Food for Thought in 2017

There's a skit I remember seeing in my childhood years.  I want to say it was performed by a well known comedian whose face/name escape me at the moment.    It involved a sad sack going into a restaurant and ordering two cups of hot water.  Into one,  he dumped a dollop or two of ketchup from the bottle on the table, then added some salt and pepper and stirred it.  Then from his coat pocket came a used tea bag which was dunked in the other cup.  The hot water was free...and so was the 'soup and tea' that made up the meal...which he enjoyed very well until the restaurant staff caught on to his ruse.

There have been slim days in the food budget in the long ago past.  There have been sticky weeks here and there since then, but for the most part we've been blessed with food and enough money to purchase more when it was needed.  I say humbly that God often inspires me to stretch foods beyond what I dream they will go.  I've been very blessed in this area.

I've been thinking the past few days.  How should I manage if I had very little to base my food budget upon?  My mind has drifted many times to the contest ALL YOU magazine used to conduct several years ago, where one was allowed $25 per week per person.  I often used to do this challenge but  I used my pantry and freezer stock to carry me and  just limited my spending to $50 a week for John and I,  and still managed to replace some of the stock I was using. 

In the past two months I have attempted to follow a self imposed mandate to buy only what was needed at the moment and to rely on my pantry to provide the rest.  This worked well to lower my spending.  We moved from averaging $130 at Aldi to $85.  I still did some restocking of the pantry on items which were extremely well priced.  I didn't lower my grocery amounts overall as much as I'd have liked (I also spent money at Kroger, Publix and at the discount grocery), but I lowered it.

But I kept asking myself a question:  What if I had no pantry or freezer to back me up? What if all I had to manage with was just $50 a week?  How would my dietary needs hold up with  hard monetary restrictions?   How would I manage then?  What would I need to purchase and how would I manage three meals and two snacks a day on that?  Could it be done?  I am in a unique position in that while we live in the country on a 9 acre property, we grow none of our own foods,  not even a cherry tomato.  The only foraging I could do this time of year is of squishy over ripe wild persimmons.  So even that foraging option is out for helping to stretch a taut budget. 

Why even when Katie left home to marry the first time, I was able to purchase or give from my own stores a substantial beginning stock of foodstuffs for a pantry for her.  One stroll through the supermarket wen she was settled and she was on the phone calling home.  "I had no idea how much money you saved us..."

What if I had just $50 to spend for a first week of 'no pantry/no freezer' usage?  Especially sobering when a quick pick up trip for bread and fruit turned into a $50 shopping trip not too long ago and I bought nothing long lasting during that little stroll, nor any impulse or indulgent items.  What if I had no pantry?  Nothing in the freezer?  What if I were starting out fresh?  I am pretty sure that even  my long experience in provision for a home wouldn't allow for the whole of  the daily recommended allowance of foods. It's a sobering thought.

Here's a downloadable guide which was published in 2016 of current dietary guidelines:

What would it cost to follow U.S. Government Dietary Guidelines?  Per the Governmental Charts these are spending guidelines they suggest for a household of our size. Monthly costs are laid out as follows for two in our age range:
thrifty              low-cost           moderate      liberal
$363.40          $468.60            $583.70       $704.20

We typically have fallen between the thrifty and  low-cost plans but my new budget plan  will actually put us BELOW the thrifty plan.

Would I do be able to stick to the new budget if I were strictly adhering to their guidelines?  How would that affect my diet?  My budget?

I asked myself these questions late one night as I lay awake. You see, I have no real idea of how long a bag of flour might last or how many servings there are in a tub of oatmeal.  That would make a difference, that knowledge.  I don't know what life would be like without a pantry or a freezer filled with at least enough meat to last 2 weeks or longer.  I don't know how well I'd manage under duress.  I'd like to think I'd do well... but would I?

In one of my vintage magazines there is a bare bones menu for one week.  I sat down with current prices ten years ago and the cost of those foods were $77...what would it be like at today's costs?   If I have a budget of $50/week for the two of us, what would I have to leave off that menu?

I researched the government's guidelines available online.  It is a 37 page document with 12 pages of appendix notes.  I do suggest that you at least scan through it.  It contains a good bit of information. You can find a multiple page document on the thrifty food plan here:

The low-cost,  moderate food and liberal plans are in this document:

I'd love to experiment with this in 2017, but I'm not just sure how I'll go about it.  All this thinking has certainly made me pull some of my old (oh so old!) money saving recipes back out to use once again!  For right now, I'm just contemplating how I might manage under duress, and thinking that practicing here and there might not be a bad idea.  No, I have no indication that things might be about to go bad, but I do think that practice does provide a degree of preparation if the unforeseen should happen and so I shall be practicing over the next few months.  I do think it would be an interesting thing to share.   


Lana said...

The two of us almost always come in at around $175 a month for groceries. This does not include anything but food. I am not sure how to tell you that I do it except that it is very rare for me to pay full price for anything food wise except Aldi produce. I am always on the lookout for the lowest possible price and then I stock up. If we run out of something I just plan meals to do without until it is on sale again. We eat very well here and rarely eat meatless meals. We do average two to three meals out every week but those are usually breakfasts and an occasional inexpensive lunch or dinner. I do bake all of our loaf bread and make our pizza crusts and occasionally other breads. ( Maybe John would like homemade bread if you just find what he likes. I feel like my Dad does not like my Mom's bread because she only makes French bread and he finds it hard to chew sometimes at age 79.) I do not buy anything in individual packages unless it is a great sale and coupon price. I do not buy sodas out of my budget because we do not drink them on a regular basis. I do buy the occasional bottle of wine or 6 pack of hard cider. I make decaf green tea from tea bags bought on sale. We do drink a pot of coffee everyday from coffee bought on sale. We drink OJ at breakfast every morning that we are home. I am more than willing to help! Ask questions maybe. I do understand what you are saying about having to buy everything for a meal without any pantry to pull from because our youngest DIL parents have always shopped that way. So, they end up eating out because it is cheaper than buying all those ingredients. Now that our DIL is grown this frustrates her to no end because her Mom just does not know how to run her home any other way. She was here at our house since she was 11 and learned a different way from me. This was a case of best friends from the age of 11 and 14 got married and they are still best friends.

Lana said...

Continued---I believe we could eat for many months on what we have on hand if we were not picky about it. I think it is wise to be prepared because we do not know what tomorrow holds. I wish our kids felt the same. One DIL only keeps enough food in the house for 2-3 days at a time. If there is a disaster they will be hungry and we are too far away to help. I am out of home canned meat at the moment but it is something I plan to change in the new year. I also can my own dry beans and they can be eaten right out of the jar if there was no way to heat them. I believe that a wise women should see to providing for her home no matter what the circumstances may be.

Christie Hogan said...

"Funny" you should write about this right now. I have been working on/running the numbers on our budget for next year and trying to get a realistic grocery/household spending dollar amount for my husband and myself. I budget $400/month for everything. That way when I do a big stock up at SAMs or Walmart every 3 to 4 months I know it's covered. We typically only spend about $250 per month($62.50/week for 2 adults--for all of our meals) on food--that is 3 meals/day plus snacks. We eat out maybe once per month. I could cut it more, but I like to know that I can stock up on sales when I need to without busting our budget. I shop twice a month (when DH gets paid) and on,y go back occasionally for milk, bread and produce--if it is a dire necessity. We usually just make do with what we have. The nearest Aldi is 40 minutes away and we visit it when we go see our son and DIL. OR like this week she was coming up to bake with me and I needed eggs--DS ran by and picked up 5 dozen for me--they were cheaper there than any I found here. DH and my FIL are hunters so my freezer is usually well stocked with venison and sausage and fish. We also eat quite a bit of chicken. I cook the majority of our meals from scratch and use very few canned goods. We eat very few meatless meals but with just 2 people to cook for meat for a lot further an it did when our son lived at home and his fiancé (now wife) was here quite a bit. I freeze leftovers and reincorporate as much as I can Into other meals. DH is not a picky eater and neither am I so that really helps when meal planning.
I don't know what I would do without my well stocked pantries and freezer and I pray I never have to face that. Very thought provoking post.

Anonymous said...

There are a lot of variables in how much is needed for a grocery budget. There are 2 of us and we probably average 50 a week or so, Sometimes less. We are both retired and not big eaters. We are not large people, Gramps weighs 150 and i about 130 so if we ate large meals it would soon show. We stop eating as soon as we no longer feel hungry and do not feel obligated to clean our plate. We do not feed a lot of extra people except the kids when they come to visit. We eat one "big"meal a day. Our breakfast is usually the same thing, cereal and toast just because is the habit we got into when we worked. Breakfast is often for supper. When we eat eggs we only want one, a lot of people want two. We eat in season, seldom buying things like tomatoes which are generally tasteless and overpriced unless in season. I am diabetic so we don't have a lot of desserts. There are generally cookies, ect for Gramps to snack on. He also likes caramel corn, which is cheap to make. A bag of chips will last a month.
Somethings are not cheaper homemade. If we only want a one time serving we generally buy one serving items for the convenience, rather than having a lot of leftovers. The freezer is my friend and i have reusable containers which i use for one serving.
Another variable is the stores available. We have several very high priced stores which were our only option until we got an Aldi several years ago.
Right now flour and sugar are really cheap so I buy enough for long term. When i see a good sale i buy. Check for prices. I bought meat we like for Christmas called Korv foe 1.99 a pound. The popular place to buy it it is 4.97 a pound and it is the same recipe. The cheaper place is a small grocery where many would not go because they are small and do charge more for groceries, but have fantastic meat prices sometimes on certain items.
I shop at Sams for my meat and divide it into one meal portions as soon as i get home. Their meat quality is consistent and not a lot of waste. I never cook more meat for more than one meal unless it planned for
leftovers or a bit for snacking for Gramps.
I have a large recipe list so it is easy to have variety with what is on sale or on the shelf. We dont eat because we are bored. A lot of food gets consumed because of boredom. From the first day we were married i never had a large budget and learned to live on it. I read and reread Joann York and Tightwad Gazette for ideas. How i would have loved the internet!
This is how i have always shopped. I dont buy because something is new or all the rage which generally means expensive. Gramma D

Anonymous said...

I remember having to stock the kitchen the first weeks we were married. Remembering to buy salt and pepper and such or we didn't have it. It took a while to get the basics of course. Remember those days? :-) Also at first I had no idea what hubby liked to eat so as I cooked and he said what he liked and didn't we knew which few spices and basic foods to keep on hand etc. We were both raised in families with little money so it felt usual to not buy much of anything extra except what was a need. Yet having moved 3000 miles away from home I had no idea what was a bargain price on food here or not. That took a while. :) This is not new information. I think of the families who have only so much $ to use a month on groceries too. when I have checked out what the government gives per family it is always more than we spend I do keep records and know this is so. Yet again I keep a pantry. Also only buying at the best price and buying extra if we need it and can afford it.
Many of the sights that say to stock up say to buy x cans of this and x of that then go on to x of the next thing. Well if you get all the say corn you need for 6 months at one time their sell by date is the same! I try to keep a watch and get some here and a different date another time. I know canned goods and such last longer than the stated dates but... We also put all meat and some other things in the Food Saver bags and yes they do last what seems like forever. No freezer burn.
This is still not answering what to do if you only had say $50 for food and no pantry. Sorry.
We try to not keep our freezer stocked only with for food. Room for nuts and wheat flour and such and also some water. That way in case we do need more room if we find a sale of sales on something to freeze those things that do not Have to be frozen can be taken out and and replaced with the new things. Then too if the power goes off not all has to be used right away! :-) Our freezer is a small upright. I hope to be canning more meats and things again. We are about out of what I did.
Your post got me thinking though...Savings on food especially has always been a big topic to me. Sarah

Anonymous said...

Was the tea bag sketch from Red Skelton's show when he was Freddie the Freeloader? It sounds familiar to me too. Sarah

Kathy said...

Wow, I can't believe those guidelines...for my family of 2 adults and 2 teens, we can spend $717 a month on the Thrifty plan...Wow!
I spend around $500 month on groceries, and that includes some pet foods, toilet paper, dishwasher and laundry detergent. We eat some organic foods too.

I so want to stock up a little each week to build up my pantry. But your experiment sounds interesting. What would I buy if I didn't have anything in my pantry or freezer...sounds like a good challenge.

Lorita said...

I also thought about Red Skelton when you talked about that skit. I think I Love Lucy had something similar too.

I do hope you share the things you learn about keeping food costs down, since I am now paying a lot more for rent and everything else keeps getting more expensive. I got a notice that we get a small increase in Social Security for next year, but then they will take out more for medicare, and I end up getting exactly the same as I have gotten the last few years! A friend said he is getting $6 more. Lets party! ha

Rose (UK) said...

One of the blogs I read has this down to a fine art. I find it quite inspiring. I am definitely going to have to be very mindful of my budget moving forward into 2017. The blog is 'Thrifty Lesley' & here is a link.
Best wishes for Christmas, Rose (UK)

Louise said...

Lol.. I've been racking my brain since Terri posted about the skit snd this morning as I woke up I remembered seeing Red Skeleton doing a similar skit as Freddie the Freeloader. It was while watching this as a kid that I remember how proud he was of making a fine lunch and thinking that I had no reason to be ashamed of wearing hand me downs or homemade clothing ,etc. Kids were cruel then as they are now and I hated to go to school because of what I wore. After seeing that skit I walked tall and proud!!

Louise said...

Lol.. I've been racking my brain since Terri posted about the skit snd this morning as I woke up I remembered seeing Red Skeleton doing a similar skit as Freddie the Freeloader. It was while watching this as a kid that I remember how proud he was of making a fine lunch and thinking that I had no reason to be ashamed of wearing hand me downs or homemade clothing ,etc. Kids were cruel then as they are now and I hated to go to school because of what I wore. After seeing that skit I walked tall and proud!!

Karla Neese said...

It is quite sobering when you really start to look at how blessed we are, even with our meager incomes. About 10 years ago, we took part in a class called Just Faith offered through a local Methodist Church. It is started as a Catholic program that explores poverty and human rights conditions but is open to anyone, really. One of the challenges during the class was to live on $1.50 per person per day for one week. I grew up in poverty and even early marriage we were very financially strapped and frugal but we couldn't do it. It was amazingly hard even 10 years ago.

Louise - I love your lesson from the skit! What power that gives us to walk tall and proud and ignore the comments. Not easy, but amazingly effective.

Kay said...

How fitting it is to read this today. My position was eliminated on Dec. 28 and so our off-the-farm income was cut by 1/3, take-home by 1/2!! Immediate reductions were put in place. Thank goodness I've been reading your blog for years! I have so many tools at hand now. Short list: To use as little electricity as possible when home. Wash load levels according to what's needed. Today I realized I have a short supply of chicken in the freezer. But I have several bags of bones for stock. I cooked one up in the pressure cooker and picked over the bones, as you have said you do often. And I saved the grizzle and skin and other soft bits for the cats. A generous 1-1.5 cups to be used in casserole or soup this week.
We have also cut our eating out to 1 or 2 a month (from 2-3 times a week.) And we have only gone to the grocery store once since the 28th. The amount was easily 1/2 of our usual Weekly amount and should hold us for another week.
I would love to stay home full-time and implement all your thrifty, frugal ways but we have several bills that were paid from my income. So I will need to go back to work soon. I covet your prayers for patience while Father God works it all out in His timing. :)

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