How a Part-Time Pizza Shop Employee in Springfield, Oregon Spends $60 a Week on Groceries
Welcome to Kitchn’s Grocery Diaries, where a real cook like you shows us what they bought, cooked, and ate over the course of a week.
Location: Springfield, Oregon
Number of people in family: 1 (I live with roommates but we buy our own groceries)
Occupation: I work at Little Caesars Pizza
Household income: $1,000/month
Weekly grocery budget: $60
Ingredients to use this week: Frozen fruit, yogurt, potatoes, cheese, milk, eggs, top ramen, lunch meat, bread, and a few fresh vegetables like tomato, carrots, lettuce. I also get a couple of free pizzas a week from my work.
Grocery store of choice: Walmart, with supplemental shopping at Winco and Grocery Outlet
Day 1: Friday
Breakfast: I start my day at 10 a.m. by eating a bag of Little Caesars cookies that I find in my car. They’re basically these free graham cracker cookies we give out to kids at my work. I tend to take advantage of these free bags on breaks and when I’m tired of eating pizza. Not sure how long this bag has been in my car. I’ve had a flat tire for a few days and fixing the tire is actually how I find the cookies in the first place.
For my real breakfast, though, I make two “over-hard” eggs seasoned with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. I wanted them to be over-easy but I accidentally break the yolk while frying them on the stovetop. A 12-pack of eggs costs $1.88 at Walmart, so this meal only cost like 30 cents in total.
Soda break: I crack open a cool can of Coca-Cola I got for 50 cents out of the vending machine in front of Walmart. I’ll admit it right here, right now: I drink too much soda. I’d rather not. I’ve tried quitting (and almost succeeded) but just end up craving the sweet refreshing taste, or the little pick-me-up of energy.
Lunch: For lunch I have my mother’s potato salad. Normally, I’m not a potato salad fan. You’ll never catch me buying it from the store. But this? This was un-freakin-believable. Perfect balance of flavor in every bite, deliciously creamy, expertly seasoned.
Soda break: I’m at work and having my second soda of the day. It’s a 20-ounce Dr. Pepper that I get for a dollar with my employee discount.
Snack: I have a fresh bag of Little Caesars Crazy Bread on my break at work. Eight breadsticks baked to fluffy perfection, smothered in garlic butter, and loaded with Parmesan. The best part of working in fast food is getting free food.
Soda break: Another Dr. Pepper for a dollar. See? Told you I’m drinking too much soda.
Dinner: Still at work. I’m closing tonight. My buddy makes a pineapple and bacon pizza and I have a couple of slices.
Midnight snack: I’m finally home from work and eager to dig into another bowl of that potato salad. Thank God for leftovers, because I have no energy left to cook something.
1 a.m. snack: This sweet tooth has me digging through the fridge. I strike gold with a cup of flan from the store. It’s kind of like a pudding cup, but instead of pudding it’s flan. I got six for $3. They’re not really worth 50 cents, but I didn’t want to get the more expensive ones even if they are delicious. Scratch that, I want to, I just can’t afford it.
Day 2: Saturday
Breakfast: It’s 1 p.m. but still technically breakfast. I walk to Walmart and buy a Gala apple for 41 cents because yesterday my coworker told me that an apple in the morning gives you as much energy as a Redbull. Why would I walk all the way to the store for just one apple? Well, I live directly behind Walmart, so it takes two minutes and thirty-eight seconds to get from my door to theirs.
Lunch: I have another bowl of that gosh darn potato salad and a mini Dr. Pepper I’ve slyly stolen from my roommates, even though I’m pretty sure they said it was cool if I had one. I’m not tired of this potato salad yet, but it’s only a matter of time.
Hypothetical grocery shopping: I’m supposed to be getting off work in an hour. The plan is to stop at Winco on my way home for stir-fry supplies. I love stir-fry but hardly ever make it because I just don’t have the time or energy. Tonight I’m craving one with peppers, zucchini, peas, spinach, pineapple, and coconut teriyaki sauce. I’ll probably buy six chicken breasts (they’re on sale for $10) and add one of those to my stir-fry too, saving the rest for burritos later this week. Then I’ll collect different nuts from the bulk section, and make my own mix of almonds and cashews and peanuts and walnuts and macadamia. It’s like the protein of the gods and lasts for weeks, all for under $10.
Dinner: Instead of my Winco run I have to stay at Little Caesars for the rest of the night. Dashing all hopes of stir-fry, I make myself a thin-crust pizza. I swap regular marinara sauce for cheesy jalapeño dip and ranch dip, splitting them down the middle. I load the whole thing with bacon, then cheese, then Italian sausage, tomato, black olives, green peppers, and pineapple. It’s good, but I only have time for a couple of slices before I have to get back to the grind.
Soda break: I consider resisting the urge to buy a soda. Then I remember that I was supposed to be home hours ago, so I grab another Dr. Pepper.
Late dinner: I have another slice of pizza. I told my supervisor not to throw it away so I could take home leftovers. But here, staring down at the pizza, thinking about how I made the same one like three days ago, all I feel is disgust with my repetitive existence. I throw the rest of the perfectly good pizza in the trash.
Midnight snack: I end another day with flan, and drink one more of my roommate’s mini Dr. Peppers while I curl up with some late-night cartoons.
Day 3: Sunday
Breakfast: I gobble a bowl of Special K Vanilla and Almond cereal. It was $3.98, which is way more than I normally pay for a box of cereal, but I was in the market for something with fiber, and the whole-grain crunch feels healthy and refreshing.
Lunch: I get terrible news about my financial aid for school. After a solid crying session and a decent amount of recovery time, I go to Walmart for a bottle of the cheapest wine I can find. I also buy a cookies and cream mousse to ease my pain. And, since I’m here anyways, I buy one bell pepper, one tomato, and one zucchini. The whole purchase was just under $7.
Dinner: After my wine, I head into the kitchen where I’ve left the vegetables from earlier. I cut up half the tomato, half the zucchini, and half the bell pepper, then I throw them in a pan with oil and three eggs. I fry the whole meal over medium-high heat, season with salt, pepper, and garlic powder, and sober up a little bit.
Snack: I drag myself out of bed and make a bag of popcorn. I know I don’t really want to eat it, but there’s a certain solace in munching.
Snack part 2: Even though I only finished half the popcorn, I get another bowl of cereal, perhaps to remind myself of happier times. This morning I planned on making burritos tonight, but now it seems a little pointless, so instead I pass out early.
Day 4: Monday
Lunch: I’ve been hung over all morning and am still not very hungry, but I skip right to lunch. My mom gave me a whole bunch of pork a few days ago and I have to use it all before it goes bad. The best part about going to college close to home is that your mom gives you food.
I decide to bake two of the pork chops, because I really don’t feel like watching them on the stove. First I fry both sides for less than two minutes each. Then I put them in a pan with the rest of my vegetables from yesterday and bake them. It comes out pretty delicious, but I can’t finish it and let my boyfriend have most of the pork. (He refuses to eat vegetables.)
Walmart run: I go to the store and buy one 42-cent peach, Cheez-Its for $1.92, and a Totino’s Party Pizza Pack for $5. I have a few handfuls of Cheez-Its and then put the box away before it spoils my appetite.
Dinner: I split a Totino’s Combination pizza with my boyfriend before heading to bed.
Day 5: Tuesday
Breakfast: I start boiling water destined for Top Ramen with an egg, but as I’m watching the bubbles pop on the stove I decide the meal sounds too heavy for breakfast, which is the most important meal of the day. Instead, I have the peach I bought yesterday, which is perfectly ripe and juicy.
Early afternoon snack: I have a couple Cheez-Its but find them very unsatisfying and can’t think of anything that will satisfy me, so I drink a glass of blueberry Simply Lemonade, which was on sale for $1.88 at Walmart.
Late afternoon snack: Another day, another Crazy Bread break. This time I alternate each bite between cheesy jalapeño dip and marinara sauce. I also have another dollar Dr. Pepper.
Dinner: It was a short shift at work, so I’m home early enough to make dinner. Fajitas sound delicious. As soon as I walk in, my roommate tells me that he’s made enough dinner for me: barbecue chicken and corn on the cob. I don’t have to make dinner anymore.
Late-night snack: My sweet tooth breaks me down again. I go to Walmart and buy a big bag of Twix for $4.88 and a box of cookie brownie mix for $1.87. I eat two Twix on the way home and then put the rest in the freezer. Everyone knows Twix are best when they’re frozen.
Soda break: I have a fifty-cent Coke I got from the vending machine on my way out of the store earlier.
Dessert: I start making the box of cookie brownies. Basically I just made brownies and cookies separately, and then dropped the cookies into the brownie batter and baked it together. Next time I’m going to try it without the box.
When they’re ready, I dig right in. I bought it because I love Domino’s cookie brownie, and I wanted to see if I could replicate the deliciousness. It’s not as good, but a whole hell of a lot cheaper.
Day 6: Wednesday
Snack: It’s 4 p.m. and I realize I haven’t eaten all day. It’s been a busy day. I had to shower, talk to the financial aid office, and visit my family — everything that I don’t have time for on work days. My mom offers me a vegetable tray and I gladly scarf down some carrots. Then I eat a couple more Twix.
Lunch: I take a peek at the rest of the pork my mom gave me (thank God for the support of family), thinking I’ll find more pork chops. Instead there are two giant pork loins: one for me and another for my boyfriend. My roommate happens to be firing up the grill so I barbecue the meat after seasoning it with salt, pepper, garlic, and Montreal steak seasoning. After it’s almost done I add barbecue sauce. It’s straight-up fantastic.
I eat the pork with some peas that my roommate grilled and a glass of Simply Lemonade. Oh, I also have a slice of cheese. Yes, that’s right, a slice of cheese. And also corn on the cob.
Snack: I need something sweet so I have a couple more pieces of cookie brownie.
Dinner: Arby’s has a new deal: two bacon, beef, and cheddars for $6. I go with my boyfriend and we get two and split a medium order of curly fries for $2.60. The fries are gone before we finish the drive back home.
Dessert: I have a few more Twix. At this point I’m just using my fast this morning as an excuse to overindulge in the night.
Midnight snack: Apparently I’m starting to make a habit out of ending my night with half a Totino’s Combination Pizza. I add extra cheese and Parmesan I took from work.
Day 7: Thursday
Late lunch: It’s the first day of my new job! No, I haven’t quit Little Caesars. I really want to, but I’ve got to save up a bit more money first. I have to be at work by 10 a.m., so of course I don’t make time to eat in the morning. I’m working in an office, so I can’t just grab food on break all willy nilly. It’s 3:14 p.m. by the time I clock out, and I have to be to work at Little Caesars at 5:00 so there’s no time to cook. I use this as the perfect opportunity to grab a burrito I’ve been craving from my favorite Mexican place, El Taco.
For $6 I get a burrito bigger than both my fists, stuffed with chicken, bell pepper, onion, guacamole, tomato, french fries, cheese, beans, and a couple of other things. It’s heaven. I don’t feel a bit guilty for treating myself on my first-ever double work day.
Soda break: It’s time for my first soda of the day, a $1 Dr. Pepper.
Snack break: I take my break a half-hour late and help myself to Crazy Bread, plus dip. I only get through two of the breadsticks before throwing the bag away.
Soda break: My second soda of the day.
Soda break: Third soda of the day. (I told you I have a problem … )
Dinner: I make myself a thin-crust pizza with expensive bacon strips on the bottom, topped with cheese. On half I add tomato, green peppers, olives, and pineapple. On the other half I put sausage, bacon, and ham. I take one bite and throw the entire pizza away immediately. I tell myself the bacon is bad, or maybe it didn’t cook all the way through, but honestly I think I just can’t stand another bite of Little Caesars pizza.
Dinner part 2: I get home and my roommate immediately offers me an enchilada he made. I want to decline the offer, but I know I should eat. So I zap the free meal in the microwave for 45 seconds and scarf it down. Super yummy.
Midnight snack. I drive to 7-Eleven with my boyfriend and we buy two Nos energy drinks for $3. I also grab a large Slurpee for $1.99. I get half blueberry lemonade and half blue raspberry. It’s delicious. I abandon the Nos in my fridge when I get home, deciding to save it for another day when I’ve had less soda and it’s not two in the morning.
1. How did you set your food budget?
I earn, on average, $1,000 a month. I pay $550 total in bills monthly (thank God for roommates). This leaves $450. On average, $40 of that goes to gas every month. This leaves $102.50 every week. I budget $50 for food. The rest I hope to put in savings, towards moving after I graduate, or college debt, or a new guitar, but most of the time it goes to little emergencies like a flat tire. This week I actually spent $57.83 on food, and that’s including free meals from family, roommates, and work. Usually on days where I have more time to cook I spend less money because produce costs less than junk food. Unfortunately, the more I work, the more I feel like I “deserve” to relax with junk food, which gives me less energy to work. It’s a vicious cycle. Some weeks I do better than others.
2. What are the kitchen ingredients you can’t live without?
This week I ate a lot of pork because my mother gave me some, but usually my kitchen always has chicken. It’s super versatile, cheap, and easy to cook from frozen. Eggs are another must have. They’re filling and easy to add as protein to any recipe.
3. What’s the budget recipe you always rely on?
Burritos are cheap, quick, and easy. Chicken breasts are under $2 a pound. Refried beans are 88 cents. Bell pepper, onion, avocado, zucchini, whatever your preferred vegetables are, will only set you back like $4 tops. And, most importantly, you can save the leftovers for next time you don’t want to cook!
4. One small note about water.
I forgot to record the water I drink, mostly because drinking water is basically second only to breathing for me. I have a 32-ounce Hydro Flask bottle that I refill with ice and water three to five times every day.