Yes, You CAN eat well on $4 a Day (Almost)

Thursday, April 02, 2015

I bet you're wondering how our $4 a day food experiment went. While we didn't stick to the budget, I'd call the experiment a success. We spent $65 on groceries last week, which is just over $4.50/person per day. However, we also ate a bunch of things we already had in the fridge and pantry, and my best guess for the cost of those items is an additional $20 (a very rough estimate). If you add the two together, that brings us to $85 total or about $6/person per day. While I didn't meet the goal I'd set, I also continued to shop like I normally do; for example, I bought organic milk, eggs, and apples. If I had swapped for conventional products, we probably could have cut the budget down further.

I loved this experiment, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to cut back on their spending. Here are some of the things I learned and experienced during our week of extreme budget eating:

Plan, plan, plan
If you want to save money on groceries, it really helps to plan a full week's worth of meals in advance and shop for those meals in one big trip. Instead of going to the store every other day on my way home from work, I made did one big shop at the beginning of the week.

Be flexible
However, you also need to be flexible. Reducing your daily food costs has a lot to do with improvising and making do with what you've got. I made some chicken soup based on a recipe I have, but didn't have all the ingredients--rather than run out to buy leeks and mushrooms, I swapped onions for the leeks, and skipped the mushrooms all together. Sunday lunch was a real hodgepodge of what's left in the fridge, but we didn't go hungry.

Saving money takes time
I will admit I spent a lot of time making our budget meal plan work. In addition to making breakfast every morning, I made lunch and dinner for my husband every single day when normally we'd each eat a few meals out. Cooking grains, beans and homemade stock also took time.

Wholesale clubs are your friend
Our Costco membership definitely helped us stay on-track with our budget. Among the Costco purchases that made it into our weekly meals were nearly a week's worth of salad greens for $4, two-dozen organic eggs for $7, and two organic chickens for $24 (we froze one to eat later).

Surprise budget busters
There were a few items that really added up to my daily total that I would cut out if I were rying to stick to a strict budget. For example, just five dried dates (from Costco!) tallied up to 50-cents--1/8 of a $4/day budget!  Frozen berries were also surprisingly pricey when I broke down the per serving cost.

Super savers
Oatmeal has got to be the cheapest, most nutritious breakfast around. I divvied up the cost of each serving of rolled oats from a giant Costco box and it came to just 11-cents per serving. Yes, it's a little more when you add some fruits, a handful of nuts and milk, but it really is a cheap, healthy way to start the day. Homemade popcorn is also a great good-for-you and affordable item--I figure that a single serving of my organic home-popped kernels is about 10-cents--and boy, does it fill you up.

Necessary splurges
Flavor boosters like citrus and herbs are what really make a meal sing. If you cut them out, you'd save money, but boy, would your diet be less interesting. I wouldn't give up the lemons, limes, fresh herbs and dried spices I used even for increased savings.

It's cheaper to grow your own
I have a big pot of rosemary in our apartment, and used it throughout the week to season dishes. It cost nothing, and made me think that I should have pots of all kinds of edibles growing in my window sill, so I don't have to buy those pricey bundles at the supermarket every time I want the taste of fresh herbs.

Going out is more expensive than you think
We ate one meal at a friend's house (but we also served dinner to our siblings) last week, so I figure those two cancelled each other out budget-wise. However, I also met a friend for lunch one day. My lunch bill (for a salad, a soup, and a glass of seltzer) was $25, including tax and tip. That one lunch could have funded five days of home-cooked eating--yikes!

A bag lunch is no less fun
On the weekend, my husband and I often eat lunch out during our daily wanderings. It's nothing fancy, usually eggs in a diner or sandwiches from our favorite takeaway spot. This weekend, we packed a big snack to take with us, and ate bowls of rice and beans later in the afternoon at home. I didn't miss eating out one bit, and I was happy to have saved the $20+ we would have spent on even the most modest restaurant meal.


2 comments:

Elizabeth said...

On the berry front, I've been buying fresh berries from Costco and then washing, cutting and freezing them. Sometimes the fresh berries are so much cheaper and I'm not as picky about their appearance when I know I'm freezing and eventually blending them.

Laura Fenton said...

Good idea, Elizabeth. Thanks!

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