|Can I feed my family for one Lincoln a person?|
I mean well. I really do.
Every year I pull a a few tags from our church's giving tree. I pick grocery store gift certificates. "Great lesson for the kids" I think to myself. "We eat cheap, and use the savings on someone who needs help."
Every year, when push comes to shove, we don't eat cheaper. I buy the gift certificates, of course; our savings takes the hit.
This year, I read about the Slow Food $5 challenge. The challenge: eat for less than a $5 value meal at a fast food restaurant. Aha! Money for the giving tree! At $5 a person, we'll have plenty to contribute.
I rushed to my organic grocery store, the one with the good bulk foods section. I wanted exact amounts on my receipt:
|Cannellini Beans||1.08 lb @ 2.69/lb||$2.69|
|Onion||.76 lb @ 1.69/lb||$1.28|
|Garlic||.12 lb @ $5.99/lb||$0.72|
|Sea Salt||.7 lb @ $0.69/lb||$0.48|
|Lemon||.24 lb @ 3.69/lb||$0.89|
*My reuseable bag got me a $0.05 discount, not included in the total.
Forget five dollars a person; I'm closer to three, even with the extra cost of buying organic. I have $8.76 left over from my $25. I'm on the road to savings!
So, how much am I saving?
Not much. Our weekly grocery budget is $200 for five people. If we cut back to five dollars a person, (times five people, times seven days) our budget would be $175. That is not hundreds of dollars to donate to charity.
That didn't seem right. I'm a food blogger. I shop at farmers markets, specialty stores, ethnic markets. I'm a member of a CSA. I eat well - just ask my bathroom scale. I spend a lot on food, don't I? What's going on?
I found answers at the USDA*. Turns out, I am a below average American. I spend less than the "low cost" average per week, and border on the "thrifty" average.
Source: Official USDA Food Plans: Cost of Food at Home at Four Levels, U.S. Average, January 2011. I'm cooking for a family of five; a 19-50 year old couple with a 9-10 year old and two 6-8 year olds. According to the data, for our family, low cost is $220/week; thrifty is $168/week. I would have to spend $330 a week to be on the high end of the scale.
Wait, what? Thrifty? Me? I just spent $4.99 on 8 ounces of organic bacon. How can I possibly be thrifty?
I don't give myself enough credit, apparently. Dried beans, even expensive organic dried beans, are still cheap. I love strange cuts of meat; sure, short ribs are getting expensive at $3.99 a pound, but compared to a $12.99 /lb ribeye? They're downright penny pinching. Yes, I shop at farmers markets and organic grocery stores, but I buy what is in season...which is usually a bargain. My side trips to ethnic markets uncover a lot of great deals.
I think of my splurges; extra virgin olive oil, real parmesan, a bottle of good wine. My kids have a different view. "Why does everything have to be on sale?" whines my ten year old.
After I told him to put down the full price Life cereal and pick up the generic Cheerios.
What does it all mean?
Cooking is a great way to save money. Because I cook with real ingredients, five dollars per person isn't much of a challenge. The global average of $2 a day, however...I have some work to do...
What do you think? Questions? Other ideas? Leave them in the comments section below.
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