Grocery Diaries

I’m Retired and My Husband Works in Public Relations — We Shop Mostly at Winco and Costco and Just Spent $60 on a Week’s Worth of Groceries

published Jan 20, 2022
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Credit: Person: Courtesy of Merlin Douglass; Food: Shutterstock

Name: Merlin
Location: Portland, Oregon
Number of people in the household: 2
Age: 70 and 68
Occupation: I’m retired and I write a weekly blog for a business association among other things; my husband, Richard, is a public relations manager
Household income: Richard’s wages have been uncertain during the pandemic; we pay all our expenses, including our groceries, from our collective Social Security, which is a tidy $31,000 annual take-home after federal taxes and medicare
Grocery shopping for how long: 1 week
Where you shopped: Winco and Fred Meyer
Amount spent: $60.49
Dietary requirements: I am a pescatarian, but my husband sees nothing wrong with a slab of meat now and again; we love fresh vegetables and are inordinately fond of cheese, and we don’t drink alcohol

Credit: Courtesy of Merlin

Where did you shop? 

Although we live in a grocery store paradise with many shops nearby, we regularly shop at Winco because it’s the closest and, overall, has the best prices. We usually stop at our neighborhood farmers market on Sunday to update our produce, particularly the lettuce, but, because of New Year’s, it was closed this weekend. We always buy our flavored seltzer water from Fred Meyer, though, because we prefer the Kroger brand to any other. I technically budget $100 each week for groceries, but I dedicate at least $25 of that for a once-a-month Costco shop, during which I pick up staples, including coffee, butter, and nuts.

What’s your grocery strategy? 

I typically shop for the week. I know we’re having a giant salad almost every night and a larger meal in the middle of the day most days. Last fall, we changed our lifelong habit from eating our largest meal of the day for dinner to eating the largest meal midday and going lighter in the evenings. I honestly don’t know what took us so long to change. I love being able to put a salad on the table in 15 minutes rather than taking on a big cooking project when 5 o’clock hits. Cleanup is fast and we’re out of the kitchen and on to our evening activities quickly.  

Richard has been working from home for the most part for the past two years, but this week he returns to the office. This means I need to think of some filling, portable meals he can bring for lunch. I’m hoping this requirement won’t throw me off our current plan, which works so well for us in every other way.

This week also includes two holidays: New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. So I’ve slotted in some festive offerings. We don’t eat a lot of sweets, but we like a little chocolate after dinner. I often melt semi-sweet baking chocolate and pour it into little silicone molds. Before they harden I might add chopped dried cherries, nuts, coconut, or just top the pieces with sea salt. It’s probably cheaper than buying boxed chocolates, but really I do it because I like the little bit of creativity the process offers.

We already have bananas, coffee, milk, blueberries, mandarin oranges (they come in such a big bag!), salad dressing, and some vegetables in the crisper drawer, as well as all the usual pantry standards along with bread in the freezer. We also have nuts because I buy them in bulk at Costco and freeze them. And, because of the snowy weather, I decide to get a few extras (extra pizza dough that I froze) in case I couldn’t get out to shop again at the end of the week.

How do you meal plan?

I LOVE meal planning. I would rather meal plan than actually cook, but daily recurring hunger drives a hard bargain. Every week I fight my natural tendencies to plan for and buy too much food. Generally we eat healthfully and light. That means my only real decisions about what to purchase revolve around whatever I select for our larger meals, because cereal and salads are a given. 

To make our evening salads the filling, tasty dish I’m looking for at dinnertime, I generally add fresh fruit, including mandarin oranges and apples, nuts, cheeses, and a whole lot of fresh veggies to my list. I like a lot of variety and the internet has got my back — I almost never make the same thing twice. I peruse my favorite sites (here’s looking at you, Kitchn) and fall in love with all the gorgeous pictures, then I make a list of dishes that appeal to me. I’m looking for three to four vegetable-heavy meals that aren’t too big and reheat well — because I will serve them at least twice.

What did you buy?

Winco

  • Steel-cut oats, $2.28
  • Canned minced clams, $1.48
  • Lipton onion soup mix, $1.48
  • Triscuits, $1.78
  • Pie crust, $1.78
  • Spring mix lettuce, $4.98
  • Canned whole tomatoes, $.98
  • 2 packages of pizza dough, $3.56 
  • 2 cans of tuna, $1.86
  • Sugar, $1.48
  • Canned mushrooms, $1.37
  • Dried cranberries, $2.69
  • Blue cheese, $3.38
  • Lemon, $.33
  • Avocado, $.88
  • Broccoli, $1.36
  • English cucumber, $.78
  • Zucchini, $.33
  • 1 bunch green onions, $.98
  • Cilantro, $.48
  • Parsley, $.48
  • Red grapes, $2.58
  • 3 boxes facial tissue,  $3.18
  • 1 small can of cat food, $.70 
  • Cough drops, $1.78
  • 3 suet cakes, $3.81
  • Valerian root, $4.18

$50.71 (with $0.24 bag refund)

Fred Meyer

  • 2 cases of seltzer, $9.78

$9.78

Grand Total: $60.49

Credit: Courtesy of Merlin

Thursday: Broccoli Calzone

Richard usually gets up earlier than I do, between 5 and 5:30 a.m. He makes lattes and wakes me up a few minutes later when they are ready. We’ve been stuck inside for three days because of ice and snow and we’ve been moving through our considerable stockpile of groceries, but now it’s time to shop. We eat our homemade granola (no fruit today) and we each have a slice of toast. After breakfast we bundle up and drive to Winco, just a few blocks from the house. For the most part, they have everything that I want, but I do have to substitute pizza dough for the crescent rolls I was looking for for tonight’s dinner, which turns out to be broccoli calzone rather than the broccoli crescent wrap I was hoping to make.  

In the afternoon, after the groceries are put away, I do the only meal prep I’m planning for the week: I chop the parsley and cilantro and add it to the lettuce mix I purchased because it gives a depth to the salad foundation I can’t get any other way. I repack it in two containers to keep the lettuce from going bad so quickly. (In other weeks I might have made some granola, salad dressing, croutons, or toasted some nuts but I have leftovers from a previous week I can use.)

Mid-afternoon, I make the calzone and we eat it with some of the cherry tomatoes I bought for our New Year’s Eve snack board. We are so full, we don’t eat again for the rest of the day. 

Credit: Courtesy of Merlin

Friday: New Year’s Eve Snack Board

Huddling at the table with our morning lattes, both Richard and I find endless fascination in our emails and the day’s news. We’re excited this morning because we can get out and go walking at the mall like we usually do. After walking and feeling generally celebratory, we decide to stop for breakfast on our way home at our favorite breakfast place. I have my standard avocado Benedict and Richard splashes out for ham and eggs. He pays for it separately from our grocery budget ($37.86, including tip). 

Full from our big breakfast, we have a small salad for lunch. Richard makes his mom’s clam dip recipe, a sentimental favorite of ours for our New Year’s Eve snack board. The snack board also includes crackers, chips, and pretzels, along with cheeses, little tomatoes, vegetable sticks, dried currants, and raisins, as well as grapes. We share it in the evening and toast the new year with grapefruit seltzer (our favorite). We watch our favorite murder mystery before going to bed around 9 p.m. Sorry, party world, we need our beauty sleep!

Saturday: Leftover Broccoli Calzone

We wake up with our morning lattes and afterwards we walk in the mall and greet our walking friends with cries of “Happy New Year” across the huge empty corridors. Granola with bananas is on the breakfast menu today and I have a cup of coffee from the French press. Richard opts for black tea. There is a lot of calzone left over and we reheat that midday and have it with some carrot sticks before tackling the Christmas tree and putting away all the decorations. 

We have our favorite giant salad for dinner. I start with several heaping handfuls of my lettuce herb mix and add fresh crunchy vegetables: red peppers, English cucumbers, green onions, and carrots. On top of that, I add mandarin orange slices, crumbled blue cheese, toasted pepitas, and some croutons. This is a salad for serious salad people like us.

Credit: Courtesy of Merlin

Sunday: Clam Pie

As usual, we indulge in a latte before we walk. We both have paperwork to catch up on and this is a nice lazy day to do it. Sometime after midday I start our meal. Today I am making a wonderfully hearty clam pie for our main. I pick this recipe because I know it is sturdy and will travel well when Richard goes into the office tomorrow — his first day back. This one has only clams, crackers, and a couple of eggs in the filling. It is wonderfully fragrant as it bakes and by the time I pull it out of the oven, Richard has already started small side salads for us. 

In the evening, over our giant salad, we talk about the challenges the festival that Richard does PR for faces in the light of new variants. This is to be Richard’s last year before retiring and we’d love it if it would be a hugely successful season, but there are lingering issues out of our control that have to be resolved.

Monday: Leftover Clam Pie

There has been a computer attack at the office and early in the morning Richard gets a text while we are walking at the mall telling him everyone will be working from home today. There is so much clam pie left over that I know he will still have something to take with him if they go in on Tuesday, but meanwhile, I can just reheat some for us with a few tomatoes. 

Rich eats his lunch at his computer between meetings in his little home office. I eat at the kitchen table while I make notes for a meeting I have later this week to discuss the stories we will be covering for the blog and the newsletter for the next month or so.  

Back together in the evening, we assemble our giant salad and we catch up. We share a grapefruit seltzer and eat a couple of chocolate pieces for dessert.  

Credit: Courtesy of Merlin

Tuesday: Giant Salad

Richard goes into the office after walking and our cereal. The computer problems are partially resolved (hurray!). Everyone is so happy to be back in the office. He heats up his clam pie in the microwave and eats at his desk with chips and veggie sticks he has prepared himself. I eat my clam pie at the kitchen table between laundry and chores as wind and rain batter the house and the neighborhood. Our supper salad reminds us that our needs are few and our blessings are many. Today we made garlic toast instead of putting croutons on the salad. Ah, variety.

Wednesday: Cheddar Cheese and Pickle Sandwich

We walk and when we return home, Richard pours our cereal and cuts the bananas for breakfast. I don’t have a main dish for Richard to take with him and I have a meeting today, so, after we eat, Richard preps veggies to bring to work. He buys his favorite sandwich today for lunch: a ham and cheese from a deli near his office. I make a cheddar cheese and pickle sandwich for myself after I return home from my meeting and I eat it with a small bunch of grapes.

Afterwards, with a nice hot cup of coffee, I sit down to put together a menu and shopping list for the following week. I realize that if Richard is going to have something to take with him, I will need to plan a time to cook ahead. Sunday seems like the logical choice so I pull out my phone and, as always, I begin to look at pictures of recipes that have recently posted. So many choices! Eventually I narrow it down to three yummy dishes I have never prepared before.

Dinner is, as always, our giant salad. It is easy to assemble, quick to clean up after, and hearty enough to satisfy — salty cheese, sweet mandarin slices, and crunch pepitas in every bite. We eat in companionable silence.

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