The $25 Challenge – Final Summary

Our $25 food challenge has come to a close.  The final spending numbers are as follows:

  • Margarine $4
  • 8 L of Milk $8
  • 1lb Coffee $1.98
  • Fruit (5 nectarines, 4 plums, 3 apples, 5 peaches) $5.82
  • Fresh Tomatoes (5) $1.27
  • TOTAL $21.07 (84% of budget)

So you can see we actually didn’t even hit the total budget during our 18 day experiment.  In total we spent $0.29 per day per person.  What surprised me about this challenge was how easy it was to pull off with a bit of planning and focusing in on what we had in the house to eat.  To be honest I think the fact we had two packages of veggies from my farmer which made this so easy (which included green onions x 2, radishes x 2, small bag fresh greens (spinach etc) x 4, parsley).  If you included the retail value of that food that would bring us up to $0.71 per person per day.  Our diet was actually fairly normal for the entire couple of weeks and we ate fruit and veggies fairly regularly.

Actually my wife like the idea of cleaning out the pantry and freezer so much that she wants use to do something similar at least twice a year going forward to prevent food clutter from building up.  By the way, I define food clutter as that stuff you buy to try something new and then forget about for two months before you use it again (like rice paper wraps).  So overall the challenge can’t have been that difficult if she wants to repeat it.

Yet the challenge was useful for me to realize a few new lessons on how we approach our food:

  1. Forget Name Brand – It’s all about what is on sale, not the name on the package (especially for generic items like pasta) .  If you follow that rule you can cut back a fair amount on some grocery bill.  When in doubt look for the cost per unit mass/volume on the shelf tag to find out what is the cheapest, when you hit a sale load up the pantry.
  2. Junk Food is a Budget killer – I don’t think I really understand how much a bag a chips is until you realize how many potatoes or apples you can get instead.  Cutting back on this will make a huge difference to your grocery bill and likely improve your health.
  3. Eat around what you have, not what you feel like – Most people know that dangers of impulse shopping what is interesting is we don’t consider how often we do impulse cooking which requires picking up something from the store.  I was guilty of doing this a fair amount, but now I realize if you plan your meals around what you have you will make less waste and throw out less leftovers.  Also you can then shop by the sale to restock your pantry, rather than paying full price for things that keep for a long time (can soup, oil, flour, etc).
  4. Plan Your Meals Weekly – This is likely the key to eating on the cheap and ties into #3 as well.  By planning what to eat in advance you can make themes for a week.  For example, I had some ham in the freezer so we planned chickpea ham salad, chef salad and carbonara for one week. Also you can plan to eat your leftovers.  This can be a huge amount of savings in money and time since you don’t have to think about what to eat.  You can walk in the door get your defrosted meat from the fridge and start cooking.
  5. Get Creative – Perhaps one of the more interesting dishes I made involved me looking at our pantry and trying to figure out what to do with a can of pork and beans and some pasta.  Thanks to Google I managed to dig out a recipe a template and then just adjusted it to what I had in the house.  It was surprisingly good to eat despite my concerns of trying it.

In the end, eating on the very cheap is entirely possible, especially for short periods of time.  The trick is to do an inventory of what you have and plan around that.  Also with a bit of work I think most people could cut their food bill in half just by shopping sales and eating what you have.  So would you try something similar?  If you have, what did you learn?

This post is now part of the Carnival of Personal Finance.

6 thoughts on “The $25 Challenge – Final Summary”

  1. I’m not sure about this exercise. There’s been no real effort to reduce the true cost of each meal. Starting with a house full of food, it’s not hard to avoid buying groceries for a period of time, and give the appearance of eating cheaply.

    Robbing Peter to pay Paul. Rather than a smooth grocery bill over several months, it’s been made lumpy with this exercise. While this month’s grocery bill will be low as household food stores previously purchased are consumed, next month’s will be higher than average as the household restocks its supplies. The $25 budget challenge which relies heavily on phase-shifting food purchase and consumption.

    It is satisfying to eat through the freezer once in a while though, and see the monthly grocery spending nice and low. This does have a net benefit because after a long time in the freezer, even frozen food can become unedible.

    Overall, unless fundamental changes are made to what the household eats, there’s no net savings over time. However, the 5 points listed above do actually represent ways to save money on food over time.

  2. re: junk food — remember that junk food is also taxed, so you pay even more than the sticker price for these items! (not to mention possible long term effects on health…)

  3. In addition to #2, you can also include most of the convenience foods like the boxes of Kraft macaroni & cheese or Rice-A-Roni or Hamburger Helper.

  4. Congrats on completing your challenge and under budget. We too have tried something similar and it is inspiring to see how well you can do.

  5. @Ben,

    Actually just did the restock shopping today. Total bill $200 which is below the average by about $100 (and that does include the items I stocked up on since they were on sale). So yes we did shift some consumption, but overall we did reduce our food bill during the exercise.

    I did design the experiment in such a way as to not be too much of a shock to the system. That was intentional in order to get buy in on this experiment from my wife and in order to make sure I would be willing to keep parts of the experience going forward. It should be interesting to see our food bills for the next six months to determine if we can keep up a lower level of spending.


  6. Certainly it’s all worth it if you can keep up a lower level of spending over time, driving down the average cost of a meal. The Challenge is a good kick-start to what will turn out to be the main event.

    Don’t compromise on the healthy food (but I know you won’t). Wish you luck!

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