Yesterday, I was going through what seems to be a monthly ritual of feeling like I need to buy more food.
(It usually coincidentally falls around pay day, when I work through my already set monthly budget.)
After making sure my debit orders (for insurance and retirement investments) were correct, I transferred the rest of my planned savings, thought about my other recurring expenses and services, then made sure I had enough left for my biggest “day to day” expense: groceries.
This automatically had me thinking that I needed to go grocery shopping.
Mistake #1. Having money available doesn’t mean I need to spend it.
The problem is that, because I cook most of my meals, I often use an ingredient and think, “Oh, I’m going to need to replace this.” Then I start convincing myself that I have run out of food because of all these little “replace me!” triggers. This time, as I was thinking through my budget while defrosting some leftover lentil soup, I held up my almost finished bottle of olive oil and thought, “Oh, I’m going to need to…wait a minute.” Mistake #2!
You see, I realised at that moment that although I was almost out of olive oil, I still had a half a tub of coconut oil sitting in the cupboard. It was oil that I used for various functions, sure, but there was more than enough of that left that I wouldn’t need to buy oil for a while. Why is this relevant?
I know that it takes me one trigger (“I’m out of olive oil! I need to buy olive oil!) to go grocery shopping. This is because that trigger is usually something I use often, and then I decide that if I’m going to go to the shop to buy that I might as well write a list to make the trip efficient. Then I suddenly feel like I need a whole list worth of stuff! Then I end up in the store and…”Oh! I forgot that I need this thing too! Good thing I saw it!” It’s just a downward hedonic hill from here.
Once I realised this quirk in my psychology, I resolved to make a different list. I got up, went to the kitchen, and listed the food I have. This list was both eye-opening and embarrassing. Here’s just a teaser of what my list revealed:
- Avocadoooooes (the multiple oooooooo’s represent that I had at least five really ripe avocados from when I’d bought a bargain pack!)
- Bread (a loaf and a bit)
- Peanut butter (TWO JARS! This was the result of thinking I needed some at the store but never having checked what I needed! Fail.) and, of course, jam
- Stuff for hot chocolate (cocoa, sugar, ginger and cinammon, mmm…)
- An unopened pack of plain wraps
- Pasta (spaghetti), rice, couscous
- Cook-in-sauce (which I sometimes turn into a pasta sauce)
- Snacks galore: cookies, peanuts, snack mix (toasted peanuts, cornflakes, fried dough strips, fried peas, chili powder…it’s a popular Indian snack mix that I’ve never known the name of), yoghurt, chocolate spread (a jar that’s been sitting in my cupboard since I bought it under the impression that I’d be getting a cheaper nutella…disappointingly, it tastes nothing like nutella)
- Frozen fruit (some frozen berries, frozen grapes, frozen papaya)
- Kumquats (bought on a friend’s recommendation since I’d never heard of such a thing)
- Frozen veggies (a grill pack, frozen butternut, frozen sweet potato, frozen mushrooms)
- Potatoes (admittedly only a single meal’s worth)
- Pantry staples (flour, spices, the oils)
- Feta blocks
- A random can of condensed milk
- A random tub of frozen milk
- A random can of barlotti beans (my bean stash is sadly quite low)
- Dried lentils
- Two small containers of frozen leftover lentil soup
Believe it or not, there’s more that’s not on this list.
Disgusting, isn’t it? A house full of food and I nearly went grocery shopping for more.
Why do I write this? Because I think money management holds a lot of powerful object lessons and principles. For one thing, contentment is a huge factor. Contentment isn’t settling or deprivation; contentment is actively deciding that instead of focussing on where one lacks, one actively takes stock of what one has. Before I made my list, I convinced myself that I didn’t have what I needed, and I was ready to use money and my precious time to solve this. If I’d tried to hold back from buying anything, I would have felt deprived and miserly, and it would have been just a different way of making myself miserable. Instead, I put in the effort to figure out what the truth was. Was I truly lacking the things I needed, or did I just need to actively search so that I could remind myself? As it turns out, not only am I not lacking, I have more than I need. I am drowning in abundance and need to start putting in some deliberate work to enjoy all the options that I have at my disposal.
I feel this way about many other things in life other than food. I was feeling really down about how far I am from all my creative soulmates last month, to the extent that I was not fully enjoying the fact that I was thriving in the professional aspects of my life and falling into a would-be speciality. Then, I started being more mindful about all the ways in which I was still surrounded by a bounty of music. An old friend who loves 90’s jams as passionately as I do, so we are always blaring them in her car and screaming at the top of our lungs. A new colleague/friend that has an incredible voice and has expressed a genuine interest in writing together when she gets back from leave. A daily taxi commute (which has come to a bittersweet end now that I am switching to a different department) where the taxi drivers’ tastes range from car-thumping, seat-shaking bass (ugh) to ear tickling slow jams (yaaassss) and each gear change and speed increase is a semitone in the scale. A daily walk (which, sadly, will also be a thing of the past) where the traffic was so loud that I could sing at the top of my lungs and not bother a single soul for twenty to thirty minutes a day. Music everywhere, and it took looking for it for me to see it.
There are so many things that I know I need. But it’s clear to me now that what I truly need is to realise what I have. If I’m still lacking after that, then sure, I can take active steps to fill the deficit. But if I’m not mindful about it, it’ll just be like adding a duplicate jar of peanut butter to the shelf where an unopened jar already sits.