Then she calmly replied, “We have to have fresh fruits and vegetables.”
“Done!” I said, placing a punctuation mark at the end of our conversation.
My first task as chief grocery buyer for the Berry family was to clean out the cupboards and throw away anything that a goat wouldn’t eat. I started by tossing out all the tiny, rolled-up bags of potato chips, pretzels, Gold Fish crackers and tortilla chips.
When I was done, I had a huge assortment of chip clips, clothespins, rubber bands and paper clips left over. I stashed them in a drawer — knowing that, the next time I open a bag of chips, I won’t be able to find a single one of them.
Next, I got rid of all the cereal boxes with the inner plastic bags all scrunched to the bottom. I tossed out Cheerios, Fruit Loops, Apple Jacks, Pebbles, Coco Puffs, Lucky Charms and Raisin Bran. If I would have combined them all together, I wouldn’t have had enough for a bowl.
I tossed out Christmas candy, Halloween candy and a bag full of candy from all those parades we went to last summer. I threw away outdated macaroni noodles, dented Campbell’s soup cans, three half-eaten boxes of Ritz crackers, a bag of sprouting potatoes and a gooey jar of molasses.
“Why do we have this?” I asked, holding the molasses jar at the top between my finger and thumb, like holding a dead mouse by the tail.
“Christmas cookies,” Amy said.
When I was done throwing stuff away, I was exhausted but satisfied. Now, I had room to restock.
The next thing I did was to cut out coupons from the newspaper and to study the ad circular for our local supermarket.
I love my wife, but she is a total impulse shopper. She just buys whatever groceries she wants, with little regard for sale prices or marked-down items.
I, on the other hand, had a plan. I would only buy stuff that was on sale or I had a coupon for. My family would have plenty of food and we’d have a little bit more money to put in our gas tanks.
The first week went pretty smooth. I went shopping on Sunday and spent very little money. On Monday, we had chicken and broccoli; on Tuesday, we had spaghetti and broccoli; on Wednesday, we had steak and broccoli; on Thursday, we ran out of food and had to go out to eat three days in a row.
With me doing the shopping, it ended up costing us three times as much.
The complaints started coming in the second week.
“We don’t have any breakfast food,” Amy said. “Can’t you please buy some frozen waffles, bagels or oatmeal?”
“No, because I don’t have a coupon for them,” I replied.
At suppertime, my daughters — Evien and Maggie — whined, “Not broccoli again.”
“It was on sale, so I loaded up on it.”
“You promised we would have fresh fruit,” Amy reminded me.
“I bought fresh fruit,” I said. “Bananas were on sale, so I bought four bunches.”
“Look at them,” Amy said, pointing to the counter.
The bananas had black, spotted, wrinkled skin — with a cloud of fruit flies hovering over them.
“I can’t help it if nobody ate them,” I said.
Amy slapped her forehead with the palm of her hand. “You bought too many,” she said.
By the third week, I caught Amy smuggling groceries into the house.
“What did you buy?” I asked.
“I just picked up a few things,” she assured me.
“Like, milk. And eggs. And bread. And seven or eight more bags of stuff in the car.”
“How are we going to keep up with the rising cost of gas if we spend money recklessly on food?” I asked. “I’ll bet none of this was even on sale.”
Amy had had enough. She began attacking my purchases. She pulled two cans of lima beans from the shelf and said: “Look, our kids won’t eat lima beans.”
“No, but I had a coupon. I saved 50 cents on two cans.”
She went to the freezer and pulled out a box of Brussels sprouts. “Why do we have all of these?”
“They were on sale, 10 for $10.”
“Nobody likes Brussels sprouts that much,” she said. “And what is this?”
“It’s a bag of dog food.”
“But we don’t even have a dog.”
“You’re not getting it,” I said. “That bag of dog food, with a mail-in rebate, is free! It cost nothing. Zero. Zilch. Nada.”
“No, you’re not getting it,” she said. “We don’t have a poodle, a beagle, a terrier, or even a Chihuahua. What are we going to do with this?”
Amy went out to the car and brought in the rest of the groceries. My daughters pounced on them. They clawed through them, searching for ice cream, cookies or even a loose pudding cup — anything that wasn’t on sale.
Suddenly, I realized how foolish I was. I said to Amy, “I was just trying to help.”
That night, when I got into bed and the house was dark and quiet, Amy said: “I know you were just trying to help, but we have two girls, so we have to have food in the house.”
Nothing more was ever said about the subject. Amy went back to doing the grocery shopping and we both fill our gas tanks three-quarters full.
One day soon, we’re going to have a little get-together at our house and you’re invited. We’ll be serving lima beans and Brussels sprouts. Oh, yeah — and don’t forget to bring your dog.
— By Grant Berry, Tribune Community Columnist