Jun 062016
 

$29 Per Week for Food

In the United States most people who meet certain low income guidelines are eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or the food stamp program). Last year glamorous Hollywood actress Gwyneth Paltrow challenged herself to live on just $29 worth of food for one week. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, $127 is how much the average food stamp benefit receives each month, which works out to roughly $29 per week. Paltrow wrote on her blog, goop.com, that she was doing this challenge to raise awareness for the New York City food bank. She uploaded a photo of everything she purchased for the challenge and set out to not eat anything else for a whole week. This is what her basket looked like from one of her Tweets.

16-06-from-goop-gwyneth-basket-tweet

But unfortunately she only made it through 4 days before she gave in and ate some black licorice. I know, it’s shocking right? How could anyone like the taste of black licorice. ? After her challenge ended prematurely, Paltrow said that her “perspective has been forever altered by how difficult it was to eat wholesome, nutritious food on that budget, even for just a few days—a challenge that 47 million Americans face every day.”

The Internet Backlash 

Although she did not complete her challenge I have to give her props for trying. 🙂 But of course this is the internet. So when she wrote about her food stamp challenge there was no shortage of criticism and adverse response.

As one person aptly observed, “Gwyneth Paltrow bought scallions, onions, a clove of garlic, and fresh parsley. She is doing her poor people shopping wrong.” ?

Below are some other intriguing reactions from random denizens of the Twitterverse. 😀

16-06-replies-to-gwyneth-tweet

Yikes! Bring out the carving knife because Gwyneth Paltrow got thoroughly roasted, lol. But internet drama aside, this whole situation has inspired me to do the $29/week food stamp challenge as well. 😀 As a personal finance blogger, I want to find out if I have what it takes to live on $29 a week for food.

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May 102015
 

Some folks believe earning a higher income is a valid excuse to submit to lifestyle inflation. But I don’t think lifestyle should necessarily be tied to active income because job security is a fickle pickle. However with a strong framework of growing passive income, a little lifestyle inflation is not only acceptable, but I would even recommend it because YOLO. 😀 Due to the recent tailwinds of increasing investment gains and asset prices it appears I’m ahead of schedule by 1 year to reach financial freedom by my 35th birthday. Since my ultimate goal is to live a balanced, resourceful, and meaningful life, I have decided to succumb to lifestyle inflation and increase my expenses.

Changes to my budget:

ItemOld Monthly BudgetNew Monthly Budget
Grocery$100$150
Eating Out$25$50
Internet + Phone + Entertainment$75$100

Overall I’m now spending $100 per month more than I was back in 2010. This is not a major change to the way I spend money, but it allows me to enjoy the present a little bit more while not sacrificing too much of my financial security in retirement. The way I conduct my budget is I set an expected target, such as my $150/month for groceries. The target is more of a guideline than a strict limitation. Sometimes I spend less, other times I spend more depending on what I buy and how often I eat out.

Here are my thoughts behind the 3 categories.

  • Grocery: Since food inflation has been higher than the average consumer price index over the years I’ve decided to increase my grocery bill to $150 per month. Some people might think $150 is not enough, but it all depends on where you shop. A few years ago I blogged about buying some staple foods from Safeway for about $17. That’s enough produce to last me for probably 1 or 2 days. Then I walked half a block down the street to another grocery store and purchased the same food for literally 1/3 of the cost. I’ve uploaded pictures with receipts for proof. The economics of this situation needs explaining
    Since it’s been 3 years since writing that article, I think the same basket of goods would probably cost about $20 at a Safeway or equivalent big box store today due to the ever increasing price of food. How much can the same $20 buy at one of the smaller independent stores I go to? Well I recently went to a small grocer to find out. 15-05-persia-food-groceryIt’s called Persia Foods located in North Vancouver if anyone is curious. Below is a picture of everything I bought. It actually came out to $21.07 but you get the idea. There is enough produce here to last me for an entire week. (click image to enlarge.)  15-05-persia-foods-grocery-receiptI’ve also blogged before where I get cheap meat, other sources of protein, and grains. Last month I bought nearly 4 lbs of ribs in a West Vancouver supermarket for less than $8, and it took me several days to eat through it all. 15-05-lifestyle-inflation-food-ribs-osakaThe point is it’s perfectly reasonable to eat well on $35 per week for an individual adult, which works out to $150 per month. Of course if people are buying all their groceries from Safeway then they can expect to pay $300/month or more for essentially the same diet. But that’s their choice. 😛
  • Eating Out: By increasing my restaurant budget to $50/month I can spend more time to socialize with friends. 🙂
  • Internet + Phone + Entertainment: A couple of things happened here over the last year. I finally upgraded to a smart phone earlier this year. No more flip phone for me lol. So I upgraded my cellular package to include a data plan. I also subscribed to Netflix which is an additional $9/month. So I’m paying $25 more for telecom services now than before.

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Apr 162012
 

In the beginning of the month I decided to streamline my expenses and set out to spend at least 25 days this April without expending any money from my wallet, bank, credit card, or participate in any other way the exchanging of my money for goods or services. Half way through the challenge now so I just wanted to post a quick update.

This is my first time tracking my no spend days, and so far so good, I’ve spent 12 out of the last 15 days without spending a penny. I don’t drink coffee so I think that makes things easier from the start. I don’t go out much either, so that is another helpful excuse to not spend (stay at home.)

image source: spongebobtumblrpants.tumblr.com

Unfortunately there has been an unexpected surprise. My strata company (or HOA equivalent) decided to paint the exterior of the condo which resulted in a special levy for every unit owner, such as myself. I have until next month but I paid now since I have the money available, and wanted to get it over with. It’s not so bad though considering how expensive levies can become. I bought this condo in 2009 knowing it’s over 30 years old, so something like this was expected to happen sooner or later (-_-‘)

Overall this no spend challenge hasn’t really affected me in any big way. My social life is taking a back seat for the moment but I explained what I’m doing to my friends and they understand it’s only temporary. I filled up my car late March so I shouldn’t have to get gas again until May (that’s one benefit of living close to work.) I also have lots of food left over from last month. The only thing I’ve run out of now is fresh fruit and veggies, but I still have some frozen carrots and potatoes, plus tons of other food in the freezer. The company I work for also has a basket of fruit in the kitchen (^_^) Today I took a kiwi and an orange. I also have uncooked oatmeal, pasta, canned mushrooms, and other goodies with long shelf lives, so I can easily go without grocery shopping for another 2 weeks.

Once April is over I will show a more detailed breakdown of my spending for this month.

[Edit] Here is the final conclusion and review of this challenge [/edit]

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Random Useless Fact: According to Amazon.com‘s web traffic analyzing subsidiary, Alexa Internet, Inc. my freedom 35 blog appears to be very popular among young women in my age group. They also seem to have respectable social economic statuses. Here’s an excerpt below.

“Based on internet averages, freedomthirtyfiveblog.com is visited more frequently by females who are in the age range 18 – 24, have no children, received some college education and browse this site from home… Also, relative to the general internet population, people with income from $60K to $100K a year are greatly over-represented at freedomthirtyfiveblog.com. ”
Source: www.alexa.com