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.
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.
As a cost savings exercise and as a return to more environmentally friendly behavior, I’m doing another “no groceries challenge.” We go out of town next week, so I expect I won’t even need to buy much in the way of fresh produce; fresh produce is one of my few exceptions to the rule of not purchasing groceries. I won’t say much here, as I’ve written about the challenges quite a bit. I will check back in if/when something happens I find interesting enough to share.
There’s no crisis here; work is steady and strong so my cash flow should continue improving. That said, as so many Americans are, I’m one bad tooth or broken down car away from not having enough money to pay bills [side note: That link is to a Forbes piece that’s saying a Salon piece is wrong about Americans not having enough in savings. The Forbes guy says “most have credit for emergencies.” I won’t discuss here why that’s a terrible argument, but it is surely terrible.].
In the name of paying off my new debt that I gained and to rebuild my savings that I lost last year—due to oral health needs and a car repair, no less—I’m going to start another no groceries challenge.
A pattern has emerged as I choose to take on these challenges: At first, I use what I have on hand more efficiently. I have more of a tolerance for leftovers. And, I do more meal planning. Staying away from the supermarket entirely brings me to ask frequently, “do I really need that, or do I just want it?” After a time, as I begin going back to the market for fruit or fresh veggies, I start picking up one or two things that would be handy to have. A jar of tomato sauce for when I’m out of my supply of freezer sauces, fancy cookies for school lunches because it’d just be “nice for the girls.”
I slip down the slope until I’m back where I was before. I don’t really use what’s in my pantry, I forget to keep track of what’s in the freezer that’s usable, and I don’t “let myself take the time” for meal planning because it feels too decadent.
The decision to do this latest challenge — for those of you unfamiliar with it, I see how long I can go without going to the grocery store at all — was a bit impulsive. I haven’t done any planning. It’s a little bit more like the “real” one I faced a few years ago when I simply didn’t have the money for groceries, although it’s really not at all like that because I’m not terrified.
Posting about it on my blog seems to be part of my ritual for these challenges, so, here we are. I’m posting about it. Now I’m going to put the extra cabbages I got into cold storage, put the extra cheese into the freezer, and “let myself” figure out meals for the next week or so. Ta-dah!
Just some notes from the time I was doing the no groceries challenge. The influence of the challenge is still with me, though I wouldn’t consider myself in a challenge right now.
- Playing this game is nothing like actually not having enough money to buy groceries. Nothing at all. Knowing if I really “had to” I could get anything I needed makes the experience a personal growth exercise unrelated to poverty. I wrote about this in my newspaper column.
- Homemade whole wheat tortillas are *really* easy and so much better than store-bought they are worth the effort. I can keep the dough frozen if I don’t have time to cook them all up at once. I used the breadmaker to mix the dough, which made it feel even easier.
- Friends are supportive and generous when they know about the challenge.
- My grocery shopping is much more cost-efficient. I recognize impulse buys for what they are, for example, and don’t succumb.
- Ordering take out pizza or Chinese food is CHEATING and it started seeming like a reasonable option after a few weeks.
- The creativity I force myself to tap into has helped me work on time management skills. I don’t do it as much as would be helpful, but meal planning and pre-prep work make being so tired takeout seems like a good option a relatively rare experience.
- I’ll do one of these no groceries challenges again soon.