Eating on a budget or why discussions like this make me crazy

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Over on Amazon, there is a blog called Al Dente all about food and cooking gadgets and the like. The discussion for the past couple of days has been about the "eat on $7 a day" challenge. It is based on the maximum amount a person would receive in food stamps per day.

In fact, as published on that blog later, the amount really comes to $7 for one person, $12 for 2, $18 for 3, or $22 for 4. And there are some weird restrictions. You can't use anything you already own, except for salt and pepper.

OK, even though I think that "only salt and pepper" thing is stupid, I'll buy the premise for a moment. But then I did some quick math. $7 for one person is $49 a week. It's $210 per month. For two people it is $84 per week, $360 per month. For the four person level, it's $154 a week, $660 per month.

Folks, I know LOTS of people (many, many young couples with kiddos) who are spending far less than that and getting by.

I will grant you that if you have 6 kids (assuming that $22 per day is the max--is it? I don't know) that you would run into trouble. It's expensive to feed those mouths. And if a bunch of them are teenagers? Even more!

But the fact remains that we want to eat at a level far beyond what is necessary. My sister and I have repeated discussions about this. We grew up in homes where basically the same 7-10 dishes were served repeatedly (roasted chicken 2x a month, meatloaf 2x a month, spaghetti 2x a month, etc, etc, etc.). Now we want more variety, more food, more FUN!

I'm not saying that's wrong. But I AM saying that we have strayed from any understanding of what *basic* cooking/living really is. We have added luxuries unknown to even our own mothers' generation and begun to think them necesseties.

Look, the DH and I really do live on a budget only $40 a month different from the one given in the blog. Our line in the sand budget is $100 per week. And that includes soap, toilet paper, dog food, cleaning supplies--you know, everything you normally buy at the grocery store. Plus I regularly feed extra folks--the grandgirl is here for lunch every day, random people come to eat with us all the time. Eating out goes in there, too. Same budget.

I suspect the people who look at those numbers and cannot believe anyone could eat on a number "as paltry as that" have one of two issues:

1. They never cook at home. Eating out is expensive. Buying steak at the grocery (on sale! I never buy meat unless it is on sale!) is expensive. But nowhere NEAR as expensive as buying a steak at a restaurant. I love to eat out! LOVE IT! But it is spendy. No doubt about it.

2. They live in a big city, either east or west coast. Groceries are probably a lot more expensive in New York or San Francisco. Living here in beautiful Texas, I am sure it is way cheaper to shop for food. While I may wish for a Trader Joe's (please, please, please!), I am lucky to be able to shop at Tom Thumb, Kroger, Aldi, and Wal Mart--all within a 6 block radius of each other. Grocery heaven! With just a little looking at the ads each week, I can shop specials like there is no tomorrow.

Or, note to self, they could live in a really tiny town with nowhere to shop but the IGA. But I don't think, in this case, this is the problem. I don't think the author of the Amazon blog lives in Tuna, Texas with no really good grocery.

And there I think I have hit on the real problem for folks depending on food stamps for groceries: the lack of this same ability to shop the sales. And, frankly, the lack of experience in food and menu planning with a budget.

I live in the largest city without mass transportation in the US. Yep, it's a fact. Am I appalled by that?--well, probably not as appalled as I would be by watching buses with 2 people on them zooming around town. It is a problem, if you are living in the Rising Sun Motel over on Division, and you have no transport to get to the grocery store. What do you do?. You walk across the street to that icky little convenience store where bananas are $1 each, instead of 37 cents a pound over at Kroger. And if you are living over at the Rising Sun, where would you keep your food and what would you cook it on anyway?

THAT's the quandry. How do we fix THOSE problems? And the answer isn't up the $7. 'Cause trust me, the convenience store would just start charging more for those bananas.

It makes me crazy.


I had to overhaul my shopping when I realized I was throwing away so much food we never ate. Now, I spend a bit more but I buy food I know we will eat not because, "it is so cheap and what a bargain!" No, it isn't when no one eats it and it gets trashed.

And regarding the peeps who live at Rising Sun Inn, I do know Mission Arlington brings a van over and gives the residents an opportunity to hit the grocery store. I have seen them picking up residents as well as dropping off food. So, although we do live in the largest city with no public transportation it is good to know we have organizations out there to help out.

@Mundee: "it is good to know we have organizations out there to help out" ...yes! Locals helping locals is exactly where the help should be coming from.

This conversation makes me crazy too..and my mother too ... we have 5 in our household and we seldom cross the $500 mark each month. My mother still has 6 in her household (+ NUMEROUS drop-ins weekly!) and I doubt she ever goes over 400/month (she is a pro, though... with 12 of us in the house growing up, she had to be!).

My mother remembers driving our neighbor to cooking & shopping classes twice a week because 'back in the day' they were required if receiving public assistance (not sure if that was state or federal)... but then gradually those courses became optional and now I am not sure they are even offered. I know as Christians we are supposed to give with the right hand etc etc, but doggone it my left hand sure would like the recipients to be grateful enough to be good stewards of the dollars given to them! ~Shirley

My budget is way more that that but I know a lot of it is that I have expensive tastes in food and am far too prone to indulge them. Also, we do live in a suburb of Boston and prices are fairly high here. I do shop the sales and I mainly buy round the edge of the store, very little processed food finds its way into my cart. But I do buy fairly expensive produce because I know we'll eat much more healthy if there's fresh fruits and veggies that we actually enjoy. I know we throw away more food than we should and I'm not nearly as good at meal planning as I should be but I'm better than I was when I was married and am less impulsive than I was then too. Which is good as we now have four kids. I figure I'm a work in progress and hope that by the time we have teenagers I'll be much better at sticking to a budget.

I never understand the math when I run across these conversations.

If you have 5 in your family, that's 450 meals a month. If you truly spend less than $500 on food each month, that's just over a dollar a meal per person, every meal, every day, every month. A dollar.

Whenever I see claims like this I can only assume that the kids are eating at school for one or two meals each day and the parents are eating out at work two or three meals each day. I could feed my family 150 meals in a month for under $500 and feel very frugal, too -- but I can't feed them 450 meals a month for under $500, not and keep them healthy.

We were on food stamps for 6 months, at what I believe is maximum benefits, and we are a family of 5. We were given $450 a month.

We have our share of bad habits, poor behavior, and wastefulness. And I'm happy to listen to all reasonable argument criticizing welfare or our use of it. But you have to criticize from a place of knowledge, and assuming $600 a month (which is actually $450 a month) is not enough to feed 5 because the family is not budgeting or shopping sales is working off a false premise. I'm inclined to think criticisms of this kind come from a kind of anxiety in this time of depression, the desire to feel like hard times only come to those who plan poorly, steward poorly, who are not frugal or who don't work hard. I would caution that this not only encourages you to miss the real needs of others, it inclines you to blindness about dangers your own family may fall into. I have known many people who watch all their coworker get laid off but are shocked when it happens to them, this sort of thing.



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This page contains a single entry by MamaT published on March 25, 2011 7:22 AM.

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