12 August 2011

The Bare Bones Grocery Challenge - Can you feed your family for $30 a week?


I spent some time earlier this week working with A Current Affair to see if families really can eat three meals a day for a week for the grand sum of just $30 (the segment aired tonight, see $30 Grocery Challenge).

When Disaster Struck, and our world was disintegrating around us, the most important thing for me was to be able to put food on the table for my family. Unfortunately, back then, like it is now for so many families, the grocery bill was the second largest expense we had next to our mortgage.  I had at most $50 a week to spend on groceries for the five of us, and that was all groceries, not just our food. I even managed the odd block of chocolate and pack of disposable nappies for when we were travelling. It was tight back then, just as it is now.

But you know what? Turns out the grocery bill was the one expense I could completely control. I alone determined how much was spent on groceries each month. I could choose to go over my grocery allowance, yikes, or I could choose to be a little smarter and come in under and use the left-over money for something else (pay a bill, by a treat or build a slush fund).

That's when I started cooking. I could cook of course, it's not hard to grill a steak and toss a salad or steam some veggies. I just didn't bake very often and when I did it was usually something quite exotic. I certainly never preserved anything and we didn't have a veggie garden.

But I started. Out came the recipe books and I started jotting down ideas. Which led to my very first pantry inventory. I didn't know it was a pantry inventory back then, I was just checking to see what really was in that tall cupboard in the kitchen.  Ditto the freezer. Thankfully we've always had a freezer, the first one was a wedding present from Wayne's parents and it's one of the best gifts we've ever received, much more practical than the traditional cutlery canteen!

It was fun to go to playgroup and take morning tea because I could try out a new recipe and I knew I'd get honest reviews. What I discovered was the most popular recipes were the old fashioned ones: scones, Anzac biscuits, rock cakes, sponges, sausage rolls, little pasties and so on. These were also the cheapest and easiest to make. A win, win on our tight budget.

Every now and then we'd need  little extra cash so I'd stop buying groceries. We'd live on what was in the house, just buying exactly what was needed for the week. This was the beginnings of the Bare Bones grocery list, way back in 1994.

Back in 2002 I challenged Cheapskates Club members to do the Bare Bones Grocery Challenge and we've been doing it every year since. Back then it was just $20 a week, and it stayed at $20 until 2007. To account for inflation and the exorbitant cost of meat, poultry and fresh fruit and veg we upped it to $30 in 2008, although many challengers still manage to stay under $20 for the week.

This challenge isn't meant for long-term use. It's  designed to save you a lot of money quickly and it does. If you normally spend $120 a week on groceries and accept the challenge of $30, you have $90 to pay off debt, save, invest or use for another purpose, without affecting your Spending Plan.  It is not meant to be a long-term challenge, but most households can manage at least one week, perhaps two. If you are a well-stocked household you have the potential to last for months and save hundreds of dollars.

This grocery challenge is also a great way to use up your stockpile, and rotate through your supplies before you replenish them.

It's not at all hard. Like most things it's the thinking about it that makes it hard. Once you get started it's easy. I bet you've already done a Bare Bones challenge at some point. Perhaps you've been eating down the fridge and pantry before going away on holidays, or munching your way through the contents of your freezer for it's yearly defrost and clean session.

If you've done these things, you've done the Bare Bones Challenge. You used the foods you already had to provide meals for the family, buying just the ingredients you needed to supplement and round out your menus.

Part of the fun of this challenge is creating new recipes.  One of the questions I get asked over and over is what do you eat for breakfast, because there's no cereal on the shopping list.  Well, if you don't have cereal in your pantry (I'm pretty sure most homes would have at least one type of cereal lurking in the cupboard), you can use any of the breakfast suggestions on the menu.

Pancakes, potato cakes, toast, scrambled eggs can all be made from the ingredients on the shopping list.  Then you might have a tin of baked beans or spaghetti in the cupboard. Or some cheese in the fridge.  Breakfast doesn't have to be cereal and milk, that's a relatively new invention. Get creative, think outside the cereal packet. You might find you like it!

Lunch is the same. Who said lunches have to be sandwiches? Leftovers, wraps, mini pizzas, rissoles, salads, fried rice, pasta salad, soup - the list is almost endless. Soup is the only lunch option that needs to be served hot - everything else is portable and is just as delicious cold as it is hot.

Think of this more as a cooking challenge. Try new recipes. Make up some recipes of your own. Try new combinations of ingredients and see how they turn out. Get out your recipe books (or use the Bare Bones Groceries recipes or any of the $2 Dinner recipes).

It hasn't changed much over the years, and I'll let you in on a little secret: I still do a bare bones challenge three or four times a year. It's a great way to save some cash fast and it helps to clean out the pantry and freezer.

I suggest you give it a go. You don't have anything to lose and lots of money to save.

1 comment:

  1. ok please help I cant have salt so no margarine cheese SR flour my daughter cant have eggs. I also noticed on the list no fruit. With me not being able to have salt fruit and veg are the main part of my diet as I cant have bread cereals (most of them) cheese and anything processed and I cant get my budget down usually its between $200 to$300 weekly if anything is saved it goes to our house fund as we are saving for a house

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