An Experiment in Eating on the Very Cheap

Due to an odd set of circumstances my wife has actually agreed to one of my crazy social experiments in spending.  So starting in July for two weeks we plan to buy just $25 of food and live off that for two weeks (or just $0.45 per person per day). Are we crazy?  Have I lost my mind?

No, instead I want to test a theory that food is a huge blind spot for a lot of people.  We often assume we can’t cut back on our spending for a short while, for example if you get laid off.  So I want to test a theory that with minimal money and what we happen to have around the house we should be able to each just fine for two weeks.  Also I do enjoy the challenge of trying to cook with what every happens to be in the fridge.  This just happens to be the extreme version of that.

Yet of course there are going to be a few ground rules in this experiment:

  1. This does not affect my wife’s daycare food (lunch or snacks during the week).  That comes from a different pool of money and my wife is required to meet certain standards so those meals can’t be touched.  Besides the entire month is planned out in advance for the daycare.
  2. I can use anything that happens to be in the house as of right now.  I can’t go stock up before hand to make this easier on myself.
  3. My pre-paid orders at the farmer’s market don’t count towards that $25.  I have already paid for those months ago.  Also it isn’t much food and a limited selection since the season has just started.  I can’t just eat salad for two weeks (beside the boys don’t like salad).
  4. We can’t eat out any more than normal.  I can’t line up invites to eat at other people’s houses to escape this.
  5. If we have company I can’t exceed the budget.  They will have to eat what ever I’m cooking.

I’ll keep you all updated with a couple of posts on this experiment during July.  So stay tuned.  How about you, have you ever managed to eat really cheap for a short while?  If so, any advice for me while we do this?

14 thoughts on “An Experiment in Eating on the Very Cheap”

  1. We’re moving soon, so we’ve been trying to eat everything from the freezer, fridge and pantry. I’ve needed to buy fresh fruits and vegetables to go with the canned stuff, frozen stuff and rice and pasta, but it’s amazing to me how much food we can keep in our house. At the same time, it’s probably prudent to keep at least three months worth of food in storage, just in case of emergency. Job loss is a good example, but there’s also power outages, natural disasters or even helping out family.

  2. Interesting! I’d like to try something like this (expense-wise) and would appreciate a brief insight to your pantry (at the start of the experiment), when you provide an update. My pantry has a few kinds of pulses, rice and pasta while the fridge houses eggs, fish and fruits. My meals are planned for 2 weeks and I don’t shop during that time. I’d like to say that I am doing this experiment for a while but my expenses are higher and I don’t have a family of four.

  3. You know it’s funny, I’ve actually been doing exactly this.. but on an ongoing basis, and obviously not to this extreme.

    I’ve written about it at my blog – the basic idea is that we live off $100 each every month for food, or $25 a week each.

    To me, this shouldn’t be that big of a deal.. but it’s actually a REALLY good exercise in budgeting and so far.. so good.

    Feel free to check out my progress if you like..

  4. I take it that you don’t have a family pet that insists on meat in its diet 🙂

    Technically, we probably have enough food on hand to get through 2-3 weeks without buying anything. Might be a bit boring after the umpteenth can of soup with crackers, but we could do it. The carnivorous dog has passed away, so our meat consumption has gone down.

  5. @Clark,

    Oh, good idea. I’ll try to list a bit of what’s around the house and the beginning and end of the experiment.


    Thanks for the link. I’m going to need a few ideas to get through this.


    No we have fish, so if things got really bad…(I’m joking).


  6. Hey Tim,
    For the month of June, I joined up with a few other PF bloggers in a spending challenge – one of the categories we set to control was groceries. Now, 25 days into the month for my family of 3 plus the carnivorous dog, I’m at grocery spending of $119 for the month. I know I could definitely have gone lower based on my shopping – my guess is to about $50 for the month – which gives about $12/week for a jug of milk, fruit and veggies – what I think of as necessities. My guess is too that your kids and wife eat out of the “daycare pot” during the day? So I think your $25 for 2 weeks is actually fairly high? 🙂

    Here’s my post for the month on our challenge:

    For July, I’m going on the Velocity diet, so I expect my costs to be even lower – if you want a challenge buddy to keep you competitive, let me know… 🙂

  7. “Never waste a minute of your precious life by squandering it thinking about people you don’t like”
    Amazing blog you have thanks for sharing. I will be sure to visit again soon. Just wanted to say thanks for taking the time to write this. Take care me and my family are currently on a 3 year trip around the world com check us out.

    Unstoppable Family
    Brian and Rhonda Swan

  8. Fun experiment, I’ll look forward to reading how it plays out! I’ve thought of doing something similar myself…

    Check out this blog where a guy did a more extreme version of this back in 2006.

    My suspicion is you’re going to find it VERY easy. You probably have far more than 2 weeks of supplies around your house (which you’ll be able to supplement a bit with the $25).

    Do you think your wife will “cheat” and eat snacks with the kids? ;-P

  9. Best of luck with the challenge. I am trying something similar. I am refusing to buy any groceries until we eat up what we have in our freezer and a good portion of our dry goods. There is the exception of our CSA and buying fruit but otherwise, I am getting creative in the kitchen .

  10. @Miss T – how do you like the CSA program? How much do you end up paying a week? Is it worth it?

    I’m thinking of joining a local one here.. wondering about how others like it. 🙂


  11. As noted above, this is not going to be as great a challenge as you imagine, but definitely a good exercise in budgeting.

    While living alone in Montreal last year, I got laid off from my work. I tightened my grocery budget after that, but it was pretty low even before. I realized that groceries are incredibly affordable IF one buys raw ingredients and things on sale.

    Ex. 1: A 25 lb (10 kg) bag of potatoes cost, at most, about 5 dollars, less on sale. A 300 gram bag of potato chips costs about $3. When things like that are put in perspective, you realize how much is wasted on processed foods that are not only more expensive and terrible value for money, but quite bad for your health as well. McCain has their new ‘peeled and cut’ potatoes, a small bag for some ridiculous price. If you’re too busy to peel and cut potatoes, you should seriously evaluate your occupation.

    Ex. 2: Tim Hortons – $1.50 to $3 for mediocre coffee, a few times a week, maybe a few $3 Iced Caps for summer!
    Better alternative – buy high quality home brew, and for iced drinks, blend with milk and ice! Throw in some ice cream for delicious smoothies. Total cost about $10 for a LOT of cups.

    Ex. 3: Pizza – a ‘good deal’ is about $20 for two large well topped pizzas. Make them yourself for less than $5. Search youtube for pizza recipes. It’s flour and water with cheese and sauce.

    There are tons of examples like this. People live on much less than $25 a week. Your Ground Rule #2 makes this challenge too easy.

    Here’s an interesting link I came across just today:

  12. Arctan,

    I actually never thought this exercise would be too difficult. I was aiming for moderately challenging overall. The idea was to leave my comfort zone and test the waters with this one. A more interesting follow up challenge for me would be to restock my pantry for a set dollar amount.

    I agree completely with your examples and I LOVE that link.


Comments are closed.