I'm singing the same old, tired tune I've been singing on and off for what feels like years, "money's tight". We sit and talk about all the "unexpected" things, the fuel bills that make me cringe every time I hear the thud of the furnace kicking on under my feet in the dark, damp basement, the repairs, the bills…blah, blah, blah. Blech.
We are fortunate though. We are blessed. There is light at the end of the tunnel.
But for now, we are having to cinch our belts so tight, it is sometimes painful.
As the main spender in this family, the person who basically controls where, when, how and on what our money is used, I've had to step up and tighten my belt the most.
And so, the grocery budget is the primary place that I've made major changes.
To be honest, I can't even remember the last time I went to the grocery store and did a major, formerly-typical shop. I think it was sometime around new year's day. I have been forced to get seriously creative in the kitchen. If I've been to the store, I've been able to carry all my purchases in, with one trip. No loading, unloading, unpacking.
I am using what I have on hand.
I am digging deep, very deep into my pantry shelves.
I'm pulling out cans and boxes and bags of things that I usually pass by and am "not in the mood" for.
I've forced myself to figure out how to cook up cuts of meat that have been sitting in the bottom of my freezer, looking at me with intimidating eyes.
I've found forgotten goodness stashed in bottom freezer drawers, in the backs of cupboards.
I've discovered that if we want it, oftentimes, I can make it from scratch. Soft pretzels? I have a recipe for that. Warm rolls? I can handle that. Cereal? How about a batch of granola?
I've learned to make the mundane special. Candles at dinner. Cream for oatmeal (again) in tiny pottery pitchers. Dinner tables set with nice dishes and linens.
I've learned to use less meat. To use it for flavor and protein instead of bulk.
I've learned to make my grocery list and then examine it again. What really is necessity?
I've learned that flour, sugar, butter, milk, cheese, eggs and beans go a long way for a little money.
I've learned that we really need a milk cow.
I've learned (again) that soup makes a great meal and can have so many variations it doesn't get old. Especially with good homemade bread or biscuits.
I've learned that if you let your children get hungry enough, everything looks and tastes good to them!
It's funny, when we first were married, my husband was the best person to cook for. He'd moan and groan and 'ooh' and 'aaah' about my cooking. But over the years, his exclamations have quieted a bit. (He forgets how good he has it.)
But these past few weeks, when we are eating on a shoestring, when I'm putting together meals that are made up strictly from the things I'm finding in my cupboard, those moans and groans have returned. When things are pieced together, whipped up with less, suddenly everything tastes really good. And I have to admit, I've made some pretty good meals, I might even dare to say a few of our best. We sit down at the table and say, "Look what we did with almost nothing!"
I've pushed myself. I've changed my perspective. When I go to the store–we still need milk, cream for coffee and some fresh fruit and veggies now and then–I look at what I buy so differently. Before I buy something I think about how flexible it is, how many meals I can get out of it, how far I can stretch it.
But don't be fooled, it isn't this daily great experience. I don't go skipping into my kitchen each afternoon, ready to tackle another creative dinner. There are days I'd trade my youngest child for takeout. (kidding! she's too cute and she doesn't add much to the grocery bill.) There are days I stand in front of my open cupboard doors and want to scream, "I'm so sick of this!!!!!!" But in general, I've been up for the challenge.
I don't know how much longer we'll need to live like this. The state of our cupboards, freezer and refrigerator is pretty Old Mother Hubbard-ish. Eventually, I'll need to replenish. But like I said, there is light at the end of the tunnel. But I need to hang on for a little bit longer.
The good part of all this, is that I feel like my perspective has changed. I've learned a lot about my grocery shopping habits. I've learned that I can do a lot with less. I've learned that we can survive.
And I've learned that we are rich in so many other ways.