$50 a week grocery challenge

I have a new challenge – can I survive on only $50 a week groceries for one adult and two children between now and Christmas?


I am blessed to now be entering a period in my life of financial stability. I have a good job, I have nearly paid off my mortgage, I have just repaid my credit card debt, I own my car outright, and even indulged in a family holiday.  So why am I scrimping and scraping surviving on only $50 a week?

Because I have too much food.  As I stood before my bloated cupboard, surveying it while sucking in my bloated waistline (15kg overweight which is now considered normal in an Australian context), I realised something had to change.  Actually I have so much food it spills out of my main pantry cupboard and into odd storage spaces – in the laundry, above the fridge and just about anywhere I can find.  The contents of freezer literally spills out when I open it, and there is so much stuff I can’t find what I want.

My freezer
My freezer
Hiding food in random places – in this case above the fridge.

I have already reduced our daily food budget to between $9 and $12 a day.  Yet still I was appalled recently, having been sick and then come back from holidays, about how much food I had to throw out. I don’t waste anywhere near the 1 in 5 bags of food that is the standard amount of waste in the developed world including Australia, and actually I am very mindful about reducing waste.  But I still waste more than I should.  “You work too hard for your money to waste food you buy and don’t eat,” said my mother wisely.  She lived the glamorous life (on the surface at least) of a fashion designer, but in the kitchen she rarely wasted anything.

I have tried all sorts of different methods to curb waste and limit grocery expenditure.  But really, I just love grocery shopping. I love picking up food and thinking about the possibilities of what I could make with it. I love investing in exotic ingredients.  They are rarely expensive, but they all add up.  And although I love cooking, there is only so much that my kids and I can eat during one week.

Before we get into the silly season of Christmas (where doubtless I will invest in even more food ingredients for baking), and while I am in spring cleaning mode, I thought it would be a good opportunity to pause and do a stock take.  The first week, last week, went well and in fact I came in $7.20 under.  I still managed to host a mid week dinner party for unexpected visiting relatives (corned beef with white sauce and parsley), make some bread for a function at church, and buy my kids favourite probiotic drinks.  I even stocked up on kim chi and chickpeas.

A plate of corned beef covered in white parsley sauce with potatoes and beans
Serving up slow-cooked corned beef as a mid-week dinner for visiting relatives

The second week, which finishes tomorrow, has also gone well and I am $13.30 under.  And this baking for our divisional morning tea at work, and stocking up on (healthy) instant soups for supplies at work.

The challenge has forced me to think more creatively about what I have on hand rather than rush to the shops.  Sunday was always my cooking/baking day, but now I focus on cooking simply using up what I have on hand.  Some highlights from the past two weeks include:

  • Cooking corned silverside with white parsley sauce (parsley from my garden) for rellies that visited midweek, with dessert of strawberries (on special at ALDI for $1.49/500g) and ice cream;
  • I made yet another batch of thistle agnolotti;
  • And while doing it, made some spaghetti and fettucini for the kids dinners;
  • I also made a small batch of homemade ricotta cheese to use up some milk that was past the best before;
  • I made carrot and fennel rolls for a church function, and soy and linseed bread for home;
  • I made a batch of lemon cordial, and another of blood orange cordial;
  • I made Morrocan lemon chicken using up leftover lemon rinds; and
  • I harvested and cooked edible marshmellow greens.
Homemade ricotta cheese
Homemade ricotta cheese
Potatoes, chicken and marshmallow greens
Potatoes, chicken and marshmallow greens – cooking up leftovers for brunch

I calculate that by doing this challenge that between now and Christmas, I will save over $500 in addition to what I normally save by my low cost grocery budget.  According to ASIC’s Moneysmart, the average family spends between $200 and $300 a week on groceries.  Well as a three member family I am definitely on the low side to begin with but even so there is more I can trim.  Assuming, a $200/week spend as average I will be saving around $2,400 between now and Christmas just by doing this.

So who else is up for a challenge?

Pinterest style graphic re $50/week challenge

    1. I am sure you can do for one person:) From the comments already on this thread, it looks like there are many people doing it for more than one person. Perhaps a strange thing to come from a foodie, but we all eat too much anyway. Well, not people in war zones or living below the poverty line in developing countries obviously but there is an obesity problem in Australia and much of the Western world. I certainly am in no immediate danger of starving.

  1. Great idea Serina, I think I’ve mentioned before that we’ve often gone for a week or two barely shopping as I use up the freezer/pantry – but now until Christmas would be a lot harder…
    What do you do about fussy children in this sort of project? I could probably live from now until Xmas just on my beans and rice stash, but I have a lot of food around that my son wouldn’t eat…

  2. Beck @ Goldenpudding, in a way I think that post winter is easier. I can’t speak for everyone, but feel really in the mood for a spring clean. Plus I am actually not that hungry. No that I plan to starve myself or my kids.

    My Big A, nearly seven, is one of the fussiest eaters I know! I have taken him to see a speech therapist for his eating; basically he can’t chew well so likes soft foods. Obviously he and his brother LOVE processed foods and junk foods. But I try not to take them shopping so they don’t see those foods. When they are with me, I usually let them only have one food they like, i.e. just one treat. This limits the food budget problem. I also teach them to identify healthy and unhealthy foods in the supermarket. This is reinforced at school so they get it.

    But actually, as you would have seen from the photos, I have a LOT of food. And that includes a lot of the foods that they already like to eat. When they find something they like that is cheap and relatively wholesome, I try to cultivate that. One of their favourites is Chinese steamed egg with rice, which all up probably only costs 60c to 70c. They also love chicken soup, which is easy when made with chicken drumsticks. And they love pasta with homemade pesto sauce. Or just cheese. Sweet corn and chicken risotto is another favourite, and it just happens that I have heaps of risotto rice in the cupboard ready to be used up. For a special treat I sometimes make them fresh bread for lunch and breakfast. Snacks for recess are banana muffins. Fruit for fruit break is bought on special at ALDI.

      1. Sounds like a good goal. $100 a week would be around a third of the average $300 for two adults and two teens. 14 weeks now between now and Christmas, so if you did that you would save $1,400 off your regular budget and $2,800 compared with the ‘average’ family. I’m sure you could put that to really good use over Christmas – might even pay for a (frugal) family holiday.

  3. Great idea! I moved to France a few months ago and when I moved in to my apartment, I complained about my refrigerator. It’s slightly bigger than a college dorm mini fridge, but this is totally normal in France. Though I have to buy groceries several times a week, I find that I actually use all the food I buy and hardly throw anything out now simply because I’m forced to plan my meals better. It has also reduced the amount I spend on food.

    1. We had a bar fridge when we first moved to Canberra as well. For two people we did just fine:) It is easy for food to lurk, and mould, in a larger fridge. I bet you have beautiful markets. I LOVED the morning wet markets in Taipei. When shopping is such a joy it is great to be able to shop regularly as you need it. And you are right, menu planning is so integral to reducing waste.

  4. This was a great reminder to think about two things – one, using up what is already in the pantry (I really should have a good look in there!), and two, remembering to be thoughtful about what we spend each week. For the first 6 months of this year we tracked all our spending using a budgeting app and it was a great way to find out what we actually spend on things rather than what we think we were spending. We are probably sitting in the average bracket at the moment, but we do have effectively 5 adults in the house with our 3 teenagers, so if I scaled up my sums from your budget it might be similar. You have inspired me to try and keep it a bit leaner for the next few months and to get thoughtful and creative with the food we already have!

    1. Mindfulness is a wonderful thing:) I once read a book (wish I could remember the title) about lady in Sicily who opened a bakery. Her parents had been too poor to raise her so she grew up in a convent, and the nuns used to run a bakery so that is how she learnt to cook. There was so little food that they had to make do – any leftovers were preserved in inventive ways, such as in liqueurs for later use. The food sounded just heavenly! It made me ponder what I am missing by just mindlessly buying stuff.

      That said, Mr Red Sports Car cooked me dinner on Tuesday, including steak that cost half of my weekly budget and wine that probably blew it altogether. I am not doing things too harshly. And that is the point, really. I don’t need to spend too much as my waistline and growing cupboard hoard shows me I am far from starving:)

    1. Hi there, congratulations with your budget. I am sure you will be a home owner soon:) My budget has been between $12 and $8.50 (last month, yeah!) per day – including cleaning products – for over a year now. But I STILL have way too much food. I have to face the fact that I am a hoarder. This is really going to force me to clean out things and use them up.

    1. Part of the challenge using up food in my pantry. And there are a lot of things in there that my kids like to eat:) It does force you to do more menu planning though. How did you find the challenge?

  5. Great challange-I hate wasting food, too. I started menu planning and intentionally using food I already have and my food waste dropping to almost nothing!

  6. Gosh! You are so creative and innovative with your cooking Serina! You’ve made me realise I really need to cut down on my food budget!!

  7. Fabulous post Serina. I read this a while ago but am now only coming back to comment. I have been writing about waste for a while and have done several recipe using scraps that would have otherwise been binned (search for ‘waste not’ on my blog). Waste and over consumption go hand in hand. It’s only a shade over 50 years ago that people were living on weeds in the mountains of Italy, trying to survive during WWII and similarly in Vietnam and Cambodia during their wars. What they would have given for even a small piece of protein. How quickly people forget. I have been making a very concerted effort to run down the pantry (how many bottles of hot sauce does one need?) and make some space into the bargain. We are on a semi fixed income now, so I was very happy to make a delicious meal last night from what I had foraged from the pantry and fridge. I won’t wish you luck as I know you will go from strength to strength. Great work Serina!

    1. Hi, thank you for the comment and apologies it took me so long to respond:) I am still doing my $50/week challenge. I am happy with the way my pantry is reducing but I STILL find that I have way too much food. Actually I am thinking of making this my permanent food budget. Well, for a while at least. I still through out uneaten food, but the amount of waste I through out has reduced dramatically. My waistline hasn’t yet, though. Hmmm. Maybe I should be even more dramatic in reducing? (And yes, will look forward to reading about your waste posts – waste not want not I say).

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