Thursday, May 31, 2007

The First Grocery Run

Some say that the poor are incapable of planning for the future, and that the reason for their poverty is to be planned on their lack of foresight and poor judgment. I would argue that these people aren't looking at the problem of budgeting the same way that a welfare or food stamp recipient has to look at it.

I went shopping today for the first week of my personal food stamp challenge. Everything in me told me that the common sense, logical thing to do was to buy some stock foods in bulk, to prepare for the whole month instead of just preparing for the upcoming week. That's the sort of grocery pre-planning that I'd normally engage in, as anyone who's been to my house can attest.

It quickly became clear that buying for the future is distinctly more difficult on a three dollar a day budget than it would normally be. While buying in bulk might be cheaper in the long run, it's awfully hard to justify spending eleven dollars on one item when that's over half your available funding.

With buying in bulk in mind, I made my first mistake of the food stamp challenge. My first stop wasn't the grocery store near my house, but the warehouse grocer across town. The lure of two whole chickens for only seven dollars was a strong one, but once I took a hard look at the money available, it became evident that I should try buying more diverse groceries rather than more abundant ones. If I'd made that mistake after the walking/biking/skating restriction began tomorrow, it would have been a serious misstep as opposed to a minor inconvenience.

the recipt for the first week's shopping

Here's my receipt for the first week's shopping. After leaving Sam's empty-handed, I walked into Publix hungry, which is the worst time to go shopping. As a result, I bought things that my stomach wanted at the moment instead of thinking about the entire week ahead.

First week's groceries

Two different types of lunch meat along with the bread and mustard will make up the majority of my lunches. I had money left over at the end of my shopping trip, so I could have afforded to buy some sliced cheese, but I decided to hang onto my change in the hopes of adding that to next week's budget and buying some slightly higher-priced ingredients next week.

The potatoes and carrots will last into next week, but will largely be used up in my crockpot (seen in the background of that photograph) tomorrow along with the "beef for stew". I'll be making a sort of beef stew tomorrow, which will figure heavily in my supper plans for the week. The rice and beans are a sort of standby - I (luckily) have a great love for cajun cuisine, and red beans and rice is an absolute staple of that diet. The Louisiana-born Crystal hot sauce that you see in the foreground of that photograph will add to that (and will probably be used liberally on some of the sandwiches as well, as I am an absolute fiend for hot sauce).

All in all, I spent $14.32 on this trip to the grocery store, leaving me with a remainder of $6.68 for the rest of this week. I'm trying to approach the budgeting on a week by week basis, but it's nice to know that I have a bit of a cushion going into next week.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Three Dollar Challenge

Three dollars. Pocket change for most people, enough to buy a gallon of gas if you're lucky. For the people who are likely to be reading this blog, three dollars equates to three iTunes downloads, a pack of cheap cigarettes, a bottle of Mountain Dew, something along those lines. In short, three dollars, for most of us, is a diversion, a habit, an addiction at best.

For almost one tenth of Americans, three dollars is a full day's food. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and any snacks in between have to be purchased on three dollars - the amount most of us would tip on a decent dinner. As seen elsewhere on the web, four Congressmen and one Governor recently underwent the Congressional Food Stamp challenge, living for one week on this thinnest of budgets. For one Congressman, the week ended poorly when his remaining food was taken by a TSA agent as he traveled. That one instance shocked me - with one person's actions, another person's entire food supply was wiped out for the remainder of the week.

It was that action that spurred me into starting this blog and challenging myself. For the month of June, I will eat and drink only things that I can afford with my three dollars a day. In addition, I will either bike, skate, or walk to my place of business every day (or if money permits, I'll take the bus, but that's less likely). Eighty eight percent of welfare recipients have an annual income that falls below the poverty line in America, and for one month, I will live as one of them. No credit cards, no white middle-class safety net that I'd be able to construct will be used - it'll just be me, my three bucks a day, and all of you guys reading along.

Tomorrow I will go grocery shopping for the first week of the challenge. I'll let you know what I buy, what I plan to make with it, and we'll evaluate how much money I have left for the month and how I plan to use it. The day after that, I start walking to work and the challenge really begins.