The “50 Bucks a Week” Challenge

hamburger vacado atkins gluten freeHow much money do you spend a week on food?  When I discuss this question with people, I inevitably get frustrated, because people always tell me a figure that seems unreasonably low. In our house, we budget; we keep track of every dollar; and we know exactly how much we truly spend on food each month. And, let me tell you, it is hard to spend only $50/week on food for two adults.

Well…it’s hard if:
– You eat meat. Daily.
– You eat organic/free range/pastured products.
– You eat fresh fruits and veggies.
– You drink raw milk and eat raw milk dairy.
– You don’t have a garden.

Plus, if you count ALL your food, even your Starbucks coffees and lunches out, it’s IMPOSSIBLE to spend only $50/week. Seriously. Unless you eat off the McDonalds value meal, which I refuse to do, because it most definitely does not meet any of the aforementioned criteria. And because it tastes gross.

For me, keeping our food spending in budget is a continual challenge. Can it be done? Can we spend only $50/week on groceries?

sungold cherry tomatoes heirloom yum

I am inspired by the blog “30 Bucks a Week” which chronicles the grocery spending of a Brooklyn couple who eat vegetarian & sustainable meals. Tina & Phil post their receipts each week and chronicle their spending habits. If they can eat cheaply and still eat well, shouldn’t I be able to, too. Meat is more expensive than “no meat,” so and extra $20/week should be more than enough wiggle room, right?

I’ve been in a frenzy tonight over this idea. I fear if I sleep on it, I may lose my fervor and back down. So. Off the cuff. In a flurry of spontenaity and emotion, I am posting my “big idea” to the blog:

I want to try.

I want to try to eat for $50/week.

I want to try to eat ORGANIC, SUSTAINABLE, RAW, LOCAL and FRESH for $50/week.

I want to try the “50 Bucks a Week” challenge!

I will:
– Post my receipts for each week. Even when I fail. (Especially when I fail).
– Start the “counter” tomorrow. (And, yes, I am grocery shopping tomorrow).
– Include ALL food spending. Including dining out? Hmm…I haven’t decided yet. Tina & Phil don’t on their “30 Bucks a Week” blog, and I bet Matt and I eat out less than they do. (They say they eat out “on the weekends”). So, lets revise that to:
– Include all NON-RESTAURANT spending.

One last thing: Matt and I love being hospitable, and part of hospitality is serving food. We actually set aside money in our budget for hospitality, and it is separate from our regular “grocery” fund. For the sake of this blog, I will include any food spending, regardless of whether or not it’s for us or for our guests.

I’m nervous. I know I’m going to fail to stick within budget a lot. But I hope my honesty and openness inspire you to examine your own eating and spending habits. And, if you have any tips on how you cut down on food costs without compromising on quality, I beg of you: please share!

Here goes nothing!!!!!

By ekwetzel
2011-08-08

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8 Responses to The “50 Bucks a Week” Challenge

  1. emma. August 9, 2011 at 7:53 am #

    Hi.. it’s @bymyelf from twitter. 🙂 I thought it might be a little easier to chat here about grocery spending rather than broken 140 character bits of conversation.

    Now that I think of it.. we budget $55 a week for food. That used to include dog food and bird food but since I began trying to buy better quality food last summer when we became pregnant, the pet food thing kind of went out the window. I think it’s technically still part of the plan but that would require me to set aside money from our budget each week in preparation for the dog food purchase and that never goes well. I bought dog food yesterday – $45. So that means $10 for us this week? No way. I could buy cheaper dog food to make the plan work out better but if I care about the food I consume I also care about the food my dog consumes.

    So. Let’s see. I keep a list in the kitchen so I can write down when we need something. Before going to the store I pick out the recipes I’m going to use so I don’t forget anything or buy things I don’t need (which still always happens). I buy spices, four, dish soap, etc., in bulk so I only buy what I need. In the long run it would be better to buy bigger quantities when things are on sale but budgeting $55/week does not allow for that. I tried the whole “I owe $10 to next week” and that got too complicated.

    I go to a local coop where I get mostly organic products but will compromise when the price difference is too big. I trust that most products at the coop have been more thoughtfully selected that a regular chain grocery store.

    We have a garden, but it’s tiny this year. I’m doing at workshare at a CSA so we have a lot of produce right now. That is making our meals much more interesting than our meals during the winter months.

    I mostly buy fresh produce. I buy only what I need (one carrot, three celery sticks, etc.).

    At least once a week we eat a meal that is comprised of beans & rice with added bits of veg & meat to make it more interesting/nutritious.. but it makes a cheap meal.

    Sometimes I go light on the meat in a meal. This week I bought the meat on “manager’s special”. Steaks, stir fry beef, and chicken breasts. I split up the stir fry beef and chicken so it would be good for two of the meal I planned to make.

    Let’s see.. We don’t really buy snacks. We make cookies and bread – that usually suffices for snacks, as well as fresh veg.

    Hygiene products, cleaning products, and paper products are included in our budget. I buy hygiene online from Swanson Vitamins because its a wonderful deal. I clean with things like vinegar and I make my own laundry detergent so that saves a lot. We try not to use too many paper napkins or paper towels.

    I bring my own bags to the store and we get 10 cents off per bag.

    I don’t often shop at multiple stores or at farmer’s markets even though I would like to. The places I desire to go here in Minneapolis are rather far apart and I don’t want to drive our car more than needed. In my mind I would need to factor the extra gas costs into the budget. We budget for gas, too.

    Typically we eat leftovers for our lunches. Our breakfasts could be better. We don’t buy raw milk. We should be eating more fruit than we do.

    Unfortunately having a grocery budget makes me get stressed out about entertaining.. which isn’t good.

    I guess that’s about it. That’s how our budget works! Not sure if you can find any “tips” in there or not..

  2. Sherri Erickson August 9, 2011 at 12:29 pm #

    I seem to recall a conversation we had about this issue where I was inspired to take a much closer look at how much my household spends on ALL food purchases each week. I am even more inspired now! Here goes nothing AND everything all at once! I’m up for your criteria and challenge. Your willingness to fail gives me courage to take this uncompromising look at our food spending habits.
    Is it okay if I post my receipts here? I want to be accountable for the challenge!

    • ekwetzel August 9, 2011 at 2:33 pm #

      Sure thing 🙂 Feel free to use my blog as your accountability space, Sherri.

  3. emma. August 9, 2011 at 7:43 pm #

    I totally went over budget at the store today. I thought we would be way under so I was like “yeah, grab some cereal!” and “sure, get those crackers!” and “hey lets make a chocolate cake!”. Whoops!

    • ekwetzel August 9, 2011 at 10:32 pm #

      Emma: story of my life, babe. Story of my life.

  4. Cedar August 9, 2011 at 9:39 pm #

    I love this idea. I am terrible at budgeting and often find myself overbuying at the store. Something like this would really help us for one reduce the amount of waste, and also help me pay off the darn iPhone I put on my credit card last month!! Really though, it would be great to get in the habit of spending less on great food.

    • ekwetzel August 9, 2011 at 10:33 pm #

      Cedar : I hope my adventures on spending less will help you out! 🙂

  5. Kiya August 20, 2011 at 8:26 am #

    A few years ago we went through a rough patch financially and had to make our food budget like $50 a month and what WIC gave us. These last two years we got off WIC and can afford to by food normally. I really struggled with how much to spend. One month I spent like $600 without thinking about it. When it was the two of us, we spent $250 a month. $50 at Costco once a month and $200 a month, shopping every other week at Freds. Now that we are a family of 4 I decided that $350 would work. It is not easy though. We get Full Circle every week for $37 a week so that is already spent. That’s $148 gone but now that we get it every week, I use it for at least 1/3 of lunch and dinner every day. I found that I have to have a calculator at the store. It adds up so fast and that way, it allows me to get what I need and see if I really do have money left or not. Coupons help but they are mostly for things we don’t eat. I love shopping at Freds because every quarter they give you great coupons that are for bread, produce, and one you can use on anything. We are pesctarian though so many of our meals have no meat in them at all. I do spend a good amount to get good wild fish for my family though. I do not count eating out towards the grocery budget, it has its own category. Nor do I count my cream top milk or raw milk because that is for my hobby. I do count cleaning stuff, bath, beauty, laundry, medicine, the paper diapers (we use cloth most of the time) and anything else I normally buy with my food. Good luck on your quest! I am sure you can do it. Be sure to post local tips for us Tacomans.