Friday, July 4, 2014

Reverse SNAP Challenge, Day 1

We've only been on the Reverse Snap Challenge for one day, and already it's apparent that my version of the challenge is a lot more difficult than the standard version in one way: bookkeeping.

The thing I didn't like about the standard version of the challenge is that you had to set aside all the food in your fridge and pantry and eat only food you bought with your SNAP budget. I thought this was inefficient, because it doesn't allow you to buy in bulk or stockpile items on sale, and possibly even wasteful, because you might have to throw out leftovers. What I didn't consider is that it's also much, much easier to keep track of. You don't have to record exactly how much of everything you eat throughout the day; all you have to do is record what you bought and how much it cost, and then eat nothing else. With my version of the challenge, by contrast, any food you have in the house is fair game—and therefore you have to calculate the price of everything.

I quickly realized that if I recorded every single recipe we used to make every single thing we ate, and the prices of all the ingredients that went into it, these blog entries were going to become incredibly tedious to read. So instead, I'm just going to do the math myself and give you the totals. And rather than calculating the dollar cost of each individual meal, I'm just going to figure out the cost of each dish we prepared, and then show you how it got eaten up over the course of the week. So, to start with, here are the leftovers we had in the fridge on Thursday morning when we started the challenge:
  1. Half a loaf of homemade rye bread. The white flour in it was bought at ShopRite ($1.99 for 5 pounds), and most of the other ingredients came from the Whole Earth Center and were priced by the pound, so all I had to do to calculate their cost was find the weight of each ingredient. Fortunately, Amy Dacyczyn (all hail the Frugal Zealot!) had already done most of the work for me in her article, "Calculating the Cost of Baking," and I'd jotted down her measurements for reference in my grocery price book. The only thing I actually had to weigh was the caraway seeds. Using these figures, I worked out that the price of the whole recipe (two loaves) was $1.76, so the half a loaf we had left was worth 47 cents. (You see what a hassle this would be if I showed you all the calculations for everything?)
  2. Six small sourdough muffins, made from an old family recipe of Brian's. There were some ingredients in these, such as baking powder, that we hadn't bought recently, so I had to rely on my price book to work out their cost. The whole batch (16 muffins) came to $1.32, so the six we had left were worth about 50 cents.
  3. Three mushroom veggie burgers, made from this recipe that we picked up at the local Stop & Shop. We substituted organic white mushrooms for the ludicrously expensive portabello mushrooms, and we used dry black beans that we had cooked up in the pressure cooker. We also didn't have any quick oats, so we just used rolled oats and let the mixture soak a bit longer. It came out a bit crumbly, so quick oats would probably have worked better, but it tasted fine. The vegetable soup mix we used in this was a packet we'd had sitting in our pantry for ages, but the price label on the box said $1.49, so I assume the half a box we used was worth 75 cents. The whole recipe (9 patties) cost $2.08, so the three patties we had left were worth abut 69 cents.
  4. Two small baked potatoes (about 3 ounces each), from a 10-pound bag that cost $3.99 at Aldi. Total: 15 cents.
Total cost of the leftovers in the fridge: $1.78. Although we did not eat all of this on Thursday, I'll count it all as part of Thursday's food budget, just to get it out of the way.

There are also certain foods that we eat nearly every day, so I worked out the cost of those as well.
  • Brian obligingly measured out his breakfast cereal and determined that his usual breakfast is two cups of Aldi raisin bran ($1.75 a pound), 1 ounce of oats (also from Aldi, 83.2 cents a pound), 1/2 tablespoon of flaxseeds ($2 a pound at the Whole Earth Center), a cup and a quarter of milk (from powder, sold in a 20-quart box at ShopRite for $15) and 3/4 cup of orange juice (last bought on sale at the ShopRite, $1.99 for a 59-ounce bottle). Total cost: $1.05.
  • My breakfast cocoa contains 1 teaspoon of sugar (organic, $1.75 a pound at Trader Joe's), 1 1/2 teaspoons of cocoa (Fair Trade and organic, bought in bulk from Dean's Beans for $11 a pound including shipping), half a packet of aspartame sweetener (from Aldi; I had to use an old price for this since I didn't have the receipt handy), a dash of salt, a cup of milk (from powder), and a few drops of our homemade vanilla extract (which I'd already calculated to cost about 50 cents per ounce). Altogether, this comes to roughly 25 cents. It's part of a complete breakfast that also includes two slices of toast (from the loaf of bread I priced out above) with a teaspoon of Blue Bonnet spread (about 1.5 cents).
  • My usual afternoon snack is a bowl of popcorn (about 1/4 cup of kernels, popped in the microwave) with a light mist of olive oil (about half a teaspoon) and a sprinkling of salt, and an egg cream (1 teaspoon sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons cocoa, 1 packet of sweetener, 1/2 cup of milk, and 2/3 can of seltzer). Total cost: 38 cents.
So, with that out of the way, here's what we actually ate on Thursday:
  • Brian's usual breakfast (cereal and juice): $1.05
  • My usual breakfast (toast and cocoa): 26.5 cents, plus a portion of our loaf of bread
  • Brian's lunch: 2 mushroom veggie burgers (left over), 4 sourdough muffins (ditto), 1 organic banana from the Whole Earth Center ($1.30 for half a dozen, so 21.7 cents) and 3 ounces of cherries ($5.99 for a 2-pound container at Trader Joe's, so 56 cents). Total: 78 cents, not counting the cost of leftovers.
  • My lunch: 1 veggie patty, 1 bun (89 cents for a package of 8 at Aldi, so 11 cents), 2 lettuce leaves from the garden (free, but I'll calculate the value of the garden veggies we ate at the end of the week), 1/4 tsp. brown mustard (from Aldi), 1/4 organic cantaloupe (this was supposed to be 99 cents a pound, but the clerk rang it up at the wrong price and we didn't catch the error, so we ended up paying twice that), and half a square of organic chocolate from Trader Joe's (about 1/16 of a $1.99 bar). Total: $1.22, not counting the cost of leftovers.
  • My usual afternoon snack: 38 cents.
  • Dinner: a casserole made from 1 cup of rice, 1/2 pound of frozen spinach, 1/4 pound of cheddar cheese, 1/2 onion, 4 eggs, 3/4 cup milk, 2 Tbsp. butter, 1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce, 1 tsp salt, and a pinch each of dried thyme and marjoram. Once again, I don't have the price of all these ingredients, so I had to rely on the price book for some of it. I figure it's about $3.30 for the whole casserole; we ate less than half of it, but I figure we'll eat the rest over the course of the week, so I'll count the whole thing. Brian also had one of the leftover potatoes.
  • Dessert: Brian had 3/4 cup of ice cream (Stop & Shop mint chocolate chip, $2.49 for 6 cups) with chocolate syrup and whipped cream; I had an ice cream soda, which was basically the same as my afternoon egg cream with the addition of 1/4 cup of ice cream and a spritz of whipped cream. Total: 87 cents.
  • Additional snacks throughout the day: 4 graham crackers (from a box bought at Aldi for $1.39), 1/4 cup of raisins, 1 muffin (leftover), and 1/2 cup of Life cereal (bought on sale at Pathmark for $1.25 per 13-ounce box). Total: 48 cents.
TOTAL COST FOR THURSDAY: $10.15. As you can see, this is over our $9 budget for the day; however, since it counts all the leftovers we already had in the fridge (not all of which were eaten that day), plus the additional leftovers that we created, it should balance out over the course of the week.

Stay tuned for the next exciting, or at least not too incredibly tedious, episode of THE REVERSE SNAP CHALLENGE, in which you'll hear Amy say: "How long ago did we buy this bottle of chocolate syrup?"

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