Before Andy quit his job with Precision Castparts Corporation in January of 2008, we shopped at Safeway. We purchased 60% of all the food we consumed at the SE 39th & Powell location. We spent anywhere from $65-$85 a week. We bought our coffee at Stumptown coffee usually purchasing two pounds of whole bean coffee at a time. We ate out a lot. We ate Thai, Mexican, American, Japanese, Southern, TexMex, and sometimes Italian. We purchased our beer from either Belmont Station, Johns Market, or Plaid Pantry. It was a good life. Not really going anywhere but it was good.
Then in December of 2007, Andy made the decision to quit his job and go back to school full time. He had explored the idea of taking a few classes while trying to work full-time. But it just wouldn’t work out. So I started creating spreadsheets to track expenses, forecast income, and watch our savings slowly diminish. It was scary. I had never been a finance person. I had no idea where to start. So I pulled up Google and typed in “personal finance spreadsheet” or something like that. I got a few examples which I modified for my own use.
It took a few shopping trips to Safeway for us to realize that it was just too expensive. Sure the produce was beautiful but we just couldn’t afford it. So we moved over to Fred Meyer. We both like the one stop shopping mantra and they have a lot of locations in the Portland Metro area. We were still buying our coffee from Stumptown although we had to move to the house blend to save a few dollars per pound.
Andy and I had decided that once he quit his job we needed to eat as little packaged foods as possible. With a much smaller food budget, it would have been easy to fall back on Totino’s pizza and Mac & Cheese. This meant that now we were cooking food from scratch. Andy started making a blend of beans he dubbed “Refrieds”. They were a medley of black, pinto, and red beans. Each batch is a little different based on what was on hand. I started exploring the wonderful world of casseroles because we were now preparing 100% of our food. Broccoli and rice casserole became an instant hit in our house. Andy actively worked on the tuna casserole using homemade breadcrumbs.
We had to substitute Rolling Rock for Sierra Nevada and Henry’s Belgian Style Wheat for Fat Tire. We visited Belmont Station and John’s Market no more. It broke our hearts. But we were happy we could afford to drink beer.
We started eating a lot of fruits and vegetables. We craved a bigger variety than Fred Meyer could provide. So we started shopping at Food 4 Less for the large ethnic produce selection. We still were visiting Fred Meyer for beer, bananas (Food 4 Less’s can be weird), and toiletries like contact solution and toilet paper.
These days I’ve become quite savvy in my shopping. I still visit Food 4 Less for 70% of all the food we eat. Fred Meyer is my destination for beer and I have found myself at WalMart for toiletries, some canned goods, and household items such as bleach, baggies, and plastic wrap.I try to pepper in a few visits now and again to Trader Joe’s for items such as cheap wine, Garden Burgers, and occasionally coffee.
I recently visited a store called Save a Lot. It was quite an experience. They have a small but decent produce section, impressive private label program that covered canned goods, and an interesting bagging method. It consists of someone ringing you up, you pay, and then you take your groceries over to a little counter by the front windows where you bag them yourselves. Like Food 4 Less but not as convenient. When I was little, a local grocery store went to this format and I was so intrigued. Where there was once someone to bag our groceries was now my irritated mom.
I probably spend way too much time going from store to store. Although now I do stock up on favorite items like spaghetti sauce, noodles, cream of anything tuna, and tuna. I buy such large amounts of beer at one time, it looks like I’m having a party. I now actively seek out coupons both from stores and manufacturers. It’s a big chore to eat food that is nutritious, doesn’t blow your budget, and can be prepared in less than an hour and a half. Finding new ways to add variety into your diet at 7:45 at night can be really hard. But you keep on trying. You scrape the burnt part off of the veggie burger, add a few slices of cheddar cheese ,and pray your husband can’t taste it.