September Challenge: Week 4 and Month Summary

by Beth - Budget Bytes
Step by Step

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What-what? The September Challenge is over already? It’s so funny how quickly I went from completely dreading beginning the challenge to, “Hey! I’m going to keep doing this!” But I guess that’s why it’s important to challenge yourself once in a while. More often than not, you’ll be surprised at what you’re capable of.

So, week four was an interesting one. I started waking up at 4:30 AM (don’t ask) and I finally got back into the swing of my workouts. My appetite immediately doubled. Longer days + exercise = a LOT more calories burned. I went from averaging about $3.50/day to $6.50/day. This once again highlights just how much a person’s size, metabolism, and appetite can affect their food budget. Many of you have noticed how little I eat sometimes. Yes, I’ve trained myself to eat only when I’m actually hungry, but I’m also a relatively small person and unless exercising, I just don’t use up that many calories. So, if I had been able to maintain my workout schedule throughout the month, this whole challenge may very well have ended up veeeeerrrrrry differently!

I also fell off the wagon towards the end of the week. *sigh* I’m human. A pizza obsessed human. (read or scroll to the end to see my sins.)

Groceries

Week 4 Groceries

This week a chunk of my grocery budget went towards pantry staples, like brown sugar, Better Than Bouillon, peppercorns/grinder, and milk. I utilized the salad bar to get just a handful of mushrooms and olives for my pizza (but was accidentally charged the fancy olive bar price of $8.99/lb. ouch!), and picked up a few other produce items. I opted for bananas again because I was beginning to enjoy them more and I made the split second decision to get a papaya, which was $1.49 per pound.

When shopping for my weekly fruit I rely heavily on price per pound. A lot of produce at my local grocery store is in the $2-$4/lb. price range, so when I see something under $2 per pound I try to go with that. My other options were pears, which I am not really a fan of, or kiwi fruit, which wasn’t priced per pound but were 2/$1. I love kiwi, but couldn’t see myself eating one every day, and they weren’t very big. It would have been a struggle to make myself eat the pears, so I went with the papaya. It was extremely delicious, but unfortunately it was mostly seeds and didn’t hold up in the fridge as well as my melon the previous week. Sometimes you have to take chances! (For reference, frozen fruit was over $3 for a 12-16oz bag.)

Week 4 ReceiptWeek 4 Grocery List

I still had quite a few leftovers in my pantry and freezer that I was able to utilize this week. I found some frozen chicken thighs and I had some unused carrots and cilantro left over from last week. Those leftovers that carry from week to week really make a big difference in your weekly budget and the variety of things you’re able to make with it.

What I Made

Here’s what I cooked this week:

 

Yellow Rice Chicken Skillet - BudgetBytes.com

Yellow Rice Chicken Skillet: $6.04 recipe / $1.51 serving I’m OBSESSED with Yellow Jasmine Rice, so I cooked some chicken thighs and frozen peas right in the rice to make it a complete meal. It only made four servings, but that’s okay, because I was able to alternate between this and these pizzas…

Baked French Bread Pizza

 

Loaded French Bread Pizzas: $8.98 recipe / $1.50 each I thought I could make it through the challenge without pizza, but why should I when I can just make it affordable? Right?? These French Bread Pizzas were such a treat! Plus, I was able to freeze half to make sure they stayed edible through the final week and two days of the challenge.

Papaya Whole

And here is that beautiful papaya. I loved the flavor of the papaya, especially because it wasn’t overly sweet like a lot of fruit. Unfortunately, when I opened it up there were a lot more seeds and a lot less flesh than I expected, making the $1.49/lb. not as good of a deal as expected.

Papaya

To prepare the papaya, I just scooped out the seeds with a spoon, then used a melon baller to get the flesh out of the skin. The papaya was fairly ripe to begin with, so it only lasted about four days, but I ate almost all of it. So, out of a $3.77 papaya, I only got about four (very delicious) servings at $0.94 each. *sigh*

To mix things up and add variety, I ate a couple servings of dishes from previous weeks that were stashed in the freezer. I ate the final portion of Chili Rubbed Pulled Pork (just slapped into a tortilla), another serving of Bowties and Broccoli, Mexican Lentil Stew, and one lonely serving of Garden Vegetable Lasagna Roll Ups from before the challenge started. Keeping your freezer stocked with leftovers saves the day! :D

What I Ate

9-22 Total $3.47

(I finally ate that last orange from week two. …and had an evening snack of a small spoonful of PB.)

9-23 Total $4.01

  • 1 cup coffee $0.16
  • 1/2 cup milk $0.16
  • 1/2 cup oats $0.13
  • 2 Tbsp peanut butter $0.24
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar $0.04
  • 1 serving Papaya $0.94

(Yep, I ate the peanut noodle salad TWICE because I enjoyed it so much. Ha!)

9-24 Total $6.07

(Yeah, so can you tell this is the day that I started working out again? I ate pizza for breakfast and was burning food so fast that I started rummaging through my cabinets for a “treat”. I found chocolate chips. Heh.)

9-25 Total $5.55

(Another workout day. #hongry)

9-26 Total $4.60

  • 1 cup coffee $0.16
  • 1/2 cup milk $0.16
  • 1/2 cup oats $0.13
  • 2 Tbsp peanut butter $0.24
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar $0.04
  • 1 banana $0.26
  • 1 serving papaya $0.94
  • 1 Loaded French Bread Pizza $1.50
  • 1 chai (gifted from a friend) $0.00

9-27 Total $3.55

  • 1 cup coffee $0.16
  • 1/4 cup milk $0.08
  • 1/2 cup oats $0.13
  • 2 Tbsp peanut butter $0.24
  • 1 banana $0.26
  • 1 serving Yellow Rice Chicken Skillet $1.51

(I tried my oatmeal without brown sugar today… Eh, not nearly as good. :P )

9-28 Total $6.40

  • 1 cup coffee $0.16
  • 1/4 cup milk $0.08
  • 2 small tortillas $0.20
  • 2 large eggs $0.64
  • dash of sriracha $0.02
  • 1 serving Garden Lasagna Roll Ups $1.95
  • 1 slice Costco pizza $2.18

Okay, so this is the day that I fell off the wagon. I went to Costco for the first time EVER. It was exciting. There were things. Many, many things. Between my workout that morning and walking miles and miles up and down the Costco aisles, I was pretty hungry by the end of the adventure. I had heard for ages about how awesome and cheap Costco’s pizza was, so I broke down and tried it. When would I get another chance to do so?? (Really lame excuse, I know) Well, I wasn’t that impressed, but I sure did sleep good that night. #cheeeeeese

Costco Pizza

9-29 Total $3.49

(Despite this being a workout day, that HUGE piece of pizza late the night before kept me pretty full throughout the day.)

9-30 Total $3.93

Final day! Yay! I was REALLY craving fruit by this time, but I knew that the challenge was just a challenge and in the morning it would be over and I could go eat whatever I pleased (a fruit smoothie with frozen fruit that’s been in my freezer taunting me this whole time).

Weekly Intake Total (plus two days): $41.07 (average $4.56/day)

Weekly Grocery Total: $31.08

Leftovers

I had very little leftovers this week, thanks to the extra two days of the challenge. I did have one serving of the Yellow Rice Chicken Skillet that I had stashed that in the freezer mid week when it looked like I might not get to it on time. That’s what I usually do, wait a few days to see how fast I’m eating through stuff, then transfer some to the freezer based on how much I think I’ll eat in the next day or two.

Reflection

I’m glad it’s over, but I’m excited to keep going. Huh-what? Let me explain. I’m glad it’s over so that I can get back to my normal social activities without feeling like I need to decline or people trying to buy me food because they know I’m doing some weird challenge thing. I want to continue the challenge because I appreciate how organized it made me be and how much time and effort that organization saved me. I also realized that my diet was probably more balanced and had more variety during the challenge compared to when I just eat mindlessly. I was forced to plan when and where I’d get my fruit and vegetables and that resulted in me getting more of them.

So, I will continue planning out my weekly menus and trying to execute them on about $30 per week. I won’t be recording what I eat every single day because, well, that’s just a pain in the butt. Ha! But I will post weekly summaries showing my receipts and what I made with what I bought, how I used leftovers, etc. I think that information is helpful and I learned a lot too. :)

Overall this year’s challenge was fun and a lot less stressful than last year. I think the main difference was A) I wasn’t trying to pretend to live someone else’s life and B) I had time to calculate my consumption on a daily basis, which resulted on daily intake averages closer to $4. Last year I was too busy to calculate it daily, which resulted in daily intakes closer to $2.50/day. I was starving, but too afraid of going over $4.50 to eat more. It was just a bad situation and caused a lot of stress. It’s amazing what a difference $1.50/day can make.

Monthly Intake Total: 115.94

Monthly Grocery Total: $115.53

Can you believe how close they are?? This is an excellent demonstration of how pricing out exact quantities of ingredients is a fairly good representation of recipe costs, considering the fact that you usually use a mix of pantry items and purchased ingredients. If I had to purchase every single ingredient new, it would be quite different, but I’d also probably change my menus to require fewer new ingredients every week. It’s a slow build up to achieving a stocked pantry, but once you’re there it’s easy to maintain.

Conclusion

I am inspired and motivated by my experiences in September and I hope you were too. If you haven’t yet, set a challenge for yourself. It doesn’t have to be $4.50/day, but set a daily and monthly goal, and track your expenses. You’ll be surprised at what you discover and hopefully learn ways to reduce spending and waste in the process. Cheers!

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  1. I am not a fan of Costco pizza either, and especially the cheese pizza, its just a bunch of cheese melted on top of a thin and soggy crust with sauce…. I rarely buy pizza or anything else really, at the Costco “restaurant” but when I did buy the pizza, I found the combination version to be the better one. I love these challenges you’ve done, so fun and informative. I love to menu plan but fall off the wagon once in a while and really feel it. Our family is my husband and I plus 3 kids ages 8, 4, and 1 1/2. If I plan well, I can spend $80 per week for the whole fam. Love your site breaking down the costs, gives me lots of ideas I might have otherwise not thought of.

  2. I really loved following you through this challenge! Very inspiring :-) Good job and i’m glad to hear you’ve also inspired yourself to keep up the good work!

  3. I was at that exact same Costco the exact same day as you!! I always hope that I’ll bump into you somewhere. My boyfriend and I are college students at Loyola and we cook Budget Bytes food almost exclusively. Your recipes are so manageable after a long day of work and classes. I have your breakfast burritos and black bean quesadillas in the freezer and I make your African Peanut Stew at least once a month, its one of our all time favorites! Regarding an earlier reply about the Costco membership, Costco gives you a certain percentage cash back on all your purchases in the store (including their gas station!) and most of the time you spend enough that the money you get back equals the money you spent on your membership. Thanks for all the hard work you put into this!

  4. What did you think of Costco? Will you be shopping there in the future? I’ve been impressed lately- huge 4lb canister of Irish Oats for about $6.50, 3lbs of dates about $7, organic farro, 6 pack organic chicken stock for $12… Great prices on cheese too, some very good selections.

    1. It was definitely fun and I think it would be useful for some canned goods and other staples that I know I use often, but I’m not sure how I would account for the cost of the membership in my recipe prices. That has me a bit stumped. I’ll probably stick to regular grocery stores so that my prices are more closely aligned with what most other people in the country experience.

  5. I love your blog! You’ve inspired me to take a month or two and use up what we have in the house. It’s the time of year to empty the camper food back into the house, and my pantry is jam packed! I’m planning to use several of your recipes to help me clear things out.

  6. Wow that’s amazing that you were able to keep your costs so low. Between my boyfriend and I, we spend about $350 – $400 a month on food. And we rarely eat out or buy meat. Just looking at your grocery receipt made me envious; food in Canada is much more expensive. Even when bargain hunting, sale prices aren’t even close! $1.50 for a pepper? I just bought one for $3.50 the other day.

    1. Hi Laura! Where in Canada do you live? I’m in the greater Montreal area, and I’m able to get red & yellow peppers for around $2/pound depending on the season.

      1. Hi Virginia,
        Quebec has lower food costs than most of Canada. Alberta in my case is very close to Laura’s words.

        1. Hi Key! Thanks for replying. I’ve only lived in Montreal, so I didn’t realize the big price differences between the cities / provinces. It’s pretty surprising!

  7. Chocolate chips are one of my favorite little treats! I like the keep them in the freezer. Sometimes I will scoop out a spoonful of peanut butter and sprinkle chocolate chips on it and then just eat it straight off the spoon as a dessert!

  8. My sister and I plan out our meals every week. I try to stock up on herbs and spices, chicken breasts, ground beef, rice, beans and frozen vegetables. Whatever ingredients we don’t have, there’s a trip to the grocery store. I absolutely LOVE your blog!!

  9. A quick Costco tip – check for Better Than Bouillon! Some carry it year round, some seasonally in the fall/winter. Mine usually gets the low sodium chicken and beef varieties, and it ends up being about $6 for a jar double the size of the ones at the grocery store. I buy several to last all year.

    1. I saw it and it was definitely a great price! Even though it was the organic version. :D

  10. What?..you ate that slice of pizza one night and the next day you where still pretty full?!
    I (BMI 19) can eat an entire pizza for dinner (35 cm) and I’m even hungrier the next day! (from stretching the stomac, I always think) generally, I eat way more than you in a day. I also have issues with wheat and dairy and oats, spend money in health stores, and my husband is a landscape gardener and super skinny and needs to eat all the time.I have to keep a REALLY close look at our groceries!!! But I quite like the planning. And your recipes ispire me a lot!

    1. I’m a big eater as well. I do not really relate when people say they ate a big dinner or lunch and therefore weren’t hungry for the next meal. I’m always hungry! haha. :) But I do love meal planning and it makes it much easier to make sure I’m satisfied in a healthy way.

    2. Hahaha, yep, but I ate that pizza super late in the evening. That happens to me if I eat really heavy food (and that pizza was HEAVY) and/or late at night. :)

  11. Thanks for sharing! It was interesting reading this throughout the month, I enjoyed the SNAP challenge last year and appreciated a similar challenge this year as well. Nice job!

  12. I’m single and give myself a reasonably generous budget of $50/week on groceries (including toiletries and cleaning supplies). However, I usually end up spending between $20-$30. I’m on a year challenge to try a new recipe every week, so I pick something new to make that goes along with whatever I’m feeling at the moment, and then I fill in the gaps in my diet with past recipes based on using a lot of stuff already in my fridge. This week I’m making chilled fruit soup for a work carry-in. Then I had a bunch of taco parts already and chicken breasts were on sale, so I got a few items to make tomatillo chicken tacos. Already had some sausage in the freezer and canned sauce, so got some dry pasta to make pasta and meatballs. A couple ingredients to make a bunch of crepes for breakfast, etc, etc. Since I’m always trying at least one new thing, I don’t get bored.