I survived my $50/week grocery challenge, doing it from early September until Christmas. Actually I found it so beneficial that I have decided to adopt it as a permanent challenge. Well, at least for a year and preferably to the end of 2017. I have already been maintaining it for six months.
Christmas, and my holiday with Mr Red Sports Car back to Taiwan, was a time for reflection and contemplation. I wondered whether I should continue blogging. Did anyone read anything I wrote? Did anything I write matter? Maybe I should just write fine dining food reviews instead? Or only focus on post-baby confinement issues? Or just accept I was a single mother balancing a full time job with parenting and gracefully give up?
But then I kept speaking to people who told me how they read my blog, and how it made a difference to them. And from unlikely sources.
My sister, who with others in my family likes to make cheeky fun at my frugal ways, met Mr Red Sports Car and I at the airport when we arrived back in Australia. She had just spent a few days rearranging her cupboards, as you do when you are having a staycation and looking for things to do.
“I was really inspired by your $50/week challenge,” she said as she showed me her pictures of her before and after cupboard shots. “Did you know that I threw out EIGHT grocery bags of food? That’s obscene!”
I too was shocked. “Surely you could still use that apple juice,” I asked, pointing to a bottle.
“Oh, that’s actually pineapple juice that has gone rancid. I bought it three years ago to make pina coladas that never happened.”
Back to my own grocery situation. I moved house last month and, despite spending nearly six months on a $50/week challenge to reduce and use up food, still had around six boxes of food just from the cupboard to cart across. Then there was the fridge freezer, which took me over an hour to unpack. I’m not including the food that I threw out with this.
So I decided to make the $50/week challenge permanent, or at least continue for another six months. Compared with the average food grocery bill, this will save me $100/week or $5,200.
The challenge is actually getting a little harder now as I am now forced to think longer term. It was easy when the goal was just until Christmas to buy the smaller block of cheese or four-pack rolls of toilet paper. That took less out of the weekly kitty. But the unit price was higher and overall I was less better off. At the moment I don’t have a lot of variety of protein in my freezer, so I will need to stock up on my meat. I also need to buy olive oil. For now we will survive on rice bran oil and butter.
And I also factor in special treats for the kids, including ice-cream Friday. For anyone who is concerned: no, I don’t starve my kids and they certainly get lots of protein. If anything, special treats aside they probably eat more homemade and less processed foods than many households. I recognise I also need to cut down on their sugar intake.
Further to a question that someone asked, I allow myself to spend up to $50/week. This includes food, essential toiletries and cleaning products. It also includes bottles of wine. I keep the cash in a separate kitty, and I dig into the surplus on occasion (I had to the week before last to replenish stocks that I had used up before the move, like toilet paper for example). On Sunday before I started this week’s challenge, I had $37.30. With the added $50 for this week, I had $87.30. Of this, I only spent $40.20. My grocery spend was heavy on fruit (some beautiful yellow peaches on special at Aldi), potatoes, cucumbers and eggs. This is what we ate:
Sunday night: Rice, broccollini, pork and beancurd and sweet corn stir-fry; pickled watermelon rind; watermelon. I baked a batch of banana, weetbix and choc-chip muffins for the kids.
Monday: sardine pizza, zucchini slice, and I made breadcrumbs and also blackberry shrub. The kids are really into the sardine pizza ever since they read it in a book where it was Donald Duck’s favourite.
Tuesday: leftover zucchini slice for lunch; homemade kimchi dumplings (jiaozi) from the freezer for the dinner. The kids had dinner with their dad.
Wednesday: leftover brown rice, pork, broccolini and pickled watermelon rind for lunch. Instant noodles and broccolini for my boys (who promptly picked out the broccolini), and leftover pasta with Sichuan sesame sauce and cucumber for me. I had a dessert of steamed pears with rocksugar to help a lingering cough, and experimented with making white wine vinegar.
Thursday: rice with Taiwanese braised pork (luroufan) and stewed egg, and broccolini. Watermelon for dessert.
Friday: I had some luroufan and rice for lunch. I was unwell in the afternoon and went home early (missing a swanky work function), and ended up eating white bread toast with vegemite. The kids were with their Dad for dinner.
Saturday: white rice congee and pickled vegetables for breakfast. This is my go to food when my stomach is unsettled – I find that somehow eating fermented foods really helps. We had various lunch snacks before and after swimming, including at a café (oh, what a decadent treat!) In the afternoon we visited a Taiwanese friend, and we feasted on homemade potsticker dumplings, Taiwanese pork belly bao (guabao), lemon meringue pie and chocolate cake.
So, at the end of this week I have $46.25 in my kitty. When I add $50 to it tomorrow I will then have $96.25.
I still have heaps of fruit to use up, including watermelon, peaches and pears.
You mention you want to cut down on your and your kids’ sugar intake. You very well may be aware sugar comes in many forms, including white rice, white bread, white flour pasta, white flour jiaozi pi (dumpling wrappers), etc. You could use whole grains and end each meal with servings of fresh fruit, just as they do in Taiwan.
Please don’t give up this blog. The world needs to be reminded that we need not spend lavishly to have a good and healthy life.
Thank you. It is a good reminder about how rich the modern Western diet is in sugar. My eldest son (now seven) has difficulty chewing because of mild cerebral palsy. I was actually told to feed him white bread because he might choke on multigrain! That said, my little one doesn’t have that problem (and he’s the one who gets hyped up when he has sugar), so I will try to incorporate more in his meal. I like to eat a lot of brown rice. I love the seven grain and other rice blends in Taiwan.
And thank you so much for your encouragement.
Please don’t stop writing your blog! I love it:)
Thank you. That is so kind of you!
You have been inspiring me! I hate waste and reading what you do is the kick into action motivation I need… although I still have a ways to go.
I still waste. I hate it when I do, but it just happens. Modern life is so busy. There is so much happening – social things with friends, dinners out, you plan to cook something then you decide you feel like something else. I think start with the little things then build from that.
Great post. I read your posts regularly so don’t stop. japanese pancake is bookmarked. I make it regularly. Must make time to plan meals more. Sue, Melbourne
Thank you for your lovely message on this post. I am glad you like the Japanese pancake (okonomiyaki). It’s a bit of a winner, isn’t it? With autumn soon here, I am sure there will be lots of lovely fat wombok available for sale so it will be a good time to make it.
Honestly speaking I can very well relate to your thoughts about questioning if your blog matters, personally I have been undergoing similar thoughts as well but then heard feedback from my mother’s colleague on how he loved one of my write ups , hence I decided to keep going. Great job with the challenge,you are definitely helping many people who want to but do not know how to go about balancing a tight budget!
Being a writer is a very solitary passion, isn’t it? I, too, really love your writeups and hope you keep going. They are always so colourful and encourage me to ransack my spice drawer more than I do.
Thank you for your lovely comment.
We all have those moments where we ask why we still blog, normal but glad you are still here. And good for you to still keep this challenge alive. I am always so impressed with what you buy and create.
I hear about grocery budget ideas here and there over the internet and they seem mildly interesting and slightly inspiring. But to actually know you are doing this in real life and to see how you are doing it from week to week is actually pretty cool! It’s amazing how much we can save when we pay attention and are thoughtful about what we spend.