Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Grocery Challenge Update and Dilemma

So, I'm about two thirds of the way through my $21 grocery challenge and I have to say that I am surprised by the quantity of food that I still have remaining!

I've spent $13.36 so far, and here's what I've been able to get for that:

  • 8 oranges
  • 3 dozen eggs
  • 6 large cucumbers
  • 4 large onions
  • 2 avocados
  • 3 Granny Smith apples (blech, these are for CatMan)
  • 1 watermelon (12.5 lbs)

Wow! That seems rather incredible even to me! I think the bargain spotting skills that I've been refining throughout March and April have really paid off this month.

I had high hopes of making the cucumbers last longer, since I use one in each salad that I make for dinners with CatMan. Unfortunately they kept going soft on me and I had to use them up. I did discover that you can prolong their life a bit by chopping them up and marinating them in vinegar & sugar to make "refrigerator pickles." It was a great way to extend their shelf life, and they do taste remarkably like bread and butter pickles. Unfortunately, pickles don't really taste that great in salads!

At any rate, I still have 5 oranges and a quarter of the watermelon left, plus one apple for CatMan. The onions haven't been touched (I bought those before the $21 challenge officially began, totally forgetting that the garden scallions would be available.) I've still got 15 fresh eggs and a dozen hard boiled, so I think I'm good in that department.

The frozen cauliflower and green beans have been eaten up, but I still have the enormous bag of stir fry veggies, the frozen spinach, frozen green chilies, and a small bag of mixed veggies - plus some frozen corn. And I haven't touched the frozen cranberries yet.

Sooo... with the $7.64 remaining in my budget here are my plans:

$3.24 will go toward stuff for the one remaining nice dinner that CatMan and I have planned this month. I've got everything I need to make the lasagna, but need to buy veggies (cauliflower and asparagus are the only two he'll eat) and salad fixins.
  • $1 for 3 red bell peppers at Sprouts Market (we'll only use one in the salad - the rest will be for my salads)
  • $.50 for another avocado at the Save-a-Lot store
  • $.34 for another cucumber at the Save-a-Lot store
  • $.40 for a small container of plain yogurt to make CatMan's favorite salad dressing
  • $1 for a bag of frozen cauliflower
That leaves me with $4.40 that isn't yet spoken for. I have the hunch I may splurge on some cherries that are on sale while I'm at Sprouts... we'll see.

So, that's the update, now for the dilemma.

As I was cruising the grocery ads yesterday, I discovered that chicken leg quarters are on sale for $.49/lb in 10 pound bags! Now, I don't really "need" more chicken. I still have one 10 lb bag in the freezer and another defrosting in the fridge with plans to make teriyaki chicken, green chili stew, and something yet to be determined - maybe I'll just roast it to have on hand for whatever.

But... $0.49/lb is a real deal... probably the best deal of the year, and I'd really like to stock up now so I don't have to spend more to buy it later. So I'm torn. 

If I stock up on chicken, that will totally blow my $21 challenge. But really, this $21 month is a "challenge within a challenge" as my broader goal is to see if I can keep my average monthly grocery bill down to $137/month (the food stamp level). And stocking up on chicken while it's on sale will really help keep the grocery bills low over the next few months. Soooo, do I sacrifice one challenge for another?

I have to admit that I'm leaning toward buying some chicken and just not counting it in terms of the $21 challenge - I mean, I wouldn't be buying it to eat it this month, so it really doesn't ruin the spirit of the thing. Or maybe I'm just trying to justify it...

Anyhow, what do you think? Should I cheat and buy the chicken or stay true to the $21 challenge?


  1. You're doing so well! I don't know if I could manage on what appears to be about €25 for groceries in a month. We'd spend that roughly in a week, per person in my household. I would love to use up the food we currently have in the house, but alas, I am not the boss so I can't dictate! ;)

    I think you should buy the chicken. There's no point in cursing yourself in a few months time when it's twice the price. And if you're not going to use it this month, I wouldn't count it towards the $21. It's a neutral purchase - no use this month so no cost this month :P

    1. Well, if this little experiment has taught me anything, it's that I tend to go a tad bit too far in terms of stocking up, so there's been plenty of food! I don't think I could live off of $21 worth of groceries if I didn't have a bunch of stuff in reserve.

      I haven't decided if I'll be kicking myself if I don't buy the chicken. It was on sale for $0.59/lb not too long ago, so it's not like it will never go on sale again. I'm thinking they time the sales to go with holidays where people traditionally have cookouts, and if that's the case they should be on sale again for July 4th and Labor Day (early September) Hmmm.....

  2. Are you serious? I never can get chicken for that price. 79 cents/pound is the best I can find around here. Well, I'm pretty sure you know what MY vote is ... cluck, cluck, cluck ...

    1. 79 cents per pound is the regular price, so this is a substantial sale... of course, they do come frozen in giant 10 pound blocks, so it's also a substantial chore to deal with - which I'm reminded of today since I just spent 5 hours cooking up one of these giant blocks of chicken that I got on sale a few months ago.

  3. I don't think it matters one way or another in the long run whether you buy the chicken. I don't know what the chicken usually costs when there is a "regular" sale, but say it's 10 cents more a pound. At ten pounds, that's a dollar more you spend later. or 20 cents, two dollars. Now these little amounts add up, but I wouldn't sweat a dollar or two here or there. Also, it sounds like you still have plenty of food left, so you don't need to rush out and buy more. And I thought that part of this exercise, besides the money, was to eat down what you had in storage in the freezer, fridge, and pantry. So I guess that I have just convinced myself that you don't need to buy the chicken if you want to be true to your $21 challenge.

    Now to echo Kris's comments. You can get some get really cheap groceries there. Many of the prices you quoted are cheaper than I can get at Aldi's the best store for cheap groceries around here.

    1. Those are some really good points. It's about 30 cents per pound cheaper than usual, so if I bought 20 pounds that would be a savings of $6, which is something... but in the broad scheme of things it's really not much money.

      Plus... I really do need to get the chest freezer defrosted... and cooking up that much chicken all at once is a big chore, especially in the summer when turning on the oven really heats up the house. Hmmm... I wonder how much extra energy I'd burn to cool the house down if I tried to have a chicken cook-a-thon in the middle of the summer... Maybe if I had a grill...

      OK - much to think about here!

  4. Loved that last cat! He made a much nicer centerpiece than the ugly glass thing :o)

    If the price is really good, and if you would kick yourself later for missing a bargain (I know I would), I say by all means cheat! You did amazing on the challenge, but I wouldn't take it all too seriously -- the month is almost over anyway.

    (Live and learn does have a good point, though. I'm a quitter by nature, but you may wish to stay true to the challenge :-)

    1. Ha! I totally agree that the cat is a better centerpiece than the glass thing!

      Part of me thinks I'm being totally ridiculous with these self-imposed challenges, but it certainly has been eye-opening. I really can't decide if I'd be passing up a bargain if I didn't buy the chicken, or giving in to my food hoarding tendencies if I did. Oy! Maybe some day I'll outgrow my neuroses... ya think?

    2. Good points. I was going to say that if this is the lowest price of the year, I vote for buying some (and not eating it this month, though it's okay to start some of the processing). These challenges are supposed to help you.

      But if it's not good timing (because of summer cooking and freezer defrosting) plus you already have some chicken and you're just saving 6 bucks, it looks like I'm mistaken.

    3. Well, I dunno I could go either way with it. Actually, at the moment I'm leaning against it because it would be a pain to haul on the bike, and I spent a chunk of today running errands in the car and reminded myself just how much I HATE driving!

  5. I see now why you had enough food in your freezer to do this challenge in the first place - you can't resist a really good deal.

    Also... I've resisted saying this so far in your challenge, but I can't hold back any longer: What kind of life did that chicken lead that it can now be bought for $.49/lb?

    Reading your posts that focus exclusively on price with no thought to the supply chain behind those bargains - it's been making me really uncomfortable. Sorry, I had to say it.

    1. Well, I'll probably do a post on this topic in the near future - you're not the first person to bring up the issue of choosing non-organic foods.

      There's much more to say on this topic than I can address in a comment, but for the moment I'll just say that these are not unconsidered decisions on my part, but compromises that I've been willing to make both for the sake of the food stamp challenge and my current financial situation.

      In terms of the chicken specifically, these are not different chickens than the other factory farmed ones, they're simply the cheap cuts of meat (leg quarters) served up with virtually no processing (many with stray feathers still attached) and sold frozen in 10 pound blocks - so the cheap price is largely due to the cut of meat and the minimal processing - breast meat from these same birds probably sells for around $3-$4/lb.

      Anyhow, there is much more to say, but I'll save it for another post.

  6. I think if you decide you'd really like to buy the chicken, you should get 10 pounds ($4.90), and then figure out how to redistribute your remaining $2.74. That way, you can meet the challenge and buy the chicken. Maybe you could buy 2 less bell peppers?

    1. That is a thought - however the store with the 3 for a dollar peppers won't sell you just one.... well, they will, but they'll still charge you the full dollar.

      Hmmmm.. choices, choices...

  7. I forget, do you have a crock pot? If yes, plug it in outdoors and cook your chicken without heating up the kitchen.

    1. That's a good thought... You'd have to do it in several batches though, since there's no way you could fit the entire 10 lb bag in my crock pot. The real challenge is getting the giant block defrosted... although 3 days in the refrigerator did get it at least to the point where I could separate the pieces! :-)

    2. Can you roast chicken in the solar oven? It could cut the batches in half and make for a lovely outdoor cooking day :-)

      But I guess you're probably gonna pass on the deal anyway, if you need to defrost the freezer. You worry about your food hoarding tendencies, I worry about my lack of them; I just hate the way frozen food tastes, especially vegetables. Good thing I can get fresh ones at a great price 2 blocks from here, but cooking everyday sucks!

    3. Hmmm... that's an idea. I've tried it once with small cut up chinks and it worked pretty well. I may have to experiment with that!

      I've come to the conclusion that frozen veggies are OK, but not all of them. Frozen broccoli always tastes horrible to me. But since I was raised on canned veggies, frozen ones generally taste good by comparison! But I generally use them in casseroles or something like that where you're gonna cook the life out of them anyhow.

  8. Well, if it were me, I'd look through what poultry I currently had in stock (turkey and chicken combined), and see if I had about a 5-6 month supply of all the poultry I could eat. If I had that much poultry, I wouldn't buy any more. If I had about a 3 month supply in stock already, I might buy 10 lbs. If I only had about a 1 month supply I'd buy the 20 lbs.

    I try not to go over a 6 month supply of meat, as the quality deteriorates and I grow weary of eating the same meat over and over. And at this point, you've kept your spending so low, I wouldn't even factor in the challenge. I'd just be looking at my home stock.

    1. Hmmmm... that sounds like a well thought out approach. Chicken is really the only meat I'm currently eating, and I probably go through about 5 servings per week. I'll have to do the math.

      I do think it's likely that it will go on sale again either around July 4th or Labor Day, so I might just wait and see...

  9. That is a tricky situation. I was in a similar situation recently when whole chickens were on sale for around $4. In the end I decided not to buy it, since it wasn't an amazing deal, and because the main reason for me doing this challenge is to save money.

    Anyway, don't beat yourself up about it if you do decide to buy the chicken (it's very cheap compared to the prices here). We make ourselves do these challenges, but it's okay to cheat if it's worthwhile. You will have still saved money this month.

    1. Well... we'll see what I decide. I think there are compelling arguments on both sides of this one.


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