**This post is part of the June Food Stamp Challenge located over HERE.**
Yesterday was shopping day — or what I like to think of as my foraging day, because of the many pit stops to gather our food supply, including the local nonprofit where I share in surplus bread for free, the farmers’ market held on Tuesdays on Webster Street and Haight Avenue, and whichever grocery store has the best deals this week. Sometimes I also stop at other stores, pick up or drop off Freecycle items (in summer, that might mean vegetables or fruit or canning supplies), plus get gas, go to the post office, etc. Busy day, grouped errands to save gas, with good results at the end.
This week is the last week of school, so while we did not spend money on The Boy for his breakfast and lunch (did not count it as part of the JFSC, I mean — we still spent the money!), it all changes on Friday, when he is out of school for the whole summer, and eating, possibly with a pack of middle school-aged boys in and out of the house. So part of this week’s shopping trip had to account for that — to get prepared for the onslaught. My grocery list included chocolate chips for making cookies, lunchmeat, hot lunch items like macaroni and cheese and canned ravioli, and breakfast cereal. We needed milk, fruit and veggies, bread, and cat food, plus special items like whole wheat flour, salt, olives and Hot Pockets, that I don’t often buy.
It was a somewhat hectic morning, with some coming and going and extra domestic drama, partly because it was election day, one of the daughters worked the election but also has an interview today to prepare for, and other assorted mini-epic-dramas that made me feel pushed for time. So I did what many people do — I took a shortcut and skipped the foraging. I just went to one store. Granted, I took my list and my coupons, but I didn’t make the extra effort to stop in several places, even knowing those stops would save me money.
This seems a normal choice to make, whether you are on food stamps or not. Sometimes circumstances change and life happens, and you do your best, and it might cost you money, and there will perhaps be consequences somewhere later in the month. Maybe. We will see, won’t we?
Upshot is that I did not get free bread (though I may be able to go on Thursday if there is any more) and I did not get farmers’ market produce — with the result that I paid as much as three times more at Lucky, and not for organic or locally grown. (I do purchase California-only produce at Lucky, but organic? Can’t even pretend to afford it at the chain grocery stores.) I also had to buy bread — a single loaf of whole wheat bread, on sale, for $2.99. Yeesh — a whole lot of free bread, or one loaf? No-brainer here.
Not counting the pet food or toilet paper (can’t buy those with food stamps), I spent $144.70 to feed 5 for the next week. Using coupons and sale items, I saved $52.21, more than I usually save. Some of the items were stock-up, such as the extra bags of cereal, chocolate chips, double pack of salami and several boxes of organic mac and cheese. I got that mac and cheese as a closeout, so it was half-price, and I got 4 boxes, all that was left on the shelf. Did not buy meat except for the lunchmeat and a small amount of fish (locally caught cod, wrapped in paper only — less plastic is better for everyone).
The fruit was most expensive, as I mentioned. Last week I got 2 lbs of organic cherries for $5 at the farmers’ market. Yesterday I spent $7.15 for less than 2 pounds. Nectarines were $1.50 a pound at the farmers’ market last week. Yesterday at Lucky they were $2.99 a pound, making my purchase of 3 pounds about $9. That makes each piece of fruit $1 to eat. Oy vey. Mushrooms were $3.99 a pound, but the half-pound of mushrooms would have set me back just $1 at the farmers’ market.
Lesson: It costs money to cut corners sometimes. Saving time, or “convenience,” such as it is, definitely cost me more, when it comes to budget grocery foraging. Lesson learned.
Total spent thus far on groceries in June:$243.52 out of the $454.50 total we have to spend in food stamps. And this is just day 9. Yikes. That’s worth repeating. Yikes. That’s more than half my budget (approx. 53%) for the month, and not even a third of the way through yet.
3 lb bag of honey-nut flavor Cheerios (generic brand) for $2.99 — half the cost of the largest size of Cheerios available, and still more than we’d get in that large box.
2 bags generic brand raisin bran for $5: again, twice what we could get for half the cost of one box.
$1 per can of black olives — medium. The small olives were not on sale, and I don’t buy large, because you get more in the can (obviously) when you buy a smaller size. These are fun to add to lunches, salads, and tomorrow night’s homemade pizza. And on your fingers, obviously.
Pizza night on Thursday will be homemade from the whole wheat flour, olives and fresh tomatoes. We still have cheese from the big block bought last week. A can of tomato sauce was $0.50. We also save the extra parmesan cheese and red pepper flakes packages left over from purchased pizzas, to add to ours at home.
Thinking ahead: Mr. Husband and I are guests at the A’s-Giants baseball game on Friday night. I want to take our own snacks to save money. I got Crackerjack, an ethnic variety of corn nuts, and a package of chocolate bars, totalling $5.97 at the grocery store. We will take along our own tap water and peanuts (already purchased this month in bulk). This will save us at least $20 at the ball park. We can’t refuse the tickets to a free night out — but can say no to high ballpark food prices.**
One daughter asked for Hot Pockets to take to work, where she has just half an hour to eat, and has to stand up to eat. A one-handed Hot Pocket serves her need — but I’m going to try to make some homemade versions over the weekend. Got these on sale plus extra coupon $1 off, but they are crap food and I don’t want to buy them again. Or I could just make her pay for them ( yeah — make her pay for them. ha ha).
Breakfast: Coffee, cereal and milk (pantry, before shopping)
Snack: nectarine ($1)
Lunch: Turkey sandwich, cherries ($2); Patrick had the rest of the corn chowder (in the photo) and salad at work.
Snack: coffee, piece of hard candy (pantry)
Dinner: hot dogs (coupon purchase before JFSC began, from freezer, 99 cents a pack; 12 cents each), whole wheat buns (0.53 each),** salad, leftover mac & cheese, fresh fruit of choice ($1 per fruit serving). Dinner cost was approx. $2 per person.
Breakfast: Coffee, cereal and milk.
Snack: 1/2 cup plain yogurt, spoonful maple syrup, handful of peanuts
Lunch: Leftover BBQ chicken
Snack: Handful of cherries ($1), slices of cheese ($0.17 per ounce), coffee
Dinner*: Vegetarian feast: leftover corn on the cob, sauteed greens, salad, plus steamed brown rice, zucchini and carrots. Baked cod for the carnivores. ($4.71 for cod, approx $1 each for veggies/rice = approx $2 per person)
* My vegetarian stepdaughter is coming for dinner. She’s not in the budget, but we love to see her and feed her. Vegetables galore tonight!
** Wonder if we can pack our own hot dogs for the ball game? Hmm…
Julia Park Tracey is an award-winning journalist, author, and blogger. She is the author of "Veronika Layne Gets the Scoop" and "Veronika Layne Has a Nose for News" (rep'd by Booktrope). She is the Poet Laureate of Alameda, California. She's also the conservatrix of The Doris Diaries, the diaries of her great-aunt Doris Bailey Murphy. Her articles have appeared in Thrillist, Quill, Paste, San Francisco Chronicle, and in many magazines; her latest poetry appears in The East Bay Literary review.
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