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
salt $.49/container
green onions $.79
bread $.85
Grits $1.29
milk $1.65/gal
eggs $1.19
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

Food Depot
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

Main meals:
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
Carrot sticks

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 crudit√© 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.


Debbie said...

Hi Terri,
Did you know you can grow more onions from you green onion bottoms as long as they still have the root end attached? Just stick the bottom inch or so (roots down) in a small glass of water and it will grow more onions. I buy a small bunch of green onions and do this to keep us supplied in green onions during the winter and in the warmer weather, I will plant it out in my garden where it multiplies!

Kathy said...

Thanks for your challenge! It is much harder than I expected, and I'm glad that you aren't going to follow the menu exactly. Your health is more important, esp with diabetes, but I think it is good to think of what we might do.
Since there are 2 adults and 2 teens here, I wasn't able to come up with a menu plan for $20 for a week. I tried to do a dollar a day per person which would have been $28, but I was still having trouble with that I think I could feed us for $37. I would have some of the same meals:
oatmeal with apple or banana
eggs/toast, french toast
pb&j or pb&banana, chicken salad with apple and ranch dressing, hard boiled eggs
taco soup x2(prudent homemaker recipe)
spaghetti, lettuce salad, bread
baked chicken legs with rice and salad
chicken fried rice with carrots and onions
chicken soup
chicken and gravy over rice

I should be able to make 6 loaves of french bread or 5 min artisan bread

oatmeal $1.69
milk 2.49
bananas 1.
apples 1 (3 for $1)
carrots 1 (1 lb)
lettuce 1 iceberg
onions 1.5 (3lbs)
tomatoes 2/1
corn 2/1
chili powder 1
rice 1
bl beans 2/1
flour 1.59
yeast 1.5
sugar 1.89
tea 2
eggs-18 1.59
chicken legs 4.90 (10 lb bag at .49/lb)
pb 1.5
jelly 1.5
soy sauce 1.5
spaghetti 1
spaghetti sauce 1
salt .69
ranch dressing -free

Anonymous said...

Wow, Terri, our prices are double what yours are for almost everything except eggs. Milk is $4.09/gallon. We have 6.5% tax on food.

When I read how someone feeds a family of 5, and 3 of those are 2 teen boys and a hubby, it really does make me ponder if they are telling the truth.

This makes me doubly thankful for our garden produce. I have enough green beans, zucchini, corn, potatoes, tomatoes, and carrots canned or frozen for the winter into the spring and even summer months. We have lots of potatoes in storage. I have some frozen fruits. I canned 14 qts. of rhubarb pie filling this past summer and I have home-canned applesauce. I have enough jelly and jam canned for several years. The fruit trees don't always bear so one learns to put the fruit up when they do.

I can grind my own wheat which is grown on the farm but we are not enjoying the whole wheat bread like we used to. I mix oatmeal, a 9-grain mix, and white flour in my homemade bread and sometimes I add chia seeds and sometimes whole millet, which grows on the farm. We have honey from the farm.

Your challenge is good for me. It opens my eyes to all I have in my pantry. And can I just say here that my full pantry is a lot of work in the summer?! The gardening and the canning take up a lot of time. It doesn't just happen. Smile. Pam

Debby in KS said...

I've been sick so I haven't been reading. Very interesting challenge! I remember a story written in our paper several years back about a similar challenge. I think it was a $21 per week (or $1 per meal) for one person. It was called "the welfare challenge" or something. I tried that and had no problem at all having a decent and fairly healthy week. The reporters failed miserably, but their choices were nuts lol. My friends and I also determined that a challenge like that was even easier if you had "kids", meaning you could combine the amount to buy larger quantities to save money. No, it wasn't fancy, but a simple, healthy meal could be had. And, we figured, since most of those kids qualified for both free breakfasts and lunches at school, their budgets for a week were far larger than ours. Admittedly, Teri, yours is a far bigger challenge. My husband wouldn't last past breakfast. He's a big guy (not fat, but 6'9") with a speedy metabolism (sooooo unfair!) and he polishes off a tube of saltines every night right after a full dinner lol. That's his idea of a "little snack."

I look forward to your other challenges!

Debby in KS said...

This is the challenge I was talking about. Sheesh. Time flies!

Mable Hastings said...

Why do you use eggs to thicken, rather than flour? And how do you do that, stirring in first last or what? Thanks for any information. I am extremely anemic (as in the doctors want me to be fed nutrients through a tube!) and finding another way to add protein filled eggs to my menu would be of great help.

Terri Cheney said...

Mabel I was posting a theoretical scenario. I couldn't afford flour to thicken the milk (make a white sauce) for the pasta so I thought I'd use an egg. Mama used to mix an egg with milk and just pour that over her cooked pasta and cheese and bake in the oven. It made a custard type filling around the pasta and was really quite good. Many Southern cooks in our area make mac and cheese that way. You can also make the oatmeal that uses a well beaten egg, raw oats and milk and brown sugar to boost the protein of oatmeal.

Mable Hastings said...

Thanks for answering my question. I'll try that and the oatmeal suggestion. It isn't funny but it is: for the last year the doctors have been urging me to drink full fat milk and eat full fat cheese and as much meat as possible, as well as ice cream and pudding. Used to be (for all my life) I could not take weight off but since being ill, I cannot keep it on. Drinking full fat milk, guilt free, is a real pleasure as I like milk above all other beverages. Expensive but we have found other ways to economize---for instance, my garden and what I can, freeze and dehydrate from it, supplies about 80% to 90% of our vegetables year round and about 25% of our fruit...My husband loves milk, too, so I am afraid we swig it whenever we can! We are a bust at a bar but don't let us near a dairy! Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

I am surprised you have to pay a quarter for a cart at Aldi and don't get it back. We pay a quarter but when you return the cart the quarter comes back out. Quite often someone will give you their cart and when they do i just pass it on and tell them to pass it on. Gramma D

Rachel said...

Just out of curiosity, I added up what that list would cost me at our less expensive grocery store in town. A whopping $43.10!! I priced everything at store brand, unless something else was on sale for a lower price. We don't pay tax on any true grocery items, just convenience items such as sodas, bottled water, deli items, etc.

I was probably surprised most by the difference in the cost of milk. The cost of milk is regulated in California and I'm always astounded by the fact that we pay so much more than the rest of the country - when we produce so much of the milk!

15 ounces peanut butter $2.99
grape Jelly $2.79
salt $1.09/container
green onions $1.69
bread $1.50
grits $4.49
milk $5.09/gal
eggs $3.99
8 oz. cheddar cheese $3.29
1# margarine $1.49
1# brown rice $2.19
1# black beans $2.19
1# whole wheat pasta $2.19
1# carrots $1.05
1 6 ounce cup plain yogurt $1
1 can diced tomatoes $1
3# chicken breasts $5.07

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