My friend Lydia recently told me about some of her incredible journey and experiences in minimalism and debt elimination. She graciously agreed to share a bit of her story here- specifically about a past personal challenge to spend no more than $20 a week on food (and a couple of recipes)! I am super happy and thankful to have her contribute our first ever guest post here on BdayDday.
When I began my journey out of debt in November of 2006, I only was thinking of reducing the payments on my credit cards. That quickly changed when I read Dave Ramsey’s book, “Total Money Makeover” and I began to dream of what life would be like if I was completely debt free. $10,000 in credit card debt took me two years to get rid of, and by January of 2008, I was ready to tackle the mortgage. I wanted out. Out of debt, out of my job and I wanted to go to college debt free. The vision of what my life could look like pushed me forward. I took an unrelenting and harsh look at my budget and made a four year plan to be completely debt free.
I wasn’t wasteful at that point . . . actually most people thought I was nuts for living the way I did. Frugal to a fault, I wouldn’t pay for television or fast internet. I drove a reliable old car and I biked to work whenever I wanted to really cut corners. There were a few last things that I could cut and the main thing was my food budget. I probably spent $45 on food every week. My cupboards were stocked and yet I kept buying more food and then throwing perishables out a week later. I knew I could do better and I really decided to change when I realized that saving an extra $25 per week was worth at least $5,200 over the next four years. That isn’t counting the interest if I saved it in the bank, or how much it would save me in mortgage interest if I sent it in with my house payment. That much money represented at least five months of my life. I would have to work an extra five months to earn that much money to put towards debt or I could cut it out of my food budget. I decided that I could get creative with eating, and the $20 Bill Food Game was born.
I could have one $20 bill when I walked into the grocery store and when I walked out I needed to have enough food for 21 meals.
The first few weeks were easy since I had a pantry full of food that I could fall back on if I didn’t buy enough food. As I got better at the “game” I was playing, I found a few tried and true ways to meet my $20 goal.
1. Rethink your meals. I learned on a trip to Nigeria just how backward thinking I had become in my meal planning. Meat was expensive and scarce, and was generally served as a small side during dinner, or in a sauce on top of an inexpensive bowl of rice. In the USA we generally have meat as the main meal and a side of rice. Switch the thinking around, and you have just saved a significant amount by planning your meals differently.
2. Staples like eggs, tortillas and potatoes can be used in multiple ways and in a variety of recipes to avoid boredom.
3. A big batch of homemade granola can provide a lot of breakfasts and is fairly cheap to make if you buy the ingredients in bulk. If you make a generic recipe, fresh fruit, yogurt, or a handful of sliced almonds added in can keep it from getting mundane. (I have also heard that leftover holiday M&M’s are good in granola, but I wouldn’t know for sure.)
4. Buy your spices in the bulk food section. You will pay a fraction of the cost instead of spending your money on the packaging.
5. Provide variety through the flavoring, but stick to the same foods so you can purchase in bulk and not waste any. A bag of rice can last a long time if it gets boring, so find different sauces, spices, or ways to mix it in to stretch other more expensive foods (think taco meat – adding rice is a great stretch).
6. Have some tried and true recipes that you always have the ingredients for. [See the Crock-pot Chili recipe below.] If I had an extra dollar during a grocery trip I would try to add some extra staples into my pantry in case I had a cooking disaster and messed up a meal. Which I never, ever did.(Just kidding)
7. Use a little and save the rest for later. If you buy a pound of bacon, only use enough to flavor the food and then freeze the rest. You can do this with many foods. Having extra options may make all the difference in keeping in the “game.”
8. Be creative with what you find. Many friends and neighbors had extra fruits and vegetables. Homemade applesauce from a few leftover apples, and zucchini bread made from the neighbor’s prolific zucchini plant, added variety to the menu.
Two recipes that may keep you from starvation:
Put in large bowl:
9 cups long-cooking oats (buy in bulk section)
2 cups chopped nuts (buy in bulk section)
2 cups sunflower seeds (buy in bulk section)
Combine and then add to large bowl:
1/2 cup honey
1 teaspoon salt (buy in bulk section)
3 Tablespoons vanilla
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup brown sugar (buy in bulk section)
Stir until all the ingredients are well mixed. Spread onto non-stick cookie sheets and bake in the oven on 325 degrees for 30 – 45 minutes, stirring occasionally so all of the granola cooks evenly. The browner the granola is, the crunchier it will be. Store in an airtight container and use within a few weeks.
This recipe can be made with bulk ingredients that cost less, but I always kept the ingredients to this recipe on hand in case I was out of time and needed a “quick” meal.
Ground beef, cooked, about 1lb.
1 diced small onion
1 packet of chili seasoning
1 can kidney beans
1 can diced stewed tomatoes
Cook all ingredients together in a crock-pot on low for 4-6 hours.
While Lydia’s $20 Bill Food Game might seem extreme to some, it certainly brings to light that the weekly grocery list could be one place to look when we’re seeking to put away a few extra dollars for that vacation, big goal or new lifestyle.
Could you pull this off for $20 a week?
Any other ideas for cutting food expenses to save some dinero?
Share in a comment below!
(photo by Denis Dervisevic)