One of the common struggles of being a twenty something and learning to navigate adulthood is learning how to (and in many cases, how not to) manage money. For myself, much of that “money management” has entailed learning how to best stretch what little money I have. I feel that this is a common dilemma among the twenty something demographic. Because let’s face it, whether you’re specifically gifted at managing your finances or you’re more like me and tend to become overly generous when you go out for a night on the town, most of us are just starting out.
One of the areas of my life that I have learned to be particularly thrifty in is my grocery shopping and meal planning. Now, as a self proclaimed “foodie,” I enjoy spending my hard earned dollars on fresh ingredients and whipping up experimental culinary concoctions as much as the next hipster, but due to a busy schedule and the economic limitations stated above, I often have to submit to reality. What that means is that I’ve had to find creative and inexpensive ways to stretch my limited regular grocery budget. Through this process, I have developed a fairly efficient system, that I thought might be beneficial to share.
Through this system I try to limit myself to a $25 budget for the week, not including a six pack of beer. We all have our vices, right? Keep in mind I am only cooking for one, so if you live with a spouse feel free to adjust accordingly. The key is to choose versatile ingredients that you enjoy and that can be utilized across multiple meals. I for one tend to favor flavors of the latin palate, so you will see many ingredients below that reflect that.
Below you will find a list of pro tips to help make your $25 meal plan a success as well as the list of ingredients I purchased for the week and a daily breakdown of how I used them. The grocery list below yielded 4 dinners, 4 lunches and 4 breakfast smoothies, beginning with Monday’s dinner (I do my shopping after work on Mondays).
Cheap Grocery Tips
Pro tip #1: Be willing to forego meat. Don’t get me wrong, I love meat. But meat is expensive and I prefer to save it as a treat for when I eat out.
Pro tip #2: Allow yourself cheat meals. I like to eat out. I just prefer to do so on the weekend when I can socialize with friends and enjoy myself. I also like to allot myself one lunch out during the workweek.
Pro tip #3: Get used to some repetition. In order to make the $25 budget work, you have to be willing to sacrifice a bit. That means leftovers. I typically make enough food at each dinner meal to save for the following day’s lunch. Smoothies are also a great and inexpensive breakfast option (when done right). I like to buy ingredients for a different kind of smoothie each week to help shake things up a bit.
The Grocery List
- 1 pack burrito size tortillas: $2.49. Tortillas last longer than bread. A pack of 10 typically lasts me at least 2 weeks. Also, opt for the large size. They are more versatile and you can always cut them in half for tacos!
- 1 pack Ramen: $.20. I know what you’re thinking, but trust me.
- 3 avocados: $1.25 each.
- 1 can black beans: $.97.
- 3 sweet potatoes: $.99 each.
- 2 large bell pepper: $1.69 each.
- 1 16oz block of cheese (dealer’s choice): $2.99. Grating your own cheese is cheaper than buying buying the bag.
- 1 dozen eggs: $2.59.
- 1 bag frozen spinach: $1.00. Great for smoothies and everything else.
- 1 half gallon chocolate milk: $2.19. Because you gotta have dessert and I’m a sucker for chocolate milk. Also, great for smoothies.
Total: $22.53. After tax you should come in just under budget.
Dinner: Black Bean and Sweet Potato Tacos with Avocado.
3 tortillas cut in half. 1 ½ sweet potatoes (diced and roasted). Half avocado (sliced). About half a can of beans.
Breakfast: Poor Man’s Green Smoothie.
Half avocado. 1 cup frozen spinach (trust me, you won’t taste it and it’s good for consistency). A few splashes of chocolate milk (just trust me).
Lunch: Monday Taco Leftovers!
Dinner: Ramen with Spinach, Bell Pepper and Egg.
Trendy ramen joints are a thing right now and there’s a reason for that. It’s just damn good. So jump on the bandwagon and make your own. Throw in a handful of spinach and about ½ of one bell pepper (sliced or diced) with the noodles to cook down. Then drop in an egg for some protein. You can either scramble it for an eggdrop soup vibe or drop it in whole and poach that sucker (my prefered method). Cook the egg for about 2-3 minutes for a soft yolk.
This might seem strange, but it is a quick, fun and moderately healthy (minus the sodium levels).
Breakfast: Poor Man’s Green Smoothie
Lunch: Cheat day!
Grab lunch out with some coworkers!
Dinner: Sweet Potato Hash.
1 ½ sweet potato (diced). ½ (ish) bell pepper (diced). 5 eggs (scrambled). Saute the sweet potatoes and pepper, then pour in eggs just before finished. Sprinkle with freshly grated cheese.
Breakfast: You guessed it! Poor Man’s Green Smoothie.
Lunch: Leftover Hash!
Dinner: Black Bean and Bell Pepper Quesadilla.
This is the time to use all of your leftover perishables. The rest of the black beans. The rest of the bell pepper (sliced and sauteed until tender). 4 tortillas (2 tortillas = 1 large quesadilla). Cheese it up!
Breakfast: Really? Poor Man’s Green Smoothie
Lunch: I know, repetition doesn’t seem like much of a virtue at this point, but hold out just a little bit longer.
Dinner: It’s the weekend! Treat yo self!
Bonus: Plenty of tortillas, eggs and cheese for next week! Or use some of the leftover ingredients to make a killer cheese omelet or breakfast tacos for a weekend breakfast treat.
I know this isn’t the most glamorous meal plan in the world, but it works for me and helps me budget for the things I enjoy. Just remember to shake it up a bit each week and keep it fresh.