I Tried to Save Money on Groceries and Ended Up Poisoning Myself

updated Apr 30, 2019
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(Image credit: Celeste Noche)

I’m planning on attending graduate school this fall, so I’ve been trying to save $1,500 a month in hopes of taking out as little in student loans as possible. After crunching some numbers, I realized that, aside from housing and utilities, the majority of my money went to groceries (I’m Hungarian, and I have a deep love for meat, especially artisanal salami from my local Eastern European butcher).

I decided to limit myself to $200 per month on groceries. It was going relatively well — until I woke up in the middle of the night projectile vomiting a few weeks ago.

Now, before we go any further, I need to tell you that I never throw up. Besides alcohol-induced instances (and I put down the bottle a few years ago), I can literally count on one hand the amount of times I’ve puked in my life. My favorite anecdote to illustrate this point: My cousin and I once went to Mexico and got food poisoning from the same menu order. He couldn’t put the barf bucket down for an entire week; I maybe had diarrhea for a day. Lucky me, right?

Back to the recent issue. In an attempt to be as frugal (while simultaneously healthful) as possible, I had been living off of rice and beans for the past few months. I wasn’t just buying cans of beans, though — I’d buy two-pound bags of dried beans, then cook them in my slow cooker. I’d proudly freeze the batches, living off of them for weeks at a time. I learned this trick from a money-saving food blog, and it felt like I was finally beating the system; these meals cost me, like, 50 cents!

As my savings account grew, though, so too did the throbbing pain in my stomach. After puking on a fateful Saturday night, I continued to endure a stabbing pain in my stomach, as well as a headache with an accompanying mental fog that made me feel like I had finally succumbed to my greatest fear: I was losing my mind.

I ended up taking the entire week off of work (another thing I don’t do), and stayed on the couch in a hazy pain. I had a thermometer from the Dollar Store, and it would tell me that I had a fever of 101.4, then a minute later, that I was undershooting the basket at 96.2. I was in too much of an incapacitated fog to care.

At this point, you’re probably wondering: Why in Saint Bourdain’s name did this woman not drag herself to the doctor? As a woman, I am constantly questioning my symptoms. Am I actually sick? Do I really need to take Ibuprofen to ameliorate these uterus-wringing cramps? Do I really have a fever of 101.4, or is my thermometer just off? You get the picture. Even during this torturous week, I’d wonder if these stomach pains were in my mind. So if you’re wondering why I didn’t go to the doctor, that’s why. (Yes, I will blame the patriarchy for everything until my dying day.)

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

In addition to my avoidance of the doctor, I continued to eat beans every single day. Even if you’re sick, you gotta stick to the budget, right? One night, my partner casually mentioned that the beginning of my symptoms seemed to flare up around the time I religiously started consuming beans. Maybe I should take a break for a day or two? Normally, I’m a little annoyed by health-related advice, but I had a sinking feeling in my (ever-throbbing) stomach that my partner might be right. I kicked the beans for a few days, and then …

Do you remember that scene in Rosemary’s Baby where Mia Farrow is gaunt and holding her body that’s been causing her never-ending pain because she’s literally pregnant with the spawn of Satan? She and her husband get into a massive fight because she’s stopped drinking the weird milkshakes her devil-worshipping neighbor has been blending up for her, and she wants to go to a non-satanic obstetrician. She and her husband are both yelling at each other, when suddenly, she looks up in shock and whispers, “It stopped. The pain stopped.”

You get where I’m going with this, right? After a few days, the pain cleared. Anyone who’s been sick knows the sheer exhilaration of your reclaimed health. The devil — apparently a type of legume — was gone.

This is a totally separate story, but I’d also recently received a diagnosis of perioral dermatitis (a skin condition that’s like eczema and acne made a baby). I’d read somewhere that food allergies can cause this angry, bumpy affliction, so I thought I’d put two and two together and emailed my doctor for a referral to a food allergist. I described my general symptoms and the story I’ve shared thus far (minus the parallel to Rosemary’s Baby). I felt like I was on an episode of House over here.

My doctor happily provided me a referral, but ended her email with an ominous paragraph: “How are you cooking your beans? There is a toxin in beans that is usually removed in the cooking process, but if not can cause symptoms like the ones you describe.” After reading about the dangers of eating undercooked beans, especially with the questionable temperature settings on $20 slow cookers, I tossed my food allergy hypothesis out the proverbial window.

This seemingly long journey of self-poisoning and rediscovering my health landed me back at the budgeting board. Sure, I could potentially save an extra couple bucks by living off of burrito bowls for the next three years, but at what other costs? As my therapist lovingly told me at our last session, “Bonnie, it’s okay to take out some student loans.” You know it’s bad when your shrink is trying to convince you to spend money.

All of this is to say: After literally poisoning myself, I’ve embraced the cliché that life is indeed short, especially if you’re feeding yourself toxic food. My father came to the United States as a Hungarian refugee, and he didn’t escape the grip of the Soviet Union just so I can experience the incredibly mundane fate of death by bean poisoning. At the end of the day, I don’t mind having to take out a little bit extra in student loans if it means I can avoid sickness, and maybe even eat a log of salami or two.

The correct way to do it: How To Cook Beans in the Slow Cooker

Has anything like this ever happened to you? Share in the comments below!