How a Family of 2 Eats for $100 a Week in Boston, Massachusetts
Welcome to Kitchn’s Food Budget Diaries series, where we show you how people around the country spend money on what they eat and drink. Each post will follow one person for one week and will chronicle everything that person consumed and how much it costs them.
Location: Boston, MA
Number of people in family: 2 (me and my partner)
Occupation: I’m a housekeeper and freelance designer, and my partner is in IT.
Household income: $61,000
Weekly food budget: $100
Day 1: Thursday
7:30 a.m. The alarm goes off. The alarm plays “Everything Is Awesome” from the LEGO movie. Waking up is not awesome. I pass the phone to my partner and he hits snooze. I fall immediately back to sleep.
8:00 a.m. Waking up late is also not awesome. I hustle to tie up the trash, scrub a pan from a teriyaki-coated lapse in judgement the night before, and take a shower before he gets up. Then while he’s getting ready I get dressed and make the bed and we rush out the door. He carries the trash and I take the recycling down the stairs to later put out on the curb. Off we go.
On the way to work we stop at Dunkin’ Donuts. He gets his usual cold brew coffee, and he gets me an iced tea with lemon as well as a bagel with cream cheese. It’s free for us because we have a couple gift cards left over from the holidays.
9:23 a.m. We get to his office and I take over the driver’s seat. Normally I would head straight for the grocery store, but today I have to stop and get gas first. Between waking up late and having to make an extra stop, by the time I get to the grocery store it’s … a very special place to be.
It takes me forever to get through the place, now a maze of senior citizens and kids mid-meltdown. They’re out of a few main things I planned on buying and I’m terrible at having to make new plans on the spot. Usually I’d take a few minutes and figure it out, but it’s so packed in the store that I can’t wait to leave. I know buying these things at Whole Foods later on will cost me, but it’s worth it to be able to get out of here ASAP.
Steak tips, ~1.3 pounds, $10.71
Boneless Southern-style ribs (sliced pork butt/shoulder), ~2.5 pounds, $5.93
Pork sirloin kebab meat, ~2 pounds, $3.30
Antibiotic-free/organic boneless, skinless chicken thighs, ~1.5 pounds $3.73
Antibiotic-free/organic boneless, skinless chicken breasts, ~1.5 pounds $3.71
Plumrose bacon, 1 pound, $3.59
Willow Tree chicken salad, 15-ounce container, $6.99
Blueberries, 1 pint, $2.50
Bell peppers (1 red, 1 yellow, and 1 green), $4.26
Garlic, 2 heads, $1.12
Poblano peppers, 3, $2.06
Scotch Bonnet peppers (container of 15 to 20 peppers), $1.52
Romaine lettuce, 2 small hearts bundled, $1.49
Plum tomatoes, 6, $.99
Scallions, 1 bunch, $.50
Limes, 4, $1.34
Vidalia onions, 3, $1.55
Parsley, 1 bunch, $.99
Cilantro, 1 bunch, $.99
Arugula, 1 bunch, $.99
Navel oranges, 2, $1.78
Lemons, 2, $1.38
Green cabbage, 1 small head, $.97
Fage full-fat Greek yogurt, 2 (7-ounce) containers, $2.50 (total)
Store-brand shredded mozzarella, 8-ounce bag, $1.99
Cabot French onion dip, 12-ounce container, $1.69
Bumblebee solid white tuna in water, 2 (5-ounce) cans, $2.00 (total)
Cape Cod Sea Salt & Cracked Pepper potato chips, 8 ounces, $3.79
Joseph’s mini pita pockets, 8-count package, $1.79
Store-brand 6-inch flour tortillas, 10-count package, $1.29
Total Spent: $77.44
11:08 a.m. Safe and sound in my car with the AC blasting, I head to my weekly housekeeping client. I take any groceries that need refrigerating up with me in a cooler bag, set up my iPad with a few episodes of This American Life, and get to work.
12:55 p.m. I take a break to eat my bagel, chat with my partner, and send an email to my mom. My partner grabs a roasted turkey club and a juice for lunch.
Roasted turkey club, $8.24
Total Spent: $9.99
5:00 p.m. I’m finished at my client’s place and I’ve got to stop by Whole Foods. Thankfully it’s literally right around the corner.
5:20 p.m. I weep as I realize I’ll have to pay almost $9 for a package of chicken thighs that would have cost me less than half of that if I hadn’t gotten the last one at the regular grocery store. Not only that, but they’re also out of the ciabatta bread they had on sale as well as a brand of hummus I go there specifically to buy. I know this will blow my budget.
Nashoba Brook Bakery sliced sourdough bread, $4.99
365 brand organic boneless, skinless chicken thighs, 1.39 pounds, $8.33
Good Neighbors all-natural original hummus, 16 ounces, $2.50
Eden red wine vinegar, 16 ounces, $3.39
365 brand large brown eggs, 1 dozen, $2.99
Hass avocados, 2, $5.00
Heirloom tomato, $1.68
5:40 p.m. Off to pick up my partner and traffic is terrible. When I arrive I get into the passenger seat so he can drive. I love being with someone who wants to do all the driving! For years I had to chauffeur everyone I knew. Now I just get to relax.
6:46 p.m. We’re finally home. We divvy up the groceries for lugging up to our third-floor apartment. One trip or bust! I get some bacon in the oven for sandwiches as soon as we get in the door, and while it cooks I put everything else away. I eat the last two slices of provolone cheese from the fridge.
I’ll warn you all now — eating random things out of the fridge at random times is a theme with me.
Get the recipe: How To Make Perfect Bacon in the Oven
7:45 p.m. Dinner. At this point I’m pretty beat, so I always plan on something simple for dinner on Thursdays. Tonight it’s chicken salad sandwiches, with lettuce, tomato, and the aforementioned bacon on some nice sourdough bread, and chips and dip. I buy the chicken salad pre-made, so it’s really just assembly.
9:30 p.m. I clean up the dinner plates and get ready for bed. My mind isn’t tired yet, but my body is. In bed I watch a couple episodes of Catfish and play word games on my phone to wind down, and my partner stays up and plays video games online with a few of our mutual friends. I finally fall asleep around 2 a.m.
Day 2: Friday
9:00 a.m. I planned to go to IKEA this week, but I decide to push it off until next week — driving south of the city on a gorgeous Friday in the summer is not a good time if you can avoid it. Instead, I stay home and work on a logo project for a company going through a major rebranding.
12:00 p.m. I’m starting to get hungry so I make lunch: taco salad using leftover taco meat topped with pico de gallo and shredded lettuce, and I cut up a nectarine. I’m mostly a grazer when I’m home, and also a really slow eater — it’s 12:30 p.m. before I actually touch it and it lasts me awhile before I get tired of it.
My partner goes out to lunch with some of his coworkers at a local Thai place and he gets beef with sticky rice and crab rangoons. His coworker picks up the tab for everyone so it’s free for him.
My partner tells me we’ve been invited to our friend’s birthday party tomorrow. It’s at night and I know by the time we leave for it that the liquor stores will be closed so I decide to order some booze now so we don’t have to worry about it tomorrow. We use Drizly, an app solely for delivering booze, and we love it. I’m not including it in my weekly budget because it’s a gift to the party hosts.
6:30 p.m. My partner gets home from work and he’s exhausted after a long week. We chat for a little while and then he goes to lay down for a bit.
9:00 p.m. I’m hungry and finally decide to make dinner. I make enchiladas with leftover BBQ pork. I don’t use a recipe. It’s easy and if my partner doesn’t want to wake up for dinner, it’s something he can heat up later and it will be just as good.
11:00 p.m. I’m getting too comfy on the sofa so I get up and do the dishes and get ready for bed. Tonight I’m out by midnight.
Day 3: Saturday
9:30 a.m. I wake up. I know it will be a long time until my partner wakes up so I try to go back to sleep, but it isn’t happening. I get up and build a nest on the couch and play my word games instead. I learn a new word: pluvious. It means rainy.
I do some research online about cactus care, as a couple of mine are acting strangely. I learn that I can grow the stock of a grafted cactus on its own, and that my other cactus is actually a trailing plant and isn’t leaning because it’s too wet or trying to reach the sun. I do some houseplant maintenance and watch some videos of an artist I like doing a watercolor painting.
11:52 a.m. I do some food prep for the upcoming week and make a batch of pickled red onions and a large container of pikliz, a super-spicy Haitian slaw made with cane vinegar and scotch bonnets. The pikliz will need at least three days in the fridge before it’s ready. Meanwhile, I eat a few mini meatballs from last week cold out of the fridge with a few bites of spaghetti.
Get the recipe: Pikliz from The New York Times
2:00 p.m. I’ve waited as long as I can and start making “breakfast.” When I know we’re going out I try to make one huge late meal for the day. Gotta put down a good sponge for drinking later.
2:10 p.m. He is risen! He can sense food.
3:00 p.m. We have a feast of eggs, bacon, and blueberry pancakes.
Get the recipe: Lofty Buttermilk Pancakes
10:00 p.m. A pregame cocktail of citron vodka and seltzer with lots of ice. By 10:30 we’re out the door. My partner drives because he’s sober. We have a really good time at a pretty chill BBQ and I drink many drinks.
2:10 a.m. We leave the party and give my best friend a ride to her house (my partner remained sober during the party). She invites us up — we know this is a terrible idea, but she twists my arm and I, in turn, twist my partner’s. I haven’t had quality time with her in a while, and we stay up the entire night.
5:36 a.m. My partner has gone to bed and I am drunk with my best friend making notes in a food diary.
Day 4: Sunday
12:23 p.m. We finally get home. My partner has gone to bed and I am hungover alone making notes in a food diary.
7:00 p.m. I wake up feeling vaguely more human-like. I take a long, cool shower and summon the strength to make dinner.
Get the recipe: Chicken Milanese and an Escarole Salad from Smitten Kitchen
12:15 a.m. I clean up the dishes from dinner and my stomach feels a bit wibbly. I have a piece of bread with butter and a small mug of milk.
12:30 a.m. We get in bed and put on some Star Trek. There is always some flavor of Star Trek on before bed; tonight it’s Voyager. I don’t even make it through the opening credits before I’m asleep.
Day 5: Monday
7:30 a.m. The alarm again.
11 a.m. I fall back asleep and wake with a start. I notice my partner is still beside me and I panic. He doesn’t feel good and has taken the day off. I get up and go to work at my computer and he stays in bed.
1:15 p.m. He gets up. I make pizza toasts for lunch with the sourdough bread, sauce, and cheese, and top mine with a salad of arugula. No recipe here.
3:00 p.m. I marinate some chicken thighs for dinner later, and make a yogurt sauce to go with it that contains a lethal amount of fresh garlic. To cure what ails ya!
I also take a bit of time to water all my orchids. I have about a dozen now — my mom buys them to decorate with and then when the blooms drop she throws them out. My father rescues them from the trash and gives me at least one every time I come home to visit. They don’t all make it, but it’s become a fun hobby and I’ve learned a lot, and it’s extremely satisfying to watch them flourish and come back to life. Three are in bloom right now.
5:15 p.m. My partner is still feeling under the weather and goes back to bed. I’m getting hungry so I have a nectarine and some potato chips. While he’s sleeping I get my fill of trashy TV for the week. How many crime dramas can one person watch in a lifetime? I think I’m going to find out.
9:02 p.m. Dinner! We’re having Serious Eats’ halal cart chicken with rice, one of our favorites. I also cut up lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, and break out the pickled onions again and doctor up some hummus to have with pita on the side. Did you know adding a couple spoonfuls of Greek yogurt to plain store-bought hummus makes it smooth and silky, more like the real deal? I’ve made my own hummus plenty of times, but this is where it’s at.
Get the recipe: Halal Cart-Style Chicken and Rice with White Sauce
11:00 p.m. Dishes are done, and I’m in bed by midnight.
Day 6: Tuesday
8:00 a.m. Okay, officially back to reality. Today is pretty uneventful for both of us.
12:00 p.m. I make blueberry oatmeal and top it with blueberry kefir. I was a runner-up in Lifeway Kefir‘s Instagram contest earlier this year and got lots of coupons for free bottles of kefir! I usually make overnight oats with it and eat them every day, but I’ve been lazy this week. So today it’s hot oatmeal. While I’m cooking the oatmeal I make a marinade for the steak tips for dinner tonight.
Get the recipe: Butterscotch Oatmeal from The Food Charlatan
My partner has leftover chicken and rice for lunch.
8:20 p.m. Dinner tonight is steak and poblano tacos, with homemade pico de gallo and guacamole. We eat and then I watch a couple of my favorite streamers on Twitch, a streaming service where you can watch people do all kinds of things. It was primarily designed for gamers, but since I don’t play video games, I prefer the “creative” channel where I watch people do all sorts of things like play guitar, cook, knit, and paint. While that’s on, I edit a few photos for my Instagram, and my partner reads comics and then plays a game on the computer.
Get the recipe: Rib-Eye Quesadillas
11:37 p.m. I put together the marinade for tomorrow’s pork griot, clean up the kitchen, and take a shower before bed.
2:03 a.m. I play my word games and watch a couple episodes of Star Trek and I fall asleep around 2:45 a.m.
Day 7: Wednesday
8:00 a.m. I have things I’d rather be doing out of the house, but I have to stay home so the landlord can come over and finish an ongoing issue with our bathroom sink.
8:30 a.m. My partner leaves for work and I straighten up the apartment. It’s Watering Wednesday — in addition to the cacti and orchids, I’m up to two dozen other miscellaneous houseplants, and they are all thirsty. On Wednesdays I also clean out the fridge and look at the grocery circulars online to make my shopping list in prep for starting all over again tomorrow. The landlord is here most of the day, in and out getting the sink and plumbing up to snuff. I’m looking forward to it not soaking my poor downstairs neighbors’ entry every time we brush our teeth.
1:30 p.m. Lunchtime. I have a leftover half chicken cutlet from Sunday night with the rest of the arugula and pickled onions. My partner has leftover chicken and rice for lunch.
2:36 p.m. I switch gears and get off the computer to decorate some boxes. My partner is a LootCrate subscriber, but the past few boxes we’ve received have been “meh” at best. Instead, we came up with a different plan. He takes the money he would have spent on his subscription and puts it in a special bank account, and then I get to use that money to pick out things I know he’ll actually like. Finally all the different things I ordered have arrived, and I use paint pens to color the boxes so they look like the subscription ones. The theme is “outer space,” and I’m really excited for him to get home and open them.
3:00 p.m. I put the pork griot into the oven. It needs to cook low and slow, and will be worth the wait. And since the pikliz is already made, dinner is pretty hands off. This means I can stay out of the landlord’s way while he’s working.
Get the recipe: Pork Griot from The New York Times
6:00 p.m. The plumbing is fixed and the pork is done cooking. I take the pork out of the pot and turn the liquid and cooked veggies into a gravy with some help from my immersion blender.
6:45 p.m. My partner gets home from work and we sit in the living room so he can open the boxes. He loves everything and takes several photos of the box and each item in it to put on Instagram. (That’s how you really know, lol!) Inside the box is a figure from the ALIEN movie franchise, a Space Invaders figure, a Mass Effect T-shirt, a hardcover collection of the first volume of Valerian comics, and astronaut ice cream.
After that we eat dinner: pork griot and gravy with pikliz. I’ve made this dish before, but the scotch bonnets are way more potent this time. It is so spicy. It’s delicious but very intense.
We sit in a spice haze for a while, and my partner plays a new video game he got: Slime Rancher. I love this game! It’s so cute. Even though I don’t game, if it’s one I like I’ll watch and help out by looking up how to do certain things or where to find things in the wikia. We ranch slimes together for a long time. Life is good.
1. How did you set your food budget?
Like most people, I have to consider how much money I have to spend — it would be nice to just walk through and grab whatever I want, but I’ve yet to figure out how to grow a money tree. I always have my phone out when I’m shopping — I have my list in the notepad app, and use the calculator app to add up what’s in my carriage as I go. It’s too easy to lie to myself and “guesstimate” about what I’m really spending. The calculator keeps me honest and in check.
I’ve spent the last few years figuring out how to cut way down on food waste (cooking for just two people can be tricky when every recipe is family-sized) and now my focus is the budget, as I know I can cut that way down too. Shopping for only the current week keeps waste down but costs up. It’s a process!
2. What are the kitchen ingredients you can’t live without?
The usual stuff like onions, garlic, flour, milk, eggs, butter, cheese, and some kind of lettuce-y thing for salads. I also always have a lot of Tex-Mex stuff on hand — tortillas, masa, dried chiles, fresh chiles, chipotles en adobo, cilantro, and lots of limes. I also have a drawer entirely devoted to spices and spice blends, but honestly a couple varieties of salt and fresh-cracked pepper are what I use most!
Also, not really an ingredient per se, but something I can’t live without is water! Someone has probably noticed I didn’t mention any beverages (aside from alcohol) in my food diary. I drink iced tap water 24/7. I have a Nalgene that holds a liter of water and I drink about three of them per day. It goes everywhere with me — in the car, at the dinner table, even to bed.
3. What’s the budget recipe you always rely on?
For dinner, melts or enchiladas are always easy go-to dishes. They’re a great way to use up leftovers and they come together quickly. In the case of melts, it also somehow seems more satisfying than just having a cold sandwich. I’ll make turkey and provolone with cranberry mustard, ham and cheese, tuna melts, or, my new favorite, mushrooms with baby arugula.
For enchiladas it’s basically any leftover protein rolled up in a corn tortilla with some shredded cheese and chopped onion. I microwave the tortillas in a damp paper towel so they’re pliable and you don’t have to mess with oil and frying. Enchilada sauce is easy to make, but honestly most of the time I use a packet of Frontera brand green enchilada sauce. They’re done by the time I’m finished putting away groceries or have taken a quick shower. They might not all be “authentic” variations, but they taste good!