Is $10 a week on groceries possible?
I’ve got questions and I like challenges. I’ve been working on cutting my grocery bill back. Ten dollars is a nice even number. It’s also totally arbitrary. Why not?
A little bit about myself:
I’m 26 years old, Aries, female, 5 foot 3 inches on a good day, hovering somewhere between 130-135 pounds. I live alone in a studio in sunny Portland, OR. I quit my job in January because, simply put, it frustrated me to my core and I was done complaining to my friends about it. I felt awesome the first month. The second month I started having mental and emotional breakthroughs. Now in month three I’m seeking employment. If you ever quit your job, just be prepared with a fat savings account, and more power to you! I learned that however long you think you can last on savings, divide that time in half and that’s the reality of how long you’ll actually last. I’ve had a lot of time to myself to reflect and journal and read and sleep and scope Instagram way too much. I don’t regret quitting. I am working not becoming a hot mess while unemployed. The lack of rhythm has been both a relief but also made me feel unstable. One thing that’s been endlessly rewarding and stabilizing has been cooking and eating. My grocery budget has shrunk every month. I’m creative and I’ve been stimulated by the constraint. Now I’m in a place of curiosity. How far can I take this? Can I survive on ten dollars of food a week?
First of all, I don’t intend to starve myself. Let me lay out my criteria for this challenge.
Ten Dollar Week Success Criteria
- No starving!
- Must meet daily nutritional needs (fiber, protein, vitamins, etc)
- Plant based foods, minimal processed goods
- Organic preferred when possible
- Interesting meals that make me happy!
Simple enough. I’m excited for this challenge. I’m also serious about it because of what it represents. It represents discipline (self-imposed by my previous choices, more of a necessity than a choice at this point), it represents a major creative challenge, and enforces a concept of less. I’ve been trying to live with less and buy secondhand and generally keep moving towards an eco-friendly direction. This is part of that journey.
Secondly, let’s get privilege out of the way here. I am lucky/blessed/privileged that I can decide to try an experiment like this. Some people don’t have the option to quit their job, some people have more than one person to feed, some people don’t have the option of organic produce. I’m also super lucky that I have generous friends and family surrounding me to help in the event I crash and burn. Let’s hope not. I am extremely thankful for them and for the life that I have. This is about my journey and the creativity I use to scramble through life in my own way from the place that I am. I’m humbly beginning this journey.
It all started with living with less money and realizing my happiness did not diminish. Not working definitely helped me relax and contributed to my overall sense of well-being, but I was also saying no to a lot of things that made me happy when I had money. Alcohol is one example. I used to spend ten dollars on a cheap bottle of wine (By the way, Apothic Red is $8.99 at Trader Joe’s and it’s phenomenal), now I’m trying to spend ten dollars on a week’s groceries for myself. I used to spend $50 a week on food, I have no idea how. I’m a sucker for pickles and fancy cheeses and craft beer. I’ve happily paid for Portland’s awesome brews. Plus, while I was making good money I had no strong motivation to cut back. I’d get to the register and wonder how it all added up so fast. After I quit, I got down to 30 dollars. Then 25, then 18. That’s when I started getting a glint in my eye. This week I spent 13 dollars and became wildly curious if I could make it 10.
Alcohol is probably the biggest item I’ve started consistently saying no to at the grocery store. Everything else is just small no’s, like no, I don’t really need a $7 jar of local strawberry habañero jelly. No, I don’t really need pickles, or exotic olives, or Beanitos and salsa, or frozen pizza, or a chocolate bar with brownie bits in it. No I really don’t need $8 artisan cookies even if my mouth waters when I longingly pick up the bag. It was weird saying no to all these foods that I love, that make me happy to be alive. It was equally weird when I didn’t have to say no anymore because the mental question never even arose. It took about two weeks, which is only two grocery trips, so on the whole, it wasn’t that bad at all.
My favorite part about this whole process was that the way my brain began reacting to the circumstances. I have a theory that still needs confirmation, but makes some sense in my life at this point. When I impulse buy constantly, my brain lights up with a little bit of happiness. A little bit of serotonin and dopamine are released each time throughout the day and week. Buying stuff totally makes me happy. It doesn’t matter if it’s from Goodwill or Urban Outfitters or the grocery store. It feels good. Saying yes feels good. I feel like I’m treating myself when I buy those stupid, delicious, expensive, local artisan cookies (Blue Bird Bakery’s Winter of ’75 cookies, in case you’re wondering). And I feel like I’m treating myself when I buy other nice foods, like dolmas and feta cheese soaked in olive oil. My brain is lighting up with happy. But when I say no to everything except the essentials, my brain doesn’t light up the same way. It’s a little more boring to shop.
One day, when relationship drama was giving me hardcore sugar and chocolate cravings, I made myself some vegan brownies. Vegan brownies sounded challenging and I wanted to get my mind off the problem and also I had no eggs or dairy milk or butter. I made them with what I had on hand and ate one with coffee and an orange the next morning. They were the most delicious fucking brownies I’ve ever made. My brain lit up like I was on something much stronger than caffeine and chocolate. The room seemed brighter, even though the sky outside was grey and drizzly. My morning was phenomenal, I texted a bunch of people and felt like everything was going to be awesome for the next 24 hours. It was such a surge. It was like all the serotonin and dopamine had been released in one huge dose and saturated my brain all at once. My theory is that when I say no to the majority of purchases all my happiness is saved up for the simpler things that are a little more spaced out. Then when I do enjoy something, it’s lit fam. It’s more intense this way and it’s a powerful motivator for this challenge.
One last note: It should be documented that I am not starting this challenge from scratch. I have a decently stocked kitchen with basics I bought in my wealthier days. I have flour, cocoa powder, some chia seeds my boyfriend didn’t want, and various forms of sugar on hand. I also have a spice drawer that definitely cost a pretty penny to accumulate. Having spices is essential. Collecting spices takes time and money and realistically could probably not be done on a $10 a week budget. Ask for spices for your birthday or bite the bullet and invest when you get that tax return money. Currently, I have various chili powders (because I am a hot and spicy fanatic), turmeric (super good for your health), coriander seed, curry, mustard, garlic, and onion powders, pepper, and a bunch of dried herbs, basil, marjoram, thyme, oregano. Without these I couldn’t make great food. Other random items in my cabinets include: 16oz box of flax seeds bought on sale for $1.30 (crucial for getting your daily fiber intake), 1 lb broccoli seeds for sprouting given to me by a friend, and some deer meat in my freezer that was also given to me by a friend. Oh, and four different kinds of hot sauce, Tapatio, green Cholula, garlic Cholula, and Frank’s Red Hot. One of these days I’ll restock the Sriracha. I’ll share what I buy each week and pictures/recipes of the meals I make.
I guess I have another last topic to talk about: Friends, generosity, and sharing. I have worked hard to build quality friendships in my life and be generally encouraging to people around me. I enjoy sharing everything I have, be it hot sauce, kombucha, or dinner. I grew up in a large family and like it or not, sharing was expected at all times. I also had a generous extended family who showed me what hospitality and love look like no matter how much or little you had. It’s ingrained in my lifestyle now, although I don’t know if I can ever match the generosity of my family. I know from experience that the people in my life are precious and will not always be there. I share what can and what I want my friends to try. While it isn’t generous to expect that your friends return the favor, I’ve found that people will share and give back in a healthy friendship. It’s always surprising me, the wonderful exchanges that people use to show they care. I wasn’t expecting an offer of deer meat from a coworker I only talked to once a week. I wasn’t expecting a huge bag of caramel corn from a different coworker that I haven’t seen in 2 years. Nor did I expect a jar of super food broccoli seeds to sprout from a recent fast friend. And my best friend has always been a generous life giver by sending me so many bags of stellar coffee beans over the years. The exchanges aren’t just food related either; encouraging and receiving encouragement is my favorite form of generosity. I believe words are food for the soul. A genuine compliment or simply noticing the details of someone’s efforts can brighten their day. Words are powerful. Sharing food and words with someone is life. Share your bounty, make friends with emotionally healthy people, make stuff together, and enjoy what money can’t buy. Life.