Eating On a Tight Budget: Challenge #1 Mother Hubbard
Over the holidays I spent more than the usual amount of time on Pinterest. I find it a great resource for a brain jog. On this particular evening, I'd been looking for inexpensive meals one might make. I stumbled upon this list on Gracefullittlehoneybee.com which listed 35 foods to purchase when you're broke. I think the list a very good one and a frugal one but I couldn't help but think back to my Food for Thought post. What if I had no pantry, no freezer filled with food, and a very limited budget? How well could I manage?
I went online and read hundreds of posts about various food budget amounts ($27, $37, $50, $75) for a week's worth of groceries. I read posts to see what was purchased, how it was meted out, what menus were used, etc.
Well, here's my take away: a great many of those posting didn't adhere to a hard and fast "this is all we have and no more" budget. They freely drew from a pantry, cabinet, fridge and just supplemented with items that fit their assumed budget for that week. Some had gardens, and a few suggested foraging which is a good way to stretch a thin budget as I well know. My current foraging would be limited to the wild green onions that grow here and yes, you can use them. John isn't keen but I should think the green tops would be rather nice.
Many bloggers didn't plan a real week of food. They planned dinners. Some planned dinners and breakfasts but lunches were assumed to be had at school or one was instructed that if lunch was needed to just make more of the dinner entrée and eat the leftovers. BUT they failed to realize that making more food meant a higher cost per meal and required MORE money to purchase the extra needed.
Many lists were filled with items that I know full well can be achieved in a far more frugal way. Boneless Skinless Chicken breasts? Why not a cheaper bone in cut? Why not go for the leg quarters which are half or more of the cost of boneless skinless breasts? Why not a whole chicken? Why not chunk cheese shredded at home instead of the bag of shredded cheese which usually (not always but usually) costs more per pound? Why frozen waffles when flour and milk and egg make pancakes a plenty and offers still more possibilities beyond those?
Failure to plan sank the ship...or at least caused it to spring a major leak before leaving harbor. One blogger planned her menus and then went shopping. Planning to have rice and beans on the day she went to the grocery to purchase those items didn't allow enough time to cook that meal. Another blogger forgot all about lunches for two planned off days from school. Another had snow days just as she settled down to start her challenge. The contingency plans cost MORE than the planned meals. I noted this failure on at least three blogs.
I was duly impressed by one blogger's shopping list and read through her blog at least twice before I realized that what she listed on her menu didn't add up to what she'd purchased. I went back through the blog post again and found a tiny little note that she'd used some things she already had on hand. I was less impressed with the budget allowance.
The very lowest amount I saw any blogger post about using was $20. Three different bloggers used that amount and came in slightly under $20. One was single, one was a vegan and alone for the week, and one bought two weeks worth of food for $40. She was quite right that it cost just $20/week BUT what if a person had only the $20? And do you realize how much greater your food choices can be even for two or three persons if you have $40 to spend?
Still, I am determined to practice my skill in this area. I talked it over with John and he's on board for the most part. Fortunately we do have a pantry and snacks on hand and I assured him if he was dissatisfied or felt he was being stretched too hard he at least could have any 'extra' he wanted if he'd just agree to eat what I prepared otherwise. He told me he would give it a try but assured me he was good only for a one week trial. That's fine with me. One week is all I mean to push this through.
Years ago, we were seven in our home and my budget during our most difficult and toughest years was a mere $40/week...IF I got child support. If I didn't, we had to get by on even less than that. I was feeding 7 at the time and that budget was all inclusive: pet food, people food, diapers, formula to supplement WIC portions and for a short time, baby food. It was damned hard and I mean that most sincerely. I nearly developed an ulcer as I shopped. I can remember hanging over the meat case praying for a markdown on hamburger or a sale on chicken and then the agonizing choice of which one I could stretch the hardest.
It meant, at one point, that we had to place locks on cabinet and refrigerator doors because one of the children was sneaking food. I remember the great kerfuffle when I found the two chicken thighs I'd come to put away after putting baby Katie to bed had been scarfed down by a hungry teen as he cleared the kitchen. Not a great tragedy overall but at the time it meant we were down by one meal and I was hard pressed to figure out how to make up for that loss. It might sound harsh and I assure you it WAS. It was hard for all of us. There is a thin line between not enough and nothing at all sometimes. But we managed.
Obviously we are not that hard up any longer. In fact, I have a decent grocery budget. BUT...
I want to keep practiced in my former frugal ways. I want to work my way through various budget scenarios and determine where we might actually cut the budget a bit deeper. I want to know what others might be facing and perhaps be a help to them in showing how I managed a low budget.
So here is my attempt to show how one might manage. I'll share my plan, my proposed spending, my actual spending and my actual meals. I'll tell you the pitfalls I ran into and share my successes. I will not purchase all the foods listed because I have some of them on hand BUT I have been to the store to price several items already and I am including them at the cost at present in the stores. In my scenario, I have $20 to feed the two of us for one week. I have neither pantry nor items in my cupboards or freezer. Consider me Mother Hubbard...
My budget includes food and food only. No pet food or personal care items or cleaning products.
Prices listed here are based on either the price at the store today or upon my most recent receipt:
What I have on hand:
4 ounce can of mushrooms $.49
16 oz. Whl Wht Spag $.75
15 oz diced tomatoes $.50
1 doz. eggs $.59
1 pound carrots $.60
1 bag of celery $.99
onion (from a 3#bag@$.79) $.16
1 box salt $.81
1 pound black beans $1.29
1 pound brown rice $1.00
Items I plan to purchase and proposed costs
1 gal of Milk $1.79/Aldi
1 loaf of Bread $.99/bread outlet
3#s chicken breasts (bone in on sale this week) $.96/pound. $3.00
8 ounces cheddar $1.49
15 oz. jar peanut butter $1.89
12 oz. jar jelly, strawberry $1.70
6 oz cup plain yogurt $.50
total here: $11.36
1 tub of oatmeal (unknown cost at this time) I have $1.46 left of this budget that I might put towards this item.
These items should total about $20. I do realize that I might have to adjust some of these figures as I'll gather prices at Aldi on Tuesday when I shop. You'll note there's no seasonings listed here. I can't afford pepper or soy sauce or garlic. I can't buy fruits. I do not, at this time, even have room for a package of margarine. There will be no mayo or other condiments, nor coffee or tea. Yes, it's a stringent plan.
What I also have is a few coupons for FREE items from Kroger and I mean to use those this week: 1 16 oz. bottle of ranch dressing and 1 package of cookies. I'm sure the Ranch dressing is in the store. The cookies are an iffy thing.
Here are my proposed menu plans:
Breakfast will be Oatmeal x 5
John works two days and I will serve him toast and eggs those two mornings. He can have jelly or peanut butter on his toast.
This will mean I have 8 eggs left. I plan to use three to make an omelet and boil four. I will use the last egg in a pasta cheese dish.
I plan to make yogurt with half the gallon of milk using the 6 ounce cup as my starter. This should make 3 pints if I remember my yogurt making days correctly. I'll use strawberry preserves to make some of it strawberry flavored and will leave some plain.
I think I should get three chicken breasts for the proposed amount. Fingers crossed. I plan to use the smallest one as two meals: Fried rice, using some of the cooked rice and some chopped vegetables along with half the breast chopped. Soy sauce would be nice but I don't think that is going to fit the budget. For fat to cook this dish, I'm hoping for some fat I can pull from the chicken breasts. The other dish will be Spaghetti ala Diable which will use half the box of pasta, 2/3 of the can of tomatoes, some of the onion, and the can of mushroom slices. This casserole is topped with grated cheddar. I plan to use 1 1/2 ounces at most. The recipe also calls for garlic and cayenne pepper but salt will have to suffice this week. I'll also cook the black beans with a little onion and add the remaining tomatoes. I'll serve that over rice. I'll also make chicken rice soup with a little of the onion, carrot, celery leaves and rice. I expect to use 1 whole breast in this dish.
Snacks will be yogurt, cookies if I can get them, carrot and celery sticks with ranch dressing
So here's my proposed menu plan:
Oatmeal x 5 (served with milk and some of the preserves to sweeten)
Eggs and toast x2 for John and I will have yogurt and toast both those mornings. I may have to limit toast to 1 slice each.
We eat our big meal midday:
Spaghetti Diable x2 We always have enough leftovers of this to serve us a second meal
Carrot and Celery sticks with Ranch
Black Beans and Rice x 2 with tomato, onion and plain yogurt to top
Chicken and Rice Soup x 2 (I'll cook both breasts and make plenty of broth with them. I'll set aside at least half the broth. I'll use the tips and tops of the carrots, the root end of the celery, and the top and ends and first outer layer of the onion to season the broth.)
Spaghetti and Cheese (I'll make a custard of sorts with egg, milk and 4 ounces of cheese)
Carrot and Celery sticks with ranch Dressing
Celery sticks filled with peanut butter
Peanut Butter Jelly Sandwiches x2 *8 slices bread
Toasted Cheese Sandwich (1 ounce cheese each) *4 slices bread
2 Boiled Eggs, 1 ounce of cheese, Carrot and Celery Sticks, Yogurt
w toasted oatmeal
Cheese Omelet with Toast *1 ounce cheese/3 eggs
Carrot and Celery Sticks/Ranch Dressing
Leftovers Soup: every scrap left and the saved broth. If I haven't used the end pieces of the loaf of bread I'll try to make croutons for the soup with them.
I won't be able to shop until Tuesday so this plan may alter once I actually do my shopping. I will do a follow up post with any changes that were necessary. But this post will hopefully give you food for thought...This challenge has certainly made me think long and hard!