no groceries

For those of you interested in my most recent “no groceries challenge,” I went to Trader Joe’s yesterday and bought a bunch of stuff. I’ve purchased an item or two over the last few weeks beyond the fresh fruit/veggies/milk/eggs exceptions. This hasn’t been as strict as I’ve been in the past. I’ve also been in the company of my parents quite a bit who provided our meals when we were with them. But, yesterday’s visit to Trader Joe’s qualifies, in my mind, as a break in the challenge. I’m going to do another shopping to stock up on staples like cheese, beans, flour, and tofu.Read More →

This no groceries challenge is still going, and I’m being more faithful to it than I had been.
Instead of sticking to it strictly, though, I’m going to make exceptions. The exceptions bring to light something I learned during that time several years ago when I was in a financial crisis: people who come from privilege (like me) have no idea what it’s like to be poor.
That seems like stating the obvious, but until I found out how much I didn’t know, I had no idea.
If I didn’t have the money for food for my family, I’d most certainly have to say “sorry, I can’t participate” in providing treats for my daughter’s graduation. This goes deeper than simply not having the money. It means I’m forced to be outside, looking in, at a community.
I found out in 2010-2013ish that it’s humiliating to say, “I don’t have the food or money to offer cookies at this celebration.” Regardless of how people will actually view my non-participation (surely most wouldn’t notice), I will feel like I’m not doing my part.
The people in my communities are loving and accepting, but there is still an awkward and uncomfortable stigma attached to poverty. It makes well-to-do people uncomfortable, I found (beginning with my own discomfort), to be faced with the fact that we don’t have to think long and hard about every dollar we spend. We just don’t understand.
For financially comfortable people, it requires effort to be mindful of the reality that not everyone can afford to chip in to group activities and efforts. It’s an effort I continue making, and these “no groceries challenges” help keep me awake.

My mindset around this most recent no groceries challenge can be summed up by looking at our “dining out” budget line. Talk about cheating!
I also completely forgot about the challenge and bought bacon and chicken livers when I was at the Portland Food Co-op because I’m rarely there and finding “happy meat” isn’t easy to do outside of our CSA meat share.
And! we went to my parents’ summer house and I decided to consider it part of our budget for vacations, so we spent about $50 on groceries.
It really hasn’t been a no-groceries challenge in any kind of pure way.
I have, however, begun remembering that we’re doing it. I’m now considering issues as if I really “can’t” go to the supermarket (except for fresh fruits/veggies and milk). I’m almost out of whole wheat flour. So, after I use the rest of the lavash and tortillas, will I make all-white bread? I’d hate to do that. Will I make an exception and buy flour? (Probably.) (It’s different than buying pre-made bread. It’s more in the spirit of making do with what we have.)
Certainly, I haven’t “gone grocery shopping” to buy items on a list and another $50-100 of “we probably could use this” stuff. But, we have eaten takeout more than usual, and flat out forgetting about the challenge and justifying purchases because it was “vacation” all serve to remind me how this is really a game I’m playing. This is nothing like real life, when I couldn’t afford to buy food.
I’m going to keep going, as imperfectly as I’ve been doing it, and see if I can get back on track and not buy anything beyond the fresh fruits/veggies and milk. …and maybe a bag of whole wheat flour…

A friend on Facebook recently messaged me to thank me for my “no groceries challenge” posts. Her family was out of money so she couldn’t buy food. She told me she remembered the no groceries challenge and it helped her find a way to look at what food she had on hand so they could get by. My heart is full that she took the time to thank me, that she found my writing helpful, and that she was able to find cook-able food in her shelves.
I told her that maybe I’m due for another “no groceries challenge.” When I did it the first time, in May of 2013, I did it because I had to. We were in serious financial trouble and I had to find a way to spend less. Doing a challenge like this when I don’t have to feels fake and shallow on many levels. But, it’s true that money is still very tight (relatively speaking). More importantly, I’ve paused and paid attention: I’m spending more and being more wasteful than I need to be. I’m not helping the earth or my bank account.
My heart started racing a little, in that not-good way, when I thought of doing a no groceries challenge. I immediately thought about taking stock of everything I have, making a shopping list, filling up my shelves so I can make it for a long time. I felt worried. Nervous about getting back to that kind of thinking — don’t let leftovers go to waste, do plan meals, do appreciate everything we have — because it reminds me of how scary it was then.
This morning, I didn’t want to do my meditation. My 8 year old said, “You might feel glad you did it if you do it.” She was right this morning. I bet the same is true about embarking on another no-groceries challenge again, even without any “prep work.” So, here I go…

I’ve been to the grocery store a couple times since I last posted about a new “no groceries challenge.” I’ve felt like I’m mostly remaining faithful to the challenge, though, as I haven’t gone to the grocery store and filled up my cart with a month’s worth of food. A few times I’ve gotten fresh fruit and vegetables (acceptable on my challenge) and a few snacks-for-camp-lunches. Oh. And tofu. And laundry detergent.IMG_2741
It’s true that I haven’t let much go to waste in the refrigerator, and I’ve used much of what was stored in the deep freezer. That’s good. I haven’t purchased unnecessary items. That said, I’ve been seriously kidding myself. I maxed out our restaurant budget line (pizza and Chinese takeout, pre-made food at the grocery store, all the way up to actually going to a sit-down restaurant) two months in a row — I only started this “challenge” at the end of June!
Playing poor isn’t at all the same as actually being poor.
My bank balances are perilously low, and I depend on every check I get to meet my expenses. I’m not financially comfortable. My nerves get shaky and the stress of it does impact my life, but it’s nothing like actual poverty.