Thursday, September 17, 2009

Gluten-Free On A Budget

When I first moved to New York, I was in grad school and living off of loans. I've always been pretty cautious with my money, and I tried to live frugally (or as frugally as one can in this city). When school ended and I started working as a weight-loss consultant, I had the pleasure for once of making money and actually being able to save some. But I still watched my pennies. When I moved in with my boyfriend, I insisted we keep track of everything we spent. He didn't really mind except for my monthly freak-out when we added everything up. Eventually I realized that was causing us both needless stress, so we stopped saving all of our receipts and just bought what we needed without worrying about it. And that worked fine.

Until I decided to go back to school...again.

I have a master's degree in Psychology, but I had been aware for a while that if I wanted to have a future in nutritional counseling, I would have to go back to school. So this fall I bit the bullet and starting taking pre-requisites so I could apply for nutrition programs. Without a background in science, I have a lot of classes to make up and it will be a long road, but I know it will be worth it in the end. In the meantime, I cut some hours at work and am taking Chemistry, and Anatomy and Physiology. Yikes! Do those sound scary to anyone else or is it just me? The last time I was in a Chemistry class, I think I was 14!

With all these changes, I've had to reevaluate my finances. I don't splurge on clothes or cute bags, and I only get my hair cut about twice a year. I don't go to expensive restaurants (although I do go out to eat at least once a week, so I might have to work on that). What do I do? I splurge on groceries! I am a gluten-free food blogger, after all! Well, realizing this, my first panicked thought was that I would go hungry if I had to cut my grocery bill down. Being a former binge eater, I have an irrational fear of hunger that I know isn't rooted in reality. But then I calmed down and started thinking of this in the same way as when I realized I couldn't eat gluten: as a challenge.

I stumbled upon the perfect blog to help me with my challenge. The Grocery Cart Challenge is a blog about how one woman lives on $60 per week to feed her whole family of 6! Can you believe that? That's $10 per person! My bag of spinach alone costs $6.99! Now, I have two things working against me here: 1) I live in New York City, where everything is more expensive, and 2) I eat gluten-free. So I knew there was no way I was going to make it on $10 per week. But I looked at my bills to see, on average, how much I had been spending on food in the last couple of months. The number actually shocked me. In my blissful ignorance, I had been spending about $80 per week! And that was just for me! My boyfriend mostly does his own grocery shopping. What was I thinking!?

With that number in mind, I decided to limit myself to the amount I had tried to spend each week when I first moved to the city: $25. The best tip I took from The Grocery Cart Challenge was to look in my pantry first and figure out what I could use and then just buy what I needed to complement what I already had. Then I made a grocery list of exactly what (and how much) I needed. I knew I would have to make some compromises (no more Larabars for a while), but there were two things I wasn't willing to compromise on: having healthy meals and buying as much organic as possible.

So how did it turn out? I spent $24.27, and with the week almost over, I have enough to last me until my next grocery trip. My only problem was that I wasn't particularly creative this week, and I ended up having to eat the same thing for lunch and dinner every day. Thank goodness for the coconut waffles I had made! At least I had one exciting thing to look forward to every day! This week, I have to find a way to keep my grocery bill under my $25 limit, yet still have creative meals to eat. I'm thinking about making a bunch of enchiladas I can freeze, each with a different filling. I'll let you know how that goes. For now, I'm just happy I "saved" about $55 dollars this week.

The Grocery List Rundown:

Can of Pineapples 1.59
160z. organic spinach 6.99
bag of organic sweet potatoes 3.99
applesauce 1.99
3 organic apples 2.07
frozen pineapple tidbits 1.59
3 oranges 1.17
half dozen organic eggs 2.19
2 6-oz containers nonfat yogurt 1.58
2 green peppers 1.11

Total: 24.27


Linda said...

I've been trying to cut down on food spending also. There is an Aldi's not too far from me. It doesn't carry everything I need, but I save lots of money by shopping there. We've been happy with the quality too.

I hope you're able to try the granola bars. They would be great for traveling.

Lauren said...

Awesome job! I don't know what we spend on groceries, but I'm sure its more than we should. Also, good luck with your courses! I'm not in Chemistry this semester, but next one =D.

Iris said...

Thanks Lauren! Chem is definitely a challenge for me. I have my first exam this week...

Tiffany S. said...

Hi Iris - Wow, this sentence really banged a gong for me: "Being a former binge eater, I have an irrational fear of hunger that I know isn't rooted in reality." I've been trying to be a little more comfortable with hunger these days and remembering that hunger doesn't equal low blood sugar/possibility of fainting. Thanks for the honesty - it really resonated with me. Can't wait to try the waffles!

fartygirl said...

I used to be very careful about how much $ I spent on food. Then one day I decided to stop giving an eff about it. This is how I see it. We are trying to eat healthy in a country that does not value healthy eating. In the long run, it is worth it to spend the extra money on good food. It's preventative meds, right? Think of all the money we will save on prescriptions when we are old. :)

Selene said...

what a great idea!!! I've been trying to determine exactly how much we spend on food and figure out where we could save money. Luckily it'll be summer soon so all the yummy fruits and veggies will be cheaper! and from closer to home...

i know meal plans are a great way to save money but sigh what a drag they can be. and how are you supposed to know what you're going to feel like eating for the whole week? I have enough trouble figuring out what i'm going to want for dinner! I'm going to try this out though, I'll let you know how it goes!!

Iris said...

Selene, I have to admit, this was a good way to help me budget and cut down, but I'm horrible at meal planning!


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