I was searching in the storage room for Christmas decorations when I saw the unpacked boxes from my old farmhouse. Knowing of the rapidity with which they were packed as well as the sheer lack of organization involved, I despaired of the necessary drudgery that would be involved in unpacking them. Nonetheless, I sat down one day this past week and faced the dragon.
It actually wasn’t too bad. Two boxes held receipts that I’d held onto just out of habit. I began sorting through receipts from three to five years ago: one pile for official looking ones and another for old supermarket receipts and the like. After I finished, I picked up the trash pile but then paused to peruse some of the grocery store receipts – primarily as I was amazed that they were approximately two to three feet in length. As I was buying then for a household of two, then one, I was astounded at the amount of groceries purchased and the amount of money spent. What exactly was I buying then and why? I grabbed a handful of my current grocery receipts for comparison and sat down at my desk.
The Comparison: Premium & Brand Names
The older receipts were all from one of two Kroger stores in Roanoke, VA. The first thing I noticed were all the brand names – and premium ones at that. In fact, I had to look hard to find even one entry for a store brand over months of purchases and that was for a case of bottled water to take to company picnic. It was as if this grocery story chain didn’t even offer store brands, so overwhelming were the sheer number of premium brands. Looped over my arm and read aloud, it seemed to be a listing of commercials from primetime television.
The Comparison: Exotic Foods
We eat a variety of foods from a number of cuisines in this household, as we did in my former one. We just don’t seem to spend over a $1000 on groceries a month doing it. Looking at my Harrisonburg, VA Kroger receipts, I’m not counting four blocks of feta cheese, at least two premium olive oils (yes, I used to buy them for different flavors and functions), a bottle of sesame oil, packages of authentic udon noodles, slivered almonds for Chinese dishes, smoked herring, fresh (or at least unfrozen) wild salmon, every variety of rice known to man, a couple cans of coconut milk, fresh avocados, kiwis, bags of pignoli nuts – and this part of one week’s grocery trip according to one of the earlier receipts.
The Comparison: Nonfood Items
While I may still – rarely – purchase a nonfood item in the grocery store, the difference between my habits now is startling. So is the amount of money I save purchasing household cleaners, personal care items, and other nonfood items at Walmart, Dollar Tree, or other more appropriate – and less expensive – vendors.
In closing, I’m still the same person with the same recipes that require the same ingredients. How frequently I make the dish, however, is an option. So is where I purchase the ingredients: a farmers market or an Asian store versus the expensive exotic grocery store aisle. And all those premium brands? I only occasionally buy them and only when I’ve tried and found the store brand lacking. We’re eating better for less than 25% of what I used to spend.