I was just realizing that it’s been a long time since I’ve written anything – in fact it’s been over a month! This is mostly due to the fact that all I’ve done lately is work and pay down debt, which means my life has been boring and uneventful. I’ve done some minor league paring down here and there, but nothing interesting enough to generate a blog post.
A couple days ago though, I was on my way home when I remembered that the previous week’s meal plan had run out and it was my responsibility to figure out what we were having for dinner that night. I was going to drive past the grocery store on the way home, so I figured I might as well stop and do the shopping while I was already out and about. As I started to get out of the car though, I found myself automatically reaching for my shopping list and coupons, and then I realized that I didn’t have either of those things, because I hadn’t done an official meal plan for the week. I also hadn’t checked recipes for ingredients, taken stock of what was in the fridge or cupboards, or gone through my coupon stash. I hesitated, feeling unsure if I should even go in, but I had snagged a great parking spot, so I decided to brave it.
Keep in mind, it’s only been for the past year that I have been doing meal plans/shopping lists/coupons. Prior to this year I would stop at the store much like I was about to do – with absolutely no plan of what I was going to buy, counting on the contents of the store shelves to inspire me. I figured it would be fine – I’d managed to feed myself all those years before, and back then I was often going shopping after a long day of work and rehearsal, when I was already exhausted and brain dead. If I could pull together a week’s worth of groceries in that frame of mind, how hard could it be now?
Forty five minutes later, I was still wandering the aisles of the store like a zombie, staring blankly at all the food, with no solid plan for dinner that night. In my cart I had two boxes of Kleenex (I had a cold last week), a roll of paper towels, a package of marked down Reeses’ Peanut Butter Eggs, and a bottle of shampoo for Ron. With the exception of the candy, there was no actual food in my cart. I had been up and down pretty much every aisle at least twice, but couldn’t make a single decision about what to buy, for a few reasons:
- I knew had coupons at home for things like pasta, chicken, bread and frozen vegetables, so I didn’t want to buy any of those items on this trip when I knew I could save money on them
- I couldn’t remember what produce we already had in the fridge, and didn’t want to buy more than we could eat in a week and have the excess rot
- I couldn’t remember my and Ron’s schedules for the week, so I didn’t know how many meals I actually had to plan vs. meals where leftovers or something from the freezer would suffice
- For every dinner idea I could think of, I knew there were items I wasn’t going to be able to remember, which would mean having to run back to store again before dinner if I’d forgotten anything
Add to all this the fact that it is the end of the month, and I knew we only had about $60 in our checking account, so wasting money on anything we didn’t absolutely need was not an option.
So I made the decision that I would only buy enough stuff to get us through dinner that night, and I would come back the next day after I’d taken the time to do a proper meal plan and shopping list. And I reminded myself that we already had a partial bag of Easter Peanut M&M’s and Easter Whopper Eggs in the cupboard, so I put the Reeses’s Peanut Butter Eggs back on the markdown table. I saw some ground beef that was on sale so I decided to make burritos for dinner, since I was pretty sure we had most of the other ingredients already. I checked out with a bill of about $16, which wasn’t too bad, but later that night Ron had to run back to the store right before dinner and spend more money when we discovered that we had only one tortilla left in the package, and though I remembered seeing half a bag of tortilla chips in the cupboard, he’d somehow polished those off when I wasn’t looking.
It was a revelation to me that my new habits around grocery shopping were suddenly so much stronger than my old ones. The amount of money we’ve saved on groceries in the past year, along with the fact we no longer waste food has been a very positive change in our household. We have also found it a relief to know what is for dinner every night, so when we’re hungry and grumpy at the end of the day we don’t have to ransack the cupboards or navigate the store with all the other hungry grumpy people. I’m all for spontaneity and satisfying in the moment cravings, but when it comes to staying on budget, and not being wasteful, I definitely feel my new habits are the way to go.
The next day I went to the store, meal plan made and shopping list in hand. I was in and out of the store in a painless and focused ten minutes, and this time, everything in my cart was food:
Believe it or not, combined with some of the food we already have and need to use up, it’s enough food to get us through to the end of month before payday. We will use every bit of it. The total bill was $25.31 (about half of what was left in our bank account). I actually didn’t have any coupons for what I was buying this trip, but I felt better knowing I had at least checked to be sure.
I am still work in progress around this whole lagom quest, and I still make a lot of mistakes. But this week taught me that at least in ONE area of my life, I am now sincerely living by lagom values.
Okay, so remember how I swore I wasn’t going to buy any more candy until the candy we already had was gone?
Yeah, me too. Well, I kinda cheated on that promise.
In my defense, I have been SO GOOD. I lovelovelove Easter candy, and I did not buy ANY this year – not one delicious, sugary, pastel, chocolatey bunny/chick shaped piece of happiness. I was very, very, VERY good.
But then, I had to go to the store to buy a birthday card, and there it was – the 50% off all Easter candy table. Piles and piles of Peeps, peanut butter eggs, bubble gum eggs, chocolate eggs, and jelly beans…a table of temptation.
And did I mention it was 50% off? I did? Well, it’s worth repeating. IT WAS 50% OFF, PEOPLE!!!
I looooove me some jelly beans. An not the fancy-schmancy tropical fruit flavor, Jelly Belly gourmet blahblahblah beans, or jumbo sized/mini sized/anything else clever. Just the basic, old school, primary/secondary colored, normal boring jelly beans. And they had a bag just like that on the table. For fifty-nine cents after the discount.
So, I broke my promise.
And you know what? I honestly don’t feel that bad about breaking it. They were cheap. They were exactly what I was craving. And the bag is pretty much devoured already, so they won’t be taking up cupboard space for long.
Being a little bad felt a little good. I need to remember that.
Last week was weirdly busy – I say “weirdly”, because I didn’t have any jobs last week, but I had enough appointments and volunteer projects that I still somehow had a hard time getting everything done. I would look at the clock, thinking it was maybe 11 a.m., and would be shocked to see it was closer to 3:30. I think I ate lunch maybe twice last week, because by the time I noticed how late it was, it was too close to dinner to squeeze it in.
It got me thinking about when I worked in offices, and how hungry I was all the time. I would start watching the clock for lunch starting around 10 a.m., while I was eating a midmorning snack – I always had candy, nuts, dried fruit, and energy bars stashed in my desk drawer. By noon, I was noticeably irritable and faint with hunger. I’d scarf down whatever I bought or brought for lunch that day, and then by 3pm I’d eat another snack. As I drove to rehearsal at 5pm I’d snack again in the car, since dinner was often not until 10pm or later. And none of this is counting the multiple trips I’d make during the day to the candy bowl at the front desk, or to the office break room if someone had brought in treats – always shaving off only a small sliver of cake, or breaking off a small piece of a cookie or donut, but going back so many times that I’d consume more than if I’d just taken a decent sized portion the first time around.
That’s actually a lot of regular and small meals. And yet, I was STARVING. My stomach would growl loudly in meetings. If I was in a meeting that ran over into my lunch hour, my listening would totally shut down and I would fix a hateful glare at whoever was droning on about useless crap while I was clearly dying of malnutrition in an ergonomic chair. My eyes would glaze over while I stared blankly at dull powerpoint presentations and daydreamed about food, even if I had just eaten. I actually remember being in the middle of some “important” meeting in a conference room once, and I must have had a really concerned expression on my face because my friend Aubrey leaned over and whispered, “What are you thinking about?” And before my rational mind could come up with a good lie I admitted, “I’m trying to remember my recipe for veggie burritos.”
I was nervous when I started working freelance that I would sit home and eat like a maniac all day. Look at the damage I could do in an office where I was mostly limited to what I brought to eat that day – what would happen if I were left unsupervised in a fully stocked kitchen with a limitless lunch hour?
The weird thing is, I’m not as hungry as I used to be. Don’t get me wrong, I still love food with a passion, but it doesn’t occupy my brain as obsessively as it used to. I started thinking about some of the reasons why this is the case:
- I don’t get up as early as I did when I was working full time. Getting up at 5 or 6 a.m. will definitely make you ready to eat by 10 a.m., especially if you skip breakfast. (However, even when I DID eat breakfast, at my desk, at 8:30 a.m., I was still ravenous two hours later, so…go figure.)
- I have the luxury of eating much slower than I did when I was trying to get to work on time, or back from my lunch hour on time. I remember standing in my kitchen one morning, late for work, trying to eat a banana as fast as I could while watching the clock, and then bursting into despondent tears because I couldn’t chew it as fast as I needed to, but I also couldn’t swallow the chunks without choking. In many ways, it was a very representative snapshot of my life at that point. Sad.
- Sometimes my inherent laziness will win over hunger – if there is no readily available option for lunch or a snack, I’ll open a few cupboards and stare intensely at the contents as though I can will them into combining to create something good. Then, when nothing happens, I’ll wander back to my desk and think, “Ron will be home in a few hours to cook for me.”
But I think the main reason my hunger pains have subsided is this: I’m not chronically bored anymore. I like what I do, and even though there are tedious parts to my job, for the most part I find it all very interesting and entertaining. No one brings me spreadsheets full of numbers that might as well be hieroglyphics and expects me to make sense of them. I don’t have a staff, so there are no mind-numbing staff meeting to attend. In fact, it is very rare that I have to attend meetings at all anymore, and when I do, it’s usually a one on one conversation with someone I like about a project we’re working on, or a group of people sitting around talking passionately about theatre, and there is not a powerpoint in sight. If someone is droning on, I can always count on a stage manager to look at his or her watch and say, “Okay, that’s enough, we’re moving on.”
It seems like I spent so much of my professional life feeling so hungry, and yet never being able to fill the void. I wish I’d figured out earlier that it had nothing to do with food.