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$172, one week, family of 5, real food.

That is this weeks experience.  We’re starting completely from scratch following the monetary guidelines put out by the USDA for the Cost of Food at Home Thrifty Food Plan.  The USDA attaches a weekly dollar amount to each person dependent on age and sex.  You can check out their graph to see where your family falls.

As I mentioned when I first started thinking about this as an experience I thought it would be super easy. $172 sounds like a lot of money. And it is. Last year my family averaged $152 each week on our food costs— but not just food. This  all of our toiletries, cleaning supplies (or ingredients to make cleaning supplies), chicken feed, some meals out and even other miscellaneous things.  In fact, when I told my husband how much we would had he wanted to start thinking of ‘expensive’ things that we never have and could afford this week. 🙂

But the reality is that $172 isn’t that much if you are starting from scratch. My desire for this experience is to offer an alternative to the Thrifty Food guidelines put out by the USDA.  And if one is switching from a Standard American Diet (SAD) like promoted by the USDA to a real/whole/traditional foods diet (I’ll just call it real diet from here on) one is most likely starting with a blank slate and will need EVERYTHING.  $172 to buy everything that is needed for a week to create meals does get a little bit tight. Future weeks would have more ‘free money’ to spend on different things (in theory).

I announced the ‘rules’ on Sunday but I’ll recap them here;

The Rules:

One week, $172

All food eaten at home (the guidelines the USDA uses) will be from this $172.  This includes all ingredients to make the meals. Yes, people probably have things like salt on hand but if one is new to real foods, it is possibly not sea salt.  

I can utilize ‘free’ sources if they are available. What does this mean? I know several people that I can get a kombucha mother from for no cost. This would be a free source to obtain a necessary ingredient to make kombucha.  I also make water kefir, but since I am the only person I know that makes water kefir, I don’t have a free source for the grains necessary to make water kefir.  If I plan to make water kefir this week, I need to factor in the cost of the grains.  You may be able to find a free source for things like a kombucha scoby, water or dairy kefir grains or even sourdough starter by checking with the Weston A. Price chapter leader nearest you.  No guarantees, but that is where I would start looking for these things if I was unable to order them from a commercial source. 

3 meals per day (breakfast, lunch, dinner) plus a snack for everyone and a second snack for Christopher (age 3). Meals away from home do not count (per USDA guidelines). I may have a lunch out later in the week which will not be factored into this amount.  My girls are home from school this week (spring break).  Joe takes a packed lunch to work each day but since he takes food from home and doesn’t ever eat out this is included in the $172 amount.

Food can be purchased from anywhere.  Even though the USDA uses the Thrifty Plan as a guideline for SNAP benefits, this is not a ‘food stamp’ experience. Food can be purchased from stores that accept SNAP benefits or not.  Or from farmers, ranchers, etc.

This experience started yesterday (Monday, March 5). The week will end on Sunday, March 11.

This is the food I am beginning the week with.  It actually looks like a fair amount and I’m actually very encouraged so far.


Here are my receipts so far. I do have 4 additional purchases without receipts. One for a soup bone (for bone broth) with a cost of $3.40. One for 2 dozen eggs that I’m buying from myself for $6 (I sell any surplus eggs from our chickens for $3 a dozen). My third purchase without a receipt is for water kefir grains. I spent $10 on the grains. The fourth item gets a little more challenging. I have a cow share (actually 3) which gives us 3 gallons of milk per week. I’m starting the week with 2 1/2 gallons of milk. Figuring on a price of $7 per gallon (what my share averages out to) my milk cost is $17.50

My total for the week so far;

Bones: $3.40
Eggs: $6.00
Water Kefir Grains: $10
Milk: $17.50
Grass fed Beef: $21.56
Natural Grocers: $31.21
Walmart (yes, Walmart): $71.52

Total so far: $161.19

Later in the week I’ll pick up more milk, a bit of produce and maybe add in another dozen eggs to capture the remaining funds.


I know that many people have issues with Walmart. If you do, then choose a different store that you are okay with. Walmart  in my town has prices on certain items that I can’t get in other stores and, in some cases, actually has products that my other stores don’t carry.

I live in Central Wyoming. These are the prices I pay here. Your prices are probably different. I know that when we lived in California for a few months we could get produce for less than here but raw milk (available in stores) was considerably more than my cow share.

I tried to focus my money on protein.  Grass fed beef will be the star of the show this week. We’ll start off with the week with a wonderful roast for dinner.  The leftovers will go toward lunches for the week.  Also on the menu will be (grass fed) beef liver. I know not everyone enjoys liver but we like it (not the girls so much) and it is super nutritious.  We also have a pound of ground beef, which I will stretch for 2 meals by combining with the white beans.  Soup bones are also essential for making bone broth.   In addition to the beef I picked up frozen wild caught salmon and we have eggs from free range chickens.

Healthy fats were something else I wanted to make sure to get. Unfortunately, I couldn’t add coconut oil in with the budget. I ended up getting 2 pounds of butter. Not organic but hormone free. I also bought a small jar of olive oil. It is  a compromise. I’m sure it is not the best quality and has been sitting on the shelf for waaaaay to long.  But it is better (at least somewhat) than vegetable oil or canola. Plus I need it to make mayonnaise.  I’ll use 2 egg yolks, 1 1/2 cups of olive oil, juice from a couple of lemons and salt to make the mayo.  Slightly different than my usual recipe but I couldn’t afford powdered mustard or apple cider vinegar this week which I usually add.

Turning Ingredients Into Food

I’ve started the prep on a few things.

One half gallon of raw milk has been set to clabber. This will be turned into Clabber Cheese which becomes a substitute for cottage cheese and also the basis of salad dressings and as a topper on dishes (I share quite a bit about my Topper obsession in my free eBook Design a Dish).  The whey that drips off the clabber will be used for ferments and mayo.

A second half gallon of milk is becoming yogurt.

I’m making Kimchee out of the Napa cabbage, some of the green onions, jalapeno pepper, carrots and salt. I would have liked to add radishes to my Kimchee but I ran out of money.

Tomatoes, some of the cilantro, and a white onion along with salt and juice from a couple of lemons will become lacto-fermented salsa.

Tea bags and sugar are for kombucha. I wanted to get organic sugar but I couldn’t afford it. I did choose a small box of sugar that said it was not made from beets. With the whole GMO beet thing I decided that was  an okay compromise.

The bottle of juice is for water kefir soda. I wanted to get grape but it was more than twice as much as the peach.  That one jar will be enough for 4 batches of soda.  I use a combination of Sucanat and white sugar for my water kefir. Most people have great results using just Sucanat. We’ve found we like the final product best with the combination of both sugars.

I bought a small jar of olive oil. It is also what I would call a compromise. I’m sure it is not the best quality and has been sitting on the shelf for waaaaay to long.  But it is better (at least somewhat) than vegetable oil or canola. Plus I need it to make mayonnaise.  I’ll use 2 egg yolks, 1 1/2 cups of olive oil, juice from a couple of lemons and salt to make the mayo.  Slightly different than my usual recipe but I couldn’t afford powdered mustard or apple cider vinegar this week which I usually add.

Produce: I try to buy produce listed on the dirty dozen in organic. If I can’t get them organic (or at a price I’m comfortable with) I usually don’t buy them.  I really wanted to get apples this week but they were almost $2 a pound for organic. I decided to skip them.    Natural Grocers had some $1 produce bags this week, I ended up only buying one that had a head of lettuce and broccoli in it. Both organic for only $1 so a pretty good deal.  These are their ‘older’ items so I’ll use them first.  I also picked up organic tomatoes and cilantro for my salsa. I also got another nice bunch of broccoli for later in the week. I was limited on other things I could buy organic at that store due to what they had compared to what I wanted, at a price I was okay paying.  The rest of the produce came from the other store.  All of that was conventional except for the carrots and potatoes.  Both  are on the dirty dozen list so I do buy those organic.

Miscellaneous items: Ketchup is Hunts which does not use HFCS.  Peanut butter is store bought from a brand that adds nothing but peanuts. I’ve never had this before so we’ll see how it is.  I would have preferred organic but it wasn’t affordable nor available with only peanuts as the ingredients.  Beans and rice were purchased at everyone’s *favorite* store and are not organic but they are fairly affordable. I was actually surprised that they were as much as they cost. I usually buy larger bags of beans for a less per pound cost.   I bought one pound of frozen wild caught salmon and 2 cans of wild caught canned salmon. I know many are not okay with any canned items. I’m okay with select canned items.  If you choose not to purchase canned items then you’ll need to find alternatives.  In addition to the Sucanat and white sugar already mentioned I added a small container of raw honey. I really like honey in  my tea.  For tea, I bought a bag of spearmint leaves.  It was 83 cents and will last a long time. I also use the spearmint for flavoring in meatballs so it does double duty.  Chocolate— I didn’t want a week without chocolate. I planned to buy powdered cocoa but the kind at Natural Grocers was over my budget and I don’t like the cocoa that the other store sells. So I got a bar of 100% cocoa. I don’t usually use this so it might be a learning experience to turn it into something yummy.

I’ll talk more about other items as the week goes on and I share more.

We’ve already had a little dissension. My 15 year old ‘wants something sweet’ and doesn’t understand how if I spent so much money we only have produce and not the ingredients to make fudge. It’s a hard lesson for her on the cost of food.

A Rule Change

I hate changing the rules but my husband and I were talking about this experience on Sunday and we decided that one week isn’t long enough.  As I’ve mentioned, this week I had to buy several ‘basic’ items.  I do feel that next week I’ll have a little more money to spend.  As time went on, I would hope to begin to be able to make figure out a good system to afford more bulk purchases.

With all that being said, we’re going to change the rule of One Week, $172.  It will now be Two Weeks, $172 each week.

What do you think? Would you have allotted your funds in a similar way or done something entirely different?

See other posts in this series: Experience Announcement, Kick Off/Rules, this post

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