When I’m stressed enough to compulsively photoshop things and have a minute where nothing else immediately demands my attention:
<- What is this?
If you said, “A bagel, a banana, and a single serving of lunchmeat,” you are correct. It was also my lunch for today, and cost $2.19.
I hear you whispering to yourself. I know that normally that is not an impressive thing. However, I have been traveling for a conference, and a $2.19 lunch is hugely different than a $5 or $10 or more lunch from eating out. (I will also argue that it is healthier than eating out. Because there is a banana. Fruit.) One of my colleagues even asked me where I got my sandwich because it looked good. What a success!
Occasionally someone will still ask me if I am still doing the $50 food month, or how it went. Although I didn’t finish it, I feel that I learned a lot and am still learning about how to cut costs on food. I see a lot of articles about how to cut spending, and they inevitably list something like, “Stop buying coffee at cafes! A $2 coffee every day adds up to $60 a month!” I think that is a totally valid way to cut spending – if you drink coffee. As I do not, I’m looking for other ways to lower my spending.
These are the guidelines I have come up with to follow for food budgeting.
1. Probably the most important one is set a dollar amount and stick to it.
– I keep every single receipt from my grocery trips, and enter them into an excel spreadsheet with my monthly budget. Sounds boring, but it makes you see the dollars add up. You can’t lie to yourself about your spending if it’s right in front of you.
2. Buy at the best price
– I buy fresh produce at Schnucks and everything else at Aldi. (Okay, I like good produce.) I suppose that I’ll shop at Wal-Mart for more specific items on my grocery list, but since I’m flexible about what I cook and eat, I don’t have to very often.
– You don’t need name brand stuff. Food is food.
3. Consider substitutions
– Can you get yourself to use frozen broccoli instead of fresh? Cream of potato soup instead of mushroom soup because the potato is on sale?
4. Buy on sale if you would purchase it anyway
– Before I left for the conference, I made a quick trip to Aldi to buy snacks for the flight (waaaay cheaper than airport food). Normally soups there range from $0.80 to $1.50 depending on size and type, but this time they had the small cans on sale for $0.40. I use cans of soup when I cook chicken and rice – dump it on top, instant sauce. Buy a few and it’s $1.50 saved. That’s a lot!
5. Let yourself be rewarded by the savings
– This is the one I’m really bad at. When I’m under budget on groceries, I kind of say, “Oh good,” and then forget about it. But if it’s a motivating factor for you, use it for something that makes you happy. $10 under budget? Go see a movie with friends. $20 under? Get a nice bottle of wine. Whatever motivates you. (Just a note – this will probably only work if you are budgeting other things, and thus limited on your spending in other ways as well.
– If you can think of a better way to see your progress, go for it.
An interesting thing happened to me today. I went to McKinley to get a tetanus shot since it’s been ten years since my last one, and for a (still) unknown reason my body went into a state of shock/something. When I came in to the clinic the nurse asked me if I have a problem with needles or if I thought I’d pass out, and I told her no, that I’ve always been fine before. She gave me the shot and it felt as shots do, just a normal little sting, and I felt fine, then a touch lightheaded, then I warned the nurse that I was going to pass out and I leaned forward on the counter.
I was awoken from a strange dream by the sound of my name. “Rose! Rose! Rose! Rose!”
“What?” I finally said. Instead of one nurse there were now about seven. They helped me into a wheelchair and (apparently) moved me into a different room and had me lie on my back. I was in and out of consciousness for a while, but eventually I gathered that my blood pressure and heart rate were very low. They put an IV in me (though I don’t remember that happening either) to give me a saline solution to help get things moving again. It was cold, and it made me so cold I was shivering. I asked them if they could just knock me out because I was in such pain/discomfort, but they apologetically said no. They did give me some orange juice though.
They called an ambulance for me and I went to the hospital, but by the time it came I was at least more sentient and was feeling embarrassed that I was being rolled out on a stretcher. The ER was so full that I was given a bed in the hallway, but I didn’t mind because I was feeling alright at that point and I liked watching the people walking around. They did blood tests and an EKG and found nothing weird. I asked what the reasons might be that that had happened (is it because I got the shot while I have a cold? stress from grad school? should I gain weight?), but since everything came up normal and I ate a good-sized breakfast, they didn’t have any straight answers.
I’m back at my apartment now and feeling normal, though still not at 100% because of my cold.
I don’t think that my $50 food month diet is unhealthy or caused this to happen, but I’ve decided to give it up anyway for the sake of having fewer things on my plate to juggle.
For posterity, here is the ending state of things:
I have $1.06 left to spend because yesterday I spent $5.61 for week four. I estimated that I had 3 breakfasts, 10 lunches, and 6 dinners remaining for the last 10 days. I tried to get items that could be used for a couple different types of meals, and I splurged on the OJ and tomato soup as comfort items for my cold. I had more milk left than cereal, so I got the pudding mix to use it up and have more snacks for my lunch. I think I’ll keep doing this in the future, because it’s a great lunch item, it took only about 5 minutes to whip up, it’s more economical than buying the prepackaged individual puddings, and there is much less waste. Whoo!
I piled together all of the food that I have left. If I were to continue, I would have this food to eat for 9 more days (since today is day 21), plus the $1.06, which I likely would have spent on bananas. Some of it’s hard to see because of how it’s packaged, but you can get an idea. (Look how cute the puddings are! There were originally six, but I’ve eaten two because they’re delicious and easy snack foods.) You can consider for yourself if you think this is enough food for 9 days or not.
In terms of my own diet plans, I expect to eat almost exclusively these items for the next 9 days anyway because it’s what I have already. The biggest differences that I foresee from ending the $50 food month early is that I will eat cereal for breakfast instead of eggs or toast (as was my plan for this last stretch) and that I will probably get some more fruit and maybe some lettuce.
Well . . . I guess that’s it. I will post my thoughts on how this went and of what I’ve learned and what I plan to change about my usual grocery budget in the future. Thanks for following along! 🙂
I’ve had several moments today where I’ve gone from, “I’m two and a half weeks in and killing it!” to “Oh gosh there’s still twelve days left,” back to “I am doing an amazing job.”
$50 food month has not been easy. It’s day 18, and I have a growing appreciation for how difficult it can be to diversify on a budget.
Earlier this week I spent $3.48 on the items to the left. The canned meat pasta thing had a reasonable calories per dollar score, so I got it as another thing to try for lunches next week. The broccoli cuts were the least expensive of the frozen veggies; they and the potato were for an attempt at soup. The soup was . . . less than delicious. I basically cooked the potato, then the broccoli, added milk and parmesan cheese, it was too thin, cooked some rice and added that, and at the end it really just tasted like soggy broccoli stems. Luckily it was only about two servings, so I ate some yesterday and some today and it is now happily gone.
Today I spent $4.57 more, which brings me to $8.05/$9.71 for this week. I got the broccoli florets again instead of the cuts because I still think stems are gross, and the other items are for making my own lunchables. I haven’t had bologna or processed American cheese (actually, the package says Imitation American Cheese, which leads me to believe that it is not, in fact, cheese) in years, and suppose I am pleased to report that my palate has developed and I don’t love it. However, it is a huge improvement on the soup, so I’m happy with it.
I don’t anticipate spending any more until after the fourth week starts, which means I’ll have $6.67 to finish off the month. The scary part of that is that $6.67 doesn’t seem like much for 12 more days, the un-scary part is that I have rice, veggies, soy sauce, polish sausage, a little pasta, an egg, bread, a few apples, milk, cereal, chocolate covered pretzels, and a some other small things left in addition to the food shown above.
I weighed myself while at the gym today, and while I am at the low end of my normal fluctuations, I am not out of my usual range. An excellent place to be at the more than halfway point, I would say.
Looking at the many things in my fridge and cupboards, this is starting to feel less like an experimental venture and more like a normal food situation (except for the non-use of my spices). However, I still have 15 days to go, with only $14.71 left to spend.
My packed lunches for the past two weeks have been PB&J sandwiches with miscellaneous supplementary items, but I am now at the end of the PB&J. Do I continue or pursue another lunch plan? The pros of going that route again is that I have few ingredients to buy for it and it’s high on the calories per dollar chart. Cons are that it’s boring.
Is there something I can do that’s close to as cheap? I have access to a microwave most lunchtimes, depending on where I’m at. I’ve been pondering it, but all I can come up with is soup. Maybe potato and mixed vegetable soup. I already have milk and parmesan cheese. I have no flour, nor do I have chicken broth or bouillon cubes, which could lead to a thin, less flavorful soup. It’s not even that risky, though, because I can just get one potato and the mixed veggies, and if it goes terribly then I’ll go back to the PB&J. Excellent. It will be tried.
Otherwise my plan is pretty straightforward. Buy more fruits, more veggies, maybe more meat. Coast on through. See what runs out first of what I have left.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Even though I’m only a quarter of the way through, I have a lot of reflections about $50 food month so far.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- I am getting a little tired of PB&J.
This evening I purchased some more food items to kick off week two. My 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!
I 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.
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
1 serving green beans
2 servings broccoli
1/2 jar peanut butter
1/3 gallon of milk
1/4 box of cereal
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:
Bag of apples: $2.00
Loaf of bread: $1.00
Frozen broccoli: $1.50
Soy or oyster sauce: $2.00
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.