broke as a joke: the $35 grocery challenge

i mentioned at the beginning of september that this month is typically known as the month of austerity measures. this is because we return home from our august travels, each year seemingly bigger than the year before it, and realize we have not budgeted properly to get by normally the following month. (we’ll get there one day) it doesn’t help that the first payday post-vacation is early october.

so, it was time for drastic measures. i instated a $35-40 grocery store challenge (two people, one week) last monday. before the big trip (everyone’s favorite discount market, LIDL to be the store of choice), i carefully planned cheap but healthy items to form meals around. the list looked like this:

potatoes, 2kg sack
bag of noodles, whatever is on sale
can of chopped tomatoes
marinara sauce
milk (x2)
eggs (10)
yogurt, 500g container
chicken, 2 “quarters”
carrots, box
celery (didn’t have)
bag of mixed shredded cheese, 200g
red pepper (x2)
cucumber, for snacks
bananas, one large bunch (8)
lemon juice
muesli, two boxes
bread, one loaf
tortilla wraps
oregano, one packet
bar of soap, alex
butter, 250g (for cookies)
tube of multi-vitamin fizzy drink tablets

some of the important buys? potatoes. cheap, filling, not my favorite, but i knew they would be wonderful for chopping and throwing into soups as well as lunches for alex (potato, egg, cheese, and veg wraps). also, chicken. i can’t even remember the last time i ate meat (seriously!), and it’s not exactly something i thought i would add to such a budget-conscious list. however, i love chicken soup and soups are the way to go when it comes to stretching a grocery budget. and pasta. i normally eat a fair amount of pasta so i knew it would be a good budget staple. lastly, rice. long ago i invested in a 5kg bag of basmati rice, just sitting in our pantry ready to be used. rice is filling, delicious, can be added to soups and goes great with curries.

how did i do? 
i couldn’t believe that i walked out of LIDL with a bill of only 674czk! (under $35!) they didn’t have celery, so we just nixed that but all together, everything on my list cost under $30 to buy here in the czech republic– i was shocked! this left some extra funding! we bought another taco night kit ($2.50) for next week which includes shells, sauce, and seasoning and a bar of ritter sport chocolate. done.

how did the week go?
it was a busy week, but we were not so physically active this week that we required a lot of calories. i taught alex how to make his own oatmeal and it pretty much changed his breakfast world. gotta love oatmeal: healthy & cheap.

for dinners, i made chicken noodle soup, spaghetti, and coconut pumpkin curry (with a pumpkin & can of coconut milk we already had), with plenty of leftovers. meals were satisfying and dinners definitely felt like just another week (we normally spend about $55 for groceries). however, i did not plan very well for snacks, and i was too busy to make them. i personally felt a little hungry during the day until dinner time, although alex reported no similar midday hunger. what was a big help was that a friend of mine (who is the mother of one of my students) always gives us big bags of apples every week from her tree, bless her heart!

at the end of the week, i was just amazed that both of us subsisted on $35 (700czk) worth of food in one week. i guess that’s czech republic for you! there’s no way i would be able to buy the same amount of basic, non-organic (bio) groceries in the states for this much.

don’t worry, everyone. this is more of an exercise in resourcefulness than us actually falling on real-life hard times. we are living normally and are happy. plus, we’re young and creative… and pay day is not long to come.
i think a “resourceful week” can do so much good for a household, even if you actually do have the funds in your budget to buy more. it forces you to really think creatively, use what you already have in the fridge or pantry, and waste nothing. i will really keep this week in the back of my mind throughout the whole year.

have you ever challenged yourself to a similar exercise? how did it go?