November 2, 2011

Grocery Dilemmas (November 2, 2011)

The image was inspired by my Good Samaritan (see article).
While long term development and breaking of the poverty cycle
requires transfer of skills and investment in people, donations
and handouts can make a world of difference in meeting
immediate and crucial human needs.

Never in my life have I spent so long and walked so much in a grocery store while buying so little.  That was my experience yesterday as I entered the market with $9 in hand and an empty cupboard at home.  The entire exercise was a huge life lesson for me, and a startling reminder as to what the next three months will entail.

Due to having very limited resources available, this shopping trip required a totally different mindset than that which I am accustomed.  Normally, I would go into the store with my grocery list leading the way up and down the aisles from one end of the store to the other, and filling the cart to capacity with my desired items.  Of course I often have a budget to stay within, but it has always been perfectly sufficient to cover all of my needs and most of my wants.  Definitely not the case when one only has $9.

While I made a "grocery wish list" before shopping, this time I entered the store with my priorities in mind rather than any expectation that I would be able to get all, or even most, of the items on my list.  What were my priorities?  They were:

Buy a bulk staple item that would last for several days in case I have no money available the next day.
(ii) Buy toilet paper ( . . . the byproduct of eating has a cost to it as well).
(iii) Buy as balanced a diet as possible with representation from multiple food groups.

As for my "grocery wish list", it contained . . . bulky/cheap staple food (potatoes, rice, or oatmeal), fruit/vegetables, meat, butter, tea, shampoo/soap, salt/pepper/spices, deodorant, cheap/healthy snack stuff, and toilet paper.

You can see from my daily report below that I did manage to achieve my priorities and get some of the things on my list, but such did not occur without considerable grief and, thankfully, some unexpected relief.  The grief came from having to weigh each individual piece of fruit as well as potatoes, keeping very careful track of every single penny, and then having to eliminate items in the cart to stay under $9.  I had to put back two potatoes, exchange my banana for a smaller banana (yes, size does matter), and forgo toilet paper in favour of a cheap box of tissues.  Ironically, I couldn't afford the best deal on toilet paper . . . a 12-pack on sale for $4.99; and the skimpy little 4-pack was beyond my means as well.  Unfortunately, even with the cheap box of tissues, I was having to decide what else to put back on the shelf.  That is when the welcome relief came ( . . . or miracle as I like to think of it).  A lady from my church happened by as I was contemplating making my rather empty cart even emptier.  She asked about my furled brow, and we discussed my dilemma.  Then, like a Good Samaritan, she offered to give me two rolls of toilet paper from the 12-pack she would be buying.  Yes, it was a humbling experience being given toilet paper so that I could afford food . . . but one for which my tushie is ever so grateful.

I learned that it is REALLY tough making decisions between food and non-food essentials.  It actually sparked some anger within me when I had to contemplate wiping my butt instead of buying the food I wanted (recognizing that while meagre the food I was purchasing still exceeded my absolute needs).  Similarly, today I have to put gas in the car because I have some driving that has to be done in the next few days and so that also prevents buying food.  What if every purchase you made negatively affected your food supply?  Unfortunately, for billions around the world (including millions of Canadians, Americans, Australians, and Europeans) . . . it does.

Struggles of the Working Poor Daily ReportDay 1 (November 1st)
Weight at Beginning of Project:  233 lbs
Weight at End of Phase One:  216 lbs
Weight at Start of Phase Two: 221 lbs
Weight at Start of the Day:  221 lbs

Available Funds:   $0.00 (leftover) + $9.00 (new) = $9.00
Funds Spent Today:  $8.35
Remaining Funds:   $0.65

Items Purchased:   Bag of Minute Oats (1 kg), 3 Mr. Noodle Soups, Salami (175 g), 2 Apples, 1 Banana, 1 Potato, 1 Shallot, Sm. Bag of Red Skin Peanuts (Bulk – 190 g)

Free Items:  2 Rolls of Toilet Paper, Several Packets of Mustard & Ketchup, Several Packets of White Sugar, A Few Individual Servings of Margarine (like one would get in a restaurant)

Gas Purchased*:  $0.00 (i.e. 0 litres @ $1.129 per litre . . . 0 km @ 10 km/litre)
Driving Today:  0 km (i.e. 0 litres)
Gas Remaining:  0 litres (i.e. 0 km)

*Will not include any fuel or driving related to work that is paid for work.

I look forward to receiving any feedback on my purchasing decisions, especially if you have
some ideas on what you might have done differently.

Hey!!  I'm That Poverty Guy . . . let's make a world of difference together.

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  1. dollar stores have some food and household items at way less then grocery stores. Shampoo, cream rinse and toilet paper are good bargains at the dollar store here in Airdrie.. not high quality stuff but at least its in the meager budget.

  2. I'm going to go out and see what I could get for $9 in the local stores and then will come back and let you know what I might have done differently. Local stores, though, are more expensive than the supermarket which has generics.

  3. Sean D. Krausert, EditorNovember 2, 2011 at 2:07 PM

    Cat . . . Thanks for the Dollar Store suggestion. I'm going to check it out re soap.

    Celeste . . . Cool! I look forward to hearing about your experience. I recognize that taste may come into play, but it will be interesting to see what choices you make. I will likely spend $1 or $2 today on fruit and another potato, but the rest of the stuff I bought will see me through today and until at least tomorrow afternoon.

  4. Here's my list (some prices are approximate). I'd buy 1 lb. brown rice, 1 dozen eggs, 1 lb. kidney beans, 1 small head of cabbage, 2 cans of tomato sauce, 3 small oranges and just 1 roll of toilet paper. That should come to $8.80. If I had only $9 to spend I would not buy meat. This way I can make a variety of soups to go with my meals.

  5. Sean D. Krausert, EditorNovember 2, 2011 at 4:27 PM

    Wow Celeste . . . GREAT JOB! However, I'm not certain that I could buy all of those items at my local stores for the same price. When looking at rice the smallest bag was over $4 (if not $5) and the cheapest eggs were close to $3. I'm guessing the two cans of tomato sauce would be at least $1 each. So just these three items would have used up the $9 for me. That said, while I would miss the oranges, I really don't like cabbage or kidney beans so I wouldn't miss those items terribly. :) And, my cheapest option for toilet paper was $2.09 (although I will need to check the Dollar Store). It's interesting how different people would go . . . and glad neither of us would have to waste money feeding an addiction. THANKS SO MUCH for having gone through this exercise.

  6. Your project is so interesting! This post makes me want to give you suggestions like red beans and rice or just beans and cornbread or lentil stew....
    I really relate to the variety need you mentioned in another post. It's something I had thought of as cultural preference more than a luxury. But really it is a luxury that we are just used to. Here in Burkina Faso, they often eat the same staple food 2 or 3 meals a day. It's a corn flour based starch boiled to a playdough consistency that they dip in a sauce if they have one. It's not bad, depending on the sauce! :) But I'm spoiled and can't imagine eating the same thing all the time.
    I hope you have a great month!

  7. Sean D. Krausert, EditorNovember 3, 2011 at 12:41 AM

    Thanks for your comment, Andrea. I don't like the idea of eating the same thing all the time either. However, like you, I have seen it for myself . . . particularly when I was in Sierra Leone (every meal was pretty much rice with a spicey sauce on top). During this phase of That Poverty Project I am feeling a great reduction in options and therefore am rebelling against going to the same thing over and over. There will be enough of that in the next phase of the project when I am eating WFP food rations every day. You have a great month, too!

  8. Sean D. Krausert, EditorNovember 10, 2011 at 2:08 PM

    Thanks. Good to hear from you!

  9. I have just stumbled into your blog and what a great blog this is. While I am not homeless,I live on a pension income from the Canadian Government and It,s a shame what is given to us to live on for a month. My prescriptions alone cost over $70.00 plus my MSP is $ 109.00 plus Blue Cross of $ 209.00. So not much is left over for rent ,utilities and food. Sure I could apply for social housing but I have a pet who comforts me and I am not willing to give him up. I stopped work at 68 only because I was fired . I worked with a subsidized housing project for many years and I was responsible for housing seniors. I know all the rules and regulations that take place when housed in these places. For example,one can not be away from the apartment for over a month or they loose the subsidy.Many of the seniors would like to visit friends or families but they are bound by the rules. Friends or family members are not allowed to sleep over to be with the parent,there is much more to be said about this type of housing and I fully understand why some people do not want to stay in a regulated environment. Food is a big issue. I now buy rice and beans pasta,bread,etc. all the foods that I know will cause me to gain weight because these food sustain life. Milk is few and far between grocery shopping and meat is a luxury. Thank goodness I am mostly vegetarian. But speaking of fruits and vegetables I look for markdowns.I could write a book about my experiences throughout my working years of earning a good income and now thrusted into the poverty level You are doing wonderful work and I commend you for taking a stand against poverty.Thank you for letting me tell my side of the story.

  10. Sean D. Krausert, EditorNovember 11, 2011 at 3:08 PM

    Hello Donna . . . I'm very glad you found the blog! Not only are your wonderful, kind words very encouraging to me . . . I am so grateful that you shared your story! We absolutely need to have a better system whereby everyone in our society gets the meds they need without it hampering their ability to get food. No one should have to worry about food! I hope you will continue to follow along, and provide your comments as you feel called to do so.