I’ve been thinking that I should post about the cost of shmura matza and how we deal with it. Shmura matza isn’t cheap, to say the least! Last week I brought home our shmura matza for Pesach – I bought four pounds of hand matza ($17 lb) and 6 pounds of machine shmura ($7 lb) – that’s it. We use only hand matza for the sedarim, and the machine shmura is for the other yom tov meals. We don’t usually have many guests for the seder (usually not more than four), but we provide matza for everyone who comes who wants it, unless the person chooses to bring their own.
Our family custom is that we eat gebrochts on Pesach (matza products that are moistened), but for many years, I never made any Pesach foods with matza meal. I became very good at baking potato starch cakes and kugels (and in a Wonder Pot, no less! For those who don’t know what a Wonder Pot is, it’s a special pot you can bake in when you don’t kasher your oven for Pesach. Pesach baking is a cinch now that I use my oven!) The reason I didn’t make all of those delicious matza meal recipes (like bagels/rolls, fritters, etc) was that at that time, our standard was to only use shmura matza for all of Pesach, and that included shmura matza meal. And I absolutely wasn’t going to pay the price for it to use in baking when I could much less expensively make potato starch options.
Contrary to what many people think, you don’t have to have matza, or matza meal products, available at breakfast, lunch, and dinner for every day of Pesach. We all enjoy the shmura one week a year, but we don’t gorge ourselves on it. We make plenty of other foods, and matza is just one small part of a yom tov meal (though one big part of the seder! :)). Many of the foods for Pesach are exactly the same as what we eat all year round – cheeses, fish/chicken/meat, and lots of fruits and vegetables. Oh, and potatoes.
The cost of items like shmura matza is unavoidable (unless you don’t consider this a necessary expense), but how much you use is up to you. There’s no need to buy a huge stack of hand shmura so the boxes stack five feet high (well, for most of us – I do have one friend who only uses hand shmura all week long, and uses it for every meal – so she gets thirty pounds). Then, on to the rest of the food expenses. Even though Pesach food shopping usually means replacing everything in the fridge, it doesn’t have to be intimidatingly expensive. First of all, you should have been saving a lot on food the month before, as you ‘eat’ down the chometz and use up whatever you have on hand. You can apply those funds you saved towards your Pesach food costs.
If you do use the regular matzas on Pesach, they are super inexpensive. Here I’m seeing them as loss leaders in the major supermarkets for 5 lb/2.99. You can serve as much matza brei as you like at that price!
What do we eat on Pesach that is really so expensive? A potential stumbling block is proteins, since most of us tend to use a lot more of them on Pesach than during the year. But this area doesn’t have to be a budget breaker. I haven’t bought a roast for Pesach for quite a long time, but when I’ve done it, it has been only for one night of yom tov, and we have chicken the rest of the nights. Minimizing the amounts of expensive meats you buy can help you use your available grocery dollars more effectively. Ground meat is great for chol hamoed meals because it can be stretched so effectively. There are plenty of cuts of chicken or turkey that are delicious and can be festively prepared. Fresh fish is an affordable option in some parts of the country (not for me, though!). Cottage cheese, hard cheeses, and eggs all round out meals during chol hamoed very effectively. (Despite the expense of hard cheese, it can be stretched, similarly to ground meat, so that can be a reasonable option.)
But even with the legitimate costs of proteins, spending should still be kept reasonable. Most of the other Pesach food expenses aren’t high – my shopping will include a case of potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, eggs, bananas, oranges, and apples. Together with smaller amounts of onions, squash, lettuce and tomatoes (and some other assorted produce), we’ll be able to make a large variety of salads, kugels, side dishes, and soups.
I think the biggest part of what throws the Pesach food costs out of whack is the feeling that we need to buy all of those overpriced, less than tasty, chometz-substitutes or prepared foods. I’ve always enjoyed the simple meals of Pesach – I haven’t felt we’re suffering because we can’t have bread or crackers, or even grains (which we usually use a lot of). I almost feel that all of the chometz imitations serve to lessen the unique feeling of Pesach, but I’m sure those who use them have a different experience.
But aside from the philosophy of using the chometz substitutes, stop and think: do you really need it? Yes, the stores are filled with them, but are they really going to enhance your chag? If so, buy them! We enjoy having macaroons for Pesach, and though I can (and have) made them myself, we feel it’s worth buying them to add to the Pesach spirit. But twenty boxes of macaroons wouldn’t enhance our yom tov more than six boxes would, so I can get the same bang for my buck by buying six of them. As far as the outrageously priced cake and kugel mixes, it hardly takes more time to mix up a cake from scratch than to add the eggs and oil to the mix – and it saves a huge amount of money!