Embarrassing though it may be, allow me to confess to you that I pinch pennies. I don't engage in this behavior out of a spirit of miserliness but out of a spirit of necessity---self-employment often poses hazards that are somehow tied to the pocketbook. So, yes, I do pinch pennies. I pinch them so hard that I am surprised they don't turn around and slap me.
But I am convinced that having a limited budget for food is a benefit to one's health, to the environment, and of course, to one's personal balance sheet. Forget what the newspapers have reported---that eating at a low budget necessarily leads to obesity, that limited budgets are forced to seek out fatty cuts of meat, high fructose corn syrup, and fast food value meals. Conversely, I think it forces one to think more carefully about how to spend their limited allotted food budget (and most expensive vegetables are STILL cheaper than the cheapest cut of fatty meat), and it makes waste unthinkable. Limiting the food budget also discourages overeating since you can't eat what isn't on the premises. It encourages buying local goods as they sometimes yield a savings, not having had to take an expensive transcontinental ride in a gas-guzzling semi. And of course, if you've kept your grocery bill low, you may have less discomfort paying the rent, making the car repairs, or contributing to the savings account.
I have committed to living on between 30.00 to 50.00 a week and I'm loving it! My BMI is going in a positive direction. Gone are the days I've forgotten about a head of broccoli in the veggie drawer for 2 weeks that I have to throw away, unloved and wasted. And sometimes I have a little extra cash at the end of the week that might correspond to a glass of wine with a friend, a round of golf in the sun, or an indulgent little accessory found at the shops. Cheapskating oneself at the grocery store is a win on many levels but (and this is a big but!) it requires self-discipline and commitment, especially if you are unlike me and don't happen to be forced by circumstance to do it. How so?
-You must take inventory of your pantry before you run off to the store. There is probably a box of rice, maybe a can of beans, and probably some flour in a cupboard somewhere. You should use it...this week...pronto ! The rice and beans, maybe supplemented with a fresh vegetable, makes a fine vegetarian dinner or a burrito filling. Having flour means you could buy a 20-cent packet of yeast instead of a 5-dollar loaf of bread for your breakfast toast.
-You absolutely have to plan your week. You can't indulge every mood swing and craving in this lifestyle. You have to plan your meals, make a list, buy only those items, and stick to that plan. You can't decide midweek that you want a 50-dollar plate of Chateaubriand when you have already spent your 50 dollars. Sorry.
-You will probably have to eliminate snacks as you know them. The 12-dollar wedge of imported Camembert? Not this week. The 4-dollar bag of chips? Really? Are those empty-calorie grease bombs worth it to you? Why not choose the 99-cent bag of carrots and just mix some herbs into another buck's worth of yogurt if you are that desperate to snack..? Or if you must have salty-salty...just buy 3-dollars worth of old-fashioned pop-it-yourself-in-a-pan popcorn...those bags of popcorn will last for months and months and months.
-You will have to re-think protein. If you are living on, say 30 bucks per person in the household for weekly groceries, it's not possible to eat meat every night. So you have an opportunity to reacquaint yourself with egg dishes (cheap though they may be, eggs are the highest-quality, most easily-assimilated protein for the human body), finally learn how to make tofu that actually tastes good, and experiment with beans and legumes. You can also find out what the heck those foodies on TV are raving about when they wax dreamy-eyed about offal and organ meats, because those things probably fall into your new budget.
-You will have to learn to love a wider variety of things for their seasonality. If there is a picky-eating little kid inside of you, time to make your palate grow up. Learn to like grapefruit because it is your best value in winter fruit (they're awesome broiled..makes them sweeter! ...or with avocados...mellows out the sharpness.) Maybe you should try your dreaded zucchini again when zucchini is in season. There is no whining in basic sustenance survival. A calorie is a calorie and you must purchase the calories that provide you some strength and nutrition while fitting in to your budget.
Before you run off screaming that eating for a limited budget is cruel and unusual punishment, let me tell you that I think I've got it pretty good. In fact, I'll share my current week's menu with you and you can judge for yourself. Oh, and by keeping a tight rein on myself and using a few things I had on hand/leftover from last week, I spent exactly 38.00 at the grocery this week (and that included a bag of dog food and a box of light bulbs!)
EVERYDAY BREAKFAST--I always buy fresh fruit and a little dairy (yogurt or ricotta) for a light breakfast. I also made a loaf of bread when I did the pizza crust (listed below) in case I want to grab a piece of toast sometime.
EVERYDAY LUNCH--Aye, here's the rub: I often skip lunch. Don't judge. I usually keep some peanut butter on hand for a quick sandwich if I need one.
SAT.--Homemade pizza with wilted peppers and onions (I made the crust which takes like 10 minutes and used some leftover peppers and cheese)
SUN.--Chef's salad with a little bacon
MON.--Beef burritos (had a smidge of ground beef in the freezer i could put to work) and side salad
TUE.--Pasta with garlic, chickpeas, and kale (A big indulgence at 3 dollars...since I had to buy everything except the pasta---isn't there always a box of pasta in the cupboard??)
WED.--Veggie Delight sandwich. I'll use my salad greens and any misc veggies lurking in the drawer for a Dagwood Bumstead-style vegetable stacker.
THU.--Mock Paella (I have some rice on hand and will put Saturday's leftover pizza sauce to work with some crushed red peppers and 2-dollar's worth of sausage...could have gotten some shrimp, too)
FRI.--Leftover burritos and salad (I know I won't use everything from Monday's meal)
Is that so hateful? That's 38.00, people. That's no processed foods. That's no fuel-wasting imports. There's a little animal protein, but a whole lot of doctor-recommended plant-based items. I'm pretty certain that this is the secret to my enviable blood pressure. I'm pretty certain this is why I'm 7 pounds down on the scale without having really tried.. I'm absolutely certain that that was the best Saturday night pizza in town, no holds barred. And I'm absolutely certain that if I bank the pennies that I pinched this week, I can handle with aplomb any curve ball life might decide to throw.
So Bon Appetit, fellow cheapskates!