Category: Middle Class Monday

Reducing the Grocery Budget for Fun and Advancement

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I am not 100% sure if we are middle class, but I think we live like we are. We live in the Midwest (so we aren’t paying LA rent or Alaska milk prices) and my husband is in a union so health insurance is an included part of the package and not a deduction from his check or something we have to pay for separately. The “Middle Class Mondays” series covers things I’ve always felt would be different when we had what I consider “enough” money and how those experiences compare to how things used to be for us or how they compare to how things were when I was a child.


My husband has spent years fighting with me for an increase in the grocery budget.

Most of our marriage has been me insisting we can live on the food stamp amount and no more. He would want to get something crazy like yogurt and I would be so angry because I knew he bought it without telling me because I wouldn’t’ have let him get it otherwise no matter how much our kids love yogurt. He just wanted them to have something special.

There have been several times in our marriage when we did not receive food stamps and every time I kept the budget exactly the same saying, “It’s what we lived on then, we can live on it now.” Which was never entirely true but it felt true, you know? Numbers might not lie but I would just not look at them because it felt like it should be enough. Yes, I know now that’s some seriously faulty thinking.

I gave the Mr. $80 a week to spend and he asked me to raise it. Then we went to $100. Then we went to $120. Finally, he’s managed over years to convince me we absolutely must have $150/week for our family of five which is both a lot and hardly any depending on who you ask.

So after all his fighting and eventual success, when he came to me yesterday and said, “I think we can eat for $80/week by having the same thing once a week.” I was shocked but intrigued. Could he really do what I’ve been asking him to all this time now that he’s not feeling the pinch of money? Will he be able to do this thing by choice he’s never been able to do by necessity? While I was looking at him with what must have been a confused face he continued, “It’s only temporary so it’s a fun experiment and hey, it will let you pay off the Macy’s card faster if we can put up with Angel Hair and Veggie Mondays and Taco Tuesdays for the next few months.

So I said, “Let’s do it.”

I feel kind of gross, though, not gonna lie. To purposefully reduce the grocery budget while keeping veggies and health at the forefront isn’t something we could have done as easily when we were really poor. Here in Indiana our food stamp benefit when we received them was $407/month for our family of five and we were just angry all the time trying to make that work. Costco made it easier because we could do bulk meat one week and then fill in the rest of the week.

Now all that knowledge of where the cheapest veggies are and where to get the best cheap salsa (Aldi) so we can put the mild salsa on the tacos and not worry about separate tomatoes being bought and cut up once a week is being used to pay down debt. We can buy the meat up front at Costco and then separate it into baggies and freeze it for individual meals. He might not be wrong, we might be able to do this.

Part of my brain knows that is a smart long-term move but the other part of my brain feels that if I can afford better food and I choose not to buy it I am a bad, bad person … and even worse mother.

It’s a constant tug of war between what’s best for the family right now and what’s best for the family long term.

But right now we are choosing the long term and getting those credit cards off the table as fast as possible. If that means we have to repead meals once a week for the foreseeable future? So be it.

My 25lb. bag of rice says, “It’s GO time!”

This story illustrates how different it feels when paring back the grocery budget is a choice. We have both been forced to choose for pretty much the entire thirteen years of our marriage. We’ve never been able to just go to the store and buy stuff without thinking. I still can’t, even with a $150/week budget but to go down to $80 feels scary. I want so badly to get ahead and I don’t want to sacrifice my kids’ well being but they will absolutely be getting not quite as much of the good stuff they’ve been getting lately. When our credit cards are paid off I’ll make them

What the Middle Class Looks Like: Lice

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I am not 100% sure if we are middle class, but I think we live like we are. We live in the Midwest (so we aren’t paying LA rent or Alaska milk prices) and my husband is in a union so health insurance is an included part of the package and not a deduction from his check or something we have to pay for separately. The “Middle Class Mondays” series covers things I’ve always felt would be different when we had what I consider “enough” money and how those experiences compare to how things used to be for us or how they compare to how things were when I was a child.


When I was in Junior High we lived in California. A little town that no one has heard of if you didn’t live in it or near it.  The most exciting thing that ever happened was a drug lab a few doors down and across the street burned to the ground one day.

It was the kind of town where a guy with no legs would sit in his wheelchair on the porch morning and afternoon waiting for me to walk by on my way to school so he could shoot rubber bands at me. Across the street from him was a large, barren yard with three very angry large dogs that would bark and jump against the rickety, old chain link fence every morning and afternoon as I walked by. I quickly learned to walk in the middle of the street, but if a car came by I would have to choose the fence that didn’t seem stable with the very angry dogs or getting welts from rubber bands on my arms and legs.

You know, that kind of town.

The Junior High was mostly in a building but there were also trailers out back to deal with the overcrowding that was a serious problem.

When a lice outbreak hit, it was rough on everyone. My mother yelled about how expensive lice shampoo was and how long my hair was and how awful the town was but she bought some and took care of my hair. I’m sure it cost her in some other area, because we didn’t have extra money ever when I was a kid. That’s where the yelling came from. Something unexpected can turn your world upside down without having to be something large like a broken-down car.

The house with the angry dogs? They had two boys and a girl. That family decided the best route for lice removal was to shave their children’s heads. There was no way they could afford lice shampoo. The next day at school the girl was wearing a ski cap. In California. In May. I felt terrible for her. It’s the first time I really remember feeling terrible for another human being. She was so unhappy.

Here in the present day, my youngest got lice from kindergarten. I called our family doctor and she called in prescriptions for Sklice. Sklice doesn’t burn, doesn’t smell bad, and you put it on dry hair. You don’t even have to comb the bugs and eggs out (but I do anyway because I’m good at doing it without hurting the kids). I found a coupon online that I printed at home reducing the price of the bottle to $10/ea.

The problem is the doctor’s office phoned in a prescription for regular Nix on accident and when we discovered the error (CVS called us to let us know!) the office was closed. I had to treat the kids so I went to CVS and bought the normal stuff off the shelf and treated the kids and us that night for about $60 total. The next morning I got a call from the doctor’s office apologizing for the mistake and letting me know the problem had been corrected and the right prescription was ready at the pharmacy.

Even though we had all been treated already I went and picked up the prescription stuff because it can’t hurt to have good lice stuff in your bathroom closet, right? So I got the four prescriptions for another $40.

At no point did I complain, yell, wail, gnash my teeth, or freak out. I just got the stuff and did the thing and sent everyone back to school the next day. We treated all the stuffed animals and comforters and couch cushions (they fit in the washer, hallelujah) and that was that.

Last week we got another note that the class had lice again. I trimmed my youngest daughter’s hair, did another treatment, combed her out, and she was done. Again. There is a lot of hassle involved in washing all the things but I have a washer and dryer right here in the basement of my housepartment and so it’s not that bad. I don’t even pay for water in this building so the hot water to sanitize everything isn’t my problem except the gas to heat the water.

Two entire lice treatments were covered by the $100 buffer I keep in my checking account. Not even the emergency fund. The “just in case we go over” money. The first time one of the kids got lice a million years ago I was so much more like my mom. Where will that money come from? How are we going to make this work? Why is this happening to us? It was overwhelming and stressful.

While the annoyance of having to do all the lice things was still there, the stress was not. It amazed me how different the experience was when that expensive shampoo doesn’t break the bank, even when you’re buying it for three kids and two adults.

Even now after round two I still have one more full bottle of Sklice in my bathroom closet. I’m looking forward to summer because I feel like my kid’s kindergarten is a hotbed of lice right now. My stylist says it’s been absolutely awful everywhere this year. She would know. Also, I’m not going to lie I did start out looking for a service to take care of the whole situation for me but I don’t care if there’s a money back guarantee, I trust my combing skills more than someone else’s … even if it is their profession.

So that’s the transition. From catastrophic life-event to something you keep extra of in the bathroom closet, how a school lice outbreak affects a family is so much different here in the middle class.