, which is my favorite use-up-the-veggies meal.
Dessert: I finish the pint of ice cream I started earlier this week.
Day 7: Monday
Coffee: A new work week! I have the same instant coffee with powdered creamer. I pack the breakfast sandwiches I made and bring them to work. I want to make sure I have breakfast before my classes start!
Breakfast: Once I get to work, I have one breakfast sandwich that I microwave in the teacher’s lounge.
Snack: I’m hungry during my break from teaching, and there is a tray of goodies. I decide to have another breakfast sandwich so I’m not tempted by the food. One of my coworkers mentions that they look good, and I offer her one.
Lunch: I eat one of the containers of soup that I defrosted. The leftovers are still tasty, but the lentils sucked up all of broth, so it’s thicker than I prefer. Next time I make it, I probably won’t freeze it.
Snack: The kids and I snack on some cheese cubes after school.
Dinner: I take a loaf of Italian bread out of the freezer. I like to buy the $1 bakery loaves, freeze them, and pull them out when I want to make garlic bread or, in this case, sandwiches. I sprinkle zucchini, red bell pepper, and red onion with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and then roast it in the oven until it’s starting to brown. I layer it on the bread with jarred pesto and provolone cheese slices. My boys complain about eating the sandwiches. I tell them they can take off the parts that they don’t like. My 2-year-old ends up eating the whole thing. My 4-year-old eats the top piece of bread. I don’t push it. Sometimes they eat and sometimes they don’t. I try to offer them a variety of foods throughout the week, but I don’t force them to eat anything.
Dessert: I’m scrounging the cabinets for something sweet, and find a half bar of chocolate that I picked up when I went to Ikea a couple weeks ago. Yum!
1. How did you set your food budget?
I used to look at the USDA Food Cost reports and do the math based on that, but I found this resource which does it for us. This is our starting point. WIC gives us about $35 per week on top of our $79 budget.
2. What are the kitchen ingredients you can’t live without?
Spices! I can make anything tasty and interesting with the right spices. We like to ask for high quality, whole spices for Christmas or birthday gifts. My parents like cooking and will gift us these. Also: eggs, canned tomatoes, onions.
3. What’s the budget recipe you always rely on?
Fried rice or shakshuka. I rely on leftover veggies and eggs for both of these.