$20 a week Food Budget Challenge: Breaking the Rules

So we’re two weeks into the $20 per week food challenge. The above photo is rice and vegetables, stir-fried vegetables, and chana masala AKA curried chickpeas. It’s the first vegetarian meal I’ve had, arguably vegan with the exception of a little bit of butter that went into the rice and stir-fry. This challenge is inspired by Jacob Lund Fisker Early Retirement Extreme book. I read the book while on vacation in Cuba and I’m really thankful to Matt McKeever for giving me the copy. In the book, Jacob advocates for people to spend no more than $80 per month for food per person. Everyone I’ve asked outside of the FI community has thought it was a pipe dream. Now 2 weeks in, I’m having reasonable success. However, I’m definitely cheating so far. I’m not beating myself up over the lack of full-blown adherence because celebrating the small successes is an important part of the road to changing habits.  But two weeks ago I did shopping for $21 and I had to get creative for the rest of the ingredients that I need it. This creativity came from 5 sources.

The first is from the pantry, I have an excess of dry ingredients that have been sitting collecting dust in the form of starches like rice, pasta, and quinoa, as well as canned vegetables and meat. The goal is to eat more of that before buying anything new. I do consider some dry and preserved resources as tactical supplies in the event of an emergency or civil unrest we’re getting food is more difficult. This is about the extent of my prepper nature but I like the idea of knowing there’s something to eat in the house if all hell breaks loose. Many of these dry Staples are contingent on having water available so the extent to which they’ll be readily made in an emergency is debatable.

The second is receiving gifts of meat from my parents. This wasn’t planned but my parents went out of town for a month and had some steaks my dad didn’t want to eat that they have me. I cooked two and froze two. The two I made I cut into 6 portions of about 3 ounces each. While I would love to eat more steak in general, I think 3 to 4 oz is a perfectly reasonable amount of meat for the average lunch.

The third was to clean out my freezer. This provides a great deal of savings as you eat food you’ve already made. Its not as if keep a running list of the dollar value of the meals in my freezer as an asset in my net-worth tracker but as it turns out there might have been $500 in value of meals if I went out instead of eating these. It feels great to be using up some things that we’re nearly starting to be freezer burnt or would have otherwise condo waste as time passes and you forget what’s in your freezer. I think I might do a better job of tracking and meals I have frozen so that there’s less chance of them going to waste, and they’re eaten when they are fresher. This will allow for a better rotation of meals with some planning and optimization. I had a few bags of jumbo shrimp and I turned one bag into 5 meals, just under a quarter pound per meal which at a restaurant would be about what you might get I think.

The fourth was to reclassify meals out as entertainment. I do have a habit of eating out at restaurants a lot. I don’t do morning coffee at Tim Hortons or Starbucks, but a breakfast wrap at A&W is a really easy way to spend three bucks a day without realizing, that is a daily budget not a budget for one item in the morning for breakfast. Also once or twice a week I will go to a quick-service burrito place like Mucho Burrito, Freshii or Qdoba. This $10 or $12 expense can be the budget for four days, not 1 meal. So for the time being I have put that as entertainment on my budget as it is entirely discretionary and a luxurious novelty. Making burritos isn’t even that hard I don’t know what’s stopping me from closing the loop.

The fifth was to classify a few grocery items as gifts. My girlfriend was visiting and she had requested that we go out for breakfast. I said I thought it was ridiculous to spend $30 to have someone cook us breakfast and her biggest point of disagreement was that she wanted crepes, but she didn’t think that I could make them. So I took this challenge to learn how to make crepes, which turned out to be extremely easy. I did go to the expense of buying proper maple syrup to put on them and some strawberries and whipped cream. So this $10 expense for maple syrup, strawberries, and whipping cream I hope saved me $20 at a restaurant and I chalk it up as a gift to my beautiful girlfriend. The maple syrup will probably last for a few months because I don’t think I’ll use it for much else.