Saturday, June 25, 2011

$88.48 = The Cost of Eating (Well)

So, we've come to the end of the week. I've just polished off the last of my tinned peaches and Mr Cake is eating some oats (which might sound strange at 9pm but is actually a pretty normal evening snack for him).

Above is what we had after our first shop. We subsequently bought yoghurt, brown sugar, peanuts to make our own peanut butter, and more milk and bread, spending a total of $88.48.  And this is what we have left:

Not much! Some of our homemade peanut butter and half a loaf of bread; one whole packet plus a couple of pieces of Mr Cake's lunch meat and some of the hummus; some rice, stock, spices, onion and garlic; and perhaps a cup of oats and some brown sugar. I guess we could last another day on this if we needed to but there's not much nutrition left!

I didn't eat or drink anything we didn't buy this week - Mr Cake had a couple of biscuits at a work meeting and a drink with his colleagues on Friday night but I don't think either of those are significant enough to have altered his nutritional needs. ;-) The only things we used from our pantry were oil, salt and pepper, and some spice for the dhal (we bought two packets as a representative sample since it would have been silly to buy six spices for a one-week experiment).

It was a really interesting experience - we're both looking forward to eating some "treat" foods tomorrow and being able to delve into the pantry for variety, but often limiting yourself in strange and seemingly inconvenient ways have unexpected positives. Some of the things I've learnt this week:

 - we waste way too much. Needing to make the most of everything made me realise we're often a bit careless. It won't take much adjustment to reduce waste, which should have a positive effect on our grocery bill.
 - a little bit of planning saves a lot. I've decided we should do a fortnightly Countdown online shop for everything we can, and only go to the supermarket for fruit, veg, milk and bread (because our freezer is too small to hold more than a couple of loaves).
 - I really value being able to whip out the butter and sugar and throw together something delicious of an evening. I missed that!
 - making breakfast and dinner on the cheap is pretty easy but keeping take-to-work lunches interesting, filling and low cost is tricky (do you have tips for this? What do you have for lunch?).
- fruit and vegetables, even though we shopped at the supermarket instead of the farmers' market, weren't too expensive - we spent $22.43 on produce and got quite a bit - the trick is buying in season. Probably spending another $3-4 on a couple more apples and some greens would have been optimal, but we certainly didn't feel like we were lacking in nutrition.
- some things - like peanut butter - which we tend to accept come in jars or packets are actually pretty simple to make yourself.
- I think a carton of eggs would have been a good addition to our shopping list, since omelettes are quick and filling and boiled eggs can also be good snacks - we probably could have done without the third loaf of bread if we'd had a snack alternative

Based on this I think the two of us could entirely reasonably get by on $90 a week - but it would involve a lot more effort. At present, with both of us working full time, I'm happy to concede that we won't always get the best deals and that spending an extra half hour at the office is worth more than scrimping at the supermarket. I also have no doubt that if circumstances require it's possible to eat for significantly less than we did - one commenter this week said she had a weekly $30 food budget while studying. Yikes! Anyway - I feel like the average person should be able to eat reasonably well on $45 a week - which is reassuring with all the negative media around food costs.

Here's a breakdown of what we ate:
Porridge with brown sugar and/or tinned peaches
Peanut butter sandwiches or
Hummus sandwiches or
Hot beef sandwiches or
Dhal with rice (2 nights)
Kumara, pumpkin and peanut soup (2 nights)
Tomato/mince (sort of bolognaise but not quite) with pasta
Leftover tomato/mince sauce with potatoes added and rice (1 night) and pasta (1 night)

Would you have done anything differently? Are you surprised at how little or how much we spent?


  1. An idea for lunch sandwich to mix it up a bit with what you're already making - buy shaved ham (instead of the more expensive thick cuts) and some loose salad greens, just enough for the week's sandwiches. I find the bagged salad leaves are not just more expensive, but go off very quickly and won't last for more than 2-3 days max. And on a week that budget allows, buy a block of cheese to add to the sandwiches. Colby/Edam cheese keeps for quite some time. What do you think Rosa?

  2. That sounds good to me! Mr Cake wasn't keen on ham, though - but salad leaves would be good. And we do normally have colby in the fridge - funny, I never think of putting it in my sandwiches. I actually often just take a bagel for my lunch, and just toast and spread something on it - maybe tomatoes on top when they're in season (we buy from Wholly Bagels and freeze them). Not very balanced but filling!

  3. Soup for lunch ia always good and fills you up. Cheap to make from a few leftover veges and maybe some tinned tomatoes and some bits of pasta. I freeze it in individual servings and heat it at work. With some toast too it's great!

  4. Good on you, I dread to think how much I spend on food! Though I do take lunches almost every winter I veer towards soup & leftovers...big batch of casserole works for me as crave something hot in these cooler months :) I also make up a big batch of rice & freeze in individual bags to take for lunch to go with the casseroles. :)

  5. I used to have a flatmate and we cooked together. However we were on really different budgets, so I adjusted my spending to meet with hers - hello $30 per week for BOTH of us. I lasted about 6 months on that budget before I argued we needed to at least get to $45 a week for the 2 of us. I did all the meal planning and cooking during this time too. The majority of the meals were vegeterian, not surprisingly. I can recommend chickpea curry as a good low cost meal. A big treat was those chicken marylands you can get at New World - they're about $4.50 for 2. And if you look in the meat cabinet where they sell individual cuts of meat, they often have discounted chicken cordon-bleu things. Another vege meal is to buy a box of the Diamond rice risotto - thai green curry flavour - and bulk it out with peas, beans or any veges you have leftover. The thai green curry tastes quite like the real thing so it was a good treat on a Friday night. Also beef casserole, using the cheapest cuts of meat and bulked out with carrots, kumara and potatoes is great. It wasn't ideal but it helped us get her through the toughest time of having very little income - and it taught me some great budgeting skills! After we stopped cooking together, I brought my budget (just for myself) up to $50 per week and I ate really well - and that included a bottle of wine! It is possible, but as you mentioned Rosa, it isn't easy and does take a lot of planning. I now live with my partner and we are both earning well so our budget allows for some more luxury items - we spend $130 per week for food and wine/beer. Well done to you and Mr Cake for your weeks experiement :) - Sophie

  6. I eat baked potatoes about once a week at work. It only takes 5 mins in the microwave. Cheese is provided at work so I grate some and I add one of those little tins of salmon and sundried tomatoes. Hot, tasty, filling, it really all good! You could substitute tuna or some of last nights mince for the salmon.

  7. Kate, ah, and perfect for this time of year!

    Mairi, making your own lunch saves heaps! And really, if you enjoy what you eat and can afford it, there's no problem with that - I just wanted to see how little we could spend. We might have learnt a couple of things but overall we're happy with our normal spend. :-)

    Sophie, some great tips there! And we love chickpea curry too. Our student flat used to have a budget of $3 per person per dinner (we did our other food separately), and always ate pretty well on that. It is always good to know you can survive on less if you need to!

    Jacqui, mmm, perhaps that's on the menu this week. My work actually has ovens (as well as microwaves) - maybe I should give that a whirl. I love chilli beans on baked spud - yum!

  8. Hey Rosa, just an update on the whole chocolate and sour cream icing idea. At the weekend I made an apricot and sour cream cake with choc and sour cream icing and I melted it all together in a bowl over a pot of hot water and it worked perfectly with no lumps. Good luck!

  9. Jacqui, thanks! That cake sounds delicious, too - I think I need to do something apricotty. :-)

  10. Soup is good for lunches, but I'm a big fan of whipping up a salad the night before - if I've got some sort of roast vege as a base I use that (kumara or pumpkin or cauli or broc - roasted with some chilli flakes or paprika) and then whip up a dressing and add feta if I have it and some greens. Some fresh herbs too. Or instead of veges - chickpeas, lentils or beans. So good!

  11. Delaney, yes, love soup for lunch at this time of year! Not usually as organised as you for the planning ahead thing. Your salads sound scrummy though.


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