Tag Archives: grocery shopping

A day in the life of a Missionary Momma


When we were first dipping our toes into this whole missionary adventure thingy, we found ourselves in Springfield, Missouri sitting across a cafe table from a real live missionary from Mexico City.  He said he was our “Area Director”, whatever that meant.  (We hadn’t learned all the organizational titles and lingo yet.)  For me, it was an opportunity to allay my biggest concern about going into missions.  I could ask my earth-shaking question and have the issue settled once and for all.  At the end of our little tete a tete, I cleared my throat and plunged into the deep end, “Um, can I ask a little question?  I know it’s silly but… where do you buy your groceries in Mexico?”

After a stunned pause in which I’m sure I saw the corners of his mouth curl up ever so slightly, he gently reassured me that there are indeed supermarkets in Mexico in addition to farmers markets that come to each neighborhood on a weekly basis.  I exhaled.  Oh good.  My life wouldn’t change THAT much, I reasoned.  At least I wouldn’t be foraging in the jungle for roots and grubs.

What I didn’t know was that my weekly chore of grocery shopping to feed the family was indeed destined for a massive overhaul.

Grocery shopping has since taken over my life.  For the first 8 months that we lived in Latin America (in Costa Rica for language school), we didn’t have a car.  Just stop and think about that.  How does an American grocery shop without a car?  Walking to and from the store meant carrying all my groceries home.  It meant I couldn’t shop for a whole week at a time.  It made me seriously rethink that second gallon of milk.  I found myself going to the grocery store about every other day, not because my cabinets or fridge couldn’t hold more food but because I only have two hands!  Every other day, I’d trek half a mile one way and shlep my bags home again.  Every other day.

The half mile trek wouldn’t have been so bad except that the closest grocery store was also the most expensive store… the gourmet grocery store of Costa Rica.  After a month, we realized that we were going to have to do something different because we were going broke!  I looked around at the average Costa Rican woman on the street and I wondered how she did it.  I saw she was wearing a lot of make-up, but I sure couldn’t afford to buy make-up at the supermarket!  I saw that she had fashionable clothes and a lot of jewelry, I saw that her nails were always manicured.  I wore practical clothes and had never once had a manicure.  Clearly I was missing something.  Either these women were wealthier than I was or they were shopping somewhere else.

Fast forward 6 years and I’ve learned how she does it.

I now have a running grocery list.  I regularly shop at about 5 different stores each week because I have learned that not every store carries all you need and some stores have some products for cheaper.  For example, I go to one store to buy shampoo, off brand make up for way cheaper, and school supplies whenever they are needed.  I can also buy tupperware, piñatas and candy, dollar store quality toys, and flip-flops at that same store.  There is another store within two blocks’ walk of my house where I can buy the most delicious fresh bakery bread, hot and steamy.  They have a good selection of baking ingredients (now I have to make all meals from scratch) as well as a nice little section of scented candles and hardware.  It smells like fish in there, but the prices are good.

On the low-cost end, I buy fruits and veggies from a truck on the side of the road or from the weekly “feria” (farmer’s market).  On the high cost end, if I want true American products I can still go to the gourmet grocery store where they almost always have Philadelphia Cream Cheese and American cereals.  Too bad a bottle of maple syrup costs $30 and imported cheeses can be even more than that!  Man, I miss coupons.  (The other night I dreamed that I opened the fridge and found 3 packs of bacon.  We can’t afford bacon normally, so it was a wonderful dream.)  If I ever need them, I know where to get them… for a price.

So my grocery list is never completely done.

Never once have I found absolutely everything I need at one store.  I usually have to walk or drive to at least 2 stores, sometimes more to find all I need.  And sometimes I just simply can’t find an item.  It forces me to reevaluate the list and prioritize, substitute, and  to take advantage of when I find a hard-to-find item.  I have been known to clear the shelf when I’m surprised by good luck.

Feeding the family has become a full-time occupation.  I call it hunting and gathering in the concrete jungle.  I’m glad that guy from Mexico didn’t tell me all this when we were starting out.  I might not have been able to leave behind the ocean of American-one-stop shopping for my puddle hopping Latina ways.

Pace Yourself! Life in the slow lane.


If you’ve ever travelled overseas you probably have noticed that in many places the pace of life is a lot slower than in the USA, sometimes infuriatingly so.  When we first moved overseas it took us a few months to adjust to this slower pace.  We found that by adjusting our expectations we could slip into life in the slow lane.  Our “To Do” list went from 5-10 things per day to 3-4 things per week in the slow lane.  On a good day in the slow lane, if I can check off even one item from the ToDo list, I feel productive and successful.  We had to adjust our expectations or be frustrated and discouraged.  We chose to adjust.

There are several reasons that life is slower overseas.  First of all, for our first year overseas we didn’t have a car.  This meant planning extra time for walking places.  It also meant thinking twice before I bought a second gallon of milk at the grocery store, “Would I rather lug two gallons of milk home now or come back to the store for more milk in 3 days?”  Because we had to carry our groceries home without a car, we made many smaller trips to the store throughout the week.  Decreased mobility slowed us down.

Another reason for a slower pace of life is that we have to shop in many different stores to get what we need. One-stop-shopping is an American thing.  Currently, I shop at 5 different stores each week just to meet our family’s grocery needs.  I call it “hunting and gathering” because no single store has all that we need, all the time.  Sometimes I find a product one week and the next week the store shelf is empty.  (I don’t think inventory is taught in business schools here.)  Some days I feel like all I do is drive from store to store searching for one thing.

A wide range of prices also slows me down.  Sometimes I can find better prices by shopping at another store.  For example, there is a store where I buy our shampoo.  It is a crazy catch-all, you-never-know-what-you-will-find kind of store.  But they usually carry one American brand of shampoo for just a couple of dollars.  It saves me about $8-$10 in shampoo if I buy it there.  So in my mind, it’s worth a trip to the shampoo store every couple of weeks.  The hunting and gathering method of shopping means that it takes me all week to find all the items on our grocery list.  By the time I find everything, it’s a new week and I get to do it all over again!  Grocery shopping can be a full time job overseas!

Paying bills can also eat up an enormous chunk of your day in Life’s slow lane.  In both Mexico and Costa Rica no one sends bills or money through the mail.  In Mexico we would go to the phone company to pay the phone bill, and the electric company to pay the electric bill, and so on. Here in Costa Rica, we can pay our bills at the grocery store, the pharmacy, or the bank.  But in both countries, bill paying means going somewhere and standing in line.  I remember in Mexico standing in line all morning to pay a bill, then just when we got close to the front, the window closed and the teller went to lunch!  We had to come back the next day and do it all over again.  I have learned such great patience from standing in line.  I can now stand in line for hours without complaining!  It’s a wonderful skill to acquire.

We have adjusted pretty well to life in the slow lane, so every time we return to America I marvel at how we used to move so fast for so long!  When we first returned after 3 years away, we had to pace ourselves or the American Way would burn us out.  We found that in America we could complete an entire week’s worth of chores in a single morning!  “Yahoo!”  But rather than enjoying our extra time, we felt like we should take on more tasks to fill the rest of the day.  Within a few weeks we were feeling stressed and burned out.  We made a deliberate attempt to slow it down again.  Life in the slow lane was looking really nice to us, at that point.

Slowing down sometimes feels like an impossible dream.  I hear it from other people all the time when we go home, “I wish we could slow down and simplify our lives!”  You can!  Just sell your car.  That will require you to say NO to a lot of extra commitments and will reduce your radius of mobility to whatever is between your house and the grocery store.  And when you are considerably relaxed in your new slow pace of life, you can send me a thank you card… I’ll pick it up at the post office next time I go.