How a Family of Two Eats for $200 a Week in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

How a Family of Two Eats for $200 a Week in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

E26696fec847e31e04a1b4c24d9fc9cf2f20560a?auto=compress&w=240&h=240&fit=crop
Ariel Knutson
Mar 13, 2018
(Image credit: The Kitchn)

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.

Name: Marisa
Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Age: 33
Number of people in family: 2 (me and my husband, Cris)
Occupation: I work in fundraising at a university and my husband is a research scientist.
Household income: $126,000
Weekly food budget: $175 to $200, give or take.

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

Day 1: Sunday

8 a.m.: I wake up early to the sound of rain and read in bed for an hour.

9 a.m.: I finally get up to make some coffee. We have a French press that we use every morning, which makes the perfect amount to split with my husband, who is still sleeping. I take him a cup to wake him up and then make oatmeal for myself.

I try to eat a big breakfast for fuel. My husband and I are training for a marathon, our second, and today's run is 15 miles. I eat oatmeal with pecans and a handful of dried fruit while I meal plan for the week. I'm kind of intense about meal planning and not letting any food go to waste. Throwing away food breaks my heart. I take a glance at our Google home calendar and remember I'm seeing a friend on Thursday night, so I adjust the meal plan accordingly.

9:30 a.m.: My husband is up and also makes himself oatmeal with pecans and dried fruit and adds a big scoop of peanut butter — his favorite — while I talk over the week's meals with him.

10:30 a.m.: We head to Trader Joe's, which isn't as packed as I thought it would be. We get out of there in less than 30 minutes and only spend $27.46.

Trader Joe's

Milk, $3.49
Broccoli, $3.29
Tandoori naan, $1.99
Peanut butter, $1.99
Brussels sprouts, $3.49
Whole-wheat spaghetti, $1.49
Plain yogurt, $3.29
Soy chorizo, $2.29
Extra-sharp cheddar cheese, $3.56
2 apples, $2.58

Total spent, including tax: $27.46

Next up is Target for a few household items and canned goods for $14.06.

Target

San Marzano canned tomatoes, $8.97
Pepperidge Farms whole-wheat sandwich bread, $2.89

Total spent: $11.12

Once we get home I eat about half of my leftover Chipotle burrito bowl from the night before (half of a $7.73 burrito bowl is $3.86, which I'll include here since I ate it for lunch.)

Chipotle

Half of a burrito: $3.86

Total spent: $3.86

11:30 a.m.: The rain has finally let up and we head out for our 15-miler. I always wear a fuel belt for runs longer than about 10 miles and today I have in it two 8-ounce water bottles and a bag of Jelly Belly Sport Beans, which I buy in bulk on Amazon every few months. They cost $7.62 for a six-pack, which is only $1.27 each and cheaper than I've seen elsewhere. They're one of the only fuel options I can stomach on a long run. My husband is some kind of robot and doesn't need fuel on long runs so he just drinks water.

2 p.m.: We're finally home from our long run and I chug about three glasses of water the minute we walk in the door. Then I grab some leftover Girl Scout cookies from the freezer and eat three of those as I stretch. My husband eats some Trader Joe's Peanut Butter Pretzel Bites as he stretches on the floor with me.

4 p.m.: Stretched, showered, and ensconced in a pile of blankets on the couch I eat the last of my Chipotle leftovers while watching Netflix. After a while I finally drag myself off the couch to do dishes and clean the bathroom as my husband walks to Whole Foods for a few final things on our grocery list for a total of $19.23.

Whole Foods

Edamame, $2.99
Lentils, $3.29
Bananas, $.52
Rolls, $4
Cheddar chips, $2.99
Eggs, $5.29

Total, including tax & bag refund: $19.23

7 p.m.: For dinner we make mollettes (Mexican open-faced sandwiches) with soyrizo instead of chorizo and I make a side of edamame. We split an orange that's languishing in the fruit bowl and then settle on the couch with some leftover Valentine's Day chocolate to watch the Olympics.

Get the recipe: Mexican Tortas with Black Beans and Chorizo from Food & Wine

Day 2: Monday

7 a.m.: I wake up and set the French press to make coffee and then disappear into the bathroom to get ready for the day. My husband brings me my travel mug full of coffee as I'm doing my hair. He eats granola with milk and a big scoop of peanut butter while I finish getting ready in the bathroom.

8 a.m.: I pack both our lunches (leftover mollettes from the night before) and grab an apple for a snack and I'm out the door. I always eat breakfast at work and today it's my usual: plain yogurt and my homemade granola. I buy old-fashioned rolled oats and nuts from Costco in bulk every few months using a friend's membership and I make a big batch of granola every two weeks and store it in the freezer to keep it crunchy.

I drink my coffee I brought from home and water from my reusable bottle I fill at the water fountain throughout the morning.

11:30 p.m. I have a meeting at 12:30 so I eat my lunch early.

2 p.m.: I eat my afternoon snack, an organic apple. I eat an apple almost every single day, and have for years. I've been doing this for so long (at least since college) that it's a joke among my friends now.

5 p.m.: I get home and clean up the breakfast dishes and start making dinner. My husband works later than me almost every day, which means that I usually start dinner and then it's ready as he's getting home. As I'm prepping and cooking I snack on some chips we bought the day before.

7 p.m.: My husband is home and we sit down to eat dinner together. I made the broccoli, cheddar, and wild rice casserole from Smitten Kitchen, which is one of my go-to recipes. Then we split another orange as we talk about our respective days (we're working through an ambitiously large bag of Cara Cara oranges we bought a few weeks ago when they were on sale at Trader Joe's).

Get the recipe: Broccoli, Cheddar, and Wild Rice Casserole from Smitten Kitchen

8:30 p.m.: I read on the couch while my husband tackles the dishes. He makes me a glass of sparkling water from our homemade Soda Stream-style carbonated water maker to enjoy while I read. He's pretty handy and our homemade water carbonator is one of my favorite things he's ever made for us.

Day 3: Tuesday

7 a.m.: I wake up and set the French press to make coffee and then get ready for the day. My husband brings me my travel mug full of coffee and then eats granola with milk and a big scoop of peanut butter.

8 a.m.: I grab our lunches he packed up the night before (leftover casserole) and an apple and banana for a snack and we're out the door.

9 a.m.: I eat my usual plain yogurt and my homemade granola as I plow through emails at work. Throughout the morning I drink my coffee from home and water from the water fountain.

10:45 a.m.: I have a late morning meeting, which means I'll eat lunch a little late, so I eat the apple I brought as a snack.

12:30 p.m.: My meeting is over so I inhale my leftovers from the night before as I check emails at my desk.

3 p.m.: I'm running this afternoon so I eat a banana with some scoops from the jar of peanut butter I keep in the fridge at work for emergencies/especially hungry days/afternoon fuel. Having a jar of peanut butter in the work refrigerator is a necessity.

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

4 p.m.: I leave work a little early so that I have enough time after I get home to get my four-mile training run in while it's still light out.

5:30 p.m.: I'm home from my run and eat a handful of chips as I stretch and play on my phone.

6 p.m.: I start dinner, which is whole-wheat spaghetti with homemade marinara sauce. A few years ago I realized how easy it is to make your own marinara and I've never looked back. We use San Marzano tomatoes, which are expensive, but I think they're delicious enough that it's worth it. I also cut up Brussels sprouts. Once the marinara is bubbling on the stove and everything else is prepped, I jump in the shower.

6:30 p.m.: My husband gets home and finishes making dinner while we chat about our days, both of which were kind of crazy.

7 p.m.: We sit down to eat spaghetti with homemade marinara and roasted Brussels sprouts and watch a bit of Netflix.

8 p.m.: I read on the couch with a glass of sparkling water while my husband does the dishes and cleans up the kitchen.

Day 4: Wednesday

7 a.m.: I wake up and set the French press to make coffee and then get ready for the day. My husband brings me my travel mug full of coffee and then eats granola with milk and a big scoop of peanut butter while I finish getting ready in the bathroom.

9 a.m.: I eat my usual plain yogurt and my homemade granola as I plow through emails at work. Throughout the morning I drink my coffee from home and water from the water fountain.

10 a.m.: Someone brought in a cookie cake to work and I totally cut myself a slice to enjoy with my morning coffee. I love carbs.

12:30 p.m.: I heat up my leftovers brought from home (wild rice casserole from Monday night). My husband eats leftover soup that we made last Saturday. Sandwiches for lunch do not fill me up enough so we mainly eat dinner leftovers for lunch. My office is not in a great location for lunch options, which I actually like because it keeps me from eating out all the time.

3 p.m.: I eat my daily apple.

4:30 p.m.: I head home to do my five-mile training run.

5:30 p.m.: Home from my run, I eat a handful of chips while I stretch. Then I start dinner, which is Indian dal with frozen naan from Trader Joe's. I scale up the dal recipe just a little so we'll have plenty of leftovers for lunch the next day. Once that's simmering I jump in the shower.

Get the recipe: Indian Dal Nirvana from Steamy Kitchen

7 p.m.: My husband is home and he heats up the naan and then we eat. He's skipped his last two training runs because of a knee issue so we talk a bit about a plan of action and then watch a bit of Netflix to relax. We split another orange. We'd probably be eating these faster except for the fact that they're a beast to peel!

8:30 p.m.: I get the idea that my husband can use his engineering skills to help me cut fabric for a sewing project I've been wanting to start so instead of relaxing we spend the next 1 1/2 hours cutting up huge strips of fabric on our living room floor.

10 p.m.: We celebrate getting everything cut correctly by eating four Thin Mints each.

Day 5: Thursday

7:30 a.m.: I'm working from home today so I wake up a little later, just as my husband is heading out for his four-mile training run. I make French press coffee and also drink a big glass of water.

8:30 a.m.: My husband is home from his run and we eat breakfast together. I eat a banana with some peanut butter and he eats his usual medley of granola with milk, with nuts and berries and a scoop of peanut butter on top.

10 a.m.: I continue to drink my coffee through the morning and then switch to non-flavored carbonated water from our homemade Soda Stream machine thing. It's the best thing ever and we've figured out that it averages to less than one cent per glass of carbonated water. Much more economical than a pallet of San Pellegrino from Costco, and it means we don't have mountains of bottles to recycle either!

12 p.m.: I'm absolutely starving (probably because all I had for breakfast was a banana) so I heat up spaghetti from Wednesday night's dinner and eat that while I work. For dessert I eat four more Thin Mints from our freezer stash. My husband also took leftover spaghetti and some Brussels sprouts to work for lunch.

3 p.m.: I get a phone call from my husband that he's going to have to work late but has a break right now, so I drive over to meet him for a cup of coffee. He only works about a mile from our house, which is super convenient. We each get a latte and split a brownie. I love fancy coffee — it is one of my favorite splurges.

Tazza D'Oro

2 lattes, $7.85
Brownie, $3.10

Total cost: $10.95

5:30 p.m.: I'm finished up with work for the day and my friend is sick and had to cancel our plans for tonight so I pull out my sewing machine and start working on the project I measured and cut the night before. It's raining and freezing cold outside so I decide to skip my four-mile training run and be crafty instead.

7 p.m.: I take a break from sewing to eat leftover dal and a leftover piece of naan for dinner.

8 p.m.: My husband is finally home and eats the last of the dal. We chat about our days and split a beer from our stash in the fridge.

Day 6: Friday

7 a.m.: I wake up and set the French press to make coffee and then get ready for the day. My husband brings me my travel mug full of coffee and then eats granola with milk and a big scoop of peanut butter.

9 a.m.: I eat my usual plain yogurt and granola as I plow through emails at work. Throughout the morning I drink my coffee from home. My morning meeting was canceled, which I'm totally okay with since it's Friday and I'm tired.

11 a.m.: I snack on about half of the enormous Honeycrisp apple I brought with me today.

11:30 a.m.: I head to the gym at work and do a quick 30-minute weight circuit. My employer provides a gym and allows/encourages people to work out at lunch or before/after work and it's such a nice perk.

12:30 p.m.: I'm back at my desk and really hungry so I dig into leftover spaghetti with marinara from Tuesday night. My husband took the same thing to work — the last of these leftovers — and eats it for lunch as well.

2 p.m.: I eat the rest of my apple and then three Hershey's Kisses from the office candy bowl.

4:30 p.m.: It's Friday and time for happy hour! I pick up my husband from work on my way home and then we park our car outside our apartment and walk down to a neighborhood watering hole for happy hour with friends.

5 p.m.: I get two beers, my husband gets three, and we split an order of fries for a total of $23.

Urban Tap

Herbed fries, $3
5 beers, $15

Total, including tax & gratuity: $23

7:30 p.m.: We were planning to pick up Thai takeout on our way home from happy hour but our friends tell us about this new fast-casual Indian place around the corner and we decide to give it a try with them. I get paneer with masala and my husband gets some kind of lamb curry. We each get a garlic naan.

Verdict: It's delicious.

Choolaah Indian BBQ

Paneer bowl, $10.25
Lamb bowl, $12.25

Total, including tax: $24.61

Day 7: Saturday

8 a.m.: I wake up and make French press coffee, but we have brunch plans with friends so I don't eat anything and instead drink a big glass of water.

11 a.m.: Brunch is at one of our favorite neighborhood spots, and it is super kid-friendly, which is nice because we're dining with two little humans under 4. I get a grits and Brussels sprout bowl and my husband gets a dish with latkes and eggs, which sounds like a weird combination to me but he swears it's delicious. He gets a bottomless cup of coffee but I stick to water.

Square Cafe

Brussels sprouts bowl, $13
Latkes and eggs, $12
Coffee, $2.80

Total, including tax & gratuity: $35.31

2 p.m.: We head to a free art installation house with some other friends and enjoy the art for an hour.

3 p.m.: Then we decide that since we're in that neighborhood we'll grab a drink at a nearby brewery that we've never been to before. Pittsburgh has a great craft brewing scene and we are huge beer aficionados. The brewery is dog-friendly and we invite another friend who lives around the corner and she brings her adorable standard poodle. I drink two beers and my husband drinks one as we sit and talk and hang out for a few hours.

Allegheny City Brewing

3 beers, $19.50

Total, including gratuity: $22.43

6 p.m.: We're home and I'm starving so I heat up my leftovers from brunch and add the leftover Brussels sprouts we have in the fridge from a few nights ago. Brussels sprouts on top of Brussels sprouts! I love 'em.

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

7 p.m.: My husband heats up his leftovers and eats them while watching Netflix with headphones on. I finish reading a book I started a few days ago and nibble on some leftover Valentine's Day chocolate. I try to drink plenty of water throughout the evening because tomorrow is our long run day and I want to be plenty hydrated after my afternoon beers.

11 p.m.: It's time for bed!

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

1. How did you set your food budget?

Up until about two years ago we had a much more modest and stricter food budget because we were paying off our student loan debt. Now that we're debt-free and both done with graduate school we have a bigger food budget and are enjoying our time being TINKs (two-income no kids).

That said, we try to keep things reasonable and stay around $200 a week or so. My husband usually does the grocery shopping because Trader Joe's on the weekend stresses me out. We're really good about sticking to a list and only buying what we need. A few years ago we both read American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (and What We Can Do About It), and wow, that was an eye opener. We have now become champs at eating leftovers, freezing and canning food, and generally eating up just about everything we buy.

2. What are the kitchen ingredients you can't live without?

I have a big selection of spices and bulk dried goods like lentils and orzo. I always keep a few cans of black beans and a few cans of fire-roasted diced tomatoes around. With that I can make black bean soup, cowboy beans, chili, etc.

3. What's the budget recipe you always rely on?

Indian dal nirvana and quick cowboy beans (minus the bacon) are two go-tos. I almost always have the ingredients for those on hand. I also like to keep a bag of edamame in the freezer so I can add a side of veggies to any meal in about five minutes.

At Kitchn we believe setting a food budget for you and your family is an essential part in getting your financial life in order. Don't know where to start? We have a guide for that. Want to share your food budget diary with Kitchn? See how here.

moving--truck moving--dates moving--dolly moving--house moving--cal Created with Sketch. moving--apt