“The hoarding of wealth is violence.” I saw this somewhere on the Internet and can’t find the original source. I appreciate it because “greed” is a term that can be disputed; it’s so relative. While “hoarding” is still a bit slippery, it captures the kind of greed that crosses the line into violence.
The top 1% of the wealthiest people in our country fit into the “hoarding” category. Maybe more people do, but if we could force (yes, force, through legislation) the hoarders to share with people living in poverty (or something like reparations for slavery), a lot of our broken system could be fixed.
In October, I spent $150.02 on groceries. Some people will see this as not much money, some will think it’s a lot. Regardless, my “no groceries challenge” has been successful thus far for a lot of reasons. Most important to me, beyond the money savings, is my return to awareness of and appreciations for the freedoms that come with having “enough” money.
Every time I think about this voluntary activity, I’m reminded of what it was like when I literally—and I mean literally—had less than $10 to my name. No credit. No cash. That level of financial crisis didn’t last very long for me, but it made an impression. Part of why I do these “no groceries challenges” is so I’ll remember what that was like; when there was no choice.
I spent $70 at the start of October to stock up so my no groceries challenge would last longer. A few bags of flour, for example, and bags of dry beans, and milk, and bacon, and almond milk, and chocolate…
What I hadn’t thought about was the impact being “without” money for groceries can have on our social life. We had friends visit us at my parents’ summer place and I wanted to feed our friends. They all chipped in, too, and my parents were fine with my using stuff they already had on hand. But what about people who don’t have the money to buy food for friends? My friend is coming from out of town tonight, and I’ve talked to her about this no groceries challenge. She knows about it, but I got upset and anxious because I wanted to try and keep going — how can I be a good host if I need to use only what I have on hand?
Of course, I could do it. I’ve been feeding my children just fine, thanks to the freezer, the pantry, and a lot of talent and creativity in the kitchen. My friend also understands and asked if I’d mind if she got herself some things in support of my decision to avoid grocery shopping.
Over the course of the month, I got cider and cinnamon sticks (for the Halloween gathering with friends) and I got milk and yoghurt. I must have gotten other items, made other “exceptions” beyond fruits and/or fresh veggies? to have a balance as “high” as $150.
I’ve decided to stock up again, today. I’m still considering it a no-groceries challenge because after this I will go back to not going at all. I’ll buy the items on this list, which includes some green tea and heavy cream for my friend, and then we’ll hunker back down again and not go to the grocery store for as long as possible. I’ll get a small turkey, or maybe even a chicken, and some cranberries for our Thanksgiving — I can make the rest of the meal with what we have.
It’s now an intellectual exercise borne of necessity, but avoiding “grocery shopping” like this continues to open my eyes to many issues: efficient use of our food, the impact of poverty on social lives, what are our family’s values? So, it’s not truly “no groceries,” but it’s still a challenge from which I’m learning a lot.
Today I needed cat food. I would be at the supermarket for that, so I also got fresh fruit. Walking through the store felt similar to what it felt like when I first got into recovery for alcoholism. It wasn’t that I was going to buy things, it’s that I felt really drawn to “I’ll just get one thing.” All of those “one thing” items were things I didn’t need. I didn’t buy those unneeded items, but it took concentration and mindfulness to focus on my task: buying fresh fruit and cat food.
One of the greatest benefits of these no groceries challenges I set out for myself is I start using what I already have in more efficient ways. We eat leftovers rather than forgetting them until they’ve gone bad. I’ve dug into the deep freezer and found plenty of yummy things, like apple cider I froze when it was fresh in the fall and many bags of par-boiled chard and kale from the summer’s garden. I’d forgotten what I’d put in that freezer. Little containers of Girl Scout Cookies, even! Yum.
So, once again, I’m finding that having a choice matters. I’m choosing to not go to the grocery store to “shop.” I’m choosing to not even step foot in the market unless there is an item we actually need. It’s educational and illuminating. It’s not terrifying, it’s liberating.
I’m reminded again and again of what a luxury it is to be making this choice. I’m still haunted by the overwhelming fear I felt in those days when I didn’t know how I would get groceries. I think of all of the people who are so deep in real poverty that the quicksand keeps pulling them back in no matter how hard they try to get out. I am so lucky that it was temporary, that I had resources—including SNAP/food stamps—to get through that time.
I’m eager to see how long I go without buying things we don’t need, those things that will be nice to have (I’ve got no bubbly water, but I’ll survive). The no groceries challenge is saving us money, making me grateful, and is certainly good for the environment. Plus, I found those Girl Scout cookies!
Yesterday I bought a few bags of frozen fruit (buy $15, get $5 at Hannaford!) and yoghurt. When our fresh fruit runs out, we’ll still be able to make smoothies—until a few days ago, my daughters weren’t fans of smoothies, but that seems to’ve changed.
No matter how my business is growing, I know I would not have come out of that situational poverty without the support of my ex-husband and also gifts from my family. I’m an example of how unavoidable life circumstances and personal choices can lead to poverty. I’m also an example of how family background can make all the difference in getting out of the hole. My great uncle left me money that I used to buy a nearly-new car, for example. Car failure crisis averted.
The first time I did my no groceries challenge, I did it because I had been in a position where I didn’t have the money to buy groceries. Times are better, but the near-trauma of that experience looms large. I never want to go back there.
In May of 2013, I imposed a “no groceries” rule on myself to see how long I could go without going to the supermarket. I learned quite a bit more than I expected. I repeated the challenge in less stringent forms a couple more times. (To view those posts, you can visit the “no groceries” category on this site.)
With the full involvement of my daughters, we’re embarking on the challenge again. Two weeks of summer camp (paid for with scholarship money) for the last two or three years aren’t available this summer. This means decreased childcare and increased expenses. With some good luck and some good choices, I’m not currently facing the threat of negative bank balances. But, bills will come due. Without some drastic budget cutting or with some bad luck, it could be dire.
Most of my expenses are fixed (rent, phone, Internet, tuition, insurance). One area where we have some control is food. I don’t expect it will make all the difference we need as I look towards the challenges of summer, but as it was before, just the actions themselves—knowing I can do something—keeps me on the side of gratitude rather than fear.
Full disclosure: I will not have a zero-tolerance rule for this challenge. We’ll get fresh fruits and vegetables as we need them, and, after a chunk of time going without (almost) entirely, if there are one or two ingredients that will make a meal complete, I’ll get them. No “grocery shopping,” at all. No remembering “I need x or y” when I’m picking up a prescription, etc. No “I wish we had a frozen pizza, I am so bleeping tired…” purchases.
We went to Hannaford today which I only recently learned has much better prices than the Shaw’s we had been using (I assumed grubby = cheaper!) and stocked up on some staples like dried beans and kale (to parboil and freeze) as well as some perishables that will last like tofu and sweet potatoes. We’re ready.