When I lived overseas the first year of my time in Uzbekistan, the family I stayed with struggled to make ends meet in a way most Americans will never know. It was a treat to get a piece of meat in your rice or soup dish, and regardless of how tough it might me, the recipient ate and gnawed every last bit of meat and flavor down to the bone. It might sound depressing, but in reality, it only accentuated the privilege of getting a piece of meat and heightened your enjoyment of it.
These last few days of July, I feel kind of like we’re gnawing on the bones of our remaining food supply (not entirely, but with a lot of our basics like pasta, veggies, etc.). Upon returning from our vacation in Newport Beach, CA, we had about $21 left in our budget for the remaining 4 days of July. Now, for a lot of frugal meal planners out there, that might seem like a lot, but in California, once you factor in the milk, cheese, produce, and fresh fruit we normally like to eat (and this isn’t even getting fancy), I found myself staring at my shopping list and deciding which things to keep on there and which ones to cross off, and am now using up a lot of remaining items in our pantry to complete the meals.
It’s not like we don’t have the extra money to get the things on the crossed-off list, but this month, I’ve really tried to stay within our budget. Otherwise, what is a budget good for? The hardest thing has been resisting the urge to stock up on certain things that are on sale this week, but I am trying to restrain myself, because often I am always in the “stock up” mode and don’t end up staying within my budget for any month. I have found trying to stay within my budget, however, to be a good exercise in the end, because it forced me to be more creative with what we had on hand, and to think differently about menu planning. Instead of thinking “I really feel like eating this (a big temptation anyway for a pregnant woman), so I’ll just go and get the ingredients to make it” , I asked what we really had the ingredients for, and tried to plan my meals around it.
I don’t think the results are too bad, and it was fun to find some last minute produce deals in Farmer Joe’s that gave me more variety than I had expected:
Tuesday: Leftover chicken tikka masala (frozen before we left for vacation), a corn-dog quesadilla and corn for our son (hey, don’t knock it until you try it)
Wednesday: Greek chicken salad w/ feta cheese, calamata olives, and a pint of organic cherry tomatoes on sale for $0.99
Thursday: Curried chicken pasta salad
Friday: Lazy Korean sushi or chicken broccoli stir-fry
We also had a few balls of frozen chocolate chip cookie dough that I baked up today, and I picked up some fresh starter yogurt to make some tonight. Tomorrow I will make another batch of granola to go with the yogurt, and we can have some drizzled w/honey and the pound of strawberries we got for $1.29. We also have 3 lbs of bananas and a whole seedless watermelon to tide us over until Aug. 1. Between that and the remaining frozen banana crunch muffins and buttermilk we have to make pancakes and eggs, we should be doing just fine.
What about you? How do you usually feel in those lean times of your food budget – deprived or challenged, or a little bit of both? I personally like to make it into a game sometimes to see what I can come up with – kind of like a Food Network Frugal challenge. Actually, it would be pretty interesting to see a contest where they gave contestants a certain set of ingredients, and then judged based on how far they could stretch those ingredients, not just on how creative the end result was.