I spent a grand total of $19.71 on food this month. Woo Hoo!
Now, I had several reasons for undertaking this $21 challenge. First of all, I really needed to eat through some of the food that I had in my pantry and freezer, and this seemed like a good way to get myself to do that.
I also saw it as a part of my larger long term food stamp (SNAP) challenge where I'm trying to see if I can eat healthy and well on a budget of $137/month (which is the average SNAP benefit in my state.) Soooo if you average together the amounts I've spent on food since I started (March: $197 April: $141.65 and May: $19.71) it comes out to an average of $119.45/month, which is well beneath the SNAP level.
I'm still not convinced that it's a fair average though, since I did eat a lot of food purchased before I began the challenge, so I think I'm gonna have to keep going for at least a few more months in order to get a fair average.
Anyhow, recent discussions in the comment section have made me realize that I never really did a good job of explaining why I'm undertaking these challenges in the first place. Guess I have a tendency to jump into the middle of things and then work my way backwards.
So, without further ado...
Part of the reason I wanted to do all this is because I really want to explore the issue of poverty on a more personal level.
I live in one of Denver's poorest neighborhoods. To put that into perspective, at the elementary school a few blocks from my home, 94% of the students qualify for the free or reduced lunch program (84% free, 10% reduced). For those of you not familiar with the program, students who live at 130% of the federal poverty level or below qualify for free lunch, and students who live between 130 and 185% of the federal poverty level qualify for reduced lunch. Yup... this is where da poor folk live!
I often think that I know what it's like to live in poverty since I have spent a great deal of my life living very near (and sometimes below) the poverty level. But in reality, my poverty is totally voluntary. I have a degree from a prestigious university, I've got tons of marketable skills, I've got money in the bank from the years when I did make good money, and I have a family that's always trying to give me more.
I could quite easily go out and get a well paying job if I so desired, I just decided long ago that I didn't want that life, so I chose to trade money for freedom.
And even though the judgement of other people's food choices annoys me to no end, I'm not totally immune from it. I watch my neighbors fill their grocery carts with ramen noodles, soda, frozen pizza and bottled water and shake my head in dismay. I often find myself thinking things like "Gee... I don't spend much on food and I eat a very healthy diet full of fruits and veggies - if those people just made better choices..."
But the truth of the matter was that I didn't really know how much I spent on food in the first place, and I certainly don't know what it's like to live paycheck to paycheck where the food budget is not just an arbitrary goal or number, but a fixed reality of how much money you have to spend on food - period.
I guess I figured that perhaps I ought to try walking a day (or a few months) in their shoes and see how it really feels to try to feed myself on such a small amount of money.
So that's part of my reason for undertaking all of these challenges, the other reasons are a bit more personal.
The past few years have been quite lean money-wise. This isn't really a problem because I'm a saver and I figure that it all evens out in the long run. I've been working on making more money, and all was going really well, but circumstances beyond my control took over earlier this year, and it was looking like I was gonna have another really bad year, and would be lucky to make $8-$10K, so I was starting to worry about drawing down my savings too much.
As it turns out, it hasn't actually been that bad, but the whole experience made me feel like I really ought to do a better job of watching my budget, especially where groceries are concerned.
I've also noticed over recent years that I've got some, ahem, "hoarding tendencies" when it comes to food. I think I tend to react to uncertainty by surrounding myself with things that make me feel safe, and a full pantry and freezer seem to be part of that.
But when I did a pantry clean about a year ago and had to toss out a remarkable amount of food that had gone bad, I decided that perhaps my system (or lack thereof) wasn't really serving me very well. Anyhow, I decided that I needed to get a better handle on how much food I really need to be buying/stockpiling!
All in all, I have to say that these grocery challenges have been quite eye opening.
I have much more to say on the issue of food and poverty, and I'll probably devote another post entirely to that topic, but for the moment I'll start by saying that when your money and transportation are limited, so are your food choices.
The other thing that's been a big eye opener is how tremendous your savings can be if you're willing to stick mostly to the loss leaders. For those of you not up on retail jargon, a "loss leader" is an item that a store sells at a deep discount, usually at a loss, in order to lure or lead customers into their establishment where they will hopefully spend more money on other full price items - hence the name loss leader.
Anyhow, pretty much all of the amazing prices that I've quoted over the past few months have been loss leaders. So when you ask yourself how the store can possibly make any money selling xyz things so cheap, the answer is: they can't. I'm basically taking advantage of the store's marketing strategy by going to different stores and purchasing only the loss leaders at each one.
This strategy only works, however, if you're willing/able to frequent a bunch of different stores and have the personal discipline to buy only the items that are on sale. It requires a great deal of flexibility with both shopping schedules and menu planning. So it's a great way to save on food, but it's not without its drawbacks.
OK... and the final eye opening bit is that I HAVE A TON OF FOOD! OK, that may strike some of you who read my food stock post as a line straight out of Captain Obvious, but I have to say that I'm amazed at how much I still have left even after living pretty much entirely off of my food stores for the past month.
Sooooo, while I'm not up for another month of rationing fruit and fresh veggies, I do think that I'll probably try to keep eating primarily from the pantry and freezer for the next month, and limit my purchases as much as possible to fresh produce and dairy.
And that brings me to my goals for June. Y'all got me thinking about "food issues" so I think that I'll try to focus this month on exploring some of the "better" food choices out there. While the choices in my immediate neighborhood are quite limited, there are other options like Farmer's Markets that I haven't really given as much consideration as I probably should.
I'm not saying that I'm gonna stick to purely organic or local foods this month, because that could be cost prohibitive, but I'm certainly gonna focus on exploring what's out there and seeing if there are ways to do it on a tight budget.
OK, so there you have it! I'm not sure how long I'm gonna keep up these little challenges, but for the moment I'm still finding them to be fun, challenging and eye-opening (as opposed to an oppressive pain in the rear) so I think I'll stick with it for at least a bit longer.
So how about you? Anybody have any great ideas for me about other ways to explore different food shopping options?