Budget Day 43: Under Budget!!

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I am so excited I can hardly stand it. It only took me 43 days to do it, but finally for once I came in under budget! Woohoo! And not only did I come in under budget (with my purchases from Earth Fare today), but check out how much food I got. I could barely fit it into the picture there is so much. After scrounging for food all weekend (since the budget week ends on Sundays) having this much food in our house at one time feels like a bountiful feast!

I planned to spend $82 today, but my first round of groceries surprisingly left me with 10 bucks to spare. I certainly could have saved this unexpected $10, but I am a spender by nature so instead I decided to get a few “extras” that weren’t on my original list. So to my cart I added my beloved mozzarella cheese (the kind that floats in the water, which is the bomb), another bag of organic whole-wheat flour since I seem to be running low on that lately, and some more mushrooms. Even after purchasing those items the bill only came to $81.50. I was more than thrilled that I got to splurge on my favorite cheese and still end up with 50 cents to spare. It seems like every other time I go to the store I plan to spend $25 and I end up spending $30…so this is major progress for me!

I don’t even know why I managed to do so well today today. It might have just been luck with the meals I’d planned for the week and with the sales they were having (no, I did not plan my meals around the sales…I know I should!). I also used one coupon, which saved me a dollar. I am trying with the coupons, but often times it seems the store-brand is cheaper than the name brand with the coupon. So anyway…here is a list of my purchases (most of which was organic)…

  • Raw sliced almonds $2.54 (on sale)
  • Rolled oats $2.18
  • Peanut butter $2.40
  • Sesame seeds $2.02
  • Fresh mozzarella $3.99
  • Unsalted butter $4.49
  • Cheddar $4.49 (on sale)
  • 2 blocks of Monterey Jack $6.00 (on sale)
  • 2 containers sour cream $1.79 each (with coupon)
  • Frozen blueberries $3.00
  • Puffed whole grain corn cereal $1.50 (on sale)
  • Crushed red pepper $1.39
  • 2 bags whole-wheat flour $5.00 (on sale)
  • 2 cans black beans $2.00 (on sale)
  • Whole wheat pasta elbows $1.99
  • Bulk cinnamon $7.99
  • 2 apples $3.36
  • Bananas $1.56
  • Green beans $0.68
  • Celery $1.50
  • Cilantro $1.50
  • Cantaloupe fruit cup $1.34
  • Garlic $0.65
  • Leek $1.41
  • Lemon $0.99
  • Lime $0.66
  • Mango $1.25
  • Mushroom pack $3.00 (on sale)
  • Bulk mushrooms $1.55
  • 2 pears $2.38
  • Bell pepper $0.99
  • Zucchini $0.89
  • Tomatillos $2.61

And with these items we will make the following dinners this week…

  • Monday: Vegetarian Enchiladas (with beans!) topped with cheese and tomatillo salsa
  • Tuesday: Chicken in the slow cooker with mashed potatoes and veggies (I am pulling a local chicken out of our freezer and “charging” myself for it)
  • Wednesday: Chicken and wild rice casserole with green beans
  • Thursday: Leftovers for my husband / Earth Fare free kids night for us (maybe)
  • Friday: Potato / Turnip soup
  • Saturday: Planning to go out to dinner

In light of the small amount of money I spent on such delicious and nutritious “real food” today, I’d like to mention a very interesting article that I recently read in the Charlotte Observer. The article highlighted a local businessman who organized a challenge to see if he (and others) could manage to live off $7/day per person (which is the amount allotted for food stamp recipients). The article specifically mentions their need to rely on “dollar menus and granola bars” during the challenge and also their feeling of waking up hungry in the middle of the night. I know I’ve compared our weekly budget to the food stamp allotment before, but I am totally floored by this article because if you get out your calculator we are only spending $4.45/day per person. And even if you add in our $20/week for eating out (which we don’t always use) it would come to $5.17/each. And granted this week is turning out to be a good week for us, but no matter how you look at it for 43 days we’ve been eating much better food for much less money than this group! Amazing.

Also, since yesterday ended a budget week here is a list of how things totaled up last week…

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28 comments to Budget Day 43: Under Budget!!

  • Rachel

    Congrats and look at your variety!! I love it! I know you are new to beans, so have you thought of using dried beans rather than canned? I know they are less expensive than canned, but I always forget to soak them the night before I need them.

    • 100 Days of Real Food

      Thank you! I feel like it is so much easier to get variety at a store like Earth Fare since they have so many organic options! Also, it certainly is easier when I have some money to spend as well. In previous weeks I was going to 2 or 3 stores so I didn’t have very much to spend in each place. This shopping experience yesterday felt like Christmas! It was nice :) Also, I do buy dried beans, but I have a hard time remembering to soak them as well. The EF organic store brand only has 15 mg (or so) of sodium so I feel like it is a great alternative.

  • Heather

    Dried beans are the way to go. I don’t soak mine or anything. I just rinse them in a colander looking for rocks as I rinse, then throw them in my crockpot on high with tons of water ( or a little stock if I’m feeling feisty) and they’re ready in a few hours. Doing this in the morning gets them ready well in advance of dinnertime. Couldn’t be easier or cheaper, and I control what goes in them.

  • LauraElle

    I read the article and I think they are eating in a way that people on food benefits are. Having been on food stamps in a time of need, I can safely say it sucks. It is true the one can eat real food on less than $7/day. IF you can access decent grocery stores AND if you can go to two or three different stores when you grocery shop.

    Most people on food stamps, however, do not have access to decent grocery stores. Often, decent grocery stores are not in poor neighborhoods. And then there’s the time factor of going from store to store for the best deals. If I had a chance to work an extra shift or take my day off to grocery shop, I took the extra shift. [I worked in a restaurant, so I could get a shift meal, which included a salad.] I barely had bus fare to get to my job, much less bus fare [or time!] to go to several different grocery stores. And let’s not get started on the crappy grocery store that was in my neighborhood. I knew there was better food available but had limited access to it.

    Just sharing the prospective of someone who has been on food stamps. It sucked. It wasn’t fun. I certainly did not want to be on them. I’m glad I am no longer on them [and haven't been for over 10 years]. But I am very glad they were there when I needed them.

    • Amy

      That’s a wonderful point! I forget that working moms don’t have the luxury to go from store to store like I do . . . and a working mom on food stamps probably has two jobs! Thanks for the reminder.

    • 100 Days of Real Food

      Thanks for sharing the point of view from someone who’s been in this situation. I think that is a great point about the ability to access decent stores (and actually get there and back). I was more so comparing my little project to the project of the businessmen who were seeing what it would be like to live on $7/day. But, whether someone is doing this because they have to or just because they want to see what it would be like…I do think it requires some meal planning and cooking skills to do it right, and obviously not everyone has those skills! It makes me wonder…when someone has to start collecting food stamps do they provide you any resources on meal planning on a budget? Just a thought.

      • LauraElle

        Regarding the meal planning for food stamp recipients, I have no idea what the protocol is now. I do know there were some pamphlets in the office where I applied for food stamps and the food pyramid posters on the wall. The case worker I saw offered to go through the pamphlet with me and she would answer some questions. I was raised knowing how to plan a menu and budget for it. I was also raised with three nutritious meals a day, so I knew pretty much how to do that. But there was only so much I could do with what was available.

        The pamphlet was very basic- showing basic examples of healthy, low cost meals. It mainly explained what you could and could not buy with food stamps but there were a few example meals.

        I found many of the foods used in those examples unavailable at my neighborhood grocery store. Fresh produce? Dairy? Lean meats? Yeah, right. Try sour dairy, slimy produce and stinky meats. I purchased frozen vegetables [when they weren't freezer burned] or canned, canned fruit in juice, oatmeal, shelf-stable milk, coffee and packaged dinners. In other words, the food that was least likely to give me food poisoning. I’d sweeten the oatmeal with the fruit and throw the vegetables in with the packaged dinner.

    • Kim

      *I know I’m joining this conversation a year late, but better late than never! :)* Is Walmart considered a decent store? I live in a fairly rural town and that’s all we have. I did the math and with a family of 5 (ages 33, 30, 7, 5, and 2), we average $125/week only shopping at Walmart (I have chosen not to spend my time/money/gas going anywhere else including Kroger that’s 20 minutes away). If you do the math that’s approximately $3.60 per person per day (breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks). Now I’ll be the first to say that we don’t eat 100% health food, but I feel like we are healthy eaters. Just because you are on food stamps and can only shop at a place like Walmart doesn’t mean you can’t eat semi-healthy. Everyone should look at what they put into their body and not assume that they can’t afford to eat decently. I think it’s not always money but convenience that dictates what people spend their food money on.

      • Anna

        I think it greatly depends on the individual walmart. My husband and I refused to shop at walmart when we first got married. The meat looked awful, and the produce was disgusting and would always go bad 3-4 days after getting it home. Then we moved cross country and ended up in rural TN. This walmart we loved. The produce was the best in the area, often better then the local farmer’s market (which was small and the produce was awful.) I did try to head north for a bigger farmer’s market that had great produce when I could but that didn’t happen but a few times each season. The meat at the walmart wasn’t great so we usually bought meat from Ingles or a local company that sold 1/4 cows so it only came to $200-300. Now my husband and I have moved back to the same state we started in but about 50 miles north of where we were. Although Walmart is not our favorite choice it is only 1.5 miles from where we are at so we do go there for quick trips if I forgot something and the produce isn’t too bad. They also carry some nice organic greens. The meat still looks awful, but at least the produce isn’t too bad.

      • Joan

        I think that you are right in regard to the convenience aspect. I have been a counselor at a crisis pregnancy center and almost all of our clients are welfare recipients. Each year we grow a garden at the center and many of us volunteers bring in home grown produce. We end up taking it home because most of our guests will not take, nor do they want fresh vegetables- many of these girls just want to make mac and cheese from a box and fish sticks-I really think that noone taught them how to cook and they are stuck in a rut.

        Another commenter was right about the lack of decent stores in poorer neighborhoods. I know that in some areas of Detroit the grocery stores have closed and all that are left are convenience stores that sometimes have a couple of apples on the counter and maybe a pack of cheese in the cooler with the milk and margarine and that is it.

  • Julia

    Hi! Love reading your blog. Was inspired by what you are doing and watched Food Inc with the hubby. Last Thursday, i called some farms and went on a family field trip to visit Windy HIlls and Poplin, both by Albemarle. Great to meet the farmers and see where our food comes from…. Do you have a spot on your blog where you list the local farms you purchase from? Would love to know your sources for chicken, pork, beef, eggs… Thanks!

  • Laura

    Even though I just started reading this blog, I love it! I’m a college student who is trying to make the switch to all real food but it’s a little difficult considering that all my friends’ meals consist mainly of ramen noodles and Oreos (lol). As far as the coupons go, if you can find a grocery store (I know you mention Harris Teeter a lot) which regularly doubles or even triples manufacturer coupons up to a certain point, you can save a lot of money! I work at a grocery store where I get an employee discount on store-brand things, so I used to be even more inclined than normal to buy generic, but if you can find a good coupon and match it with a sale, you can save so much money! (For instance, an organic brand of salsa is on sale for $2.99 this week and it’s buy one get one free. There’s a coupon in the paper for 50 cents off that salsa, and at our store we double manufacturer coupons every day, so I will get two organic salsas for $1.99!)

    • 100 Days of Real Food

      I am always so impressed to hear from college students who are already thinking about where their food comes from. I think I was probably more like your friends at that time so you are way ahead of the game! Keep it up and thanks for the coupon tips.

  • Jennifer

    Glad to see you have added variety to your menu! I am always trying to new things with my family. One question though, do you guys eat many salads? Great way to stretch a meal and get your veggies in. I also make my own salad dressings to save money.

    • 100 Days of Real Food

      We occasionally eat salads, but when we do I only buy the lettuce from the farmer’s market. I think we go in phases with it though where sometimes I am in the mood and sometimes not. I haven’t been able to get my kids to eat salads yet either…which would definitely help to put me in the mood more!

  • Jill

    I’ve just started reading your blog over this weekend, and I’m so intregued by what you are doing! You’ve inspired me to really work on what we are eating as a family and to try to eat more real food. We are in a small town in Northern Ohio and now that the growing season is over, I’m struggling to find any proper produce! Any advice for what to eat now that it’s getting to be winter? Thanks! :)

    • 100 Days of Real Food

      I know it definitely gets harder in the winter months. I don’t know about Ohio, but we at least still have some fall/winter veggies to look forward to here in N.C. (like lots of greens, broccoli, sugar snap peas, carrots, onions, pak choi, etc.) If you don’t have any winter produce though the best thing would be to stock up and freeze lots of stuff next summer (that you can save for the following winter) or buy store-bought frozen organic veggies/fruit from the grocery store. Michael Pollan (whose book inspired us) says that there is a lot that is right about frozen veggies and they are more nutritious than the canned variety. I would venture to say you would be better off eating frozen organic blueberries from California (that were picked and then frozen at the peak of freshness) vs. fresh ones that were just flown in from Chile, South America. So frozen is the way to go when you can’t get fresh!

  • Joan

    Did you use your coupon for free brie if you spend $5 at Earthfare?

  • Amy

    Just started following your blog a few days ago and LOVE it! Thank you for tipping me off about great harvest. We have one right down the street and I hardly ever go. I will now be buying my bread from there. Thank you SO much!

    Oh, and I was going to say….I keep seeing coupons pop off for a free item at earth fare when you spend $5. Wonder if you use those? I don’t have an earthfare here, but I wish I did!

    • 100 Days of Real Food

      Thank you and welcome to the blog! Also, yes I do use those Earth Fare coupons…I just forgot to mention the most recent one! I absolutely love getting stuff for free :)

  • why are you charging yourself for food you already had, even if it was pre-budget. It is just like the pantry items you found, it should not come out of your budget

    • 100 Days of Real Food

      I only did that for big ticket items like meat and seafood. Not anything else. I just wanted to be as fair as possible because we were not on any kind of budget before starting this and our freezer was pretty stocked.

  • Kara

    I know this is way late and returning to the first topic, but I cook my beans a couple of times a year and package them into portion sizes and freeze them. That makes a huge difference in price, sodium, flavor and lack of sitting in a can, that does who knows what to our health and the environment!

  • cck

    First, I love your blog! We recently moved and I miss our EarthFare so very much! Thankfully, there’s a delightful Farmer’s Market every week just around the block.

    I’ve got one main complaint about the comparison between you and food stamp recipients. You visit multiple stores with a car, right? I’m guessing you’d have a different experience if you had to rely on public transportation. I’m impressed with your budgeting panache, but I wish you’d stop comparing yourself to food stamp recipients. I doubt you’d trade place for a week.

    • 100 Days of Real Food

      Thanks for your comment! Also, the comparison to food stamps is simply a financial comparison since the only factor we focused on during our pledge was money. I actually started the budget pledge not even knowing how much people got on food stamp benefits then someone brought it to my attention, and I was shocked we were actually spending less. I am very much aware that I have access to many different resources (including a car, cooking skills, kitchen appliances, etc.), but as one reader pointed out I mostly bought staples that you could get at any store whether you had a car or not. The food stamp comparison was simply to get people’s attention because there is a big misconception out there that it’s “too expensive” to eat real food. I assure you my goal is to get more people to eat real food and not at all to belittle food stamps. I hope that makes sense!

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