Monthly Archives: January 2016


My budget for this week was $15.64 and I have spent . . . $15.93.


This means that I am $0.29 in the negative, so I’ll start next week with only $9.71.

However, I I feel no regret and this is why.
1. Cereal was on sale at Aldi, so I bought two boxes, which will probably last well into week four, and I saved $0.60 on each box!
2. I bought more milk so that I don’t have to go back to the store just for milk when mine runs out in 2-3 days. This will also last into week four.
3. Aldi also had some old Christmas items on sale, which included giant chocolate santas, shortbread cookies, and chocolate covered pretzels. Each of those items was a cool twenty-five cents. They are not healthy, but they will be great to take in my lunches and their calorie per dollar figures are very high.

Seventy-five cents (plus about three cents tax) for 2620 calories of mostly fat, a tiny amount of protein, and negligible amounts of anything else useful. (Or 3359 kcal/$)
Seventy-five cents (plus about three cents tax) for 2620 calories of mostly fat, a tiny amount of protein, and negligible amounts of anything else useful.

The other two items I bought this round were bananas (2) and polish sausage. The polish sausage was $1.99 for seven servings, and though it has a little less protein per serving than the canned sausages, it’s calorie per dollar count was higher. It also tastes much better than canned sausages. The bananas are similar to apples when it comes to cost versus calories, so even though I have many apples remaining, I got bananas to add some variety.

Quick update on the calorie count – yesterday I got to around 2100, which includes a little bit of the chocolate santa. I had two servings of vegetables, one serving of fruit, one serving of meat, two servings of dairy, and 3.5 servings of grains. Not too shabby.

Week three starts on Wednesday. Since I don’t have to worry about staple items for a while, next week’s allotment will probably be spent on veggies, peanut butter, and maybe a little more meat.



Protein, Calories, and Vitamins, Oh My

It’s day . . . 11 of $50 food month. I think that the fact that I’m losing track of the days is a sign that it’s going well.

Thus far I’ve used $8.91 out of the $15.64 that I have for this week. A couple of days ago I bought a container of cottage cheese and sausages in a can to try to keep enough protein in my diet. I got 47.5g of protein yesterday, so that’s going well.

I don't love sausages in a can, but with the veggie rice and soy sauce they didn't taste too bad.
I don’t LOVE sausages in a can, but they went reasonably well with the veggies, rice, and soy sauce.

The next item on the agenda is caloric intake. According to this handy tool, I need between 1900-2100 calories a day. Yesterday I got about 1700, even with half of a snickers bar (I participated in a research study and won the snickers bar for extra participation). My plan for the next few days is to land in my suggested daily range and see how that affects my food stores.

While I was counting calories, I also calculated the cost of calories for different foods. If I have $50 to spend for 30 days of food, I should be spending an average of $1.66 on food each day, which would be 1200 calories per dollar spent . . .

. . . enter this very exciting chart. (Note: This is not every item that I have, only the ones I used yesterday.) (Double note: all info is based off of what I bought, so it would vary if I switched to a different type of cereal, different veggies, et cetera.) Items are listed in order from most calories per dollar (canola oil) to least calories per dollar (frozen veggies). This chart shows that most of the foods I consume on a random day are below the calories per dollar threshold, but the ones I eat in the largest quantities (like rice, bread, milk, cereal) tend to be a little higher on the list.


I was a little surprised that cereal and milk are both so much more economical than eggs. In terms of informing my purchases, I think I will kick up the cereal and milk game a notch. Milk has a lot of calcium and protein in addition to calories, and cereal can have various vitamins and some protein. It seems worth it to get a slightly more expensive cereal with lots of vitamins.

Considering fruits and veggies, I want to calculate this info for bananas and see how it compares to the apples. If they’re similar, I may focus on those two fruits for the rest of the month. The veggies in the above chart are a mix of broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower. I know that green beans have a higher calorie per dollar count because they cost less, had similar amounts of calories per serving, and had more servings per bag. I don’t like them quite as much, but since it will help to have them I’ll get them again when my other veggies run out.





End Week One

Even though I’m only a quarter of the way through, I have a lot of reflections about $50 food month so far.

  1. Nothing is wasted. I’m not usually a wasteful person, but I’ve definitely thrown out fruit that has gone bad or tossed the last few bites of a meal into the garbage because I was too full to eat it. This past week, though, I’ve been scraping absolutely all of the sauce from the pan and eating all the crumbs that fall from the bread.
  2. I’m very lucky that my main beverage of choice is water. This would be so much harder if I had to do this while also giving up coffee or soda or any other such thing.
  3. It’s only a week in and I find myself thinking, “I should have gotten this instead of that,” or “If I did this again I would start with that.” I have about 6 different $50 food month plans written up in an excel sheet from pre-project planning, but writing it down in cells is so different from doing it. While I am going to continue to operate based off of the written plan, I’m keeping in mind that it’s okay if it changes based on the actual reality of this endeavor.
  4. I am getting a little tired of PB&J.

This evening I purchased some more food items to kick off week two. image1My spoils from this trip are another loaf of bread (it was on sale, so it was $0.10 less than the bread from last week plus it has more protein and fiber, wow), a bag of apples (10 apples!), a bottle of soy sauce, a “vegetable medley,” and a three pound bag of rice. It is so much rice; I could eat rice for dinner every single day for the rest of this thing. The rice was $0.50 more than I budgeted, but the apples were $0.50 less. Balance. I looked for canned chicken as a friend of mine suggested, but couldn’t find any. It would be nice to get some meat in this week – in a few days I’ll think more about what options there might be. (Hotdogs are very cheap, but also very processed. Do I mind? I could eat them condimentless on bread or cut them up and put them with rice and veggies. Neither of those sound delicious, but maybe I’m wrong.)

This shopping trip cost a total of $6.17, which leaves me with $9.47 for the rest of the week. I am feeling pretty food-rich right now. Almost $10 left for this week’s budget, a lot of food left from the first week, plus the new additions for week two so far!

image2I felt so good about how much food I have that I took a picture. Of course, many things have limited quantities left. I tried to represent that by showing open jars and the cereal out of the box. An honest representation of what there is, if you will.  The picture was taken after I had dinner, so it is fully up to date. (This is actually the second picture I took – I got the whole thing set up, took the picture, put most of it away, then realized that I forgot to put the apples out. Out of dedication to the cause, I set up the picture again with all of the pieces in place. You’re welcome.)

For posterity, here’s a picture of my dinner tonight: spaghetti with the sauce from the jar and parmesan cheese on top and green beans seasoned with salt and pepper. I’m waiting to break into the rice and soy sauce until tomorrow, since week two officially starts then.



$50 Food Month (Day 6)

It’s almost the end of week one and things are going fairly well. Since the two weekend days didn’t count because I was visiting my mom, today was day 6. I forgot that I had a meeting/potluck to go to this evening, so I had to come up with something to bring. I had a muffin mix in the cupboard that my sister gave me a little while back, and I already had milk to make it that I bought as a part of $50 food month, so I figured that was acceptable. Plus I got a meal of more diverse foods, including grapes and a weird cool soup.

Based off of my estimations for tomorrow, this is what I think I will have left at the end of week one:

1 serving peaches
5 servings pasta
3 servings pasta sauce
3 eggs
1 serving green beans
2 servings broccoli
1/2 jar peanut butter
1/3 gallon of milk
1/4 box of cereal
parmesan cheese
canola oil

Seems like a pretty good start to week two. I have a plan for what to get this next week, but I’m open to suggestions. The budget is $15.64 ($15 for week two – $5 less each week – plus $0.64 unused from week one) for week two, and this is what I’m thinking for its use:

Cereal: $1.95
Milk: $1.90
Bag of apples: $2.00
Loaf of bread: $1.00
Frozen broccoli: $1.50
Soy or oyster sauce: $2.00
Rice: $1.00
Carton of eggs: $1.50

That would total $12.85, giving me $2.79 to spare. Whoo! The downside to this plan is that my lunches remain largely the same – PB&J and a fruit and perhaps a hard-boiled egg. But the dinners will be more diverse, with options for pasta with two sauce types and rice with broccoli. Maybe I can find some meat for $2.79 or less, or maybe different veggies would be a better option.

Anyway, since I still have some things, I’ll probably only start with half of the above list and maybe modify it later.

Days 3 & 4

I talked to my dad on the phone and he expressed concern that I won’t get enough protein during $50 food month. According to the internet I need 46 grams per day. I was interested to see how I was doing, and discovered that most of the things I am eating have at least a little bit of protein in them.

Day 3
1.5 glasses of milk: 12g
1.5 eggs: 9g
1.5 serving pasta: 10.5g
1 serving parm cheese: 2g
1 serving broccoli
2 bowls of cereal: 4g
1 banana: 1g
2 slices of bread: 4g
½ serving peanut butter: 2.5g
TOT: 47g

The 0.5 egg was the pasta sauce that was leftover from the day before. The pasta has a surprisingly high amount of protein, which is nice. Mandarin oranges apparently have no protein.

Day 4
2 servings pasta: 14g
1 serving pasta sauce: 2g
1 serving parm cheese: 2g
2 bowls of cereal: 4g
1.5 glasses of milk: 12g
1 banana: 1g
2 slices of bread: 4g
½ serving peanut butter: 2.5g
TOT: 41.5

Some of those numbers are slightly estimated as I don’t measure exactly how much pasta, cereal, or milk I use. I think the estimates are fair, though, which means that overall I’m achieving close to the correct amount of protein.

The meals sound really boring when you look at them like this, but I’m not tired of them yet. I just realized that I forgot to eat any vegetables today. Extra tomorrow, then!

Overall I’m feeling pretty good for it being the end of day four. My meals are slightly varied (except for the PB&J – maybe I’ll get another banana and make a PBJ&B sandwich) and I have a lot of things left. I’m only completely out of the mandarin oranges and the bananas. From the other items, the only thing I’ve used more than half of is the bread, so I think that’s a good sign. Plus, I still have $0.64 left for this week! Unless I come up with a really inexpensive addition to the plan, it will probably roll into next week, so I’ll start that week with a budget of $15.64.

The canola oil is going to last much longer than one month.

$50 Food Month (Day 2)

What is the point of this? So glad you asked.

I read a Buzzfeed article a little while back where someone did a hunger challenge. The challenge was to live off of $4.50 a day (the average amount awarded in food stamps) plus the standard items that might be given out at a local food bank. I know that if a person is living off of food stamps he or she might not have time to shop around, put time into food preparation, et cetera. Also, as Eminem said so eloquently, “These g** d*** food stamps don’t buy diapers.” (I have no idea if food stamps buy diapers or not.) I could go on about how someone who’s in a tough situation also has to worry about obtaining non-food items, but also how food stamps are (probably) meant to be a supplement to someone’s (low) income, and other things that I have never needed to understand, but that is not quite the subject at hand.

I appreciate the work he put into the hunger challenge; however, I think I can do a better job.

$4.50 per day for 30 days is $135. Location does matter, and I know that $135 for food in Chicago is different from $135 for food in Champaign. I’ve kept a monthly budget for some time, and the average amount that I spend on groceries per month (according to the months of April through November of 2015) is $92.50. This number includes any alcohol purchases and includes some (but not all) of my eating out. (The reason for this is because I put eating out where ever I have money left in the budget, so it could end up in either grocery or miscellaneous. Exciting, I know.) My lowest amount spent on groceries has been $50 per month, but that didn’t include food that was already in my apartment (i.e. flour, pasta, rice, frozen items, canned items, you get it).

To the point: I am doing this because I want to try and think I can spend only $50 for an entire month’s worth of food. It’s a challenge that tests my creativity and also reminds me that I’m quite fortunate to live in a situation where I don’t have to worry about food.

I’ve had some suggestions about how to diversify my menu a bit. One of the biggest problems that I face is that I can’t count anything as a partial cost. If I buy a bottle of salad dressing, it counts as $2, not as $0.25 even if I only used a little bit of it. This just means that everything has to have multiple uses, and I should plan on using all of everything that I purchase.

I had $7.51 left for this week. My meal plans were lacking dairy, protein except for the eggs, and pizzazz. How important is pizzazz, though?


This is what I came up with. The milk and cereal will last me at least partially into next week, and the milk will provide dairy and also some more protein. I couldn’t decide if I should get the pasta sauce or not, but figured it would be good to add in a different taste. Same with the cheese. I bought the bananas at Walmart for $0.33 and the rest of the items at ALDI for $6.52. Out of my starting $20, I have $0.64 left for this week. At least I know I could go buy three more bananas.

IMG_0058Last night I ate pasta where the sauce was just a little bit of canola oil, salt, and pepper. I actually like pasta that way; but I decided to work harder today to make it more of a meal. You could say that I used this recipe for carbonara sauce, except that I only used milk, an egg, salt, pepper, and parmesan cheese. It was delicious.

Side note: Michelle and I were discussing the implications of free food. As mentioned in the first post, I won’t count days where I am being fed rather than feeding myself. If smaller things come up, they would not count against me. For example, today I was given a coconut cookie that someone brought back from India and there was zucchini bread up for grabs in the department office, so I had a piece of the bread and ate the cookie without needing to discount any meals.

$50 Food Month (Day 1)

I have wanted to do a $50 food month for a long time, but I’ve never started because I’ve never have 30 uninterrupted eating days. I still don’t, but if there are any interruptions I will just omit those days. A prime example is this weekend: since I’m visiting my mom, Friday will be day 5 and Monday will be day 6.

$50 food month is just like it sounds – I have $50 to spend on food for 30 days.  I’ve budgeted $20 to spend the first week, $15 the second, $10 the third, and $5 the last week. Besides staying under budget, the goal is to eat healthy and maintain my current weight. The only thing that I get to use that I already have is salt and pepper. Since I last bought those more than two years ago, I don’t think I need to buy new ones just for this. For good measure I’ll take 50 cents out of my first week’s budget as a salt and pepper tax.


This is my starter pack for week one: 16 servings of spaghetti, 7 total servings of fruit (canned peaches and mandarin oranges), 9 total servings of vegetables (frozen green beans and broccoli), 12 eggs, PB&J (combined!), and enough bread for 10 sandwiches (though some of the bread may be used as toast). The canola oil is not a serving of anything, but will be useful all month for cooking purposes.


Since this only cost $12 (ALDI, whoo), I have $7.50 left for this week after the salt and pepper tax. We’ll see how it’s going in a few days and perhaps throw in some variety. I’m sure that things will get very boring very fast, as I’m only on meal 2 and I’ve used parts of six out of nine items. I’m also missing any dairy, so that’ll be the next thing to add.

This morning I had a hard-boiled egg and a piece of toast for breakfast, where I put a tiny bit of canola oil on the toast in lieu of butter and also swiped a little bit of jelly from the jelly part of the PB&J combo jar. Lunch was a PB&J sandwich with green beans and mandarin oranges. I made extra green beans so I can just reheat them tonight to go with the pasta, and I packed the other mandarin oranges into containers to bring in lunches.


Missed Buses

I had an overnight layover in Miami on my way back from Trinidad (I stayed in a hotel instead of the airport which was nice and totally worth it). My flight from Miami to Chicago the next day was delayed, and it was looking like I was going to miss the bus back to Champaign. I was upset at the added hurdle because it’s already a long day of traveling, and in addition to the bus to Champaign I would still need to take another bus and then walk to get to my apartment.

At 10:05am I was on the phone with Peoria Charter while waiting for my bag in the airport 10 minutes before my bus was supposed to leave. The next bus to Champaign that had any openings left at 10:30 that evening, but there was a 12:50pm bus that I could take to Peoria. “Great, let’s do that.” I hung up the phone and my bag appeared on the conveyor belt. My original bus was scheduled to leave in 5 minutes.

I thought about running out there while calling the lady back, hopping on it and being on my way, but the idea of getting picked up in Peoria by my mom and letting her feed me had already won me over.

I had two hours to wait for the bus, and while I was waiting there was an announcement that there would be a Catholic Mass in the interfaith chapel in the airport. Oh yes, that is for me. I didn’t even know that the airport had an interfaith chapel, but I went there and the Mass was lovely.

I got on the bus to go to Peoria and a woman sat down next to me. I asked her where she was from, and she said “No English only French,” so I asked spoke with her in (extremely rusty) French. I still don’t actually know where she was from, except that she was born in the Congo and her father is a university professor somewhere and she was going to Bloomington to see her sister. She was confused about her stop so I asked the driver some questions for her and she used my phone to call her sister.

My mother picked me up in Peoria and fed me a big salad for dinner, which was just great since I’d spent over 24 hours eating things like chips and granola bars and cookies. Also we had wine.

This morning my mom and I went to my grandparents house and had an early lunch there before my mom drove me back to Champaign, dropping me conveniently at my doorstep.

I complain a lot to Kevan about the fact that we live so far away from each other. I tell him that it sucks and I am so ready to not live 2,500 miles apart anymore. I want to be frustrated at God for setting us up for a prolonged long-distance relationship, though I guess I know better than that. I tell myself that God probably wants to teach me something by it, but of course I won’t know for five or ten years what it is. At least in the meantime I can try to remember that it’s not always terrible to get from here to there, and missing a bus might not mean the end of the world, and maybe my original plan, even a small one, isn’t the best plan in the end.

Failed Attempts

It seems less than optimistic to talk about failed attempts when the attempt isn’t finished yet, but I guess it’s a good time to say that an attempt can still be worth it even if it doesn’t succeed. I have a lot of confidence in myself and my projects, it’s just that from experience I know that many of my attempts will fail. They fail because I attempt things that I have no idea how to do, have never done before, and maybe just am not capable of or equipped to do.

My current endeavor is to try to make chocolate from raw cocoa fruits. On a hike last week we found a lot of trees with ripe cocoa and the boys picked a couple to eat (you open them up and suck the mucus/fruit off of the beans). I picked a bunch to lug around imagining in my head how I could make chocolate and how cool that would be. 

I looked up how to make chocolate from raw cocoa fruit and discovered that it’s a very long process. I’m going to be here for just less than the amount of time that it supposed to take, so I’m trying to speed things up just a tiny bit (although that seems dangerous since  I’ve never done it before and if the timing is off it will apparently taste terrible).

The first step was fermentation. I read articles about how you need a box, the right type of box and the right type of environment, et cetera. Of course I just put them in an old cardboard box in which I punched a few holes so it could drain out the bottom a bit. The beans were supposed to ferment for five (to seven) days, but I cut it down to four to try to gain back a little time. I am inclined to believe that the fermentation worked, because after four days in the box smelled like old wine. That means they fermented right?

The beans inside are covered in a mucus that is somehow both sweet and tart.
My awesome fermentation setup.

The next step is drying them, which is supposed to take about a week. Since I leave a week from yesterday I’m hoping that they’ll dry faster than that. I read that to dry them they are sometimes left out in the sun or put through an industrial drying machine. I certainly don’t have the drying machine and the sun option is shaky as it supposed to be kind of rainy the next week. Still, it’s at least sunny today, so I have them sitting on the roof. In a few days I may put them in the oven at a low temperature for a little bit to see if that will speed the drying process without making them bitter.

Drying the beans on the roof!

Sometimes I feel trepidation about telling people about ventures like these because I already know that my chances of success are low, and then when I talk to people I feel like they tend to look at me like “that’s never going to work because you’ve clearly never done it and you don’t know what you’re doing and why are you wasting your time.” But I think it’s important to try stuff like this out because even if even if you fail you’ve learned something or had fun, hopefully, and if you succeed then you’ve really learned something and have a cool outcome. At this point maybe I should write something inspirational about how you should try random new things out but I don’t know that that would help because you’re probably either believe that or you don’t.

Here is a quote from a famous guy about whom I know very little:
“The greatest failure is the failure to try.” – William Ward

And we’ll see how the chocolate-making goes 🙂