Thursday, March 13, 2014

Technology vs. Groceries

It's tax time so thoughts are running almost exclusively around money. Where does the money go? Well, after sorting through a zillion receipts, categorizing them, tallying income, hunting down 1099's, calculating mileage, and logging our lodging expenses, I think I now know.

Right down the gullet. Yes, our #1 big expense is food.

Boy do these kids eat. And eat. And eat. You'd think it would be gas, diesel, lodging, or otherwise. Nope. Food. This is without eating the way I'd like to. Conventional meats, dairy, veggies, fruit, and the stray grain is all we can manage. Almost no organic, very little processed food, and never the better cuts of meat. Wow. It's a costly thing!

So, that got me to thinking about modern technology and money. Yeah, I make leaps like that.

We are currently driving down the highway at a zippy 55 mph (tail wind), following directions from our GPS. I have mifi on so I can type up a blog post and hang out on facebook. Mary is sitting next to me watching Despicable Me 2 on our TV through our blueray, that is being powered by our (dead) batteries and the inverter, which is being kept charged by the bus while it drives. Alex is on her Kindle, Katie is drawing, using online resources to improve her Manga art, laptop powered by the same inverter. Sean is pouting over in Grandma Susan's RV because he's riding with her and she doesn't have anything that will power his laptop right now, which has a dead battery because he was using too many graphic-intensive games on the first leg of the journey.

I've been pouring over taxes, using my overloaded lap top, full of downloaded music lessons, pictures, video, and now wonderful spreadsheets that tells us we make well below the poverty level for a family of 6. (This is no pity party. In truth, I am kind of shocked at how well we can manage a poverty level in this country.) If we ever stayed put in one place, we could probably collect on plenty of government help, but that is always local, and we're never local. So, why do we have so much technology? Makes me kind of feel guilty, until I remember that this technology is a drop in the bucket over where our money really goes - down the gullets.

Most of it we got before we hit the road, such as my laptop, (on it's last leg, sadly), Alex's Kindle, etc. The TV came with the bus, and the bus came with the (now dead) batteries and inverter to run the cool stuff. Even when we got things post sticks-and-bricks living, a computer can be bought at Walmart for under $300. My kids swallow that much up in a week. If you can stash a bit here and there, or get a windfall with a bit extra, you can get replace a needed gadget, but you can't get extra food because there is no extra room in the bus and they can only eat so much in one week, even if that amount is rather stunning.

The minimal technology is really of little consequence. We have to have running computers, mifi, and telephones if we are to make those connections to find places that pay, to keep everyone fed. Every time I look at our budget, which we really don't have one outside of never spend money - ever, then I try to figure out where to cut costs, the snip off a Red Box rental here and there doesn't really make a difference. Only the food budget does and that can't move much when you are always on the move and have zero space. You simply eat the least expensive food that is as close to real food you can manage, with a bit extra for goal milk yogurt when you can find it, (for the cow's dairy sensitive), nuts instead of chips, etc. So, considering our poverty level income feeds us largely decent food, I shouldn't be shocked at the comparatively cheap gadgets.

I'd like to say this has opened my eyes to the complaints people have about the nice iPhones they see people on welfare using. It hasn't. Seriously, an iPhone? I saw a post recently discussing cell phone services for the family and the "great deal" they get for only $300/month for multiple phones. The service for that alone would pay for a week of groceries. I pay $45 because we need a phone or we don't eat. I don't need an iPhone. Kids want a phone? Get a job. Oh, you have one? Ok, get another one. I'm too busy feeding you.


  1. Ugh. We lived out of dorm fridges for two years, during our major remodel work. It's expensive, not being able to buy larger amounts of items when they're on sale, plus produce goes bad really fast in those smaller fridges. I'm pretty sure the french door/bottom drawer we finally were able to afford has paid for itself twice over. Having a tiny fridge was the single hardest thing about living through renovations for me -- even harder than cooking with counter top appliances and baking in a toaster oven (we *finally* got a stove in the city condo less than a year ago, and a stove in the beach house the week of Thanksgiving). You are nothing short of a miracle worker, doing it all in a bus with four kiddos!

    1. Ah, those counter top appliances. I live from those. Over 2 years now with nothing more than a counter top oven, a tiny microwave, crock pot, and a single burner. Not even a grill to cook outside. I've become the queen of the one-pot-meal. Kind of sick of it, but then I think about Caroline Ingalls on the prairie, fixing whatever Charles shot that evening, a bit of salt pork or corn meal, and a pot over an open fire next to the covered wagon, every single night. I'm such a whiner!

  2. Oh, Cheryl, you are singing my song! I *totally* get what you are saying! I have four teenage boys now, plus two younger boys, and our grocery bill is our single most expensive living expense. (And I'm shocked at what groceries cost in some parts of this country! Holy cow! Get me back to Texas where we can afford to eat!) I've resorted to using the back of our van as a pantry, because, like you said, its worth it to stock up on the cheap sale items if you have space. But even at that, we hit the store at least twice a week for food because of space issues. I thought that laundry would be my big issue when we moved into the RV, but nope, it's groceries!

  3. Four teenage boys? Gulp. Yes, food is not only outrageous outside of Texas, but there are huge sections of the United States (some of them in Texas) where you cannot find an organic chip for 200 miles. While dealing with Mary's food intolerance issues I'm always given advice about this or that food we should be eating and I'm thinking... yeah... 'cause I'm always within 20 miles of a Whole Foods. (That's after doing a mental calculation in my head over how much grass fed, long horn beef from a cow grazed under the sign of Capricorn at exactly 10 feet above sea level to maximize oxygen content, and 300 miles from the nearest city factory... will cost me.) I'm downright thrilled if I can find a brand of ketchup without high fructose corn syrup at times.