This month we’re going to try something unique. This post was inspired really by two different things: 1) families who are looking for honest and interesting ways to decrease their grocery budgets, and 2) the “food stamp challenge.”
Let’s talk about point #2 first. Have you ever heard of it? It’s basically a publicity stunt that a bunch of Congressmen dreamed up in 2007. They worked out the average food stamp benefit as being $3/day/person. Then they decided that for one week, several of them were going to stick to this. Big surprise — they mostly ate boxes of crackers, Velveeta, bananas, peanut butter sandwiches, ramen, and other processed foods, largely grain-based. Then they claimed that it “can barely be done” and went on and on about the plight of the poor….
This was not a realistic trial. People on food stamps don’t (shouldn’t) live day-to-day and by individual people (unless they are single, of course). This number works out so that a family of 4 would receive about $360/month. Sounds a little more realistic, right? With a whole family to plan for and a month at a time, it’s entirely possible to do, buying fruit/veggies in bulk, dry beans, whole grains (like rice), cheaper cuts of meat, plenty of eggs, etc.
Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Many of us need or want to reduce our grocery budgets but just shake our heads, not sure where to begin. Some of us have to be on very restricted budgets, for a number of reasons. Currently, the general attitude is “You can’t eat well if you’re poor.” I don’t think that’s true at all, though. I think the poor are not aware of the options that they have that could reduce their food bills and provide excellent nutrition.
Back in October 2009, Jenny at Nourished Kitchen took on this challenge. Her approach was a bit different than mine will be, though, for a few reasons. She avoided all but conventional grocery stores (assuming that was what the poor would have access to), did not use anything from the pantry, and a few other things (you can click the link to read about her experience).
I’m not going to approach it quite that way, though. My goal isn’t to prove that just people on food stamps can eat well, cheap. My goal is to prove that anyone on a limited budget can eat well. Also, things have changed in the last couple of years, and at least in my area, most health food stores and even farmer’s markets do take food stamps now. So, I won’t be eliminating those.
For the sake of this challenge, we, personally, are going to take on the following assumptions:
- The maximum benefits are $668, but we would probably not get that. I’ll use the average of $3/day/person and call it $360.
- We can pull from the pantry, but must keep track of what is used and cost (primarily to get an estimate on what I’m spending overall, as well as to figure out what staples are netting me the most value)
- Same with the freezer
- I can use any resource available to me to reduce my costs (again — this is to prove that it can be done on any limited budget, not just food stamps; though most places will take food stamp cards)
I’ve already done a few things to prepare. On Tuesday, I created a sourdough starter (it’s the only grain that I eat, and I’m the only one who eats it. I have about once slice of traditionally fermented sourdough per day). I started a big pot of stock. I made some yogurt, which got partially turned into popsicles/frozen yogurt for my kids’ snacks. All of these are really quite easy to do, and much cheaper than buying these things (yogurt is $1.25/qt instead of $3/qt).
I made up a very simple meal plan (will get posted later today) which is honestly likely to change. I ended up shopping for very basic foods — good hotdogs, lots of frozen fruit/veggies, cheese, etc. I know that right now, in the position we’re in, that we need things that are nourishing yet very easy. If I have to work hard to get a meal I might not eat, and I just can’t do that. So we’re looking at a lot of smoothies, cheese, fruit/veggies, soups, yogurt, etc. It just so happens that these are pretty frugal, too.
On Tuesday I’ll be posting details about my shopping trip (yesterday). But, I went to the ATM, withdrew my $180 (for two weeks of groceries) and went shopping. I set aside $40 immediately for our next farm order (which will buy us about 10 dozen eggs and 3 – 4 gallons of milk). Then I hit up some local stores, and came away with what we needed to realistically, and easily, feed our family for two weeks. And stayed under budget. (Ordinarily I’d pull out $250 so I’m doing pretty good here!)
Want to take the challenge along with me? Here are the basic premises:
- You get $90 per month per person in your family (that’s how I came up with $360 for a family of 4)
- If you are way under or over this number, try to reduce your grocery bill by 10% this month
- You must make some form of meal plan, even if it is only dinners and/or a rough sketch
- You must make a shopping list and stick to it as much as possible
- You must keep all your receipts and your shopping lists (so you can compare later)
That’s it! That’s all you need to do to join in. Later this month (starting Tuesday, but we’ll have regular Saturday posts on this. I just wanted to get my grocery list and first tips out quickly), we’ll be talking about more ways to reduce our budgets, looking at where we went over (impulse buys, forgetting to write staples — like spices — on the lists, not knowing what average prices are, etc.), and so on.
We can do this. I know it! I reduced my bill by really more than $70 in my first two-week period (because, ahem, recently I’ve been going over a lot).
What do you say? Will you take the challenge?