Grocery Diaries

I’m a Pharmacist and My Husband Is Retired — We Spent $108 on a Week’s Worth of Groceries and Came in $42 Under Budget

published Apr 20, 2023
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graphic collage of the author Allyson and her husband surrounded by some of their grocery items including broccoli, gala apples, bananas, and mixed nuts
Credit: Photo: Courtesy of Allyson, Shutterstock; Design: Kitchn

Name: Allyson
Location: Gold River, CA (suburb of Sacramento)
Age: 57
Number of people in household: 2
Occupation: Pharmacist (per diem) and my husband is retired
Where you shopped: Walmart, Safeway, and Sam’s Club
Weekly food budget: $150
Amount spent: $108

Credit: Allyson

Where did you shop?  

I shopped at Walmart this week, even though it is not one of my usual stores. It was convenient and on the way home from my hair salon. We were completely out of eggs and yogurt so I had to go somewhere. The prices were very reasonable; it was also crowded — it was a Sunday afternoon — and employees were busy re-stocking multiple items. (My husband’s preferred yogurt is Yoplait and none of the flavors he likes were on the shelves.)

I also shopped at Safeway; there were several items on sale in the weekly ad and I had redeemed a few rewards for free items. I also stopped at Sam’s Club. I had not planned on shopping there, but I needed gas so made a quick stop inside. It ended up being good timing! 

Rotisserie chicken at Sam’s left over from the day before gets cut up and sold cold. (It is packaged as four breast/wings or six legs for only $3.98 each, which is cheaper than an entire hot chicken.) Because it was early in the morning, there were still some available. I will use the bones to make stock in my Instant Pot. I also bought ham and eggs in anticipation of Easter.

Credit: Allyson

What’s your grocery strategy?

I look online ahead of time to make sure the items I want are available, although I don’t order ahead for curbside pickup. I also check the weekly ads and am a member of the loyalty programs for both Safeway and Raley’s/Bel-Air. This frequently earns me free items by redeeming reward points.

Credit: Allyson

How do you meal plan? 

I shop my pantry and freezer first. I keep a running list of meal ideas based on what I have on hand, especially items that need to be used up. I have a subscription to NYT Cooking and like to look at it for new recipe ideas. 

I HATE to waste food and frequently plan for nextovers because I am only cooking for two people. I also try to ask my husband for input on what sounds good to him. This week is pretty flexible; I’m not scheduled to work any shifts at the pharmacy, although I do have some at-home training I need to do. 

I have been trying to increase the amount of protein that he eats; the dietician recommended almost 90 grams a day for him while he is undergoing treatment for lymphoma. Depending on his weekly lab results, we sometimes have to follow a neutropenic diet where everything has to be cooked (no sushi or rare steak) or peeled, as he is so immunocompromised. We both miss salads! I’ve also had quite a few friends that are doing porch drops to minimize how much shopping/cooking we are doing and limit our exposure to public places.

What did you buy?

Walmart

  • Frozen swai, $16.18
  • Broccoli, $2.87
  • Mushrooms, $2.08
  • Pears, $2.14
  • Gala apples, $1.85
  • Bananas, $1.84
  • Green beans, $2.47
  • Shredded mozzarella, $2.22
  • Broth concentrate, $4.48
  • Eggs, $2.67
  • Yogurt, $1.34
  • Bolillo rolls, $0.84
  • Olives, $0.00 (coupon)

Total: $40.98

Safeway

  • Yoplait yogurt, $3.96
  • Lemon frosting, $2.50
  • Cream of Mushroom soup, $0.00 (redeemed Safeway rewards)
  • Salsa, $0.00 (redeemed Safeway rewards)
  • Kettle chips, $2.99
  • Ciabatta rolls, $1.99 ($2 store coupon)
  • Ground beef, $11.03 (BOGO)
  • Potatoes, $3.17

Total: $25.64

Sam’s Club

  • Mixed nuts, $12.48
  • Eggs (4 dozen), $10.76
  • Ham, $10.18
  • Cold rotisserie chicken, $7.96

Total: $41.38

Grand Total: $108.00

Credit: Allyson

Sunday: Tea, Toast and Jam, Bagel Sandwiches, Leftover Carrot Ginger Soup and Hamburger Macaroni, Snacks, and Thai Chicken Curry with Rice

We routinely start our day with tea (Earl Grey for me; green tea for my husband) and toast and jam. Breakfast is a toasted bagel sandwich with egg, bacon, avocado, and ketchup. We buy our bagels from Noah’s on Mondays (13 bagels for $9) and freeze them. We also share a cut-up mango (left over from the previous week) and a banana. Both of us have coffee, and I drink mine with milk. My husband has a Kirkland Signature nut bar while we are playing tennis later.

Lunch is leftovers: carrot ginger soup (recipe from Silver Palate) and hamburger macaroni (spicy homemade version of Hamburger Helper) from earlier in the week. My husband has a Diet Pepsi and I have iced tea.

I snack on a granola bar on the way home from getting my hair colored while my husband has coffee and a biscotti at home. He also has half a chocolate Ensure mixed with almond milk. I am still hungry while making dinner so I snack on peanuts while having a grapefruit/vodka cocktail. The grapefruit juice is fresh-squeezed from fruit off a neighborhood tree.

Credit: Allyson

Dinner is Thai chicken curry over rice. The vegetable curry base (onion, carrot, spinach, sweet potato, bell peppers, and cabbage) is from the freezer, and I add a chicken breast, half a can of coconut milk, and some additional chicken broth. With all the additions, we’ll still have another meal left over for later in the week.

Credit: Allyson

Monday: Tea, Cinnamon Toast, Scrambled Eggs with Tater Tots and Bacon, Fruit and Snacks, Vegetable Stir-Fry with Frozen Potstickers, Spicy Instant Ramen with an Egg, and Fend-for-Ourselves Dinner

Tea and cinnamon toast (wheat bread, butter, sugar/cinnamon) are followed by scrambled eggs over tater tots, and bacon. We also share an apple. Both of us have coffee also. My husband has a Kirkland nut bar and a yogurt before he goes to play tennis.

Lunch is a vegetable stir-fry with frozen potstickers. It has kale, celery, green garlic, cabbage, mushrooms, and spinach — basically all the produce from last week that needs to be used up or is slightly wilty, although the spinach is from my garden. It is seasoned with sesame oil and oyster sauce. The dipping sauce for the potstickers is hoisin/Sriracha. I buy the potstickers at our local Asian supermarket and always have at least one bag on hand in the freezer for a quick meal or as an addition to soup. I have iced tea and my husband has a Diet Pepsi. 

For an afternoon snack, we each have a coffee and two chocolate chip cookies. We have a Nespresso machine that makes an espresso drink in less than 30 seconds. My mom baked the cookies for her neighbor but ended up sharing a few with us. My husband is hungry late in the afternoon and has spicy instant ramen with an egg.

For dinner we each fend for ourselves. My husband’s lab results show that he is still immunocompromised so neither of us are feeling very motivated to cook. He has the other half of a chocolate Ensure with almond milk and a chocolate sea salt RX bar whilst I eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a glass of milk. This means we’ll have another week of neutropenic dietary restrictions. 

Credit: Allyson

Tuesday: Tea, Toasted Bagels, Oatmeal, Banana, Snacks, Fried Fish Sandwich and Tater Tots, Leftover Thai Curry, and Apple Tart Slices

Tea and half a toasted bagel to start. I have mine with cream cheese and my husband has his with peanut butter. We each have a bowl of oatmeal topped with brown sugar, raisins, cranberries, almonds, and a splash of almond milk. We also share a banana. Both of us have coffee. My husband has a mid-morning snack of yogurt topped with granola.

For lunch we have tater tots and a fried fish sandwich with spicy tartar sauce and a dill pickle on the side, for garnish. The fish is battered with flour, egg, and panko. I have iced tea to drink and my husband has a diet ginger ale. Afternoon snack is coffee and a small square of grapefruit curd shortbread bar (porch drop from a girlfriend). 

I have another grapefruit/vodka cocktail along with some peanuts before dinner. My husband has Gatorade and peanuts as well. Dinner is leftover Thai chicken curry over rice. After dinner, we have dessert of decaf tea and apple tart (another porch drop from another girlfriend).

Credit: Allyson

Wednesday: Tea, Cinnamon Toast, Fruit, Avocado Toast with an Egg, Snacks, Fried Rice, Apple Tart Slices, Penne with Chicken and Garlic Bread

Breakfast is tea and Trader Joe’s cinnamon raisin toast (from the freezer) with a shared pear and banana, followed by avocado toast topped with an egg. Coffee for both of us. My husband has a mid-morning snack of a couple dried Medjool dates.

Lunch is fried rice with green garlic, broccoli stems, celery, scrambled eggs, and lap cheong (Chinese-style pork sausage) seasoned with oyster sauce, sesame oil, and Sriracha. This dish is great for using up random bits of produce and is made with cold rice. Iced tea and diet ginger ale to drink. Afternoon coffee break with a slice of apple tart for each of us.

I try a new cocktail while preparing dinner: Meyer lemon juice, simple syrup, and gin called a Bee’s Knees. I highly recommend it. I make penne pasta with chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, shallots, and spinach in a light cream sauce along with garlic bread for dinner.

Credit: Allyson

Thursday: Tea, Toasted Bagel, Frittata, Banana, Free Five Guys Lunch, the Last of the Apple Tart, Chicken and Green Bean Stir-Fry, and Steamed Eggs

We have a service appointment at the Subaru dealer this morning so we are a bit rushed. Tea and a shared cinnamon raisin bagel toasted with butter followed by reheated frittata. I made it with shallot, spinach, and potato chips (bottom of the bag small crumbs) last night knowing we needed something quick. We also split a banana. Coffee times two.

Lunch is a freebie at Five Guys Burgers & Fries. (I have been mystery shopping for over 10 years and this is a frequent assignment.) We each get a Little Hamburger; I have mine in a lettuce wrap and my husband has bacon on his. We share a Little Fry and a Diet Sprite. I will be fully reimbursed for our lunch and earn a small fee for submitting my report. We have the same afternoon coffee break with the last slice of apple tart for each of us.

A quick stir-fry for dinner because I have a Zoom meeting beginning at 6:30 p.m.: chicken and green beans in garlic-black bean sauce. I also make a small dish of savory steamed egg topped with soy sauce and sesame oil. We eat it all over white rice. I have a Seedlip Spice & Tonic mocktail during my meeting.

Credit: Allyson

Friday: Tea, Toasted Bagel, Pear, Oatmeal, Apple Turnovers, Leftover Stir-Fry, Chicken Piccata, Polenta, and Roasted Broccoli

Tea and a shared cinnamon raisin bagel toasted with butter and a pear to start. Same bowl of oatmeal topped with brown sugar, raisins, cranberries, almonds, and a splash of almond milk.  Coffee for both of us. Another girlfriend did a porch drop of homemade apple turnovers on her way to work and my husband has one with a cup of tea while I do my work training.

Lunch is leftover chicken and green bean stir-fry over lo mein noodles, which is a very flexible way to use up a small portion and stretch it into a meal. Iced tea and Diet Pepsi to drink. Afternoon coffee and a shared apple turnover late in the day. 

Credit: Allyson

I am delivering cupcakes for an Easter event organized through Cake4Kids (accounting for the frosting I bought this week). I snack on peanuts and have another Seedlip Spice & Tonic mocktail before making dinner of chicken piccata over polenta with oven-roasted broccoli.

Credit: Allyson

Saturday: Tea, Cinnamon Toast, Apple, Scrambled Eggs and Porchetta/Potato Hash, Congee, Salad, Snacks, Cilantro Chutney Chicken with Rice and Roasted Broccoli

Breakfast started with tea and Trader Joe’s cinnamon raisin toast (from the freezer) with an apple to share, followed by scrambled eggs over porchetta/potato hash. The porchetta and potatoes are a take-out portion shared by another friend from a charity dinner the night before. We normally attend but have been avoiding indoor events while my husband is immunocompromised. We both have coffee.

For lunch we each have something different. My husband has jook (congee) that he makes with leftover rice and the chicken stock I made in my Instant Pot from the chicken bones. (He wasn’t feeling too great — a lot of fatigue.) I have a salad with chicken, avocado, and mixed nuts tossed with mustard vinaigrette. Iced tea and Diet Pepsi to drink.

Afternoon coffee for each of us; I have another small square of grapefruit curd shortbread bar leftover from earlier in the week and my husband has a toasted chocolate chip bagel with butter. He also has a container of yogurt with granola in the late afternoon. I also have a grapefruit/vodka cocktail with some mixed nuts before dinner.

Dinner is cilantro chutney chicken over rice. The rice is left over and a little sparse so I add some riced cauliflower to stretch it. I make the cilantro chutney and keep it in the freezer. We have roasted broccoli to round out the meal.

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