Food & Recipes

How ‘Shopping’ Your Kitchen For Groceries Can Help You Save $200

Have you ever tried "shopping" your pantry or refrigerator instead of going to the grocery store?

Every week, my grocery store receipt reads around $200. With monthly trips to Costco and Trader Joe’s, our family grocery budget is around $1000 a month (which includes toiletries). I use digital and paper coupons, and yet, that number never budges.

I decided that for the first week of April, I would try “shopping” my kitchen instead. This is a popular practice among people who are trying to save money and cut down on grocery spending — so I decided to see what the fuss was all about.

For one week, my family ate only from what was already in the fridge and pantry.

I pack a lunch for my two kids every day — one is middle-school aged and the other is in high school. My husband works from home, so we eat lunch together every day. Because of after school activities, on average we only sit down and eat three or four dinners together at home each week.

When all was said and done, I estimate that we saved $200 during the experiment. We spent $115 on dinners out over the course of the week, but that is pretty standard for our family. With 21 meals each, that means each meal on average cost $1.36 instead of the usual $3.75. That’s a pretty big savings!

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Takeaways From Our “Shop The Kitchen” Week

My biggest takeaway is we have way too much food in the house. My fridge looks so much better almost empty. We also made much less trash and had no waste in a week with no additional shopping; every piece of cheese, meat and bread was gone by the end of the week. I am more resourceful than I thought when our meal choices were actually pretty simple and set. While the last day was a little rough in finding complete lunches, it felt good to save that $200 over the course of the week.

In hindsight, I should have included my family in this experiment. I didn’t initially tell my family I wasn’t going to the grocery store. When I included them in the meal planning process, they were more willing to try new things and help in saving money.

Also, we got lucky. My no grocery shopping week went smoothly. We also didn’t have any guests or illnesses. If you try this experiment yourself, I’d advise being flexible. If something comes up that changes the plan, be ready to make accomodations with no guilt.

In the end, I decided to try and include a “no shopping week” every three months. I’ve already begun the process by extending my weekly shopping a little. Instead of shopping every Sunday, I now try and make it to Wednesday before heading back to the grocery store.

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Here’s what happened each day of this experiment.

Day 1: Sunday

Inventory day. It turned out to be a good week to eat out of the pantry and the fridge with Easter leftovers. Before I got started, I went through and took inventory of what was on hand. Seeing it all laid out on my kitchen island was overwhelming. At the same time, I panicked a little that I wouldn’t have enough to feed everyone all week. I felt a little like I was opening up a “Chopped” picnic basket that was full of not-so-mystery ingredients every day.

We ate Easter ham and turkey sandwiches. I did not make my customary trip to the grocery store. Both of our local grocery stores shut down on Easter so the choice was made for me!

Groceries: $0
Eating out: $0

Day 2: Monday

I sat out with my secret plan to feed my family. It was Monday so everyone was dragging a little. My daughter made an Eggo waffle, while my son grabbed a bag of chips before I could stop him. I wanted to tell him he had just eaten their lunch chips, but stopped myself.

I then packed their lunches. Both of them like the same things in their lunches every day ,so my shopping is usually easy. I was happy to see the containers of leftover Easter ham and turkey in the fridge because we had no lunch meat or Hawaiian rolls (their usual lunch choices).

Monday is a night when each parent takes a kid to an activity and dinner. Those dinners take place even when we have food in the house because we are traveling right around meal time and can’t sit down together to eat.

Groceries: $0
Eating out: $22

Day 3: Tuesday

It was a rushed morning, so no breakfast for anyone. Husband had his usual Keurig tea.

For lunch, the kids had leftover ham and turkey, chips and drinks. I ate a bagel with bacon and cheese, while my husband had a turkey and cheese wrap in a tortilla with some barbecue sauce.

Tuesday night is another super busy night for us. The kids both have orchestra rehearsals an hour away. My husband takes them and eats while he waits. I feed the kids before they leave. The leftover Easter meat was already wearing thin on their patience after two days, so we stopped at Sonic. When my daughter got home, she also made some ramen noodles with the side purpose of packing them in her lunch the next day.

Groceries: $0
Eating out: $19

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Day 4: Wednesday

Breakfast fail again. Keurig tea for my husband. He gives me a gentle reminder that one of the Keurig tea cup boxes is almost empty. I would usually order more from Amazon, but make a note to do that in the following week since that counts as groceries. He is almost out of shampoo as well. I add both items to my Amazon list but don’t push buy.

For lunch, my daughter packed her leftover ramen noodles, along with juice, peanut butter crackers and cheese. My son took some leftover turkey, a bagel, cheese, water and a candy bar. My husband ate a bagel with leftover turkey, cheese and honey mustard.

Wednesday night is one of the few nights we are all home for dinner. I offer up two choices that I know I can make with what I have on hand: quiche or quesadillas. The consensus is quesadillas. I use tortillas, turkey and cheese and grill the quesadillas on the stove top in my grill pan. I serve them with the very last of the salsa in the fridge. I also heat up a bag of steamable rice. While they are eating, I pop some slice-and-bake cookies in the oven and they eat them before they cool down.

Groceries: $0
Eating out: $0

Day 5: Thursday

The whining about leftover turkey and ham is getting louder by now. The kids both wonder where their usual lunch meat is and I simply pack their lunches with a smile. My daughter gets leftover noodles and stuff she didn’t eat yesterday, while my son reluctantly takes leftover turkey, the second-to-last bagel, cheese, a candy bar, a Sprite and some Pringles.

For breakfast, my daughter toasts an Eggo waffle. My son is too cranky to eat breakfast and just grabs a bottled water on his way out the door. Husband gets his usual Keurig tea and reminds me again we are running low.

For lunch, husband has a salad mix with turkey, bacon, croutons, cheese, salad dressing and apple juice.

Thursday night is yet another busy night where each parent splits off with a kid. My daughter is on a real kick with the ramen noodles that her friend introduced her to — she is home with me and makes herself noodles. My son and my husband go to dinner out and head to trumpet lessons.

Groceries: $0
Eating out: $24

Day 6: Friday

I dread the ritual of the making of the lunches. We have one bagel left with just enough turkey and ham to make sandwiches. My husband has two Keurig cups of tea before I get the kids off to school.

For my husband’s lunch, I have no bagels and no salad mix left. I try to vary what I make for his lunches and search the dwindling pile of food for something different. I use the four slices of bread that are left to make him a club sandwich with turkey, ham, bacon, honey mustard, pickles and cheese.

Friday night is the night we typically have a family dinner night out at a restaurant since we scatter so much during the week. The kids start snacking when they walk in the door. I remind them we are heading out to eat shortly. We eat dinner together and then head home to relax a little.

Groceries: $0
Eating out: $45

Day 7: Saturday

Everyone sleeps in (except for me), so no breakfast.

I designate today as “breakfast for lunch” day. If I call it that, it is always much more fun. I scramble eggs with cheese, make the last of the microwavable bacon and some sausages I find in the back of the freezer. There are two Eggos left — my daughter claims them both. I make a can of biscuits and put out jelly, orange juice and the last of the milk.

After a busy week, everyone is worn out and can’t make up their mind on dinner options. I order pizza for the kids using rewards points (we just have to pay delivery and tip) and put frozen tilapia in the oven for my husband. The kids eat pizza while he has tilapia, cocktail sauce and some steam-in-the-bag rice and corn.

Groceries: $0
Eating out: $5

Day 8: Sunday

Church. We usually eat out after church because service runs until noon. My husband grabs a Keurig cup of tea on the way out the door. We do a quick meal at Zaxby’s and everyone heads home for homework and Sunday chores. The kids both choose to eat leftover pizza for dinner.

I make a quesadilla for my husband with the leftover chicken from lunch and he eats that with one spare cookie and some tortilla chips. I make my first trip to the grocery store in a week and do my usual $200 shopping trip.