Grocery Diaries

I’m a Chemist and My Husband Is an EMT — We Just Spent $264 on Groceries at Trader Joe’s, Walmart, and Sam’s Club

published Apr 28, 2022
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Credit: Food: Shutterstock; People: Courtesy of Nikki; Design: Kitchn

Name: Nikki
Location: Harriman, TN 
Number of people in the household: 3
Age: 34, 35, and 2 years
Occupation: I’m a chemist and my husband, David, is an EMT.
Where you shopped: Trader Joe’s, Sam’s Club (once a month), and Walmart
Amount spent: $263.17
Dietary requirements: David is allergic to shellfish and can’t eat fried foods or pasta. For family meals we avoid those things, but other than that we will try anything once!

Credit: Courtesy of Nikki

Where did you shop?

This week we shopped at Sam’s Club and Trader Joe’s. We don’t shop at these stores regularly because they’re too far to be convenient (plus we tend to make more impulse purchases than we’d like at both places). These stores will put us over our weekly budget, but many groceries we buy will last for about two months. We also have a lot of stuff at home we can use up, so I’m hoping to balance out the budget by using up those items. I also make a mid-week run to Walmart to pick up a few extra items for an impromptu taco night.

What’s your grocery strategy?

I’ve tried all kinds of strategies: shopping at multiple stores to chase sales, going to one store once per week, and shopping once a month and making a bunch of freezer meals ahead of time. I’ve learned that it’s best to stay flexible and do what works for us in the moment.

We like to keep a good stockpile of household staples, including low-carb tortillas (my daughter, Cleo, likes cheese tacos and tons of leftovers can be made into tacos!), some kind of fruit, bologna, cheese (I buy blocks and cut it into cubes or sticks for Cleo and shred it myself for other meals), eggs, canned and frozen veggies, and lots of sauces and seasonings. I get annoyed by all the sauces we have in the fridge, but they’re so helpful when we’re throwing something together.

We also have a deep freezer filled with beef (we got half a cow last month so we aren’t buying beef right now). Beef is our favorite protein and it was cheaper by the pound to get it in bulk. We also love supporting a local farmer (and it tastes so much better!).

Credit: Courtesy of Nikki

How do you meal plan?

I don’t often shop sales or use coupons unless I’m in a rut and need ideas, because I usually end up buying things we don’t need and spending too much money. I go through our freezers, fridge, and pantry before making a grocery list each week to see if I have ingredients that need to be used up or I want to incorporate into the week’s meals. 

During weeks we’re trying to save money, we like to make what we call a “put together meal,” which doesn’t involve much planning and uses whatever we have around that day. It’s fun and a bit adventurous and has resulted in some really tasty dinners! Recently, I made fried rice; David is a wizard with marinades and the slow cooker. 

What did you buy?

Sam’s Club 

  • Honest juice boxes, $11.98
  • Chicken broth, $7.72 for 6 boxes
  • Jerky bars, $13.98
  • Protein chips, $5.98
  • Tortillas, $13.56 for 2 family-size packages
  • Bacon, $16.67 for 3 pounds
  • Bologna, $7.28 for 2 pounds (so excited to find it at this price!)
  • Frozen blueberries, $9.48
  • Ground turkey, $14.98 for 5 pounds
  • Canned green beans, $5.48
  • Brown gravy mix, $4.68
  • Butter, $12.57
  • Chocolate chips, $9.98
  • Breakfast sausage, $8.48
  • Olive Garden dressing, $6.68 for 2 bottles

Total: $149.50

Trader Joe’s

  • Cilantro, $1.99
  • Lime, $0.49
  • Syrah cheese, $4.80
  • Crackers, $2.49
  • Mandarin Orange Chicken, $9.98 for 2 bags
  • Pork gyoza, $7.58 for 2 bags
  • 4 frozen meals, $14.96
  • Zucchini, $1.99
  • Flour, $2.99
  • Gummies, $3.49
  • Pear, $0.79
  • Pickled jalapeños, $2.99
  • Guajillo salsa, $2.79
  • Teriyaki sauce, $3.29
  • Couscous, $1.99
  • Flowers, $14.97
  • Sweet peppers, $3.99
  • Garlic, $1.69
  • Soyaki, $3.29
  • Pasta sauce, $1.99
  • Beer, $4.17

Total: $92.71


  • Pineapple, $1.98
  • Avocado salsa, $3.28
  • Limes, $1.32
  • Jalapeño, $0.25
  • Mango, $0.72
  • Tortillas, $1.98
  • Cabbage, $4.12
  • Chocolate milk, $2.24
  • Cake mix, $3.13
  • Sour cream, $1.94

Total: $20.96

Grand Total: $263.17

Credit: Courtesy of Nikki

Thursday: Leftovers, Trader Joe’s Chicken Tikka Masala, and More

I’m out of the house at 4:15 a.m. on workdays, so I take breakfast, lunch, and snacks with me to eat throughout the day. Today I have cereal, leftover enchiladas that I meal prepped, some freeze-dried fruit, and pudding. I mostly drink water flavored with drink packets throughout the day. It’s extremely rare that I go out for lunch while at work (usually, I’ll join if all my coworkers are going out as a group).

David takes the rest of the leftovers we have, including some enchiladas, tacos, and beef fried rice. He’s working a 48-hour shift and this will account for most of his meals during that time. Today he has Subway ($12) for lunch because he’s on a call. 

Credit: Courtesy of Nikki

After work, I pick Cleo up from daycare and we go to the park for a little while to get some sunshine and to avoid going through the drive-thru! When we get home, Cleo has ravioli, taco bites, corn, and oranges and I have a Trader Joe’s frozen meal that I intended to take to work for lunch until I realize I’d need to heat it for seven minutes in the microwave. I don’t want occupy the office microwave for that long, so I eat it for dinner at home instead. Cleo asks for an applesauce, bologna, cheese, and to share a donut with me. I guess the sunshine made her hungry!

Credit: Courtesy of Nikki

Friday: Freezer Pancakes, Turkey Meatballs, and Homemade Zucchini Bread

We’re up and out early to beat the traffic and crowds and take advantage of a good toddler mood! Breakfast is freezer pancakes for Cleo and some bologna and cheese. She would probably eat bologna six times a day if we let her. She also has what she calls her “coffee, ” which is milk with a splash of chocolate milk (it makes her feel like a big girl to have coffee like Daddy does). I eat the pancakes and cheese Cleo decides she doesn’t want. David makes venison tenderloin biscuits at work with venison and biscuits he takes from home. 

Cleo and I head to Sam’s Club and then Trader Joe’s where we find everything on our list, plus plenty of other items (there’s definitely a reason I go there infrequently). On the way home we share some chicken nuggets and fries ($8.95) — always a good post-shopping snack! Once we’re home we have the pear that Cleo picked out today. 

Credit: Courtesy of Nikki

While she naps I do some laundry, dry out some past-its-prime bread in the oven to make breadcrumbs, and try some of the little peppers we bought with ranch dip. They’re really good and I’m hoping it will be a new veggie for Cleo — she loves to dip things in ranch. 

When Cleo wakes up we make zucchini bread. Baking is one of our favorite activities to do together and we bake something almost every weekend. It’s fun for both of us, educational for Cleo, and an inexpensive way to have a freshly baked item all week. It’s also something we can share with friends and family if they happen to stop by. 

Credit: Courtesy of Nikki

I also make turkey meatballs to have with some pasta for dinner, and then freeze the rest of the turkey I bought earlier today. I use my breadcrumbs in the meatballs and some Parmesan cheese we have in the fridge. It isn’t my favorite meal — I keep adding Italian seasoning to things I think I should, despite disliking basil — but it makes for good leftovers for David. Cleo elected to have one of the pieces of dry bread I made breadcrumbs from and of course eats the entire thing even though she barely touches her dinner. David is still at work and still working his way through leftovers. 

Credit: Courtesy of Nikki

Before bed Cleo and I share a slice of zucchini bread. I didn’t eat much of my dinner or the bread, and I have some of the Syrah-soaked cheese with crackers. It’s our favorite cheese to snack on!

Credit: Courtesy of Nikki

Saturday: Homemade Pizza and Takeout

I make smoothies with frozen blueberries (instead of the pancakes I originally planned) and try out the breakfast sausage I got with Cleo. She loves it and also announces that the smoothie is her favorite! We were going to have pizza for dinner, but David is working again today (going on 72 hours now), so I get it started for lunch instead. The pizza is not the prettiest thing I’ve ever made, but it’s so good and Cleo really likes it too! 

Credit: Courtesy of Nikki

Our electricity goes off for a few hours in the late afternoon/early evening and David finally gets to leave work, so he brings us Taco Bell ($14.76). We had things we could eat without cooking them, but I didn’t want to open the fridge.

Credit: Courtesy of Nikki

Sunday: Leftover Pizza, Snacks, and Dinner Out

Cleo spent the night at her grandparents’ because of the power outage, and she has eggs, fruit, and a Little Debbie cake while she’s there. David has a slice of leftover pizza and I have some of the breakfast sausage. 

For lunch we have pizza and apples, and Cleo has a cheese taco and apples. I try some of the sweet tea I made with Splenda instead of sugar (don’t @ me, fellow Southerners!). Milo’s is one of the teas we like most and I’m trying to figure out how to recreate it at home — it will save us money and I can make it whenever we run out. The first attempt was not at all successful, but this one is a lot better. 

We take Cleo for spring pictures today; afterwards we go out for an early dinner at a Mexican restaurant ($25). Because we have such an early lunch and dinner, Cleo snacks for the rest of the day: an orange at a friend’s house, then an orange and applesauce and cheese taco at home. Fruit is one of the things she will always eat so I like to keep a variety on hand all the time.

Credit: Courtesy of Nikki

Monday: Zucchini Bread, Trader Joe’s Vegetable Biryani, and a Cheeseburger at the Baseball Game

David and I both work today; I have zucchini bread, yogurt, pretzels, dried fruit, an apple, and a freezer meal throughout the day. David has tuna and crackers and goes out to the same Mexican restaurant for dinner again with his partner at work ($8). Cleo goes to daycare and I pick her up when I get off work and take her to watch her cousin’s softball game. We have some pretzels, juice, and raisins for a snack. She also gets some chips and candy from her aunt and uncle. (She’s going home with them to spend the night so that’s just fine with me!) I was going to eat leftovers when I got home, but I’m pretty hungry so I get a cheeseburger and chips while watching the game ($4). 

Credit: Courtesy of Nikki

Tuesday: Leftovers and Fish Tacos

I pack a similar breakfast (yogurt and zucchini bread, this time with some peanut butter) and snacks (pretzels, apples, tortillas, and chickens strips) as yesterday, and I have my leftovers from Sunday’s dinner out at the Mexican restaurant instead of a freezer meal. I’m always searching through the fridge and trying to eat the oldest things first. Usually I’m not very good at eating leftovers, but in the past couple months I’ve committed to it and am doing better.

Credit: Courtesy of Nikki

David and Cleo are at home today; Cleo has a cheese taco, goldfish, and applesauce while David has leftover meatballs. He went fishing on Sunday after the photo session and caught three rainbow trout, so we change up our plan and have fish tacos for dinner. I stop by Walmart to get some additional items, including a few that will become toppings for the tacos. After Cleo goes to bed, I have a cheese plate and get started with a chicken marinade for tomorrow’s dinner. 

Credit: Courtesy of Nikki

Wednesday: More Leftovers and Marinated Chicken Thighs

I pack a similar breakfast to what I’ve been having the last two days (yogurt and zucchini bread with peanut butter), and some of Cleo’s taco bites. I often pack some of her leftovers and balance them out with a bit with veggies or another nutritious side. Today I pack the chipotle sour cream, mango pineapple salsa, and cilantro slaw I made for the trout tacos, which works considering we ate all of the trout. 

Credit: Courtesy of Nikki

David and Cleo have eggs for breakfast, and otherwise snack throughout the day and eat leftovers. For dinner, we have the marinated chicken thighs with a few sides, everything cooked by David. One of the things that seems to work for us is for me to prep something the night before and then, on days he is home, David starts cooking when I leave work. 

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