When I was a new stay-at-home mother, I read all sorts of blog posts that cheerfully boasted I could easily feed a family of 17 for $6 a day. They made me cry! I couldn't do this "food genie" thing to make us eat yummy, healthy dinners on that tiny of a grocery budget. It wasn't until YEARS later that I started seeing all these hidden "tricks" to "Feed your family on $20 a week." First, people had "on hand" all kinds of expensive spices. Because of my frequent moves across 5 states in 2 years, I always had a barren spice rack. Second, people had gardens --while I lived in a 3rd floor city apartment. Third, people clipped coupons and shopped at 17 different stores--while I had city bus pass and 3 kids under age 5.
Fourth-- people like ground their own corn meal and stuff. Now I like to cook, and I learned how to cook far more things from scratch as a stay-at-home Mom--but there was also this thing I was busy doing as a Catholic wife---having Mr. Benjamin's babies. And babies are hard! It's hard to be pregnant. It's hard to breastfeed. It's hard to soothe colicky newborns. So while I became a huge fan of not buying highly processed food--I also became a realist about food prep time. Baking my own saltine crackers sounds like a fascinating money saving idea for another season of my life, one in which I am a) not in the first trimester and b) have at least one child over the age of 12!
This week we have a grocery shopping challenge $30 to spend on groceries. This is not a self-imposed coupon saving game. I have $40.61 in my checking account until August 1. My husband and I decided that we can spend $30 on groceries. (Thanks honey, for letting me post our financial info online).
Now, you'll remember that three weeks ago, my family was caught in those awful thunderstorms. My house lost power for 11 days. Every single thing from frozen pork chops to mustard to bread yeast got thrown out afterwards. So that means that we are starting this challenge with 1 gallon of milk, a cabbage, and half a ketchup bottle.
There is also practically nothing in the cupboards--because it was emergency eating in the Benjamin house. Also, lets face it, poor Carmelites don't stock up well during a normal summer week.
My garden--did I tell you about my garden? I was so excited to have one this year after 5 years of living in the City, that I carefully planted Tomatoes, Basil and Carrots. I loved my garden. I fell under massive weeds a few times, since I was distracted by Baby Abigail's colic--but each time I patiently saved it. I did a lot of praying in that garden! Then a gigantic tree feel in the back of my house during the thunder storm--and God saved my garden. I went back there and the Basil plants were saved by a mere 2 inches! Hurrah!
Then a neighbor came to chop up our tree for the power company and buried my garden in 6 feet of debris. Yeah. I carried every single one of those messy tree limbs on my garden to the front of my property so the Street Crew could cart it away. It was a good lesson in NOT getting discouraged when Satan appears to junk the fruits of your spiritual life. All the same, when I discovered that we only had $30 in grocery money this week I told God "You know, I could have been buying only cream and supplying my family with yummy tomato basil soup this week--but SOMEBODY killed all my tomato plants this summer."
Yeah. It's never smooth sailing in the spiritual life.
My task as a wife is to use $30 to feed 6 people for 9 days.
I'm really excited to write about this because I think deep down this is what everyone else is afraid of doing. Isn't that one of the reason no one has five kids? What happens when you screw up the money and you run out of cash before the end of the month?
Don't even feel bad about me being poor. I probably have a small grocery budget anyway because I live the life of the Holy Family--but truly an outsider would say I made a "money mistake" last Saturday. My kids are on the Swim Team. On Saturday, we spent 8 hours at a Divisional Swim Meet in another City. My Wal-mart bill on Friday was $77.26.
That bill included Friday dinner,
treats for the Swim Meet,
$20 cash of the meet concession stand,
and (just so we're totally honest here) $21.00 for a bat man toy for my seven year old son who fell off his starting block at Friday morning's practice and was completely traumatized by the blood, the pain, and three large coaches spending a very long time bandaging his knee.
Then we spent $20 at Sweet Frog to celebrate the end of the Swimming Season.
So I could have had $127.26 to spend on groceries this week--which is a more normal number for us, but instead I'm down to $30.
My husband is trying to get me off my obsession with making "money mistakes". I seriously spend so much of my life second guessing my purchasing decisions as a Mother. I constantly feel like I "screwed up" or let my family down. My husband has laid down a rule that I'm not allowed to do that anymore. I'm not allowed to feel bad that I bought my son a toy, or that we tried to feed six starving people on $50 during a long swim meet, or that we had a delightful time at Sweet Frog. My husbands new mantra is "we're going to live our life. We're going to do our best to make good decisions in the moment. We're going to trust God to do the rest."
So far, so good. I didn't get a panic attack last night. I didn't pick a fight with my husband. (These are big goals for me). Instead, we went to Wal-mart and calmly spent $25 for food for five nights. Last night we had Spaghetti. This morning we had eggs and toast. Tonight I making meatloaf and baked potatoes.
Thank you God for our Daily Bread.