Gabi Zifkin-Swett is a typical college student. Like most she has a job, goes to school, and likes to save her hard earned money when she can. One day we were talking about how expensive it is to live in the city, and how food is a large chunk of the expense. I told her about our Cheap Eats blog, and how there were many solutions to eating in the city for less. Gabi is a dear friend of mine and after our talk I believe I inspired and motivated her with a new challenge; to attempt to try to save money on food. More specifically, to spend $5 or less on every single meal for a month straight. This was definitely not an easy task, especially now that it is getting cold out and comfort food (more expensive, and eating more often) is becoming more popular. So from October 1st to October 31st, she decided to challenge herself. While doing this I asked her to take note of money spent and saved. We met up this past Monday, so she could tell me all about her results.
(We always greet eachother like that)
Steph: So let’s be honest, did you actually spend $5 or less on every single meal…was it actually possible?
Gabi: Come on… do you know me?! You think I’d take on a challenge without actually doing it?? It was surprisingly easier than I anticipated. And no… I never cheated.
Steph: What was the hardest part about doing this for you?
Gabi: I’d say the hardest part was not being able to always go out with my friends, or go where they wanted to go, because I knew I’d be over budget.
Steph: How did you deal with those types of situations? Did your friends ever get annoyed?
Gabi: They definitely never got angry by any means. Everybody pretty much had no problems with it… I mean who wouldn’t mind saving money on a meal? Basically I explained to them what I was doing, and I’d suggest a place to eat. There were some ways to get away with going to pretty nice places and sticking to my plan though.
Steph: Like what?
Gabi: Well a lot of bars or bars and grilles do half priced appetizers or just nightly specials. Like Morgan’s on Halsted has half priced appetizers, Vintage on Taylor street has $2 dollar chicken or beef sliders…which are delicious… Hawkeyes has Monday night wing specials, 35 cents.
Steph: Were there any other ways you saved, besides going to bar type places?
Gabi: Oh definitely. A good way to do it was to split a big appetizer platter or even an entrée with a friend. An entrée could be $9, split it with a friend, always drank water and I was good. A lot of places also had combo specials where for instance I got pizza, fries, and a soda for under $5….places like Reggio’s and Taylor Made. I did a lot of smart grocery shopping too. Cooking was a huge factor in saving money.
Steph: How did you figure out what to spend on groceries, since you obviously didn’t buy one meal every time you went grocery shopping?
Gabi: Well I just assumed I eat 3 meals a day at for $5 which equals $15 per day on food. I planned to spend about half cooking, and half eating in, because I obviously don’t go out to breakfast every day. So 15 times 31 is $465 and divided it by 2, which was $232.50, so I used that for my budget for the month. I made a list of items I could get the most use out of. Ramen obviously wasn’t the healthiest, but I definitely used it for something quick and easy to make. But of course I bough necessities like milk, juice, cheese, and bread. Then I bought some large frozen bags of chicken nuggets, and a lot of pasta. Pasta is easy because you can make a whole box and it will last you 4 or 5 days of meals. Its always easy to switch up, you can have it with marinara, alfredo, or even just butter and salt. It’s quick and easy to reheat and of course very filling.
Steph: What was the healthiest meal you made?
Gabi: Salad. It’s easy you can buy a big bag, use a little lettuce, cut up a few veggies (put the leftovers in a Ziploc for re-use,) throw some dressing on, butter a piece of bread and I was good.
Steph: What was the cheapest meal you ate when eating out?
Gabi: Ummm, $1 burger at Hawkeyes I’d say was the cheapest and most filling.
Steph: Overall are you happy with this experience? And the big question how much did you end up saving?
Gabi: I am very happy that I did this. I was actually amazed at how much I saved, and to know that it’s really possible. I definitely don’t think it is something I will do all the time, but now I know exactly where to go when I know I’m on a budget. This is something every college student should try. Basically everytime I would have gone somewhere instead I calculated about how much I would’ve spent and then compared it to what I did spend. I added it all up for the entire month, and it came out to about…$403.
Steph: Thanks for sharing your experience with my Cheap Eat$ Peeps!
See it is possible! So to all of our Cheap Eat$ Peeps out there, here’s the challenge. Can you do it? Can you save more than Gabi did? I know I could use an extra $400 with the holidays coming up! Feel free to let us know how it goes 🙂