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.

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