It was a year ago that I embarked on the Mastercheap experiment -- feeding myself on a budget of just $25 for an entire week while maintaining a balanced diet. That proved to be much easier than many people anticipated, but it turns out I could have done it for even less money in the UK.
Picture by osde-info
On a recent quick trip to Britain, I decided to take my existing Mastercheap shopping list and see how well it migrated to the other side of the world. The idea for doing this kind of project had actually first occurred to me in a branch of Tesco in north-east London, where I was astonished to note that a tin of kidney beans was just 16 pence. So it seemed appropriate to return to that same store and cost my Mastercheap shopping list to see if that bargain pricing translated across the board. (Tesco is the dominant supermarket brand in Britain; I didn't get the chance to do a full comparison shop with rivals, but I know from previous experience that its main rivals do price match on most goods, so I don't think the experience would have been much different elsewhere.)
I stuck to the same shopping list I had used last year as much as possible, though I didn't actually buy the food and try and repeat the experience. There are a couple of modifications to the theoretical menu: I changed the meat pie (which wasn't available in the UK and which I hadn't enjoyed much anyway) for a single-serve pizza, and swapped the packet cake for a dozen fairy cakes (a cheaper option than the packet mixes, and one which helped offset the disadvantage of only getting 10 eggs rather than a dozen). Here's what I got and what it cost.
The grand total was £11.16 -- which translates to around $17 at current exchange rates. I suspect I could actually have done it for even less by identifying the cheapest available items in Tesco and planning the menu around them, which is what I did for the original project. But even when translating the existing menu, I came out $8 ahead. While a few items were more expensive than Australia (butter), many were notably lower in price.
Some of the items on that original list are now be cheaper in Australia (milk being the most obvious example), but not to the point where the bill would drop by $8. Once again, house brands played a vital role. I'm not planning on repeating Mastercheap as such in the future, but it has influenced my shopping habits ever since, and it's reassuring to see that it could also be easily adapted to other environments.