(Not So) Frugal Groceries
Posted by Victoria | Filed under Victoria
Grocery budgeting is one of the hardest parts of my efforts to be frugal. Apart from rent, it is by far what I spend the most money on in a month, the area I find hardest to cut back on, the one I can always make excuses for, and the one where I have the most discretion. My rent is fixed, my internet and phone are fixed (and I am pretty good about extraneous long distance charges), and I have been trying to put money for planned expenses such as work clothing and trips.
By virtue of not going to book stores, Canadian Tire, Lee Valley, flower shops, stationers, handicrafters’ fairs, farmers’ markets, or any of the other places I tend to spend money except when I actually plan ahead to buy something, I have more or less managed to rein in my spending in those areas. I can usually avoid the liquor store. I’m rarely tempted to get take out, and I don’t go out all that often, so it stays a treat.
But when it comes to the grocery store . . . I am weak.
I eat pretty healthily, in that I don’t like much junk food except ice cream. However, I really like good food. I love fine cheese, and fancy olives, and imported British pickled onions. I have a longing for unusual condiments, for fig spread and onion chutney and morello cherry jam and Portuguese hot sauce. (And Jamaican, bought after reading one of Gail’s recipes.) I have more kinds of black tea than most cafés, including several dedicated tea houses. I love charcuterie and good bread and very good cookies and expensive crackers. I buy spices I’ve merely heard of — juniper berries (I’m not sure how you tell when the ones on garden shrubs are ripe, so I’ve never picked them.) — Aleppo pepper — Za’atar — Powdered galangal root. Oh, all sorts of things. Rose water. Pomegranate molasses. Elderflower cordial. More cheese.
I can easilyconvince myself to buy these things by inviting people over. I love having people over to eat, I love extending hospitality, I enjoy cooking and I’m not too bad at it. But — as I said, this is my weakness. It’s one thing to do this once in a while, for a party that’s been budgeted in advance, for a friend visiting from out of town just for a little while, for a special occasion. Eating well is an important part of my life, for the cheer of the soul and the body, but it’s still something that’s worth being a little less extravagant about. If I made pots of money — of course! It’s another thing to splurge on these small pleasures when I have a bigger goal I’m working towards.
Getting the CSA weekly box of vegetables and fruit, and bi-weekly meat, has meant that I am not going to lose out on good fresh produce. Since starting the box I’ve been very good about not buying meat otherwise — though I have bought some frozen shrimp (on sale), as I like to have it in the freezer — and generally I’ve been managing with those vegetables through the week. It’s the rest that I have to watch for: dairy and staples and those pesky specialties.
I have made a resolution to eat out my cupboards. Not just of things like tinned tomatoes or tuna or beans, all of which I have, but all these partial jars of spices, of jams and pickles, and especially of tea. I’m planning on moving next summer, and I don’t want to have very much of anything left to dump on my friends (delightful as it was to receive spices and pickling salt and sugar cubes from mine who moved this summer).
Most importantly, I am going to stop going to the grocery store — which is about three minutes’ walk away and the quickest route downtown lies through it — when I’m bored. I’ll make do with what I get in my box, what I have in pantry and in my fridge, and only when it’s truly necessary — when I’m out of all kinds of mustard, not just the one I like best — will I replace it. This isn’t just sticking to the perimeter for fresh things. This means wholesale change of habits.
I’m hoping this will help me trim my grocery budget considerably this fall, which I will be able to put into savings to my Europe trip (where I will learn to make a lot of the foods I now buy), and encourage my ingenuity in the kitchen. The great cuisines of the world arose out of people making do with lack, after all. If I want to be a good cook, I should do likewise. That’s the reward of frugal grocery shopping I’m hoping for, anyway.