Few people would force themselves to eat for a week on a $25 budget, with only basic ingredients allowed, no existing pantry supplies permitted either and no taking freebies from others, which is what I just did for Mastercheap Raw. But while the process might be extreme, everyone can learn something from the experience and plan their food shopping budgets better.
I’ve already been through the Mastercheap experience back in 2010, so I knew that it was feasible (if relatively unexciting) to eat on $25 a week. The two questions that arose this time were: (1) is that still possible in 2012? (2) can you have a better experience by making more food from scratch, rather than relying on ready-made options? The answer to the first question is a definite ‘yes’. The answer to the second is, in my opionion, ‘no’. But we’ll get to that in more detail soon.
Lesson 1: You can eat good food on a minimal budget
The pasta dish pictured at the top is a meal I’d happily consume any time. Comprising hand-made pasta and a tomato, onion and chilli sauce, it’s satisfying, not too difficult to make, and has a nice range of flavours and textures. It didn’t feel to me like a meal made on a massively minimal budget. That wasn’t true of everything I ate, but the notion that cheap automatically equals bland and uninteresting didn’t stack up in my experience. At least not all the time. I’ve had enough steamed vegetables for a while.[clear]
Lesson 2: You’re not forced to use lots of imported items
Lesson 3: People don’t budget well
Lesson 4: Starting from scratch isn’t cheaper
That doesn’t mean that taking a ‘basics only’ approach is necessarily more expensive, or that it won’t work for some people. But the notion that you’ll get a better and more varied experience by doing that doesn’t hold universally true. Financially, I was no worse off, but I wasn’t any better off and I liked the meals less. A mixture of approaches — starting from scratch when appropriate, but buying premade when that’s more sensible — seems the right way to go.
Lesson 5: I still had leftovers
One of the conceits of Mastercheap Raw is that you start with a completely empty pantry. Even when you do that, it doesn’t take long for the pantry to build up. After a month of this, there would definitely be more scope for variety. And that’s an important lesson in itself: even if life’s circumstances force you to a minimal budget, you don’t just have to live on two-minute noodles. Though I would include them as part of the mix, if only to make a change from the pasta.
Lifehacker’s Mastercheap Raw experiment saw editor Angus Kidman living for a week with a food budget of just $25 and only basic ingredients.