...because we all have our motley moments!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Financial Fun Part 3B: Deal or No Deal?

First of all:

Creeeeeeeeek, thud, click!

That was the sound of the vault closing on our emergency fund! We did it! :) We actually went $1.05 over our goal! It feels so good to know that we have a safety net, and now we can work towards a new financial goal. Yay!

Next, for those of you who have been commenting on these financial articles, I want you to know that I have been getting lots of feedback from our readers, and not only do they appreciate that we're discussing this, but they really appreciate your comments! There isn't a "one size fits all" equation to managing expenses, and your different experiences are giving our readers a wonderful sampler of ideas, so thank you, and keep it up!

Now, back to the grocery store!

Deal or No Deal?
I was flipping through a magazine one day where I found an article about saving money at the grocery store. I'm a bit obsessed with the topic, so I started reading. The advice was pretty typical, but one particular blurb caught my eye. The author compared the unit prices of small containers of yogurt to a 32 oz. tub of yogurt and recommended that customers purchase the larger size to save money per ounce. Sounds reasonable, right?

You are the expert when it comes to your family.
I have bought the large tubs of yogurt. I have also thrown those tubs away, unopened, when they passed their expiration dates. My family just doesn't eat yogurt if they have to scoop it out of a tub. They eat a ton of yogurt, however, if it's in the ready-to-go cups. In our house, I leave room on the grocery list for cups of yogurt and I cut back in other areas to make up for it.

Bigger isn't always better.
Of course, usually the larger the quantity or volume, the less we pay per ounce. That's the lure of the big box stores and warehouse clubs. For things we tend to use lots of, like say, olive oil, it's a great deal to buy it that way. The trouble though, is that if we spend our monthly grocery budget to buy enough toilet paper to last a year, what do we use to buy food?

When my husband and I started cracking down on our food budget when we went to one income, my solution was to only buy what we needed for the week when I went to the store. It drove me crazy to only buy a small box when a month's worth of the same product was so much cheaper per unit, but it was a good exercise for me. We stayed within budget, and we always had what we needed. Unfortunately, I took a wrong turn in my "frugality" which led to some very expensive months.

Couponer gone wild!
When I really became a "power couponer" I started taking advantage of all kinds of deals because they were, well, deals. I would find an amazing price on something that we had never really tried, and I would buy a cartload of it. I would come home with twenty boxes of diet granola bars (they were only a dollar a box!) and very little else to eat. Guess what? We didn't eat the granola bars either. At least the food bank was happy that month. McDonald's was tickled, too.

Pioneer Woman I am not.
My next craze was to buy things like dried beans and the non-boil-in-the-bag rice. They are MUCH cheaper than their easy-to-prepare counterparts. Guess what? It doesn't matter how little they cost if you never cook them, and it especially doesn't matter if they are inedible when you do. It's all wasted money, and then it's worse when the replacement costs of canned beans and Minute Rice figure into the equation.

Return to Center
I'm still a couponer, but now I only "stock up" on foods that 1) my family will eat and 2) are healthy for them to eat. I only buy foods that I know how to prepare because there's no point to storing something for a year and then throwing it away when it expires. (Just a note--I actually have learned how to cook beans and rice from scratch now, and I do it often. I do have Minute Rice and canned beans in the pantry, however, just in case.)

What am I saying?
When I make my grocery list, I do all of the things I mentioned last week, but I do keep in mind our non-negotiables (like yogurt in a cup) and I work around those. I find other areas to cut or to economize (like buying store brand brown rice instead of Uncle Ben's). I budget each month for a trip to Sam's to buy olive oil and nuts, and I keep that money separate from our weekly grocery money. Even then, we only spend 10% of our income on food (the recommended percentage is 5-15%, so I feel pretty good about that).

YOU are the captain of your grocery-buying ship, and you know your family better than anyone else. Don't be swayed by the siren songs of "good deals" and clever packaging! :)

So...this week, I would love to hear about your financial successes--did you lower your bills this week? Spend less at the grocery store? Complete your MASP? Fully fund an emergency fund?;) Let's celebrate together! Also, have you ever bought something ridiculous in the name of a "good deal?" What are your grocery buying rules? Let's talk!


Donna said...

WOW! Rachel, that must feel so great to have that emergency fund in place! We're working on it, slowly but surely, starting with cutting our grocery bill and getting our "debt snowball" rolling (Dave Ramsey).

I am not a big spender. We are on a "need-based budget" at this point in our lives and not a "want-based budget," so my spending in other areas of our budget is already as low as it can go. We do not have cable TV or fancy cell phone plans, gadgets are of the kitchen variety here (not electronic!), and we almost NEVER eat out. So where did I get my shopaholic groove on? At the grocery store, of course. I mean, we had to EAT didn't we?!

I realized I was WAY overspending at the grocery store when my good friends Rachel and Teresa mentioned they were spending between $50-60 a week on groceries. WHAT??? And they don't look anorexic or anything...I'm pretty sure they eat well. HOW were they doing it?

Well, I can tell you it's entirely POSSIBLE. I've got our budget down to about $80 a week (including our SHARE boxes), so our grocery budget is less than HALF of what it used to be! That means I have "found" an extra $350+ that we can stuff into savings each month once our debt snowball is done paying off our student loans. WOW! I'm so proud of that! And we eat really well!

I hardly use any coupons at all right now. It's really just a matter of sticking to "the list" and using my calculator when I shop so I know I'll check out on budget. It doesn't take tons of extra time, either.

Take the grocery challenge and see how low you can go! You'll love seeing all that extra moola in your bank account!

fawnda said...

Congrats on the emergency fund! WAY TO GO! Woo Hoo!

Budgeting weekly has worked for us too. Buying what we need that week. We also got into the “buy a bunch now to use later” and would spend a bunch of $ on toilet paper and not on stuff that we REALLY need like food or soap. We control our cash flow a lot better now.

Great ideas! I love it! : )

Rachel said...

Thanks to both of you! Donna, you are doing an amazing job cutting expenses--way to go! Fawnda, thanks so much for your comments--you have a lot to teach us! :)

Rachael said...

Just a note on the emergency fund, I can not stress enough from personal experience how important it is to have at least an 8 month emergency fund. I am not a grocery saver but I am great money saver. I never thought we would need to use our emergency fund to live on once my husband lost his job unexpectedly. Save save and put it away! I wish I now could use the grocery tips, however I am forced to pay crazy money for groceries here in the arctic. Thanks Rachel

Bryssy said...

Great, great tips, Rachel. I do tend to stock up on things I know I will use. Canning supplies are something I always, without fail, buy when they are on sale. (They hardly every are but I have found some stores put items on clearance.)

I am proud to say that we are withing 1 month of replenishing our emergency fund. It is such a great thing to have when you do need it.

After adding to our savings account, I was able to update my materity clothes, prepare for Easter, and buy my kids a new blow up pool (a huge treat) without going out of pocket using just our yard sale money. :-)

I am still somewhat stressed about going from 2 incomes to 1 income in the fall, but I know we can do it. Plus, I look forward to being able to lower my grocery budget even more since I will need fewer pre-packaged time saver foods. I've been looking forward to making my own yougert - we seem to eat our weight in it every week! I just started making homemade cheddar crackers for my kids and so far, they are a hit!

Lindsay said...

We have step 1 emergancy fund in place and we don't have any debt. We were about half way through step 3 when we sold our other house. Which means our morgage went up (which we planned on an can afford), and we knew we wanted to upgrade a lot of things for the new house. So we stopped putting it all in step 3 and started a "house stuff" fund. We have bought a new bed, bedding for all 4 beds, a new TV/blue-ray/speakers...... and lots of little stuff like lighting, and paint, and we've paid cash for everything. In the next month or so we should be back to putting all our extra in step 3 and have that funded soon (right before we sold the house we had a $2000 emergancy that came up and we did just pay ourselves back for that)

Adding kid #3 was a little bit of a jump in our food budget as was having kid #1 go to school and my hubby start taking his lunch to work (and he has some "diet" issues). It takes a bit more planning on my part to make sure we have stuff for lunch boxes and not just "scrounge" for lunch everyday. But my grocery bill (with cleanings supplies, paper products and toiletres....) is right around $85 a week.

Liz said...

I am spending way too much on groceries. I'll tell you, though, paying for everything with cash is helping a little. I'm more likely to actually pay attention to what stuff costs. These are great tips and I look forward to more!