This New Empty Nester Shares How She's Shopping and Cooking for Her Family of Two With $100 a Week

The mom of two and her husband eat well in rural Washington on about $100 a week.

LaDonna Langwell
Photo: Courtesy of LaDonna Langwell

LaDonna Langwell lives in rural Clark County, Wash. with her husband of nearly two decades, Todd. The couple has two grown children — and as of mere months ago, they've found themselves empty nesters. "We are adjusting to not having kiddos in the house," she says. And that's an enormous adjustment in all kinds of ways.

It certainly led to some tweaks in her approach to grocery shopping, cooking, and budgeting. Instead of spending less with fewer mouths to feed, Langwell finds she's now spending more on groceries. "I try to stick to about $100 a week, but with the children out of the house, I find I'm experimenting more with recipes," she says. "So I often hit the store more than once a week," she adds.

With their 19- and 22-year-old kids out of the house, there's more flexibility to play with in the budget. Still, she says, "We do our best to keep our food purchases to a minimum because neither of us like to see food go to waste."

Here's how Langwell handles the shopping and cooking for her newly halved household, keeping expenses down while splurging on the foods she and her husband love most.

Utilize Stores That Meet Your Needs

The Langwells get delivery from Imperfect Foods every couple of weeks or so; the San Francisco-based company sells cosmetically imperfect produce, a business model that reduces food waste, while customers save around 30 percent on high-quality and healthy groceries.

Now, the family also has a regular grocery store to visit — but it's only been in their rural community for less than a year. "Prior, we had to drive about 20 minutes to get to a local store like Safeway or Albertsons," she says. "We used to go to Costco at least once a month but find now we just do not need as much."

When it comes to the cleaning products on her grocery list, Langwell is happy to score those at the dollar store. "They work just as well as the name brands, and I can stock up to share with the kids without breaking the bank," she says.

Don't Skip Worthwhile Splurges

While Langwell is happy to save on discounted produce and certain dollar store swaps, she's not willing to eliminate items that she cherishes as part of an indulgent life.

"Oh my gosh, I am a sucker for fancy cheeses and good meats like t-bones or New York strips," she says. "I love making a marinated Gruyère salad and serving it with a juicy steak. Yum!"

She says cheeses — Parmesan and Gruyère in particular — are among the most expensive things she buys overall, but she wouldn't change it. In fact, cheese is a category on the grocery list that's off-limits for compromise, she says.

"Once I tried fresh mozzarella in a water bath, I can't go back to the regular," Langwell says. "We do keep it on hand for some recipes, but for me… pizza is no longer allowed to be made without fresh mozzarella!"

Shop and Cook in Bulk

Langwell plans ahead to have leftovers — on purpose — which helps not only save money and effort but also reduce waste.

Taco meat is a prime example in her household. "I cook it in bulk and then we can eat on it for over a week," she says. "We will eat it as tacos, in salads, on nachos — it never goes to waste."

Her intentional approach to leftovers involves a bit of preparedness and strategy, which she considers a highly worthy investment. "I usually will make something in bulk like pasta sauce on the weekend, then plan multiple meals around it," Langwell says. "One night over pasta, another night as chili with rice. I also always take leftovers to work. Saves me money and keeps me out of the restaurant line."

Be a Strategic Shopper

Langwell's best tip for grocery savings is to make an advanced plan — both for shopping trips and for meals.

"Before you head to the store, shop your own pantry and take inventory of what you already have," she says. "Plan your meals for the week around that, then make a list of what items you may be lacking." Then, check the advertised specials to see if anything you need is on sale — and if so, stock up on it.

Beyond that, she finds the key to success and happiness in the kitchen is simply to cook how and what you love. "Since we don't have the kids with us, I find it's hard for me to learn how to cook just for two," Langwell says. "So I have 'adopted' a family down the road who gladly will take my extras of anything that I make. It's a nice bonus for them and I still get to cook the way I always have!"

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