In which I cry over groceries
Perhaps this is commensurate with raising five children on pretty much one income, but my husband and I are constantly revamping our budget, which is akin to squeezing water from a rock. We’ve been married for 16 years and we took this attitude, gratefully, into our marriage. Both of us observed, pre-marriage, our parents getting into trouble with debt, and we had independently decided, “That will not be me.” So, we’ve always been responsible, living debt-free and at or below our means. However, there is always room for improvement.
But… a sore spot for me is the money we have allotted for groceries. In other words, DON’T TOUCH MY GROCERY BUDGET, BUSTER!!
Part of me thinks we spend exorbitantly on groceries; outside our mortgage, it is our single biggest expense. But, I shop absolutely as responsibly as possible: I keep an ongoing shopping list, and make my final list the day I go out, combining what we need with what is on sale, and what I have a coupon for. I typically go to 3-5 stores each week, buying items at the spot where it’s available, and at the best price. I am always looking for ways for us to eat CLEANER, as well. On top that, most readers know that our family has multiple special diet needs: Three of we seven have celiac disease, plus a smattering of food allergies, while my youngest has SEVERE food-related allergies and is on a highly restrictive diet (among other things, the only meat she can eat is lamb, and “cheap lamb” is an oxymoron).
I do all of that on $200 a week. To me, and perhaps to you, that sounds like a lot of money. But, look at it this way: That’s $1.36 per meal, per person. My favorite food magazine, Clean Eating, often runs sections on budget family eating, touting recipes that equate to $2 per person. If I did that, I’d be spending $294/week.
My husband, who is the Budget Master (using Mvelopes), kept mentioning here and there that I have been going way over budget on the food, that it was constantly “in the red.” This was a matter of consternation and confusion for me, as I knew, deep in my heart, that with very rare exception, I was sticking to $200/week.
So, about six weeks ago, I got extremely specific about it — using a calculator, keeping a running total on the back of receipts, carefully noting if anything I spent was non-food, etc. I proudly deposited my receipts on to his desk with a comment or a note, “ONE DOLLAR over budget.” “FIVE DOLLARS UNDER budget.” Etc. After a month of this, for which he was genuinely thankful, he approached me, gently dropping this bomb, “You know that our grocery budget is $800 a month, right? Not $200 a week?”
Why, NO. No, I didn’t realize that at all. I’d been operating for more than a year with confidence that my budget was $200, weekly. With a sinking heart, I quickly did a little math. $800 a month equates to $184.61 weekly ($1.26 per person, per meal). That’s a full FIFTEEN DOLLARS less than I have consistently been spending. Perhaps that doesn’t sound like much, but that does amount to an extra $800, yearly, over what I was supposed to be spending. No wonder I was in the red!!
Then, I panicked. How in the world was I going to purchase everything I needed to with even less money?? Lower-quality food? Less meat? Less of our already virtually non-existent luxuries?? I already don’t purchase prepared foods. No boxed or frozen ready-made foods for this family (partly due to cost, and partly due to health)! We don’t even buy juice, let alone soda! The “junkiest” we get is tortilla chips! There really wasn’t a clear spot where I could trim.
I went out shopping a couple of weeks ago on my “new” budget of $185. After the first store, I looked at my list of remaining items, and looked at what I had already spent. I started to cry. Perhaps that sounds ridiculous, but I felt the weight of responsibility for providing good food for my family, submitting to a budget (and my husband), feeling already over-stretched, and now saddled with an even smaller allotment. I just didn’t know how I was going to do it, and I felt entirely overwhelmed.
Then… into my mind — likely from the Holy Spirit — popped the numerous missionary stories I’ve been reading to my children in the past month or two: And the Word Came with Power, In Search of the Source, Catching Their Talk in a Box… All of those books (while not being singular examples of fabulous writing and literature; my internal editor cringes too many times while reading all of them!) are simultaneously convicting and compelling: True stories of deeply trusting in God’s provision and timing, and even rejoicing at the opportunity to see Him show up in seemingly impossible situations.
I stopped crying.
I decided to pray over my grocery-shopping expedition. There, out loud, in my car, in the parking lot of Costco, I prayed. I poured out my heart to my God, in sincerity and need, tears again streaking down my cheeks, asking for His help: for wisdom in what I choose to purchase, that I would find better-than-expected deals, that I would discover ways to trim excess from my list, that I could present my receipts to my husband and that he’d be pleased (as I had, in my tears, considered just going over-budget and telling my husband, “Oh, well. It just can’t be done.”)… Then, though it sounded a tad stilted, contrived, and even a wee bit Pentecostal, I continued in a true act of my will and in faith and obedience, as I certainly didn’t feel it, “And, Father, I absolutely rejoice now, beforehand, in this opportunity to see You provide, to see You show up, to see You enable me to do what I feel, right now, is impossible.”
Writing this out, it sounds so stupid, that I would cry over groceries, like don’t I have something better — more serious, deeper — over which to weep, especially in light of recent, world-wide catastrophes?? But really, I felt that what was being required from me was absolutely impossible, and I felt completely stuck, and I needed His help.
I am now happy to report that God has come through. Other than me not getting my weekly 6-pack of Diet Hansen’s Tangerine Lime soda, $2.49 at Trader Joe’s (which really feels like a sacrifice — foregoing my much-looked-forward-to daily treat), and not buying our family’s favorite, really expensive hot sauce, I haven’t really cut back on anything. I’m ultra-careful, shopping with the calculator on my phone, and delaying for a week or two a purchase that might not be at the best price on that particular shopping expedition… But, in spite of me not changing much of anything, I have come in under-budget, both times: About four dollars that first week, and almost ten dollars the next.
So, now, I’m about to sit down with my food ads, coupon file, and list of needed items, and come up with a plan of action for shopping tonight. Part of me is yet tempted to panic, but I shut that down as soon as it rears its ugly head, and know that God cares about me and my family, even down to the “very hairs on [our heads]“: the grocery budget.
(Perhaps I could have avoided this whole scene by whipping out my Bible and reading Matthew 6:25-34, but sometimes you really have to LIVE something before God’s revelation sinks in…)
Posted on March 23, 2011, in Books for children, Books I'm Reading, Budget, Celiac Disease, Character Development, Christian Living, Encouragement, Homeschooling, Magazines, Missions and ministry, Shopping, The Dear Hubby. Bookmark the permalink. 23 Comments.