Except for a day at Ebbsfleet United and the time in Rome, I decided to give up all alcohol, and to try to spend just £1 a day on food.
How have I done with the drinking?
On the whole, I think I succeeded on this and actually found it much easier than I had anticipated. Part of the difficulty I was expecting lay in possible peer pressure – but almost everyone I spent time with was surprised, but supportive. In fact, the people who weren’t, and who suggested I should drink in their company and ‘square it with God’ were not the people I’d expected at least a light teasing from.
There were a couple of moments where I really wanted a gin after work, but didn’t. I was ill for a few days and did break the fast for a glass or two of ginger wine to help with sleep and easy breathing. At the Ebbsfleet game, I drank 3 Beck’s and a pint of Guinness – 2.5 pints the entire afternoon; that’s what I’d have had before kick-off on other days.
Sad to say I’m not noticeably thinner, but I suspect that is in part due to the second Lent challenge – food for £1 a day. I know without doing the calculations that I didn’t manage this although I reckon the mean cost per day was probably around £1.50-£1.75; still half of my usual food spend. I mostly managed my five-a-day, with the help of orange juice and a lot of carrots. Porridge for 3.5 pence a day in the slow-cooker took some experimentation (I may have accidentally discovered a concrete substitute) but now I’m unlikely to go back to expensive Oatso Simple (16p). I also discovered I liked lentils, wholewheat pasta and hot milk (separately). I suspect that overall my diet, although mostly vegetarian, has been pretty healthy.
This exercise highlighted my attitude towards food and why I eat. I’ve used food to treat myself when other more expensive options have been unavailable – but have equated the luxury with the cost, not the content – now, having had to plan carefully how to afford fruit and veg-other-than-carrot, a plate of interesting salad has become as much of a treat as an M&S dish or a bottle of wine. I’ve discovered what a sobering experience it is trying to shop on a limited amount of cash, and how reading price labels is sometimes a challenge. I may well continue to go food shopping with just the budgeted amount in my pocket. I have grown lettuce on my windowsill – a few interesting leaves to brighten up a dull plate. And once and for all I have dispelled lingering doubts about the usefulness of sell-by dates.
One thing I half knew but hadn’t really explored was how expensive, relatively speaking, food can be if one wants convenience. I could have further reduced my fruit and veg bill by shopping at a market, I’m sure, it’s just there doesn’t happen to be one open when I need it. In my local supermarket, the unit price of wrapped veg is usually far higher than that sold loose (but not always). Even a value ready-meal at 80 or 90p is too big a bite out of a £1/day budget. And would you really want a 90p lasagne? A few pence worth of pasta and some mushrooms strikes me as a better option and almost as quick. You’re guaranteed to know what’s in it, at least. M&S meals at three or four pounds take up days’ worth of cash and suddenly seem very poor value.
On a day a lunch meeting was cancelled I had to try to find lunch cheaply in central London. Even a large Tesco Metro was a challenge – a bread roll at 40p is only 10% of the cost of some sandwiches, but still a 40% of that day’s budget… without anything else. A sausage roll at 50p starts to look like a bargain, despite being the unhealthiest option.
So I’ve definitely learned some good lessons, not least how to cook porridge oats in a slow cooker and not have to chip the remains out with a chisel.