$5 per person per day

In January of 2009 we challenged ourselves to a month-long project to try out a new recipe every single day for the entire month. Some days it was really fun, and some days cooking was the absolute last thing in the world we wanted to do. It turned out to be a really rewarding experience, and in 2010 we kind of regretted not doing something new. We still cook a lot of the recipes and look back fondly, so in the months leading to 2011 we have talked about wanting to challenge ourselves again.

And then mid-December this Facebook status update happened:

“We just helped Levi plan cheap food for himself for a day for his imaginary budget for health class. For $4.41 he is eating oatmeal, banana, and soy milk for breakfast. Brown rice, beans, cheese, and broccoli for lunch. Apple and yogurt for snacks. Spaghetti, vegetarian meatballs, and peas for dinner. $4.41!”
December 14, 2010 at 9:39pm · · Like · Comment

We were all inspired and agreed that trying to feed our family on $5/person/day would be a good January 2011 project. Even Levi was enthused. We have talked about improving our grocery budgeting for what seems like an eternity. I have been asked in the past how much we spend on groceries, and the answer is “I have no freaking idea.” I even tried to go through bank statements once to figure it out (I know, I need to start using mint.com), but in the end our grocery budget is mixed in with our “everything else” category that includes things like take-out and entertainment and household items.

So, $5 a day. You could be thinking, “OMG, I could never do that.” Or you could be like, “And so?” Maybe you have a meager budget or maybe you spend way, way more than that. We don’t buy a lot of processed food, but we do buy a ton of produce and fancy ingredients for our cooking and drinking exploits. Generally we try to eat out only once per week and each visit the coffee shop once per week. We’ve been pretty successful on the coffee front, but we have gotten really out of control with the eating out. For the month of January we won’t be eating out at all. That alone is going to be a big change around here.

And we don’t want to spend the month of January eating Top Ramen and boxed macaroni and cheese. We want to push ourselves to see exactly how healthy we can eat for $5. As we started to really plan for this, a lot of questions came up. We figured we could approach it one of two ways: take out cash and buy our groceries from that, or calculate the cost per serving and portion our food carefully. We decided on the latter, because if there is anything we need to work on around here it is portions.

Now as we are working out the kinks, we realize it would have been wise to try to clear out the fridge and cupboards during the month of December. That didn’t happen, and we figure those extra ingredients will help us ease into the process. So that can of pumpkin in the cupboard is a freebie, although we may try to calculate something in if it is a particularly expensive ingredient. And the food we so carefully put-up this year is free, but we won’t rely very much on that. Staples and spices will be free, and admittedly we keep a well stocked spice cabinet. But if we have to replace a staple during the month we will try to add that cost in. And of course our garden is another freebie. All we’ve got left at this point is kale, leeks, and a brussels sprouts crop that is looking like we might lose it to bugs.

Dang, I really wanted those brussels sprouts, too.

We allowed ourselves the 1st to celebrate the holiday and have our last meal out. We spent a good chunk of time plotting our first 3 days worth of food and grocery shopped. It was not easy, even though we had already brainstormed a long list of meal ideas. In fact, I wanted to bash my head against a wall repeatedly while I was working up the menu and grocery list after 10 hours at work. And then there was the staying up late to make our breakfast and lunches since I would need to take them to go the next day.

We might be in a little over our heads, but we persevered today. Come back tomorrow to find out what we ate for $4.13 per person!

xo Krista



Filed under food

41 responses to “$5 per person per day

  1. Margot Tenenchop

    This is radness – I was really thinking about our grocery budget today, budgets in general. I’m thinking of doing mint.com. I’m really inspired by your family’s month of January challenge. Did you read the envelop budgeting method? I saw it online today when I was trying to figure out my monthly expenses and a method of budgeting.

    I so want to save money in 2011.

    How do you feel about mint.com? I’m a little nervous about giving them my banking passwords, etc.

    How have you been able to stick to a budget in the past? Matt and I have separate bank accounts so it’s going to be kind of a challenge. I dunno.

    • misterkrista

      We have heard raves about the envelope method but I have never tried it. I really don’t like dealing with cash, but I can see how it must work.

      I have been nervous about mint.com, too, and mainly I have held off because I have too many different bank accounts. But I am in the process of finally getting that in order as I finally switch over to a credit union, so I’m thinking about going for it.

      We are pretty above average with money, but I don’t exactly know about budgeting. We try to minimize our bills and eliminate credit and then we really push to put money in savings. Actually breaking stuff beyond bills and into categories would be new for us.

  2. This is an awesome January project. I was trying to think of something food-related for a Fun-A-Day project, but in the end, I decided that I think about food so much and work on food so much that it might not be fun to do a food project.

    So instead, I am playing a different game each day of the month, hopefully with a different person or group of people, to make sure that I am sociable and interact with other humans during the month (something I’m not so good at in winter).

    I am contemplating a no-gluten (or maybe just no-wheat) month, though, to see how it makes me feel. Maybe I’ll claim February for that one.

    Good luck!!!

  3. Laura

    What an inspiring project. I love stuff like this! I’ll be curious to see how it works out. Have fun!

  4. Andrea

    I use Mint and I thought it would be great for tracking stuff like this, but you have to go in and tell it what category all of your charges belong in! Some it gets right, but it puts nearly everything in “other” and you have to be like NO THIS WAS GROCERIES! Anyway, I can never stay on top of it. It may also have to do with where we shop or our credit union and the way they mark expenditures. There have been two months when sat down and marked everything correctly, and let me tell you, as a data geek, it was pretty cool. ^_^

    • misterkrista

      Interesting. I have a feeling it is going to be too much of a pain to me. Since we are pretty good at trying to cut costs and stuff, I’m not that motivated to say we get X amount of dollars for entertainment or whatever. We are big on trying to experience things and have fun. As long as we are meeting our savings goals it may be hard to get that detailed.

      • ellen

        i just started up with mint – it does get a large portion of my stuff correct, but some i have to label. i really like being able to see what’s happening. well, like it and hate it at the same time! right now i am doing it but in a partially observational way. what i mean is for some categories i don’t know what we spend, so i’m setting a budget and then looking to see if we fell within it or went way off (as opposed to making sure to stay w/in the number once it is set). but yeah, you guys are so good w $$ that it might be too much work without enough reward. but there’s something very satisfying about having the data there.

  5. Pingback: day one | krista and jess

  6. so awesome!

    i was just talking to the hubster about trying to spend $50 a week on groceries and see what we could come up with for meals. i’ll be intrigued to see what you come up with.

    good luck!

    • jess s

      Are you going to do $50 per person or $50 total? Either way, I think that getting a handle on food spending (and all the related issues – like food waste, over-processed food, and so on) is a step in the right direction. I wish you all the luck!

  7. ellen

    ps i feel like i probably spend $5 per bite or something. ok not really but $5/day/person would be a huge huge challenge for me. huge! the no restaurants x 1 mo… i think i’d have to be physically restrained for that to happen.

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  31. This is wonderful. We are constantly being told that poor people cannot afford to eat healthy. I’m sure many need to be educated, but it so encouraging that it can be done.

    • misterkrista

      Thanks! I honestly didn’t think we’d be able to eat enough produce or buy anything organic on the cheap, but with time & determination it is possible!

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