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 consumed and how much it costs them.
Location: Oxford, Mississippi
Number of people in family: 2 (me and my husband, Will)
Occupation: I’m a receptionist and my husband is a graduate student in ceramics.
Household income: $25,000/year
Weekly food budget: $75
Day 1: Sunday
6:10 a.m.: I wake up but don’t feel like getting out of bed yet, so I set a back-up alarm in case I fall asleep.
6:50 a.m.: I finally get out of bed and walk our dog. When I get back, Will is up and grumbling because my back-up alarm woke him up — whoops. He goes back to sleep, and I feed our animals: our dog, Evie, and two cats, Henry and Luna. I peek inside of the kiln that I fired last night (I make ceramic jewelry in my free time) and go for a quick run.
8 a.m.: I start making super-simple vegan pancakes from food blogger Cookie and Kate. We usually make pancakes once every weekend and modify the recipe based on what we have around. This time I’m adding chocolate chips. Evie’s watching me cook, anxiously awaiting her silver dollar “pupcake.” I make her one without chocolate, and she gobbles it up.
8:40 a.m.: Will wakes up, and we eat our pancakes (we slather them in peanut butter). Will makes himself a pour over coffee, and I start working on our meal plan for the week. We add recipes to our meal planning spreadsheet and make our grocery list.
9:40 a.m.: I drink a half cup of coffee, and we watch an episode of Monk.
11 a.m.: Will makes another pour over.
11:15 a.m.: Will eats an almond granola bar and doesn’t tell me, since it’s the last one. He admits it a few minutes later.
11:45 a.m.: Will is making ANOTHER cup of coffee. I try to stop him but to no avail. He says, “I’m going to regret this so much later.” He has a very unhealthy relationship with coffee.
12:15 p.m.: We take Evie to the park for a walk. It’s too hot for her, so I carry her half of the way.
1:10 p.m.: We eat leftover lentil and rice bowls that Will made yesterday, based on Kitchn’s recipe for tomato braised lentils. We also eat a little bit of cookies & cream ice cream from the freezer.
1:30 p.m.: We head to Kroger to do our shopping for the week. We have a couple of free items to get with our digital coupons: a Knorr skillet meal and a Core drink. Unfortunately, they’re out of 99-cent kale today.
Brown rice noodles, $2.89
Core water, free
Knorr skillet meal, free
Garbanzo beans, $1.59
Mandarin orange seltzer water, $2
Whole-grain oats, $1.59
Tomato sauce, $.25
White cheddar rice cakes, $1.99
Green cabbage, $.99
Rice vinegar, $2.99
Corn tortillas, $1.99
Green onions, $.50
White onions, $.77
Salted mixed nuts, $2.49
Sweet potatoes, $1.63
Passion fruit & papaya tea, $2.29
Canned tomatoes, $1
Frozen berry medley, $3.29
Extra-firm tofu, $1.79
Mozzarella cheese, $1.99
Total, including tax: $49.68
2:30 p.m.: We split a mandarin orange seltzer water on the way to Chicory Market, a local produce market, where we’ll pick up kale and farro. When we arrive at the market, they’re out of farro, so we decide to improvise with something out of our pantry. We share a chicory cold brew coffee.
Tuscan kale, $3.99
Cold brew coffee, $3.50
Total, including tax: $8.02
3 p.m.: We arrive home and do a little bit of meal prep. I freeze some overripe bananas and start a batch of slow cooker chickpeas from Food Network to use in recipes throughout the week. Then I start cleaning the house while Will roasts sweet potatoes to make a purée for one of our recipes. He also cuts up some carrot sticks, which we nibble on, and he roasts coffee in our home roaster. We listen to a fun sci-fi audiobook that we started on a road trip a couple of weeks ago.
4:30 p.m.: We split another seltzer water, and I make a batch of granola from Chowhound to have on top of our oatmeal this week. Oats upon oats!
We still have enough lentils to eat for dinner, but I make a batch of peanut slaw from Cookie and Kate to eat for lunch and dinner tomorrow. Luckily, we don’t mind eating the same thing several times in a row. This time, I make it with Maifun brown rice noodles instead of soba noodles.
6 p.m.: We eat the rest of our lentils, garnished with Sriracha and Parmesan cheese, while we watch another episode of Monk. Will eats a bowl of homemade granola.
7 p.m.: I eat an apple, and we watch Coco on Netflix. Will snacks on some carrot sticks.
9 p.m.: We get ready for bed.
Day 2: Monday
6 a.m.: Our alarms go off. We both snooze.
6:10 a.m.: Will gets up. I keep snoozing.
6:30 a.m.: I finally get up. Will makes us oatmeal on the stovetop and makes himself a pour over coffee. We eat our oatmeal topped with peanut butter, jam, soy milk, frozen berries, and granola. Our cat Luna stares at us while we eat. She is weirdly obsessed with oatmeal.
7:45 a.m.: We leave for work. Will is out of school for the summer, but he still goes into the studio every day to work on his pottery and sculptures. I drop him off at the studio and then drive to my office on the other side of campus.
8 a.m.: I arrive at work and make a cup of passion fruit and papaya black tea.
10 a.m.: I’m already dreaming about the peanut slaw I have for lunch. Mmm … I always look forward to eating it. I make a cup of spicy herbal tea.
10:30 a.m.: Will eats some mixed nuts and makes a cup of coffee in the Aeropress that he keeps at his studio.
12:15 p.m.: I eat a piece of candy from the candy bowl at work.
1:10 p.m.: I leave for lunch and pick Will up at the studio. I get an hour break, so we have time to go home to eat and let Evie out. I mix some of the chickpeas I made last night into the peanut slaw, and we each eat a large bowl and drink a seltzer water. Will also eats some carrot sticks and saltines.
2:10 p.m.: Will drops me off at work so he can go home and take a nap. I make another cup of black tea.
4 p.m.: Will heads back to the studio and eats two white cheddar rice cakes.
5 p.m.: Will picks me up from work. We head home, where Will takes Evie for a walk, and I dish up another serving of peanut slaw for our dinner. This time, I garnish it with cilantro, Sriracha, and a lime wedge. We enjoy it with two more seltzer waters.
6 p.m.: Will makes us some delicious stovetop popcorn from Cookie and Kate, which we devour while watching the last episode of Monk. Will also eats an apple and some saltines. I start rolling out slabs of porcelain to make into earrings and necklaces.
7:30 p.m.: I clean up my ceramic stuff and do the dishes. We eat the rest of the cookies & cream ice cream from the freezer. I also eat an apple.
Day 3: Tuesday
6:30 a.m.: We both wake up after a little bit of snoozing. Will walks Evie, and I start the oatmeal. Today we top our oatmeal with peanut butter, jam, granola, and frozen berries. Will adds a few chocolate chips to his and makes himself a pour over coffee.
8 a.m.: I start settling in at work and make my first cup of tea.
8:15 a.m.: My coworker gives me a yummy chocolate chip cookie.
9:20 a.m.: Another coworker gives me a piece of chocolate-caramel candy.
11 a.m.: At the studio, Will eats some mixed nuts.
1:05 p.m.: I pick up Will and we head home for lunch. We finish off the peanut slaw and drink seltzer waters.
2:30 p.m.: Back at work, I make a cup of herbal tea.
4 p.m.: Will eats a couple of white cheddar rice cakes.
5:15 p.m.: We arrive home. Will eats some saltine crackers and then walks Evie while I start dinner. I thaw a can-sized bag of black beans from the freezer and mix up a batch of taco seasoning.
We’re trying out a new recipe: quick vegan enchiladas from 101 Cookbooks. I’m omitting the olives and almonds from the recipe to make it more budget-friendly. Will returns from his walk and then reads and meditates.
6:15 p.m.: The enchiladas are in the oven, so I start cleaning and refining the ceramic pieces that I made last night. Will makes the tahini sauce and chops up cilantro to go on top of the enchiladas.
6:45 p.m.: We eat dinner and start watching The Departed. The enchiladas are delicious!
7:30 p.m.: Will eats some chocolate chips and a little bit of cantaloupe. I eat a lot of cantaloupe. We share the last sparkling water — they rarely make it past Tuesday.
9:30 p.m.: Bedtime.
Day 4: Wednesday
6:30 a.m.: We both get up. Will makes us breakfast and a pour over coffee. He drinks half of his coffee and takes half of it with him to the studio in a Thermos. It’s storming, and Evie is hiding in the closet. Breakfast is, once again, oatmeal with peanut butter, jam, berries, and granola.
7:30 a.m.: I attempt to walk Evie, which does not go well, as she is still terrified from the thunder. I feed her and sing “The Gravy Song,” a little song we made up to get her excited about eating her kibble.
8:05 a.m.: Will’s at the studio, and I’m at the office drinking a cup of orange spice black tea.
10:20 a.m.: Time for a cup of herbal tea! The store brand tea I drink comes out to about 10 cents per cup, so I don’t feel bad about drinking several cups throughout the day. At the studio, Will snacks on more mixed nuts.
12:40 p.m.: I’m drooling over pictures of food on the internet. Will and I go home for lunch and eat our leftover enchiladas. We agree to add the recipe to our regular rotation. We also eat the rest of the cantaloupe from yesterday, and Will makes a pour over coffee.
1:50 p.m.: I’m back at work drinking a cup of iced black tea.
4 p.m.: Will eats two rice cakes at the studio. I slice up some Edam cheese that my office received as a gift and eat an inadvisable amount.
5:10 p.m.: We stop at a gas station to fill up our tank and treat ourselves to a diet soda.
Diet soda, $.89
Total, including tax: $.95
5:20 p.m.: Back at home, I take Evie for a walk. When I get back, the cats are meowing up a storm. I feed everyone their kibble. Will reads and snacks on saltines and an apple.
5:40 p.m.: Will is starting dinner (chili garlic tofu bowls with sesame kale from Budget Bytes). This is a staple dish for us, and the sauce is pure magic. Will sneaks several pieces of tofu while he’s cooking. We realize that we have four episodes of MasterChef to watch! Well, there goes the next four hours of our lives. I’m working on my jewelry while Will cooks.
6:30 p.m.: Dinner is ready, and it is amazing as always.
7 p.m.: Will runs out to the store to get berries and milk for smoothies. While he’s gone, I edit some of the food photos I’ve been taking this week.
Frozen mixed berries, $2.60
Total, including tax: $5.62
7:30 p.m.: I make us berry-banana smoothies with peanut butter and granola for dessert. We watch more MasterChef.
8:45 p.m.: We start getting ready for bed.
Day 5: Thursday
6:30 a.m.: We’re both up after our standard 30-minute snooze. Will starts the oatmeal and his pour over.
7 a.m.: I top our oatmeal with peanut butter, jam, berries, granola, and, in a shocking twist, milk. It’s more toppings than oatmeal at this point.
7:55 a.m.: We park at my office, and Will walks to the studio. I make a cup of iced black tea and settle into my desk.
10 a.m.: The World Cup is on! I’m not a big sports fan, but I do like watching the World Cup. Will snacks on mixed nuts at the studio.
12 p.m.: Will packed his lunch today so that he could eat a little earlier. He eats a leftover tofu bowl.
1:15 p.m.: Will and I head home. I eat my tofu bowl and an apple, and Will finishes off the homemade granola with some milk. He makes another cup of coffee.
2:20 p.m.: I make my second cup of tea.
3 p.m.: My coworker brings in ice cream for everyone to share. I eat a chocolate-covered cone.
5:15 p.m.: We have a ton of cooked rice left from yesterday’s dinner, so I decide to make coconut fried rice with edamame from the author of Cookie and Kate’s cookbook, Love Real Food. Can you guess what our favorite food blog is? Will eats some saltines, and we both eat some carrot sticks while I cook. Evie also gets a carrot, her favorite.
6 p.m.: We devour the fried rice. Will cuts up a pineapple, which we eat for dessert. We watch more MasterChef.
7 p.m.: Will makes us a triple-decker quesadilla to share. He plays guitar; I work on my earrings and listen to my super-depressing audiobook, A Little Life.
9 p.m.: We stay up “late” watching Netflix.
10 p.m.: Bedtime!
Day 6: Friday
6:45 a.m.: We both hit snooze a couple of extra times. The cats are meowing outside of our door. When I open the door, Henry bolts in, screeching. He is unhappy with our belated breakfast service.
7:15 a.m.: I decide to shake things up and make cheesy omelets for breakfast. They end up super overcooked. We like the omelets, but Gordon Ramsey would not be pleased.
Will makes a 12-ounce pour over; he drinks a half cup now and saves a half cup for later. I also drink a half cup. I try to only drink coffee on the weekends, but Friday is technically the weekend, right?
8:30 a.m.: I’m at work filing documents and catching glimpses of the World Cup.
9:30 a.m.: Office field trip to see the Corpse Flower, a rare flowering plant that smells like a rotting corpse when it blooms. It’s supposed to bloom any time now, but it’s not in bloom yet when we go to see it.
10:30 a.m.: Will eats mixed nuts and drinks his leftover coffee over ice.
12:15 p.m.: We head home for lunch, which is leftover coconut edamame fried rice. Will makes us another pour over to split. Henry chews on my fingers, a favorite pastime of his.
2:20 p.m.: Back at work, I snack on cheese and crackers.
3 p.m.: Will eats rice cakes at the studio.
5:15 p.m.: At home, I take Evie for a walk. Will eats saltines and reads.
5:40 p.m.: Will starts dinner (he’s making roasted carrots with farro, chickpeas, and herbed tahini sauce from the Love Real Food cookbook). Since we couldn’t get farro this week, he makes it with some couscous from our pantry.
6:30 p.m.: Dinner is ready! I had never realized that roasted carrots could be so delicious. Will heads out to the store get us some ice cream and returns with two chocolate chip cookie sandwiches.
2 chocolate chip cookie sandwiches, $5
Total, including tax: $5.35
7:30 p.m.: I’m already getting sleepy. We watch a little bit of Netflix.
9 p.m.: I’m sound asleep, and Will falls asleep shortly after.
Day 7: Saturday
9 a.m.: We both wake up after a mere 12 hours of sleep. I take Evie for a walk and then work out.
9:45 a.m.: Will is making coffee and breakfast. Pancakes! Will makes me come into the kitchen to see a “perfect” pancake that he made. He’s running around calling himself the “King of Flapjacks.” I roll my eyes.
10:15 a.m.: The pancakes are ready! I eat mine with butter and honey, and Will eats his with peanut butter. Evie eats her pupcake plain.
11 a.m.: Will heads into the studio, and I start to work on jewelry and listen to my super-depressing audiobook.
12:30 p.m.: I finish my audiobook. It is a brutal read, but beautifully written. I decide that I should read something light-hearted next.
1:30 p.m.: Will arrives home, and we eat our leftover carrot bowls for lunch. Will roasts a batch of coffee.
2:15 p.m.: We share another cup of coffee, and Will eats some saltines.
3:15 p.m.: Will has another half cup of coffee, which he promises will be his last, then we head to Kroger to pick up a couple of pizza toppings for tonight. We also need to get raisins so that we can make cinnamon raisin bagels tomorrow.
Green peppers, $.99
Mozzarella cheese, $1.99
Total, including tax: $5.93
4 p.m.: On the way home from the store, we learn that the Corpse Flower has bloomed! We head over to smell it with a couple of friends from the ceramics studio. It does, indeed, smell like death.
4:50 p.m.: We’re home, and Will has another half cup of coffee. He checks his email and finds out that one of his sculptures was accepted into a show! We start cleaning the house for a brunch and board games potluck that we’re hosting tomorrow.
6 p.m.: We take Evie to the park for a nice long walk.
6:45 p.m.: We’re back at home and really hungry. Will eats a few saltines and makes us a batch of stovetop popcorn to share. I start making the pizza crust, which we top with homemade sauce, mozzarella cheese, green peppers, onions, and tomatoes. The crust recipe makes enough for two pizzas, so I freeze one of the dough balls for later.
7:50 p.m.: The pizza’s ready! Will makes us a couple of apple cider vinegar tonics with honey and lemon juice to have with dinner. We’re watching Paddington on Netflix.
9:30 p.m.: Time for bed! We want to get an early start in the morning to prepare for our get-together.
1. How did you set your food budget?
When Will started grad school a year ago, we set a goal to get through it without taking out any loans. We tried to figure out how low we could get our budget without sacrificing fresh fruit and vegetables. Our total budget is $300 a month; we aim for $75 a week, but we rely heavily on pantry items, so our weekly shop can range from $60, if our pantry is well-stocked, to $90, if we need a lot of pantry items. It typically evens out over the course of the month.
Because Will roasts his own coffee, we order green coffee beans online about twice a year, which we don’t include in our weekly food budget. We budget $10 a month for this, or about $2.50 a week. Household items and pet food also come out of a separate budget line.
We use two spreadsheets to keep track of our food budget: a meal planning spreadsheet and an overall budget tracker. In our meal planning spreadsheet, we list all of the recipes that we’re going to make for the week and all of the ingredients that we’ll need to purchase. We estimate how much each ingredient will cost, and the spreadsheet totals it up. I try to keep the estimate $10 to $15 lower than our weekly budget, in order to leave a little room for discretionary purchases.
The second spreadsheet is an overall budget tracker. I have budget lines for every category that we spend money on, and I have it set up to deduct from that category if we list a purchase within that category. So, we start with $300 in the food category for the month, and as we categorize purchases as “food,” the spreadsheet deducts the amount of that purchase from the food total. This spreadsheet is really useful for tracking our monthly spending and monitoring how much money we have left for the month.
2. What are the kitchen ingredients you can’t live without?
- Dry goods: Rice, black beans, chickpeas, oats, canned tomatoes, olive oil, peanut butter, honey
- Vegetables: Kale, sweet potatoes, broccoli, carrots, onions, garlic
- Condiments: Soy sauce & Sriracha
- Fruit: Frozen berries, apples, bananas
- Drinks: Coffee and tea
3. What’s the budget recipe you always rely on?
Definitely rice and beans, in many different forms. Some of our other favorites are as follows:
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