The emotional truth of grocery shopping on a budget

After an emotional trip to the grocery store, Jennifer learns there's more to cutting grocery bills than dollars and cents.

Photo: courtneyk/iStockphoto

When I was looking over my grocery bills while working on my previous post, I wanted to put a positive spin on the realities of grocery shopping with a drastically reduced income — because shopping for a family of four when you’re on little more than unemployment insurance is stressful and embarrassing.

The emotional side of cutting foods from your grocery budget is a blog post that has been in my head for several months, and now I think it’s important I share that side of the story.

  • What I didn’t share with you in yesterday’s post is how I’ve been going to discount grocery stores, sorting through stacks of berry containers looking for the few that aren’t bruised or mouldy — before eventually putting them back on the shelf.
  • What you didn’t see is me holding back tears in the cereal aisle, comparing the sugar and sodium contents of off-brand cereals.
  • You didn’t feel my anxiety at the check-out counter when the cashier weighed a bag of grapes and I had to ask her to take half of them out.
  • You didn’t see me peek into the dented cardboard Food Bank bin, hoping to see something other than powdered milk and smooth peanut butter, because I don’t know whether or not our meal next month will come from that bin.
  • And finally, you didn’t see me hyperventilating and crying in my car while I drove home. The pent-up emotions of having to make difficult decisions at the grocery store, plus envisioning the disappointed faces of my children when I come home without their favourite snacks, breaks my heart.

THAT is the side of budget grocery shopping you don’t hear about. Because it sucks.

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I’ve written about growing up on a small farm as one of three kids to a single mom. Because farm life is busy and money is always tight, the amount of frozen fish sticks and canned cream corn we ate would make most modern mothers blanch. I can still recall the mealy texture and slightly sour taste of the red delicious apples that were sent in my lunches. I hated those apples and I still do. But my siblings and I never went hungry — even if by popular opinion the foods weren’t nutritional knockouts.

However, farm life afforded us the luxury of growing a few vegetables in rocky and persistently dry soil. Each fall, friends and neighbours would join us to celebrate the end of harvest and haying with a corn roast. We’d pull dozens of ears of corn right off the stalks and toss the husks to the cattle, who by that time of year were tired of sunburnt pasture. The  corn — smoky and sweet from being roasted over an enormous bonfire — had everyone literally smiling from ear to ear, bright yellow margarine melting and dripping down their chins.

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I believe that all families try very hard to put the best possible foods in their children’s tummies, ours included. For some parents, organic and non-GMO is the priority, but that doesn’t make them any better than the ones who pack crackers and sliced meats into their kiddos’ lunch bags.

Please, before you smugly look at the woman’s cart next to you in line at the grocery store, think twice before commenting on her food choices. Instead, help pack her groceries and carry them to her car. It is a much more welcome gesture.

 

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