Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Final Tally, Final Notes

$365.01.  That's $4.10 per day, $2.05 per person per day.  Translating lunches we give to those who do work for us into per diems, it would bring the average to about $1.75.

If we started again (which I am not going to do) I am confident that $50 per person per month is possible.  I learned a lot, made a few mistake purchases (why did I spend $1 on frozen spinach when there is a can of spinach here!  Why did I pay $1.99 for a 2-liter, ever?  The list goes on...)

I realize this blog has not been very interesting to follow during this challenge.  It was not a romantic challenge like the previous two.  It did not harken back to a time long forgotten when we used sticks to hunt game. This challenge was about being poor, but being smart about being poor.

Restaurants, particularly fast food, offer food that is cheap and convenient.  It is really bad for you.  You don't know until you spend the time eating quality food for a few months that you come to realize this.  For less money you can create a higher quality of food in that room next to the dining room, the kitchen.  The dining room, by the way, is the one with the big table and all the bills stacked on it.  You can pay those bills by saving money on food!

Here is my very practical advice to you, if you are trying to save money on food.

1) Find websites for the stores around you.  You're obviously capable of getting on the internet, or else you wouldn't be reading this blog.   In our area we have a local chain called Apples, a regional chain called Marc's, a Save-A-Lot, several Dollar General and Family Dollar stores, and a GFS.  There are other stores nearby as well, I don't shop there are their food carries premiums.  All of these stores publish their circulars on line.  I bookmarked them on my phone, so I just check them all once I made my list.

2) Pay attention to who stocks your needs, cheapest.  I don't super coupon, I don't even regular coupon.  I still managed a $60 person/month budget.  We drink a lot of soda, for example.  We decided per fluid ounce 2-liters would be far more economical.  At $1.99 for a 2-liter (a fairly common price point here) you would basically get four and a half free cans over buying $6 12-packs.  I wish, in retrospect, that I had bought all of the Sunkist the Dollar General had at $.88/2-liter a few weeks ago!

3) Never buy boneless skinless anything.  Chicken is an excellent meat source.  One local store often carries it for $.49/lb, another $.59/lb, and another $.69/lb.  They usually come in 5lb o 10lb bags, sometimes frozen, sometimes fresh.  Get over the idea that white meat tastes better, it doesn't if you prepare it correctly.  And all that bone and skin? The bones make the best soup stock you ever had, and the skin fries up delicious.  I will in the future post my recipe for soup.

4) Stock up on things when they are cheap, but only if you will use them or they store well.  Milk always spoils in our refrigerator.  Always.  Cheese holds up for a lot longer, and so does sour cream.  Cheese has the added bonus of being freezable.  Once you're at this a bit you will be better able to anticipate your needs and how long supplies will last you. Potatoes, for example, are used in heavy rotation here.  I was looking at the sales flyers for my shopping trip tomorrow (as I am in the habit now) and I am struggling because I cannot find what I consider a good enough deal on potatoes!  Buy small amounts of the very perishables as you need them, and wait to purchase more rugged goods until they are on sale.

5) Keep track of your money.  Budgeting is a practical skill that not enough people employ.  Whatever your allowance is, just write it down and then map out how to use it most effectively.  If you do the math there in the store (bring a calculator if it doesn't happen in your head) you can figure out by the pound or by the ounce what is cheapest (or, if you've looked at the circulars like I suggested in #1, you'll already know going in.)

6) STOP GOING OUT.  As mentioned we went out to visit with a friend last week, and went to a local tavern.  We had dinner beforehand to reduce our expense.  It still cost $17, for 4 drinks!  Even the most premium of delicious beers, Kentucky Bourbon Barrel, is only $12.99 for 4 drinks at the store.  Using my extreme price comparing skills, I could buy 4-16oz 6-packs of Molson Ice and a 24oz Honey Brown (yes, I even price shopped the most cost-effective beers, and that comes out to 2-1/8 gallons.)  Even not on the subject of beer, dining out is expensive, and the food is usually of a middling quality.  Cooking is labor intensive, without a doubt. You'll find a sharp increase in quality and an equally sharp decrease in expense.

As a closing note, on February 5th I had a doctor's appointment.  Just a routine appointment, nothing of interest.  I weighed 217-3/4lbs when I went in there.  After 3 months, never being hungry, simply shopping thrifty and cooking our meals, I am 8lbs lighter today.  Jessica has lost over 20lbs, and had to go buy new pants because she can take her old ones off without unbuttoning them. Though we aren't going to keep to such a shoestring budget, we are going to continue to eat like this.  This challenge took a long enough time to change our fundamental habits and not just feel like a crash diet.

I shall see you all in perhaps a week, when I will share some of my cooking knowledge with you.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

March On

In March, I started with a plan to find an inexpensive staple and incorporate it into as many meals as possible. Having really enjoyed the sweet potato and kale hash in February, I decided to load up on sweet potatoes and find various recipes. I think I started with about 6 lbs of sweet potatoes. By the time those were gone, I was starting to get sick of sweet potatoes so I scrapped that plan. March On!

Friday, April 25, 2014

No Celebration for an Early Victory

We had family dinner last night.  As i suspected, everyone confirmed that they have already given up on the challenge, declaring me the victor.  Sharon said she was spending $115 per week in February and knew she wouldn't compete.  Everyone else gave a concurrent view, that they didn't think they would win so they stopped keeping track.

I myself have gone over my original intended budget.  My goal was roughly $303 for the 89 days of this challenge.  As of last Tuesday we were at $299.67, and I had work to do off-site.  I can't cook if I'm not at the building, so I bought enough for lunch and to rejuvenate some of our depleted supplies.  I spent about $17.  I went shopping this Tuesday again as I was going to be out for the evening and once again we were running low on several things.  I spent another $24.  So we are in the ballpark of $340 now.

Despite the surrender of all opponents I will press on for these last 5 days of the challenge.  It seems silly to come so far and give up.  I plan to continue to spend as little as possible, though we will likely go out this evening to visit with a close friend who is going through a hard time.

If we started this challenge over, I do believe I could make 3 months on $300.  there were a few mistake purchases and a few stumbles along the way.  We have had a lot of actual work so I was not able to make my 'earn the money' goal either, though I also believe if pressed into hardship I could make enough money to feed us.

As for this blog, I will update it on May 1st to let you all know what our final tally was.  As it stands, and counting all the meals we shared with others, our cost per person per day looks like it will average to about $1.75 over the 3 months.

Beyond that, I plan to put up a series of posts (or if I get really ambitious, videos!) of the most economical meals I prepared over the course of this, our third and final food challenge.