Monday, January 2, 2012

December Assessment and Cheap Eat Challenge Conclusion

Let me start by saying that December is a tough month to keep track of. Here are the numbers I have. Our total for the month of December was 240.30--that's including the $17.00 for our milk share and the 27.00 for our CSA (even though we received no food this month). That, divided by 29 (I didn't count the 30th or 31st since my sister and her family plus my father and his partner were here and that just messes any cost tallying way up) takes our daily cost to a mere $8.29/day. Which seems really low for the most decadent year of the month.

Here are a few reasons I think this may be so:

1. I didn't count the cost of ingredients I used to make cookies or food given away. That might seem like cheating because you just know we ate some of those cookies (who?us?), but you'll notice above that I didn't give us any kind of entertainment bonus (I usually give us $20-25 for entertaining), so I think it's pretty fair because we really did give a lot away.
2. I didn't count the candy given as gifts to kids or husband. And trust me, they managed to fill up on this plenty.
3. For our church Christmas party, I said I'd make one of the turkeys and I did. The turkey was provided by the church and I got all the leftovers (there were many) plus some ham, potatoes, and rolls. This fed us dinner for 3-4 days and gave us a boost in the leftover department as well. As a matter of fact, I still have about 3 cups of chopped turkey hanging out in the freezer.
4. In addition to this, there were friends who shared food with us.
5. As stated in the first paragraph, I didn't count the last 2 days of the month (which can be pricey days) because my sister and her family plus my dad and his partner were visiting. It's just too much to try to tally, so I didn't. I counted our food purchases up through the 29th.
6. I'm sure I missed a few things here and there, especially things I brought up from food storage in the basement. I'm usually pretty meticulous about getting these things counted, but this month, I'm not so sure; it was easy to get busy and crazy. And yes, double crazy.

Here's the breakdown for you:

Grains: $36.12
Dairy 34.90 plus 17.00 for our milk share- 51.90
Produce: 41.86 plus 27.00 for our CSA- 68.86
Meat/Eggs: 30.73
Nuts/Beans/Legumes: 23.03
Fats: 7.96

Whew! And it's finished. An entire year of eating on the super cheap--shooting for $6/day for our family of 6 for 6 months and then shooting for (and succeeding at) eating on less than $10/day for our family of 6. Am I relieved? Yes, I am. Mostly, I'm just relieved I won't have to keep track of each thing purchased and used each month. It was really interesting for me at first and then, these last few months--well, it's just been painful. I thought you might want to know some of the key things I've learned from this as well as what I plan to continue doing. Here goes.

What I learned:

1. I learned what we ate. That sounds odd, but it was the first thing I really learned from this. I had these rough ideas in my head about what we ate, but when I really started looking at it, I noticed how wrong I was in certain areas.
2. Along that line, it was easy to see where we needed to improve.
3. The cheaper we ate, the less we wasted. For this, you have to know what's in your fridge and freezer and use it up. Which means you've got to be a little creative with food prep sometimes. Or at least have some tortillas on hand to wrap things up in.
4. Homemade food is almost always always always cheaper than processed stuff. Almost. Motto: Takes more time (sometimes); tastes more better (most times). And all that mumbo jumbo about how eating healthy is so expensive, well, you can probably tell what I think about that. To a very small extent this is true (whole wheat flour is more expensive than white, but sugar is more expensive than both, and a candy bar is costliest of all; and let's not even talk about soda, okay).
5. You've got to at least sort of plan if you want to eat really cheap. A general meal plan is good (I didn't actually find a neurotic meal plan necessary). Possibly even more important is the idea of stocking up a bit on really really good deals (I'm thinking mostly of fresh fruit in the summer and some of the baking items in December, that sort of thing).

What I wish never to return to:

1. Wasting a bunch of food.
2. Going into the store, wandering around, and buying stuff. I've noticed a little slippage here at the end of the year and I hate it. At the beginning of the year, I'd go in with a mission and not fudge and buy impulse-y things. It was so refreshing, so freeing, Of course, if there's a really really good deal, you can go for it, but that doesn't happen all that often (at least not when you're surprised about it).
3. Never planning a meal. I was really bad about this before, but it's been fun and nice to be just slightly more organized. Yeah, we still do an ingredient run here or there, but it happens a lot less.
4. Not buying extra fruit in the summer when it's fresh and so cheap. I froze a LOT of fruit this summer and it has been awesome this winter. It's provided some variety for us in our winter eating and I paid about half in the summer what I'd pay in the winter (and that's for the frozen not the fresh stuff).

What 2012 Will Bring to The Tasty Cheapskate:

-I'm not entirely sure, but I know that after the abundance of December I'm ready for some simple, delicious, and cheap stuff.
-I'm also toying with the idea of using Friday as a Food Essay Friday where I write my own essay or link to somebody else's.
-There may be a little less posting than last year. I'd like to do just a wee bit of networking. And I'd like to spend a bit more time writing on things that aren't food. As much as I like eating and writing about food, there are other things that go through this little brain.
-I'd say it's fair to say some chocolate will cross these plates, wouldn't you?
-Hope to put up total costs of monthly food receipts in Costs section, but no more breaking anything down and some months will be notably more expensive than others as they may be months when I'm stocking up.
-I hope to do some blurbs where I show places or ways in which you can get/make expensive foods for cheaper. (For example, right now I'm thinking about cheeses. There are some lovely and expensive ones out there. What would be reasonable substitutions for them or places where you can find them a bit cheaper? And what to do if your city, ahem, doesn't even carry some of them? That sort of thing.)
-I hope to do more recipes for the time crunched--more crock pot recipes and super quickies. I think I'm going to shoot for 1 per week. Maybe, like, Work-a-day Wednesday. What do you think?

A Conclusion/Sermon (If you don't like sermons skip it, because I can't help myself.)

Most Americans live abundantly. I'm not saying we all do, okay. But most of us do. And, frankly, I've started to get a little annoyed every time I hear otherwise. Maybe we don't live as abundantly as the guy next door. But I'm talking about abundance in a historical context and in a world context. The sooner we realize how much we have; the sooner we'll be able to take more control over it and make the most of it. A little gratitude can go a long way. A little remembering what our grandparents ate on a daily basis, and what they went through to get it. A little remembering how food was rationed during WWII. These are things my generation hasn't known (and hopefully won't), but they're really not so far away from us and I think it helps to remember/realize that once they were. And to prepare and consume our food with that sort of mindfulness and gratitude. This might not be easy exactly, but it's very possible--for those with time and for those with less time. Let's face it, most of us waste a good bit of food or spend our money on sodium and high fructose corn syrup more often than we really need to. Maybe I'm just begging to be criticized here because I am at home enough to prepare many of our foods from scratch. And I'm not saying everyone should be me and eat on the super cheap, but a little cheaper, a little less wasteful--it's something most of us can manage if we wish. If we don't wish, I'm okay with that. Just don't look at me all weepy-eyed and tell me how it can't be done. Because for most of us, with a little more preparation, a little more mindfulness, and a wee bit of effort, almost all of us can save a little more money than we do if we have a look around and prepare just a bit. Whether that means breaking out the rolling pin or breaking out the angel hair pasta, there's a cheap hot meal waiting to be on our menu this week.


  1. You have truly inspired me and helped me be more prepaired for these next two years, and after. (And Im not just talking bread and rolls) I to am more aware of what my family consumes and the best lesson for me was freezing and actually consuming our leftovers. Our food budget dropped a lot and next month will drop even more. Thankfully there will be one less mouth to feed... but not really. You really have no idea how much this single mother, with two teenagers, needed some guidance in feeding her family especially with a soon to be missionary. And yes, we are truly grateful to you for all things bread-like that I can now bake! (And put in care packages) Thank you! We love you, your family, and your blog!

  2. Absolutely! I think the quick supper ideas would be really wonderful and I agree whole heartedly...waste less! We throw away too much. It is sad how much is wasted. Can't wait to see what new recipes await us in 2012.



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