Saturday, September 20, 2014

One way to spend hundreds on groceries

This past month, I spent hundreds of dollars buying meat: I spent about four hundred dollars, in fact.  Especially for a former vegetarian like me, that's a heck of a lot of money to spend on consumable animals!

Of course, the reason I spent so much is that September is the time of year when we rev up our chest freezer for winter use.  Summer, the freezer sits empty and unplugged, but when tomatoes and corn start filling up the pantry, we know it's time to wipe down the inside of the freezer with a bit of water and bleach, plug 'er in, and fill 'er up with food that doesn't make it into canning jars.

My husband and boys are dedicated and enthusiastic carnivores, and they're also prone to impulse purchases.   So when the freezer starts up again,  I try to head off meat purchases that might be expensive/trash-intensive/questionably sourced with my own bulk purchase of hamburger and turkey kielbasa from local, organic places where I won't get styrofoam trays or excessive packaging.  And by bulk purchasing the meat, I bring the price-per-pound down, too.

But as I forked over my money it struck me . . . well, it struck me just how striking it is to pay for all of our hamburger and turkey at once.  This half-freezer-full of animal protein ought to last us for many months.  We'll buy a turkey at Thanksgiving; we'll buy pork for New Years; we might buy chicken wings for the boys' birthdays (a new family tradition), but that might be the only extra meat we buy until March.  So that's something like $16/week for a family of (now) four of us.

$400 for food sounds like a lot of money.  $16 doesn't.  This isn't profound -- it's just another example of how it's possible to think in such different ways about the same amount of money.  It's like the reverse view of that old financial chestnut about adding up the daily coffee purchase or the restaurant lunches:  "that $3/day habit means $750 spent each year on donuts!".  For me, I get my 'yoicks' up front.

I think this is another reason why I like bulk purchasing food.   When I used to shop frequently, every grocery store trip had something unusual to it, so it was hard to get an overall sense of where my money went.   There were just too danged-many purchases to keep track of.  But when I stock up on hamburger, or when I fork over (heh) $500 for  a CSA share that will provide most of our vegetables for the year, or when I take a trip to Miller's and buy enough flour and oats to tide us over for three months, well, then I have a better sense of the heft and expense that goes along with feeding my family.

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