Grocery Diaries

My Husband and I Shopped at 5 Grocery Stores for the Week — We Spent $105 and Came in $5 Over Budget

published Dec 14, 2023
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Graphic of Heidi Washington
Credit: Heidi

Name: Heidi and Paul
Location: Seattle, Washington
Number of people in household: 2
Age: 42 (both of us)
Occupation: I’m a data scientist and Paul is a house husband
Salary: $142,000
Where you shopped: Grocery Outlet, Fred Meyer, Safeway, Quality Food Centers (QFC), Whole Foods Market, dumpster diving, and foraging in a park
Weekly food budget: $100 for groceries; eating out counts as an “entertainment” or “miscellaneous” expense if we eat together, or comes from our personal “fun money” budgets if we go out separately
Amount spent: $105.30

Credit: Heidi

Where did you shop?

This was an intense shopping week: I had some specific things on my list for Thanksgiving pies, and it took me a few extra trips to chase everything down. I went to Grocery Outlet, Fred Meyer, Safeway, a local Ethiopian market, QFC, and Whole Foods. I also went dumpster diving at a local produce store, harvested from my garden, went foraging in and around a local park, and was given some food by my foraging buddy.

Most weeks, I get some produce by dumpster diving, foraging, and/or gardening, and pick a few grocery stores based on what the sales and coupon deals look like that week.

What’s your grocery strategy?

We don’t own a car, so we’re limited to shopping at places we can get to by foot, bus, or bike. We’re well-served by public transit so that’s not too limiting, but it does rule out places like Costco or Winco. It’s also difficult to buy a lot of stuff at once, so usually I need to make two trips per week. I don’t mind the extra trips, though — walking to the store is a good way to get some exercise. Sometimes I bring Paul along as a pack mule.

I plan my grocery trips on Thursdays or Fridays, after the week’s sales and coupons are published. If my main rebate app offers a good bonus, I’ll spend a little extra time looking for stacking coupons and rebate offers. Sometimes, as happened this week, I can find enough deals that I actually get paid for adding items to my cart. These deals are usually for snacky foods or seasonal items that I wouldn’t buy otherwise, but it’s a fun way to get some treats. 

Dumpster diving is more of a spontaneous activity whenever we have time for a walk in the evening. Outside of university move-out weeks, we just visit the compost bin at a local produce store, skimming whatever is in decent shape right off the top without doing a lot of digging. As long as we’re willing to be flexible about what we eat, we can get most of our veggies this way, and I enjoy the randomness of it. (I do realize that I make enough money to buy veggies at the store, but there’s no amount of money that will convince me this isn’t perfectly edible food going to waste.)

I keep a spreadsheet to track prices for most of our pantry staples. Being disciplined about what counts as a “good deal” has really freed me from the temptation to buy stuff just because it’s on sale. I’m not 100% immune to impulse purchases, like the mayo and Cheez-Its at Grocery Outlet this week, but things have to be very, very cheap to get my attention.

How do you meal plan? 

I plan out proteins two or three days in advance because I’m often defrosting something — I buy meat when it’s on sale, split up value packs into smaller vacuum-sealed portions, and stash them in our chest freezer. Then, we wing it with the veggies, carbs, and flavorings. I’ve tried more elaborate meal planning in the past, but we have never managed to follow those plans. (My past self isn’t the boss of me, how dare she try to tell me what to do!)

We keep the pantry stocked with basic ingredients for flexible meals, like spaghetti or stir-fry, that can incorporate almost anything that happens to be in the fridge. We also graze and snack and put ingredients directly into our face-holes, like goblins — not everything needs to be a nicely composed meal. 

What did you buy?

Grocery Outlet

  • Brazil nuts, $8.99
  • Raisins, $17.97
  • Almond milk, $0.00 (thanks to scanner error)
  • Wheat thins, $0.77
  • Onion miso mayonnaise, $0.50
  • Cheddar crackers, $0.20

Total: $28.43

Fred Meyer

  • 4.5 dozen eggs, $10.17
  • Sour cream, $1.29 (after rebate)
  • Boil-in-bag brown rice, $0.50 (after rebate)
  • Scalloped potatoes, -$0.10 (after rebate)
  • Canned cranberry sauce, -$0.65 (after rebate)
  • Corn muffin mix, -$0.06 (after rebate)
  • Chocolate chip cookies, $0.49 (after rebate)
  • Chocolate pudding mix, $1.35 (after rebate)
  • Mini marshmallows, $0.70 (after 2 rebates)

Total: $13.69 ($22.64 initial amount spent; $8.95 savings from rebates)


  • Milk, $3.19
  • Butter, $3.94
  • Cheese, $9.98
  • Cranberries, $5.00
  • Bananas, $1.55
  • Gravy mix, -$0.16 (after rebate)

Total: $23.50 ($24.65 initial amount spent; 16 cents savings from rebate)

Enat Market

  • Long pepper, $4.80
  • Black pepper, $3.99
  • Fenugreek, $2.50
  • Mekelesha spice blend, $6.99

Total: $18.28


  • Non-dairy almond whipped topping, $5.49
  • Sweetened condensed milk, $2.00
  • Bananas, $1.84
  • Granny Smith apples, $4.42
  • Discount bag of apples, $1.49
  • Discount bag of limes, $1.49
  • Discount bag of lemons and limes, $1.49

Total: $18.22

Whole Foods

  • Whipping cream, $4.39
  • Meyer lemons, $3.79

Total: $8.18


  • Oca (garden)
  • Parsnips (garden)
  • Carrots (garden)
  • Yacon (garden)
  • Medlars (foraged)
  • Autumn olives (foraged)
  • American persimmons (foraged)
  • Fuyu persimmons (foraging buddy)
  • Quince (foraging buddy)
  • Celery (produce store dumpster)
  • Fennel (produce store dumpster)
  • Bok choy (produce store dumpster)
  • Radishes (produce store dumpster)
  • Bell peppers (produce store dumpster)
  • Mango (produce store dumpster)
  • L-Tryptophan (free pile)
  • Cacao vanilla tea (free pile)
  • More bell peppers (produce store dumpster)
  • Broccoli (produce store dumpster)
  • Onion (produce store dumpster)

Grand total: $105.30 (includes $5 bonus rebate for combined purchases at Safeway and Fred Meyer)

Credit: Heidi

Friday: Oatmeal, Bagel Sandwich, Fruit with Peanut Butter, Snacky Lunch, a Pretzel, Quince Cider, Leftover Chili, and Cookies

I typically have Fridays off, and I’ve booked all of Thanksgiving week as a staycation, so this is the first day of my nine-day weekend! Breakfast is oatmeal (with walnuts, brown sugar, and a few chopped dried apples because we’re out of raisins), an apple with peanut butter, and decaf coffee. I’m going to be out of the house for most of the day, so I pack myself a snack of cheese, an apple, and some oca from the garden. Paul has eggs with guacamole salsa on a bagel, a banana with peanut butter, and black tea.

Credit: Heidi

After running errands, I meet up with a friend at a coffee shop — he wants to introduce me to someone else who’s into foraging. I buy a pretzel ($5.26), and pull out my oca to share. We go out gathering, and find a good haul of medlars, autumn olives, and American persimmons, along with a few nibbles of fresh goji berries, aronia berries, and huckleberries. We retreat to my new foraging buddy’s house, and talk about plants while drinking his homebrew quince cider and sampling some of the oddball tomato relatives he grew this year. As I leave, he hands me some Fuyu persimmons and quinces that he harvested from neighborhood trees.

Credit: Heidi

Back at home, I put my cheese snack back in the fridge (I was so busy nibbling on other things, I never got around to eating it). I notice that Paul has eaten about half the leftover chili from last night, so I heat up the other half for my supper, topped with an avocado. My drink is sparkling water from our soda stream with a spoonful of apple molasses stirred in.

After supper, Paul comes with me for a dumpster run. We find a pretty typical haul of celery, fennel, radishes, a mango that might or might not still be any good, bell peppers, and a single bok choy. On our way home, we find a small free box on the curb, including some cacao-vanilla tea and a bottle of tryptophan, which I’ve been using occasionally for “mood support,” as the label calls it.

Once we’re back, I wash and process the foraged and dumpster-ed food. I always wash and check over dumpster food before putting it away, cutting out any bad spots to help prolong its viability.

Bedtime snack starts as a cup of the free pile cacao tea. It’s good, but not as chocolatey as I want, so I follow it up with a stack of cookies and a glass of milk. Paul joins me on the couch, but miraculously we don’t eat all the cookies. Just most of them.

Credit: Heidi

Saturday: Oatmeal, Bagel Sandwich, Fruit with Peanut Butter, Cookies, and Persimmon Glazed Chicken with Carrot Top Walnut Pesto Roasted Vegetables, and Bread with Jam and More Pesto

It’s a lazy morning and I don’t bother eating until 1 p.m., when I have my coffee, oatmeal, apple, and peanut butter. Paul repeats his breakfast from yesterday too. I pull out the last of last week’s batch of bread dough and quickly shape it into a loaf; I’ve been doing the whole-wheat 5-minute artisan bread method, and it really is that fast. I also pull my bag of bones and scraps from the freezer and toss it into the Instant Pot for a batch of broth, which I’ll freeze in ice cube trays for later use.

Credit: Heidi

I harvest a few things from the garden so that I can plant garlic in their place. When I come inside, Paul has pulled out the cookies, and I eat the last three. He also snacks on another banana with peanut butter, and a bag of Cheez-Its.

Credit: Heidi

I defrosted a whole chicken last week for a dinner that never happened, so we’re eating that tonight, glazed with some smashed-up American persimmons, molasses, and the last dregs of apple cider from last month’s pressing, which has started to ferment a bit in the fridge. I put some of the carrot top walnut pesto on my chicken. We have roasted bell peppers, carrots, parsnips, and fennel as a side. There’s about half a cup of broth that won’t fit in the ice cube trays, so I drink that while the food cooks. We each have a glass of non-alcoholic “aperitif alternative” (a “Buy Nothing” score from last week) with sparkling water.

Credit: Heidi

A friend comes over for a late-night hang; we have bread with homemade jam and more carrot top pesto, and more of the aperitif.

Credit: Heidi

Sunday: Oatmeal, Bagel Sandwich, Grapefruit, Nuts, Banana with Peanut Butter, Snacky Lunch, Leftover Chicken with Stuffing and Brussels Sprouts, and Ice Cream

I have a late breakfast of oatmeal, coffee, and a bowl of grapefruit and walnuts sprinkled with Douglas fir tip sugar. Paul has a bagel with egg and pesto, peanut butter on a banana, and black tea.

Credit: Heidi

Paul grazes on raisins, cheese, olives, and dried apples throughout the day. I snack on Cheez-Its with a glass of diet root beer before supper.

Credit: Heidi

Supper is a bag of crouton stuffing mix that I found in a free pile a few months ago, prepared with extra celery and onion, leftover chicken, canned cranberry sauce, a bag of frozen pre-sauced Brussels sprouts, and more diet root beer. After eating, I mix up a big batch of bread dough for the upcoming week.

Credit: Heidi

We split the last of a tub of ice cream as a bedtime snack. I put a banana on mine; he puts Grape Nuts on his.

Credit: Heidi

Monday: Oatmeal, Bagel Sandwich, Fruit with Peanut Butter, Leftover Chicken, Snacky Dinner, Late-Night Leftover Sandwich, and Snack Plate with Bread

Breakfast is instant oatmeal, coffee, and an apple with peanut butter.

Credit: Heidi

Paul has eggs on a bagel with guacamole salsa, and black tea. I prep a loaf of bread and hard-boil a dozen eggs.

Credit: Heidi

I have leftover stuffing, chicken, and cranberry sauce as an early supper, with some oca and radishes on the side. Paul grazes on dried apples, cheese, and bread with cranberry sauce.

After supper, I go out for what should be the last Thanksgiving pie shopping. I have to go to Whole Foods to find Meyer lemons, and that’s only a couple of blocks away from the “good produce store” dumpster, so I make a quick detour and score a ton of bell peppers. I freeze half of them for later.

Credit: Heidi

Paul makes himself a late-night sandwich using chicken and leftover spaghetti toppings from last Wednesday. I put together a snack plate with bread, carrot top pesto & a radish, bread and jam, a hard-boiled egg, a few American persimmons, dried apples, and cacao tea.

Credit: Heidi

Tuesday: French Toast, Bagel Sandwich, Apple with Peanut Butter, Hard-Boiled Egg, Raisins, Peanuts, Leftover Chicken Stir-Fry, Bread with Jam, and Chocolate Chips

Breakfast is French toast made from the heel of yesterday’s bread, with a Fuyu persimmon and an apple with peanut butter. I cut into the dumpster mango, but yikes, it belongs in the compost. (I tried!)

Credit: Heidi

Paul has a bagel with eggs and salsa, and an apple with peanut butter. I have a hard-boiled egg as a midday snack. Paul munches on raisins and peanuts.

Credit: Heidi

Supper is a stir-fry: broccoli, bell peppers, celery, bok choy, and the last of the chicken, served over brown rice. I have diet root beer to go with it. Paul drinks some more of the aperitif alternative.

Credit: Heidi

I have a bedtime snack of bread with jam with the last of the cacao tea. I also eat a few spoonfuls of chocolate chips mixed with different spices, to test some ideas for chocolate cream pie.

Credit: Heidi

Wednesday: Grapefruit, Nuts, Apple with Peanut Butter, Eggs Two Ways, Pie Dough Scraps, Banana Smoothie, and Pasta with Red Lentils and Bell Peppers

Today is my big Thanksgiving prep day. We go to a friend’s house every year for a big traditional meal, and my contribution is always an egregious number of pies. I fuel up with a grapefruit and walnuts, an apple and peanut butter, and two hard-boiled eggs. Paul has eggs and an avocado on bread.

Credit: Heidi

My friend’s teenage kid comes over to help cook, bringing along matcha powder, black sesame drink mix, spruce tip extract, brandy, and plastic wrap.

Credit: Heidi

I sneak a few bites of pie dough here and there while working, as well as a drink of sparkling water mixed with the liquid left over after poaching some quinces. My pie apprentice makes himself a protein powder banana smoothie, but only drinks part of it, so I drink the rest. Otherwise, I don’t eat until supper, which is pasta with red lentils added to the sauce for extra protein, and the remaining bell peppers.

Credit: Heidi

I stay up until 1 a.m. making seven pies (!), plus getting most of the prep work done for two more, and finish the night with a glass of warm black sesame beverage.

Credit: Heidi

Thursday: Eggs and Toast, and Thanksgiving Dinner and Desserts

I lick a few spatulas while making the last two pies, but otherwise don’t eat until the main meal. Paul has eggs and toast.

We have an early afternoon dinner, and I load up on the classics: turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, green salad, and a garlic roll. I also snag a piece of beet goat cheese galette and a single butternut squash raviolo from the vegetarians. For drinks, someone made a batch of makgeolli from a powder mix (it’s good, but a little too sweet to pair well with the meal, so I switch to hard cider).

Credit: Heidi

Then it’s on to the pie buffet: Medlar custard with an autumn olive reduction, persimmon custard with toasted pecans, black sesame matcha coconut cream, Meyer lemon meringue, spruce key lime, apple quince, berbere-cinnamon spiced chocolate cream (I tried to decorate this one as a “full moon pie” in honor of Wolfenout), rum banana cream, and an ancient Rome-inspired honey nut pie spiced with long pepper. I cram slivers of matcha, medlar, lemon meringue, chocolate cream, and honey nut pies onto my plate, and wash it all down with red wine.

Credit: Heidi

Several people had to bail on dinner, so the leftovers situation has escalated from abundant to truly unhinged. We bring home enough food to easily last all weekend. I drink a cup of dandelion coffee after putting everything away — having something bitter after eating helps me digest a fat-rich meal. I do, indeed, feel thankful.

I’m not hungry at all for the rest of the night, but Paul has a slice of apple-quince pie before bed.

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