Grocery Challenge – And Lessons Learned

Grocery Challenge - Could You Do It?

Last fall December I had the opportunity to participate in “Celebrity Day” and ring bells for the Salvation Army, so I was excited when they wanted to work together again! Last month they reached out with a unique challenge to promote MN Food Share Month in March. They gave me a $30 debit card and sent me on a grocery challenge!

My Mission:

  • Feed a family of 4 for 2 days
  • Must be healthy meals
  • One dinner must include meat
  • I could shop at as many places as I chose

Guys, I was NERVOUS! 1: I know nothing about feeding a family. 2: I know nothing about eating healthy! 3: I’ve never been one to extreme coupon, shop at multiple grocery stores, compare prices, or meal plan. I’m not against those things; I’ve just never committed the time to them and generally buy everything at Target! 4. I was terrified I’d fail, the family would starve, and I’d be mortified.

That being said, I learned a lot. And I had a ton of fun.

Could you feed a family of 4 healthy meals for 2 days with only $30? Click To Tweet

My Plan

Browse Ads

I had just canceled my subscription to the Sunday paper, but luckily I got one more, so I pulled out all the grocery ads that I usually discard. I looked at what was on special and took notes of prices and possibilities from a few different grocery stores.

Clip Coupons

Next I looked at the coupons in the paper as well as on the store websites. I downloaded a free coupon app for one store and loaded some coupons on to it. I tried to pair coupons with the weekly specials to get the most bang for my buck.

Meal Plan

Before going through the ads and coupons, I made a general meal plan. It was very generic and included things like “fruit” or “vegetables” to go with each meal. Once I looked at the ads and coupons I had some more specifics about which particular items I’d get. There were also numerous calls to my stepmom that went something like, “Will one can of green beans feed 4 people?!” Many thanks to my stepmom Melissa!

Meal Planning

My tentative meal plan and grocery list

Compare Prices

Because I pretty much only grocery shop at Target, I had no idea what prices were across different stores and I didn’t have much free time to drive around and check. (Haley at Cheap Recipe Blog has and put together a great list!) I’ve seen a lot of bloggers talk about Aldi so that I was definitely on my list. I posted the question on Facebook and most people recommended Aldi.

Shopping Strategy

I started at Aldi because they had a majority of the deals I was interested in and I figured I’d get most of the stuff there and then head to Cub for the rest.

My method at Aldi was simple: Find the item on my list and buy the least expensive, yet still quality, choice. For example, fruit: I wanted fruit to go in the lunches and I looked at the options and went with the apples that were on special. Peanut butter: I went with the cheapest of the options. And so on. (Except meat; if it’s not something I would eat, I didn’t feel right donating it to someone else, so I didn’t go with the cheapest option.)

Well Aldi ended up having everything I needed, except eggs would have been cheaper at Cub. I didn’t feel like running to Cub just for eggs (My Cub is a little sketchy) but looking back I kind of wish I would have.

My Results

Out of the $30, I spent $20.80 to feed a family of 4 healthy meals for 2 days. If I’d have gone to Cub for the eggs, I could say I did it for less than $20. I was shocked. I’d been so worried that I couldn’t do it and I definitely wasn’t expecting the total to be that low. I kept recalculating and sorting my groceries into their meal groups to be sure nothing was missed.

Aldi Receipt

The Meals


  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Bananas
  • Toast


  • Peanut butter & jelly sandwiches
  • Crackers
  • Apple
  • Water

Dinner 1:

  • Chicken
  • Rice
  • Corn
  • Milk or water

Dinner 2:

  • Pasta with sauce
  • Green beans
  • Milk or water

The goal was to spend as little as possible of the $30, otherwise I’d have also purchased snack options etc.

I should add that Aldi doesn’t really do coupons as far as I’ve heard. So I didn’t use a single coupon or app. (If I were shopping at Target, I’d have used around 3 different apps for my savings.)

Grocery Challenge

Lessons Learned

Not only was this challenge fun, but I really learned a lot. I took notes when I came home, I was so inspired! I’ve also changed some of my grocery habits as a result.

The Time Commitment

You can get some amazing deals if you really scrutinize prices and ads, but it is a time commitment. I worked on this for a few nights before I went shopping. I only went to one store, but imagine if I’d have gone to several! Even though I only went to Aldi, I was there much longer than I would normally be, as I assessed the prices and options for every single thing I put into my cart. I suppose after a while you learn what the best options are and the process goes faster, but this kind of saving is a time commitment.

Families Need a Lot of Food

This may be common sense, but for my entire adult life I’ve only had to feed myself, my pets, and a boyfriend at times. Buying for 4 is a lot different from buying for one. A loaf of bread would last me almost 2 weeks and I’d have to be sure to eat it while it was fresh. It would only last my family of four 2 breakfasts and 2 lunches. I’m grateful to only have to feed one person and I can see that my grocery budget is very different from someone with a family.

Aldi is Awesome!

I’ve gone back to Aldi since the challenge to shop for myself! The prices are really great! They also have a lot of gluten-free and organic options at reasonable prices, which I wasn’t expecting. (I’m neither of those things, but it was nice to see.)

You do have to be prepared for Aldi shopping though. They have low prices because they cut costs in other places. You need to bring a quarter to get your cart and when you return your cart you get your quarter back. (So they’re not paying for a cart guy.) You have to bring your own bag or pay for bags there. (There are lots of other great reasons to bring your own bags when you shop.) Also, they are extremely efficient at the register! It helps to watch the person ahead of you. You also need to be open-minded about trying different brands because you’ll seldom see familiar brands there. Everything I’ve tried so far has been delicious and rumor has it they’re owned by the same company that owns Trader Joe’s!

Aldi Grocery Bags

Be prepared to buy bags at Aldi or bring your own.


Aldi Shopping Cart

Bring a quarter to get a shopping cart at Aldi

You Can Eat Healthy On a Budget

I’ll be the first to admit I have a terrible diet and don’t know much about eating healthy. I’ve heard people say though that they don’t eat healthy because it costs too much. I’m no expert, but my short experience with this challenge taught me otherwise. Full size cans of vegetables were .49¢. A bag of apples was $2.49. PB&J isn’t the best thing in the world, but it’s healthier than all the processed canned food I usually eat, and you could buy a few weeks’ worth of sandwich materials for less than $4. I hardly glanced at the junk food like snacks, chips, and pop tarts, but when I did I noticed they cost much more.

I couldn’t believe how far you could stretch a buck in general. I was extremely worried about running out of money in this challenge and was shocked to see everything I could buy for just over $20. I go to Target for the convenience and although I’m thrifty, it’s not actually the cheapest option. I’ve started making Aldi part of my weekly routine to buy staples and am trying different items there to see what I like.

Be Grateful

This was the biggest lesson. Having only $30 to buy all the items in my meal plan made me very worried and anxious. This food was actually going to be donated! The anxiety started immediately and was there through all the planning and shopping. Every time I put an item in my cart I jotted down the price. I also jotted down multiple prices of similar items so I could make a final decision. I walked slowly around the store, my mind working in overdrive as I assessed options and mentally calculated prices. I changed my mind several times.

The most stressful and anxious moment was when I stood in the back of the store and calculated my total. Would I have enough? I don’t know this family of four, but I knew that this food would really be donated. I felt like people were depending on me. (And heck, I’m supposed to be a frugal blogger right?!) I felt a huge wave of relief wash over me when I saw the final $20.80 total.

This was just pretend for me, but this is everyday life for some. The constant worry and anxiety. Will I have enough to feed my family? The feeling of having to put items back or not have enough money at the checkout. This is food insecurity folks and many people experience it.

This is food insecurity folks and many people experience it. Click To Tweet

This challenge really put a lot into perspective for me. I am so grateful for what I have. I am thrifty with my groceries by choice which is very different from being thrifty because you have no other way to feed your family. It reminded me that it’s important to give. Organizations like the Salvation Army have extra connections and programs to really stretch your dollars, so if you donate to them directly the money will go farther than if you buy food and donate it yourself. (Which is still helpful!) I also enjoy giving time by volunteering at places like Second Harvest Heartland. It’s fun, free, and makes a difference!

Check It Out

I’m so glad I was able to participate in this challenge. It felt good to be frugal for a purpose and I learned a lot. Lisa of Twin Cities Frugal Mom also participated. You can read the article here and see my video below!

*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich, Disease Called Debt and DIY Jahn*

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  1. It’s really cool you were part of this challenge and to read your experience. And any store or style of shopping/diet choice gets easier over time. I started shopping at a new store when it opened in September and am still learning the layout, so shopping takes longer.

  2. This is an awesome challenge and you did a great job. I’ve only been to Aldi a few times, but I need to give it another chance, as I’ve heard such great things about it. I feed my family of 5, so I will be using your tips!

    • I cannot believe the low prices there and the food still tastes great! I’ve been going ever since the grocery challenge!

  3. But where are the vegetables??

    I reckon I could easily feed 4 for 2 days for $30, BUT – in order to fully meet the second criteria, I would be obliged to reject the third!! 🙂 Animal foods aren’t healthy….

    • There are corn and green beans for vegetables with the dinners. I think some may disagree about the meat, as not everyone is a vegetarian, but I understand sticking by your personal values for a challenge like this.

  4. That is amazing! I always struggle with grocery budgeting, I love to eat! So I’m always getting so many groceries in order to try new recipes!

  5. Aldi is definitely a great place to shop if you want to get food for your family – WHILE saving money at the same time! Now if they would only start accepting coupons…

  6. You probably figured out by the fact I pinned, Tweeted and shared this post on FB that I loved it, but hey… I loved this post! lol I think the grocery challenge was a great idea and sounded like a lot of fun and a lot of education. I enjoyed reading your post about it!

  7. what did great!!!!! eating healthy can be expensive but it all depends on what you want to eat but meal planning helps tremendously..also doing meatless monday or eating meat 2-3 times a week has helped me cut down on my grocery budget 🙂

  8. I need, need, need to start making a grocery list. I end up buying WAY too much produce for what I can reasonably eat in the matter of 3 days and now I have 4 bottles of cinnamon because I could never remember if I bought any the LAST time I needed it.

  9. This is such a great and inspirational post. I certainly know I could do better with my grocery list. We have two Aldis in our city but both are not convenient (I know it’s an excuse). I certainly need to make a point to try them.

  10. This is so awesome, Heather! You did a great job choosing food items – and coming in under-budget! You already know I’m a huge ALDI fan… and now I’m glad you are too 🙂 Awesome post.

  11. My nutritional anthropology class had a food diary assignment where we had a limit of $45 for a week. It’s tough and it gives you some perspective. Good job on keeping to the budget.

  12. Aldi’s is not owned by the same company as Trader Joe’s. It is owned by the same family, but there are 2 branches with different companies. Their ideas are similar though: mostly store brands and good prices.
    I don’t go there as often as I should. But it’s a good point that the store you go to makes all the difference in what you spend. I hit Kroger’s instead of my usual Food Lion this week, and while I was able to pick up a few items like whole wheat lasagna noodles that I can’t get at FL, I definitely spent more on the basics.
    Emily @ JohnJaneDoe recently posted…Six Weeks of Saving Gets a CleverKeetMy Profile

    • It was such a good experience! I’m still in shock at Aldi’s low prices and organic selection. I’ve been going back ever since the challenge!

  13. Well done for giving it a go! I can understand your anxiousness over the idea itself. However I also love Aldi so much. You can really bag some bargains! I think I’m going to give it a go, except it’s just the two of us so I’ll cut the budget 🙂

  14. What a great challenge. I can remember one time in the 1990s that my mother and I had $4 for a WEEK of groceries. That is when I learned some mad coupon skills. (It was easier back then in some ways, I rarely clip coupons anymore and rely on apps for savings.) The fact we had so little money and had to manage it so wisely is why I focus on frugality on my blog. It’s truly amazing how much you can get for so little with a little effort. I love Aldi, I just wish we had one closer to us.

  15. We save hundreds each month by shopping at Aldi, it’s absolutely amazing. Besides shopping there, the second key way to saving money is definitely having a plan and creating said plan around your budget. I feel my family of four for less than $100/week thanks to Aldi and planning! 🙂

  16. I love Aldi! I only shop the other grocery stores for the big sales and buy one, get one free offers. You did a great job of buying quality food items and keeping a family fed, under budget! Thanks for sharing with #SocialButterflySunday! Hope to see you link up again this week 🙂

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