Friday, April 17, 2015

Twenty Nine Dollars

Much ado has now been made about this tweet from Gwyneth Paltrow (sorry I was having trouble embedding it so here it is in broken up form):
Gwyneth Paltrow @GwynethPaltrow  ·  Apr 9
This is what $29 gets you at the grocery store—what families on SNAP (i.e. food stamps) have to live on for a week.

There has been much laughter about this tweet from the "folks" as O' Reilly calls them - it is painfully obvious that Paltrow made critical errors in her shopping with the kale, cilantro, and especially the limes.

 Anyone who has had to seriously budget for food knows these things. She was wise with the rice (should have taken cheaper, refined rice), eggs, and beans though. And likely she (or her handler) shops at Whole Foods or some place like that where even the kale is free range. However, some assumptions need to be made.

It is highly unlikely that Paltrow runs her own Twitter account. Most celebrities don't. Perhaps she does, but who really knows. In the end, this $29 thing has become some sort of rallying cry to spur donations to the New York City food bank. It if helps them and Paltrow gets a few bruises on her pearly white flesh from hayseeds like me tossing stones, I would say that is a success. Never mind that she could likely just give them a million dollars and be done with the whole thing, but whatever.

Also, Paltrow's tweet gives the assumption that "poor people get $29 a week to feed a family", which is wrong on a ton of levels. The "S" in SNAP program stands for Supplemental, which I could go in into detail, but others have done that for me already.

 On top of all of that money available for aid, you can find food kitchens, churches and other charities that can "help a brother out".

There is more to this, but I want to get to the crux of this post and I am not writing this to bash on Paltrow or this line of thinking (although it would be well deserved).

 I decided to go to my local grocery store to see if I could get enough food to live on for one week for $29 - we are talking one person, not a family.

There are some parameters that I had to set up and some assumptions that needed to be made. The caloric content can't be for someone like Michael Phelps or a Tour de France rider. In fact, since I was assuming that I was poor, I took it for granted that there wouldn't be time for exercise since I would need to be out working or job hunting. I know.

Also, I am assuming that there are a collection of spices (at least pepper and salt) at my poor, ramshackle apartment. Most everyone has at least some dried spice of some sort - and I found bulk spices for .99 at the store, so at least you can flavor these ingredients up a bit. Also, I didn't coupon clip. A Sunday paper would cost someone $1.50 - however the coupons in that paper would FAR outweigh the cost of the paper and would certainly help out. In fact, I remembered that the convenience store always has a mountain of un-bought Sunday papers waiting for hauling away on Monday morning - it is likely that if I was determined enough that I could procure a Sunday paper for free, in one way or another - that would have saved a ton of cash.

So off to the store I went, $29 in hand with my 14 year old daughter in tow - her job was to make a running total and she was also there so she could learn a thing or two. Here is what I ended up with:
There were several things that were interesting.  When you are on a tight budget, you learn quickly to read the price tags on the shelves more carefully.  The most important thing was the cost per ounce - in the yogurt aisle, it was astounding how much cost that convenient packaging adds to the cost of the product.  Individual servings were double and sometimes triple the price of the bulk tub.

Vegetables, frozen, are a great deal.  Here also, there was a large spread in the price per ounce.  We cashed in on the spinach, broccoli and beans that were on sale for cheap.  The green beans were the best value at .89/lb. - only 5.6 cents per ounce.  The broccoli and spinach were a bit more expensive.

The chicken thighs were an easy choice for protein.  The frozen ones above were only .47 per pound so we got the six pack and it cost us $2.88.  Fresh thighs were much more expensive.

The mayo cost us $1.59 - but that will help stretch all of that tuna that only cost us .625 per can (there was a deal at 4 for $2.50).  I would plan on tuna fish sandwiches or that PB and J for lunches at my job, and would bring an apple or banana along.  The bread was only .89 for the loaf.  For breakfast I could imagine a fried egg atop toast with a little yogurt and/or fruit on the side.  The cans of chicken noodle soup were an astounding .49 each.  For dinners, I imagined rice (.99 for the bag - and that is a lot of rice), and chicken with vegetables.  As I mentioned before, almost everyone has some dried spices laying around to make it all work.

So the total for all of this food above was $23.99.  I found out (and I think I knew this before) that there is no tax on food here in Wisconsin. 

I am sure that by now you are chuckling about that rum.  Well, I figured in my new, crap life that on Friday or Saturday I wouldn't mind a drink or two to drown my sorrows.  This was probably the most interesting part of the trip as I haven't spent any time looking for value booze since college, when I would get the "Picadilly" brand of hard liquor.

The above flask of Shellback Spiced rum was $4.19 - but liquor is taxed so the grand total was $4.42, bringing my grand total up to $28.18.  That money for the booze would have gone a long way in a budget like this but I thought it would be a good thing to put it in the experiment.  This wasn't even the cheapest booze delivery system.  They had a giant tub of larger size flasks that were marked "two for $6" but that would have put me over budget and honestly I would at least want to mix this gasoline with diet coke and consume it rather than pouring it down the drain immediately. 

There is some fudging that you can do with this experiment - there is no way you can eat all of that rice in a week, so that would save you some on your budget and the mayo and other things can get stretched out, but I think I pretty conclusively proved that one person could easily eat for $29 for a week and still have money left over for bad habits like drinking.  And if you wanted to go full survival mode, you could invest in a bottle of multi vitamins and save money on the fruit and veggies and just eat cheap eggs and whatever else for your protein.

But, as usual, I am peering down the rabbit hole a bit here.


Gerry from Valpo said...

What a load of crap. In my check out lane experience shoppers using government food assistance choose better items than I do. Add to that the fraud and abuse make the entire system a failure.

The war on poverty never ends. If it did liberal politicians would be the ones needing the food stamps.

Dan from Madison said...

Fraud and abuse in these systems is epic.

Carl from Chicago said...

They had a big article that in West Virginia many people sold their food stamps for cases of soda like Coke and then they would sell it back to the convenience store for 1/2 the price who would in turn sell it to another person on government assistance - any way to turn the benefits dollars into "cash" so they could be repurposed.

Dan - as always you've probably spent more time on research and analysis of an annoying blog post than the original writer spent "writing" it in the first place.

I live on tuna fish (no mayo) so that was funny to me. On my diet I could easily live on 29 bucks a week since I live on frozen vegetables, tuna fish, cheese and some other protein.

Did not try the cheap booze though F that I am too old for cheap booze. Got to draw the line somewhere. I have a headache just thinking about PIcadilly ha ha

Dan from Madison said...

The booze was a good experiment to see how much of the budget it took up - in this case almost 15% so obviously if you were in that situation, there is no room for it in your life.

As for the tuna, the mayo would actually be a good way to get some fat calories for a poor person - some fat is needed and mayo isn't the worst thing on earth to get it. What do you mix your tuna with, mustard?

Carl from Chicago said...

I just eat the tuna right out of the package. They come in packages now not cans. It is about $2 for the tuna in water. I take a cheese stick and break it into pieces and just eat tuna fish and a cheese stick and some coffee and I'm ready to go.

On Atkins I can eat a lot of eggs and stuff and bacon and sausage but it just doesn't feel right to me to eat the processed meat very often so I've switched over to this for breakfast.

FedkaTheConvict said...

Dan, as I pointed out over at Althouse you can save $1.60 by making your own mayo. All you need is an egg yolk, a teaspoon of lime or lemon juice, and some cheap olive or vegetable oil. Add elbow grease; you don't even need a blender or food can make it by hand just using a fork to whisk the ingredients

How to Make Mayo.

Gerry from Valpo said...

Give a man a jar of mayo and you garnish him for a day.

Teach a man to make mayo and you garnish him for a lifetime.

Terry from Crown Point said...

Where's the turlit paper?