Thursday, March 22, 2012

Guest Post: No Buy Boot Camp

Our guest post today is from my friend Jenna.  Jenna and I met at orientation for library school and have been fast friends ever since. While Jenna is frugal in many ways (she always manages to leave a store without buying anything, which I can't seem to do), she also has certain areas of overspending--like so many of us, and I know she'd appreciate any advice anyone has.

My name is Jenna, and I am an extravagant spender.

No, I don’t go out and buy fancy outfits or makeup. I don’t wear any jewelry or take luxurious vacations, but I like to eat out. I take food really seriously, and I don’t mind spending a lot of money for something I like. However, a perfect storm of circumstances has put me in a unique position – I moved to a new place, got a new job, and moved in with my boyfriend.

My boyfriend is a grad student and is living on a fixed income. His favorite food is bar food, and since I don’t know many people in the area yet, he is almost always my dining companion. In trying to be fair to him, I ended up eating significantly more greasy food at loud places, and spending a lot of money. I’m sick of it. When I lived alone, in a bigger city full of better food, I could justify going out all of the time. But living in my new smaller city, with less food I really love, and more mouths in my house to feed, something has got to give.

So this week, the week of my $300 electric bill, I decided I would learn to eat in. My boyfriend and I are holding a self-imposed two week long no-buy-boot-camp. What I am already realizing is that if you are unaccustomed to grocery shopping for the week, and planning out your meals, it really does seem like an impossible task. I am a “shop for the exciting meal I thought to make tonight and spend 12 dollars on fancy cheese” type of grocery shopper. Going to the store and trying to think of 4 different meals that could include kale feels stifling and boring to me.

Plus there is the added complication of my boyfriend and my eating styles. I like to eat vegetarian a lot, I grew up kosher – I eat a lot of dairy, a lot of pasta, and really can’t bring myself to eat things like ham sandwiches. My boyfriend grew up in a world where you choose the type of meat you are making that night and work from there.  So we’re learning from each other.

Our first meal-planning eat-at-home purchase was frozen tilapia filet. So far we have thought to make: fish tacos and lemon white wine tilapia with potatoes and veggies. Beyond that, I don’t think I could bear to eat another day of fish. We made a big fruit salad that I can eat for breakfast and as a lunchtime dessert. I am also considering making a chocolate fondue and dipping the fruit in it, just to use it up, and because fondue is really fun. I have some tempeh and kale, which is my favorite type of stir fry – and I think we could make a big pizza with a number of different toppings and eat that for a few days for lunch and dinner. The world of casseroles is still a little too foreign to me. My feeling is that perhaps I can plan and make meals I know I will like that I hope my boyfriend will eat, and he can plan and make meals he will like, and I will try to have a more open mind to his more red-blooded American meat-centric take on things.

Immediately after making our pact I started to waiver. Two weeks is a really long time. What if I want to go get coffee with coworkers? How will I be social? I decided I will take it a day at a time, and tell people about our challenge so that there are no hurt feelings. So far, the second day wasn’t so hard. I made myself a frozen bagel and coffee for breakfast (and realized my coffee at home is way better than the swill at my job) , a passable turkey sandwich for lunch (cold cuts provided by my boyfriend’s mom, who never comes to our house empty handed – double frugality!), a fruit salad snack (also thanks to his mom), and a seaweed tamari rice cake (provided by your blogger in residence herself, who left them at my house when she visited). So not only do I have here a nearly free day of eating, I’d say I am eating very healthy too .

Though I am just a few days in, things seem to be running pretty smoothly. I am showing up to work a bit later, but I don't take my typical 10am coffee break. And my enthusiasm for the challenge has lead me to invite folks over to enjoy our home-cooked dinners, so my social life isn't hurting too badly. But I guess we will see if I am still so cheerful about the challenge by next week!

1 comment:

  1. I liked this entry. I am always looking for ways to cut the grocery budget while keeping our meals healthy, so it's interesting to see other people's experiences. Yes, I am the dork with the calculator in the produce aisle. To prevent myself from getting sick of making our own food all the time (b/c we eat out maybe 1-2 Xs a month) I don't cook time consuming things, like most French foods, etc. I think that's part of why casseroles, stews, etc., figure strongly in midwestern fare. If your kitchen duty is going to be a daily affair w/ no subs or time outs, you gotta make it easy on yourself. It's a marathon, not a sprint, so I approach it accordingly. Monthly menu planning and 2 big grocery shopping trips a month help me stay organized and within budget.