Sunday, October 26, 2008

Price of food

I am the kind of uninspired cook that has to have a recipe. Blair can go into the kitchen at 5 and "whip something up," but I've never had that gift. I am also the type who beats herself up about the amount of money we spend on food. There are seven of us, which includes three teenagers, so I never expected feeding us to be a low-cost venture. But I always feel bad if I leave the store spending more than the "$100 a week" some of those other big families out there spend (like I believe them anyway.)

I can spend as little as $250 to feed us for a week. It won't be pretty, though. We're talking the Standard American Diet here, which is sad indeed. Cold cereal, PB&J, frozen entrees bought on a BOGO, chips and chocolate. *barf*

Or, I can spend $350 a week and feed us well. Leafy greens, colorful veggies, lots of beans and a smattering of meat. I know that figure shocks some of you, it shocks me, too. And lest you think I'm buying "goodies," here's this week's breakdown:

Bread: $21.44 (7%)
Canned goods: $16.70 (5%)
Dairy: $30.84 (9%)
Dried Fruit and Nuts: $9.47 (3%)
Frozen: $1.79 (less than 1%)
Grains: $8.97 (3%)
Meats: $42.66 (13%)
Paper: $17.34 (5%)
Treats (crackers, a jar of nutella and a jar of PB): $12 (4%)
Produce: $161.48 (50%)

That $323 will last us close to, but not quite a week. Yeah, I could (and do!) make my own bread. The bread listed here is weird stuff like bagels and tortillas. One of our less expensive snacks is quesadillas with just a tortilla and cheese, but I can't make my own tortillas well enough. And one bagel with a topping is a whole meal. Canned goods includes canned beans and tomato products. I could (and do!) make beans from dried, but canned is an important shortcut for me when time is short. $31 for dairy might seem a bit low for a family with growing children and high for a family with allergies. That total includes soy milk for Papa and lactose-free for Blair. The dried fruits and nuts aren't a weekly expense, but this week we're having a couple dishes that include them. They go a long way and have a good shelf life, so leftovers won't go to waste.

A package of corn is all I got from the freezer section. If we want ice cream or popsicles we'll make it ourselves. Grains includes whole grains to mill at home for bread baking, some polenta and a big canister of rolled oats. I went a tiny bit overboard on the meats this week. Although we are only having three meals with meat at all, they are salmon, lamb and chicken. The lamb was just one pound ground, so that's a chunk. The chicken, too, was a chunk and on sale. But, oh, the salmon! $20 is a whole lot less than you'd pay in a restaurant to feed salmon to 7 people, and I really feel strongly about the nutritional advantage of fish, but $20 for one item really chokes me.

I'm not going to begrudge the kids for asking for crackers and nutella. We're not drinking sodas or juice, and after a week of kale and collards they'll need something yummy. I'm not going to fuss about several boxes of Kleenex when we have runny noses or the cost of toilet paper. It is what it is.

But $161 for produce?!? Yikes! That really hurts! And the individual prices hurt, too. $2.50 for a head of romaine. One tomato for $2.59. One bell pepper for $2.09. That's just wrong. How am I supposed to push fruits and veggies if they are so outrageously priced?

And how, exactly do those other large families get out of the store for $100 a week? I can only assume they're eating the SAD. Our allergies pose a problem in that so many processed foods have corn and casein and other things we can't have. But really, do they just not eat tomatoes? Ever? No salads? What? How do they do it?

I was so spoiled by our CSA program. It was a challenge coming up with ways to serve what I got before it went bad, and I'll confess, the radishes, okra and one of the eggplants went to the neighbors. But paying up front for it made it seem like it was "free food" and that made it a lot easier to swallow than buying at grocery store prices weekly.

I need to figure something out for sure, because when we eat well, our food budget surpasses our mortgage payment.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Okay, I feel a little better now

It's quite a rollercoaster I'm riding these days. I pray for the faith that would keep me on an even keel.

At the recommendation of a Christian businessman and friend of mine, I recently read "The Four Hour Workweek." I do not recommend it generally. It has a lot of suggestions that cross the line for my overworked code of ethics (inflating the quantity of work you do at home while decreasing productivity in the office for the purpose of convincing your boss to allow you to telecommute.)

But he did have one interesting thing to say about my circumstances. He suggested I spend a little time in absolute destitution and face that which I actually fear. He laid it all out in glorious black and white. When faced with the stark reality of that degree of poverty, I suddenly realized two things (which I'd known all along and allowed my fear to shield from me):
  1. It wouldn't be THAT bad. No, really. I mean, it's not as bad as being in that situation and alone, right? I'd still have my precious hunkybunny beside me, and my beautiful children to love. That would go a long way toward comforting me.
  2. Would the Lord really let his people dumpster dive for food? Hm. Yes...and no. I mean it wouldn't really speak well of Him to have the world pointing at us as an example of "His People." But, He has been known to use the low and foolish to instruct the righteous, so yeah, I can see it might happen. But if it did happen, He would be there.
I guess what I'm trying to say (and saying darned poorly) is that nothing set before me in this life is insurmountable as long as He goes with me.

After all, I've just survived two years in the South! I got over that hurdle, so bring it on!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Oh my. Oh my. Oh my.

It's October. The severance pay runs out this month. We have no job offers, no interviews, no bites. I just did a "bare bones analysis" of our finances. To keep our house, food on the table and the electricity on, we need $5000 a month after taxes. To keep the prescriptions running, keep braces on the kid who is already braced, payments current on the dentist bill and hubby's back in line, we need another $1200 a month which includes the cost of insurance. No insurance? $2400 a month.

Those totals mean:
no TV ("free" TV isn't available here)
no Netflix (we're already on the lowest-priced plan)
no internet (this would be nearly impossible, the three jobs hubby and I are working right now absolutely depend on internet access)
one tank of gas a week (we are using two tanks a week right now)
the lowest cost phone plan (we switched over to this on October 1)
turning OFF the AC and heat (we turned off the AC on September 20, despite several 90 degree days since. Heat will eventually be more important.)
turning off the cell phone (we switched to pay-as-you-go on August 1 and have turned off the phone already)
handwashing dishes with water heated on the stove (I'm hesitant to do that because each time we've tried it in the past we have contracted viruses that hang around for months)
hanging laundry out to dry (I prefer air-dried clothes, but hubby is adamant. He even told me he thought it was illegal in this state to erect clotheslines. What a joker.)
no Christmas gifts (this will hurt. It's been a scary, hard time for the kids already. Compounding it with the thought of no gifts might push several of us—okay, ME—over the edge.)
two meals a day and beans and rice three times a week (eh, we'd probably be healthier for it. But the thought of having hungry children makes me very, very sad.)

We are talking seriously bare bones. And I can do it, I've done it in the past and I can do it again. I'm not complaining.

I'm panicking.

Because even if we turn off and get down to the bare-bones-level, there still needs to be $6200-7400 a month after taxes coming in as of November 1. I can make probably $1400 a month working outside the home, tops. Hubby's bringing in about $2500 a month with freelance work. My two little work-at-home jobs bring in about $400 a month, but if I work outside the home, one of those will have to end. We could send Blair to work, and she could probably make another $1400 which would bring us within shooting distance of our rock-bottom goal. But if we two are at work all day, we will both need clothes, and who would cook? Clean? Homeschool?

Okay. There. I've panicked and now I need to be done and move on.

I work this into my schedule every so often. Just panic, get it over with and move on. Admittedly, it's going to be harder to move on from now on because, after all, it's October.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

And what did YOU do today, dear?

I listed about 100 new books on my Amazon store site. I still have about another 50 to go. Drop by if you like books, I've got some pretty neat stuff up! Better yet, wait until Monday so you can see it all. But don't forget, okay?