Saturday, July 24, 2010

Eating On 90 Cents A Day

I recently became acquainted with the blog, Early Retirement Extreme, which is written by a fellow named Jacob. Basically, by practicing intensive, smart frugality and careful investing, Jacob, who is in his early 30's like me, is retired.

One of Jacob's frequent topics is cooking, particularly the costs of feeding one's self. Somewhere in the dozens of articles of his that I've read, I came across an idea that I had not considered before: eat to fuel the body; don't use eating as a source of entertainment.

I'm guessing I saw this in conjunction with one of Jacob's posts on a simple, repetitive diet he maintained for quite some time (and maybe he still does). This is not the first place I've heard of such an idea, however. I've been listening to Dave Ramsey for some time now, and anyone who is familiar with his show no doubt is familiar with Dave's frugal dietary advice: eat beans and rice, and when you get bored switch to eating rice and beans.

I decided to take the plunge.

I started off with a crock pot full of black beans, a can of chili ready tomatoes, and a few spices. When it's time to eat, I put 1/4 of a cup of white rice on the stove and in about twenty minutes I've got my meal. So far I've also made up a batch of simple curried lentils, tried different types of beans (all dried beans, by the way), etc. At first I was concerned that I would get bored, but that doesn't seem to be happening. Once you get your head around the idea that you're eating to live, not living to eat, having the same thing again and again doesn't seem bad at all. (Besides, there are "treat" meals, like the sweet teriyaki marinated pork chops I made today that I'm going to throw on my grill once I'm done writing this).

Further inspired by Jacob's example, I bought a pressure cooker on eBay. It arrived yesterday and I tried making that lentil curry recipe I linked to above. It came out perfect, but inside of my pressure cooker it took only seven minutes to cook, not the forty minutes called for in that recipe.

I did the math and discovered that my beans and rice meals are costing me around thirty cents each. Just thirty cents! In a day, that's 90 cents spent on feeding myself. Over the course of a week, that's only $6.30! In the future the cost will become less per meal because so far I have been purchasing my ingredients in small amounts. Large bulk purchases of rice, beans, lentils, etc will further reduce my meal costs.

Think of the things that it could become possible for you to do if your weekly food budget dropped to less than $10.


Anonymous said...

Sorry that is not a life worth enjoying. I have no problem working hard so I can enjoy a fresh food that delights my senses. Food is entertainment and one of the biggest aspects of my social network. Being Sicilian it is part of my heritage and worth every penny spent to make a pot of sauce to share with friends over wine!

Paul E. Zimmerman said...

Anonymous -

I agree with you, actually. There's a disconnect between what I'm getting at in this post and your statements however, and that is the different social contexts involved.

What I'm describing is eating for and by myself. If I am only looking to be fed, I'm resorting to this very stripped down dietary regimen. If friends and family are involved, when I'm entertaining let's say, then of course I would do something different (unless my guests really want some beans and rice; it could happen!).

There's also the simple question of what an individual values. As you said, you find entertainment through food to be "worth every penny." At times I do, too, but when I am on my own I do not. At those times I find more complex and expensive meals to be unenjoyable, not because I do not like the food (I do), but because I recognize that I've spent money on something fleeting and not memorable, while at the same time I have reduced future open options because that money is gone.

Finally, I think there's great value in learning to get along with less. I don't think that because I think people necessarily should, however. I think it's best to learn how while you don't need to rather than finding yourself unprepared to cope with such things should a time come in which you must do so.

By the way - would you be willing to share your sauce recipe? :)

Anonymous said...

Dude your page is freaking long!

Paul E. Zimmerman said...

Anonymous -

Yeah, it's mostly that tags list. It's handy but I would like a way to cut it down without losing functionality.

Anonymous said...

Are you getting any fruit besides the tomatoes? Or vegetables?

Paul E. Zimmerman said...

Anonymous -

What I've left out is that I usually dice up a whole onion and toss it into the pressure cooker. I do eat fruit, too.

Avondell said...

I haven't read much of this...just found this blog...but I thought I'd comment. I've actually done this. I retired in 1988, when I was in my late 20's, through a combination of extremely frugal living combined with extremely smart investing. I'm in my mid 40's now and still retired, although I'm going to find a job next year just because I want to.

As to the first poster, I think it's absurd to look back on the last 20 years of my life and think I would have enjoyed it more if I'd been working. You've missed the point...the "life" you are living doesn't begin until it is your own. I worked for about 8 years, eating Top Ramen and living in a hovel, so that I could spend 20 years living my life. Did I enjoy that 8 years? No, not really. Did I enjoy the 20 years of retirement that 8 years of hard work afforded me? Well hell yes, I sure did.

IMO, if you work 8 hours a day until you are 50, you've wasted your life working for someone else. That's not enjoyable.

That said, there are some serious dangers to retiring early. I'll write another post...

Avondell said...

Americans, males in particular, are programmed to work from a very young age. The question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" is a classic example. That question bothered me a lot when I was a kid and led me and my father into long conversations that ultimately guided my path. In some, that programming is very strong. Some people simply are not happy unless they are working at something.

If you're one of those people, then don't retire unless you have a SERIOUS plan.

Doing nothing is bad for people. It leads to physical, mental, and emotional problems. The fact is, life is hard...whether you are rich or poor, retired or working 16 hours a day. Life is difficult and it requires work. Happiness requires work. If you think you're going to retire when you're 40 and be happy sitting around watching The View every day...then don't retire.

If you are the sort of person who cannot envision going through life doing the same thing...if you are interested in a lot of different things...then maybe retirement is for you. Or at least semi-retirement.

If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't have spent so much time goofing off. The real value in having the ability to retire isn't so you can do nothing, it's so you can pursue something. If you can have enough money that you can choose what you want to do for work...and you have the freedom to quit and change careers at any time...that's probably the best kind of early retirement.

In any case, life is about sacrifices. People approach that two different ways. Some people make sacrifices so they can have things later on. Others sacrifice their future in order to have things now. Sacrifice isn't ever enjoyable, but it is unavoidable.

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