Mastercheap Raw Day 4: Flavours, Savers

Mastercheap Raw Day 4: Flavours, Savers

Day 4 of Mastercheap Raw. Past the halfway point. This can’t be called suffering. I’m eating three meals a day and getting plenty of vegetables and protein. But at this stage, the notion that “doing it yourself” delivers better results is not convincing. For that to be true, you need a bigger budget. And one thing I’m learning in this experiment is that very few people actually pay attention to what stuff really costs.

Today’s menu

Breakfast: 1/3 cup of quick oats, cooked with 1/2 cup milk and served with 2 spoonfuls stewed apple

Lunch: Scrambled eggs, steamed beans

Dinner: Tuna, chilli mashed potato

Snacks: 3 pieces shortbread

Hot drinks: 7 cups black tea

Budget BS

“In hindsight, you could have bought a jar of Home Brand minced garlic for $1, but that could be something for next time,” writes commenter James on my most recent post. I’m sorry, but that’s wishful thinking. First and foremost, the cheapest Home Brand garlic costs $1.39. Leaving aside whether minced garlic meets the “raw” requirement (probably not), that’s only a 39 cent difference. But when you’re only spending $25 to start with, 39 cents really matters. Besides, where do I get $1.39 anyway?

Table spread aside, my main flavouring ingredient is chilli (plus two onions). For the total cost of those, I could have bought a jar of Home Brand garlic instead. But I’d have had no other choices, and on my version I do have two different flavours (straight chilli, and chilli plus onion). Conversely, there’d be spare garlic at the end of the week if I went that way. Picking what you like is vital on every budget. But this, on balance, is not much more than an ingredient swap with an eye to the future.

This kind of messy calculation is typical of how people react to the Mastercheap challenge. They immediately add in the ingredient (or ingredients) they would have craved, but don’t factor in that something else needs to go when you do that. I absolutely support setting up a plan based on food you like. But it’s all too easy to convert that to spending more than you planned.

A potentially more useful garlic idea came from Dan, who suggested that since chilli and garlic cost the same, I could have broken up a bulb and just purchased a clove or two. I’m not sure I’d have been comfortable doing that, but it would work. That’s not always the case.

A colleague, on hearing I was making my own pasta, asked why I didn’t make lasagne with the results. The simple answer? At best, I could make a ultra-simple vegetable lasagne and eat that every night. But that’s super-repetitive. Nothing resembling what most people call lasagne is possible at this price point. Cheese is not cheap on a per-kilo basis, I have no spare tomatoes in any format, and there are no herbs to be had. This isn’t just “one simple recipe”. It’s 21 meals with a total budget of $25. Even with a very basic breakfast, that is not a lot for any single serving.

I suspect this might be my big Mastercheap lesson: the reason most people don’t stick to a budget is they often don’t notice the little additions. It’s so easy to say “I just need this” and “that isn’t an expensive extra”. If you’re not rigorous in your thinking, those decisions add up.

Eating Up, Eating Out

On a happier note, I’m more pleased than ever with yesterday’s decision to buy some more chilli for flavouring. It makes the mashed potato for tonight’s dinner much more palatable. And I was really happy to eat the tuna as well. I’m an unashamed carnivore, so protein is always welcome at the table.

Satisfaction aside, I realise now I made a mistake there: I purchased tuna in spring water, because that’s what the health-conscious me always does. Given my lower carb count, I might as well have chosen the oily version and enhanced the flavour. Nonetheless, it’s great. I will not be a vegan any time soon.

Lunch was filling, but less satisfying. When did you last eat scrambled eggs without toast?

The picture above is the insanely tempting party food that showed up at yet another press event I attended on Tuesday. I’ve said it repeatedly, but this is why I accept no freebies this week. It would render the whole exercise meaningless.

Lifehacker’s Mastercheap Raw experiment sees editor Angus Kidman living for a week with a food budget of just $25 and only basic ingredients.


  • The cheap-and-nasty cocktail frankfurts would have killed me. Who can resist those, ever?

    I think you’re doing a pretty good job here, Angus – people can go shove it if they want to lecture you on the cent-level price comparisons of garlic; “Well I would have done it this way, because I am a better human being than you are. You fail at cooking and also at life because you chose chilli” is a pretty absurd stance to take here.

    • Is it though? Is it really an absurd stance to take?
      The answer is a resounding yes; It is a ridiculous and absurd stance to take and shame on all those that take it.
      Nice one Angus, your strong dedication to interesting challenges like this one brings me back to this site. Mark Serrels’ Sleep challenge was a thing to behold as well; it must be said.

      • Your assumption that anyone was taking that stance is pretty laughable. Nowhere in my comments did I imply I was better than Angus in any way, I just recognised that he already had chillis from his initial shop and that if he did want the additional variety, there was a way to get it while staying within the rules of Mastercheap Raw. He mentioned that he’d appreciate the taste of garlic, so I showed it was possible. It was a constructive comment, not a criticism.

        This entire series is about cent-level price comparisons, not just of garlic but of all food. When your budget is $25, each cent counts.

    • Didn’t weigh myself, largely because I’m opposed to the notion that people should obsess over minor variations in their weight. My pants don’t feel any looser.

  • I checked some prices at Aldi, and found a few savings:
    1Kg Flour – $0.79 (16 cents)
    700gm Cage Eggs – $2.55 (25 cents)
    500gm Canola Spread – $0.99 (41 cents)
    Instant Oats – $0.99 (20 cents)
    4 Item saving: $1.02
    The Aldi Website had a pretty handy catalogue search tool that made the comparison pretty quick. Like you have said before, most house brands are the same exact price (mixed veg, sugar, canned goods, etc.); unfortunately it doesn’t include fresh produce in it’s search, so no comparison there. If you were to buy everything in Aldi, the savings might be absorbed in unforeseen items costing more…

    If you had an Aldi you could get to without more travel expense (one in walking distance/near a train station you already go past)… Is the inconvenience of multiple shopping stops (Woolies + Aldi) worth…say..
    BAKERS LIFE ™ White Sandwich Sliced 650g/700g (14c-15c per 100g) $0.99
    CARLONI ® Diced Tomatoes Garlic & Herbs 400g ($1.98 per kg) $0.79

    • Interesting — that’s a bigger gap than I found last time around. For this challenge, neither of those items would qualify as they’re not basic (I could have bought $1 bread at Woolworths or Coles if they did), but an extra tin of basic tomatoes would feel welcome right around now.

      • Ahh yes of course, Mastercheap RAW.
        Perhaps an extra bag of flour (self raising, even!) to have a go at some Sourdough, flatbread, more pasta, or pancakes.
        I must admit though, these sort of price differentials can change radically over the span of a couple of weeks: we’re talking about cents here and there. It’s as much luck as it is which place you walk into.

  • I would encourage anyone who is making “why didn’t you XYZ” comments to go to ColesOnline or the Woolworths equivalent and pop together your own list of ingredients for under $25 to see how it measures up 🙂

  • Angus: Where would you stand on incorporating vegetables/stuff you have grown yourself? Just to extend the garlic argument further, if you plant the garlic yourself, it’s free (and has multiplied from one clove to a whole head!). And it’s raw. Win, win….?

    • The basic idea of the Mastercheap budget is that you’re starting from a blank slate — as such stuff you grow yourself doesn’t really fit in (in a way, it’s a variant on using stuff that’s already in your pantry). That’s not to say it’s not a very sensible long-term strategy — just that I wouldn’t consider it here.

  • Alex, I was one of those who suggested Garlic in the post after you announced your shopping list, but before you began the Mastercheap Raw posts. You said you had 55 cents left, and I suggested you spend it on Garlic.

    I said this without knowing the price of garlic. (I was sure a bulb could be had for 55c)
    But even knowing the current price, I’d have no problems breaking a bulb in half for purchase, as I often see a half bulb offered for sale amongst the garlic at my local Coles or IGA.
    I mean – I the supermarket is happy to sell the other half to someone who only wants a half, then why not be the one to break it in half in the first place? If you’re still uncomfortable, then ask first.

  • Clearly the last time I looked at the price of that garlic it was $1, but it shows how little I pay attention when I purchase it now.

    I cede my point.

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