September Challenge 2015: Week 1 Summary

by Beth - Budget Bytes
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I can’t believe a whole week of this year’s challenge is already finished! I kind of dreaded doing the challenge, but I’ve already learned a lot from just one week’s worth of mistakes and victories. In the summary below I’ll show you what I bought last week, the recipes I made, a daily breakdown of what I ate, and what hurdles, mistakes, or “wins” I encountered along the way. If you’re just joining me, you can read all about my September Challenge here.

My Plan

Because I only have to feed myself, I planned on making two main recipes for the week that I could alternate for lunch and dinner, plus a side or two to help bulk out my meals and add variety. I don’t really plan breakfast, because I usually stick to oatmeal or eggs, depending on my mood.

The two main recipes I chose this week were Mexican Lentil Stew and Bowties and Broccoli. Both provided a decent amount of vegetables, which was one of my goals for the challenge. I was trying to keep my protein intake a little on the higher side because of the strength training I’ve been doing, but I don’t think I hit that mark this week. I could feel my body wanting meat, or more eggs at least. I ate way too many eggs this week.

Mexican Lentil Stew and Cornbread -

I also baked a batch of Everyday Cornbread, which just about saved my life. That simple, no-frills cornbread really helped fill me up and I liked that I could eat it with my Mexican Lentil Stew or with eggs for breakfast in the morning. It was really versatile and really satisfying. I might another batch in week 2.

Cornbread Breakfast -

And then there was oatmeal. Not only did I eat it for breakfast for quite a few of the days, but I also found myself eating it in the evening when I didn’t have much left in my daily budget, but was still hungry. Something about warm, thick oatmeal really fills me up and thankfully it’s super cheap! #win

One of my other goals for this month is to make sure that I get a decent amount of produce. I felt like I had a decent amount of vegetables this week, but wanted to add some fruit to my menu. I bought a personal sized watermelon because they were on sale and a few bananas. There wasn’t much plan to these choices, I just picked what was inexpensive and hoped that I would make myself eat them. *fingers crossed*


As I mentioned in the intro to this year’s September Challenge, I’m going to try really hard to use what I have on hand first. Learning to use up your leftovers is a skill that needs to be exercised, and this challenge is the perfect opportunity for me to hone that skill. As I progress through the four weeks of this challenge, I’ll be running out of those leftovers and pantry staples, so most likely get more difficult as I go. Week one was pretty easy, thanks to those leftovers, and I stayed below budget at only $25.

I took a look at the three recipes that I wanted to make and made a list of the things I needed to buy (below left). Luckily, I had a lot of stuff in my fridge, like some half limp celery and old cilantro. The celery and cilantro were about a half day away from being bad, but I used them anyway and scratched them off my list.

Receipt Week 1

Here are some challenges I ran into at the grocery store:

  • Missing price tags on the shelf. A few items didn’t have their price listed anywhere, so I had to guess based on past experience. Luckily, I was pretty close.
  • I had to estimate the cost of my bulk goods and produce. I don’t really trust the scales that they have in the store, so I had to hope they were accurate and estimate the cost of the goods to keep track of my running total.
  • I kept track of my grocery total on my phone’s calculator as I picked up the items from my list. When I was almost at the end, I accidentally cleared out the total and completely lost track. I couldn’t add it back up without back tracking through the entire store to find the prices again, so I had to just estimate instead.
  • I WANTED TO EAT EVERYTHING. It was only day one of the challenge, but just knowing that I was restricted made me want everything. Even things that I’d never eat normally. Petit fours? Yes. Cheetos? YES. Potato salad? YES PLEASE NOW. It was crazy.

Here is what the week’s groceries looks like…

Week 1 Groceries

It’s not a lot of food, for sure.

What I Ate

So, luckily I had some stuff in my fridge leftover from the week before, like Creamy Spinach Artichoke Pizza, eggs, cream cheese, mozzarella, pitas, and a few tortillas. That stuff helped me fill in the gaps between meals and made up for some of my poor planning. All that stuff is gone now, so I have to make sure to plan better for week two! I also made use of some pantry staples, like sriracha, brown sugar, and peanut butter. So here is all seven days of week one:

9-1 Total $2.57

(That pizza is really filling and the “hunger” from the challenge had not yet set in.)

9-2  Total $4.16

(My appetite increased dramatically from 9-1 to 9-2 because I had worked out really hard. Funny how much exercise impacts hunger.)

9-3  Total: $3.20

  • 1 cup coffee $0.16
  • 1/4 cup milk $0.08
  • 1/2 cup (dry) oats $0.13
  • 1 Tbsp peanut butter $0.11
  • 1/2 Tbsp brown sugar $0.02
  • Watermelon (1/6th of melon) $0.47
  • 1 pita $0.33
  • 2oz. cream cheese $0.50
  • 1 serving Bowties and Broccoli $0.58
  • 1/2 cup (dry) oats $0.13
  • 1 Tbsp butter $0.10
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar $0.04
  • 1/2 banana $0.11

(Yes, I did wrap up that other half of the banana and save it for the next day! LOL)

9-4  Total $3.31

  • 2 large eggs $0.54
  • 1 slice Everyday Cornbread $0.19
  • Sriracha $0.10
  • Salt and pepper $0.05
  • 1 cup coffee $0.16
  • 1/4 cup milk $0.08
  • 1 bowl Mexican Lentil Stew $1.33
  • 1 slice Everyday Cornbread $0.19
  • 1/2 cup (dry) oats $0.13
  • 2 Tbsp peanut butter $0.22
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar $0.04
  • 1/2 banana $0.11

9-5  Total $4.08

9-6  Total: $3.39

  • 1/2 cup (dry) oats $0.13
  • 2 Tbsp peanut butter $0.22
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar $0.04
  • 1/2 banana $0.11
  • 1 cup coffee $0.16
  • 1/4 cup milk $0.08
  • Watermelon (1/6th of melon) $0.47
  • 1 slice Everyday Cornbread $0.19
  • 1/2 Tbsp butter $0.05
  • 1/2 Batch (24 cookies)  Snickerdoodle Cookies (to bring to BBQ) $1.94

(Because I had a big Labor Day BBQ to attend on this day, I ate breakfast at home and then used the remainder of my daily budget to make cookies to bring to the BBQ. I filled up on the potluck style food at the BBQ to last the rest of the day.)

9-7  Total: $3.20

(I was still pretty full from the BBQ the night before!)

Weekly Total: $23.91

Receipt Total $25.01

I came in below goal for both totals, so I know I have a little wiggle room to work with next week!


Eating on a strict budget is all about the leftovers. I didn’t eat all of my Mexican Lentil Stew, so a few portions went into the freezer. Those will be nice to fall back on over the next few weeks when I need a change of pace. I also have enough for a few more portions of Bowties and Broccoli that I’ll work into my rotation. The coffee and oats both came with about 30 servings per package, so those two purchases should last me throughout the duration of the challenge.

Lentil Stew Servings

I divided the Mexican Lentil Stew into seven portions of 1.5 cups each right when I was finished cooking. This helped me keep my portions in check and made sure it would last throughout the week. Once cooled in the fridge, I transferred a few to the freezer.


  • Having even one splurge meal (like the Labor Day BBQ) can go a LONG way towards killing hunger over the following days.
  • Next week I need more protein.
  • Having small snacky things, like pita and cheese, are important for those times that I’m hungry, but not hungry enough to eat a whole meal.
  • I did not “make myself” eat the watermelon, as intended. A lot of it ended up in the garbage.
  • Cheap coffee is better than no coffee. I love my morning routine.
  • Carbs make me feel good (the cornbread and bowtie pasta made me happy and satisfied every time).
  • Social situations are still tough when working on a super tight budget, but everyone likes cookies and luckily, they’re cheap to make! (there was a great discussion with a lot of fantastic suggestions from readers about what to bring to a potluck in the comments on the September Challenge post. Check it out!)
  • Having the time to tally my total each day is very helpful (last year I was too busy to do this daily). That way I knew when I could afford an extra snack and I ended up less hungry in general.
  • I still wanted to put butter on everything. When I’m hungry (physically, not mentally or emotionally), I want more calorie dense foods, not more food in general. …and that means butter.
  • I definitely need to plan better!

Okay, so week one was hard and I think I only survived thanks to the “cheat day” with the potluck BBQ. Despite that, I’m optimistic about week two and have already done my shopping and begun cooking. It’s going to get more difficult from here on out, but hopefully with the extra practice I’ll also get better. :)

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  1. Even more filling than oatmeal is oat bran, and just about as cheap. Try mixing in fruit too, and nuts or peanut butter. Also wanted to mention a documentary I saw called Living On One Dollar. the guys thought they could live on rice and beans and finally realized that they needed to add lard to keep up their energy. It was a game changer.

  2. So I’ve been a pretty religious frequenter of your blog over the last year but this challenge is fascinating. We try to keep our grocery budget around $100 for a family of 4 for the week so that averages $25 a week per person which is sort of the budget you are sticking with. Oddly enough I almost think it’s easier to do this than it would be for 1 person. This week I rediscovered the power of roasting a whole chicken (I got one for about $5). If your budget can manage it this would definitely help with your protein issue. Good luck and I look forward to reading about the rest of the month!

  3. Instead of calculating your grocery bill on your phone’s calculator, may I suggest the app Out Of Milk It allows you to enter your shopping list and prices of each item and it will calculate the total for you including the sales tax if you add it.

    This app has been essential for keeping my budget on track.

    1. Awesome! I’ll have to try that. I think I even dowloaded that at one point in the past. I’ll need to go revisit it. :)

    2. Hah! I’ve been using Out of Milk for over a year now, and I was not aware of the sales tax feature of it! ;) Thanks!

  4. Arctic explores/trekkers, particularly those about in winter, often bring along sticks of butter for snacks. Because of their sheer expenditure of calories coupled with gear weight+size limits (can’t carry it? Can’t bring it), it quickly becomes a treat to gnaw on a semi-frozen stick of butter.

    I’ve done it myself during a charming mid-winter, 38km snowshoe trek. Add a bit of sugar and it’s like eating the best part of sugar cookies.

  5. I’m loving your project! It looks like a lot of work, but the results are really illuminating. What struck me most in this week is the low number of recipes and the resulting short shopping list. If you were feeding more people, how many recipes would you plan?

  6. Great to see you working through another Challenge this year. I feel lucky to learn from someone else’s food planning mistakes. Very interesting. I might give it a try.

  7. Thank you for posting all of this information. I usually eat three meals with only fruit as a snack in the afternoon, but I also drink a lot of wine and buy a lot of expensive cheeses, salumi, steaks, and other high end items. I could stand to lose a few pounds and seeing exactly how much (how little) you eat is an eye opener for me. I am finding myself suddenly needing to budget a lot more than previously and this has been really helpful.

  8. Hi Beth, thanks so much for blogging your process through the September challenge! I’ve been trying to gear up to do it since I read your 2014 SC posts, but was too nervous until now. Since I’m new to budgeting, my plan is to work my grocery costs down every week until I tackle 4 in a row at $25 or less. I’ll be checking your site for guidance along the way.

  9. I just discovered your web site today, and I am so delighted that I did. I love saving money on groceries. I was looking for an enchilada sauce recipe and found one on your site. It came out so well and I have enough left for another use. Love hoe you break down the costs.

  10. I can’t remember if this is one of your principles, but it might be worth noting that the items you bought were all either store brand or locally produced. Rouses is a local chain, Best Choice is one of their store brands, and Luxury pasta is based in New Orleans as well.

    Have you considered shopping at Walmart? I hate the Walmarts and much prefer Rouses as well, but the Great Value brand is often less expensive.

    1. Yep, I actually forgot to include that in my goals for this year’s September Challenge. I wanted to see if I could do it without shopping at Walmart. A lot of commenters note that my prices (even when shopping at Rouse’s) are much lower than in their area, so I didn’t want to make an even larger disparity by shopping at Walmart (plus, these days, I prefer not to support them. No judgement on others who do, I just choose not to.) I do go for generic store brand when possible at Rouse’s, though. :)

  11. really enjoying your posts about the challenge!

    before i found your post about the september challenge, i saw a pin on pinterest about a $20 grocery budget (per person/week) and decided to give it a go. i buy and cook for my husband and i and managed to spend a total of $36 for week one! it is definitely bringing a sense of awareness to the amount of money we typically spend and the amount of food we have in our house already that i overlook when i shop based on what i feel like making each week. being forced to use up what we have is a good thing, i think.

    1. Great job!! And I agree, I appreciate the awareness it brings to my shopping, cooking, and eating habits.

  12. I enjoy your blog and recipes. My major bargain tip for this week, and a way to get more meat in your diet, is a rotisserie chicken from Costco for $4.99. My husband and I enjoyed 2 or 3 meals with sliced breast or other pieces. Then I made a chicken noodle casserole with two cups of chicken which provided 3-4 meals. The carcass and a thigh became chicken rice soup which provided several more meals, and a leg for my grandson.
    I’m not a huge Costco fan or shopper, but this is their one real bargain IMHO. And a great budget stretcher.

  13. I just recently came across your blog. I love it already. I’m single and definitely challenged in my cooking skills and shopping. You are cooking for one and your meals are easy. I think I’m going to love this. I’m saving up to do a missions trip in January so I need to drop grocery bill significantly

  14. I’m currently teaching my father-in-law how to cook (he previously lived off frozen meals, but his new strict low-sodium diet means those are out) and your recipes this month will probably be a great way to convince him that cooking doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated. One quick question, that you might have addressed somewhere else and I missed – how do you thaw your frozen soups? Just leave them in the fridge overnight? And how do you find those plastic containers hold up to freezing? Thanks!

    1. Try freezing them in red solo cups and then popping them out into a gallon freezer bag after they are frozen. You can take the frozen soup out and defrost it in a saucepan on the stove or in a soup bowl in the microwave. I don’t like reheating anything in plastic.

    2. I freeze mine in pyrex bowls. Then as Karen mentions, I pop the frozen soups out and put them in labeled freezer bags. Later the bowl shaped soup fits back into the pyrex bowl for heating.

    3. I love my plastic Ziploc or Gladware containers. They do great in the freezer, microwave, and dishwasher. I just take them straight from the freezer into the microwave (leave the lid loose). If you don’t like reheating in plastic, sometimes I freeze things in quart sized freezer bags, then you can just peel the bag off after freezing and pop it into a sauce pot to reheat.

  15. I’ve been living on an extreme budget of $40 a month because I was put on medical leave and Canada’s income support for medical leave gives me just enough to pay rent. I have dietary needs (can’t eat dairy or red meats due to allergies). I’ve recently started rereading your posts of past posts and am so happy to see new ones. Good luck and keep up the great work luv.