40 Days Update: Did I Make it on $50?

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Lent is over, so it's time to report back on how I did on my challenge of giving up my entire grocery budget and instead trying to spend no more than $50 on food for those 40 days.  So, did I make it?


HOW MUCH I SPENT

I ended up spending $44, and it's really because we had so many pantry items.  Everything I ended up buying I bought from Aldi because it's the cheapest near me, and most of it was spent on produce.  I had a lot of black beans and quinoa stocked, and frozen vegetables, but I ended up getting a couple of fresh things each week.  Thankfully I already had coffee or that would have blown my entire budget for sure.

WHAT I ATE

Mexican Quinoa Stuffed Sweet Potatoes.
Lentil and Spinach Soup.
Oven Roasted Vegetables.
Mediterranean Vegan Bowls.
Burrito Bowls.  (No chicken or cheese in mine, of course.)
French Bread Pizza.

Those are just a few examples.  I ate pasta a lot, since buttered noodles is cheap and also because my dad makes pasta sauce for me.  I also ate just a lot of beans and quinoa with salsa because I could eat Mexican food every day.  Except that avocados were absolutely not an option (expensive little buggers), which was sad.

TIPS AND TRICKS

Rice and Beans.  There's a reason that Dave Ramsey advocates for a 'rice and beans, beans and rice' budget when you're getting out of debt - there's pretty much nothing cheaper and it's incredibly versatile.  Of course, you need to get dried beans and bagged rice that isn't instant in order to get the best prices.

Skip Meat and Dairy.  The more you can limit meat and dairy, the more you can save since these are the most expensive items in the store.  In season produce, grains, and legumes are incredibly cheap in comparison.

Cook from Scratch.  Packaged foods means the price has been marked up, especially the closer it is to being a complete meal (like frozen dinners.)  Although you can get things like that on sale, it will still only be one meal.  If you spent the same amount on large bags of beans and rice, you get far more meals for your money.  You just have to take the time to cook them.  Like my vegan bowls - I had to make that hummus from canned chickpeas and other ingredients I had on had because pre-made hummus was not in my budget.

Spices.  Even if you're eating the same ingredients and something as simple as rice and beans, you can make dishes taste totally different by using spices.  Chili powder and cumin will give a rice and bean and veggie dish a more Mexican taste.  Using brown sugar, singer, soy sauce and some peanut butter can make a stir fry of the same ingredients.

Eating Similar Meals.  It's cheaper to buy large quantities of the same ingredient, so if you stick to similar meals, you'll save money.  It also makes it easier to cook for the week when you're short on time - just cook a giant batch of beans all at one time.

Intermittent Fasting.  I don't eat breakfast so I don't have to pay for breakfast.  Money saved, technically.  But a major privilege to be able to do this intentionally, and also to make up my calories at dinner time.

OTHER THOUGHTS

Trying new recipes or food?  You can't really do either of those things if you're on that low of a budget for food.  What if something doesn't turn out?  You literally don't have the money to replace it.

Kitchen gadgets?  I have a lot of things in my kitchen that make the cooking process a lot easier, and I could use those things to change ingredients around to make them taste a bit different and therefore try to vary the recipes.  But it's not cheap to get nice knives or blenders, they're an added expense to have to save for.

Time to cook?  If you have to live on such a low budget for food, you're likely spending most of your time on working to increase income or meet other obligations.  Having the time to cook things (like dried beans) is a privilege.

Spices and bulking buying?  Yes, you can find inexpensive spices (and things like oil and vinegar) but like other bulk buys, you save by buying a bigger container of your most used items.  When you have such a low grocery budget, there's just not room to buy in bulk.  You'd have to save up very slowly and only buy one bulk item per week.

Shopping all the cheapest options?  I spent my dollars at Aldi to make them stretch but if I really needed more food on this limited budget (if I didn't have a stocked pantry) then I would have had to go to a lot of different stores to get the items I needed at the cheapest price.  I'd have to hunt down all the sales flyers too to figure out what those deals are.  Time is money and time is also gas, in terms of driving around to all the different places.

Health?  If you're making money stretch, are you really going to get a bag of frozen vegetables for a dollar or an entire loaf of bread?  Hungry you is going to get bread because it's more filling.  A lot of healthy but not calorically dense options (fruits and vegetables) are going to be snubbed in favor of bread, pasta, peanut butter, eggs, chicken, etc.  Those things that are cheap because they are subsidized by the government, and vegetables are not - meaning that veganism is not an option for those with no or low incomes.  And counting nutrients?  Forget about it.  There's going to be a lot of vitamin deficiencies eating this way for an extended period of time.

Pantry options?  This was my biggest money saver, I just ate what I had on hand.  But that's because I previously had the money to stockpile pantry staples.  If you don't have the finances for that then there's nothing you can do when you feel hungry but are out of money for the week.  Which is why so many kids go hungry and struggle in school because they can't concentrate on an empty stomach yet have no way to fill it.

10 WAYS YOU CAN DONATE

  1. Feeding America
  2. Heifer International
  3. The Hunger Project
  4. Action Against Hunger
  5. UNICEF
  6. World Vision
  7. Freedom From Hunger
  8. Meals on Wheels
  9. No Kid Hungry
  10. Greater Chicago Food Depository

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