So, I went to pick up a few groceries today, intent on staying within my self-imposed $25 per week budget, and walking out of the store I found myself seriously wondering whether I have drastically underestimated prices and overestimated my ability to pull this off.
I spent $33 on a huge bag of frozen berries ($12), four liters of milk ($4), a large package of mushrooms ($4), 18 eggs ($5), greek yogurt ($6), and 10 lbs of onions ($2), which puts me at $8 over budget already. And that’s with planning to use up the leftover veggies that are in the fridge before buying any more.
Thinking it through, I know that the berries, onions, and milk (which I freeze) will last me well over a month, so that won’t be a cost again for awhile. That should make it possible to buy only fruits and veggies on the next trip. This is probably do-able, but it’s always somewhat disconcerting to see how much groceries cost even before factoring in reports that prices will be rising around five percent for 2016.
But once I had that sorted, that’s when the really deep questions started.
Once I got home, I got to thinking about the ethics of sticking to a budget like this. First of all, I’ve artificially set my budget pretty low for no real reason other than taking on a financial challenge. If I go over it’s not a big deal, although I’m striving not to. I also have the benefit of using up food from my pantry and leftovers from the fridge. And I have the means to easily drive myself to whatever stores are having the best sales. But this isn’t the reality for most people, and I wouldn’t want to give the impression that a $25 a week budget is easy or something everyone should or even could be doing.
On top of that, I started to factor in the disheartening ethics of the food system and the fact that we pay so little for food. Another reason I can stick to this budget is because food here is really inexpensive compared to many areas of the world. This is largely because many of the costs of its production are taken off us and put onto the earth and other people. The true cost should be a lot higher.
Sitting here now, I’m questioning whether this is the right choice. I don’t think there’s any question that it’s a good financial move. But, would it be better to raise the budget and head to the farmer’s market, where I can get free range eggs and locally grown apples and the amazing sourdough from the bakery just a town over? Is saving my money worth it in terms of all of the other costs that are offloaded to other people who shouldn’t have to sustain them?
Given the present food system, many people can’t make this choice for a whole host of reasons. But if I can make it I feel like I should. It’s true that the local market tends to be more expensive than the discount grocery store, but maybe there are some ways to find a balance between financial savings and supporting local businesses. Over the next week I’m going to take some time to think a bit more about this challenge and how I can do it in a way that doesn’t lead to me feeling quite so guilty after a grocery trip.