Some simple Rules for not getting cleaned out when you go shopping at a big Super Store:
1. Stick to the list. This is crucial, especially when you begin to reform your spending. Stick To The List.
2. Have a ‘call your spouse’ rule. The ‘call your spouse rule’ is easy. You call your spouse for any purchase over a certain amount. It works because of our nature. We want things, sometimes we can’t afford them. Calling our spouse gives us time to think it through. If you want it bad enough that you are willing to lie about it to get it, you probably don’t need it. If you want it bad enough it falls under the criteria for the call your spouse rule, you’re going to think hard about it before you call them.
3. Make a list, as you shop, of other things you’d like to buy. This works because you are doing something about it. It works for me because I usually lose my grocery list once I get home–problem solved. You’re not just passing up a great bargain, you’re writing it down, you’re writing the price down, and you’re going to shop online. You’re going to research it and make a wise decision and finally decide, man I really don’t want this thing this bad. Recently I thought about getting a noise cancelling Bluetooth headset for talking while driving and washing dishes. I don’t spend a lot of time on the phone but if I do get a call, its going to be while I need my hands for something else. So I found a nice one at the aforementioned W retailer for $78. That’s a lot of headset. Later, I found the same thing at an online source with free shipping for $50. That’s thirty bucks I save if I buy it, but its really $80 because I didn’t buy it. I waited, I cooled down, and then I decided I could, in fact, live without it.
4. Cut coupons, comp ads, buy clearance items. This is the shopping equivalent of gouging in the trenches. (No I’m not talking about ‘Black Friday Sales’) Listen, this works, OK? Just wait a bit for some things, cut coupons for others, and always, always check the sale folders. It’s not that hard. Most stores with price-match guarantee’s probably appreciate you doing their research for them and if they don’t, they should.
5. Don’t fear the consignment shop. My wife and I make a run through consignment shops whenever we find them. Ok, my wife does. Thank God for DVD players in the van, right? Anyway, whoever is in charge of clothing should seriously consider this because it saves a ton. Here’s an example. Those little Osh-Kosh overalls are about forty bucks retail but you can find them on consignment for about seven. Do I need to say more?
6. A word to the men. Listen, to the ladies I just want to add an apology for rule six. It’s the unspoken rule, for the most part, and I don’t plan to speak of it again. It’s rule six. What that means for the men is this: support your wife if she really wants to do this and life will be easier, you’ll have more money in the bank. If you support her, encourage her, and make it easy for her to do this it will be good for you. Know what I mean? In the long run it will be good for YOU.
7. Know when to quit. I don’t have anything else to say about that so I’m going to call for rule seven.
Now, not only can you rescue your budget, but its biblical and right that you should do so…
So we’ve talked about some reasons to be frugal and we’ve discussed one way to do it. The grocery budget is the easiest thing to fix first because most of us spend way too much on food. Face it, Americans are, for the most part, fat. Eat less, exercise more and pocket the difference. That’s how to dig us out of our early obesity induced graves AND save the country from a recession.
I’m convinced that most of the money problems we face in this country come from an excess of instant gratification. This has been written about by many who are better equipped to deal with it right now but from what I can see, no one is really wanting to work for anything. Here’s what I mean. I was talking with a health care professional the other day about our health system and the same old complaints come up. “Look” they said “America has one of the best health care systems in the world because people pay for it. If we don’t pay for it, it goes down-hill.” And of course the case in point there is managed care. Am I saying I don’t care if single moms don’t have coverage for their kids? Nope. (At least in Oklahoma all kids are covered, that’s a whole ‘nuther topic though) What I am saying is that the money has to come from somewhere.
When we’re talking about our budget and not our health care system, find the fat. Cut the fat. Don’t allow the fat to creep back in because fat is sneaky. Say you cut going out but you suddenly have all this cash. SAVE IT. Here’s the deal: if you had a grand today you probably go blow it on a big screen HD LCD TV. You’d get all the bells and whistles you could afford and then a few more because, hey, I can pay that extra $500 off if I put it on my credit card.
One of the worst things that happened to us is that our local WalMart stopped taking checks. What I mean is, they quit just taking a check, they’ve turned a check in to a debit slip that you have to sign twice. If I find that repugnant, and I do—I don’t want anyone else messing with my checking account. Then I have to use plastic. Now that may seem ironic, but at least I get cash back on Discover and I pay the thing off every month come hell or high water. The credit card lesson is a tough one to learn but it has to be learned if you ever want to have any semblance of control over your own personal finances. My point, and I do have one, is that you have to make sure that what you buy is on your list before you go into to the store.
We go to wally world because it is, basically, the only game in town. No I’m not going to write about the destruction of the local retailer or the invasion of our markets with Chinese merchandise. Do I really have to? The problem I have is that they are just too good at selling things to me that I don’t need. I am continually blindsided by things I don’t have but I think I need so I buy them because, hey, there’s always room on the credit card right? Discipline is the key. If its not on the list, don’t buy it. Period.
Unless it’s on sale…if it’s on sale it requires judgment and a few simple rules to keep you on track…
This is the second part of our series on frugality. Last week I wrote about how we discovered that we were bleeding cash. Today we’re going to work on that theme some more with probably the best tip for saving some money right now. I don’t know anyone who’s not crunched for cash right now. Milk is about four dollars a gallon. Do you have any idea how much milk four kids can drink a week? It’s crazy. But it has to be bought unless we want to go buy some cows and frankly I’m not ready for that. Getting up at three a.m. to feed babies or change diapers is hard enough. Milking the cow everyday would be way over the top.
One of the ways we began to fix the holes in our grocery budget was to stop eating out. I left this hanging out there yesterday, but the secret is that you can get by without going out to eat at all. Let that one sink in for a moment. Three meals a week for the cost of twenty one is what we’re faced with here. The big question, if we go out, is what are we going to do about the other eighteen meals? Starve? Kill our own meat? Of course not, we’re going to pony up the other hundred or so dollars a week for groceries so we can cook those other eighteen meals. This effectively doubles our grocery budget for the year and let me tell you we can flat put away the groceries.
The solution to this for us was spending time together. That’s all it took. With a little time spent together with my spouse—which is nice, actually, and hard to come by otherwise—we manage to get by on about a hundred bucks a week in groceries. This time is spent doing menu planning, writing a grocery list with what we need to cook those meals, and finding coupons. We’re about to start ‘comping’ sale ads too. We sit down together each week with a pile of cookbooks and our recipes and the calendar—as awful as that is—and decide what we’re going to eat for that week and what we have time to cook. Usually we can get by with two or three recipes with leftovers plus whatever can scrounge up on the weekend. It really depends on the week. Either way, for the cost of three or four trips through the fast food line I can cook all week for my family of six: Healthy, good, hot meals that never sat under a heat lamp or languished in a deep fryer.
Next I’m going to discuss some things that torpedo my resolve when it comes to begin frugal and what I can do to help prevent it.
Like most of America we’ve been attempting to tighten things up around our house because with gas prices what they are its pretty tight right now. I think every checkbook in America is sucking wind except Exxon Mobile who made a jillion dollars off our high demand for gasoline. The money has got to come from somewhere. Coupons, comping at Wal-Mart, whatever: at this point I’m pretty well open to most anything legal that will trim some of the fat from our budget.
Short of setting up my own still in the back yard for brewing my own ETOH to burn in my car or converting my diesel engine to burn cooking oil, the first place I had to look was the grocery bill. Babies have got to eat and so do Mama’s and Daddies. But beans are cheaper than steak and probably more nutritious, etc. We didn’t have to look very hard to see that we were bleeding cash like a US war time defense spending bill.
Our main issue really amounts to a lack of motivation on Friday. We are, frankly, so conditioned to just going out that it’s difficult to break out the pots and pans on Friday afternoon and whip up even a quick meal. Burger, taco, and pizza joints are not only the ruin of your waistline they can wipe out your budget. Here’s an example. Four kids meals and two adult combos of our choice at the local burger joint that shall remain nameless runs $30-$35 of hard cold cash. You do the math on that one. We used to eat out at least twice a week and sometimes once on the weekend if we were feeling particularly unmotivated. That adds up to something like a thousand dollars a year or more for just three meals a week. Three meals a day, seven days a week is twenty one meals a week (plus the odd snack).
That’s the sort of ridiculousness we were faced with when we sat down and looked at what we were spending on food. I don’t know about you but I could use a thousand dollars. (I could use several actually but that’s beside the point.) Tomorrow I’ll discuss the first step we took that actually worked and what we did to torpedo it. Learning from your mistakes is tough but its just about the only way to do it.