Do Without, Part 1

Lately I have been watching a show called “Extreme Couponing”, which follows the lives of people who devote all their time to using coupons to get things for next to nothing – or better yet, free.

Being a coupon user myself, I wanted to watch the show to pick up any extra tips I could. However, instead of learning a new trick or two, I found myself getting stockpileupset at the neurosis these people displayed and how it’s just another form of materialism hiding under the guise of “savings”.

When I watch “Extreme Couponing”, it gives me that feeling I get when I eat too much after thanksgiving - bloated, tired and slightly nauseous. Now don’t get me wrong – I still think coupons can have their proper place, but I have lost all respect for those who take it too far. For example, one lady on the show proudly showed her 44 year supply of toilet paper that she got free (it took up one section of her house just to store it). 44 years – really? Is this frugality to be praised, or just another twisted form of hoarding? I think the latter.

Albeit, I do have a good stockpile myself, for when I find incredible deals (like cans of Campbell’s Chunky soup for ten cents each), I will buy my fair share. However, I have a strict policy that unless I can use it within a year or before it expires, I will not get it (my regards to the infamous mayo incident). With that said, I feel convicted about how much I have and how little others have in the rest of the world. 

For those in the slums of Calcutta, this is the closest they get to a "pantry" - the local garbage dump

At the beginning of the week, we have what we call “Missionary Monday”. As we get letters from missionaries we support and read them aloud to the kids, we have brought up here and there how little others have compared to us. Yet, five minutes later, my kids are complaining that the snackjar is empty and there is nothing to eat – yet the jar sits amongst piles and piles of food. It’s sick, in a way. Even though we have repeatedly explained to our kids the entrapment and evils of materialism, they just don’t get it. My kids have never had to experience wanting for anything. After my parents got divorced, I lived in this strange world where I lived with my dad in a beautiful house (with a summer home in Hawaii), eating frequently at restaurants. Then when I stayed with my mom, we lived in a tiny apartment where I had to sleep on the couch and we would have to search under the cushions to find coins to buy food. While at the time it sucked, it taught me a powerful experiential lesson of which makes me who I am today, and I will for always be grateful.

My point?

I’m burdened for my kids to experience the “anti-entitlement” lifestyle. To build character that can help prepare them for the hardships of the world. 

While there are many areas in which I can foster this (toys, TV, etc.), I think for this month I want to focus on food. Optimally, I want them to get out in the world and experience the dirtiness firsthand, but when you have girls 11, 6 and 1, it’s not too realistic to drop them in a middle of a depraved, inner city ghetto and tell them to fend for themselves for a few days.

I can’t wait for them to get old enough to go on a missions trip to Buffalo, as the missions trips I took to the armpits of Mexico transformed me in unspeakable ways when I was a teenager. But that is a ways away for them, and I don’t want to wait until then to do something. So after cataloging everything in my pantry, fridge and deep freezer, the girls, Joel and I are going to make for this month every breakfast, lunch and dinner out of what we already have, save for $20/week to buy quick spoils such as milk, eggs and produce.

I predict that no “pain” will really be felt for the first half of the month. But in the latter half, when we start running out of food, it should get interesting. At least I hope it will. And then I want to supplement the experience by taking my kids to Haven of Rest or ACCESS to serve those who really don’t have anything. Who knows, maybe we will learn other valuable things as well from the experience. Or maybe nothing at all. But I hope we do. I’ll keep you posted…


There was no pain felt, as predicted. We ate very well, and the pantry doesn’t look very different. We ate a lot of stockpile from our deep freezer though! I spent $20.05 this week on groceries, and this is what I bought: Bananas ($0.87), Bag of onions ($1.49), Milk ($2.49), Eggs ($1.19), Yogurts ($0.70), Box of Clementines ($4.99), 2 lbs. Ground beef ($3.65), Juice ($0.99), Flour ($2.69) and Celery ($0.99) and another Gallon of Milk (free with coupon).


The hardest thing about our week was that we ran out of milk, and the kids complained when we didn’t have any more fruit in our fruit bowl. But we still have so much food! The only hardship we really ran across was with Meagan, who found it harder to make her weekly dinner. My grocery bill this week was $20.33 (Bananas ($1), Milk ($1.99), 20 yogurts ($7), Meat for Joel’s lunches ($4.29), Yogurts ($0.70).

This week was really difficult because I had to make multiple meals for friends who just had babies, plus I signed up forever ago to make a large salad for teacher appreciation week at Meagan’s school. So I had to cheat a little bit and I went $10 over budget. But if I want to get really technical, this experiment was to limit our spending on the family food budget, and that we stuck with - $20.24. Bought: 2 Gallons of milk ($3.98), Eggs ($1), Pears ($1.99), Strawberries ($1.49), Chicken ($7.49), Veggies ($1.29), 3 bags of salad (on sale for $1 each - $3).


We are having to get REALLY creative with dinners and lunches. One dinner consisted of just canned goods (soup, veggies and peaches). For one lunch I saw Morgan pour some dry cereal into a baggie with a banana. We stayed within our $20 budget, and bought similar things to those listed above. I found a really amazing bulk sale on pasta, so that was really difficult to pass up.


Last week of our experiment, and somehow knowing that makes it easier to deal with the lack of choices that we are always so use to having. Most of our freezer has been cleaned out, which is awesome. Ready to buy that half cow we always wanted! It is interesting the items that are left over in our pantry. Some are weird things, like a jar of chutney and a bag of seaweed (turns out seaweed is a tasty snack to a 2-year-old). We also had some pasta and items for baking (like rye flour we used once for something).


I LOVED doing this. Way more positives than negatives. The positives: 1) It saved us LOTS of money 2) It taught the kids to eat what is put before you (I have always been a big proponent of eating what you’re given anyway) 3) It helped the kids relate better when we talked about other kids in need. Here were the negatives: 1) Impractical for ministry, because sometimes there is little food to feed your guests 2) Lost out on some good deals because they are not in the budget. Postscript update - the girls and I volunteered at a homeless shelter in July and the kids got to help directly serve some of the kids in need. They really enjoyed it and seemed humbled by the experience, so we signed up to do it again. We are also going to pick a month in the fall and do the $20 a week budget again.