I can't stand grocery shopping. Making a list of what we need, cutting and sorting coupons, and trudging the supermarket aisles mark the height of tedium for me. Add to that the fact that it has to be done over and over and it equals one really bothersome task. Or at least it did—until I brought God into the mix.
Three years ago a friend told me about a website that posts the current deals on groceries. This friend explained how, with the help of this site, she was paying less than a dollar per box for cereal.
One dollar? I thought. I regularly paid three times that! My thrift radar went into action. I took down the web address and vowed to check it out.
Within two weeks I was hooked. The Internet became my new tool for maximizing my grocery store savings. I scouted deals, devised transaction scenarios, and collected coupon inserts. Couponing terms like Catalina and rolling filled my conversations. Grocery shopping had become a game. And I wanted to win.
I found only one drawback to my new method of grocery shopping: it made me vulnerable. The biggest savings strategy required buying several months' worth of groceries when the price dropped to its lowest. Then I was supposed to "shop" out of my pantry. But what if I calculated wrong and ran out before another sale? Then what would happen?
Driving to the store any time I ran out of something had been my habit, but it cramped my new routine. I couldn't justify paying regular store prices any more. As space in my pantry would appear, I'd think, Now what can I do? There isn't a sale on this right now. I knew I should wait, but sometimes I'd fall back on the convenience of stopping at the store to fill those gaps. And then I'd be frustrated with myself. What was I doing wrong?
In the back of my mind, I wondered if the answer could be prayer. After all, Jesus taught us to pray for our daily bread. Supplying our needs was part of God's plan. But how did that fit into my grocery shopping? I'd been used to thanking God for providing the means toward my daily bread (otherwise known as my husband's job). What if I asked God to provide the daily bread itself? What if I prayed about the food in my pantry?
Praying for My Daily Bread
I decided to give prayer a try. It seemed goofy that first time. Standing in front of a nearly filled closet of food, I asked God for sugar "at a decent price." I made no excuses. I made no assumptions. I just told God that I knew he could do it and I acknowledged that he'd filled that pantry to begin with. Would he bring me sugar?
Later that week I made my shopping trip. I'd forgotten that prayer until I walked down the baking aisle. The sugar was on sale! The discount wasn't remarkable, but it was tolerable. Had God provided? I wasn't sure, but I cheered with my kids about it anyway. Maybe God would give us more than just the means for our daily bread.
Over the next two months as my ability to save on groceries grew, my dependence on God also deepened. I understood better how managing my family's grocery money honored him. Partnering with God brought dignity to the once dreaded chore. And I regularly relied on God's provision of food. But could there be more? I wondered if God wanted to be involved with my groceries in other ways.
Spend Less, Give More
Like many other super shoppers, I often found bargains too good to pass up that didn't fit my family's needs. These went into a corner of my bedroom. I called it my "food pantry pile." Once a month I'd pass it along to the local food pantry. With the recession deepening, I sensed my efforts were meager, too small to touch the depth of need. That pile needed to grow.
Then came January first—time for New Year's resolutions. In keeping with my passion for grocery thrift, I found one that could pair the game of saving on groceries with the desire to help other people. I decided to "Spend Less, Give More." Those four words became my slogan for the year and they echoed in my mind each time I looked over sales flyers and researched deals online.
A friend, hearing of my resolution, pointed out the crisis within our church. More and more families were without incomes.
"We should work as a body," she said. "Give what you're collecting to people in our church."
I'd been thinking about how the groceries I gathered could help people I knew instead of the faceless patrons of the food pantry. But the details paralyzed me. Should I take a bag of groceries to someone's home? What if it was food they didn't like or didn't need?
"Just how do you do this?" I wondered aloud.
My friend answered. She pointed me to someone who could get it to the right people. The details would be taken care of.
Now "Spend Less, Give More" brought God further into my grocery shopping. I'd learned to pray for my daily bread. Now I prayed that God would use my shopping trips to provide for others. I asked God to direct me to discounts on items missing from other people's pantries.
What They Need, When They Need It
My radar went into overtime. Free shampoo this week? My closet was stocked, but perhaps someone else could use it. Soup for a song? I was on it! Having potential names and faces to think about, families I knew, gave my shopping urgency. I thought of children in the church nursery as I picked up cereal. Faces of men I worshiped alongside came to mind when I found razors at a great price.
The meager pile in the corner of my bedroom became a row of grocery bags. Month by month I filled them. And month by month I handed them on anonymously. I bubbled with anticipation to think that without someone to thank, these people might acknowledge God as their source. I prayed that God would grow our faith as a church by bringing those people exactly what they needed, when they needed it.
And it happened, above and beyond what anyone could expect. On one occasion, one of the women commented, "Someone likes the exact same things I do! These are some of my favorite foods!"
I laughed to hear it. Her favorites were things my family wouldn't eat. Instead God knew what this woman would love. And apparently he wanted to provide more than just any food. He wanted her to have her favorite food.
He's Still Providing
In the meantime, God continued to answer my prayers for my family's "needs." One day I pulled the last box of macaroni and cheese out of the pantry for our dinner. Seeing the large gap on the shelf, I panicked and nearly put it back, trying to replan the meal. We couldn't go without macaroni and cheese. It was my children's favorite food—a lunchtime staple. The thought of running out unnerved me. I was tempted to buy more. Instead I took a deep breath and prayed for more macaroni and cheese. Then I vowed to wait on God to provide it at a good price. We'd do without our favorite food until he provided.
God answered. The following day I discovered a special on macaroni and cheese that I'd missed. I could restock that shelf! I was stunned. I could see no reason for God to supply us with this so quickly. God had revealed his goodness to my family in a new way.
My "Spend Less, Give More" resolution also evidenced God's hand on my finances. During the months after I made that resolution my grocery bill continued to drop. Yet the amount of groceries I gave away increased substantially. Somehow in God's economy I could give away greater amounts while reducing my grocery expenses. Sharing my finds cost less than hoarding them. Was it God's favor that he'd allow me to save my family even more once I committed to giving away?
As if all that were not thrilling enough, God continues to show me different ways he can work through my grocery shopping. Recently I had the opportunity to speak about saving on groceries to the women of my church. It was an exciting opportunity. I longed for God to provide for them not just through my shopping trips, but also through enabling them to shop using the same methods. But I needed a strong visual for my talk to make my case. I wanted to show them how much they could get for so little.
The deals had been scarce for many weeks. I'd scrambled to fill the grocery bags the previous month and my bedroom corner was nearly bare. I had no visual to share. I explained this need to the team preparing for our event and asked them to pray. And I prayed myself. God had to get involved.
And God did! Deals unlike any I'd ever seen appeared in the stores that week. God poured out his abundance. When I displayed what I'd bought, and shared in my talk what it had cost, the group let out a gasp. And once I trundled the pile home, the bedroom corner could barely contain it all. God worked powerfully in answer to that prayer.
It's an amazing thing to make my grocery list with God at my side. I get chills when I come across a sale that God might be using to help another family. I laugh at the silly things that get added to my giveaway pile every month. Sometimes it's interesting to consider the pleasure that God witnesses when the bags I send along are unpacked.
I still don't particularly enjoy grocery shopping. But I love the adventure it has become with God at my side. I never know what each week will bring. Yet I know this, God can be glorified at the grocery store.
Lara Krupicka is the author of Pampering Gifts, a money-savvy guide to ministering through gift giving and hospitality. www.pamperinggiftsbook.com