How I fed my family on $100 a week
Walk through any supermarket, and you can't help but notice something: prices are going up.
Even though prices of some staples such as lettuce have gone down, some things remain high. And with floods and other disruptive influences, including the higher cost of transporting food, groceries prices are not coming down anytime soon.
But can you live on $100 a week?
In early August, I decided to find out. And over three months on, my challenge continues. I'm finding that I am not only sticking within the budget, but I have leftover money as well.
For background, back in 2015/16 I did a challenge of living on only $50 a week (food only).
Back then, I was a single mum with two young kids who didn't eat much. Those kids are now teenagers who are developing gourmet tastes. And I've now married someone with a healthy appetite.
This time around, I opted for $100 a week.
This amount includes everything - cleaning products, sanitary items and even alcohol.
I intentionally paused this challenge twice: when we travelled to the US in September, and for my birthday in October. But otherwise, we've stuck to it.
Want to try your own challenge? Here are top 10 tips to help make it a success.
1. Go in hard early
For the first two weeks, I concentrated on using up what I had as much as possible.
This was all about creative leftovers and freezing or preserving items for future use. I was surprised with how much food I already had. Do I just go autopilot in the supermarket and put interesting things in the trolley? I'm beginning to wonder.
2. Sort your shelves
A big focus of this challenge is decluttering and finding things in my (overstocked) shelves.
At the beginning of the challenge, I focused on sorting through one shelf a week. I found several forgotten items this way and was able to hone in on finding ways to use them up. This week's challenge: polenta.
3. Use cash
Remember that crazy little thing called cash? I find it easiest to put my $100 a week into a separate kitty, and to use that for all food and grocery items.
Anything not spent gets carried over to the next week. I currently have $410.70 in the kitty. Our goal is to have a stash of spending money to use for treats on our Christmas holidays.
4. Menu plan
Planning out what to eat is integral to making things stretch.
I have a whiteboard on my fridge where I write down the weekly menu plan. Writing it down is transformative: my kids like seeing what we are having to eat, no-one panics and thinks we have run out of food, and it's easier to share the cooking in a family when you know what you are having for dinner.
5. Eat less meat.
We are not vegetarian, but we do eat less meat - and use cheaper cuts of meat. I'm discovering creative uses for chicken drumsticks (hello homemade plum sauce marinade), and we often substitute (or combine) pork mince with beef as it is cheaper.
But we do splurge occasionally: last week, we treated my kids to steak at their request. Often, we bulk out meat with legumes (think Moroccan lemon chicken with chickpeas or chili con carne with red kidney beans). This saves money and is also better for our health.
6. Creative cooking
I love cooking, and a huge focus of the $100 a week challenge is making things from scratch wherever possible. I will be honest and say it takes more effort, and it can be hard to juggle with a busy lifestyle.
Early in the challenge I stayed up late to make homemade ramen noodles. The photos looked amazing, and the noodles were close to authentic with the distinctive ramen chewiness. But I was exhausted; it's not something I can make every night of the week.
7. Bulk shopping
Every four to six weeks, we dig into the kitty for a bulk shop at Costco or another supermarket.
Things we like to buy in bulk include meat (especially minced beef and pork), UHT milk, eggs and flour. One week, we spent half of our allotment ($52) on a side of pork that we cut and divided into six substantial pork roasts.
8. Active transport
During the first month of this challenge, we were without a car after a late-night collision with a kangaroo.
By necessity, we were cycling to the nearest supermarket and buying groceries a bag at a time. I decided to implement this as a good habit, so switched to buying a bag of groceries once or twice a week rather than a big Saturday or Sunday trolley shop.
9. Bake bread
Store-bought bread is a treat.
I bake light rye sourdough bread for the adults, and white bread for my kids. I collate most white bread ingredients in ice-cream containers, which makes it easy to bake in a breadmaker. We don't save large amounts of money from home versus store-bought; the big saving is in reducing the mid-week dash to the shops and accompanying unplanned spend.
10. Less alcohol and soft drinks
We've never been big drinkers but including alcohol spending in the challenge puts the cost of beverages into perspective. One week I splashed out and spent nearly a third of my weekly budget on a bottle of vodka, which I used to make limoncello with some gifted lemons.
If you are thinking of ways to find a bit of extra cash before Christmas, why don't you try the $100 a week challenge? It's a good way to declutter - and a great way to create fridge and freezer space for Christmas leftovers.
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