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I was in conversation with a group of women talking about the issue of budgeting, which for all of us had become important in the last year. We ranged in age from sixtyish to fortyish, and I was struck at the difference in attitude and mindset. My very wise friend, E, lives with her husband on a very small fixed pension. Her husband grows all the veggies for the house and they have surplus, which I and others around benefit from. (I trade computer expertise for those lovely fresh organic veggies—I think I get the better deal.)

One of the women contributed nothing to the discussion and I felt this was because she is managing away with a lot more than she ever had in her own country, and wants to indulge herself after years of poverty. I feel this because until very recently, I was doing the same thing. But circumstances have changed and I again need to learn budgeting. The other woman present was talking, commenting on parents that use processed foods a lot; she cooked from scratch, kudos to her. It was the description of her children’s lunch boxes that pulled me up short to realize budgeting meant different things to different people. One of my children gets fed by the school for a small contribution from me—a very faddy eater—so at least I know he has eaten something. My other child goes with a sandwich of ham, lettuce, and tomato on brown bread and a drink of cordial that I dilute. Nothing else, no bar, crisps, or fruit, just the sandwich and the drink. The drink comes home and gets poured into a glass and he drinks while berating my lack of “cool” for sending him with an uncool drink. (We don’t do fizzy in my house except Christmas and birthdays.)

Back to my conversation with the ladies. C was describing her homemade lunch boxes, “A sandwich, a homemade cookie or bar, some strawberries and raspberries, and fruit juice (bought prepacked).” My head was nodding, my face was smiling in agreement, but my mind was elsewhere. When was the last time you could afford raspberries, and we haven’t had strawberries since the previous autumn when the strawberry plants took a battering from a Nor’Easterly that killed a lot of my more delicate produce, along with the polytunnel and glasshouse. Even my eldest son (who doesn’t live at home) budgets better than that. At our local supermarket raspberries are €2.49 for about ten and strawberries are €2.49 for eight ounces. 

My shopping bill for this week was €65.53, which included fourteen tins of cat food and dog mixer, so on humans I spent about €53.00. Meals so far this week are:

Monday: soup, chili con carne, and brown rice
Tuesday: fried leftover potatoes and mushrooms, cottage pie
Wednesday: salad, sandwiches, and quiche
Thursday: soup, chicken fajitas
Friday: scrambled eggs and toast, pork chops, baked potatoes, carrot/swede puree, broccoli
Saturday: fried potato skins and salad, meatballs and pasta
Sunday: baked beans on toast, stir-fried vegetables in a schreechingly hot sauce with rice
(Where there are two meals, it is either a choice of or lunch for the adults or faddy eater alternates.)

I buy what is in season, or on offer (seriously good offers like twenty-one cents a kilo for onions in Horans this week). Also I made eleven frozen meals for my living-away son. He really is the best at budgeting because he manipulates me into feeding him at every possible moment.

My friends are actually horrified I spend so little; they think I am starving the family. I prefer to see a tiny rainy-day fund begin to accumulate because if things are bad financially now, it is only going to get worse before it gets better.

As Micawber advised David Copperfield in Chapter 12:

Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery. —Charles Dickens