The Common Good

Lent on $2.50 a Day

100329-couponsMy friend Irene Groot decided to try the Lenten Experiment this year. "I recently sent off a couple of hundred dollars to a local soup kitchen," she e-mailed me this morning. "That's the money I saved taking up your challenge."

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Irene lives in a pricey Northern California city, so it couldn't have been easy. "Actually, I'd heard a local reporter trying to survive on $4.00/day so I figured that was the California rate," she wrote. "What I found was that I kept my husband and myself well fed on fresh, wholesome, well-balanced meals for $2.50 - $3.00/person/day. I'd say the figure was closer to $2.50."

How did she do it?

The key to this was watching the grocery ads for three supermarkets not too far from our house. I generally used only two in any given week. Here are the sort of items I am buying on a regular basis on sale:

  • Fuji apples $0.33/lb, oranges $0.33/lb, bananas $0.47/lb (all excellent quality)
  • Ground beef $1.68/lb, chicken thigh + leg $0.47/lb, all other meats in the low $2.00/lb range
  • Cabbage $0.33/lb
  • Tuna $0.44 and I stocked up
  • Cake and brownie mixes (Betty Crocker) were $0.69 and I stocked up
  • Whole grain breads are regularly on sale for $1.69 - $2.50. I've snagged excellent fresh French bread for $0.99.
  • Eggs go from $0.99 -$1.50.
  • 10 lb. of potatoes for $0.99.
  • Sliced American Cheese, 1pkg $0.99

Any other secrets, Irene?

Buy the major food groups on sale, and then figure out what recipe to use. If you go to the store with a recipe, I can't see how you could keep the prices as low as I did. Also, make soup from leftovers. Waste not, want not. It's been an interesting experiment.

Irene told me that she didn't use coupons or giant discounters like Wal-Mart or Costco. She just went to the stores closest to her home.

Irene and I did the Lenten Experiment to see if we could survive on a food-stamp budget. An increasing number of Americans have no choice.

The USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program -- the program that administers what used to be called food stamps -- helped to feed some 27.6 million people in December 2007. That number rose to 31.8 million a year later, and last December it soared to nearly 39 million (you can see the figures here).

Feeding America, a network of more than 200 food banks, now serves one million more people each week than it did in 2006, according to their "Hunger Report 2010." They estimate that "one in eight Americans now rely on Feeding America for food and groceries." And it doesn't look as if the recession is going to end anytime soon.

Thanks, Irene, for good ideas on how to save money at the grocery store -- and on what to do with the money saved.

P.S. Irene e-mailed me after reading this post and looking at the illustration (an ad I pulled off a Safeway web page): "I didn't buy the $0.75 items. Too pricey. I'm watching for better deals and stocking up."

portrait-lavonne-neffLaVonne Neff is an amateur theologian and cook; lover of language and travel; wife, mother, grandmother, godmother, dogmother; perpetual student, constant reader, and Christian contrarian. She blogs at Lively Dust.

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