Poverty Induced Trauma and Judging Myself About My Expenses

I just went grocery shopping. I needed to go desperately. While my grocery stockpile still is decently stocked with some things, some of the dry goods we use regularly have run out and we were virtually out of all produce and refrigerated items. I hate having an empty fridge and my fridge today was bare, bare, bare. (Really, the only thing in it was a package of cheese, half a bottle of shelf stable milk that I opened because we were out of other milk, some condiments, half a cabbage, some oranges, a few apples, and a few beets.) So it was obvious that I needed to do a big shopping.

I made myself a shopping list, keeping in mind what things we were using regularly, and to make sure that we also had ready to eat things for the kids, so that even if I didn't have a chance to prepare something, they would have what to eat. 

I went through my shopping list at the store, price comparing every item before I bought it. Weighed if it was something that we'd use, if there was a better priced item. The only things I purchased that weren't on my list were some other items that I should have put on the list and were on sale.

When I went to the register to pay, my head just had this phrase on repeat "let it be under $285, let it be under $285". (I know that sounds weird, but the local equivalent is a round number. I wasn't really saying "$285".) By the end of the cashier ringing it up, what do you know, it was over $285. And I felt like a failure. I felt shame. I felt yucky. Like I can't call myself a frugal person if I spent that much on just one shop.

And I know this is silly. I know that there is really no purpose to eat myself up over this shop.

This was a good shop.

It was a smart shop.

It was a well thought out shop.

It was money spent on things that were important to me, money being spent where my values lie. It wasn't $285 thrown in the trash.

But yet... the guilt.

You see, I used to be really poor. Like totally broke. Like being really frugal, extremely frugal, and still somehow our expenses were more than we were bringing in.

And back in the day, I was able to have our monthly grocery total be $230 some months. When I would be "spendy" I'd spend $285 in a month.

And whenever I'd be at the register with my super frugal shop, and someone else would have their shop cost over $285 I'd look at them and judge them for being money wasters, for having their priorities wrong. For being spendthrifts. 
Because I knew a family who had no money, wasn't surviving financially, kept on having their electricity being shut off due to lack of payments, and yet each time they went shopping for the weekend they spent $285 or more, not to mention all their shops throughout the week.

That number, in my head, became synonymous with extravagant people who aren't being responsible with their money and are hopelessly in debt and its all their fault because they don't know how to live within their means.

And I know now that that isn't true. I know that there are perfectly reasonable reasons to have a grocery shop cost that much. And probably a big reason I judged them was because I was jealous of people that could spend that much on groceries when we were struggling so much. But because I was judging people then, I judge myself now. Am critical of myself now. Even though it makes no sense.

There's no way in hell I could spend $230 on groceries for a month for my family now. We'd starve. Then our family was much smaller, with only a baby and a toddler, not 2 teenaged boys and 2 elementary school aged girls. Then, my whole life, by necessity, was seeing how little I could spend. My whole focus then was see where I could cut corners. What could I make from scratch to save a little bit more money here. Those months that I got my grocery bill that low, almost all the veggies I got were either foraged or nicked from the dumpster pile at the open air market. Everything else I bought was from the reduced rack store at the open air market. Our diet was heavily legume based, and I made everything from scratch. Every. Little. Thing.

And honestly, it wasn't good for me. I neglected myself. I negated myself. I negated my needs and emotions on the alter of trying to survive. And it wasn't a pretty sight. Yes, I might have blogged about how awesome it was, but really that was me trying to convince myself of that, and beneath that all, I was suffering. I have trauma from that. Trauma from needing to live extremely frugally. So much so that I get triggered by ridiculous things that shouldn't trigger people, but they trigger me because they remind me of how much of a wrung out sponge I was then, doing everything I could to survive, and never thinking about me.

And to be honest, I think my kids are a little traumatized too. They can't handle the taste of lentils, and I think in large part because of how much they associate that with the times when we had so little and lentils were our protein staple.

My situation now fortunately isn't anything like that. Things have improved financially for us for a variety of reasons. And I still live frugally, but a very different type of frugal.

And my monthly grocery budget was $715 a month but because of lockdown and everything stressing me out I allow myself to increase my grocery budget to $850 if need be and wiggle other things in my budget to allow for that

The last few times I went grocery shopping to the store I shopped at today, my bill was over $285. But not once have I gone over my monthly grocery budget, and I think only once did I even need to go over the original $715 amount.

Its just that my grocery habits have changed. Because of lockdowns, I don't leave my house as often. I go shopping much less frequently. When I do shop, it is big shops that will have enough food to last a while. So even if this shop is more than 1/3 of my monthly grocery budget, that's fine, because I'm not spending this all the time. This is just the big shop of the month, and the other shops at the local store will be significantly smaller.

I realize quite clearly that I am judging myself unfairly. That I set myself an impossible and ridiculous goal, that has no basis in my reality. There is no reason to aim to get under $285 in one shop. The only goal is to stick within my budget, and however that works is fine.

This post isn't really a how to or instructional thing or even to teach anything specifically, but as I write about frugal living, I wanted to share what I go through. Sometimes we need to reassure ourselves that yes, we are allowed to spend money. We shouldn't judge ourselves for spending money. We shouldn't judge ourselves for taking care of our families' needs. And sometimes we will anyhow, and that's when we need to remind ourselves that even if our automatic reaction is to judge ourselves, those emotions don't fit the facts, and we need to give ourselves slack.

And yes, a reminder that needing to live extremely frugally can definitely cause someone trauma. I have money trauma. A whole heck load of money trauma.

But I'm working to heal that.

And part of that is saying yes, I spent over $285 today on one grocery shop, and its ok, its ok, its ok. I need to repeat it to myself and hopefully it'll sink in. But even if emotionally it doesn't yet, at least intellectually it is.

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. Yes I completely get this. I used to be really short on money so counted every penny I spent. I'm not rich now but my pension more than covers my needs and a few luxuries but I do feel guilty when I buy a takeway. I never did this until covid and we are shut in a lot so it is a nice treat. I can't spend on much else as all non-essential shops and restaurants closed. I can't travel outside my town so really it is no problem having takeaway. I just have to convince myself.

  2. You're lucky to have such a good discount store nearby. Food is food. You must shop for your kids and yourself.

  3. I remember how incredibly frugal you used to have to be. I marveled at your abilities! But I think the person you have evolved into is more multi-faceted and whole. Every time you can stop those judgmental thoughts in their tracks and replace them with gentler, more self-loving ones you will benefit. You deserve to care for your needs and those of your children.

  4. I've followed your blog a long, long time and I also remember those times for you, and it helped me know that I wasn't alone with a young family, struggling financially, caring for an elderly grandma in her home, owning nothing and not being able to save a dime for retirement or college funds, on only my husband's lower income, and weathering a scary lay-off for almost a year, all while having a huge amount of credit card debt (69K USD). You inspired ME to find a different way. We lived in a very affluent neighborhood, our kids went to those schools where the kids got the newest iPhone every year and flew internationally to vacations multiple times a year... We did our best, didn't we?? We camped and visited relatives on road trips for our vacations, made everything from scratch, bought only thrift store items, lived in a not very attractive home, made our own (awesome) Halloween costumes, grew our own veggies, bought discounted groceries, and prayed our car or fridge wouldn't break down and incur even more credit card debt. I think I also gave and gave and gave to my family and experienced trauma too--even though we are doing very well now, I used to actually get covered in sweat if we spent more than a few hundred dollars on something that would have been considered 'frivolous' during that time. Like my version of a panic attack! Even now I have a hard time splurging on a nice dinner, or home decor, or even clothing. That's been all helpful of course, but still causes me anxiety! I really hate spending more than $.99/lb for chicken parts, for example, or buying bread for full price when I could say, buy it at the bread outlet store! I'm feeling ya!

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