I read an article last week about a person’s month-long experiment in trying to limit his spending so that he only spent a euro per meal on food. The article talked about the same things I wrote about some time ago when I said that when I moved into my first apartment and planned my budget, my first purchase was a table to compare food items. It allowed me to choose the most nutritious foods to fit a small budget, as I had to live on very little money.
The person who wrote the article made a conscious choice to cut food costs and made a big saving per month, as he normally spends €500 on food. For me it was a forced choice, but does it make any difference to the outcome whether the choice was voluntary or forced? Rather, compulsion often weeds out unnecessary distractions and temptations at the outset.
For me, living on a small budget has become a way of life. Although it is a necessity for me, I believe that wealthy people also live in a similar mindset, i.e. they carefully consider where to invest their resources. We all want to focus our energies to get the best possible result.
The person who did the experiment found that even for a small amount of money, one can eat well and nutritious food. He found that he could save a lot on food costs. However, he was overwhelmed by the stress of counting euros and cents and did not want to spend so much time and energy planning his meals. For me the very idea of having to count euros and cents when planning what to eat is unbearable.
Recognizing the Obvious
But food planning is not just about counting euros and cents. Happiness cannot be rationally explained either. It is a way of life. Running a one-person household is difficult because the market is designed for families. Cooking for one takes a disproportionate amount of time, energy and electricity. Many people don’t even start. The easiest way to solve the problem of feeding a one person – household is to go to the supermarket for processed food or something semi-prepared, even if it costs more and involves compromises in terms of the ingredients and additives used in the meals. I used to do this myself.
I was able to save some time and energy by buying a month’s food at a time, but in the long run, buying processed food is expensive. I was annoyed that I couldn’t take more advantage of the vegetable, fish, meat, etc. offers in the supermarkets. When I was doing a month’s grocery shopping with my first assistant some 20 years ago, and I complained about how expensive it was to buy four bags of frozen soup, my assistant replied curtly: “Let’s do it ourselves!”
Rationalising Things Requires Clear Decisions
It was obvious that we cooked and froze our own food. Over the years, I have often wondered why I hadn’t thought about it before, even though freezing food would have made my everyday life much easier, especially during my studies. I could have afforded the refrigeration equipment, and I had always enough space. So what has prevented me from seeing the obvious?
The only reasonable explanation is that when I was younger I had the attitude that I had to cope with everything myself. It was simply impossible for a one-handed person to handle a large cooking pot, let alone chop vegetables. Small quantities I could handle and 1.5 litre pots with handle were standard equipment in my kitchen.
My assistant’s suggestion helped me to assess my situation from a completely new perspective: I started running my one-person household as if I had a large family to support. I bought a big 10 litre cooking pot. I bought food by the kilo. My assistants and I had cooking days and sometimes during the day we would make several dishes to freeze. We made at least 6 litres of soup at a time. At best I had meals for 2-3 months in the freezer. I currently have 365 litres of freezer space.
I have never had to calculate how much money goes into meals. Rather, I’ve wondered whether a kilo of potatoes, carrots and celery is enough for a fish soup, whether we need one kilo or one and a half kilos of salmon, how many heads of cabbage go into six litres of cabbage soup, whether we add other vegetables, whether the tomato soup needs two or three kilos of tomatoes, whether we have time to make a casserole or a pot of Stroganoff.
When I make a lot of food at one time I can take advantage of offers in the shops. Not only does it reduce my food costs, it gives me more room to manoeuvre. I go to the shops rarely and can concentrate on things that really need my attention. Some months I spend only little money on food and that gives me some financial room to manoeuvre. My new approach has made my situation much easier. Sometimes I didn’t have to look for a substitute at all during the assistant’s holidays. We stocked the freezer full of food and I concentrated on my own things in her absence.
The best thing is that I have overcome the ego’s illusion that I have to do everything myself. I am not the only living being in the universe and it is natural that others help me. Everything is in my own hands and I feel that I can determine the way how everyday life goes. I just have to make sure that my own attitudes and actions make everything important accessible for me and that they make things go forward.