Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Response to The $25 Challenge

There was a challenge in Illinois during September. It was designed to have people live off of a budget of $25 per person for a week. Some of the people in the challenge had families and so they were alloted more money than others. A group of them got together on blogger to blog their experiences, here.

I am very frustrated by this and the people that were blogging. Most of their complaints were of the nature that they could not afford fruit, vegetables, or milk. That they were forced to live off of sub-standard foods, such as freckled bananas (I personally won't eat a banana until it has lots of freckles, but I don't consider yellow bananas sub-standard food). They were also complaining that they were forced to live off of rice and beans or other very starchy foods.

Most of the people you could tell were not used to having to live on a budget (at least for food). Also, I couldn't find any of the official rules, but from reading the post I am assuming that they were not allowed to use stuff they already had in their pantry. There were several people who complained about the lack of salt, pepper, and spices in their diet to make the food taste better. They complained that someone who was living off that tight of a budget can't afford spices to make their sub-standard food taste better. Clearly these people have never gone discount store shopping. When I head to the the Dollar store or Dollar General they always have spices, and occasionally they have them two for $1.

There are several major reasons that this whole challenge frustrates me:

  1. AJ and I live off a budget of $25 a week per person. So for the month of October we have $250 since there are 5 weeks. When we were living in Gainesville and I was more familiar with the stores and the sale papers we were making it off of $15 a week per person. I am not claiming that it is the easiest thing in the world, but it is fairly doable without that much more energy than before I had a food budget. Also, honestly, the food that I cook hasn't changed one bit.
  2. These people only did it for a week. They did not have to really learn how to budget, how to shop, or how to cook.
    1. Budget - Some of the people did a trial run to see what their money would buy, but none of them mention the sales papers, the loss leaders, coupons, or other such things. Like I said before, when I was really familiar with the stores I could find great deals that fit into my budget.
    2. Shopping - They didn't have the time to learn to stock up when things went on sale. When canned goods go on sale for really cheap, you stock up. When meat is on clearance because the store needs to get rid of it to clean the case, you stock up. When you see a good deal on frozen goods you stock up. The weeks that things are on a great sale, yeah other things might not get bought, but it slowly builds up a pantry and a freezer for things that later on will get you through. Then you have a little more freedom to buy some more fun things. As long as you keep your eye out for good deals you will almost always have a perpetually stocked freezer. The other thing is that if you shop for fruits and veggies that are in season they are always cheaper and taste better. If you are looking for peaches in the middle of winter they are going to be super expensive because they are in limited supply.
    3. Cooking - Several people mentioned that if they had cooked from scratch they could have stretched their money a lot farther. Well then, duh! Cook from scratch... A good chunk of the meals in our house are from scratch, namely because they taste better and I really enjoy cooking.
  3. They make it seem like everyone who lives off of $25 a week is walking around starving all the time. Last time I checked, I needed to loose a lot of weight. AJ on the other hand is loosing weight, but that is because he is a hyper monkey and runs around like a silly goose. He has never told me he was hungry all the time (he does say he is hungry, but that is normally at a meal time - which is when a person is supposed to be hungry).
  4. Sub-standard foods! There definitions of sub-standard food make me angry. Most of them didn't like canned veggies. One guy was cranky about canned salmon. Honestly, canned veggies aren't as amazing as fresh ones, but they are good. Also, there are things that they work so much better in than fresh veggies. Canned corn works better in chili than fresh corn does. For things like that it doesn't make sense to spend the extra money on it. The canned salmon thing got me, too. I have bought some really cheap canned salmon and for the most part it worked well in what I was using in it (salmon cakes). It isn't the same as fresh, but it isn't marketed that way. Also, on a side note we have a huge chunk of fresh (now frozen) salmon in our freezer. It was bought on our budget. There is enough to make 3 full servings off of when we need it (again, the benefits of shopping on sale).
  5. No fruits and veggies! We normally have both of these in our kitchen. The fresh kind that came off trees and such and not out of cans. We have frozen berries in our freezers for yummy smoothies. We normally have apples, pears, oranges, bananas, avocados, sweet potatoes, potatoes, carrots, greens (spinach), onions, and lemons (or some random combination of the above ) at all times. Yeah, we do run out and we don't restock until shopping day, but that teaches us not to eat all the fruit in one day (which AJ could do).
  6. That food stamps are supposed to be able to fully fund a persons diet. Honestly, food stamps were meant to subsidize a persons food budget not be the entire amount of money that a person spends on food.
I will admit AJ and I have other money built into our budget for eating out ($70 a month) and occasionally buying a soda or candy bar. So our $25 a week is just focused at the grocery store. The thing is that extra splurge money means if we spend it on junky type food we don't have it for other things that we might want to spend it on (it is our blow money and outcome of living on a budget). Also, rarely does our food budget include snack type items - chips, soda, cakes, ice cream, or pudding snacks. It happens occasionally, but that makes it a treat not a way of life.

I know there are plenty of hard working people out there who live on a tight budget. Right now, AJ and I fall into that category. We are trying to make ends meet when they really don't want to right now. We have had to be creative. There have been weeks when we didn't even have the $50 to spend on groceries, and we made it by living out of our pantry. We ate really well those weeks. We didn't live off of our eating out budget (namely because it was already used because it was the last week of a month). There are also plenty of websites that have great ideas on how to live on a really tight budget. One of my favorite ones is if you have to feed a whole family on $30 a week total. This amazing lady feeds her family very well on very little. She admits that it will take work, but it is doable and no one will go hungry.

Our meal plan when weeks are tight:

Breakfast -

cereal and milk
grits
pancakes

Lunches -

leftovers
sandwiches and fruit

Dinners -

black eyed peas, rice, and cornbread
homemade pizza
chicken, mashed potatoes, corn
frozen raviolis with sauce
turkey spaghetti
black beans, rice, corn, and cheese

Our meal plan when we have a full budget:

Breakfast -

cereal and milk
pancakes, eggs, and bacon
french toast
grits

Lunches -

leftovers
sandwiches and fruit and carrot sticks
avocados

Dinners -

pot roast with carrots, potatoes, and onions
turkey taco soup
ground beef in gravy over mashed potatoes
turkey spaghetti (namely because I am craving it again this week)
beef pot pie (made from the pot roast - just add peas and tomato paste)

See for us living off a budget doesn't look that different than living out of our pantry. The major difference is where our protein sources come from. When times are better they come from animals, when times are leaner we tend towards more bean based protein, but not as much as I thought it would.

I am not trying to criticize people who really have a tight food budget. I am in that category myself, but I am just trying to show that if you try you can make it work. It does take more effort, but a crock pot is a wonderful thing to help make food that is good for you, yummy, and lets you buy really cheap cuts of meat to cook with. I am also trying to show that it is possible to live off food stamps, feed your family, and still get healthy food.

Please leave your comments, especially if you agree and are living on a tight budget or if you don't agree and think it isn't possible.

1 comment:

Jenny said...

I agree with you completely. We seem to be living off 60 a week for 5 of us and that includes everything even diapers. We used to live off $150 or so a week and I would say now we have more than we had back then. Learning how to shop wisely has given us larger food options and more of everything it seems. I used to only get housebrand (even diapers) but now we get namebrand everything for next to nothing. I also enjoy shopping and seeing how much I can save rather than dreading the total.