Grocery Diaries

I’m a 30-Year-Old Sales Manager Living in North Carolina — Here’s How My Husband and I Cook on Just $68 a Week

published Jul 8, 2023
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collage of author Athalia and Leroy surrounded by items from their grocery list including mandarin oranges, broccoli florets, shiitake mushrooms and purple taro mochi
Credit: Photos: Courtesy of Athalia and Leroy, Shutterstock

Name: Athalia
Location: Raleigh, North Carolina
Ages: 30 and 29
Number of people in household: 2; me and my husband, Leroy
Occupation: I work retail part-time at a toy store and am also a freelance writer; Leroy is a house husband while we wait on his work visa approval
Salary: $31,200
Where you shopped: Trader Joe’s, K-Town
Weekly food budget: $120
Amount spent: $68.04

Where did you shop?

Trader Joe’s and a Korean supermarket here in Raleigh called K-Town. At Trader Joe’s we pick up plenty of inexpensive additions to our daily meals. The frozen meals we enjoy are never more than $6.99 a bag and most produce comes in at between $2 to $4, so we capitalize on that! At K-Town we treat ourselves to a red bean bun for Leroy and taro mochi for me. We didn’t have to stock up on essentials this week because we did a big shop the week before (more on this below), so we got away with spending only $68 of our $120 budget.

What’s your grocery strategy?

Once a month we allot $150 to $180 to stock up on pantry and fridge staples at BJ’s Wholesale Club and Lidl. At Lidl, for example, we pay $12 to $14 for six HUGE chicken breasts that Leroy butterflies into 12 serving-sized breasts. They typically last us a month because we lean on chickpeas, black beans, and tuna for other protein. (We have four of these butterflied breasts left at the time of this diary.)

Last week, we spent $174.80 at BJ’s on staples that should last for two to three months. Before we go (and sometimes even while in-store) I use the BJ’s app to clip vendor coupons on items I know we need and use so we net a ton of savings. I do my best to avoid the temptation to browse and clip coupons for items we don’t need, but did give in to one for Venus razors and another for sunscreen this last trip.

This trip to BJ’s allows us to make $25 to $30 supplementary trips to Trader Joe’s for specialty ingredients and snacks and meal starters, and saves us a ton of money. 

We don’t feel it’s worth it to eat out often, due to my allergies and intolerances; I am allergic to mangos, avocados, and pork; intolerant to cow’s milk, eggs, cannellini beans, and kidney beans. Leroy can eat anything he likes. I’ll cheat and eat something with milk once in a while, like yogurt or cheese, and just take a dairy pill to help with that intolerance.

How do you meal plan?

In the mornings! After coffee, Leroy asks, “What do you want for dinner?” 

In the early days of our marriage, I used to reference my handy-dandy Trello recipe board to figure out what I might want to eat and how to teach Leroy to make it. (Trello’s card structure allowed me to show him the dish and include my notes on how to make it.) Now we have a pretty good feel for his capabilities and settled into a few solid rotating main courses, like tuna gohan bowls, turkey-spinach-hummus pitas, taco-seasoned chickpeas and fresh tortillas, Instant Pot black beans and rice, Instant Pot chicken and rice/chicken and dumplings, and chicken Parm. 

Now when Leroy asks what he should make for dinner, I think about what we have stocked and talk it out with him. We do this because if left to his own devices, Leroy would make Instant Pot chicken and rice or paprika oven-baked chicken every day, and if I were left unbridled, we would have party food (pholourie, fried chicken, crepes, patties, apple crostatas, fried plantains, Hasselback potatoes.) every day. On my days off, I do cook like this! As you’ll see, I like to treat Leroy to something fun and delicious. 

What did you buy?

Trader Joe’s 

  • Shiitake mushrooms, $3.69
  • Asian-style vegetables, $3.49
  • Miso ginger broth, $2.49
  • Tofu orange chicken, $3.49
  • Ground beef 80/20 (2), $9.98
  • French fizz rosé wine, $6.99
  • Strawberry jalapeño crackers, $3.99
  • Shiitake mushroom chicken mix, $4.99
  • Teriyaki chicken mix, $5.99
  • Thai wheat noodles, $2.99
  • Broccoli florets, $2.99
  • Mandarin oranges, $3.99
  • Fresh mozzarella, $4.99

Total: $57.07

K-Town

  • Red bean bun, $2.99
  • Taro mochi, $4.99

Total: $7.98

Grand Total: $68.04

Credit: Athalia

Monday: Miso Ginger Broth, Swiss Cheese Sandwich, Snack-y Lunch, and Teriyaki Chicken and Broccoli

Breakfast for me is an easy-to-digest cup of miso and ginger broth. Straight from the Trader Joe’s carton, into the pot, then off to work. Leroy has a sandwich with a single slice of Swiss. 

For lunch, we both snack on fresh slices of cucumber, peanut butter Ritz crackers, and mandarin oranges. 

Dinner is a delicious Instant Pot teriyaki chicken and broccoli. Leroy’s homemade sauce is the best. It’s made of soy sauce, mirin, ginger, brown sugar, and a few minutes of simmering with cornstarch. 

Credit: Athalia

Tuesday: Bagels with Jalapeño Cream Cheese, Pesto Chicken Pitas, and My Take on Olive Garden’s Creamy Gnocchi Soup

I find a wrinkly jalapeño from who knows when in the crisper, sliced that sucker up, and put it on top of the cream cheese I slather on everything bagels. Delicious! 

For lunch we eat some pesto we had left over from our last Trader Joe’s trip in pita pockets with deli Buffalo chicken. 

Dinner is chicken and gnocchi soup — my attempt at recreating an Olive Garden favorite with almond milk. Pretty good!

Credit: Athalia

Wednesday: Toast with Peanut Butter, More Pesto Chicken Pitas, and Homemade Mushroom and Olive Pizza

Nothing fancy to see all day, until we get to dinner. Frustrated with just peanut butter toast and a repeat of yesterday’s lunch — no matter how delicious — I Google how to make pizza dough around 2 p.m. (I have the day off.) It has a 45-minute rise time, and I’ve never worked with yeast before in my life, so I watch some YouTube videos and ask my mom how Grandma used to prove the yeast when she made bread. I learn a lot! I throw some herbs in the completed dough for good measure, slice up some mushrooms and olives, break out the pasta sauce and cheese (I figure I’ll accept the pain that will come with eating fresh mozzarella). Together, Leroy and I create the most delicious pizza we’ve ever had. I like how we work together on this one.

Thursday: Miso Ginger Broth and Rice, Swiss Cheese Sandwich, Hummus and Spinach Pitas, and Black Beans and Rice

Predictably, I have an upset tummy from last night’s mozzarella. Gently warmed miso ginger broth and some plain white rice soothe the savage beast. Leroy has a dry Swiss cheese and bread sandwich, like he normally does. 

While I work on writing, Leroy makes fresh hummus! Thus, lunch is homemade hummus, pitas, and spinach for me; spinach, hummus, and Swiss for Leroy. 

Dinner is Instant Pot black beans and rice because we both lose track of time while reading. 

Credit: Athalia

Friday: Vegan Scallion Crepes, Fruit and Veggie Slices, and Black Pepper Udon with a Side of Meatballs

Sometimes, but especially on days when I have to work in the toy store from afternoon to close, I like to frontload the morning with special meals. I’m in the mood for Korean-style scallion pancakes, but also crepes. I blend a vegan crepe recipe from my Trello board with a Chinese scallion pancake recipe I find online and yield a pretty yummy breakfast. Leroy and I have them plain; they are so tasty. 

Breakfast is late by the time I get my act together, so lunch is simple: fruit and veggie slices. 
Dinner is inspired by a book by Hetty McKinnon called To Asia, with Love that I found at the library. I recreate her black pepper udon, only I use Thai wheat noodles from Trader Joe’s instead of udon noodles. The result is very satisfying — a multilayered vegetable broth with fresh scallions, a generous dusting of black pepper, and chewy noodles. Leroy even makes a few meatballs on the side.

Credit: Athalia

Saturday: Cracker Barrel-Style Biscuits and Jam, Tostones, Surprise Lasagna

Another afternoon-to-close shift, another day I get to craft a complicated breakfast. I’m aiming for Cracker Barrel-style buttermilk biscuits, but end up with a not-raised, quite dry version instead. It is delicious when heaped with raspberry jam and butter, though! 

For lunch, I frantically make plantain tostones and master the two-step frying method before I dash off to work. With Leroy’s help of smashing and salting while I baby the ones in the fryer, we pull it off. I like eating tostones with leftover black beans and rice to remind me of my childhood in Miami. 

Dinner is a Leroy special! Inspired to step past his usual spaghetti, red sauce, and breaded chicken. He makes us lasagna. This is his first time making it and he even makes his own Bolognese! I am honored that he brainstorms, researches, and surprises me with it. I had mentioned wanting lasagna during our morning meal planning, but we settled — I had thought — on his chicken Parm-style dish. Even though the mozzarella wreaks havoc on my gut, I have no regrets.

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