Living Frugally: Halfway Through the Whole Foods Challenge

That’s a lot of chicken (and beef too)! Enough protein for 18 days!

We had just come from a business meeting. Our refrigerator was on fumes because we should have gone shopping the night before, but we were at a networking event and had to wait a day.  My husband was on a conference call while we were roaming through Whole Foods.  This was our downfall.

I should preface by saying I trust my husband implicitly, especially in matters of math and memory (weaker points for me).  So even though he was distracted by the call, I thought he was paying enough attention to our shopping needs.  He wasn’t.  We were four dollars over budget in the produce section and I tearfully (I was really fighting back tears) put back oranges for myself (my first treat of the month) and a bag of frozen veggies.  It turned out we were over because Greg insisted on a larger bag of sugar than we needed (he didn’t see the smaller bag) and he grabbed the wrong butter (organic instead of regular).

In the car, after he got off the call, we realized the mistake and I finally let the tears fall.  I’m still missing the oranges.  Sigh.  Four dollars seems like nothing, right?  But a budget is a budget and that was the choice I made.  What I put back was stuff that I prioritized (fruit and vegetables); what I let stay in the basket was stuff my husband prioritized (sugar and butter).  It was ridiculously frustrating.


We did redeem ourselves! Whole Foods had a Weekend Madness sale with chicken breast at $2.99/pound (normally $4.99)!  After we got home and assessed the damages, we realized that we’d be way ahead through the end of the month if we went back and bought more chicken.  We zipped back and got eight more pounds of chicken and, double bonus, three pounds of ground beef on sale for $3.49/pound!

We now have all the protein we need for the rest of the Challenge and buying the meat on sale saved about $18 on the overall budget.  You already know how much a $4 loss hurt, so you can imagine the relief of a $18 windfall!  It felt like I won the lottery (okay, not really, but sorta).

The takeaway here is to adjust your buying (not your budget) to capitalize on sales when they pop up.  We borrowed money from future grocery trips because it would save us money over the long haul and now we can really focus on fruits and veggies on our two remaining shopping excursions.  Yay!

Adjusting to a Budget

If you’re like me, you have a food budget and then ignore it when something looks appealing at the store.  You went over “by a few,” but it was no biggie.  You’ll just make adjustments elsewhere.  Doing that every single time over four to six trips to the store and you’ve blown your budget by a lot, not a little.

In a way, sticking to a hard and fast budget makes grocery shopping a lot easier.  You need to hit the number so you start making decisions and, you know what?  The less important stuff goes back on the shelf … and you still feed everyone just fine.

The other big adjustment for us, which is actually going pretty smoothly, is not eating out.  At all.  We do crave a restaurant when we pass by it, but otherwise we’re okay with our homemade fare.  We’re full, we get to eat as a family, we don’t have to worry about sitting by a cold window, or being next to a loud table.  We just relax, eat dinner, and talk.  We eat at home most of the time anyway, but it’s becoming a ritual now to gather three times a day and I really enjoy that.  We’ve been having some great conversations with our son and that’s been priceless.

But Still I Worry

I’m averaging two to four servings of fruit and vegetables a day; I’d love to shoot for five!  I’m hoping with the $18 wiggle room we created that I can leverage more fruits and veggies.  I will be extremely proud of myself if I can accomplish that on our next shopping trip.

I’m astounded by how much I’m still struggling to get the balance the way I want it even with the knowledge and research I have behind me. I wonder every day how the harried, low-income Mom manages.  If you’re working long hours, you don’t have time to watch bread rise.  If you’re exhausted at the end of the day, you don’t want to chop a bunch of vegetables or get up early in the morning to pack a healthy lunch for everyone.  Plus, it’s so hard to afford healthy choices.

I know the reason why adults buy cheap, processed food for their kids.  It fills them up.  And having a kid say, “Mom, I’m hungry,” and you don’t really have anything to give them is heartbreaking.

It’s day 16 today; two weeks from tonight we’ll be hosting a dinner party and feeling ecstatic (and proud) that this adventure is over.  But I sure have learned a lot already and I’ll definitely NOT be going back to what we were doing before.  I thought I was pretty good before, but now I’ll be even better.

What do you think about our Whole Foods challenge? What changes would you make if you were doing this yourself?


PS – Interested in reading how the 30-Day Challenge has affected my husband? Read his “No More Buddha Belly” blog post at Lisa Johnson Fitness.

Read ALL the 30-Day Whole Foods Thrifty Challenge posts.


  1. says

    I don’t know that I would change anything that you are doing, but I will say that there are healthy and easy cheap meals that low income single moms can make for their kids in advance. One thing our daughter loves are omelette muffins which are eggs (cheap) some water, salt, pepper, a little cheese (you can leave that out), and some veggies. I use the blender to make them and they take a couple of minutes to put together and 20 to cook. They freeze well and heat up fast. She eats one for breakfast every morning. You can make steel cut oats in the crock pot overnight. Soup in the crock pot while at work, brown rice or quinoa in the rice cooker, etc…

    I think that people with a very restricted food budget need more tools and knowledge to help them cook healthier meals. I have actually thought of starting a charity to set up low income families with rice cookers and slow cookers, and a class to teach them about healthy cheap meals they can make with these tools. I don’t know how to start a charity though. I do think that the government could work harder to educate people on food stamps about the cheapest healthy food they could buy. I know if I owned a grocery store chain, I would have classes or a pamphlet available to help low income people with their shopping.

  2. admin says

    Kimberly, I love, love, love your ideas … part of the reason I’m doing this Challenge is to show just how hard it is to live healthfully on a tight budget. I’ve seen so many pundits punish parents when they don’t have the tools and resources to be successful.

    If there’s anyway I can help let me know. I really like the slow cooker idea. :-)


  3. says

    sounds like you’re doing fine Lisa… and like you said it’s about priorities…I’m fortunate that I don’t have a spouse to prioritize things…its me and my daughter and is easier to do the shopping than if I had a significant other to through in the mix lol
    living healthy/eating healthy on budget is second nature for us but again I dont have any other factor than my daughter so I control everything as far as what takes priority…oranges vs sugar/butter lol :)

  4. Brenna says

    Great blog so far. However, I have to say that if you were really required to live on such budget (as I am) you would not have had an $18 windfall or “future savings”. If you live on such a budget generally you are living paycheck to paycheck. There is no “borrowing from future grocery trips” because you do not have the money on hand yet. lol. If I had wanted to take advantage of the chicken sale I would have had to put back a lot more than a sack of veggies and an orange. Most likely 90% of the fruits and veggies (things my children put up such a fuss about eating anyway) or anything that wasn’t absolutely essential. Or I would have had to rob from another budget such as gas money, rent or the kids’ milk money fund–none of which would be good idea. I found this entry very naive. I know you are working from a monthly budget where you have the whole lump sum to dole out, but I think it would have been much more challenging, not to mention realistic if you had done this with a weekly or biweekly budget.

  5. Lisa says

    Brenna, thanks for the comment, yes we were working from a monthly budget and I did think about it as a paycheck to paycheck execution. I would have been weighing it in terms of “am I going to get another paycheck before rent is due” a dangerous game to play to be sure.

    I am on a tight budget, I live in an affluent town and sometimes it feels like I’m the only one buying meat on sale (and only meat on sale) … so I understand to a point what you have to go through every week but not the true month to month number crunching that you must always be doing.

    We were originally planning on taking our bet money from Whole Foods and splurging on things like Filet Mignon or pricier fish, but we decided instead to give it to our local Food Pantry. Their needs have tripled in the last three years and we thought the people who need to go there could use it more.

    Naive, probably, but learning … definitely. Thanks for stopping by. L–

  6. SexyK says

    As a person whom once was on food stamps I would have to say that your approach for this challenge is usefull to people on food stamps. Food stamps are given in one lump sum at the beginning of the month many people run out before the end of the month.

    Thanks for such a great blog subject. Even though I thank God that I am no longer on food stamps and can afford to buy whatever I want now, I will never forget what that was like and always look to eat healthier and wisely.

  7. Lisa says

    SexyK thanks so much for leaving that comment … and I’m really glad you don’t have to worry about food stamps anymore. :)

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