Monday, January 31, 2011

Cheap Eat Challenge: January--How'd We Do

Where should I start? With the sum total? With the confessions? With the blabberings on about what I've learned and what we could do better. With the exact breakdown of the numbers: how much was spend on meat, produce, dairy, etc.

You know I want to start with the ramblings... Must. Resist. Urge.

Sum total:

$260.98. After adjusting for our $20 vitamin credit, that figured up to $7.77/day.

Are you disappointed? I was. A little. Although I knew over a week ago that we weren't going to make it. I hoped that we would stay at least close enough to our goal, so as to have this not be a complete embarrassment. And I feel like we did. And I feel good about that. For the record, $7.77 (besides seeming an incredibly lucky number) is certainly within my original concept of eating on a pack a day. Have a look over here if you've no idea what I'm talking about. Also, even though we made several sacrifices and even had a bunch of free food given to us in December, I felt like there were things I learned about how we could have done it better and maybe gotten closer to our goal. In fact, I've sort of discovered a new goal in the process: Figuring out how to get our family of 6 to be able to eat on $6/day.

What I've learned:

1. What we eat. Seriously. This is one of the best things that came from this challenge. I thought I knew what we ate. I thought I took a lot of that into account. But keeping close track made me aware of exactly what we eat and how very much of it. To site a simple example, I had a sort of vague idea that my kids ate about 2 bottles of applesauce a month. Not so--they eat at least 3/month. And a lot more of other things too. Since they're small and kind of birdlike at the dinner table, I made the assumption that my kids don't eat. Oh--they eat alright. They eat.
2. How much, exactly, what we eat costs. You know you have these vague numbers in your head. I found that sometimes they were not that close to reality. It's easy to think that 4 pounds of oranges sounds like an awfully lot, but it's usually just about 6 oranges.
3. How much of what foods we eat/spend the most on. I already said I missed my produce. And that Kip needed a bit more meat in his life.
4. Where our weak spots are. Some of them can be improved. Heck, I'm sure all of them could be improved. Do we need to eat dessert? No, we don't. Really ever. We probably don't need meat ever either for that matter. But we want to eat those things. At least sometimes. We enjoy them and in some ways they're part of the culture of our family. I don't believe there's anything wrong with that. However. Do we need chocolate every day (well, maybe one of us does). But do we need it in handful-of-chocolate-chip form, or are there better, cheaper ways to get it? I believe there are. I believe if I'd planned a wee bit better, there could have been healthy breakfast cookies and other cheap things to snack on. If a person is hungry, he/she is more likely to grab whatever. I saw that happening a lot at the end of the month. And also, there are just things we could have done without. I just don't think we need dessert every day. Or as much cereal as we eat. Could we eat more rice and beans? Yes, I think we could if it's well planned. And, yes, that planning can be hard. But I believe it can still be done.

What could we have done better?

1. First of all, I failed to accept a few inalienble truths: like that man cannot live on bread alone. My man, at least, needed a little more meat; and more chocolate. I kind of just assumed/pretended that he would be fine and dandy and didn't figure his needs in well enough at the beginning of the month. And therefore didn't plan well enough to have it work out.  Instead I found us throwing in extra meat and extra cost halfway through the month. I kind of did a similar thing with the kids, although I swear they ate at least double the peanut butter they usually do.
2. I think the meals need to be more exactly planned. Out of the 20 meals I planned, we ate only 12. That's not a huge deal, but I think that to live so lean, I'll have to be more careful. I'll have to plan meals more along the lines of--Okay, so we're having a chicken and potatoes for Sunday dinner. That means we'll have some leftovers and can use them in A,B, and C meals and then we'll have waffles one night and soup another night, and finish it up with a leftover night.
3. You can't entertain on $6/day. I suppose that you could feed others--in a pot-of-beans-with-rice kind of a way. People wouldn't starve. But I don't want to invite our friends over for that. We had a few kid friends over here and there and once fed the missionaries from our church. That's it. And we still didn't make our money goal. For next month I'm going to allow us 1-3 nights to have friends over for dinner or dessert and give it to us free and clear. Because I'm the mommy. And I said so.
4. Okay, so I'm not quite sure how to do this one better, but I missed having more fruits and veggies--not even more variety, as I like to eat somewhat seasonally anyway. But just more volume. I tried very hard to keep myself at 5 fruits and veggies a day and usually succeeded. But I'm in the habit of eating more than that--and I missed my extra produce. Furthermore, I didn't like the feeling I had towards my children eating fruits and vegetables. Normally, I'd be thrilled to go through a bunch of bananas or applesauce or carrots a week, but I caught myself thinking, "How many bananas can those kids eat? We're never going to make it." And we all know that's a bad thing. Especially with my kids, who aren't exactly the fruit and vegetable eating monsters of the world.

Weird things I noticed:

1. I ate more sweets than usual. I know this sounds odd. I didn't make more sweets than usual. But I ate more. Why? Because in our culture, they're just around--at your church party or your friend's house or as a sample at the store. In recent years, I haven't been one to pass dessert by, but I usually didn't eat a whole bunch of it, and I would pass it by if I didn't much like it. This month I noticed that not only did I have dessert, but I found myself eating more of it than usual because I kept thinking, "Oh, I won't be getting any more treats this week, so I better take advantage of these." But then, two days later, there was another treat and there I was thinking the same thing.
2. At first I thought I was spending less time cooking. Perhaps to a small extent I was since I wasn't experimenting as much and we weren't eating anything fancy-schmancy. But I was making bread, and I made several foods to give as gifts, which took quite a bit of time. This made me realize that I just don't ever spend that much time cooking. Not having enough time is one of the primary reasons people give for not cooking their meals--for using processed foods or for eating out. You'll notice from Jean's Food Jounal that I rarely spent more than an hour a day cooking--usually less. Almost every meal on this site is a 30 minute or less meal. Almost. On the days I spent more time, I was usually making bread or a birthday cake. And at least some of the time I spent "cooking" was passive time when something was in the oven. Keeping a record of how much time I spent cooking surprised and pleased me. If you can make breakfast, lunch, and dinner in 45 minutes, there's no reason not to cook your meals, because it's just as easy to spend that much time at the drive thru. Yes, the cooking takes a bit of planning. And you have to clean up afterwards. But besides the cost, there are environmental and health benefits to be gained. (And mabye next month I'll start keeping track of my cleaning up time as well.)
3. It didn't kill my husband, and my kids didn't even notice (though they were missing some cold cereal at the end of the month). My husband even expressed appreciation on several occasions that we were doing it.
4. And of course this isn't weird, but we wasted very very little. The kids didn't eat their bread crusts, which they don't. And, yes, that is crazy making in case you're wondering. And they wasted a bit of milk and cereal here and there. I wasted a few egg whites. But otherwise, we really ate what we had. It feels kind of good.


1. We ate more boxed mac and cheese than usual. I'm not proud of this fact, but we did.
2. My kids have spend the last 2 days sick and I'm not counting our Gatorade costs. This morning my son called it medicine. I think we'll got with that. But otherwise, I've tried hard not to cheat. If you want to have a look at specific numbers you can hop on over to costs. There's been some estimating. It occurred to me partway through the month that I do have a food scale. This next month I'll try to use it at the beginning of the month so that I can get more accurate numbers on those partially used foods like olive oil.
3. Next month Kip will buy some food at work again. This was always part of my deal with Kip, but I didn't share it with you. This month I wanted to have a really good idea of what we needed to spend to eat and not be hungry, which meant no supplementing with meals out or treats at Kip's job, so Kip agreed to go with that. But he misses it sometimes. It's not like he eats dinner there (usually), but he works nights and can get hungry or snacky on the job, and occasionally there's some social let's-go-to-KFC stuff, which he enjoys. I hope that in February we can still do some cheaper things like sending him with breakfast cookies so he doesn't go out and buy a pint of Ben and Jerry's to meet his snack needs. But the restriction of nothing at all is officially off. 
4. If I have to, I'll give us more of a vitamin credit. Maybe that's cheating, but I admit that it wasn't worth it to me not to eat as many fruits and vegetables as I wanted. The last few days I was craving--craving--salad.
5. I haven't got menus or shopping lists up yet for February. My kids have been sick. It's been a haze of puking, fevers, poop, and mid-night wakings where I run in wondering if someone is sick again, only to hear, "I can't sleep." I try to be sweet; I do. "Well, honey, (teeth gritting), I'm sorry you can't sleep, but if Mommy doesn't get some sleep she won't be able to take care of you tomorrow because she'll be too tired (and she'll poke her eyes out and be at the ER).

Specific Breakdown of Numbers:

Fruits/Vegetables: $65.11
Dairy: $56.47
Grains: $47.53
Chocolate/Sugars/Sweets: $26.65 (oh dear--I feel a bit embarrassed this cashes in at #4)
Nuts/ Beans: $23.13
Meat/Eggs: $19.63
Oils/fats/condiments: $13.76
Actual vitamins: $7.5
Yeast: $1.20

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...