More Money-Saving Grocery and Dining Tips

I work out a lot–usually 6 days a week, weightlifting and cardio–and eat as well as possible to support that. I also eat 6 meals a day with plenty of lean animal protein (120-160 g or the equivalent of 6-7 three ounce chicken breast portions a day), a minimum of 5 servings of fruits and veggies, and almost no processed foods.

My grocery bill to eat twice as often as most people (and a great deal healthier) when I was living by myself was $100-$120/month. My dining out budget was $25/month in case I wanted to splurge on a huge lunch special at the Chinese restaurant near my office once a week. The portions were so huge that I could easily get three meals out of one $5.50 special. (1: Hot and sour soup, 2: 1/2 of entree and rice, 3: 1/2 of entree and rice).

Now that I’m married and shopping for two of us, the groceries usually run $250/month with another $100/month for dining out.

This isn’t the lowest I could get the food bill (check out my grocery receipts from last year’s Cheapass Challenge), but I find that I now have to make a few concessions in the name of marital harmony–like boxed cereals, a reasonable variety of foods, the occasional carton of ice cream, box of granola bars, premium cut of steak or seafood or bag of tortilla chips, and a couple of bottles of fruit juice (light/low sugar versions) each week.

Grocery Strategies
– Keep a price list of commonly purchased items. (I keep this on my Treo phone, which also has a handy calculator.)
– Read the grocery ads each week and go for loss leader items ONLY if they are things you would buy anyway.
– Skip the coupons. They are almost always for processed name brand foods anyway, and the equivalent generic or store brand for the same thing often winds up being cheaper than the discounted coupon price of the name brand.
– Buy frozen vegetable mixes when fresh isn’t on sale; the Wal-Mart Great Value stir fry mixes are only $1.50 or so for 6 servings and include some premium veggies like asparagus and sugar snap peas
– Shop for greens at the Asian market
– Buy only produce that is in season or always cheap (like bananas and iceberg lettuce)
– Bulk purchase boneless, skinless chicken breast when it drops to $1.99/lb or less and freeze the extra
– Buy whole chicken (can be as low as $0.50/lb in the Orlando, FL area) when B/S chicken breast is not on sale
– Buy frozen tilapia filets in bulk for seafood.
– Buy larger cuts of beef when it is on sale and slice it up yourself. Freeze excess.
– Use eggs as a protein source. And stock up when they are on sale. Eggs can last weeks in the fridge if you check the expiration dates on the cartons before you buy.
– Drink filtered tap water instead of soda, alcohol, juice, bottled water, etc.
– Buy those big canisters of plain oatmeal and use them for hot cereal and in lieu of nutritionally-deficient white rice and white flour (grind it up in your blender)
– Minimize processed foods and liquid calories
– Buy nuts in large packs from the baking aisle or a warehouse club instead of the snack aisle and roast them yourself in the toaster oven
– Buy basic seasonings at CVS, Walgreens, or Big Lots. Seriously…these places will often have big bottles of dried herbs that retail for $3.50+ at the grocery store for $0.50-$0.99 each.
– Learn how to make those restaurant entrees yourself. I guarantee that it’s easier than you think.
– Plan meals ahead of time.
– Amass a small collection of staple recipes that are healthy, filling, and cheap to make in bulk.

Dining Out Strategies
– Don’t dine out so much.

But if you just can’t give up restaurant meals…
– Divvy up your meal into 2 or 3 portions and box up the extra serving immediately.
– Split an oversized entree with someone else at your table.
– Get an Entertainment Book for your town.
– Visit the web sites of your favorite restaurants (if they have one) to check for printable coupons or an email sign up for specials
– See if the restaurant is part of the Restaurant.com network. You can often get a $25 dining certificate at Restaurant.com for $3-$5.

Remember, when it comes to restaurant dining, full price is for chumps!

– A middle of the road solution I’ve been experimenting with recently is using a meal assembly kitchen like Dream Dinners or Super Suppers every 6 weeks to bulk prep 72 meals in less than 2 hours that I can throw in the freezer and just thaw and cook as needed for lunches and dinners. The entrees are on par with what I’ve had in restaurants or cooked myself from scratch, so the temptation to go out to eat isn’t as strong. I use a local meal assembly store that takes $25 Restaurant.com certificates (that I get for $4 on average), so 72 servings runs about $194. SS and DD will cost $230-$275 for the same amount of food. You can always extend the amount of food you get from these places by purchasing your own (sale priced) meat to add to the bags of ingredients before you toss them in the freezer, too. I still have to pick up fruit, beverages, eggs, and cereal each week, but that’s pretty much it.

For even more tips on how to save money on food, check out this post at GetRichSlowly:
Ask the Readers: Tips and Tricks to Save On Food

9/06/07 Log

I’m quite sore today. Yesterday’s leg workout has most definitely caught up with my hamstrings and calves, but it’s all good. When it’s pure DOMS (like this is) and not an injury, I almost relish the temporary pain since it means that I am challenging my muscles and causing positive changes and adaptation. When I start a new program and do not feel sore, I always suspect that I’m just wasting my time.

Hmm…maybe that’s why I can’t get into pilates. There’s no gratifying, visceral sense of “Pain is just weakness leaving your body.”

Plus pilates seems so girly and New Age-y. And that rapid puffing thing you have to do while flapping your arms up and down like a crazed hummingbird simply cannot be done with any degree of seriousness.

I stuck with intervals and a bit of steady-state cardio today to let my body recover before tomorrow’s shoulder workout. I really want some decent deltoids by the end of the year, even if I have to cut the sleeves off of every one of my cute Threadless t-shirts to accommodate them. Unlike my quads and calves, my upper body muscles are not genetically programmed to be very big without a lot of attention and much heavy lifting, so I’ll be doing some research into how to improve this area this weekend.

DH is on day 3 of P90X now and did Shoulders/Arms this morning. He hasn’t shown any of his usual signs of losing interest in this non-martial art training program or giving up yet. He’s tried to follow two different TT programs in my collection in the past, but I think he’s so conditioned to only exercise in an instructor/coach-led team (swim team in K-12 and college) or class (martial arts) environment that he cannot sustain his momentum with a plan that just has him lifting weights and doing cardio by himself. (My preferred workout format!) The P90X dvds are more like working out with 4 other folks in a small group, and of course Mr. Tony Horton leads you through the exercises. This is probably why Chris is sticking to this program so well and even, I daresay, enjoying himself (or at least enjoying the sense of accomplishment and energy he’s feeling after finishing the workouts).

He did, however, declare that his upper body was still sore as hell from Tuesday and doesn’t seem to appreciate it when I prod him in his equally sore abs. He hasn’t even done the Ab Ripper X workout yet. This was just from holding his body straight during the push ups on day 1, and from performing pull ups.

I cannot wait to hear how his regular martial arts practice goes tonight. He’ll be lucky if he can raise a sword higher than his kneecaps once the DOMS from this morning’s workout manifests.

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WORKOUTS
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– Interval run (20 min)
==> Warm up (3.5 mph/3% incline; 5 min)
==> 6 sets of: Sprint @ 9 mph for 60 seconds / Walk @ 3.5 mph for 90 seconds
==> Cool down (3.5 mph/3% incline; 5 min)

– Incline walk (25 min)
==> 3.8 mph/5-10% incline)

9/05/07 Log

I fell asleep an hour later than I planned and wound up getting up later, too, but I still got to the gym and did my planned legs/calves workout and machine cardio. Unless it pours during my lunch break, the remaining 15 minutes of cardio (power walk) should be wrapped up within an hour. My back, shoulders, and abs are feeling pleasantly sore already from yesterday’s workout, and after all of the squats, leg curls, and extensions I did today, I expect my lower body to be at least slightly crippled by tomorrow afternoon. I was happy to see that my weights hadn’t really gone down at all for my lower body lifts, though I did only use 95 lbs for my BB squats because of the high number of reps (3 sets of 20 reps each) I had to do.

My husband, by the way, is DYING of delayed onset muscle soreness today. Yesterday’s P90X chest & back destroyed him, hah! It didn’t help that he compounded the pain by volunteering to help one of his friends move a ton of bedroom furniture and a huge TV up to a 3rd floor apartment last evening, too.

He said it hurt to put on deodorant this morning.

I’m very proud of him for getting up despite the DOMS and doing his Plyometrics X workout right on schedule. He even came home last night with a load of healthy snacks from the grocery store (OMG…he went to the grocery story by himself without any prodding from me! Will wonders never cease? He even replenished our supplies of paper towels and toilet paper!) to keep himself on track with food when the munchies strike. There wasn’t even a single bag of tortilla chips in sight.

I think that having him on board with the fitness and nutrition will really spur me to stick to my nutrition and workouts. If DH burns off his post-wedding fluff and gets ripped before I do, I will seriously throw a fit.

Yeah, I’m a bitter, sore loser like that.

😉

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WORKOUT
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Weights:
– Legs and Calves (50 min)

Cardio:
– Stationary Bike (10 min)
– Elliptical (10 min)
– Incline treadmill walk/run (10 min)
– Walk during lunch break (15 min)

Review: Custom P90X Tracker / Log Spreadsheet

On the subject of P90X, Chris is also testing out a really groovy custom P90X Excel spreadsheet by Stephan Bour which is used in lieu of the usual printed P90X logs to track reps and progress with each workout.

The author was kind enough to let me check out the sheet last week and has integrated some of the calculators and features of my Weight Loss spreadsheet based on my suggestions. As of the latest version (updates are free), the spreadsheet includes log sheets for every strength training DVD in the P90X library, line graphs (very cool) that show you how your fitness improves each week in each workout, my body fat calculators based on caliper measurements, a measurement log, target weight calculator, and printable versions of the log sheets in case you are away from your computer or feel like logging the old-fashioned way.

I believe the spreadsheet is just $9.99 on eBay at the moment, and if you are a data geek like me, it is well worth the price to save the trouble of reproducing it on your own.

UPDATE: The spreadsheet link has now been fixed and the author is offering a 20% discount via Paypal refund–final price will be $7.99) to anyone who mentions that they found the spreadsheet via “Caustic Musings” in the comments area when they make their Paypal payment.

Rune Factory and a Break from Turbulence Training

I’m still here, though I was away from the computer most of this weekend thanks to my newfound addiction to the Nintendo DS game, Rune Factory. Honestly, who would have guessed that a farming simulation melded with a dungeon-crawling roleplaying game would be so hard to put down? I didn’t get any laundry done this weekend, but lil’ Magnus, my farmer/soldier character, is already level 50 with an upgraded house, big double bed, the expanded kitchen, forge, pharmacy, monster barn and craft areas, over 2 million gold pieces in the bank, and two of the ten eligible bachelorettes in town in love with him.

Yeah, I played a LOT this weekend.

I have given up on the TT bodyweight training for now. I wasn’t feeling challenged enough working out at home without weights, and I absolutely MUST have the rush of being (or trying to be) the most hardcore chick in the gym in the mornings to keep me going. It’s no fun at all to compete against myself in solitude. I get spurred on to lift more, pedal harder, and run faster when I’m at the gym surrounded by other people, whether they are slacking or pushing their own boundaries. In my makeshift home workout area, I just don’t have that same drive. Ever since I was a wee lass in pigtails with crappy English I always set myself up in imaginary competition with the other people in my classes, and it appears that I have not changed.

Props to all of you who can keep the fire burning under your butts while working out at home. You are all built of stronger mental stuff than me.

I’ve switched back to the program I was following with trainer Kim Oddo early last year for a change from almost a year of Turbulence Training. I haven’t done muscle group splits in ages, so I think this will break me out of my rut and force some adaptation in my muscles.

Meanwhile, my husband has finally committed to a steady workout regimen of his own. He started my P90X program this morning after discussing it with me yesterday when I mentioned that I was either going to pick up Kim’s program again or do a full 12 weeks of P90X classic. Chris confessed that he was feeling sort of fluffy these days, and wouldn’t mind giving the P90X a shot at home, so I graciously allowed him first crack at it. (We only have one set of adjustable dbells and one chin up bar, which meant that we couldn’t really do the program at the same time. Both of us want to get our workouts out of the way before work each day, so he gets the living room for P90X, and I get to motor out to the gym for my gym-style workouts.)

He even set his alarm and dragged himself out of bed an hour earlier than usual to fit in the workout. P90X kicks off with a very rough 60 minute Chest and Back workout, and let’s just say that Mr. “Martial arts is all I need to do to develop internal and external strength” reached muscle failure halfway through the DVD on the first set of diamond push ups. An hour of alternating pull ups and push ups tend to do that to you when the heaviest thing you lift in your regular workout is an aluminum practice sword.

I fully expect him to be moaning about DOMS by 9 pm tonight. I told him I did more push ups than he did when I first started the program 2 years ago, too. That should fire him up. 😉