(Re)Gaining Control of the Cart


I mentioned in a previous post (way back in September) that my very first job was at a movie theater. However, my second was at a grocery store. I worked there for six and a half years, and for quite some time I was a courtesy clerk. Part of my job was helping people to their cars and bringing in carts from the lot. When I pushed in trains of heavy carts, if I noticed a lone cart off in the distance, I took note to get it as quickly as possible. If someone did not get to that cart fast enough, within minutes there would be six or seven more joining it. It sometimes felt like they were planning a secret rebellion. Some of my co-workers and I called this the Shopping Cart Conspiracy.

I still suspect that carts have minds of their own.

It has been ten full weeks since our project ended. I’ve been thinking about the way it has made me look at grocery shopping which used to just be something we did on autopilot. We knew the foods we usually had in our lunches and the basic ingredients for the dinners we commonly ate, so we would let our cart lead us down the aisles as we dropped our regular foods into its waiting belly.

Our shopping trips are different. They are not only less frequent, but what we buy has changed. We now spend most of our time on the outside walls of the store where there are few packaged items. Pre-September, we did not do very much price comparing, but we now put things back if we don’t think they are worth the cost. Yesterday when we checked out, I was a bit disappointed to see that our bill was $115.59.  I thought we had moved away from spending that much.

Tonight, when I sat down to write, I took out the bill to really look at what we had purchased. We bought a number of household items that we were out of:  toilet paper, paper towels, dish soap, shampoo and bath soap to name a few. Our biggest ticket item was dog food; our dogs each weigh about 75 pounds. After I subtracted those, it turns out our food items were $56.35.

Not bad. We bought only a few packaged items, tofu and almond milk among them, but most of our food came from the produce section. We are still using the remains of our project as a base for many meals and supplementing with produce. Last night we made dinner for Christopher’s mom’s birthday, and the only items we needed to purchase to make the meal were chard (the recipe actually called for kale; I messed up, but it tasted fine) and an onion.

Our vocabulary about food had changed as well. We no longer say there is nothing to eat in our house, instead we say there is nothing prepared. Our cupboards are mainly made up of raw ingredients. I no longer buy the prepared packaged broth that I like as a soup base, but instead I use the much less expensive boullion. One day soon (maybe over winter break), I will attempt to make my own broth from scratch. It is not difficult, but due to the convience factor, I have never tried.

I am glad that we have taken a step toward gaining control of the cart.

– Kerri



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23 responses to “(Re)Gaining Control of the Cart

  1. Pingback: (Re)Gaining Control of the Cart « One Dollar Diet Project · TV SeRiES

  2. I’d like to recommend a book to you, which may start you on a new direction when it comes to getting back to the basics of food.

    Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon.

    She has changed many aspects of how I prepare food. How I look at food. She delves into some anthropological truths that we’ve forgotten since the advent of processed foods. I don’t agree with everything that she says, I do take many things from it.

    It is a cook book and an informational tool. She goes into the proper preparation of stocks, grains, and why it is important to eat butter vs margarine, especially if you are female or are planning on having a baby any time soon.

    We’ve put too much trust in stores, and what is on their shelves, thinking that if its available to buy, it must be OK to eat.

    As an aside, the book is not a “fad”, it is a well written informational book that contains a metric ton of research and excerpts from other publications to back up what she is saying.

  3. While you’re young and healthy, the less expensive boullion will work well enough for a lot of things. And then you get old and have health problems and they tell you to stop eating stuff with that much salt in it.

    Glad that you are not skimping on the dog food because of your experiment. And it’s not like you can save money making tissue paper from scratch.

    How long do you think that the $56.35 of food will last? A week? Two weeks?

  4. jim

    Hi Kerri and Chris,
    Thanks for doing this and writing about it for everyone to see, I am a personal finance blogger who often writes about saving money and frugality, important themes with the economy in a bit of a funk. I was hoping to reach you two to get a sort of “lessons learned” from the project (if you have a post about it that I missed, please let me know!) that people can take away and implement in their lives so they can get closer to $1 than the average $7.


  5. Robin

    I don’t know if you have thought about the broth, but I make my own from cuttings of vegetables, herbs and (if you aren’t opposed) meat bones and scraps. After its cooked, I strain and then put it in the refrigerator to remove the fat and freeze in measured portions. Since I am using scraps that I would throw away anyway-its virtually free. Oh, and I feed the leftover cooked veggies and stuff to my dogs to suppliment their dry food.

  6. very informative bookmarked!

  7. nanc

    Being your veggatarians, how do you make broth? Chicken or beef broth I start with the bones and boil them with the trinity (celery, carrots, onions). Would you just boil the veggies? and make a veggie broth? Love reading your post’s.

  8. Suzanne

    I saw your article and this is wonderful. I was looking for Frequently Asked Questions so forgive me if I could have read though all of it to find this answer.

    Did you shop at Farmers Markets to suppliment your budget? I like the way you say that you shop the outer walls, but would shopping outside the walls help. And second, have you started a kitchen garden?


  9. Susan

    I’m a city planner by trade. As an avid reader, one of my recent favorite’s was “Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan. It’s worth the time. It traces the four food chains in America. It delves into the ideas of local vs. organic, feedlot vs. family farm plus many others. I’m so glad I stumbled upon this blog. I will be watching closely to see what happens. Good luck with your adventures. And good for you for doing it together as a family.

  10. I think it would be interesting to have people give a version of their dollar a day food.
    Here is the web site of the diet of David McClemm. from NZ. who has eaten this diet for 15 years. He now lives on $1200. – $1300. a year.

    I find that I spend more on my animals than I do on my own groceries. Chickens, dog, cat, mustang and burro.

  11. Lisa

    I’ve been making vegetable stock for a number of years now, it certainly takes a bit of work but I find the rewards well worth it.
    Basically, just throw all those vegetable peels and ends that you accumulate every time you chop and prepare fresh veggies in a container in the freezer. Once you have enough or its time to make soup, just empty them all in a big pot, fill with water, add some bay leaves and some braggs (or salt), and boil for ~1 hour (longer if you want). Strain and its ready to go (I usually allow it to cool and then squeeze out the veggies to make sure all the goodness is out of them, but then, I can go a bit overboard sometimes in the name of frugality!).
    Its free, its nutritious, and it uses food scraps that would otherwise be waste. I love it!
    Beware though, your whole house (and clothes!) will become permeated with vegetable smell if you don’t turn the overhead vent on (or open a window, in the summer)…

  12. Ann

    Give up paper towels — cloth towels and cloth napkins can be used over and over

  13. Like Jennifer, I highly recommend Nourishing Traditions. I also don’t do everything 100% per the book (I think the ferments use too much salt, for instance, and I can’t eat very much starch (even soaked/sprouted grains) or sugars because of a glucose regulation problem), but there is a lot we can learn about eating real food in a healthy way, by reviewing traditional diets that nourished people for eons before the diet experts interfered. This book is a manifesto as well as the practical handbook for how to restore traditional nutrition (something you won’t find in other cookbooks, even though focussed on health).

    It took me over a year to “digest” this book, and by that I mean more than read it, because I took it to bed, I took it to waiting rooms, I read it all the time, some sections over and over. It rocked my world, shifted my paradigm, changed my health for the better (and my family’s), actually also the cats’ health too (no grain-based processed food for them now either).

    I also encourage you to get into the broth making. With a CrockPot, it’s so easy and sooooo much better than bouillon. You’ll never look at a bone as waste again if you appreciate real broth and the wonderful flavor and minerals, not to mention gut healing gelatin, that it adds to foods.

  14. I second the crockpot broth recommendation. Do it overnight or while you’re at work.

    We didn’t do a $1 dollar challenge, but I DID do a Food Stamp challenge this past October (my family has 9 people.) Our monthly expenditures came in at less than HALF the food stamp budget (around $500 for the month, just under $2 per person per day.)

    While we probably won’t eat quite like that on a regular basis, it has created some new habits, such as soup once a week and making our own bread (I calculated that by making my own bread, I save $9 a week!)

    But, being realistic, it would be very, very hard for an average family to do this. I work part time from home and am a stay at home mom. I have the luxury of being able to make fresh bread at 10 am, a convenient time when I am well rested and not frazzled from a day at work.

    My children are homeschooled; I do not have to pick them up from daycare, handle homework, make dinner, then do all of the chores to keep a household running in the few spare evening hours. When I worked full time outside the home, such a menu would be discouragingly impossible.

    I should also note that I have the luxury of having 3 grocery stores, a Super WalMart, and a dollar store within a quarter mile of my house. I cannot imagine having such a tight budget and relying on public transportation, or being unable to price shop at several stores. That was the key to our success. I can certainly see what a challenge the Food Stamp budget IS for the average, urban food stamp recipient.

    I also like Nourishing Traditions, although there were many recipes I would probably never try, I found it encouraging and helpful.

  15. Nourishing Tradition is an excellent book! I saw that another Jennifer recommended it. I LOVED THAT BOOK, and it changed my life and how I look at food.

    I’m glad you are staying near the outer part of the grocery store. I barely venture into the center aisles, although I still have a few convenience issues – still buying canned tomatoes – diced and crushed. I’m getting there.

    I use to buy canned fruit, and that’s all we ate. Now I think about it and YUCK! Fresh fruits for us, or frozen, which I bake in the oven for a tasty treat. Frozen is actually quite expensive, but I mostly eat berries, and they stay longer.

  16. carlos

    It’s funny since the economy has been failing these past few months I started cooking more. But I never made soup. The recipe i tried asked for chicken broth. I didn’t want to pay that much to make it. I looked around and found bullions. I never used it before just saw it in my mothers cabinet. Called my aunt who gave me instructions on how to replace the broth. what a savings. 79 cents instead of 4 dollars. Its sad but nestles website gives no instructions on how to use this product. I guess most people never check. Anyway thanks for sharing your experience.

  17. Sue

    Hi. Nothing beats fresh!

    I think a basic diet of rice, beans, cabbage and onions could sustain an adult for quite a while.

    Pick some greens and roots from the yard and it could be a long-term affordable and healthy diet.

    Bon Appetit! 🙂

  18. Katy G.

    While bullion may seem like a money saver, I hope that people consider the potential dangers of too much MSG and carefully read the labels on their purchases before making them.

    When we make a purchase we look at how much something costs per ounce in money, but also in how it will cost to our health. Of course, the occasionaly treat is fine! Everything in moderation!

    I think this was mentioned somewhere – but it amazes me also that the cheaper foods have a ton more ingredients on their labels than the more expensive ones do – seems very backwards to me!

    Find a local herb shop or even co-op and I guarantee you’ll find a very affordable way to spice your foods even if you are on food stamps (or nearly there like us.) We pay about 1/4 of grocery store prices on herbs that are fresher (still dried) from our herb shop because of how they buy it in bulk.

  19. I make my own broth all the time in the crockpot (as mentioned above). To make veggie broth I use the veggies from my crisper that are starting to wilt. Celery, carrots, onion, parsley even a potato or two, with water. Add a little salt & pepper, thyme, a bay leaf and you will never by broth again. Plus you’re not wasting your food because you’re using veggies that are starting to wilt. If you aren’t a vegetarian, my girlfriend makes her beef broth (using the crockpot and adding cleaned out crisper veggies too) by buying the cheap bones at the grocery store for “dogs”. She gets her stock made first – then the dogs get the bones.

  20. It’s nice to know the small changes are there, like how you refer to nothing being prepared. It’s always important to remember that there are so many things that we could be going without, and just how lucky we really are.

  21. Laura

    Wow. I found your journey to be really enlightening. I started a book recently (long before i came across your challenge) called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver and I love it! I have yet to finish it and we have by no means the property to do such as they have done with theirs but its really an inspiration. I think what you are doing is great. My husband and I are 27 and 30 respectively and we have been trying to learn ways to create a healthy lifestyle and cook healthier while saving money before we decide to start a family….don’t have much time. lol. What you are doing is great and I will keep reading your blog. Thanks Kerri and Dave. Look forward to your book. Keep inspiring us!

  22. Funny you mention grocery store and lists. I worked as a cashier for nearly 10 years and loved every minute of it. Now, and even then I would scrutinize what people purchased. And that old adage, “You are what you eat.” , still holds true.

    Just look at the cart, then let your eyes slowly move to the people purchasing it and they usually go together. People still scoff at me when I say that, but it is true.

    There are 2 vegetarians in our home and the other 2 have just let go of red meat. I do not see our home becoming strictly vegetarian, but any step in that direction is a good one.

    We too, shop rarely if ever from the inside aisles. But some of our staples are there…rice, beans, some canned veggies. But I too am shocked when I cannot purchase groceries for under $100. There are times we go over, and like you it is usually due to non food staples.

    Have you tried cleaning with homemade green products. My homes smells of white vinegar all the time. And we make our own laundry soap.

  23. Annitspurple

    “Just look at the cart, then let your eyes slowly move to the people purchasing it and they usually go together. People still scoff at me when I say that, but it is true.”

    Wow. “Cooking Lady,” that is just just really rude. I certainly hope that my cashiers don’t think so much of themselves that they think that they have the right to scrutinize MY purchases.

    “they go together…” In what way? Are you making sizeist judgements here? Class judgements? Or assumptions about people’s educational levels? Hmmm.

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