Thursday, January 12, 2012

Don't Buy Groceries For A Month

Several years ago, Leigha read an article that talked about various ways to save money. One of them said not to go grocery shopping for an entire month. It was something that we had considered doing for quite a while but for whatever reason, never did. January 2010 was just the month. We also decided to pair this with not going out to eat. But with two young kids, we had to make a few stipulations. The rules:
1.  The kids’ joint birthday party on January 14th didn’t count if we bought food for the dozen adults that would be coming over.
2.   We could buy perishable food items that could potentially go bad during the month, (Milk, Bread, Fruit & Vegetables) but not meat.
3.  If we already had a gift card to a restaurant, we could use it.
4.  Somebody else could take us out to eat.
In our pantry, we had plenty of noodles and canned food items that were older than the kids. In our freezer, we had a few chicken breasts and the remnants of a quarter of a pig. We had divided half a pig with Leigha’s parents and we knew that it was going to be a white meat month. In fact, we had bought a deep freeze just so we had a place to put the sixty pounds of pork. I have lived in Iowa my entire life, where pigs outnumber people. But neither my parents nor I have ever purchased pork in bulk like this. It was an amazing deal. The meat was butchered into pork chops, bacon, ribs, pork roast, ham roast, ground pork, bratwursts and was superb quality. We hope to do this in the future, perhaps with a cow, too.
The first week without groceries didn’t really seem that different from any other. Leigha made lasagna and I made ribs and enchiladas. It was good food that provided good leftovers. Then we ran out of snack food. I found myself standing in the door of our pantry scanning items. Pickled beets. Black-eyed peas. French fried onions. What am I going to eat? Don’t get me wrong, we don’t buy candy, pop or potato chips, but I really could have gone for some graham crackers or wheat thins.

This is where the fruit and vegetables came in. I figured that if we could buy things that could go bad during the month; chances are they were pretty good for you. Yeah baby carrots! We also found an appreciation for fajitas. It was the most aha food of the month. It isn’t that we don’t like them, we just never really thought about them.
To my surprise, ham steaks were the last pork item in the house (besides bacon, which, with the exception of BLTs, is difficult to make a primary agent for a meal). They kind of look like ham, but they are much too thick to eat as such. Even simply cooked on the skillet, they always seemed to be lacking something.
By week four, my life seemed to be revolving around food in a way that I think that my brother, Arik can understand. I am amazed at his food adoration every time I visit him. I stand about five inches and at least eighty pounds bigger than him, but that guy could out-eat me any day. We could be leaving a restaurant where we had a twelve course meal and he could smell something cooking someplace else and be like, “That smells really good. Who wants ice cream?” He approaches food with the curiosity of a child. Sometimes he will hold up his food and stare at it for a few moments, smell it, and poke it with his finger. “Hm…I wonder what kind of sugar they use for this. How do they get this pancake so flat? They must cook it on a really hot griddle.”
By the 27th of the month, I was really craving beef. I don’t know if it was biological or psychological, but it was a fierce craving. I thought about cheeseburgers, steak, even hamburger helper. Then I remembered that I had a Subway gift card. Hello, meatball sub. As I was eating it, I couldn’t tell if the sub itself was exceptionally made, or if it was one of those amazing moments where you get to eat the exact thing that you were craving at the moment. Regardless, it was wonderful. But my gift card only had $1.50 left on it. I had to put the rest on the credit card. I loved the sandwich, but I felt guilty as soon as I finished it. I went outside and sat in my car for a few minutes before I started it. I was only four days away from succeeding in this mission. This duty. This commitment. So I did what I knew I had to do. Call Leigha and confess. Tell her I accidentally cheated.
“I went to Buffalo Wild Wings,” She told me.
When I woke up on the final day, Leigha and the kids were all eating blueberry muffins that we had gotten the day before. It was at this point, that I had to bend the rules a bit. The logistics of grocery shopping with a two and three year old demanded us to do this a day early, when both Leigha and I had the day off. I was also really starting to feel bad for the kids. While I could force myself to eat the same three meals over and over, I couldn’t do it to them. Emery had taken one bite out of her muffin, and it sat on the counter for the whole day, tempting me. I didn’t eat that muffin, but I sure had one for breakfast on February 1st.
When all was said and done, Leigha and I cut our credit card bill to less than half a normal month, found a few good recipes, emptied out our overstock, and realized that we didn’t really need to fill up our pantry nearly as full as it had been. I guess we really don’t need twelve boxes of cereal at one time. Now we just need to use those pickled beets.

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