Grocery Diaries

I’m a Clinical Microbiologist and My Husband’s a Motorcycle Mechanic — We Just Spent $138 on a Week’s Worth of Groceries

published May 26, 2022
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Credit: Photo: Courtesy of Caitlin; Food: Shutterstock; Design: Kitchn

Name: Caitlin
Location: Forest Grove, OR
Number of people in household: Two; me and my husband (plus, our three dogs)
Age: 34 and 37
Occupation: Clinical microbiologist for the state public health lab. My husband recently left his position as a manager at an auto accessories shop to pursue his life-long passion of motorcycle mechanics
Where you shopped: Fred Meyer and Safeway
Weekly food budget: $150 (or $600 for the month); this includes all of our household essentials (like toilet paper, laundry soap, and dog food), as well as our alcohol and restaurant budget 
Amount spent: $137.80

Credit: Courtesy of Caitlin

Where did you shop?

We shopped at Fred Meyer and Safeway. I do most of the meal planning and shopping at our house (I have spreadsheets; they are amazing!) and have found that I can get the best deals at Fred Meyer, and good-quality meats and vegetables from Safeway. So, I generally visit both stores each week.

What’s your grocery strategy?

Although we are young (my husband is only 34!), we recently became empty nesters. Our 19-year-old son left for college last August and we’ve reduced our grocery budget to make way for a tuition budget. We’re also learning what it means to shop and meal plan for two, instead of three. At the same time, my husband’s new position is based on contract pay, so his salary is much less predictable than it has been in years past. Strategic meal planning and shopping is one of the ways we’re making up for the lost income.

Wednesday mornings in my house are spent sitting with a cup of coffee and the weekly ads for Safeway and Fred Meyer. I usually jot down the best deals at both stores and then search for any new and exciting or close-to-expiring coupons in the app. Later, I will use this information to build my meal plan for the week based on the best deals.

As I fill in the additional ingredients for our weekly meals, I will often cost compare (using the respective apps) between the two stores to find the best price on products. Thursday or Friday evenings I pick up our first set of groceries from the Fred Meyer around the corner from my work. Saturday or Sunday my husband usually picks up a second set of groceries from the Safeway by our home. We use the curbside program for both sets, as it allows us to avoid overspending on impulse buys in the store and frees up our evenings/weekends. The benefit of staggering the pickup days allows us to add anything that we may have forgotten or that was out of stock in the first pick-up. 

We try to buy organic where we can, especially meats and produce on the dirty dozen list. We also make one Costco run every month to stock up on the better-priced organic meats, bacon, coffee, dog food, La Croix, and sale items. Keeping one or two frozen Costco meals in our freezer helps us avoid the temptation of spending money on eating out when neither of us feels like cooking.       

Credit: Courtesy of Caitlin

How do you meal plan?

We love to cook and eat at home, and also pride ourselves on our shared frugality (this also makes for some pretty creative dinners). I usually only meal plan for our dinners or special meals. Because there are only two of us living at home now, we almost always have leftovers for lunch.

I also like to keep canned soups or frozen meals (purchased on sale or with a fabulous coupon, no doubt) in the pantry or freezer for times when we don’t have leftovers. Both my husband and I almost always eat the same thing for breakfast, with some variation here and there. These items are standard on my list, so I don’t put much effort into planning unless there is something special that one of us wants that week.

To plan our dinners for the week, I use Google Sheets. The spreadsheet has a list of meals that we like to cook and their associated ingredients. I can search for ingredients that are on sale and mark the day of the week next to the meal to generate an ingredient list for purchase. Having a master list of meals cuts down on the time I spend searching through my Pinterest pages each week and transcribing the ingredient list. It might be a little nerdy (as my husband says), but it gets the job done! 

What did you buy?

Fred Meyer

  • Navel oranges, $2.42
  • Organic apples, $2.29
  • Limes, $1.58
  • Lemon, $0.99
  • Red onion, $1.18
  • Yellow onion, $2.11
  • Organic green bell pepper, $1.49
  • Organic red bell pepper, $1.99
  • Buffalo ranch chopped salad kit, $3.50
  • Russet potatoes, $1.99
  • Organic Buffalo-style chicken tenders, $7.99 (with coupon) 
  • Buttermilk, $1.49
  • Pizza dough, $2.98 (with coupon)
  • Orange juice, $2.79
  • Oat milk, $3.00
  • Shredded mozzarella cheese, $2.97
  • Eggs, $2.79
  • Butter, $2.47
  • Deli turkey breast, $3.77
  • Cheese tortellini, $5.49 (with coupon)
  • Organic chicken broth, $1.17 (with coupon)
  • Sugar, $1.50
  • Almonds, $1.00
  • Polar seltzer water, $8.98
  • Brioche style bread, $1.99 (with coupon)
  • Tortilla chips, $1.47 (with coupon)
  • Organic fire-roasted diced tomato, $3.00 (with coupon)
  • Popcorners sweet and salty snacks, $1.97 (with coupon)
  • Organic hummus, $2.99
  • Beer, $23.47
  • Liquid hand soap $4.19

Total spent: $ 95.71 (minus $15 in additional coupons, plus $3.70 in other fees)


  • Garlic power, $3.79 
  • Panko breadcrumbs, $1.79
  • Paper towels, $0.99
  • Breyers ice cream $2.77 (with coupon)
  • Shredded cheddar cheese, $1.99 (with coupon)
  • Sour cream, $0.97
  • Coffee creamer, $2.49 (with coupon)
  • Hot dog buns, $0.99
  • English muffins, $2.49
  • Thin-sliced 22 grains and seeds bread, $3.79 (with coupon)
  • Andouille chicken sausage, $3.99 
  • Ginger root, $1.05
  • Organic carrots, $2.36
  • Avocados, $2.28
  • Broccoli, $0.98
  • Organic mushrooms, $3.31
  • Organic cucumber, $1.25
  • Organic grape tomatoes, $2.37
  • Bananas, $2.44

Total: $42.09

Grand Total: $137.80

Credit: Courtesy of Caitlin

Thursday: Eggs Two Ways, Freezer Finds, and Buffalo Chicken Strips with Bagged Salad

It’s shopping day so there isn’t much to choose from. My husband puts together an egg and bacon sandwich, while I opt for a fried egg with toast. We split the last few strawberries in the container to balance things out. There are no leftovers from dinner to take for lunch because we had fish last night, and microwaving fish at work seems like a cruel and unusual punishment for our coworkers. We raid the freezer. He takes a Tupperware full of taquitos and I grab a chicken burrito. We split the last of the tortilla chips, making room for the new groceries tonight. I buy a Coke Zero from the vending machine at work to go with my (incredibly salty) lunch.

After work the hubby decides to stay for a beer with the other guys at his new shop; he’s pleasantly surprised to learn that the first one is always free. I wish I had a bar at my job! He gets home a little later than usual and I’ve just finished putting away the grocery haul. We have plenty of housework to do in anticipation of our friends’ visit this weekend. So, while we get the house together and tidy the front yard, I munch on the last of the Cheez-Its as a snack. When we are about ready to call it a night, I throw some Buffalo chicken strips into the oven. About 16 minutes later, I toss them with a bagged salad and voila: A quick and easy (albeit late) dinner. After we eat, we attempt to fit in a little relaxation on the couch before bed. 

Credit: Courtesy of Caitlin

Friday: English Muffins, Leftover Buffalo Chicken, a Turkey Sandwich, and Homemade BBQ Chicken Pizzas

It’s a busy start to the day: Both my husband and I are trying to finish up our chores this morning so that we can have a nice, relaxed visit with our friends this weekend. We also have to take our son’s car in for a wheel alignment before he gets home from college. So, we have breakfast on the run. I have a banana and make an English muffin with peanut butter. My husband has his English muffin with jam and yogurt on the side (leftover from last week.)

After we do the morning car shuffle, we both head off to work. I take some leftover Buffalo chicken strips, cucumbers, carrots, and ranch dressing for lunch with an apple for my afternoon snack. He, begrudgingly, takes a turkey sandwich and potato chips (also left over from last week.). He is sad because he thought we had eaten all the chicken last night. He proposed a trade, which I might have considered, but he had already slathered white bread (I like wheat) with Miracle Whip (I like mayo). I did leave him a few chicken strips for later, though, because that is what true love looks like.

Credit: Courtesy of Caitlin

In the evening I come home to find that he got out of work early and has started the prep work for dinner. He’s neatly chopped the vegetables and taken the pizza dough out to warm. I start shredding the chicken I made in the Crock-Pot this morning when our friends arrive with their new puppy! After many happy hugs and warm greetings, I quickly throw the BBQ chicken pizzas together — one for the grill and one for the oven. We enjoy the meal with some beers and lots of catching up.

Credit: Courtesy of Caitlin

Saturday: Homemade Coffee Cake, Baked Potato Bar, and Dinner at a Local Diner

I wake up earlier than I intend after a late night with our friends. Thankfully, my husband is already up and has made the coffee (as he does every morning). I pour a cup and browse Pinterest for a simple buttermilk coffee cake recipe. I settle on one and throw it together, while browning some beef for slow cooker chili I will serve later. My husband fries up some chicken sausages from the freezer and scrambles some eggs to round out the meal.

We are hosting a late lunch this afternoon before heading out to the main event of the weekend: the One Motorcycle show. We have six guests total and we make a baked potato bar with chili and all the fixings. My brother brings some fancy hotdogs, and we have a wonderful, economical meal.

After lunch we head to the show, planning to buy dinner from one of the food carts with the leftover cash from our weekly food budget (we have about $15 left). Most of the carts have run out of food by the time we are hungry, so we end up going slightly over budget. We spend $36 at a local diner and thoroughly enjoy our corned beef hash, toast slathered in butter, greasy fried eggs — all smothered in gravy. We don’t eat like this every day, and it sure is a treat.

Credit: Courtesy of Caitlin

Sunday: Avocado Toasts, Leftover Pizza, Mac and Cheese, and Homemade Fried Rice

It’s a lazy Sunday morning and we are all slowly waking up and drinking coffee. After two late nights and an exciting day at the Moto show, none of us feel like doing much of anything. Our friends want to treat us to breakfast before they head back to Seattle, and we graciously accept. I walk to a cafe in town and the others ride their motorcycles; it’s a beautiful spring morning. We get iced espressos and different iterations of avocado toast, sitting on the patio in the rare Oregon sunshine.

After breakfast we walk around our sleepy town, admiring the ancient trees and cute little shops, passing by cafes, and planning for future visits and meals. Back at our house, we say our goodbyes and they head back north while the hubby and I prepare for a full day of lazing around. Despite snacking on Popcorners chips, our stomachs eventually begin to rumble, and we break from our movie marathon for lunch. I heat up a slice of leftover BBQ chicken pizza and he makes a pot of mac and cheese from the pantry to pair with leftover grilled hotdogs.

Later in the evening my husband takes rice leftover from dinner last week and fries it with pork from the freezer, leftover chopped vegetables originally meant for the pizza, and eggs. The perfect lazy Sunday ends with big bowls of ice cream. 

Credit: Courtesy of Caitlin

Monday: English Muffin, Fried Egg, and Sausage, Leftovers for Lunch, and an Impromptu Pasta Bake

And just like that, it’s Monday again. The mister fixes himself an English muffin with butter and jam for breakfast and packs up the last two slices of pizza for lunch. I fry an egg and some of the leftover chicken sausage for breakfast. I also toast a piece of seeded bread because I am especially hungry this morning. 

Credit: Courtesy of Caitlin

For lunch I pack chili, leftover from our Saturday gathering, with tortilla chips and shredded cheese. I grab a banana for my morning snack and an orange for the afternoon. My original dinner plan has fallen through because I did not receive a few of the key ingredients in my grocery pickup. Improvising, I make a pasta bake with tortellini, leftover shredded chicken, diced mushrooms, and onions from the pizza, as well as chopped bacon from the baked potato bar and the tail end of a bag of frozen kale. I whip up a creamy, cheesy sauce, from a pantry can of evaporated milk, olive oil, flour, and mozzarella cheese. Then I throw it in the oven and call it “good enough.” We enjoy our hodgepodge meal over conversation centering around our son’s upcoming visit home. 

Credit: Courtesy of Caitlin

Tuesday: A Duo of Eggs, Leftovers for Lunch, and Dirty Rice

For breakfast today the hubby makes a sandwich with egg and fried deli turkey on an English muffin. I am still working my way through the weekend leftovers, and chop some of the chicken sausage to scramble with a couple of eggs. I empty the concoction into a coffee mug; I find the handle makes breakfast easier to eat.

My husband packs the rest of the pork fried rice for lunch, and I take some of the pasta bake (although I am wishing I had bought more fresh vegetables this week because what I really want for lunch is a big salad!). I also pack some hearty snacks for an after-work meet-up with my knitting friends. We like to go to a local brewery that allows you to bring in outside food. I peel and slice some carrot sticks, mash some avocado with lime and garlic, and grab the hummus and tortilla chips. I’ve packed enough for a dinner portion to maintain a little flexibility. If I get too hungry to wait for the dinner my husband is making, or decide to stay late knitting, I won’t have to buy food before I make it home. I buy a beer at the bar (from a separate allowance fund) and eat about half of the snacks I’ve brought, then head home at a reasonable hour.

The smell of fried onions greets me at the door, and I find my husband cooking dirty rice in the kitchen with the chicken andouille sausage. After dinner, I make a small mug of ice cream to cool my mouth from the spicy rice and continue working on my knitting project.  My husband putzes in the garage until bedtime and completely forgets about dessert!    

Credit: Courtesy of Caitlin

Wednesday: Banana and Peanut Butter, Frozen Taquitos, Leftovers for Lunch, and Pork Loin in the Slow Cooker

Wednesday mornings are for meal planning! I pour a cup of coffee and start reading through the weekly ads, noting the deals, and making an outline based on the sales and coupons. My husband sits with me for a little while and we chat about the meals we want to make when our son is home next week and the meals he will be preparing and eating on his own while the kid and I go camping for a few days. We’ve got a pretty good plan in place before it’s time to start getting ready for work. I grab a quick breakfast of banana smothered in peanut butter and pack some hummus, leftover carrot sticks, naan from the freezer, and the last of a bag of Babybels that I bought a few weeks ago. I throw an orange, an apple, and a yogurt into my lunch bag for snacks throughout the day.

My husband is running late and tosses a few taquitos in the air fryer for breakfast. He packs the leftover dirty rice for lunch, but a coworker buys a round of pizza, so he stashes it for tomorrow. Free lunch always tastes better!

Credit: Courtesy of Caitlin

When I get home from work, I prep an easy-to-throw-together meal. I peel the rest of the potatoes, wash and chop some broccoli, and toss the leftover pork loin into the slow cooker set to high. Tonight is the first farmers market of the year and I am planning to meet up with a volunteer group that collects leftover produce and delivers it to a local food bank when the market closes. I get home about two hours later and the pork has just finished cooking. I switch on the potatoes and steam the broccoli. A quick gravy made with butter, flour, and the last of a box of chicken stock brings the meal together and we are sitting down to dinner by 8:30. Whew! What a busy week it has been.

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