Hey gang, hope you had a fantastic Memorial Day weekend. Gorgeous weather here in Chester County, PA, great way to start the month of June!

It’s been months since my last money-saving experiment (“Frugnobyl: A Frugal Experiment Goes Horribly Awry, October), and I thought it was high time for another dare-to-be-frugally-me situation. An interesting idea emerged recently, courtesy of a remarkable young woman at one of my last workshops, who we’ll call “Tara”. Tara had some major changes going on in her personal life, and as a result, her finances were in need of a serious overhaul. She had managed to slash her overall spending by 25% in one year’s time, and she was sticking to a budget that (compared to past spending) was quite restrictive. When she asked me to go over her finances with her, one area of spending that stood out as a good opportunity for slashing was groceries. Her two-person household (she and her four-year old son), spends an average of $400/month on food. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this is perfectly in keeping with the American average. However, with some simple, focused shopping techniques, she and I discussed how it could be brought much lower. Groceries were actually a sticking point with her, as she wanted to bring her budget down, but wasn’t sure how. In fact, having curtailed all credit card spending, she said she had only $150 cash to buy groceries for the next month for her and her son – she was at the point where she was considering going on some sort of assistance, or pulling out the dreaded credit cards to put food on the table.

After a few questions (did she or her son have any allergies, what were their likes/dislikes), we discussed ideas that other attendees have found helpful in the past, namely Discount Gourmet Grocery Stores and “Shopping Down Under” at her major chain supermarket. Given the severe constraints of her budget, it was then that I brought up another idea that a lot of people hadn’t heard of: “The $2 Box”.

At my local Grocery Outlet (B&B Grocery Outlet in Morgantown, PA, one of my favorite places on earth), they not only have fantastic discounts on name brands, but another little known gold mine known as “The $2 Box”. When a canned good or dry good (pasta, etc) doesn’t sell in a short amount of time, or has a good enough ding so it won’t stack properly on a shelf, they’ll put 40 or so cans together in a heavyweight box and sell it for $2. The items in these boxes are perfectly fine, and the cans inside will often retail for up to $1 each (organic corn, pineapple, tomato products, vegetables, ravioli, etc). I’m at the B&B once a week, and see these boxes usually once every couple of weeks. I’ve bought countless boxes in the past, and they are filled with items that most households use pretty regularly (see the list below).

Considering the contents of these $2 boxes would normally retail for $30-$50, it seemed like incorporating this trick might be a good fit for her household’s nutritional/financial needs to bring the food budget for the month well below $150 and help her thru this latest money crunch. After bringing it up, however, she looked at me, and with a good-natured smiling cringe, replied: “Would you?”. That’s when it occurred to me… ”Okay, holy crap. I never HAVE based my menu/budget primarily around these $2 gold mines, why should anyone follow this advice if I hadn’t followed it myself?!”

So…there you have it folks, the inspiration for this month’s blog – taking Tara’s (and America’s) grocery budget to a new low, by thinking outside the ($2) box.
In my last couple of visits to B&B, I’ve spent $8 on four of these fabulous boxes, filled with 155 cans of food (see list below) that I’ll use as the cornerstone for meal planning this month.

• Del Monte Green Beans 14.5 each – 5 cans
• Del Monte Peas, 15 oz each – 3 cans
• Del Monte Lima Beans, 15 oz each – 2 cans
• Le Sueur whole carrots, 15 oz each, 1 can
• Del Monte Mixed Veg – 14.5 oz – 3 cans
• Del Monte Corn, 15 oz each – 4 cans
• Del Monte Leaf Spinach, 13 oz each, 1 can
• RoTel Diced Tomatoes & Green Chilies, 10 oz each – 2 cans

• Del Monte Pineapple 15 oz each – 10 cans
• Del Monte Peaches/Pears 15 oz– 3 cans
• Del Monte Mandarin Oranges – 2 cans
• Del Monte Fruit Cocktail 15 oz each -3 cans
• Dole Pineapple Juice, 46 oz – one can

• Campbells Pork & Beans, 28 oz– 5 cans
• Rosarita Refried Beans, 16 oz each – 3 cans
• Assorted Beans (black beans, chili beans, pinto beans, red beans, chick peas) – 16 oz each – 14 cans

• Cento & Tuttorosso Italian Peeled/Crushed Tomatoes, 35 oz each, 30 cans (yes, 30)
• Hunts Spaghetti Sauce (Traditional, Meat, Four Cheese, Garlic Herb, 26 oz– 15 cans
• Hunts Manwich sloppy joe sauce– 14 cans

• Chef Boyardee Beef Ravioli/Lasagna Spaghetti & Meatballs, 15 oz– 20 cans
• Hartford House Beef Stew, 26 oz, 1 can
• BumbleBee Solid White Albacore Tuna, 5 oz each, 4 cans
• Libby’s Corned Beef Hash – 15 oz, 3 cans
• Swanson Vegetable Broth, Beef Broth & Chicken Broths, 14 oz each – 4 cans

• Nestle Carnation Evaporated Milk, 12 oz each – 2 cans
• Libby’s pure pumpkin, 29 oz can – 1
• Bruce’s Candied Yams, 16 oz can, 1
• Comstock Mincemeat Pie filling, 22 oz, 1

Total number of cans: 155, total spent: .05 per can

Now, clearly, in addition to a can opener, there are certain things in this frugalista’s diet NOT found on the above list that I MUST have. First priority: COFFEE, and in my snooty case, organic pretty please. To keep my bloodstream properly caffeinated, I’ve found that I require about .4 oz of coffee grounds per day (percolates into 3 big honkin’ mugs o’coffee), so one month’s supply of coffee will require 12 ounces of coffee grounds. Since 10 oz of my beloved “Good Earth Organic” coffee costs $1.50 at the B&B, keeping my brain activity at suggested levels will cost me $1.80 for the month. One box (50 packets) of Stevia cost .60, and a half gallon of Half & Half cost $1.99 (see why I love B&B?!). Total cost of coffee for the month = $4.39.

Snuggled cozily next to my caffeine addiction is my protein addiction, which is usually handled with somewhat obnoxious amounts of salmon, tuna & turkey. If I find these items for incredibly low prices at B&B, I’ll try them, but for now, I’m going with eggs, which I found at B&B for .50/dozen. If I’m going with two eggs/day, my protein lust will be satisfied at a cost of about 8 cents/day, or $2.50 for the month.

Also, like I even need to say it – anyone who has spent 60 seconds with me knows that consuming chocolate is as natural to me as breathing. I just got my hands on some fantastic organic Dagoba bars for .15 each. A half bar a day will total $2.25 for the month. A half bar a day…seems unnatural somehow to just LEAVE a half bar remaining when I open it, almost rude. But I can do that. I think.

Misc stuff. Okay, looking at the contents of the box, it’s clear that – at times – I’m going to have to buy some items to make the contents more palatable. Frugalista or no, Manwich without meat = Lamewich. For me to leave some wiggle room for a good hamburger sale (maybe ground turkey?), I’m going to need $5 open in the budget for this kind of stuff.

In the list of inventory in my $2 boxes, you’ll see 19 cans of fruit. I’m a fruitaholic of the highest order, so this works. We’re going with the canned stuff first (I’m thinking one can a day will tide me over), and when that’s gone, I’ll go with the fresh stuff, on sale. B&B has a fantastic ongoing sale of Crispin Apples for .35/pound. With 19 cans of fruit available, I’ll still need about two weeks worth of apples as well, and I’m thinking about a pound a day. At one pound a day, we’re talking about .35/pound x 14 days, or roughly $5. If I buckle & buy some, I’ll keep you updated. Stay tuned.

Condiments – a girl’s gotta have butter for her canned veggies, a little mayo for the canned tuna, and so on. Let’s go with an even $3 for that.

Okay, adding up numbers, from coffee to canned goods to condiments, a budget of $25 is our outside number, and will still easily allow for three reasonable meals a day, my beloved coffee, protein, fruits & veggies, chocolate, etc. NOT BAD!

So there you have it, the basic rules for June’s experiment. Can Kris put her mouth where her money is? Place your bets! Ideas? Suggestions? Your thoughts? Lay them on me! By month’s end, will this be another “Frugnobyl”, or will I be able to triumphantly report “Tranquility Base here, the Frugal has landed!”. ? The next month will tell. Between now and then, keep sending your stories. And for the love of Chef Boyardee, send any recipes you can think of that require large amounts of tomato products. Bon Appetit!