Monday, February 13, 2017

No Spend February: First Update, Groceries, and Meals

This is my first "check in" during my first No Spend Month. I wanted to report how it's going. I will also feature grocery hauls, a few notes on how I meal plan, and list what I ate since the 1st of the month.

I have not spent any of my money that is not already an established exception. I do find this challenge difficult, but I feel like I can do this for a short period of time. A week in, the novelty of it wore off, my temptation to spend increased. I felt like it had been awhile since I last treated myself and I wanted to acquire the things from wishlist that I have on my phone. Items for the home usually top the list.

February 3rd was a payday Friday and I usually order a thing or two (or three) online when I receive my paycheck. That particular morning, I distracted myself with a delicious breakfast. I also paid my bills, busying myself before my shift started. In general, I have been staying off retail websites.

I got sick last Wednesday the 8th. I had felt off overnight, so I kept worrying about possibly letting someone down. I "woke up" definitely sick. I don't often call out of work, but did pretty early, knowing I was too sick to go in. Suddenly, I had a sore throat and a high fever with minor cough, runny nose, nausea, and muscle aches. I felt like I had tonsillitis, which I had every winter when I was growing up, but haven't had in years. I arranged to go to Patient First and arrived around 8:45 that morning. 

I was shocked when I was diagnosed Influenza A. I had gotten a flu shot after all. The doctor told me that she sees many who have had the vaccine with the flu. It was the first time that had happened to me; I've gotten the flu shot for like 20 years now. The one year I didn't, I got the flu. That was in 2005 when there was a shortage and I did not belong to a high risk group. I got it at the end of February, right before my study abroad experience in Italy. From that flu, I remember the severe fever and chills thing where you are both hot and cold and cannot decide if you want to get under the covers or throw them off. This flu, that was particularly annoying between midnight and 2 AM one night. This time, I googled why and kept clicking search results until I fully understood the reason. Anyway, the severe body aches, feeling like I had been hit by a bus, characteristic of the flu, didn't start until about 10:30 that morning.  

My mom helped me on Tuesday morning and I took good care of myself for days. As a result, I feel much better now. I apologize for the lack of updates on this challenge, but I was truly down and out for a few days last week. I was both sick and probably groggy from medicine. 

Being so sick was good for No Spend February! When I was sick, I wasn't out at stores shopping. Instead, I was in bed, trying to sleep, but too uncomfortable to do so. When I was feeling better, I lounged on the sofa, you know, for a change of scenery... I did think, "I should rent a movie" once, especially since my external disk drive didn't want to play any of my DVDs the past two times I've tried, but I quickly reminded myself that I couldn't spend money. There is so much fantastic free content out there anyway! I watched YouTube videos and a season of an Amazon Original series that was included with my Prime membership (that I will likely reveal in an upcoming Simple Pleasure Sunday blog post). Although, the lovely ladies I follow on YouTube tend to be budget-friendly and actually added to my temptation to spend by making me want to go to the Dollar Tree for organizational bins badly! Do It on a Dime, especially! But also other YouTubers such as Love Meg. I don't even usually patronize dollar stores! It's also not like I have so many spaces I need bins for... Anyway, luckily, my prescription for Tamiflu was only $10 and an approved exception. Also for medicine, my mom gave me an opened box of DayQuil (which was barely touched, but all the NyQuil was gone. Nonetheless, I am very grateful. I took every one of those capsules!). So, that was free. I had Tylenol in stock. My mother also gave me a container of frozen homemade soup as well as a twenty dollar bill and absolutely insisted that I use it when I was headed for the pharmacy. (I listed my purchases in my last post. Again, I am grateful.) I haven't been charged a copay or anything from the urgent care center I patronized yet, if there even is one after my insurance coverage.

I am starting to run out of a few items that I would like to replace, but am okay with either making something else work and/or waiting to repurchase. There is one thing, however, I am seriously considering busting my No Spend Month challenge for and that is replacing my black supportive ballet flats I wear to work. They look very shabby from being so worn, stretched out, faded, have several thin spots that may become holes, and are actually falling apart. In fact, one of the soles is coming apart from the shoe in the front. I dug out my ancient Krazy glue from the bottom of my walk-in closet and tried to dispense any sticky stuff into the opening under the toe. I normally buy the same pair over and over for work (and sometimes for play) since I love their style and comfort. I should replace them every six months when they're past their prime, but must every seven months. February 10th would be 7 full months. I walk so often that I tend to wear through shoes fairly quickly. They are $95-$99 and I can usually order on Amazon with free two-day Prime shipping. I may order them out of professionalism. I may be able to wait a couple of more weeks, until March 1st, so I can "be good" for my personal challenge. I do take it seriously. 

Next, I have a few "grocery hauls." Can you tell that I've been watching a lot of YouTube lately?

During my No Spend Month, I restricted myself to a single visit to Target in order to cut down on the temptation to spend. I wanted to save this one and only Target run for later in the month, but they were having good deals on Superbowl Sunday food and that was going to be my biggest meal all month. I walked to the big box store before work on Saturday the 4th. This is my Target haul:

I did two transactions at the self-checkout stand. One for groceries...

From left to right: Tostitos tortilla chips, Tostitos medium chunky salsa, Domino sugar, and Lindt Lindor dark chocolate truffles. 

I wanted chips and salsa for the Superbowl Sunday football game. Usually, on sale, they're $3 a pop, but this time, I paid $2.24 for each. The chips were on sale and both had a 25% off Cartwheel (app) discount. I needed sugar and actually poured this bag into my glass jar yesterday. The sugar was not on sale. Even with a Cartwheel discount, the store brand (Market Pantry) sugar would have been 8 cents more expensive than the name brand. Sometimes, the generic is not cheaper. These chocolate truffles are my favorite! So decadent and delicious. I finally ran out of the chocolates I had around for the holiday season. They were out of these in the regular candy section, so I went to the Valentine's Day aisles. For the same product only with several hearts on the top of the bag, I added a 25% off Cartwheel offer on Valentine's Day candy to my list on my phone while standing in the aisle and scored the bag for $3. Usually, I like buying them when they're on sale for $4. My total for these four items was $10.05. With such good discounts, it's like I got the sugar for free. I love the Cartwheel app. I haven't been on it lately though since I will not return to Target until March and I don't want to be tempted by a good deal to break my one-visit rule. There will always be sales.

I rang up the other item separately. One of my exceptions was to have $21 in cash that I could spend. I spent $9.53 on a beauty product I was low on, my powder. After this purchase, I have $11.47 left to spend this month.

This is true match super-blendable powder by L'Oréal Paris in classic ivory of the neutral line, specifically n2. It's a good product and I love it. Having ran out this morning, I will start using my new one tomorrow. 

My grocery budget for the month is $100, which breaks down to $25 a week. For the first three days of the month, I had eaten what I had bought during January. Having spent just over $10 at Target, I still had about $15 to spend at my local grocery store, Giant that week. I went shopping the morning of Sunday the 5th. This is my Giant haul:

Back row, from left to right: Tyson any'tizers Buffalo Style Hot Wings, Giant Spring Mix salad, and Giant Italian Seasoned croutons.
Front row, from left to right: red bell pepper, Keebler Toasteds crackers in Harvest Wheat, and a 16 oz. block of Wisconsin Sharp Cheddar Cheese.

I wanted wings and pizza to feast upon while I watched the game and commercials for the Superbowl. I just had pizza for dinner on Friday and Saturday and conscious of my budget, I decided to just go with wings. Keeping costs low, instead of having them delivered, I picked up a bag of prepared wings in the freezer section at the grocery store. This was the cheapest bag, on sale for $5.99. They were good and I would buy them again. Spring Mix is my favorite kind of bagged lettuces. I like dark greens and radicchio. The bag was $2.50, $2 or $2.50 is usually the sale price I pay. I can eat three large salads or four medium from a bag. I love these seasoned croutons! My salad would not be complete with them! They are $1.19 and were not on sale. My favorite vegetable is the red bell pepper. I love it in salad, especially during the winter (when tomatoes are not the best). I'm sure this one had four bumps at the bottom, which means it is female and sweeter, perfect for eating raw in salads. It was on sale for $1. My favorite crackers are Harvest Wheat Toasteds. They pair well with cheddar and parmesan. I scored them on sale for $2.50. I always flip through the pages of the circular online before heading to the store and I learned that the 16 oz. chunk of cheddar was on sale for $3. Since I have to have cheddar every week, I usually buy the 8 oz. block for $2.79, not on sale. Regularly priced at $5.49 and only a little bit more than the cheese half its size, that was a good deal on this trip. I prefer the store brand cheddar to many of the name brand varieties. This block lasted me the entire week. In total, I spent $16.18.

$10.05 at Target and $16.18 at Giant is $26.23 spent in groceries for the week. This is a bit over my $25 budget, but since the last week of February is only three days, I think I can still come in under $100 for the month.

Sick with the flu, not to mention contagious, I was off from work for six days. Too fatigued to walk, my dad gave me a ride to Giant Saturday morning. Having been at home for three days by that time, I had cabin fever and it was nice to get out real quick once. This is my grocery haul for my second full week in February:

My groceries include: Classico tomato sauce in the Marinara with Plum Tomatoes & Olive Oil variety, Giant chickpeas, Giant Spring Mix salad, Dole Baby Spinach, two red bell peppers, a Value Pack of five large boneless skinless chicken breasts, Giant grape tomatoes, 8 oz. Giant Sharp Cheddar Cheese, and two zucchini.

This kind of tomato sauce is my favorite. It's a light sauce of high quality. I am willing to pay $2.49 since it makes any of my cheap pasta meals so delicious. I tend to grab three of them whenever it's on sale for $2. Chickpeas are a source of fiber and protein and I sneak then into my pasta specialty for nutritional value. This can was on sale for 50 cents. I usually buy this salad each week. In the spring, summer, and fall, I might buy two. I wanted to buy two bags of spinach, but at $2.99, it wasn't on sale, so I ended up with one. I used the bag as one of my sides for a balsamic chicken meal. The other was intended for my pasta specialty. I have a little bit of sauteed spinach leftover; that might go into my pasta specialty... One of the red bell peppers features three bumps on the bottom, meaning it is male, with characteristics better suited for cooking. The other with four bumps is female and sweeter, perfect for eating raw. The male will go into my pasta specialty and the female will go into my salads. These two vegetables cost $3.98 together. In menu planning for the week, I look at the online circular to see what's on sale. This time, I saw that chicken was on sale for $1.88/lb. In store, I picked up a value pack of 3.73 lb. for $7.01. I didn't see any store brand boneless skinless chicken breasts in a smaller package. Using this recipe, I prepared balsamic chicken with two of the chicken breasts last night. They turned out well. Delicious. The other three are stored in the freezer. I will use the grape tomatoes for many things. They go in salads, my pasta specialty, and pesto pasta. I also like to eat them with cheese and crackers. The pint was $2.50. I can't go without my sharp cheddar cheese! The chunk was $2.79. I usually pick up a couple of zucchini every week. The two were $2.69 together. I made penne pasta with sauteed sliced zucchini in tomato sauce for lunch today and have leftovers for another meal this week. I developed a fondness for zucchini during my study abroad experience in Italy. I felt like the produce was expensive this week. My total was $27.45. This is over the $25 budget and a bit more than I wanted to spend, but I must be kind to myself. Still sick and with my dad waiting for me, I wasn't nearly as diligent with adding up the numbers in my head, on my list, or in my phone's calculator app. I know what $25-$30 worth of food looks like since that's what I tend to spend each week. I even know what a shopping list with with that budget looks like, about 10-13 items.

My totals for the first two full weeks of grocery shopping amount to $53.68. That means I have $46.32 left in the budget. I can definitely stick with that.

I wanted to briefly share how I meal plan. First, I look at the grocery store's online circular to see what ingredients are on sale. Next, with those cheap meal ideas in mind, I write down what the meals I want to have that week. I don't tend to assign a meal each night, but I do have a general idea. For example, I tend to cook something on Monday, maybe Sunday, sometimes both of these weekend days of mine, and know what I'm cooking those particular days. Lately, it is traditional for me to have pizza on Friday, when I have it at home. Since I enjoy entertaining, I may invite a friend over for dinner one weeknight. I could also fill out "This Week's Dinners" box in my planner, but that's only Monday through Friday. If not, I definitely fill it in with what I ate. I had a menu planning memo pad on the side of my refrigerator and should get into the habit of using it. Anyway, after planning, I look in my fridge, freezer, cabinets, and pantry and see what I have already. Then, I add needed items to my shopping list. I may click on a recipe saved on my Pinterest board to see if I have all the ingredients in stock or on the list. I stick to my list closely in the store.

Since I am not incredibly detailed in my meal planning in this blog post, I thought that I would share what I ate.

I often tend to enjoy the same breakfast: a cranberry muffin with espresso and orange juice. On Sunday the 5th, I had baked the muffins from the Pillsbury box mix. (This is one of the very few times I am not loyal to Betty Crocker. Please don't tell Betty!) The majority go into my freezer and I take one out at a time for the next day.

Every once in a while, I treat myself to a pain au chocolat, one of my chocolate croissants from Williams-Sonoma. Delicious. In an effort to distract myself from buying anything before work on a payday Friday (the 3rd), I baked and enjoyed this simple pleasure for breakfast.

As a reward for taking good care of myself for three tough days with the flu, I savored another one this past Saturday morning.

What I ate for lunch and dinner lately:
Wednesday, 2/1: 
 Lunch: salad
 Dinner: Bertolli rigatoni pasta with sausage

Thursday, 2/2: 
 Lunch: leftover Bertolli pasta
 Dinner: Dad's homemade beef vegetable soup

Friday, 2/3:
 Lunch: leftover Bertolli pasta
 Dinner: DiGiorno pepperoni pizza
Saturday, 2/4: 
 Lunch: leftover Bertolli pasta
 Dinner: leftover pepperoni pizza
Sunday, 2/5: (Superbowl Sunday)
 Lunch: pasta
 Dinner: hot wings, fries, chips and salsa, cheddar cheese
Monday, 2/6:
 Lunch: pasta
 Dinner: salad, wings, fries
Tuesday, 2/7: 
 Lunch: salad
 Dinner: steak, green beans
Wednesday, 2/8: (Day 1 of Flu)
 Snack to take my first dose of medicine: two pieces of white toast with butter
 Lunch: leftover steak, green beans
 Dinner: Progresso chicken rotini soup
Thursday, 2/9:
 Lunch: Dad's beef vegetable soup
 Dinner: Dad's beef vegetable soup
Friday, 2/10:
 Lunch: salad with red bell pepper, shredded cheddar, bacon, seasoned croutons, and homemade balsamic vinaigrette
 Dinner: chicken rotini soup
Saturday, 2/11:
 Lunch: chicken rotini soup
 Dinner: penne pasta with Barilla pesto and grape tomatoes
Sunday, 2/12:
 Lunch: leftover penne pasta with Classico tomato sauce
 Dinner: balsamic chicken, chicken-flavored StoveTop stuffing, sauteed spinach

Monday, 2/13:
 Lunch: penne pasta with sauteed zucchini in tomato sauce

 Dinner: wings, salad with red bell pepper, grape tomatoes, shredded cheddar, seasoned croutons and homemade balsamic vinaigrette

As usual, salad and pasta make up most of my meals, with a Friday pizza night and a few other meals thrown in for some variety. However, both salad and pasta are incredibly versatile! You can change up the ingredients so that you never have the same meal twice if you don't want to! Salad and pasta are also cheap choices. You can get a box of pasta for a $1, often less, and then with a 1/2 cup dry pasta serving size, the box feeds you many times. Both salad and pasta can be meatless, which saves money. If needed, I can put a slice of bacon or two in salad. In addition, I might buy those Perdue chicken Short Cuts to top my pasta specialty, but haven't in a while. I may do so since I recently unlocked a deal on them with my Ibotta cash back app (but I might not as it expires soon). I love vegetables so much that I don't have to have meat. There are alternatives to meat as well. Chickpeas, for example, add protein to a salad or pasta dish. I tend to use them in my pasta specialty. I usually make my vegetable-rich pasta specialty either every week or every other week. Protein-rich beans are much more economical than meat. I truly love carbs, even my salad gets croutons. Like I said, I am a vegetable lover; I don't eat a lot of fruit. I am a picky eater. I do not think I eat in a very healthy way, especially with all the carbs around, but I have come a long way and am always improving.

That family size Bertolli pasta meal has been sitting in the back of my freezer forever! I didn't spontaneously host a dinner party of four, even though my parents were redoing their kitchen. This big bag yielded four meals. I hardly ever eat soup, but I do adore my dad's homemade beef vegetable. Plus, I was very sick with the flu and wanted all the fluids I could possibly take. Usually, I also prepare my Italian pork chops every once in awhile. I tend to buy pork at Target where I am no longer shopping for the rest of the month, so we'll see if I make them this month. A month feels like a long time without them! 

So far, my No Spend Month is going well. It is difficult, but I'm sticking with it. Only 15 full days to go! I am glad I picked the shortest month!


  1. I love how real you are! I just moved into my first post-college apartment, and really appreciate seeing what you buy and eat in a week while staying on a budget.

    Looking online for kitchen essentials is kind of overwhelming, it's like 'does a girl really need 3 types of flour like this list says?'. But seeing your posts shows me that no, I don't need all that, I just need ingredients to make my signature dishes.

    Please keep up the good work, I love the blog!

  2. "Please don't tell Betty" tee hee

    I enjoyed the details about your meals and this extra long post! We're now more than halfway through February, so the end of no-spend month is near!