Living off $4.90 per day – Day 1

Today begins an effort to acknowledge that the food choices I (by which I mean my wife) normally make are a luxury. Yes, I’ve worked hard in life. Yes, I sacrificed when I had to. Yes, like every “we built this” voice I hear in the cacophony coming out of some talking heads, I know that my ability to overspend on goat cheese or $9 beer is a byproduct of personal effort. But it’s also a byproduct of a government-funded Child Protective Services system that dropped me into the precursor to Promises-2-Kids when I was an infant. My success is also a byproduct of government-funded head start that allowed me to develop in a window where my parents couldn’t nurture educational growth the way that others do. And it’s a byproduct of government-funded Pell grants and government-guaranteed student loans and government-funded school and college buildings–without which none of the education that created my current opportunities would be possible. So as I start the CalFresh challenge, one goal is to help people realize that even people like me who believe in limited government still realize the critical role it does actually play in a complex society. The more I think about it, given the life I could have led I’d have to say that the government investment in me has more than paid off. Not just enabling me to develop a profession, but I now pay lots of taxes and volunteer, so I’m pretty sure there was a decent ROI for my portion of those programs. Now on to Day 1 on our food stamp budget.

Before starting this little journey I recruited my wife to go along with it. We have professional jobs that involve lots of food and drink-related events. Also, she does most of our shopping and cooking (in her “spare time”–yes I am aware of my own good fortune) so her buy-in was pretty important. Here’s a photo of the initial handywork she managed to pull together. We had $58.80 to work with because we are doing this for 6 days. We had food at home so we itemized that down to the penny, planned to use $36.02 worth of that food and that left us with $22.78 to spend–wife pulled it off at $19.90, here’s proof:

The portion of money we were able to spend to start the challenge

Oh, and here’s the food that $19.90 purchased:

The assortment of food we purchased as part of Calfresh Challenge

The roughly $3.00 we saved will be socked away for either a food “emergency” or some type of splurge on our last day. Oops, just realized we didn’t account for coffee/milk/sugar. Dang. There goes the $3 savings. Our menu for the week is reasonably tasty, if a bit monotonous. We’ve got breakfast burritos, split pea soup (wife adds ham and celery) for lunch–for the next four days–and meatloaf for dinner today, tomorrow and Tuesday. If you click on the split pea recipe you’ll see that it is both incredibly cheap to make and very, very good for you. We like the taste, so that’s a plus. I am trying to dispell the notion that you can only eat over-processed crap if you are on food stamps (read this). It’s an oft-repeated refrain, but it appears not to be entirely true. Side note: We planned to have a third person join us for breakfast, but he didn’t make it and the impact of a house guest on our food budget was significant. So that’s something to keep in mind. Oh, we itemized our breakfast burritos and coffee, here’s a breakdown:

Bacon (no nitrates, preservatives Coleman Natural Hickory Smoked–I do not know if we could use foodstamps for Linkery bacon, but will check) $5 – used 1/3: $1.63

Eggs (Organic Omega-3 cage-free Sprouts brand–you can take the yuppie/buppie out of the…whatever) $4.50 – used 4 eggs: $1.50

Potato (regular old potato, nothing special) 2 for $1 – used 1/2: .25 cents

Avocado (nothing fancy here) .77 cents used 1/2: .38 cents

Uncooked tortillas $2.49/dozen used 4: .83 cents

Cilantro .50 cents/bunch used 1/4: .12 cents

Butter (Organic Valley, organic grassfed pastured butter–yup, super fancy) $4 used 1/16: .25 cents

Coffee (Starbucks–yes, that Starbucks–French Roast Extra Bold*) $25 40 oz, used 2 oz: $1.25

Half & Half (Organic) $2, used 1/4: .50 cents

Grand Total per person for two breakfast burritos (pictured below) and two large cups of coffee: $3.35

Calfresh Challenge Breakfast burritos and coffee for $3.35 per person

This is a useful time for two observations. First, we got the Starbucks coffee at CostCo, which has a $55 annual fee. Please feel free to contact them here to encourage them to offer free memberships to CalFresh recipients. This isn’t a “reward” for needing help, it’s a useful way to make taxpayer dollars stretch farther and help people get on their feet. Second, I live in San Diego and today is the first Chargers home game. I have no idea if it is blacked out, but the thought of watching football with no local craft beer or unhealthy junk food is a little daunting. It’s not on the budget, so it’s the first legitimate casualty of my week on $4.90/day.

I don’t have any illusions that attempting to live for 6 days the way that some people live all the time is some great accomplishment nor that it’s a true portrait of that life. What I hope this week turns out to be is an opportunity to raise awareness that, in my opinion, providing people basic levels of nutrition isn’t worthy of a tacky attempted insult. I also want to share some recipes and tricks so that maybe someone living on a tight budget picks up a new recipe–or shares their food stories so I can learn something. Life is hard, at least for many, and shaming people for needing help is disgraceful. We can encourage hard work and frugality and education and sacrifice without also putting people down for needing help.

5 thoughts on “Living off $4.90 per day – Day 1

  1. Wow I’m impressed that you guys are doing this. Can’t wait to read more about it. Cilantro for .50 cents! Even the ghetto Safeway doesn’t have it for that cheap.

  2. Pingback: Living off $4.90/day – Day 4: Alternatives to hamburger helper and the government « eat.drink.give.go

  3. “one goal is to help people realize that even people like me who believe in limited government still realize the critical role it does actually play in a complex society. ” So well said.

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