Tuesday, January 3, 2017
Eating On A Tight Budget: Challenge #1 Mother Hubbard UPDATE
I knew when I set a budget of $20 it was going to be a stretch and a tough one at that. I knew it would mean some deprivation and yet I was convinced I could feed two enough to keep us going a full week.
I gave my proposed menu plan and shopping list here. I thought I'd update on how it's going thus far and my findings regarding what I thought things cost, etc.
I'll start first with a revised grocery list. Prices varied a lot from those I posted using my last receipts. Not all of them rose post holiday either. Some actually went down I learned that some things were actually better priced at Publix and some were the same as Publix, which is a surprise to me as I thought Aldi surely was lower than Publix! I checked prices online at Kroger and there's no need to even consider adding those prices to compare because they were pretty much the same. So here's how my final shopping list looked:
15 ounces peanut butter $1.49
Grape Jelly $1.49
green onions $.79
8 oz. cheddar cheese $1.49
1 # margarine $.89
1 # brown rice $1
1# black beans $1.29
1# whole wheat pasta $.75
1# carrots $.69
1 6 ounce cup plain yogurt $.50
1 can diced tomatoes $.50
3# chicken breasts @$.88/pound plus 10% ($.96/pound) $2.88
So that's the lot of it. Not quite all the food I'd hoped to purchase but those totals come up to:
$19.23. I was convinced I could add another item or two and stay under budget and then reality set in. I might well get away without spending the $.25 for the cart at Aldi. I've taken a bag before and just lugged it about and took it to the register. But I forgot that charge for the cart. And if I've ONLY $20 and no more than I can't very well forget the 'other' charges, like a cart...and tax. Georgia does not tax food but there are many SPLOST funds that DO. In my case, it's 3% of the total (which beats the 7% on non-food items). So I must add an additional $.57 for tax. So my total is $19.81 when the tax is rounded up to the penny.
Here's what I discovered in my shopping trip today: Strawberry jam costs the same thing at both Aldi and Publix, right to the penny. I think strawberry jam would taste best in yogurt but grape will work fine. I've done this before. I just melt about a tablespoon of jelly and mix into my yogurt.
I couldn't afford oatmeal. One thing I'll say about Aldi, they may have the best price around but the size you must purchase simply doesn't fit the budget. Oatmeal (old fashioned rolled oats) was $2.29/tub. I opted for grits at $1.29/pound package. Cream of wheat was in stock (a first for me seeing it in the store) and it cost as much as the oatmeal. So we'll eat grits for breakfast. I think 1 pound will see us through the week. I typically use 1/2 cup grits to 2 cups of water and that's 2 generous servings. It means only eating grits 4 times I think, but there were to be 2 mornings of toast and eggs. And yes, I know that's just six mornings but I can do peanut butter toast (2 slices of bread each) the last morning.
I discovered that a loaf of bread at Aldi is less than the bread outlet price. There are 26 slices (yep, I counted them. Twice!) in the largest loaf.
I added margarine to the menu because grits are generally eaten as a savory dish in the South not a sweet one. I knew of a Californian once who served it to her kids like oatmeal with sugar and milk but we don't do that. Margarine also will be nice for toast and the fat will help make us feel fuller.
No room for even the can of mushrooms in the budget. I was surprised to find I had to let that item go but when I recalled that I'd have to pay tax, I knew I couldn't keep it.
Half the gallon of milk is dedicated to yogurt. 1 - 1 1/2 cups of the remaining milk we will use to make a cheese sauce (using egg to thicken rather than making a roux with flour) for pasta and may drink what is left, which should be about 4 cups or so. I could also cook the grits with a little milk which adds richness to them. We've done so before. John's not much of one for drinking milk unless there's chocolate involved and this budget doesn't stretch to chocolate...but should either of us feel hungry the milk would help to satiate us.
I hated giving up the celery but it simply didn't fit the budget. Carrots were the best I could do. Onions were $.99/for 3#s at Aldi but I couldn't swing a whole bag. I priced onions at Publix. I could almost afford one but the price was $.99/pound and as I've noted to myself before loose onions always seem to be HUGE and cost nearly as much as a bagful. Green onions were less in cost and will add a nice touch of green to the main meals, something we will sorely miss eating this menu.
I looked long and hard at vegetables and fruit and even at Aldi prices (which we all know are substantially lower than any other source) this budget simply wouldn't allow for either one. The least expensive bag of apples was over $2 which beats the heck out of the $6 price at Publix. Oranges were well over $2 for a 3 pound bag as well. Lettuce wasn't even in the store today except romaine hearts and that was $2. A head of lettuce at Publix or Kroger or Food Depot was well over $1.49 or more. Potatoes at Aldi were just $.29/pound which is a very good price for our area...but only sold in 10# bags. The cost per pound for black beans was less than at Publix but only sold in 2 pound bags. Bananas were $.49/# but they looked overly green. It would have been next week until we might have had one ripe enough to eat if they didn't spoil first. I felt rather disheartened when I planned the initial menu (though I do believe it is hearty enough to fill for a single week) and hoped I'd find I could afford more nutrient rich foods but I couldn't. I wish I could tell you how often I thought, "Oh for just $5 more..."
So here's the adjusted menus:
Grits and Toast
Eggs and Toast x 2 for John (using 4 eggs)
Toast with Peanut butter or Yogurt and Toast
Black Beans and Rice with tomato and onion topper, dollop of plain yogurt x 2
Spaghetti a la Diable. x 2 This recipe calls for just 1/2 cup cooked chicken. The mushrooms really add an additional 'meatiness' to this dish. We'll miss that. (I'll use 2 ounces cheese shredded for top which is half what the recipe calls for). I'd boil all three breasts with the tops and tails of the carrot and green onion root ends for flavor and plenty of water to make broth for chicken rice soup and the leftover soup I hope we can manage.
Spaghetti with Cheese (like Mac and cheese, using 1 egg and four ounces of cheese)
Chicken and Rice Soup (which is usually thick like a stew but I don't know how thick it will be this time since I want enough rice for fried rice.)
Fried Rice with chicken, carrots and green onions
I think there might be roughly half a chicken breast left at this point. I'd save it for the supper of leftovers soup.
Suppers (or lunches for anyone else)
Omelet with Cheese and Toast (using 3 eggs)
Cheese Sandwich (1 ounce of cheese each sandwich)
Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches x 3
Boiled Eggs (4) and Toast, Carrots
Every leftover tossed into soup
Toast with jelly
Now I think I have managed a week for two well enough on just a bit under $20. It would be a lovely world if we could spend ALL our allotted money on food but we must account for taxes and charges that are beyond our control.
I expect at the end of this week to have about 2 cups yogurt left, as well as half a pound of black beans, as well as salt.
I know exactly how these menu dishes taste as they are familiar, often used recipes for our household and while the seasoning would be missed (oh for a globe of garlic! Or an oregano leaf...or a splash of soy sauce or a knob of ginger) , I am grateful the budget stretched to cover salt.
I was pleased to discover there was more bread in a store bought loaf than I'd recalled. That made for a nice stretch, too.
And so there you have my first challenge of eating on a tight budget.
I don't doubt for a moment that we'd be hungry for something by the end of the first couple of days without our fruit and vegetables, but we'd have enough food to see us through a week I think and not end up starving by any means. The biggest problem I see is that John is very much a snacker. I tend to have to remind myself to eat my snacks. It's not snack foods per se that he wants. It's a half peanut butter sandwich (which this menu might provide two or three times) or a half piece of fruit (oh we'd miss that!) or an ounce of cheese with some whole wheat crackers. This budget doesn't cover daily snacking. I don't know if what we'd have for snacks would suffice. But then we are both of the mindset that we can rise to meet the need, so I expect we'd manage regardless of cravings.
If you're wondering if I'll take my challenge all the way, I won't. I won't follow the menus exactly. I think, in honesty, that it's not a balanced enough plan to suit diabetic needs. It's heavy on the carbs and low on nutrients, fiber and healthy fats.
I DID make black beans and rice for yesterday's dinner and served it topped with a tomato and onion mixture and it was delicious. I'll be making the Spaghetti a la Diable this week and I will use that can of mushrooms in it to extend the meat. I'll be serving it with a big salad, and fresh steamed green beans Any further meals I make will be less carb heavy and better balanced with vegetables and fruits. The suppers look pretty much like our usual suppers, but again I will add a serving of fruit or crudité vegetables.
I've got yogurt incubating as I write. I'm not sorry that this challenge prompted me to go back to that old skill. I've been balking at the cost of Aldi plain yogurt (and the gelatin and cornstarch used to thicken it and no it wasn't even Greek yogurt), so this was good incentive to go back to yogurt making. I sure hope it turns out!
I plan to have another challenge next month but not quite as hard a budget as this, so look for that. And do use this post as food for thought and try to figure out how you might manage if you found yourself with a need to deal with a very tight food allowance. If you have favorite dishes that are super frugal or you accept the challenge of making up a 'real' menu, share with us. I'd love to hear all about it and would like very much to share with others, but please do the research for prices and such in YOUR area so we know it's based on a real budget of $20.