The plan for Mastercheap was pretty comprehensively covered in the original announcement post and the shopping list, but some issues keep popping up in the comments (and when I meet people in the real world). Here’s a concise summary of what I’m doing, what I’m not doing, and why.
What are the rules for Mastercheap?
I have to feed myself for a week on a budget of exactly $25, eating three regular meals a day. I can’t use any existing supplies in my pantry, and I can’t assign costs proportionally (no saying “I’ve spent $5 on rice but I’ll only use $1 worth this week”).
Within those constraints, I have to try and get as much variety as possible (while sticking to foods I’m personally prepared to eat), and I have to try and eat as healthily as possible. In particular, I have to aim for 9000kj a day and at least 55 grams of protein, but ideally no more than 1500mg of sodium or 90g of fat.
Couldn’t you feed yourself on that budget just by buying lots of 2-minute noodles?
Yes, I could: but it would be repetitious, overload me with sodium, not do my health any good, and not give me many useful lessons to pass on to others.
Wouldn’t you have gotten a better deal shopping at Aldi (or anywhere but Woolworths)?
In short, no: I did extensive research before this project, and for budget-price items all the major supermarkets charge the same price. Woolworths is my nearest supermarket, and that’s why I chose it; had it been a Coles or a Franklins or an Aldi, the outcome would have been pretty similar. See this much more extensive discussion on that point.
Surely people living on a tight-budget would do better to buy stuff in bulk, not just on a week-by-week basis?
Bulk goods are certainly cheaper — but buying in bulk assumes an initial availability of cash which wouldn’t necessarily be reflected in practice for those in poverty. If I was sticking to this budget for a long period, bulk goods would certainly play into it more. However, I wanted to see how much variety I could achieve in a single week, which buying massive quantities of a single item rather works against.
Are you accepting free meals at work events or from family or friends?
No. I want to see how effectively you can eat as a single person with this budget, with no supplemental means of support. So no free meals, coffees, drinks, or anything else, whatever the source. And no grabbing condiments from restaurants or take-out joints.
But surely anyone on this budget for real would grab every free item they could get hold of?
Yes, they would — but they probably wouldn’t get as many opportunities as I do. In any case, what I’m enacting is a worst-case scenario. If that’s manageable (and all the evidence suggests it is), then any free options could only represent a further improvement.
Can you add herbs or fruits or other stuff you’ve picked in the wild?
No. Mostly for the reasons described above, but also because there really isn’t anything like that near where I live.
Wouldn’t it have been cheaper to make your own pasta/bake your own bread?
I’m not convinced the ingredients would necessarily be cheaper, especially for multi-grain bread; by the time you factor in power for the oven, I’m even less convinced. And that’s leaving aside that the results would be considerably less tasty. Also, I figure a budget that doesn’t make those demands might have more to impart to students or others who are forced to live on this kind of money.
Isn’t this budget completely unethical because it includes cage eggs/goods imported from China/store brand goods/jelly?
The short, harsh and true response? People genuinely forced to live on this kind of budget often can’t afford those kind of scruples. Given the choice between not eating enough and eating an egg from a battery hen, I’ll pick the egg.
Lifehacker’s Mastercheap experiment sees editor Angus Kidman trying to survive with a weekly food budget of just $25.