The Cheap Eat Challenge

6 people. 6 dollars. Every day.

The Challenge:

Beginning January 1, 2011, my family of six (2 parents, 4 kids--ages 8,6,3, and 1) will eat on $6/day. That's a dollar per person per day (in case your math skills just faltered there). We're going to give it a go for a whole year. And by a whole year, I mean most definitely through the month of January. (Just a little joke there, but seriously, if it's placing too much stress on our family, we'll have to reevaluate). Our children are not teenagers, and we're not unusually large people--that does make it easier, but still. Come on, people, I'm biting my nails in nervous anticipation.

Update as of 7/1/11: In June we finally hit the $6 zone and our family declared that enough. Additionally, I wanted to incorporate my milk share (for local raw milk) and the cost of a CSA without having to cheat. So we've upped the allowance per day, but will be counting all our milk share and our CSA and not cheating.

Throughout the process I'll be sharing recipes, menus, shopping lists, terrible food photography, and some pretty stunning insights (I'm sure), so hold on to your seats or hats or whatever you need to hold onto when you're really enthused.

The Concept:

I confess that the original concept for this blog was "Eating On a Pack a Day." I thought it'd be interesting to see if a family of 6 could eat on the amount of money that would be spent if each adult smoked a pack of cigarettes a day. I still think this is an interesting idea. Problem is, neither of us smoke. And the more I thought about it, the more it seemed, you know, cheap, gimmicky, not quite genuine, and possibly even politically messy. If I'm going to use a gimmick, it's going to be genuine, by gum. (And if I'm going to be politically messy, I'd rather it be with people who have faces I can see.)

Still, it had gotten me thinking and I wondered if we could do it--if we could give up certain things (and for our family it would be chocolate more than nicotine) and live on a few dollars a day without starving our family, without sacrificing nutrition and good taste, and without compromising on ecological/environmental concerns I have (the humane treatment of the animals we eat and a preference for at least some local foods, to name a few).

Oh--I thought about it a lot. I thought about our chocolate addiction (hey, we can quit any time alright). I thought about my picky husband, my picky kids, my not-so-picky-but-let's-call-it-choosy self. I like good food. I like the freedom of cooking interesting foods, of fresh, aromatic products, of not using margarine (and boy I don't intend to start--have you ever seen what margarine does to a good batch of chocolate chip cookies?).

But I also like games, and cheapness. Throw in some politicians who say it's too hard and you're on.

So could we do it? Well, my friends, there is only one way to find out. And so we shall. Starting January 1st, 2011. See you there.

The Rules:

1. We're allowed to accept free foods as long as we would have come in contact with then normally. Some guy brings a load of zucchini to work--okay. We show up at a food bank--not okay. People are begging folks to take the leftover cookies from a church potluck--okay. Asking for unoffered leftovers after a night with friends--not okay
2. We're allowed to eat at friends' houses as long as we didn't solicit the invitation because we were hungry or out of money. Friends and food, after all, are part of life and budgeting. We have no intention of cutting ours out. And for the record--we still plan to invite people over as well. (The question, I guess, is if they will want to come.) As of 2/11, I'm not counting the nights we have people over for dinner--we can't afford it on $6/day. As of 4/11, I'm changing this again--we'll be counting it, but I'm going to give us a $20 entertainment food fund ($25 or even $30 if we do a crazy amount of entertaining).
3. No food stealing. No showing up for breakfast buffets at hotels we didn't sleep at. No sneaking condiments out of restaurants.
4. We're (and by we, I mean me here) allowed to garden, as long as we count the cost of seeds/plants that we had to buy this year. (And give our readers some tips, of course.)
5. We're allowed to buy a bunch of food at a cheap price and count only what we use that month, as long as we remember to count what we use the other months as well. (So if I go pick $30 worth of blueberries and use them over the course of three months, I count them as $10/month. Yes, there will be some estimation here, but it will eventually even out.) As of April 1, I'm changing this. We'll be counting the foods we buy that month. If I've already got it and it's opened, it doesn't count. But if we open it and don't use it all, it still counts. This is really how people spend and budget so it seems more reasonable; also it will keep me from estimation nightmares. If we buy it, but don't crack it open, it can go onto the tab for next month. And if we buy something that is a hugely bulk item for a good price, we can bag it in freezer bags and only count the bag we take out and open.
6. We're allowed to use our entertainment fund to eat out occasionally. Our entertainment fund is $40-$60/month. And we have to pay babysitters. If we want to blow it on a dinner out one night, so be it. It will hardly save us from starvation.
7. The $6/day is going to be a monthly average. One day we may eat on $4; another on $8.
8. This money only counts for food stuff. In other words, we can buy all the toilet paper we want.
9. If food is given as a gift, I don't have to count it. Furthermore, if an item is purchased solely for use in a gift, I don't have to count it.
10. I waffled a lot over this one, but I'm going to give us an additional $20 "vitamin" budget. I'll probably use it for vegetables instead of vitamins, which is what I decided to do this year when I realized my prescription vitamins were costing us $20/month and that I could buy a lot of good produce for that much money.

Should you save money using some of these recipes, menus, etc.

Hurray! If it helps you make ends meet, we'd love to hear about it. If it gives you more mad money, we'd love to hear about it. But maybe you don't need the money, or quite all of it. If so, and if you want to donate any of it, I'll have a list of links to charities below that you can check out. We plan to donate to one with some of the money we save, though we haven't decided which yet (I'll let you know when we do). (Update: We've decided to donate extra moola to our church humanitarian fund.) You don't have to donate--this here is a guilt-free site (unless you use margarine--in that case, well, just don't tell me if you do, okay)--but if you want to (donate--not use margarine--sometimes I get lost in my parenthetical statements), that'd be awesome.

List of Charities:

Disclaimer: Aside from the House of Bread and Peace (and that was a donation of things not money), I haven't donated to any of these charities. I looked them all up online and looked up a site that rates them. They all had high ratings, but I do want you to know that I haven't actually donated through them.

House of Bread and Peace: Woman and Children's Shelter
If you're in Evansville, this is a shelter for women and children. I don't know tons about it, but I met a woman who worked there at my kids' santa shop this December and she made a really positive impression on me. She was caring, but down-to-earth. And the House of Bread and Peace accepts lots of kinds of donations--food, clothes, toys, etc. They can be used or not. The food can be homemade or not.

I seem to have a thing for the sponsor-a-child ones because they tended to draw my interest. I believe that the ones below you can sponsor a person or donate.
Plan USA
This is a charity where you can "adopt" a child for $25/month.

Save the Children
To donate, click here. If you want more info, click their icon on the donation page and you'll go to their home page.

Compassion International
Home page here

Pearl S. Buck International
Home page here

Children Incorporated
Home page here

Christian Foundation for Children and Aging
Home page here

Bread for the World Institute
Home page here

Feed the Children
Home page here

Child Fund International
Home page here

World Vision
Home page here


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