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$20 supermarket challenge

The 15 ingredient post prompted me to post this topic. What would you buy with $20? It doesn't have to be groceries for a week. Your dollar stretching ideas are just as welcomed as the one or two ingredient suggestions. As for me, I ended up at Sam's Club w/o my ATM card but I did have $20 in cash. I bought hearts of romaine, cheddar cheese, cottage cheese, baby cucumbers and a rotisserie chicken. All are staples for me and if I hadn't forgotten the ATM card I wouldn't have saved so much money.

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  1. Good question!!

    This happens to me quite frequently because even though I have my debit cards with me I don't usually know how much money is on each so I try to buy as much as I can for as little $ as possible.

    On several occasions I was actually amazed at the amount of things I could buy, other times I pickup a few things and end up paying a huge bill, how does this work?

    What I do notice is that veggies are pretty cheap compared to stocked shelving items, so even though I might have a huge quantity of veg in bags it always comes out to a low price which is great!!

    I would probably buy mushrooms, celery, bean sprouts (99 c per bag), carrots, udon or asian style noodles, some meat on clearance and have enough to even pickup some ingredients for a salad to go along with my stirfry!

    1. I like this post! I guess if it was my LAST $20, I'd have to get the staples (rice, veg, some kind of dairy), but since it's not, I'd get
      Cederlane stuffed grape leaves (about $3.50 for a pack of four)
      Good French baguette (about $2.50)
      Aloutte garlic and herd spreadable cheese ($5)
      Small potato salad ($1.50)
      Procuitto ($5)
      And maybe some good olives with the rest. Not really a good budget, but that is what would make me happy with $20.

      1. During the summer, I shun supermarket produce in favor of the locally grown up at the farm stand about a mile from here. Within their 12 acres, they grow everything and, if you are a home canning type, $20 will provide a plethora of options. I'd first go for the 18 lb. box of canning tomatoes (the not-so-prettys) culled daily for $8. There's a similar option in peaches for the same price. With $4 left over, I'd get 15 ears of white Silver Queen corn and, after three for dinner, strip remaining ears and pack the poached corn in FoodSaver bags for deep freezing.

        If I saved my $20 and went back to the stand in early October, tomatoes would still be there plus apples, pumpkin, squash and other fall options.

        No matter how you cut it, that's a lot of tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, peach preserves, apple sauce, pumpkin pie/pumpkin ravioli filling, and much more for a twenty spot.


        1 Reply
        1. re: Chefpaulo

          well, i could go to the truck that sells fresh corn, 6 ears for $5. I guess a lot depends on where you live.

        2. That's pretty much just over how much I spend on groceries within a week, though I tend to do my shopping more cost-effectively by visiting different stores based on pricing and quality. If I had $20 lying around I'd probably blow it on some excellent fish, perhaps monkfish and clams to pan roast with chorizo. I've been eyeing some beautiful local fluke that might be a delicious meal as well.

          16 Replies
          1. re: JungMann

            4lb boston butt 8.00$ 10 limes 1.25 2 heads of garlic .50 2 onions 1.00 10 jalapeno's 1.25
            I bag corn tortilla small ones 6inch 3.00 2 ears of corn .50 total and Tabasco small bottle 1.60 total 17.10 I can eat for 5 days making mojo marinated pulled pork low and slow then roast corn jalapeno's and onions salsa, then pan fried the pork till crispy True Love

            1. re: pikiliz

              Man, I don't know where you are, but in MA, limes are two for a dollar. Lucky!

              1. re: invinotheresverde

                South Florida I get them at from a supermarket called Publix.. We have lots of Latin influence here

                1. re: invinotheresverde

                  Limes this week 20 for a dollar at Fiesta mkt in Katy near Houston. Pork shoulder about $1/lb. Tomatillos 59 cents/lb. Pinto beans 2lbs/$1. Bollilos 5/$1. We can eat pretty well for $20.

                  1. re: absurdnerdbird

                    TWENTY limes for $1? wow. 4/$1 is reason to stock up around here.

                    1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                      Right?! The best I've ever seen have been four for a dollar.

                      1. re: invinotheresverde

                        Where I live, price varies with the variety of lime. Persian limes (the big ones) run from 2 to 5 for a dollar, depending on season and crop, while key limes (little ones) are always at least 10 for a dollar and sometimes a big net bagful for a dollar and a half. Persian limes and key limes do taste a bit different, but what you use them for determines what you need.

                    2. re: absurdnerdbird

                      Oh how I wish we could have those prices in Alaska!

                    3. re: invinotheresverde

                      invino, is that true even at public (farmers') markets? I live in Montréal, so slightly north of you and no native limes, but I can often find 8 for a dollar at the Jean-Talon market. And I'm talking Canadian dolaritos, worth about 91 cents US as I write. Also try Asian and Latin American shops.

                      1. re: invinotheresverde

                        I buy limes 8 for a dollar from Russo's in Watertown. Occasionally they might be as expensive as 6 for a dollar.

                        1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                          I had to check your profile to surmise that you mean Watertown MA. There are at least three significant Watertowns in the Northeastern US, not to mention other regions and countries. The closest to us here in Montréal is Watertown NY. It is the only Watertown I've ever visited, as far as I can recall. I may have been in Watertown when in Boston (it is adjacent to Cambridge) but don't really remember.

                          1. re: lagatta

                            I checked to see if it was the Watertown in Minnesota.

                            1. re: lagatta

                              Lagatta, this was in response to Invinotheresverde, who in the post I was responding to, had said that he/she was in Massachusetts. In that context, my meaning was entirely clear.

                            2. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                              We have to be careful not to be too local in our references without explaining them - this is the General Chowhounding board and people anywhere in the world can and do write in. I have no idea where Zabar's and Fairway are. Oh, I could do the same. Like who on earth doesn't know where "marché Jean-Talon" is located? ;-) rworange, yes, dried beans are cheaper but take electricity and skill to cook properly, and a decent fridge to keep the leftovers in. One legume that cooks very quickly is lentils.

                              In so far as I can afford it I buy wholegrain pasta, and organic if it isn't out of line.

                              Many Loblaws chain stores in Canada, at least in Ottawa and Montréal areas, put a lot of fresh foods, including meat, cheese and breads on sale half-price on the last day of sale, and they are quite scrupulous about it being fresh.

                            3. re: invinotheresverde

                              vino, at russo's you can get 8 limes for a buck!

                            4. re: pikiliz

                              Limes are 10 for $1 where i work in Jersey

                          2. Yesterday we bought a nice thick sirloin for $9, a bag of lettuce, some various veggies, croutons, beets, was almost $20 but it made for one delicious steak salad!

                            1. For my first year out of grad school I was earning $11/hour. Due to some poor planning I was living way beyond my means in terms of rent and utilities, so I set a $40 spending limit for myself each week. That $40 had to cover groceries, entertainment, and any meals out. I usually kept the weekly grocery bill around $20.

                              My standard daily diet was cereal (usually generic cheerios), soy milk, and a banana for breakfast; vegetable sticks (carrot, celery, bell pepper...), peanut butter or cheese, and pretzels for lunch. For an afternoon snack I would have an apple and a piece of cheese. I cooked enough on Sunday evenings to eat dinner all week, usually a casserole or soup, alternating meat and meatless weeks.

                              I managed the spending by getting $40 from the ATM each Saturday and using only that cash. If I had leftover cash at the end of the week I added it to the next week's total so I could stock up on the staples if they were on sale.

                              So for the short answer, if I only have $20 I would buy: soy milk, cereal, peanut butter, cheddar cheese, carrots, dried beans, a few cans of tomatoes, and a whole chicken.

                              1. Great week for this question! At my local store, they had boneless pork loins at $1.59/lb (Cdn!). They were pre-sliced, so I got 12 boneless chops for $7. (Actually, I bought three of them; for less than $25, I now have at least 13 meals in the freezer, plus the 4 meals I've already had.) Red/orange/yellow bell peppers were $1.99/lb - two pounds of those is another $4. Mayo was $2.97 for 950g. 10 lbs of potatoes was $2.99. Bagged salad was $1.99 for a huge bag, and $.0.99 for baby carrots.

                                So for $20 Cdn (about $18 US), I got at least six meals' worth of protein, and could combine the peppers, mayo, and potato for a colourful, flavourful potato salad, and make other salads out of the bagged salad, peppers, and carrots, plus have a few carrots as snacks.

                                If I wanted to diversify a bit more, I might buy a smaller, "no name" salad dressing instead of mayo ($0.99), and add some tomatoes, a Bermuda/Spanish onion, and some celery.

                                OK, now I am hungry...

                                1. We just did the $20 challenge..
                                  I just got a slab of Steelhead salmon at Costco for $7.49..cut it into 8 pieces around 7oz..
                                  Bought the spring mix salad at $3.79..baby peppers for $3.89..
                                  Went to Henry's market where they had .99 cent chicken and bought 3 pounds@ $2.97..picked up 2 Mac and cheese boxes for 2 for $1.00 and bulk rice for around $1.00..total around $20 bucks and change..
                                  Had 4 meals of salmon with roasted peppers and salad with rice or mac n'cheese and 3 meals of Roasted cold chicken with salad and peppers..2 other nights..chicken fingers with mac n'cheese and salad and the other was roasted chicken, rice, salad and roasted peppers..
                                  How great is that...DH and I ate well for dinner for a week for only $20!

                                  1. Well lets see, I live in Bermuda where there is NO bang for your buck.

                                    I could get tomatoes, romaine, crutons and parmesan cheese and that would well go over $20... I am not sure if I have ever gotten out of a Bermuda grocery store for under $20.00

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: bermudagourmetgoddess

                                      I take that back...today I purchased rice, chutney, pita bread and coconut milk ...TOTAL...$15.00 even!

                                    2. Loaf of bread, 1.20
                                      Homegrown tomatos about 1.60 lb
                                      Six pack Boulavard single wide IPA, 6.99 plus deposit.
                                      5 lbs Farmland extra thick sliced bacon, 1.99 lb
                                      I'm set.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: Bobfrmia

                                        My larder is so crammed full, I'd get the biggest lobster I could find for $20. Haven't had lobster in years, and it seems like a good use of a $20 bill. I have no end of seasonings and accoutrements so I wouldn't need to buy anything else.

                                        1. re: EWSflash

                                          Don't know where you live, but I'm in the Midwest, and what I save on Bacon, I lose on lobster. 20.00 wouldn't get me much.
                                          Kinda sucks, as I love seafood.
                                          Also sucks that cheap prices on bacon, ultimately result in increased prices on healthcare. Oh well, take the bad with good.

                                          1. re: Bobfrmia

                                            I'm in the southwest, so we get hosed both ways!

                                            Small lobster is better than no lobster.

                                      2. Cheese, wine, bread, Haagen Daz ... if I forgot my cards and needed dinner.

                                        - or -

                                        Something from the deli, probably a roast chicken, potato salad, sparkling wine.

                                        - or -

                                        if I meant to go grocery shopping for at least a few days ... whatever was on sale ... keeping an eye out not only for price, but portion for the price. A can of beans might be 99 cents and give me one meal while a bag of dried beans for $1.50 would yield 8 meals.

                                        I would also buy a little of lots of things rather than a large amount of anything ... a single potato instead of a bag. Various types of fruits, one each, picking out the smallest size so I could get more variety.

                                        I'd hit the bulk bins so I could get variety ... a little oatmeal instead of a big container for $3, a little rice or popcorn. little portions of dried fruits and nuts, a few cookies ... stuff like that.

                                        1. I think I'd just follow rworange around and buy whatever she does.

                                          Absent that:

                                          - seasonal fruit from a street cart (i.e. peaches, nectarines, plums and various berries right now) -- about $5 for a few days' worth
                                          - seasonal veggies from a street cart (i.e. eggplant, summer squash, sweet peppers, corn, tomatoes, cukes) -- about $5 for a few days' worth
                                          - cheese from Zabar's -- $1 (brie or boursin) to $6 (mozzarella, hunk of cheddar or parm or a quarter pound of something fancier)
                                          - huge head of basil from Fairway for $1.99... or is it $2.50 now?
                                          - whatever fish or other meat that's on sale IFF i have any money left

                                          This might make:

                                          - caprese salad (already have olive oil... and the heretical balsamic vinegar), absent mozzarella, tomato / basil / olive oil / balsamic salads are good, too
                                          - kappa maki or other maki filled with anything from other veggies to canned fish (already have nori, rice, rice wine vinegar, salt and sugar at home)
                                          - pesto (almost always have walnuts or other nuts); can be added to pasta for the SO or to potatoes for me
                                          - arepas topped with almost anything (already have masa at home)
                                          - tortillas / tacos filled with anything, including veggies, fish or other meat / tortilla 'pizzas' (with tomato, cheese, herbs)
                                          - ratatouille
                                          - fruit for breakfasts, snacks and desserts
                                          - omelets filled with veggies / cheese / pesto (since I always have eggs on hand)
                                          - tea or other marinated eggs
                                          - basil sorbet
                                          - a gazillion different stirfries over rice

                                          1. Pasta 10/$10
                                            I'd get both spaghetti and rotini $2
                                            Eggs $1.49
                                            Onion $1.00
                                            Garlic $.50
                                            Hunts Spaghetti Sauce (original) $1.29
                                            Frozen Spinach $1.29
                                            Frozen Petite Peas $1.29
                                            whole wheat pitas $3.00
                                            1 deli roaster chicken $4.99
                                            and the rest on diet coke

                                            I've got mayo and olive oil at home.
                                            I've got egg salad
                                            chicken salad
                                            pasta salad
                                            pitas for sandwiches
                                            garlic sauteed spinach
                                            put the peas in the pasta salad, and in the egg salad
                                            I've also got bbq sauce at home to put on some chicken to eat with the spinach