The $20 Challenge: Shopping the Sales

Several months ago I challenged my three boys, ages 10-15, to plan, shop, and prepare a meal, for our family of five, for $20 or under. Each of them stepped up and did an awesome job!

At that time, I encouraged them to come up with a meal and create a shopping list in order to keep them on task while at the store. A plan and a list were helpful tools for the first round of our little challenge. The only drawback was that the boys’ plans were kind of set in stone, and they didn’t want to make adjustments. Some of the boys had a difficult time keeping within budget, and when we had to make substitutions and minor changes in order to come in under $20, they were not too happy!

The take away from round one was that the boys realized that food was far more expensive than they had originally imagined. They also realized that in order to fit dessert into the budget, they would have to handle things differently.

For this round of the challenge, I told the boys that there would be no planning permitted. No lists. No meal idea set in stone. They were going to shop the sales. Let’s face it, don’t many of us do that nearly every time we head off to the food store? I’d love to have salmon, shrimp, lobster, and bison (my favorite) on the menu every week, but a little thing called my budget, simply won’t allow it! In order to feed a family of five (which often feels like a family of ten due to teenagers) I have to see what is on sale and make it work.

Aaron, who is the most flexible of the crew, was more than a little excited to take on the challenge. I handed him $20, and we were off to the store. As we were driving I asked him if he had any particular meals in mind. He was thinking of chicken parmesan, chicken paninis, or meatloaf but was flexible. Our game plan was to head to the meat department first. Chicken breasts were on sale for $1.99 a pound. I told him that that was a good price that he may want to consider. He then went over to see how much ground turkey was. It was about $4.25 for a 1 1/3 pound package (we would need two). He said that he really wanted to make meatloaf and potatoes. He then noticed the family size package of ground turkey. He ran over to the price checker and found that a three pound package was $7.99. Into the basket it went.

We went off to the produce section where he picked up a bag of potatoes for $2.50 and three cucumbers for $1.99. He planned on making our favorite cucumber salad.

After calculating his items he realized that he may just be able to make dessert. His original plan was to make blueberry crisp (oh, yes!), however, the berries were too expensive. He discovered that organic apples were on sale for $1.49 per pound. He decided that apple crisp would be equally delicious and weighed out 2 1/2 pounds. Next he grabbed a 1/2 pound of butter and exclaimed, “I think I am under budget! How?”

After a quick calculation, I told him, “Yes, you are.” A big smile stretched across his face. I then explained that in order to stretch a dollar, you have to be willing to make adjustments and be willing to use sale items. You can make something incredibly delicious with just about anything in any department. Personally, I always feel like a meal tastes far better when I know I was able to create it on a humble budget. I think Aaron felt the same.

So, Aaron and I spent about an hour peeling, cutting, mixing, and laughing. He did the majority of the work; I was just on peeling duty. The result, a humble, yet delicious dinner of meatloaf, mashed potatoes, cucumber salad, and apple crisp!  And, I’d like to think there were some new lessons learned as well!  Good job, bud!

Oh, and there were leftovers!  No leftover apple crisp, though!

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