Grocery Diaries

How One Woman Eats for $90 a Week in New York City

updated May 1, 2019
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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 consumes and how much it costs them.

Name: Rachel
Location: New York, NY
Age: 23
Number of people in household: I live with one roommate, but we don’t buy groceries together.
Occupation: Journalist
Salary: $40,000 a year
Weekly food budget: $90 ($60 for groceries; $30 for eating out)

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

Day One: Sunday

8:15 a.m. I’m up and out early to grocery shop for the week at my local Fine Fare (a one-avenue walk from home) on an empty stomach.

Fine Fare

2 boxes of microwave popcorn (on sale!): $3
2-pound tub of Greek yogurt: $5.49
Half-gallon of milk: $2.79
Package of sliced sharp cheddar: $2.50
Sabra fire-roasted hot salsa (it’s the best!): $2.69
1.3 pounds of ground beef: $4.18
Top round sirloin: $6.38
Raspberry vinaigrette: $2.29
1 jar of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce: $1.99
1 bag of tortilla chips: $2.00
1 bag of shredded pepper jack cheese: $1.99
1 bag of frozen peppers and onions: $2.59
1 bag of frozen stir-fry vegetables: $2.59
6 bananas: $1.15
1 package of flour tortillas: $1.99
Small package of celery: $.99
Small package of thyme: $.99
2 generous bundles of green leaf lettuce: $2.98

Total Cost: $48.58

Yesterday I also made a run to Target to pick up some things for the week. I’m including them in my budget for this week.


Jalapeño cashews: $2.79
Canister of peanuts: $2.70
1 pound of strawberries: $2.99

Total Cost: $8.48

11:15 a.m. After hitting the laundromat, I have a quick breakfast of toast with blackberry jam, Greek yogurt with a dollop of honey, and a banana.

2:30 p.m. After a trip to Macy’s to pick up a few housewares I’ve been planning to purchase (two OXO greensavers, a mezzaluna, and a new comforter), I meet a student from my alma mater at a coffee shop to dish out some professional advice. I pick up the tab.

Coffee at Joe’s

Tea: $2.25
Coffee: $4

Total: $6.25

6:00 p.m. Back at home, I put together steak fajitas with the fresh sirloin, the fresh tortillas, the frozen peppers and onions, the salsa, and some shredded pepper jack. While my cast iron skillet heats under the broiler, I chop lettuce with my new mezzaluna — never going back to the old-fashioned way. Always fun to have new kitchen toys!

Get the recipe: How To Cook Perfect Steak in the Oven from Kitchn

8:00 p.m. When dinner is cleaned up, I throw together tomorrow’s lunch salad with the lettuce, strawberries, and leftover steak as well as some ingredients I already had in my pantry: raw chickpeas, shredded Parmesan, and sliced almonds. The salads I bring for lunch are usually recipes of my own creation. I just get creative with whatever ingredients and fresh produce I have around. I also prepare a few days’ worth of breakfast by dishing yogurt, honey, and muesli from my pantry into small Mason jars.

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

9:30 p.m. While my roommate and I watch the some TV, we snack on a bag of popcorn.

Day Two: Monday

6:30 a.m. Down a glass of water and head to the gym. I don’t eat anything before I work out.

8:30 a.m. I settle in at the office with my yogurt, muesli, and honey combination, and also grab a mug of free office coffee. This is a great perk, and something I depend on for my budget.

11:30 a.m. A philanthropic organization sent chocolate chip cookies to the office, so I snag one. Nothing like dessert before lunch.

1:00 p.m. I eat the salad I prepared last night and a handful of jalapeño cashews at my desk while writing pitches.

6:30 p.m. I get home and immediately start cooking dinner. Tonight it’s ground beef tacos made with Gimme Some Oven’s splendid taco seasoning recipe. I have 1.3 pounds of ground beef (.3 pounds more than I want to turn into tacos), so I turn the remainders into two burger patties, then freeze them individually in Ziploc baggies. One of these days when I’ve had a long day at work, I’ll be glad to have an easy-to-prepare burger waiting for me.

Get the recipe: Homemade Taco Seasoning from Gimme Some oven

Day Three: Tuesday

8:30 a.m. Home sick for the day with a migraine and nausea. Breakfast is saltines and a banana while I zone out on the couch watching Good Morning America.

11:30 a.m. Lunch is grilled cheese and Campbell’s chicken noodle soup (I always keep a can on hand for sick day emergencies) while I finally dig into The Young Pope. Grilled cheese is comfort food for me, and I’m feeling better already.

6:00 p.m. Feeling stronger and better for the day of lounging and hydrating, so I have a leftover taco and some chips and salsa for dinner.

9:30 p.m. I snack on an apple while watching TV by myself. I haven’t left the house all day.

Day Four: Wednesday

8:30 a.m. I’m back at work and feeling much better. I catch up on emails while noshing on free office coffee and my standard yogurt, muesli, and honey breakfast.

1:00 p.m. Lunch is the salad I prepared Monday evening and would’ve eaten at the office yesterday, had I not been home sick.

3:30 p.m. I’m stressed and in a crunch to complete some research, so I dip into the bag of emergency peanut M&Ms I keep in my desk.

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

6:30 p.m. Back at home from a long day, I immediately start to make dinner. Tonight it’s tilapia from my freezer pan-fried with butter and fresh thyme. As a side dish, I roast some of the frozen stir-fry vegetables and fresh celery from my grocery haul on a sheet pan with olive oil and salt. I eat while flipping through some magazines at my kitchen table.

Get the recipe: Pan-Roasted Fish Fillets With Herb Butter from The New York Times

Day Five: Thursday

8:30 a.m. At my desk for the day and I bust out my standard yogurt, muesli, and honey combination and grab my first cup of free coffee. I work through the digest of emails I received overnight.

1:00 p.m. Today is a super-stressful day full of deadlines, so I treat myself to a Chipotle burrito bowl for lunch with a gift card my mom sent me ages ago with instructions to use on just such a day. The total is $8.27, but the gift card covers it all, so it’s free to me. I eat at the restaurant while listening to The New Yorker: Fiction podcast to get a break from the office.

8:00 p.m. Stayed late at work to help my boss finish up a project, so my dinner ambitions are pretty low. I scramble two eggs with shredded pepper jack, then eat them with a handful of strawberries and a slice of toast with butter and jam.

9:30 p.m. After taking a shower, I cook some tri-color quinoa from my pantry in the rice cooker, then throw together a salad with strawberries, slivered almonds, goat cheese crumbles, and raw chickpeas. I’ve been working this can of chickpeas into my salads all week, and it’s finally empty.

11:00 p.m. I sneak a few Thin Mints from the freezer before bed like any good grown-up.

Day Six: Friday

8:30 a.m. Someone at the office catered a breakfast meeting and ordered too much food, so breakfast is a free bagel with cream cheese and free coffee. Score. The standard breakfast I packed goes in the office fridge for Monday morning. It’ll keep until then.

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

1:00 p.m. Lunch is the salad I prepared last night (the quinoa is a yummy addition) and an apple I brought along from home. I eat while writing pitches at my desk.

6:00 p.m. We have a happy hour at the office with some wine called in for a story. I drink two glasses.

9:00 p.m. I head to my boyfriend’s place for the weekend. He lives an hour away or so on the LIRR. We usually trade off weekends, and it’s my weekend to go to his place. We have dinner with friends at an Indian restaurant we’ve never been to before, where our portion of the tab (a mango chicken and basmati rice entree and a mango lassi, both of which we shared) comes to $26. He offers to pay, so it doesn’t come out of my budget.

Day Seven: Saturday

10:30 a.m. We go out to brunch at a place we’ve never been to in Huntington. We order coffee, OJ, and share two entrees: French toast with strawberries and cream and a green pepper, sausage, and mozzarella omelet that comes with home fries and sourdough toast. The total, tip included, comes to $38; we split it, so my half is $19.

The Brunch Spot

2 coffees: $4
2 orange juices: $5
French toast with strawberries and cream: $13
Veggies omelet with side of home fries and toast: $11
Tip: $5

Total Cost (split the bill): $19

6:00 p.m. We have an early dinner after relaxing at home all day, and decide to dig into our leftovers from last night. It was an unbelievably large entree, and they sent us home with plenty of naan to stretch the meal.

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)
(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

1. How did you set your food budget?

I came to my numbers by shopping around. I knew I was overspending by shopping at just one grocery store, so I paid closer attention to prices every week to formulate some conclusions on what I should buy where to get the best deal. I see it more as a food ceiling; some weeks I don’t spend the full $60 on groceries, but if I’m spending over $60, I know I’m not being wise about stretching my dollar.

2. What kitchen ingredients can’t you live without?

Eggs, brown rice, apples, limes, and chili powder.

3. What’s the budget recipe you rely on?

I’m a sucker for brinner (breakfast for dinner); it was always a huge treat when I was a kid. When I’ve stayed late at the office, I often turn to a quick, easy, cheap dinner of poached eggs over buttered toast and a banana or a sliced apple dipped in peanut butter.

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.