I start with the spices. Rainbow sells herbs and spices in bulk and I'm curious to find out just how much I've been saving by buying only the amount I want, and not paying for the little jar it comes in. An inexplicable array of items are available only in non-organic forms. Organic cardomom pods are available, but bay leaves are not. Organic rosemary and thyme are available, but not sage. Cayenne? Organic. Chipotle (at $125/pound!), not. I can only imagine the cost of organic Chipotle powder.
.: Eating Organic on a Food Stamp Budget --> archive
I move through the sections filling in my sheet. An older gentleman stops me with a question: "You work here, yes?" I explain that I'm just marking prices.
I start loading my cart. Flour, barley, dried fruit, fresh fruit, green tea. I had planned to buy some strawberries since they're in season, but after considering the cost I put them back. I still don't know how far above or below my budget I'm running. I choose apples and valencia oranges instead, the cheapest fruits available.
At the checkout, disaster strikes. My bill is $81.80, enormous. Even after subtracting the costs of non-food items the bill comes to $59.70, much higher than I expected. Back at the car, I scan the receipt to find out what went wrong. Green tea. Organic green tea. The cheapest organic variety available is $68.25/pound. I have learned not to let the high cost per pound scare me when buying bulk herbs—an ounce or two of most things is affordable even at nominally high costs. But I guess I should have paid more attention this time. .17 pounds of green tea has cost me $11.60.
Breakfast: Coffee; Oatmeal (1)
Lunch: Risotto; Cherries
Dinner: Whole Wheat Pizza with mushrooms; Salad with Raspberry Vinaigrette Dressing; red wine (1), beer (1)
As far as the project goes, it will be fine. Much of my purchase price will be tallied against next week's food, and I can subtract the cost of unused tea at the end of the project. But people on limited incomes have to rely on the cash they have on hand. At the register, paying for groceries with a week's worth of food stamps, I would have had to start handing things back. Oh, I'm so sorry, I didn't bring enough money. Here, take the tea.
On a limited budget, even with cash in hand, watching those items add up can be traumatic. I well remember, in my own bad old days, having to purchase some item like deodorant or tampons which would instantly eat up half my grocery budget. I couldn't do without the food; I couldn't do without the extra item. I would just have to pay.
Other times I would treat myself to an extravagance, green tea, say, though it wouldn't have been organic in those days. Even knowing it was a planned purchase, my stomach would knot up as the prices appeared, one after the other, on the register. I'd console myself with a reminder that it would last me for months, that I wouldn't need to buy it again for a very long time—and still my stomach would knot and my shoulders would ride to my ears with anxiety.
This became so ingrained for a time, I remember going to the grocery store with a boyfriend who was buying groceries and my stomach knotted up at the price he was going to pay.
Coffee and oatmeal for breakfast, leftover risotto and cherries for lunch, and a delicious homemade mushroom pizza and salad for dinner.
Friday total: $10.67. Remaining weekly allowance: $17.02. (Note that Friday's total includes a new half-gallon of milk for general use—$3.19—and a quart of milk for yogurt—$1.99.)
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