Two years ago, we finished the first part of our Cheap Eat Challenge--the challenge in which we tried to spend less than $6/day on food for our family of 6. We never quite made it. Our best month we finished up with an average of $6.87. Which I thought was still pretty good. Since then I've loosened up on the food reigns considerably (maybe sometimes too much). But there are a few things from that time that we still do. And a few more that I think I will start to do again.
What We've Held onto from the Cheap Eat Challenge
1. Leftover Night. Sometimes I can make something fresh and cool from our leftovers. Sometimes we just eat them as they are. Sometimes we have really weird odds and ends and it's not quite enough to feed everybody. On those days, I pull out the bread and PB and we eat leftovers plus sandwiches. Maybe it sounds lame to you, but it's really kind of a nice, stress free dinner.
2. I take free food when it's offered to me. A friend brings over raspberries. Someone has a basket of zucchini from their garden. There are three bagels left over from your work meeting and your boss is going to toss them if nobody takes them home (I, being me, am always surprised that everyone doesn't fight over who gets to take home the leftover meeting foods, but I noticed--even in grad school--that usually no one wants to take those foods; or at least nobody speaks up). Take the bagels for Pete's sake. And then use them. It's fun.
3. I make dinner. It's not always easy, but it's definitely not as hard as our modern world would have you believe. I'm not even that great at planning our meals. Granted, I don't make gourmet meals every night. My kids' lunches never ever look like this. But they don't look like this either. Sometimes for dinner, we just eat eggs, toast, and a fruit. But you'd be surprised how good eggs, toast, and a fruit taste when you all sit down and eat a warm meal together. We still eat out occasionally, but I try to avoid the "Oh, I'm tired, so let's go out" syndrome--The good (sort of bad) thing about having 4 youngish children is that going out really isn't that easy anyway, so it's considerably less tempting. If I'm going to wind up tired and grumpy anyway, we can just stay home and fish something out of the back of the fridge.
If we ate out (even dollar menu fast food) twice a week for lunch or dinner, we would spend about double what we spend--let's say $13 instead of $7. By not doing this we save about $50/month. It's not big money, but I think Benjamin Franklin would approve of all those saved/earned pennies.
Where I Feel I Should Re-Tighten the Cheapskate Reigns
1. Meal Planning. Seriously, I just need to do a better job of planning meals and shopping lists. I don't even hate it; I kind of like it; I just don't always get around to it.
2. Shopping. During the Cheap Eat Challenge, I DID NOT DEVIATE from my list. I didn't buy anything extra. We didn't do impulse things. Now I do. And it's kind of nice to do; I even think it's okay for an item; maybe two. But it can get out of hand really really quickly.
3. Cooking breakfast. I don't even like cereal. But my kids do. And it sure is easy. When we did the Cheap Eat Challenge, I made breakfast probably 4 or 5 days out of the week. It was harder, but not that bad. I don't necessarily want to go back to that many times (because we have to catch the bus at 7:30 people, and my kids are not early risers), but I want to do homemade breakfast a little more. Besides a nice nutritious breakfast that's cheap, we usually have leftover muffins/breakfast cookies/whatevers for healthy snacks/lunches later in the week.
4. Big cooking mornings. During the Cheap Eat Challenge I would take a couple mornings a week and cook stuff (like a sauce from garden tomatoes, or muffins to put in the freezer or 12 kinds of chocolate chip cookies so I could find the best one). My kids would play. It was pleasant and homey. Lately I've been a little busy for that. But I kind of miss it--the hominess and the stocked food.