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Aug 8, 2007 10:04 AM

Budget - Eating like a Chowhound on $3 a day … well, $3.35 … actually $2.85

I almost made it even shopping one week at the ‘pricy’ SF Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. My budget for 31 days was $93. I spent 103.85 … 10.85 over … $3.35 a day

However, I have 5 days worth of food left. So subtract $15 from the 103.85 and the final total was 88.85 … $2.85 a day

Had I eliminated the ‘luxury’ items … $3.98 of wine, $1.49 bar of organic chocolate and $5 of heirloom beans … I would have stayed within the budget for the month of July and subtracting the $15 of leftover food would have given me an actual total of 78.38.

- 1 chicken breast
- 7 eggs
- 1 cup of dry beans
- 2/3 8 oz bottle of honey
- 1/2 18 oz bottle of mayo
- 2 servings of fish chowder
- 4 cups fish stock
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 2 apples
- raisins
- 1 1/2 sticks butter
- red & white wine
- about 1 cup oatmeal
- fresh ginger
- bits of this and that … a little milk, rice, pasta, a slice of bread.

I had three free meals eating samples at farmers markets. Two were breakfasts, so that would have used up most of the oatmeal. The other was lunch, so that probably would have been the fish chowder or an egg and an apple.

I’ll post meals for the final 10 days after I finish dinner tonight. There were some really cool menus because most of the food was from the Ferry Plaza Farmers market.

Next 2 replies:

Actual budget
Markets and meal planning.

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    UNBUDGETED STAPLES: Salt, pepper, cinnamon, chili powder, cardamom, vinegar, flour, sugar, oil, mustard, I buy most of these once a year, so they were not counted in the budget. I used such small quantities the price would not have much impact for the amount used.

    PRO RATED ITEMS: Juicy Juicy and Knox Gelatin. I bought these on sale a few months ago and stocked, up. I subtracted 19 cents from the budget for each Juicy Juice box and 25 cents for each packet of gelatin.

    6.35 3 organic chickens
    2.15 Trout fillet
    0.90 Salmon head from Shogun fish 99 lb
    2.09 Sirloin steak
    2.99 Aidell’s chipotle meatballs
    2.75 3 house-made sausages from Mastrelli’s
    0.75 4 slices salami from Mastrelli’s
    1.49 Oscar Mayer smoked ham 10 oz
    0.50 4 slices of provolone from Mastrelli’s
    1.25 small piece of parmesan
    1.00 2 cans of Beach Cliff sardines 4 oz
    0.20 1 slice bacon (3,99 lb)
    1.00 2 cans Chicken of the Sea chunk light tuna with water 6 oz
    1.29 Smithfield cream cheese 8 oz
    1.99 Judy’s organic eggs (18)
    2.49 Land o lakes butter 1 lb
    0.47 Bulk brown rice .75 lb
    0.39 Farron pasta shells 7 oz (from Mexican section in Alberton’s)
    2.99 Quaker Oats 42 oz
    0.79 Hellman’s mayo squeeze bottle 18 oz
    0.00 Tree Top Apple juice 64 oz free with coupon
    0.38 2 Juicy Juice berry juice boxes
    0.38 2 Juicy Juice strawberry kiwi juice boxes
    1.25 5 Knox gelatin packs
    5.99 8 quarts dry milk
    1.99 Maxwell House 11 oz brick Columbian coffee
    3.00 Four 1/2 loaves bread (Rye, honey wheat, country French, plain white)
    1.25 2 baguettes
    0.60 2 dozen tortillas
    0.99 Forrel honey 8 oz
    5.00 Heirloom Pebbles beans from Rancho Gordo
    1.00 Sun Maid Raisins 6 oz
    0. 20 2 Delgat dates from Flying Disc Farm
    1.25 Mixed dried plucots, apricots, bing cherries, white peaches Hidden Star $9 lb
    0.45 4 apricots $1 lb
    0.40 1 white peach $1 lb
    0.40 1 yellow peach 1.50 lb
    0.35 1 White strawberry peach $2.50 lb
    0.25 1 Santa Rosa Plum $2 lb
    0.39 5 Santa Rosa plums 49 lb
    0.69 4 Dapple Dandy plucots .59 lb
    0.30 1 yellow plucot $2 lb
    2.00 1 ambrosia melon
    0. 50 Anana melon $1 lb
    2.00 12 nectarines
    0 50 5 Limes
    0.59 4 oranges 3 lbs $1
    2.50 Strawberries from McGinnis Farm
    2.00 Raspberries from McGinnis Farm
    1.00 Mixed red, green & black grapes from G.L. Alfieri $2.50 lb
    0.75 3 small apples from Apple Farm - Astrachans, Tydeman Red, Palady $1 - $2 lb
    1.00 Pink & Tart, Pearl Essence & red Gravestine from Hidden Star $3 lb
    0.00 Small stalk of rhubarb (30 cents … $3.99 lb but vendor gave it to me for free)
    0.35 Iceberg lettuce
    1.00 Huge head of Romaine lettuce from Chue Farm
    1.00 1 head of leaf lettuce
    0.50 Small head of deer’s tongue lettuce from Ella Bella ($4.50 lb)
    1.25 Cherry tomato basket
    0.50 2 Early Girl Dry Farmed tomatoes $3 lb
    0.50 Supice, San Marenzo & some yellow tomato from Lucero $2.25 lb
    0.75 Sweet Chelsea, Juliet, Green zebra tomatoes $3
    0.25 Cucumber
    0.35 Cucumber
    0.65 Amira, Market More and Divi cumbers from All Star Organics 1.99 lb
    0.25 Small avocado
    0.79 Golden cauliflower
    0.79 Green cauliflower
    1.00 1 large bunch of Swiss chard
    0.90 Onions 3 lbs for $1
    0.85 Carrots 50 lb
    0.39 Organic celery
    0.40 3 summer squash $1 lb
    0.60 2 peppers $2 lb
    3.00 Bag of mixed peppers from Happy Quail
    0.25 1 pink jalapeno
    0.07 2. jalapenos .99 lb
    0.95 3 ears of corn
    0.35 Ear of corn from Everything Under the Sun 3 for $1
    3.00 Basket of mixed baby shitake and pink mushrooms from Far West Fungi
    0.45 5 mixed brown and white button mushrooms ($3.00 lb)
    0.50 Jade green beans .. forgot price per pound
    0,35 1 bunch of radishes
    0.20 1 garlic bulb
    0.30 1 sweet potato
    1.00 Corola, All Blue, Huckleberry, Red Lasota, Rose Finn , Ozzette, Russian Banana potatoes from Little Organic Farm $2 lb
    0.10 3 bulbs organic fennel
    0.09 Knob of fresh ginger.95 lb
    0.25 Parsley
    0.20 Fresh cilantro
    0.50 Oregano, sage, sorrel, chocolate mint, pineapple mint Heirloom Organics $10 lb
    1.99 King Fish Chardonnay 2 liter box
    1.99 King Fish Merlot 2 liter box
    0.57 Popcorn .95 lb
    1.49 Seeds of Change organic Santa Catarina 60 % Dark Chocolate with mango, toasted coconut and cashews 10 squares

    6 Replies
    1. re: rworange


      STORES (10): Giovanni’s Produce, Rincon Latino, La Loma #5, Grocery Outlet, Raley’s, El Cerrito Farmer’s Market, Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, Walgreens, Albertsons, The Bread Garden Bakery.

      I could have done better, but I wanted to limit the stores … Two and a half stores a week doesn’t seem unreasonable. Some of them were stores I passed on my way elsewhere.

      TOTAL SHOPPING TIME: ABOUT 5 HOURS (I’m not including the extra time at Ferry Plaza because that was recreational shopping).

      TOTAL TIME MENU PLANNING: 6 hours (I’m a cooking nincompoop)

      TOTAL COOKING TIME: Maybe an hour a day … some days I spent a few hours and froze a lot of stuff that only needed to be microwaved later.

      Week 1 – The big shopping week

      I tried to keep as few stops as possible.

      La Loma #5 is on my way to Grocery Outlet and a quick stop for a few things like tortillas and oranges that were 3 lbs for $1.

      Giovanni’s is on my way home from the farmers market and is worth a stop because in front is the specials bin that has insanely inexpensive and good produce Walgreens is on the way to the farmers market.

      Albertsons was on my way to Raley’s. Albertsons has the least expensive milk so a quick stop there for milk. I found out that my local Raley’s marks down chicken, meat and fish that are close to the sell by date. There were organic chicken halves for $1 - $1.25 … 6 halves = six breasts, 5 legs (used 1 for soup) and the rest of the bodies for soup. Also picked up some nice trout and a steak.

      The Bread Garden was the major time consumer and a special trip.

      At exactly 6pm, all the bread at the Bakery is two for one. A nice feature is you can buy half-loaves. Regular price for a single whole loaf - $3.50, baguette is $1.25. I bought half-loaves of rye, country French, white and whole wheat … also, 2 baguettes.

      Week 2

      I did the big shopping on week 1, so I only went to the El Cerrito Farmers market and stopped at two stores on the way to the farmers market, Giovanni’s and Rincon Latino, which had some outstanding values. Total shopping time: 47 minutes.

      Week 3

      Stopped by Rincon Latino for 1 slice of bacon and 1 cucumber. Total shopping time: 15 minutes … from home to store to home.

      Week 4

      Shopped at the Ferry Plaza Farmers market. This was sheer entertainment for me and I only shopped there to highlight the fact that the top quality produce there wasn’t over-priced and fit within a $3 daily budget. It turned out Ferry Plaza was less expensive or equal to the mainstream markets like Safeway, Albertsons and Raley’s.

      Ferry Plaza vs. Albertson's (or any supermarket) prices

      Shopping at Ferry Plaza on $3 a day

      1. re: rworange


        There's a lot of valuable information in your experiment, I just hope that people won't read this and say "see, if rworange can do this, anyone can do this" and then use that to justify not supporting food and hunger programs. The sad fact is that most (not all, of course), people who are really poor are really poor because they're disfunctional in subtle ways, and lack basic skills, like the ability to plan ahead, the ability to comparison shop, the creativity to take advantage of cheap foods, and even the will to do so. Sure it's fun do this for a month as an intellectual exercise, but the grinding need to do this every month, year after year, is soul-killing.

        Plus, rworange doesn't have a couple of kids begging for the food they see advertised on television. Someone else posted the recent Stanford study that showed that preschoolers said food presented in McDonald's wrappers actually tasted better than identical food offered in plain wrappers. That's the ingrained mindset that every parent, but particularly poor parents, whose children on average see more advertising and live closer to fast food outlets, have to combat.

        1. re: Ruth Lafler

          I am happy to say that my daughter, now 8 years old, will not eat a McDonald's hamburger since she has helped to make her own with me. She does like the chicken nuggets but I have found that if you spend the time to let children help and do things on thier own with adult supervision they are less likely to beg for the "convienent junk" that fast food has to offer.

          I once made some homemade chicken nuggets with her and helped her to shape them like little fish, and now it is a tradition that we make our own.

          Homemade pizza is now a staple in our house, Pepperoni, Green Peppers, and Brocolli is her favorite by choice.

          I think rworange experiment is very accurate to what can be done with proper planning and knowledge of what to pay for items and when not to pay for others. I use the grocerygame and also an internet coupon site to get the best deal for my family. I am a 36 year old male and can think of many other places that I can spend that money that I am saving on meals.....I am hoping that rworange can figure out how to save at the pumps and forward that to us all !!! Just kidding my friend .... thanks for the study !

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            Exactly Ruth. All you said and more. This was never meant to say anyone could do this.

            Three dollars is not enough.

            I lucked into some extrodinary bargains even for me ... I'm thinking those organic chickens. They really saved the day.

            Fretting about dropping an egg or the power would fail spoiling everything in the freezer was not fun. Having to figure everything to the penny is exhausting.

            Not everyone has good markets. If I only had access to mainstream supermarkets there would have been a lot of dry bean dishes and much more starches and processed food.

            A freind lives in a bad part of Oakland. I was telling him about the $2 organic herbs at one market. He said that in his neighborhood, they were $3 at the same chain. All the prices were significantly higher than the same market in a better neighborhood.

            One thing I noticed this week and I'm not sure if this happens every month. All the real bargains were missing from the supermarket ads. I wonder if this goes along with charging higher prices in a bad neighborhood. The first of the month is when the social security checks and I'm assuming food stamp payments are made.

            Anyway it was just meant to say that one can do better than living on canned beans or cheap ramen. It was the other extreme of that. The reality for most people is somewhere inbetwen.

            Three dollars is not enough.

            1. re: Ruth Lafler

              Agreed on the part about them lacking basic skills you mentioned. Of course that's not always the reason, but it does take a lot of training. One statistic I read stated that 56% of recipients graduated from high school, which means the other 44% didn't - they don't have the nutrition training, math training, etc. Also, food stamp is meant to be a supplement. I think the people receiving food stamps may be getting money from work and other assistance as well.

              Many times on TV, I see people in poverty holding soda bottles, fast food wrappers nearby, Slurpee cup, and I always say, "if you need money to buy food, you shouldn't be wasting it on Slurpees," but if that's the way you're raised or that's all you know, then that's the result. Also, if you live in poor neighborhoods where you don't have access to cheap groceries from large stores, that's also a problem.

              So the test is $3 a day. Do I get more money because there's three in my household? Or is there a figure I should try to use? I think I'll give this a try for a week in September. If I don't eat out, I KNOW I can feed my family on $9 or less a day, trying hard or not. I have a Pak 'n Save and Asian markets within three miles from me, and I live in CA where fresh veggies and fruits are plentiful.

              1. re: boltnut55

                Answering my own question here. USDA has a chart:

                I calculated that I have $98.50/week to work with. I wonder if food stamps would give me 1/3 of that... so about $33/week.

        2. I have been following your "adventures" closely, dear..

          Bravo to you!!!

          1. I find the most impressive part of this (aside from the ambitious philosophy and remarkable discipline) that you were able to keep to your budget without cooking for 4. Personally, I'm much better stretching $12 for 4 (not too hungry) people than I can imagine creating variety on a shoestring for one. Plus then I'd have someone to pawn off the leftovers on.

            Will be interested to read how much of this sticks around over time. After stretching the chocolate bar and slice of bacon out, do you crave more or less? And of course, where your first few meals out take you.

            These posts are a great service, well beyond the Chowhound universe, especially your shopping tips. Seems like a very healthy diet too, albeit one with a lot of constraints.

            6 Replies
            1. re: Windy

              I'm curious how much of this sticks too. It is said if you do anything for a month you form a new habit. I don't know. I've always been cheap in certain things. I don't mind throwing money at things that are worth it like a $15 jar of jam but will chase around town for the best deal on Quaker Oats.

              I like eating out, so that won't change although I won't be rushing back to fast food joints. I'm going back to the Mexican joint at Hilltop Mall with a friend today. I want to try a few more meals at the new Nigerian place, I've discovered the beans at Sea Salt (the favas were amazing ... want to try others) and I might start a slow Swedish pancake crawl.

              Variety made this month painless so I hope I continue more of that at home. With the variety, it killed craving. I was happy with the food for that day and sometimes cut back. I really could have done without the last serving of cauliflower except i was sick of looking at it in the freezer.

              Now if a chocolate bar is safe around me ... can't tell. Stretching that bar over the month was a matter of did I want to gobble it all down or have a nice little snack every now and then, I wasn't going to have the budget for another. So I had strong motivation.

              One thing that surprisingly might stick is having a smaller glass of wine for dinner ... if only from a calorie viewpoint. I found the smaller pour was just fine and a nice accent with a meal.

              1. re: rworange

                I find that my essential cheapness (or insistence on value shopping) works in my favor. My grandmother always says at the produce store, what's cheap is what's good because it's in season.

                There's a lot to be said for buying those peppers, or eating fewer mushrooms rather than cutting them out and feeling deprived. In fact, your shopping and reuse was more like a restaurant's than most home cooks.

                Favas are very easy to cook btw. Even I can make them.

                1. re: rworange

                  I've always been surprised at how much stress I feel when I have to put myself on a tight budget, especially for food - and what a huge relief it is when my spending habits can return to a more normal level (I'm self employed, my monthly income can vary from the sublime to the ridiculous). It is a funny feeling for most Americans to look at a nearly empty pantry cabinet and think - I'm gonna have to find some interesting ways to use up what's here with only a little bit of new food coming into the house.

                  I really admire your willingness to stick with it for this long.

                  1. re: rworange

                    rworange, thank you for sharing your $3/day journal-so interesting. Did you lose weight? Feel healthier? Do you approach shopping in a new way as a result of focusing on meal planning? What did you miss most?

                    1. re: HillJ

                      Did you lose weight?

                      No, sucky metabolism. Too many generations of starving Polish peasants in my genes. In the past, holding onto that weight was a good thing.

                      Feel healthier?
                      Yep. Always do when I eat correctly.

                      Do you approach shopping in a new way as a result of focusing on meal planning?
                      Yes. Today at the farmers market I found my self looking for the smaller-sized fruit so I could get a few more servings. Rats !!! Forgot to cruise by one of the two new markets i've added to my rotation. I'll definately be checking out Raley's meat counter for that reduced meat. It was nice though to buy the 'pricier' fruit though like blueberries, raspberries and figs ... and lots and lots of heirloom tomatoes. I took advantage of one vendor's deal ... $1 a pound plums & plucots if you bought 5 lbs ... great looking fruit. .Alot of the other stuff was the way I usually shop. I'll be more on the lookout for bargains though.

                      What did you miss most?

                      Not a lot because there was a lot of variety. The entertainment value I get out of food eating out, just got redirected into learning how to cook. I did really miss buying that bottle of champagne though to go with the pink mushrooms. That was about it. But then again, I knew at the end of the month, anything I had passed by in July, I could buy in August. That's the real difference from doing this for real ... now off to make emy fig, tomato & basil salad.

                      1. re: rworange

                        "That's the real difference from doing this for real ... "

                        I think you're really hit the nail on the head. Most people can stay on a diet for a month but the majority eventually fall off. While it's probably an adventure to try it (and in the back of your mind know that even if you can't, you're not going to starve), it must be so constraining to live it 24/7/365.

                        I have enjoyed reading the details of your month and impressed that you did it healthfully, and ventured out and cooked, though it's not your forte. Thanks,

                2. Incredible!


                  1. So, I am enthralled by your ability to save! However, what would interest me more is what you have made with the food items. Maybe if you could go through a week saying what meals you made?

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Nellie999

                      Here's the conclusion of my first go at this.

                      Conclusion - Eating like a Chowhound on $3 a day

                      In it I documented each meal (some with recipes). Here's those week by week write-ups

                      Eating like a Chowhound on $3 a day – Week 2 menu and recipes

                      Eating like a Chowhound on $3 a day – Week 3 menu and recipes

                      Eating like a Chowhound on $3 a day – Final 10 days

                      Shopping at Ferry Plaza on $3 a day … and other observations – bombolini?

                      A few years later I repeated it using discount stores only

                      Dining deliciously at the dollar store – OR - Going gourmet at Grocery Outlet for $3 a day