Friday, July 1, 2011

June Assessment

Let's start with a drum roll. For the first time this year, we have broken the $7 hump. This month we spent about $6.87/day. It's not perfection, but I'm pretty pleased nevertheless. 

This month we spent $237.39. After subtracting $20.00 for our vitamin credit and 25.00 for our feeding friends credit, the total is $192.39. I divided this by 28 days to get a total of $6.87/day. But why 28 days? This is not February. True. But my sister visited for 2 days this month--2 days at the end of the month. I was not going to feed beans and rice to the pour souls who'd just been through all the stress of moving and an 18-hour car drive (with three young boys). And I knew that even with our feeding friends fund, having an extra family in the house for 2 days would totally blow us over our budget. So I bought some food for their visit (and, truly, we really didn't have much or possibly any of it left over after they'd left) and I didn't count that food or the couple of days they were here. Essentially, I ended the month a little early. For a detailed accounting, you can have a look at Costs.

You'll also recall from last month that I determined this month to buy cheap regular grocery store meat as opposed to more humanely raised meat. Wow. That made a difference. I also counted our CSA and milk share as though I was buying produce and milk from the store. That made a difference too. 

Here's the breakdown:

Produce: $62.00
Grains: $29.96
Dairy: $45.49
Sweets and sugars: 30.17
Fats: $26.54
Meat/Eggs: $21.31
Beans/Legumes/Nuts: $18.73
Condiments/Other: $3.19

Did we cheat at all? 

Besides not counting the days my sister visited (which I actually don't consider cheating), no, not really. I did buy some milk with credit I'd gotten by using CVS extra bucks. So I bought things like toothpaste, got extra bucks, and bought milk with the extra bucks. This sort of slanted the budget in favor of food (since I wasn't using the extra bucks on the exact same things I'd gotten them from--i.e. extra bucks from non-food items to buy more non-food items), but a girl can only use so much toothpaste. 

What'd we waste?

The usual excessive amounts of bread crusts and milk left in children's cups and sippy cups.
Also, 1/2 a deviled egg and 4-5 kiwi that were so shockingly unripe that they were truly inedible. 

What will be different for July? 

As I said in May's assessment, starting July we'll be shifting to $10/day. However, we'll be counting our CSA (for better or for worse) and we'll be counting our milk share (for better or for worse). Come November, even if we're not getting a bunch of foods from them, we'll be counting the money I put into them anyway. I think this is going to give us a more real idea of exactly what we're spending toward food when at least a portion of it is more local/sustainable/humane. 

What are my goals for the next month?

Next month I have decided that I really want to see how much bread and milk we're wasting. It sounds tiny when I include it here as a little blurb--oh some bread crusts and some milk. But it really is more than it sounds and I wanted to see visually how much it actually is. (I'm a little afraid.) I wanted you to see it too. Besides those two foods we waste practically nothing (in the food department; I won't go into how my children use toothpaste and toilet paper--we'll work on that another year), and I wanted to include some posts and ideas about how we can more easily avoid waste by using, extending, or saving foods.

A Large Lesson Learned as I bid adieu to $6/day:

I have a few words to say. Tell me that's a shock. Eating on $6/day, or--shall we say--in that general neighborhood, has been difficult. To do it with humanely raised meats was even harder. And adding a CSA would have made it even harder. However. And this is a very big however, so I hope people have come this far in the post. However, we ate very very well. The food we had was delicious. We dined on butters, sugars, too much chocolate, even cream and sometimes breakfast cereal. We included meats in our diet and lots of milk, eggs, and other proteins. We ate more fruits and vegetables than normal because I was more conscious of how much we were getting and because we reduced our meat intake slightly. We ate many many whole grains--much more than the average American. I spent some time cooking, but nothing Herculean (in March when I kept track, it averaged at under an hour a day). And I spent plenty of time cleaning up my kitchen, which I don't love, but which I believe is, or should be, part of the ritual that is eating and part of the ritual that is belonging to a family.

Eating cheap required a basic, though not gourmet, knowledge of cooking. It took a little bit of adventurousness in the form of a willingness to deviate somewhat from a recipe and use what I had. And, yes, I did get bored sometimes of the same cheap-ish dinners that my picky family would eat. And, yes, I did want to go out sometimes and splurge on a fancy cheese or try something new and interesting that just wasn't in the budget cards. But as far as eating and even nutrition, we never went without.

Furthermore, we could have cut back even more if necessity or hunger had been driving forces. We could have eaten oatmeal (even with a little sugar) for breakfast each morning and saved ourselves another $.50/day. We could have cut out (or down) the shocking amounts of both sugar and chocolate that our family considers normal (or sometimes even paltry). We usually bought at least 4 bags of Aldi chocolate chips each month and in June I bought 10 pounds of sugar. Had we cut that even in half, which would still have rendered a dessert or few possible, we would have saved another $6.17, or $.20/day. We could have eliminated meat, or at least cold cuts (which admittedly, we did reduce). Frankly, I'd rather not even talk about how much we spent in butter (although I do love you butter--xoxoxo).

And, yet, even with all of these privileges staring us in the face, my husband remarked--rather grumpily in fact--that he was ready to be done with the $6/day. And I was ready too. I miss fish and some cheese and just a little bit of flexibility or ease in our eating. In pointing all of this out, let me also say that Kip and I live on one middle or low-middle class income. It's easy sometimes to consider ourselves poor, or even to start to feel that we deserve to have more. Which is a lot how spoiled children sound. I believe that we are spoiled. As a family, as a nation, and as a culture. Which isn't to say that real hunger and real need don't exist. Which is only to say that in a wealthy time in a wealthy nation in a wealthy world, one in which movie stars and gluttony blink at us from all corners, it's easy to feel we have less. Politicians and businesses take advantage of this and sometimes even exploit it. The biggest lesson I have learned from the Cheap Eat Challenge--from being unable to feed my picky, definitely-not-too-hungry children oatmeal for breakfast because most of them refuse to even try it, from hearing (or seeing) my husband disappointed about not having more meat with our dinner, from my own frustration with a meal not working out and having to eat less-than-amazing leftovers; from the fresh fruits on the counter, from the butter in the dish, from the whole wheat in a bag pre-ground and ready to go, from the candy and cakes we've enjoyed--is how very much we have--even on 6 or 7 dollars a day. And how very grateful I should be for that. Indeed, I am grateful. I believe that in this gratitude there can be a lot of power over my food, my nutrition, and my money. And a lot of ability to improve and enjoy the many many things that the Lord and my predecessors and mentors have given to me.  



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