Life without Netflix and our December Challenge

No Netflix November: November’s challenge was to survive without Netflix. As challenges tend to be, this was eye-opening. My screen time didn’t decrease, but I largely switched to Youtube, and that was great! It turns out I like to learn new recipes, and we had all kinds of delicious food, including stuffed “goose,” which I made completely from scratch for Thanksgiving. All the geese in the neighborhood (we live by a lake) heard about my amazing hunting ability and now fly away every time they see me (This is a joke. The “goose” was fake. We are still mostly vegan and definitely vegetarian.) I declared No Netflix November a success and canceled our subscription. We still have access to movies on Amazon Prime and through the library.

Modified SNAP December: For December, I decided to try something hard. I started by thinking of doing the SNAP challenge – living on $4 per person per day for food in December. This is $360 for the month for our family of 3. I tried to do the math, and it was impossible to continue eating organic, eat lots of fruit and vegetables, and still get a reasonable number of calories for $360. Either the organic food or the vegetables would have to go, and for an entire month, I am not willing to compromise on either. So we have decided on an easier challenge – $240 for the month, but most vegetables don’t count! We will still count vegetables that provide a significant number of calories, such as potatoes, corn, and avocados (I am drawing the line at 50 calories per 100 grams). Vegetables that don’t count will also not count if they are frozen or canned, but processed foods (such as pasta sauce) will still count even if they are made mostly out of “free” vegetables.

This challenge will involve some tracking. Foods we buy will get counted when they come into the house if we expect them to be eaten during the month. However, if I am using bulk foods that will last more than a month or are foods we already have, I will do my best to estimate the amount we eat and the cost. So “shopping” the pantry is allowed as long as we track the cost. Buying bulk will help with keeping the cost down. For complete record, I will also keep track of the cost of veggies we eat and report it at the end of the month.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday Shopping: Youtube influenced me exactly like it influences the average consumer — I decided I must have some of the toys people on Youtube were showing. That, combined with Black Friday/Cyber Monday, led to the purchasing of two kitchen toys – an Airfryer (on sale to $59 from $119) and a blender/food processor (on sale for $96 from $150). We have had them for just a couple of days, but the Airfryer makes the most amazing fries, and the blender makes the most amazing banana icecream, so I am quite happy with both. This weekend’s project is to figure out where to store them:0(

No-Snacks September

As we noticed in our annual budget analysis, our family spends way more money on food than most households. That got me thinking if we are optimizing our happiness profits within this part of our budget which lead to me going over all of our food receipts from the past two months. We have been quarantining so all of our shopping since March has been through deliveries and therefore all of our itemized receipts are online. In fact, for July and August we have only shopped at two stores and I know for sure we didn’t do a quick trip for milk I have forgotten about so the data is very accurate. In total, for the two months, we spent $1,793 at the grocery store of which $128 was non-food items (mostly detergents and toilet paper) so we spent $1,664 on actual food. This is $832 a month, way lower than our average for 2019 ($1,231 per month) which is great. What is not so great is that 22% of the money we spent on groceries was spent on snacks! And that is the part of our food budget that is bringing our happiness profits down.

I put everything that is prepackaged processed carbs in this category. For our family, that is mostly cookies, chips, popcorn, and ice-cream. There were some frozen pre-prepared foods (pizza and fries) but the bulk of it was stuff that doesn’t even resemble actual food. So, what is the problem with snacks?

I like snacks too much. It takes too much willpower for me not to eat them when they are lying around. I know processed food is bad for me in all kinds of ways but grabbing a handful of chips is so much easier than figuring out something better to eat. And a bag of kettle corn is an easy replacement for an actual dinner and I can eat it while working.  

Snacks are bad for our family happiness as well. As I am writing this post, the child is apparently raiding the goldfish crackers stash and my wife is having her umpteenth discussion about what “foods” can and can’t be eaten before supper. If the child over-indulges in goldfish, later she’ll say she’s not hungry for supper and I will feel guilty that my child has had nothing but processed carbs all day.

So, it is clear that the $370 wasn’t money well spent. And I don’t do moderation well so my family is going on a no-snack challenge for the month of September. I am sure the child will be excited to hear this plan :0)

To make sure nobody actually starves, we will have to pair this challenge with some sort of plan for what we are going to eat once all the goldfish are gone. My wife is just starting work again after having most of the summer off and the child will be going to online school which means we’ll all be busy and the child will need a lot of attention from us throughout the day. So, our time to cook will be severely limited. I have read many blogs about the value of meal planning and meal prepping. This is supposed to be the ultimate answer to lowering your grocery bill and decreasing your time in the kitchen. And as we would like to achieve both, I will attempt to follow the wise advice of others this month and meal plan and maybe even meal prep. Reports of this adventure to appear in future posts! Stay tuned.