Living Below the Line: Legwork

No, I haven’t started the challenge yet, but I’m already getting an inkling of how exhausting it’s going to be.

I sat down at lunchtime today, and tried to create a list of the sorts of things I might be able to afford to eat next week – pasta with lentils and tomatoes, rice with chickpeas and onions, spinach frittata, tofu fritters with frozen vegetables, carrot soup, oat porridge with stewed fruit.

I wrote down essentials – dried lentils, rolled oats, rice, pasta, tinned tomatoes, apples, pears, milk of some description, frozen spinach, onions.  And I wrote down hoped-for luxuries – oil, sugar, eggs, yoghurt, tofu, tuna.

And then I did some maths based on my first supermarket reconnaissance, and realised that I was maybe being a bit ambitious.

A lot ambitious, really.

OK, then.

After work, I decided to extend my research a little further.  First, I tried Aldi’s.  This was quite promising.  Their oats and rice and tinned tomatoes are cheaper than the ones at Woolworths, and while they had no dried lentils, their tinned legumes were quite good value.  No luck on the yoghurt, really, and fruit and veg and the luxuries were all out of range, but still, progress!  And best of all – they have that awful, fake, powdery parmesan cheese which is hardly cheese at all, but which is also only $1.39, so not much more expensive than salt and far more interesting to have on pasta.  Score!

Still, I’m determined not to have the same dinner every night next week.  After all, I’ve conscripted Andrew into this (though he has permission to supplement from the freezer, fridge and pantry), and he’s a very picky eater.  Andrew, incidentally, while supportive of the idea in principle, is not at all keen on the idea in practice, having experienced the student-living-on-lentils lifestyle in his mis-spent youth.  He feels that this is not something he needs to revisit.  Especially if I am threatening to feed him porridge.  Or rice pudding.  Or frittata.

There are downsides to living with me, you see.

Anyway.  I was going to do further Woolies reconnaissance on my way home, but on my way to do so, I passed the NQR store, and thought – aha!

I’ve never bought anything at NQR before.  Food snobbery of a sort, I think.  As regular readers of this blog will know, I’m all about getting my food as directly from the farm as I can, and I don’t use much in the way of processed food – why would I go into a shop that doesn’t even have a fruit and vegetable section?

Well, I’m not food-snob-farmers’-market-hipster-girl this week, because food-snob-farmers’-market-hipster-Catherine would be living on approximately one carrot and an organically grown apple a day.  And she would get very hungry.  The whole ethical eating / choosing to eat local thing is not compatible with a lifestyle of extreme poverty.   No surprises there.

And NQR is an absolute Aladdin’s Cave of tinned and packeted goodness (why on earth do we call it Aladdin’s Cave, anyway?  Didn’t he pinch the contents from an unethical sorceror?).  Big tins of peaches for 79 cents.  Huge packets of rice that are not actually that useful to me, because I don’t think we could get through 2 kg of rice in five days even if we ate it at every meal.  Tins of artichokes for 99c!  Even roasted peppers for a mere $1.99.  And a tiny bottle of olive oil for $1.99.  Which is, of course, the equivalent to a whole day of food for one of us, but might almost be worth it.

They also had fascinated things like greens in a spicy cashew sauce for 99c, which sounds very dubious, but might be alright combined with rice and vegetables – especially if we are getting very, very tired of bland food.  We shall see.

And they had free range eggs at $3.45 the dozen.  I admit, I’m tempted by this.  Tempted, but also ambivalent.  Free-range is not always what it sounds like, and something tells me that the kind of free range that costs $3.45 a dozen is an awful lot like several hundred hens in a very small barn.  I had a pet chicken as a child, and free range eggs are something I feel pretty strongly about, even in a week when I’m living on very little.

Ethically speaking, I should probably avoid the eggs.

Nutritionally speaking, they are a cheap source of protein.

Also, I really like eggs.  But not eggs of sorrow.

We shall see.

Tomorrow morning, I’m going to go lurk outside the Coburg Market, and see what sort of specials they are spruiking at 11am.  This, I think, will be the factor that determines how well we eat over the next week.

I will say, though, tinned fruit and veg really does seem to work out cheaper than the fresh stuff, which is depressing.

And also?  This is really hard work.  Not just all the walking about, but the thinking and planning, and if I spend a dollar on this, what will I use for that.  I’m sort of looking forward to tomorrow evening – at least once I start this challenge, I will only have hunger and boredom to contend with, not the stress of trying to figure out what we can afford to eat…

If you are enjoying these articles, please consider sponsoring me by following this link!  Yes, I’m going to be shamelessly promoting this for the next week.  And updating every day, with menu plans, recipes both good and bad, and probably a lot of complaining.  Because I get a little bit focused when it comes to fundraising…


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8 comments for “Living Below the Line: Legwork

  1. May 3, 2014 at 4:45 am

    I’m watching all of this with interest, since I’m trying to cut down my grocery budget without sacrificing good food. I’m trying to get to spending an average of $5 a day on a permanent basis. After reading your latest posts, I did the math and so far this year I’m at an average of $7.60 per day, even with messing up several times with having to buy lunches after forgetting mine at home.

    I’m also wondering about participating in the Canadian version of Live Below The Line. Because of our dollar, our budget is $1.75 a day and the challenge can be done any time in May or June.

    Looking forward to mining for your experience for insights and advice.

    • Catherine
      May 3, 2014 at 3:16 pm

      Wow, you spend way less on food than we do! Though, for me the food budget and the fun budget are pretty much the same thing, and I do have a tendency to feed extra people on a very regular basis. $7.60 per day sounds pretty frugal to me – though I don’t know what food costs in Canada. If $1.75 per day is the poverty line, obviously it’s a bit cheaper than it is here.

      Anyway, good luck! I have a feeling that my recipes may be less use to you than you hope – I discovered that legumes were more expensive than anticipated, and was able to fit both eggs and a little tuna into my budget, which isn’t all that helpful for you. And I suspect that I’ve managed to be extravagant even within my $2, because I’m not good at compromising about flavour! But we will see…

      (I’m already envying the woman who managed to budget for flour, butter, sugar *and* eggs, and gets to bake things during her $2 week! I can only surmise that her local supermarkets are much cheaper than mine…)

      • May 4, 2014 at 3:35 am

        $7.60 per day sounds pretty frugal to me – though I don’t know what food costs in Canada.

        I’ve found that a good way to think about this sort of thing is in terms of the minimum wage. The appropriate currency for international price discussion is minutes (how long would I have to work a local minimum-wage job to pay for [x] with the wages?), not dollars. The minimum wage is ~60% higher in Australia*, and in my experience Australian prices become pretty reasonable-sounding once I bear this in mind. (That probably doesn’t say good things about the usefulness of raising minimum wages, but that’s another matter.)

        $7.60 in Ontarian** minutes is ((7.6/10.25)x60) =~45 minutes, or ((45/60)x16.37) = ~AUD$12.28. How does that sound to you?

        (Now you know how horrified to be by this picture!)

        *Minimum wage in Canada varies slightly by province, but they all cluster around $10.

        **A cursory inspection of Bookseller Cate’s blog does not reveal her province, so I’ll use mine.

        • May 4, 2014 at 7:43 am

          For the curious, I’m in Calgary, Alberta, making somewhat above the minimum wage (which is $9.95), especially considering that I’m on a salary and do not always work a full 40 hour week.

          The calculation of $1.75 (Can) is, I believe, the currency-adjusted equivalent of the $1.25 (US) standard of absolute poverty.

          And, Brin, you’re right. That’s a horrible picture. I feel like keeping it to pull out when my fellow Calgarians complain about cost-of-living.

          • Catherine
            May 4, 2014 at 9:51 am

            Thanks, Cate! And thanks for the donation, too!

        • Catherine
          May 4, 2014 at 9:51 am

          Right now, $12.28 per person per day sounds positively lavish! And yes, manageable, too. We spend more than that essentially because we are currently in a position where we can prioritise spending on ethically-produced, farm-direct food over cheaper, supermarket-bought or pre-packaged foods. And I’m well aware that this is a luxury that not everyone can afford (but since I can afford it, I feel that it’s something I ought to do, as well as being heaps of fun, of course).

          Also, that article – and those prices – are horrifying. Especially given the lower minimum wage – eek.

  2. Heath Graham
    May 3, 2014 at 10:31 pm

    Finally got around to sponsoring you. 🙂

    • Catherine
      May 3, 2014 at 10:37 pm

      Thank you so much!

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