$7 a Day??

Via Glenn Reynolds, things like eating on $7 a day articles really get me going. There are five of us here. That would be $245 a week! Luxury! Riches! We can afford about $100 a week, for somewhat tortured values of “afford.” Call it maybe $3 a day, then, for a person. So lucky that three of them are kids, though they’ve become a challenge to afford to feed despite their size and bodily non-fussiness about what they’ll turn into fuel and additional mass and height.

What that means is not cauliflower, not much Trader Joe’s (though that’s a good place for allergy friendly food, a part of the challenge of eating cheap I won’t even get into here), not a lot of fresh food, and devotion of more time than might otherwise be the case.

It means you buy certain things in bulk, which costs up front but extends your stocks later. It means less variety than might be the case. It means paying attention to sales or who has what at everyday best prices, but balancing that against gas and time required to go farther rather than nearer for a given thing or three.

You want inexpensive? Rice. Dry pinto beans. Flour. Store brand old-fashioned oatmeal. Dry lentils and peas. Generic goods from the store with the best unit price, based in part on what it is and how well it will feed the kids. Cheap meat. Cheap pasta. Cheap sandwich bread. Lots of sandwiches. Tuna as somewhat of a luxury, for variety.

It means you sweat over the price of cheese, but cheese is a staple, an ingredient in or centerpiece of so many meals, you can’t do without readily. Cheap means a pot of chili made with dry pinto beans and beef that was on sale for $1.99/lb. Cheap means burritos made with flour tortillas you made yourself for a fraction of the store bought cost, refried beans you made yourself, rice, maybe some corn, the cheapest meat you could get, some cheese, and sour cream at the best price you can find. Now, in reality convenience wins much of the time, even here, so it’s canned refried beans most of the time, and even store bought tortillas, though homemade are better (whereas I’ve never made refried beans as good as our favorite store brand). Burritos are a good cheap eat, as they are filling and can stretch meat and cheese further than some dishes. Pasta stretches food, too.

Yes, some of this is not as good for you as other things, but the lower you can go on some items, the more you can afford healthier items and treats.

There are some surprises. Making your own bread doesn’t save all that much. It’s just yummier. Potatoes are relatively expensive. A batch of mashed potatoes takes 5 lbs and will leave only a little left over. It’s the allergy boy’s favorite food in the world, but is mostly supplanted by rice.

It’s hard when you need to buy spices, but those are necessary for making the food tasty and interesting, and represent a low cost per meal in the long run. When we got food stamps for a year, it felt like we were swimming in grocery money. The kids were smaller, and I couldn’t use the entire $400-odd in a month, even splurging. While I buy all the 99 cent spices I can, some aren’t available that way, and food stamps made that easier. Then they sort of jerked us around and kept us off of them, which has been tough at times, and gotten worse as our income fluctuated back down. We probably qualify for a couple hundred a month, and I’m waiting to hear on our latest attempt to bother applying. Having any self-employment income means you may almost as well not bother. But I digress.

The point is, $7 a day may not be up to the standards people of means are used to, but it’s actually a substantial amount of grocery money. Thus I find these challenges amusing, or even disturbing, because they seem so unserious compared to the reality out here.

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