Just before we realized that we needed to go beyond pantry staples and actually build a stockpile, we went through a financial tangle. Bean Times / Lean Times… get it? To my surprise, these two seemingly unrelated events turned out to be intertwined. I’ll explain what happened, in hopes that you can glean some helpful information through my experience! I’m breaking it up into two parts. The financial tangle & solution that started it, and then the stockpile & path toward preparedness that followed.
Nothing catastrophic had happened. But we were living paycheck to paycheck (just barely- often running out of funds a few days before payday) and when your income is being stretched that thin, it doesn’t take much at all to get behind. So, a new tire here, a plumbing bill there, an increase in gas prices, and a mathematical error in the checking account was truly all it took for us to have a very tight few months. We got behind on several bills. Always paying them, of course, but paying a week or two late. Late fees add up quickly & add to the problem. We realized we needed to get out the vicious cycle, and living our version of status quo was not going to result in a change. I believe there's an old saying about doing the same thing if you want the same results?
So we made a change. We stopped buying meat. It was the most expensive of our groceries, and we knew we could survive without it. We didn’t try to replace it with expensive fake meat products, and we didn’t care if we were eating trendy vegetarian food. The goal was a significant, quick monetary change in our budget!
We bought beans. Not canned beans. The cheap dry of beans our grandmothers knew how to prepare. The beans I did NOT know how to prepare! Oh, and lentils (which I had never prepared OR eaten). Then I searched online for budget bean recipes & I tried them all. For 3 months we did not eat out, and we ate beans. And lots of rice. I think we ate meat about once a week, but it was a much smaller portion per meal than we used to eat.
My husband and I have a date night twice a month. For those 3 months we had home dates. I cooked a new meal, trying it out on us before cooking it for the children. On a very small scale, it was kind of adventurous, and we had fun with it. Sometimes, we’d also do our grocery shopping on date night. Just the two of us. We didn’t have to tell the children “no” to any impulse purchases, and it reminded us of our early years. We made the best of it.
This started in the fall, and the slow cooker was such a help during this time. It lasted through winter. Perfect timing! We didn’t set out for 3 months on purpose; I just remember it taking around that time to make a difference in our overall budget. When we started buying meat again, two things happened. One- we appreciated it a lot more than we used to! And two- we used a lot less of it! We still stretch meat much farther, and now I often can’t believe how much we used to consume in one meal! Now, if you had told me this would happen before our 3 month bean adventure, I would have laughed & nodded patronizingly. So, if you’re doing that, I don’t blame you. But, we went through it because we had to go through it. And I’m glad we did, because we are much better stewards today because of it! It wasn’t planned. It wasn’t a project. It was necessary! And it was not always fun or flavorful. But the end results are worth it!
I often learn the hard way that God uses strange & unusual things to mature us. To teach us thing that we just cannot learn from a book, or even from someone who’s been through it. Experience is a powerful teacher! He used beans to snap us out of our frivolous grocery spending. But he also used that time to get us used to a different viewpoint altogether on the food we brought into our home & we developed an entirely new perspective on it. I’ll explain that in part two. But let me say, those 3 months were only the beginning of the budget improvements!
The Bean Times taught us to appreciate our food, especially the pricey food! It taught us to stretch that food, and use it wisely! It also taught us that we can 'make it' even though we don't have what we're accustomed to. To a five year old, beans & rice for dinner each night of the week seems like the end of the world. But she gained perspective through that experience as well. Valuable perspective! We didn’t sulk, or stop living a lovely life, or have dreary conditions, or act deprived. We lived life & we adjusted our meals. That’s it! We learned that it’s not that big of a deal for a small amount of time. None of us were scared by the experience, and while we might not want beans as often now, we don’t look back on that time with negative feelings.
I don't think it's a trivial thing for a family to have to eat that way for an extended amount of time. I've imagined us in that situation, and my heart truly hurts for the people who don't have a choice & would like to have other options. For my family, The Bean Times taught us valuable lessons, while setting us on a path to preparedness & intentional simple living. I'm also very thankful that we accomplished the goal of correcting our budget & we've made lasting changes because of that time.