Some years ago, I was in a bit of a tight financial spot. I was working whatever nine-to-five day job I could get, and also making a go of stage managing – partly because it was what I really wanted to do, and partly because it was just extra money. I was talking with the director of my latest gig, and she asked why I never seemed to go out to movies or other plays. I told her about my long hours, but also hinted at my debt – I’d been unemployed for a year, and only partially employed the year after that, and my savings were pretty much non-existant and credit card balance high. So, that was the priority, I said, shrugging. She just stared at me a moment, and then suddenly hugged me. “That’s so unfair,” she gushed, “you aren’t able to enjoy the fruits of your labor!”
And that is something I do struggle with. Thanks to a combination of a New England upbringing, a couple stints of unemployment, and simple tastes overall, I’m much more likely to do without rather than treat myself, to save money rather than spend it. But sometimes it backfires on me – kind of like a dieter who eats nothing but salad and steamed greens every day for a week, but then finally gets fed up and eats an entire cake, I’ll sometimes go on one simple errand – for one book, say – and walk out with ten other things because they looked interesting.
Food is something that I tend to do this with – I’ve written before about the weird food in my pantry, the spontaneous purchases of ingredients that I decide to get on a whim that go up to the pantry and I never use. I use all my tomatoes every year, but I’ve also got a lot of jars of jams and sauces from the past couple years that I’m pretty sure I may not use. The freezer is nearly full of some backed-up frozen vegetables from last winters’ CSA boxes, and some other things I’ve added from this past summer’s CSA – and I’m going to be getting even more for this winter’s CSA, starting in a week.
It’s a security blanket, I know. It’s a way of fending off the wolf at the door – if I have all this food, I’ll still be able to eat if I lose my job tomorrow. At least that’s what I tell myself, and I just don’t think about it too hard when some of that food goes bad. I gave myself the chore of cleaning out the fridge this morning – getting rid of the slimy and unsalvageable produce, the leftovers that had gone really puffy and weird, anything that had been there longer than a month. I don’t like waste, but none of that stuff would have been salvageable.
And when I was done – the fridge was still full. It’s ridiculous – I have enough food, why am I not using it?
I stopped to make a list of exactly how many meals I could make this week without purchasing any food. And it’s a long and appetizing list – red beans and rice, eggs florentine, Irish colcannon, pasta carbonara, potato-leek soup, root vegetable soup, carrot soup, minestrone soup, roast beets, roast turnip, roast parsnip, roast carrots, biscuits, cheese biscuits, nachos, pork burritos, ham sandwiches, pastrami sandwiches, salami sandwiches, and breads and cakes and cookies by the score.
That list is now bang on my fridge where I can see it, and I have resolved to not purchase any groceries for this entire week, until I’ve actually eaten some of the hoard. I even snipped a handful of sprigs off my overgrown rosemary to make some rosemary sugar syrup for sorbets to use up a backlog of frozen fruit, so dessert is even covered; and a handful more to make some fresh foccacia and rosemary cake.
It’s not frugality if I don’t use the damn stuff.