Tuesday, 19 May 2015

The Hunger Games

Well slap my leg and call me Roger.  Actually maybe Murphy would be more appropriate, seeing as it's his law I seem to be getting slapped with at the moment!  That nasty piece of work has seen fit to bestow me with the same hideous cold which knocked Ali for six last week.  Being ill when you're trying to do a $21 Challenge isn't really ideal as you need your wits about you.  Fortunately one of the many brilliant things about it is that you have to be organised and know what you're going to cook for the whole week.  I took care of this yesterday, did my shop for the week and can now happily prepare dinner every day on auto pilot.  No thinking required!

I'll admit, I did spend more than I wanted to but that was largely down to one thing.  Even before I got sick I knew I couldn't go on eating as poorly as I was.  I was starving!  We needed food - GOOD food.  And much as I didn't want to spend a single dollar I didn't have to, I knew from previous experience that if you don't eat properly and look after yourself, the wheels will eventually fall off.  If you get sick, everything suffers.  It affects your work (not to mention your ability to work), your emotions, your decision making, your organisation and every one of these is costly in at least one way.  I had no choice but to give in to my hunger and much as I was annoyed with myself I knew it was the right thing to do.  Not that I went massively overboard, far from it.  And I was always going to go over my $21 because when you don't have so much as a potato or an onion in the house, let alone eggs, cheese or butter, well you have to be a bit realistic. A 500g block of cheese on special is going to take over a quarter of that on its own!

But I bought the things I wanted to eat.  I wanted a flipping big roast with all the trimmings so I bought a little chicken on special and will be able to make both chicken soup and Sophie Gray's 'Chicken Pie with Herby Cobbler Topping' with the leftovers.  I wanted seafood chowder so I bought a bag of frozen prawns on special for $6 and didn't feel too bad about that knowing I would be able to freeze half for another meal.  Mixed with a $2 pack of surimi I didn't think $5 worth of 'meat' for the two of us was too excessive was it?  I bought a $2 pack of schnitzel to make a beef stirfry, a six pack of enormous chicken thighs for $6 which will feed Ali and I for two meals at least and 600g of mince which I will use to make my 'Bung it in Bolognaise' (will post the recipe on my Facebook page this week) and no doubt turn the leftovers into pasties.  Ali loves them and let's face it, pretty much any leftovers taste fantastic when they're wrapped in pastry!  So that's us sussed for the week.  I've already eaten at least half my own weight in seafood chowder and by crikey I'm looking forward to my roast dinner tonight!  Ali's friend Billy is here for dinner too so I can bulk it out even further by making Yorkshire puddings.  Oh who are you kidding, you were going to make those anyway you big piggy!

I had to remind myself of the rules of the $21 Challenge as I went around in order to avoid beating myself up too much.  I mean you would think me of all people would be familiar with them, I've been drumming them into other people for years!  But I've just become accustomed to being super hard on myself.  So when I cringed at buying the dog and cat's food I had to remind myself  'it doesn't include pet food, Jack'.  When I wanted to curl up on the floor of the toiletry aisle in despair at having to buy new razor blades for Ali, I had to remind myself 'the $21 Challenge isn't for toiletries Jack, it's for FOOD.  Stop being so dramatic!'  So I did what I had to do.  I've got everything I need for the week so I don't have to set foot in any shops again, I'll still have some food left for next week and I have $44 left which almost exactly covers the two $21 after hour doctor's consultations for Ali's concussion and dislocated shoulder.  Flipping rugby!  Still, at least I have the money to pay them now, I was a bit embarrassed when I had to take him in with another injury on Sunday when I hadn't paid for the previous one yet!  Not the $100 I planned but next week should hopefully be better now I at least have a few more staples to add to the equation.

Because when I went to do my pantry inventory this is what I found:

20 - yes 20 - tins of fruit
1 tin of chick peas
1 tin of lentils
2 tins tomatoes
1 tin of sweetcorn
1 tin cream corn
1 jar asparagus spears
4 opened packets of cereal (these have been unused since Liam left home in February, Ali and I don't eat cereal)
1 jar tomato relish
1 1/2 bags flour
1/2 bag white sugar
3/4 bag brown sugar
Odds and ends of pasta
2/3 bag rice
5 bags Mi Goreng noodles

With the exception of the tinned tomatoes the first five items on the list were all given to us in food parcels over the past six months or so.  I swear I've already used half as much tinned fruit again!  But I've been busy using up the fresh apples and feijoas in my garden and there are only SO many crumbles and fruit muffins one can handle!

In the fridge:

1 litre milk
2 cheese slices
2 opened jars of jam
2 almost empty jars of chutney
Soy sauce, fish sauce, sweet chilli sauce, wasabi, tomato sauce, hoisin sauce and wholegrain mustard
Beer (also been there since Liam left home as neither Ali or I drink it but I have pinched a couple to use in casseroles and it's bloody marvellous!)

In the freezer:

Bit of ice cream (literally a bit in the bottom of the tub)
2 packs venison sausages
4 packs venison patties (these and the sausages feed Ali but I don't eat venison)
Lots of frozen vegies - leeks, broccoli, sweetcorn, cauliflower and beans all thanks to my mum
Bread rolls
12 frozen basil ice cubes

As you can see, I didn't really have too much to work with!  All things considered, I probably spent as little as I could.  OK, I shouldn't have spent $4.99 on a block of feta but I wanted it so badly!

I'm going to keep going and doing the $21 Challenge as much as possible because even though for the first time ever I didn't make it within $21 (considering I did my first one in 2006 that's not half bad Jacqueline!) the thing I love best about doing the challenge is this - it restores your PRIDE.  Pride is a huge thing, it's a bloody great weapon to have.  I know a lot of people reading this are Simple Savers and know the $21 Challenge inside out and back to front but there are also some who don't so I shall explain a little more what it is:

The $21 Challenge got its name from its rather marvellous creator, an Australian Simple Savings member called Barb.  The reason the figure is $21 is because this was the amount she was given to feed her family of four with for a week.  Barb asked her husband to bring her home some cash so she could go food shopping and he returned with a cheeky grin and a $20 note, the joke being that there was no way Barb could feed herself, him and their two teenage boys on such a small amount.  However he had underestimated his clever wife!  Determined that the joke would be on him, Barb went through every nook and cranny of her kitchen, digging out every morsel of food she had on hand and worked out how she could turn them into meals rather than have to go to the shops.  She also found another $1 in her pocket, taking the magical total up to $21.  With some careful planning and resourcefulness, not only did she manage to feed them within her $21 budget, they ate really well!

At the time I was writing my Penny Wise blog on Simple Savings and Barb wrote to me to tell me of her triumphant week.  I was dead impressed and it got me thinking, EVERYBODY should have a go at doing that for a week!  I mean, how many times do we go grocery shopping because we think we need to?  Because it's Tuesday and we always go shopping on Tuesday? Because we think you have no food, just because when we open the pantry there's nothing we can instantly grab to feed our faces?  What if, for one week we broke the cycle and did like Barb did, refused to buy any more food until we had used up as much as possible of what we already had first?  How much could everyone save?  So I gave it a go, shared Barb's story and encouraged other Simple Savings members to join me and we discovered it was not only a lot of fun, it was very, very possible!  We had a whole lot of laughs, shared the embarrassing contents of our pantries (if you think my stash of tinned fruit was impressive that was nothing!) and helped each other find ways to use up random ingredients so that we didn't have to relent and go shopping.  A new star was born in Simple Savings land and for a joyous time all us members were doing $21 Challenges and saving money all over the place.

And then the media got hold of it.  To be fair they really did do a good job!  But there's only so much you can cover in a few minutes of TV and before we knew it, rather than enjoying the $21 Challenge in the confines of Simple Savings land where everyone 'got it', we were spending half our lives explaining it to people, dispelling the myths, correcting the idiots until it got to the stage that we decided there was nothing for it - we had to put ALL this in a book so that EVERYONE could get it and benefit from what we knew was a terrific money saving resource.  So that's what we did and I'm so very proud of that book! If you would like to know more about the $21 Challenge and read the first and second chapters for free, you can do so here.  You can still buy copies from Simple Savings too, but I'm not telling you that to line my pockets, I don't work for them any more.  I'm telling you because I really do believe it's a great book and I would love you to give it a go if you haven't already.

Anyways, that's the history of the $21 Challenge and how it got to be $21.  If you can manage $21 that's brilliant!  But if you can't it doesn't matter, the point is that you break that cycle, you stay out of the shops as much as humanly possible and you get resourceful with the things you have.  It's a great way to learn some new skills, try some new recipes and break the hum-drum of using the same old recipes we always tend to cook.  But like I said, one of the best things is the pride you get in yourself for a job well done.  When I do a $21 Challenge I feel like a domestic goddess.  Think Nigella Lawson crossed with Xena Warrior Princess!  A culinary genius with a steel resolve, that's me!


  1. Well done Jackie. I overspent this fortnight, but I still did not go overboard. $90 and this included dog food and toilet rolls. I now have enough meat to last me for a least a fortnight, perhaps longer. I love a challenge and for me it was spend the least amount I could. Roll on the next 14 days to see how well I do with the food I have in the freezer and pantry. I have estimated how much money I will need for the next 14 days for the various things I do (example money for my market stall, money for my bookclub meeting, etc) and I know I can make it with perhaps $2.00 to spare. Keep up the blogs, I absolutely love them. Pat

  2. Hi Jackie,
    Can you see me blushing here? I actually thought you have a pretty good supply of things you can use. With the cereal apart from crumble toppings you can throw it in biscuit and possibly muffin recipes. Also as a crunch on top of yoghurt if you are making your own. My current best breakfast is yoghurt, fruit puree and cereal.
    beer in casseroles is great and I think you can use it in batters too. Hope you are feeling well soon. :)Barb