Oh, the highs and lows of January!
A whole organic free-range chicken for just under $4.00 because of a random and accidental mix of coupons.
Three boxes of toothpaste for $1.00.
Grapes for $7.00!
Yes, you read that right—grapes that were actually ”on sale.” Not only that, but the very next day my husband commented that ‘the grapes are kind of squishy. How old are they.’ Grrr. (Note to self: Weigh Them.)
But, all of this is just goes to show you that no matter how careful you are, you can’t always control everything.
THE GROCERY BUDGET CHALLENGE (GBC)
I spent January hyper-focused on reducing my grocery bill and it was well worth it. The final tally was $596.59 for the month. If you’ve been reading, you know that the goal was $15.00 per day, or $465.00, per month. In the end, we were $131.59 over that amount. In the final analysis, I decided that including items other than groceries (laundry detergent, dog food, chicken food, soaps, toothpaste, Flonase $16.00, etc.) was unwise because it did not give me enough leeway to purchase food that I feel we need to stay healthy, such as fresh fruits and vegetables—even when they are not on sale and it’s better to leave non-perishables in a separate category so that those can be bought in bulk when they are on sale.
Additionally, my son’s birthday was at the end of the month and I didn’t want to resort to day-old cupcakes or Mac and Cheese just to ”stay on budget.” I should add, that the final amount is what I spent. I did not keep track of my husband’s spending and he did bring home some food here and there—though, I’ll add that for the majority of the month I was in charge of grocery shopping and he was aware and interested in keeping costs down for our ‘experiment.’
I did not visit a Food Bank, because I didn’t want to go that far with it, nor did that seem in keeping with the money aspect of the challenge. But there are a lot of opportunities in our area to get food for free and I did take food that I found at common locations in my town where perfectly good bread is wrapped up and ready to take home. In fact, I was annoyed that I stopped at two french bread loaves, instead of the three that were available because I saw that one loaf was left out in the rain for days. I eventually grabbed that bread and gave it to my chickens who charged it with gusto. This month I’ve already gleaned a bunch of fresh, awesome radishes, a fresh pear, and three blood oranges, from a bin behind a grocery store that I happened upon yesterday. These are left out by that store for people to take for their livestock, though I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who grabs what is edible for people as well.
Some free finds that we got earlier in the month.
This is food left out in my town in a certain location that is continually left for people to take. I believe it is leftovers from the Food Bank. To be respectful, we usually take a little bit of what is there or wait a day or two to see if it gets picked up. You can see that we hit the Motherlode this month because this is only a tiny bit of what they had available. We did have to ”renew” the bread with a bit of water and warm it in the oven. This is when my husband started to get really excited by the GBC.
I will say, that after the January Grocery Budget Experiment, I’ve been eating more salads and I value them more. I bought kiwi and mango on sale yesterday and included them in the salad. A salad is something to be grateful for because it’s true that a fresh salad, full of a variety of ingredients, is not cheap (though I still think it’s overall cheaper than convenience food, especially snacks). I’ve also eradicated my afternoon chocolate—even if it’s on sale at Rite Aid for $.77. It just seems like a waste of money and packaging—a bane on the environment. I regularly make my own popcorn and eat that instead.
One exciting permutation came about because of my $15 a day challenge and that is in regard to changing my bank to a high-interest checking account. I’m going to delve into detail about that in another post, but I’ll just say that because I spent a great deal of time analyzing the minutiae of my spending, I was finally able to crack the nut of whether it was worth it to switch banks—and how I need to proceed to maximize my benefits.
Here are a few tips that I learned from sticking to a budget:
* Log on to your store’s website before shopping—often there are really good coupons on there. If you are pressed for time, remember that it gets faster each time, particularly if you keep to a schedule…which leads me to…
*Keep to a schedule. We get store sale flyers in the mail every Tuesday. I actually enjoy the colorful mix of papers and I select only a few of the stores that I know I will shop at and throw away the rest. I usually have about three or four store flyers left. Then I compare items that I know I want. One item that I saw really fluctuate in price is avocados. I live in an area where there are avocado farms, but man, those prices were all over the place—and in fact, at the end of the month I made the mistake of purchasing one for almost $2.00 because I was in a rush. Meanwhile, I saw avocados as low as 2/$1.00 in the ads. I have to throw in here, that I am an imperfect budgeter—my main struggle is sticking to a schedule! Find a day, like Tuesday, in my case, to go over flyers and log onto grocery stores for digital coupons.
* Write things down. Once I compare prices, I make a list on one sheet of paper that highlights which store is having a sale on specific items. This is not a grocery list—it’s simply a list of sale items that I am interested in buying by store. I put this list on the refrigerator and when I make my shopping list, I can use that information.
*Before you shop, check your own stuff. This one is really funny to me because during January, I was really surprised at how much food we had in the house that I overlook. I may have ten cans of tuna and a loaf of bread and panic that we have no lunch. Ridiculous. I’ve learned that making dinner does not need to be something you would see in a restaurant. What’s wrong with a sandwich and fruit salad? Meals should be consumed; the spending, buying, and making of food should not consume you.
*Use paper coupons. Ralphs mails us coupons and I keep them in an envelope in my shopping bag. Before we shop, I quickly go through the coupons and as I buy an item I throw the coupon in the cart with it. I have to interject with a really cool example at this point. I’ve mentioned before that I like to purchase organic chicken despite the high cost. I went into Ralphs one day and I grabbed a chicken—they’re always on sale, but the sale price was somewhere around $11.00. I did not remember at the time, but I had previously clicked on a digital coupon for that chicken. I also used a regular Ralphs coupon that I’d been sent in the mail and the final cost of the chicken was under $4.00—cheaper than a regular chicken. I really couldn’t believe it, I’d saved around $8.00–on one item— just by using coupons. Of course, each week it’s a crapshoot, but nevertheless, there are bargains out there to be had, so keep clipping!
* Don’t go crazy, but use your coupons even if they don’t seem to apply or are expired. I don’t know if cashiers have special shopper ESP, but this last month, I’ve had more ”coupon forgiveness” than I think I’ve ever had. They have overlooked expired dates and given me credit for same brand, but different items. For example, I got credit for Simple Truth lunch meat, when the coupon was for some other Simple Truth meat product. You probably see where I’m going with this. Give the cashier the coupon! I just throw them in a little stack and if they can’t use then I don’t push them, but if they can, then I get lucky.
*Lastly, keep a daily tally. This has been pretty easy for me. I’ve got a little notebook and inside, I write down my expenditures for the month. This is not an item-by-item list, it is simply a tally of how much I spent and at which store. I also write down which credit card I used, so, for example, I may write something like this:
Amex 15 Rite Aid 7.52
Amex stands for American Express, 15 is the day of the month, Rite Aid and $7.52.
As I go through the month, I have a running tally of how much I’ve spent and I’ll write that total at various points along the way. This has been really useful because, to be honest, my life gets pretty chaotic and there may be three days where I do not have time to keep as focused on a budget as I would like. What’s great is that I can log onto my credit card or bank website and compare my receipts and keep this list going. When life lays low again, I can see where I am and regain control and decide where I want to be by the end of the month.
P.S. I meant to get this post out much sooner…but Life!
Thanks for Reading…