Eating On a Tight Budget: March 2017 Challenge

I've waffled about which challenge I'd choose this time around.  I've looked over the notes I made previously in late December.  Do I attempt a 2 week challenge at this point?  Continue gently amping up the budget and continue along the one week route?  Do I continue planning to shop from my usual stores or plan only from the local store or just one store?  Oh lots of questions...and lots of future challenge possibilities!

So far, I've not been able to fully eat as planned due to not getting the right balance for a diabetic diet.  I love the investigative parts and am enjoying eating entrees or some of the side dishes, but my ultimate goal is to find the sweet spot, the place where budget and menu culminate in a balanced diabetic meal plan at a low cost.  That's what my goal is.  I won't compromise my health for the sake of a challenge, but it is good to know that if it were necessary  I could feed us.  One week of a super budget diet wouldn't be so horrible for my health...An extended period of time might well become a issue for me, but one week is doable though not ideal.  I'd like to know what the ideal is for my own personal reference point.

I finally settled on doing another one week challenge, moving up just $5 from last month and settling on a budget of $35.  I went to Pinterest to read what other people had experienced on the same budget.  I viewed 8 examples after scanning hundreds of pins.  Of those 8 examples which claimed you could eat for $35 a week, one blogger served only 5 dinners and used pantry and fridge staples to prepare meals for the rest of the day.  One blogger purchased $66 worth of groceries for one...not sure why that came up as a $35 budget.  One woman made all vegetable and whole grain product entrée meals for 2, but no breakfasts or lunches.  I didn't think her recipes sounded very good overall so not even that much usefulness from that post.   One of the examples was merely tips on how to eat on a low budget with no real menus or helps.  Just the usual list of good tips: menu plan, shop with a list, garden, etc. That one was put out my an extension service from a state university program.  The other four examples all used pantry and freezer and just purchased $35 worth of groceries that were not necessarily used in the meal prep for that week.

So as usual, I'm doing all the legwork and menu planning from scratch and I will serve three meals a day for seven days.

Here's my scenario: we've had a rough go and had no pantry or freezer stock at all.  I had to start from scratch with a very minimum budget.  The first week's menus cost $20 to prepare.  I made yogurt at home to extend the foods available to us.  We didn't eat a balanced diet but we managed to eat well enough to survive (and that's by our standards not the standards of a third world country!).   Week 2 I had a little food to carry over from Week 1: 1 cup dried black beans and 2 cups yogurt.  I had a little more grocery money for the week, rising to $30.    In Week 2, I opted to make more yogurt from my milk purchase.   I bought flour and yeast and made bread instead of buying loaf bread.  I made egg noodles.   At the end of that challenge I had these leftovers:
four slices of pizza
1 c dried black beans
1 can refried beans (I didn't make dip, didn't use on pizzas either as I'd thought I might at one point)
1 package of dry yeast
2 onions
1 pound of potatoes
1/2 bunch of celery
1/2 pound carrots
about 1 1/2 pounds flour (or about 6 cups)
about 3 1/2 pounds sugar (or about 7 cups)
about 3 cups of oatmeal (remember we only had it 3 mornings)
3/4 cup of cooked chicken
1 quart of chicken broth with fat still atop
2 cups egg noodles
5 cups yogurt
2 eggs (we didn't eat an omelet for supper as planned)
tomato paste about 2 ounces (or 1/3 of the can)
1/2 jar of peanut butter
1/3 cup of margarine
garlic powder

So in my new scenario, I have been able to increase my food budget by $5 for the week.  I have the above foods left which are the beginning of a larder. 

Right away I can see that I could easily make 3 breakfasts of oatmeal (using water and salt as it is traditionally made and served with a sprinkle of sugar atop).  I would like to buy milk to go atop this, as I just find it more palatable.

I can make one batch of biscuits using 2 cup of flour, a little margarine and yogurt whey and yogurt (2/3 cup total), since I bought self rising flour.  With the eggs, that could easily be a breakfast (1 egg each and 2 biscuits). Typically I end up with about 10 biscuits so this will leave six biscuits left over.   If I wanted it to be a big breakfast I might use about 1/3 of the potatoes and make hash browns, but I think I shall save those potatoes for the week ahead.

I can also make a batch of bread (2 loaves) with 4 cups flour and yeast and water.  The lack of fat might be a problem, but I could wait until I've purchased groceries and buy some oil this week. That should just about finish off the flour.  Per my calculations, based on 15 cups to a 5 pound bag, we used roughly half a bag last challenge week, which would leave me about 7 cups for this week.  With biscuits and bread that will likely take 6 cups.  If I make the bread we can have peanut butter toast three mornings for breakfast.  And that has 7 breakfasts for two all taken care of with the exception of wanting milk for oatmeal.  I expect the peanut butter toast will just about finish off the peanut butter but you know we're gonna scrape that jar clean before we call it quits on that. 

I have enough pizza slices for two for a supper and can make chicken soup with the remaining noodles, some of the vegetables, the frozen broth and leftover chicken.  So that's nine meals total from leftovers without scratching too hard. 

5 pounds flour $1.29
3 strip pack of yeast $.79
baking powder $.99
baking soda $.49
vegetable oil $1.85
8 ounce tomato sauce @.25cents each x 2
1 can tomatoes $.59
eggs 1 doz $.89
1 gal milk $2.15
2 cans cut green beans @ $.49each
Fresh whole roaster chicken $6.16
margarine $.98
15 ozs.  peanut butter $1.49
32 ounces grape jelly $1.39
1 can pineapple rings $.99
1 pound frozen sweet peas $.95
1 pound frozen broccoli $.95
Total 23.07

stopped in to pick up the FREE items none of which were available...
1 # box brown sugar $.98
oatmeal $1.59
Total $2.64

1 pound brown rice $1
1 pound carrots $.69
Total $1.74

Food Depot
8 ounce cheese $1.59
tea bags $.99
1 jalapeno pepper $.10
Turnip greens $.74
3 # Gala apples $2.68
Total $6.91

Grand Total with tax (and adding the 10% at Food Depot)$34.36

Honestly y'all...This feels like a wealth of food compared to the two previous challenges especially with the leftovers from the last challenge.  I still didn't get all I'd have liked to get, but do we ever do that anyway?  This week's funds, thanks to last week's leftovers, has allowed me to add tea to our shelves and to purchase fruits and vegetables.  Of this I shall most certainly be glad.  I think finally I've begun to be nearer that sweet spot I was talking about earlier.  I believe I'll be eating most of the planned meals with these foods.  If I could have managed lettuce and salad dressing (or vinegar to add to the oil) it would have been nearer ideal diabetic diet plan.   But to get this close on $35 is pretty awesome.  Of course, had I been purchasing from scratch with no pantry/no leftover items to use...Well it still wouldn't be the ideal budget for a complete week of diabetic friendly meals.  We must all remember, if we have a health condition that requires following a certain diet that meeting our dietary needs is primary.  There is no virtue in keeping a strict budget and getting ill! 

Now I've already planned breakfasts, so I won't be needing this canister of oatmeal.  It will go straight onto the pantry shelf.

And I did note that packets of vegetable seeds at Aldi were $.49.  I could easily 'buy' a packet of tomato, green bean or squash seeds this challenge session as well and start the seeds indoors.  I wouldn't need to use the full packet either.  So you might just alter that total by $.50 and we'd still be within budget and one step nearer being less dependent upon the grocery shelves for all dietary needs.  

You'll note we again purchased one of those big roaster chickens.  It was $.95 a pound this time and not quite as large as the last but it will be sufficient for our week this week, especially since we're starting the week with a small amount of leftovers from last time.

I will start this particular challenge next week on Sunday and I'll post all menus then.    In the meantime, those of you who feel so led, what could you purchase for $35 a week and feel free to use any 'leftovers' from your last challenge if you did those.  If not, then share what you could purchase and make for just the $35.  If you don't care to share, scratch it out on paper and help train your mind to THINK about these things as a possibility.


cheryl soergel said...

I am laughing at the pinterest mention. Who plans a week of food for only five days or no breakfast or lunch. I am enjoying your blog very much and like how you explain everything in these challenges. Cheryl

Debby in KS said...

I'm laughing at the same thing Cheryl is laughing at. Just like I laugh when the talk show people do an episode on saving $100 per week and their *big* tips are to give up your daily Starbucks and save $35 per week, take your lunch 2 days a week for another $20 per week, take the subway instead of a cab, and reduce the housekeeper visits to every other week. Voila! You've saved $400 per month and they all cheer at their smarts. :::big fat snort::: I'll give them $400 right now if they can show me the subway here in Kansas!!

Terri, I'll tell you a silly trick my mom used to do so she would have milk in her oatmeal just in case she couldn't get to the market.
She could only go monthly before she moved here. She'd buy a pint of vanilla ice cream for $1. It wouldn't spoil before the month was over and she didn't need sugar! She said a tablespoon of it in her oatmeal was perfect. She'd use milk, then canned milk, then her ice cream to get her thru' the month!!

I look forward to seeing more of your challenge!

Lana said...

I like oatmeal with a pat of butter instead of milk for a change of taste sometimes.

Anxiously awaiting your menus! I like the new background on the blog. It looks fresh and Spring like.

Mable Hastings said...

I have managed to cut our food bill in half from two years ago and still eat well. We do eat A LOT of soups, using a chicken as a base; one chicken will provide us with two meals plus a week of soup (added potatoes, cabbage, and usually something on sale like spinach or corn or peas). Four nights of soup a week, oatmeal most days for breakfast, and lunches of peanut butter sandwiches. I also grow microgreens, which provide 2 to 4 times the nutrients that their adult vegetable versions do. I don't need grow-lights or anything other than a flat or other container about 3 inches tall. I have lots of vegetable seeds leftover from other years, so I don't need to spend any money on new ones. I also have friends who give me their leftover seeds, now that they know I will put them to use. Last night we had microgreens of beets, pak choi, spinach, carrots,chard and basil added to our soup. Cheap and healthy. I can get a crop 10 days after planting, use a quarter of the flat for each day's meal and replant a new quarter every time I clip down a bunch of microgreens. So, I always have a flat going, each quarter in various stages of development.

I enjoy reading your frugal cooking pieces. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

On Living on a Dime, Jill, the mom, talked about living on $7 a week when her kids were young. Very interesting. She first checked out the daily food requirements for each of them (3) people, and that is what they had. Milk allowance went to morning cereal, one piece of fruit during the day and how she bought two pieces of meat a week, a pound of hamburger or a chicken and how she stretched it. A half pound of hamburger in a casserole, but she would take out 2 spoons of it, save it in the freezer, then when she had enough make another casserole. I found it on utube. Great story she has, all without any self pity which can happen.Gramma D

Anonymous said...

Hi Terri,
Your challenges have been a bit of memory lane for me. There were times in my past when money was that tight! I'm so thankful for that not to be the case now. My frugal habits are just that -- habits! Earlier I mentioned that I often get spices in the bulk section at our local Kroger's, which you don't have. The last time I was in my favorite discount grocery store, I noticed they had ground black pepper for $1.29 in one of the cellophane bags with the Hispanic foods. It's still a lot for a spice, but the cheapest option I think I've seen.

Terri Cheney said...

Doggone it! Chris, I visited a store that has a large Hispanic clientele and meant to look at their packaged spices to see if I mightn't save money in that area. I'll have to go back and have a look!

And yes, I know. I've 'lived' this sort of budget for real myself and fed a family and guest upon it. So it's nice to practice those old skills and polish them up a little.

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