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Experiment – How we survived in $100 per month food budget?

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how we survived on 100 dollar food budget

A few months ago, I was watching some documentary about the worst crisis in the world. It was disturbing to watch what people had to go through in those times. After watching those documentaries, I realized that how many things we take for granted in our day to day lives.

It made me think that in progressive times when technology is making our lives easier and consumers are willing to pay extra; we never think about what our ancestors had to go through for every single penny. Today we can order meals on phone apps and don’t mind paying 20% markup cost in service & delivery fees. But think about when whole world is collapsing and every single penny is precious and contributes to bring food on the dinner table.

We don’t have to go way to back in history to imagine situations like these when times are really tough. Just couple of decades ago, in 1930s, and during WW2 when Nazi’s were claiming the world is theirs, such times were existing. Even in 2008’s financial crisis people faced really tough situations.

Why I am talking about crisis and history in this post? Well, after watching these documentaries a question came to my mind. Are we ready for this kind of crisis today? In fact everyone reading this post ask this question to themselves.

Are you ready for Next Crisis today?

After thinking about it and discussing it over dinner with my wife and kids, I found out that they we are way far from being ready.

In fact, it sounded like punishment to my kids if they have to live through a crisis.

My elder daughter asked me what the government was doing at the time and why they didn’t help the people?

Poor child didn’t know government was the one causing most of the trouble for it’s people in those days.

Anyways, this concerns me a lot and I seriously doubt the chances of me and my family to survive such a crisis if god forbids anything like that happens again in future.

So, I decided to create a crisis like situation for me and my family at home and prepare ourselves a bit.

Getting Ready for a Crisis like situation

After discussing with my wife and convincing her the importance of such an experiment; we decided to create a crisis like situation at home for ourselves.

I couldn’t fool my wife about crisis so it was important to bring her onboard for this plan to work.

As far as kids are concerned my plan was to feed them some really bad and terrible stories over next couple of days for them to feel there’s something really bad going on in the world.

Thanks to ton of content available freely on Youtube. Although I avoid watching such videos and keep my kids away from them, but for this experiment we made an exception.

What about School?

While the experiment running, we could control the environment inside the house but how do I manage what my daughter discusses with her friends in school or even ask her teachers? It’s really difficult to control.

Even a single discussion she has with her friends or teacher, could jeopardize entire experiment.

So, to tackle this, we decided to run our crisis experiment during december when schools are closed for about half of the month.

I know what you are thinking – “No way! You ruined her Christmas holidays”. I was focusing on larger benefits and christmas gifts can be bought later too.

Even though there are Christmas and winter holidays during December, schools are still open for 2 weeks.

Like I said, it was more difficult than actually going through the experiment.

To ensure that she really believes the world is going through a crisis, I told her some fake stories.

The stories such as the crisis is only in some areas of the world and our city is one of those areas.

There are only handful of people who are not impacted because they are smart and had better savings.

I made it clear to her in my stories that some of her friends won’t be impacted because their parents had been saving a lot and didn’t lose their jobs. So, she won’t see much difference in school. She doubted me at every turn of the story and asked hundreds of questions. So, like I said; it was difficult, much more than I anticipated.

Some of her questions were:

  • Why don’t my friends know about any crisis or world collapsing situations?
  • Why my friends are planning for christmas holidays but we can’t?
  • How come you and mom don’t have same jobs as other parents?
  • Why don’t we have enough money? and Can we ask government to give us some?
  • Can we ask grandparents for some money?
  • Can we go to grandparents house?
  • Why can’t we go for Christmas shopping? What about my gifts?
  • Will Santa still come and is he real?

I and my wife were expecting such questions and we both played well in answering them. In the end, I guess we both did a very fabulous job in being consistent in our story and pressing on that crisis is only limited to a few workers and parts of the world.

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This covered me for situations like when she sees her friends enjoying lunch from cafeteria but she can only eat from her lunchbox and has to manage without pocket money. So we continued.

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It’s Time to set Crisis in Motion

We had decided to start the experiment on 1st of December so we can run it for entire month.

Our plan was to slowly bring bad news to the dinner table and talk about past crisis. So kids don’t feel everything is sudden. Whatever, we had been planning for weeks now, it was time to put that into motion.

It was my turn to go first. One night during dinner, I acted as if I had lost all our savings due to current world crisis. My elder daughter got really angry first and her first question was – why did they take our money? She thought there’s one person who is taking everyone’s money.

With support from my wife, we shared that lots of people are getting hurt due to this and no one can control it at the time.

After a long discussion, my daughter seemed to be convinced. I could tell that because she had started asking more meaningful questions now like what will we do now? How much money do we have? Can we live in the same house?

She normally doesn’t do it on her own, but that night she checked all rooms and made sure that none of electric outlets was running which wasn’t supposed to run.

The plan seems to be working so far.

Setting Survival Budget

After my daughter really thought we are going through the tough times, she went to sleep that night worried.

To make our story even more real, the next day her mom didn’t drive her to school but in fact they both walked in cold winter as we had no money to fill gas in the car. I was impressed with her meticulous play here.

It was time to discuss few ground rules to survive this crisis. Same day, we all sat together again to discuss how we will maximize the money we are left with – $100.

That’s the amount I told my kids we are left with for food after other expenses.

So, we made a grocery list of super essential items which monitoring our budget not to exceed $100 for the month.

Since I and my wife had been preparing for this day, we had made sure to finish most of our groceries before we start at this point. So we have fresh start for the month.

Here we were with only $100 for our grocery bills to feed a family of 4 for the entire month.

Our Grocery List for under $100 to feed a family of 4 for 30 days

This is the list we prepared to feed us for the next 30 days under $100:

Surviving on under $100 food budget for a family of 4

We purchased larger items from Costco as the per-unit price is much better there compared to other stores.

Perishable items such as milk & eggs where bought weekly from local nearby stores to save on gas. Traveling to Costco costs us about $0.80 a trip at current gas prices of $2.49 per gallon.

The total bill is little over $100 for 30 days worth of grocery for 4 people in a family.

We thoroughly analyzed above grocery list before buying any item from it. As we are running just an experiment, we didn’t want to sacrifice on nutritions for us and maintain healthy lifestyle.

The items in above list provides enough nutritions for all age groups. For instance:

  • Bananas are excellent fruit providing enough fiber, calories, potassium and vitamin B-6.
  • Lentils, black beans and eggs are good sources of plant based protein.
  • Rice provides carbs we all need for energy and fulfillment.
  • Ginger and garlic offer excellent digestive benefits and you should use them as often as possible especially with any kinds of beans.

Tomato sauce is a cheaper option than raw tomato and not as healthy option as raw tomato. I will prefer as much unprocessed food on table as possible but this was just and experiment for a month, so it was ok.

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We included pasta as a backup plan to spice up some lunch or dinner options for kids with minimal ingredients.

We could add meats to this list but it would have blown our budget for sure and moreover it’s less healthier than simple vegetarian diet.

With grocery filled up in our kitchen, we were ready to start our experiment.

Creative Recipes Ideas When You have Limited Supplies

My wife did a great job here and came up with some good recipe ideas with limited supplies at hand.

Here are few recipes we made during our experiment:

Breakfast:

  • Lentil pancakes – Soak 2 cups of your favorite lentil overnight. I prefer red lentils as they have a creamier texture than other lentils. In the morning, strain out the excess water from the lentils and make a puree of them in a blender. Pour out this lentil puree in a large bowl. Add in chopped onions and chilies to it. Add a teaspoon of salt to it too. Mix all ingredients well. Heat up a pan on a stovetop and add some oil to it. Add a scoop full of this lentil pancake mix over it and allow it to cook. Flip to other side and cook well from both sides. Enjoy these crispy protein-rich vegan delights in your breakfast.
  • Omelet – Take a pan, pour some oil. Let the oil heat up a bit. Add some chopped onions, salt & spices according to your taste. Slowly stir until onions are golden brown. Crack 2 eggs and pour in the pan. Spread the contents evenly in the pan and turn the sides when ready. That’s it you have a tasty egg omelet. Expert Tip: If you want omelet to be really fluffy like a restaurant-style, then add 4-5 teaspoons of milk after adding eggs in the pan.
  • Banana Milk Shake – cut a few pieces of banana, add some milk, ice cubes and a teaspoon of sugar. Mix it well in a blender. Enjoy your tasty and healthy banana milkshake.

Lunch:

  • Black Bean Salad – Soak 2 cups of black beans overnight or up to 8 hours, this reduces the cooking time for them and save some energy. Boil the soaked and washed beans in water for around 20 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon of salt to the boiling beans. Once the beans are soft and cooked. Strain the water out, and allow the beans to cool down. Next chop some iceberg lettuce and onions and put them in a large bowl along with beans. Top the salad with some salt and pepper and lemon juice according to your taste.
  • Mixed Bean Wraps – [Wrap Dough] Take 2 cups of all-purpose flour in a large bowl. Add 1/4 teaspoon of salt, 1 egg white, 1/2 cup of water to it and knead the dough till soft and firm in texture. Allow the dough to rest for 20-30 minutes.
  • [Making the flatbreads] – Make small balls of the kneaded dough, dust some flour on a flat surface and flatten out the balls with a rolling pin on it. The flatbread needs to be around the size of a small plate when flattened. Next heat up a pan and put the flattened bread on it and cook from both sides like a pancake. You can choose to pan-fry these breads too but frying won’t be healthy choice.
  • [Mixed Beans Filling] – Soak a 1/2 cup of red beans and 1/2 cup of black beans overnight or up to 8 hours. Boil the soaked beans for about 20 minutes or till they become soft. Strain the boiled beans and set aside to cool. Heat up a skillet and add some oil to it. Once the oil is hot add a cup of thinly sliced onions to it. After onions become a little translucent add the boiled mixed beans to it. Add a teaspoon of spice mix and 1 teaspoon of salt to it. Cook it for 4-5 minutes.
  • [Assembling the wraps] – Take the cooked flatbread and add a serving of cooked beans to it. Top it with some fresh chopped lettuce and enjoy.

Dinner:

  • Red Bean Stew with boiled rice – Soak 2 cups of red beans overnight or up to 8 hours, this reduces the cooking time for them and save some energy. Boil the soaked and washed red beans in water for around 20 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon of salt to the boiling red beans, add 1 tablespoon of oil in another pan, add 1 teaspoon of chopped garlic to it, add 1/2 cup chopped onions, add a pinch of salt to it (it helps in sweating the onions faster). Sautee till onions are golden brown in color. Add 1/2 cup tomato puree to the onions and a 1-1/2 teaspoon of spice mix and cook for 5 mins. Add this mix to the boiling red beans and allow it to cook for another 15 minutes. Serve them with boiled rice.
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Verdict

It was hard. In plain simple words, it was hard not because we were limited with food supplies but since we knew the whole situation is fake.

We could simply drive to the nearest restaurant or fast food outlets to eat whatever we want. But I must applaud my family and especially my daughters that they were fully committed to it.

I guess if both of them knew that the crisis is fake and it’s created by their daddy, the end would have been different and we won’t be able to complete this challenge.

On 31st day some of the grocery items are still leftover. We couldn’t finish 15 lbs of potato bag although we were eating them every alternate day. So are the oil, rice, black beans, all-purpose flour, sugar, salt, 7 eggs and tomato sauce.

What we finished completely or fall short off during the experiment were – green chilies (we were using them a lot and fall short of them after 2.5 weeks), spices (again used a lot and we had to reduce the consumption after 2 weeks to keep it going till the end), pasta and popcorn, we were hard on them and ran out of both in 3rd week.

Bananas were the only fruit in the house, we were finishing them by 3rd or 4th day of the week on average. We were buying 3 lbs of bananas every week so the supplies were available until the last week.

We also fell short off lentils and red beans as everyone in the family loves them.

Key learnings from the experiment

Now its time to talk about the most important thing in the experiment – What do we learned from it?

First thing we learned is that we under-estimated consumption of some items while overestimated others. We came to know that our family loves chilies a lot so we should always stock more of them next time.

We also realized that missing meats in our meals for a month was actually good for us. Even though we had limited supplies, our energy levels were better.

In general we saved lots of time since the cooking was done mostly once in a day and we didn’t have to think a lot about what to cook either due to limited options.

As this experiment is done just to prepare myself and my family to survive any crazy crisis-like situations. I don’t say this experiment alone will make us strong enough to fight all the problems but it will definitely improve our chances to last longer.

After completing this challenge, I definitely feel that we all should try it at least once. There’s no harm in doing it once in a while.

I personally recommend doing it at least once a year. This experiment will also bring us closer to our families and make all of us emotionally stronger which will be key in crisis.

Jacob in his post shared some exciting grocery tips which are great for frugal living in general too.

What will I do differently If I have to redo it

I will definitely include more spices in the list.

If possible, I will stock groceries for at least 2 or 3 months in advance at a time. This will save on the cost and also allows me to buy more stuff.

What I will not include next time in the list is the all-purpose flour. It is unhealthy and none of us really enjoyed it during this 30 days challenge.

In fact we hardly used it 4-5 times in entire month and most of it is still left in the end.

I am feeling quiet good after successfully finishing the challenge to survive under $100 food budget. God forbids but if this situation is for real, then things will be a lot different from one experiment on food budget. We will have to cut costs at every level and not just the food.

I wish the world keeps its peace and financial pundits don’t do anything crazy again.

What are your plans to get tougher and be prepared for next crisis? Please share with all of us and let the ideas flowing.

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Experiment – How we survived in $100 per month food budget?

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