Sunday, February 21, 2010

Can a person really survive on $25 a week?

I was reading this blog awhile back and I was 1.) chuckling [because I've done it before and some weeks, lived on even less] and 2.) wondering if they had access to a crockpot.

Yes, it is hard to live on $25 a week. However, there's four weeks in a month (give or take). So, that's $100. With a little planning, one can avoid eating the same thing every single day - granted, it will be meager, it won't be 5 star quality, and there will be times when you want to strangle your co-worker for bringing fast food into the work place, but it is possible to eat cheaply and still eat relatively healthy without starving (although if you had $50 bucks a week, you could get your five servings of fruit AND vegetables per day!).

With a bit of research, I learned about the Depression diet and figured out some good modern-day staples: peanut butter, rice, beans, cheese, eggs, frozen veggies (usually cheaper than produce and has more vitamins and good stuff than canned!), frozen fruit (or, canned fruit on sale), dried milk, sugar, flour, and avocados (for a healthier alternative fat). The cheapest meat today, depending on which sales you hit, can range from chicken to turkey (which is cheaper than hamburger!) - pork is often hit and miss (it's either cheap or it's not). An investment in a crockpot means you can purchase the really cheap, crappy beef and turn a tough hunk of meat into a chewable, edible, and moist hunk of meat :) Yes, there's also canned tuna - but I hate fish and, unless I am faced with ultimate starvation, refuse to eat it. It's just not good to my taste buds unless I can smother it in mayo and sweet relish (which would totally throw off my $100 budget unless I could get the stuff at a fast food restaurant - you know, those little packets filled with various chemicals and high fructose corn syrup? Ick!).

I'd have to go back to the Giant's to gather up some prices, but the basic idea is to get your fruit in the morning (orange juice - cheap if you go with store brand or even cheaper if you can pick up a sale on either store or name brand) with perhaps an egg and some toast (if you can afford the ingredients for gluten free bread - those who can eat store-bought bread do not know how lucky they are). Or, mix rice with sugar and reconstituted milk. Or, there's oatmeal or there's the brown rice puffs which can be picked up at Whole Foods for a buck and some change.

For lunch, grab some peanut butter and jelly. Or, pasta with canned tomatoes (Del Monte's getting pretty crafty with their salt-free tomatoes and if you watch the sales carefully, you can pick them up at Giant's for a buck a piece!). Snacks can be bananas (combine that with some peanut butter - mmmm!) or whatever fruit or veggies are on sale. Or tuna fish wrapped up in tortillas with whatever condiment you can borrow from the local fast food chain. Be creative (without breaking the law)!

Dinner? Simple rice and beans. Or whatever meat's on sale turned into a poor man's stew (meat, potatoes, onion, and carrots in water with may be a bay leaf tossed in if you have the extra money). Or cabbage stew (cabbage, whatever meats on sale, and one of those stew packages if you have the extra money or, if not, then a carrot and onion) and chicken stock (or just water if you're really broke). Garlic is a very cheap seasoning - I get those really big jars found in the international aisles for $2.70 on a bad day and $2 on sale. Various dried seasonings and spices can also be found in the international aisles (and, yup, that's the same aisles as the rice and beans in most grocery stores!) for about half the price of the McCormick spices in the baking aisle.

For desert, just throw some flour together with some sugar, oil, eggs and whatever else you have on hand and bam! Brownies (esp. if you have cocoa) or cake or pies [Need I remind anyone of Ritz "Apple" Pie?]. For those who are gluten-free, an investment in all-purpose gluten free mix is a good investment (bonus: with a jar of yeast, you'll have bread all month!). A little investment in some basic staples pays off in the long run!

With just a few simple ingredients, you can easily mix & match the above ingredients and create an endless option of meals for $100 a month. But, it does take a good dose of self-control (especially when the all important ice cream is on sale, sigh), time and dedication to cook at home and scrounge for sales and coupons. It's obviously easier to live as a single person than a family of four on $100 (duh) per month. It's difficult, but not impossible.

Who here tries to live cheaply? I'd love to hear your stories!

Until the next time, may your guineas bring a smile to your face and give you a reason for getting out of bed in the morning other than just to feed them!

Monday, February 15, 2010


Here's the cost of my first two meals:

Easy Chimichangas Thanks to the CrockPot

1 1/2 lb of meat: 5.59 [saved $2.81!] - used half ($2.80)
salt and pepper: free
1/2 cup of water: free
1 diced onion: free
3 heaps of minced garlic: $0.02
I can tomatoes and chiles: $1 – used half
I can diced tomatoes: $1 – used half
brown rice tortillas: 2.69
Avocado: $1
1/4 of Giant's salsa: $.50
1/2 can of olives: $0.75
Shredded Kraft's Mexican cheese (about 1/4 cup): $0.38
Sour cream: $1.22, 2 servings (4 tablespoons): $0.15
Total cost: $9.29 / 4 meals = $2.32

California Casserole

1 1/2 lb of meat: 5.59 [saved $2.81!] - used half ($2.80)
1/2 cup of water: free
1 diced onion: free
3 heaps of minced garlic: $0.02
I can tomatoes and chiles: $1 – used half ($0.50)
I can diced tomatoes: $1 – used half ($0.50)
Remaining Giant's salsa: $3.5
Remaining olives: $0.75
Remaining shredded Kraft's Mexican cheese (about 1/4 cup): $1.62 [I had a “buy $5 worth of Kraft products, get $1.00 off, so $1.62]
18 corn tortillas: $1.20
Festive Bean & Corn frozen veggies: $2.49
Total cost: $13.38 / 6 = $2.23

Turkey and Rice

Turkey: $4.99 [since I bought one, got one free - $2.50]
Brown rice: $0.65 [Got it from the bin @ Whole Foods)
pepper and salt: free
Chicken Stock: $1.99
Giant's brand (3 cheese) – 3/4 of package: $2.00 [$1.75]
3/4 of package of the pepper stir fry (Bird's Eye, frozen veggies): $2.39 [$2.00]
Frozen broccoli, Giant's brand: $2.50

Total: $11.39/6 = $1.90

Augratin Potatoes
Potatoes [I think I used about 3 lbs of potatoes for this gig, so I figured the price to be around 30 cents per pound ($3/10 lb), so $.90).
Chicken: $2.95 [I got one package for $5.89 and the second one ($5.04) for free. Minus 2 dollar coupon for buying meat and I got $1.95 per package!]
Kraft cheddar cheese: $2.99 [Had $1 coupon, so $1.99]
1 1/2 sticks of butter: $0.93
6 tbsp of gluten-free flour: $.40 [I use Namaste's Perfect Flour Blend]
2 tsp dried thyme: free
2 tsp salt: free
4 tsp of mustard: free
1 tsp black pepper: free
3 parsnips: $0.94
green onions: $0.99
1 pint of heavy whipping cream: $2.69
1/2 cup of Silk Creamer: $1.79 [$0.45]
1/4 of Pepper stir fry (Bird's Eye, frozen veggies): $0.59
Frozen broccoli, Safeway brand: $2.79 [So Giant's IS cheaper than Safeway!]
Green beans, Whole Foods brand: $1.79 [compared to the Bird's Eye green beans, which cost me a whopping $2.69!]
1/2 package of the Bird's Eye green beans: $1.35 [The other half was used for lunches, along with the 2.50 baby frozen carrots, which I could have picked up a $0.80 bag of fresh carrots and just steamed them and saved myself $1.70 ... sheesh!]
Total: $17.76/8 = $2.22

Chicken Enchilada Chili

Chicken: $1.95 [I got one package for $5.89 and the second one ($5.04) for free. Minus 2 dollar coupon for buying meat and I got $1.95 per package!]
1 and 1/4 cans of salt-free tomato sauce and other ingredients for gluten-free enchilada sauce: $1.80
2 cans of salt-free Del Monte's bell pepper, onion & celery: $2
1 cup of pinto beans: $2.30 [I threw in fifty cents for the olive oil, garlic, vinegar, and various spices]
1 onion: free
2 tsp of chili powder: free
1 tsp cumin: free

Total: $8.05/5 = $1.61

16 Bean Soup

Package of 16 bean soup: $1
1 onion: free
3 heaps of garlic: $0.02
2 tsp of Mrs. Dash Garlic & Herb [Or, one lid full]: I can't remember how much this cost me when I bought it and so I'll just $0.35.
1 can of Del Monte's diced tomatoes: $1
Water: free
Salt: free
Total: $2.37/5 = $0.47

Sloppy Joes

Turkey: $4.99 [since I bought one, got one free - $2.50]
Sloppy Joe Mix (various spices): Um ... I'll throw in $0.80. There was brown sugar, corn starch, and various spices - most of which are free - so I'll be generous and charge myself $0.80.]
Tomato paste: $0.50
1 cup of water: free

Total: $3.80/4 = $0.95

Note: Each one of the containers holds enough for two sandwiches. So that's like $0.48 per sandwich! I bake my own bread and I've never honestly tried to sit down and calculate how much it is per slice of bread... Anyone want to take a stab at it?

So, if we don't total in the cost of bread, the total cost of 34 meals is $66.04. Thanks to coupons and snagging good deals, I saved $12 on meat, $2 on cheese, $0.55 off of my soy milk and $.50 on my V-8 Splash (okay, so the V-8 and soy milk tech. doesn't count but whatever - it still adds up to $1.05 in savings!). KA-CHING!

Until the next time, may your guinea pigs sleep through the afternoon without a temper tantrum!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Chimichanga Heaven

Today is V-day. Day of hearts, the color pink, and pollen-ridden flowers. And oh-so-lovely chocolate, which almost makes up for the pink hearts and roses. Almost.

So, I was planning out my month-long meals by visiting good ol' 360 Crockpot blog and I decided on the following:

Easy Chimichangas Thanks to the Crockpot I wanted something tasty and something to break the meatloaf cycle - and this, as it turns out, was the most excellent idea!

Crockpot 16 Bean Soup Because I always need a bean recipe to get me through the month (and I had all the ingredients on hand)!

Chicken Enchilada Chili [Because I had most of the ingredients on hand and this sounded easier than making homemade enchiladas. For the enchilada sauce, I went to Gluten-free Goddess and borrowed her Quickie Enchilada Sauce, subbing one boring ol' can of salt-free tomato sauce for the 28 ounce can crushed fire roasted tomatoes.]


Potatoes Augratin [Because I found that Safeway had a weekend sale on potatoes - buy 10 lbs for $3!!! So, I had potatoes on hand.]

How did I make these decisions? I first thought of what I had in the kitchen (canned tomatoes, onions, beans, rice, etc.) and then planned on the rough draft of my shopping list. Since I don't trust processed enchilada sauce, I added "salt free tomato sauce" to my list [Whole Foods usually has a good deal on these], and other necessities (like cream for the potatoes augratin). Then, I was shopping at Safeway for a "tide me over until Sunday, when I can start creating my meals for the month" meal and I saw that ground turkey was on a "buy 1 get 1 free sale" [which gave me the idea to try my hand at making homemade sloppy joes] and then, poking around in the meat department for my chimichangas, I saw a most excellent price for the meat (I saved 2 dollars and some change for over a pound and a half of a beef roast!). To add to my excitement, Giant's had chicken on a "buy 1, get 1 free" deal for Perdue chicken. I then rounded out my meals with the basics: cheese, Giant's salsa, olives, corn tortillas, and frozen veggies (which, thanks to my short-circuited brain, I picked up two packages of green beans - do'gh!).

Since I had left over meat from the chimichangas (a few of the brown rice tortillas fell apart), I used the meat to make a Mexican lasagna - or California casserole as the recipe on the olive can read - and layered corn tortillas, the meat mixture, salsa, and cheese and topped the whole thing off with cheese and olives. I thus have 6 more meals for this month :)

More tomorrow - I'm doing a two-day cook instead of a one-day cook for this month because I really, really wanted chimichangas and I need the crockpot for three meals. Thanks goes to Uncle Sam and, additional thanks to a good deal at Target, I got a brand new 3 quart Crockpot for $14! Not only is it shiny and pretty, but it gives me more room in the kitchen to cook (and with less time)!

All in all, I spent $100 for a month's worth of dinners. That's $25 per week, or $3.57 per meal! I'll get back to you with the exact totals [because, this month, I saved the receipts ;-)].

Until my next post, may your oldest guinea pig give you his very first guinea kiss and may your youngest guinea pig wear himself out by doing laps in the kitchen!