Friday, September 21, 2007

My All for You, My God

In some ways, this money saving experiment is bringing me closer to my husband. When we first got married, we'd do everything together, including grocery shopping. Come Saturday, there we'd be at our local Safeway, me with the cart and him with the calculator.

Yes, you read that right. My penny-pincher brought a calculator with him every shopping trip so we could tally up our purchases and know before we got to the checkout line exactly how much we'd be spending.

I didn't get it. Not at all. My mother never did that. Even when my parents had two mortgages, a struggling business and a daughter in private high school, my mom still went to the most expensive grocery store and put whatever she wanted in her cart: papayas, red leaf lettuce, wild-caught salmon, imported Genoan salami. In fact, the grocery store she shopped at was so snooty they carried the bags out to your car for you.

When I was in college, I realized how naive I was in the ideas of price comparing or choosing an item that's on sale. My roommate and I took a trip to Meijers, where she happily put a generic brand of shampoo in her cart. "I love it when they have these," she smiled. I looked at her in utter confusion and she explained, "They take the formula of the name brand stuff and bottle it themselves to save you money."

I remember looking at her cart, then at the shelf, and reaching for the Pantene. She got annoyed with me. "Tienne, it's the SAME thing." I shook my head. "I don't want to risk it. I'll pay more for the real stuff."

So you can imagine that walking around the store with my calculator-toting husband was an alien experience for me. He taught me how to read the labels on the shelf. That "price per unit" thing? Wow! You can really tell which item is the cheapest. I'd never even looked at it before. If I needed canned tomatoes, I went and bought the Del Monte brand. Contadina might have been cheaper, but who cared?

My husband. And now that I've made the committment to keep our weekly food bill under $100, I care, too. It's been so much harder than I thought it would. Turns out that $106 bill I was getting didn't include running out for bananas, jam and milk midweek, or eating out at CiCi's Pizza with the kids, or deciding I wanted a bottle of wine for our dinner guests. I now carry a calculator with me to the grocery store and I am fastidious about recording every item that goes into my cart.

Some things I've discovered (which will no doubt be obvious to anyone who's ever been on a budget): Name brand stuff is ridiculously overpriced. I try to buy the store brand every time. I'm not letting go of my preference for organic, though. Luckily, my store has lots of organic items, including among their own line. I think I'd be able to buy alcohol if I didn't buy organic. The difference is amazing. Organic cheddar is $6.99. The Kraft brand is $2.39. Vegetables are the same way, often twice as much for the organic as for the conventional. But I know too much about our agricultural industry to be swayed by the price. When it's available, I always pick organic. I just have to save money elsewhere.

Meat is more expensive than beans.
This is a big no-brainer, of course, but it really hammers home to me how much money we save by eating mostly vegetarian. This week I bought a family pack of 8 chicken thighs (cheaper than the breasts) for $7.41. That'll give us two meat-meals. An equivalent poundage of lentils would cost me $3.38, and let me tell you, 3 lbs of lentils would last for 8, maybe 9 meals. There's no way I could do this if we ate meat at every meal, as when we were first married.

Substitutions are your friend. I haven't had the money to buy chili powder for weeks now. I don't know when it's ever going to happen; a jar costs $6 and there's very little wiggle room in my weekly budget. So whenever a recipe calls for chili powder, I substitute a roasted, canned chipotle pepper. A can of chipotles in adobo sauce costs $.59 at the Albertsons and contains around 9 chipotles. One is more than enough to add flavor and spice to any Mexican dish I'm cooking, and they last forever in the freezer. Cheese is another expense where I've discovered ways to cut back. Ricotta is $7, but an equivalent amount of low fat cottage cheese is only $2.69. I'm sticking it into a veggie lasagna anyway, so it doesn't matter.

Make it at home whenever you can. The list of things I no longer buy at the store is growing each week, mainly because I don't have money to spend on prepared food and thus must prepare it myself. I make my own yogurt, mayonnaise, salsa, chocolate sauce, peanut butter, applesauce and breadcrumbs (you knew there was a use for the ends of bread loaves, right?) Really, I should make my own bread, but I have issues with yeast. For whatever reason, I can't seem to buy any that's still active, whether I try the refrigerated glass jar or the little packets.

Anyway, it's hard, but I'm learning a lot and doing well so far.

I'm not doing as well with my attitude. Simply put, I resent this. I want to buy wine. Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling. Sonoma Valley Chardonnay. Bella Rossi Chianti. I miss my wine. I want to buy goat cheese and fresh herbs and sun dried tomatoes packed in flavored olive oil. I miss the fun sides I used to put out with all my meals. If I made a lasagna, I'd have garlic bread and salad, too, and the salad would have two different kinds of lettuce and roasted pine nuts and golden raisins tossed in with it. Now we just have the lasagna.

I miss going through my cookbooks and being inspired by a picture and saying, "Oooh. I want to try that," then going to the store and getting everything it calls for. I miss having chips and dip to snack on during the week. I miss having whipped cream and pecans on hand to jazz up my desserts.

Nothing has changed between now and three weeks ago except that now these sufferings are designed to pay down our debt. Am I really so petty? When I choose a sacrifice, I do it with joy, but when it's imposed upon me I am resentful, complaining, sulky and depressed. Perhaps more than anything, God wants me to learn how to do joyfully what He wants. Perhaps this is so hard for me not because I'm giving up alcohol, but because I'm giving up control.

Well, sacrifice is not meant to be easy. What is it to say "Okay, God, my husband's out of town this weekend and I've got both these kids to myself, so tonight I'm going out for pizza. I'm going to eat this pizza for you, God, to glorify and praise you." If only God wanted us to eat pizza for Him! Darnit. I could do that easily.

Real sacrifice, true sacrifice, ought to be painful. If it's not difficult, we're not doing it right.

So I can take heart at least that I'm on the right path now. Because this is difficult. And painful. The reward in it isn't so much happiness and fulfillment as much as it's the satisfaction of knowing that I am obedient to God's will. It doesn't feel good, but I know it is good.

Still, I'm annoyed every time I have to deny myself something I want.

Less self. More God. That's what I need.

Picture credit.


qualcosa di bello said...

in your mentions of what you miss, i felt like you were inside me head! a retreat to a monastery in the recent past was food-enlightening for me. they ate simple meals, tastefully prepared, in moderate quantities. after i returned home, i really began to scrutinize what i was eating & why i was eating it. i really wanted to apply that "body as a temple of the Holy Spirit" concept to my eating habits. your post is helpful to my line of thinking on this...

Tracy said...

Great post Tienne. You are inspiring me! One benefit of living more simply is the greater experience of joy during feast times. I know of a family that never have desserts or snacks, but on Sunday, the whole family has ice-cream sundaes after dinner to celebrate and set this day apart from others. The cycle of feast and feria in the Church is very compelling and rythmical. I find my problem is helping my family live the feria cycle more truthfully. The feast cycles don't seem to be as hard to incorporater, lol! But, if we can balance it right, then the feast will be even more special and notable. IRTYC-we had a great adoption experience and i wish you the ebst on your journey. I am blessed to live in an area with a great Catholic homeschool community and their are actually several co-ops. I found them through WOM and also the internet.

Tracy said...

I used the term feria wrongly above *blush*! What I meant were the cycles of penance I huess, like Friday observances, Lent, Advent etc...

Lisa said...

Lovely post. I strive to live a simple life, but recently have failed. I am starting out again by cleaning out the excess. My grocery bills are high as well. I must eat organic, whole foods and little to no fat for health reasons. Boy, that can add up quickly. The only way I can make it work is to cook simple, healthy dishes from scratch. I hear you on the lentils!!!

One thing I do is buy my spices in bulk. Don't know where you live, but in the Seattle area, we have stores (Fred Meyer, Central Market, etc.) where you can buy just what you need. I save my empty spice jars and just refill them. It's pennies on the dollar. I can refill for under a dollar usually. Thanks again, I'll be back.

Abigail said...

Man, keep up those inspiring posts of how to keep down your grocery budget. There are so many of us with you in that struggle!

foursure said...

Get thee to and tell them I sent you!

It's saving our family (of 6) a TON of money. We've cut our grocery bill by about 40% in the past 3 months. The basic idea is that you stockpile on things when they are at the lowest price they'll be in any 12 week cycle, so you never run out & have to buy them at their high. So, I'm buying bandaids for .50/box (the cute Dora kind) instead of 2.xx. And I buy 12# of ground beef/chicken/turkey when it's under $2 a pound. You get the picture. It's great. And they have a 4 week trial for $1. You should at least give it a try.

At a minimum, check out their message boards for lots of great $ saving ideas.

Best wishes!

Kate said...

I'm late to the game here, but may I recommend slow cooker cooking, as an inexpensive aid to great meals? Soups and stews are almost always the cheapest meals, and the longer they simmer the less spices you need to use. A few pieces of chicken or beef can make an almost-veggie chili taste carnivorous, without having to use more than a thigh or two. Home made biscuits (very easy, very cheap) to round out the meal, and you've got a cheap and yummy meal!

Here's a great website for living and cooking on a budget: .

Good luck!

(It helps the budgeting to think of every expense in terms of loaves of bread (especially since you're still buying bread). When you want the pizza, think, "But 8.99 for a meal for 8 loaves of cheap bread, or 5 loaves of wheat bread." It really helps put things in perspective for me!

Tienne said...


Ah, the joys of slow cooking! I just got a new crockpot for my birthday, with a meat probe and automatic "warm" setting and I'm completely in love. I use my slow cooker almost every day, either to cook beans or oatmeal overnight or to cook an actual meal. Great website, thanks for the link!