Adventures in Frugality

I've learned I'm really good at spending money in order to save it. You know what I mean? Buying a bunch of stuff, so you won't have to buy it later. I'm so good at that.

A few weeks ago, when I got my last paycheck, visions of Costco danced in my head, and I headed out, leaving the baby with Sam, planning to stock up so we'd have plenty when my income stopped.

This is not a bad idea, right? But somehow, though I put a bunch of stuff back at the last minute, that total made me gasp inside, and tremble. I did not intend to spend so much. It seemed too late to do anything about it, and I was so frazzled I couldn't think what we didn't need, so I handed over my card and made my way to the exit. As I pushed my cart out the doors, some customers were approaching speaking another language, and I felt like an enormous American pushing her enormous cart full of enormous food.

The whole drive home, I felt bad. I mean, this is the sort of thing I really feel bad about, and I wondered what I should take back and what I should have done differently, and I prayed, asking God to help me think through this, to know how I should play my cards in the future. We had the money for that kind of price tag at that precise moment, but we wouldn't for long, and I needed to get a handle on this frugality thing or we'd be in a world of trouble.

I know the tips and I know about budgeting and I could think of all kinds of grand gestures of extreme and really punishing penance, and I trust we'll make our way to some of those strategies. But in the middle of the night, when I lay back down after feeding the baby, I felt like God told me to be gentle with myself. (He usually says something along those lines.) And this is the phrase that popped into my head: No Surprises at the Register.

It's almost pathetically simple, right? But I feel like it's the wisest start. I mean, retail culture is designed for surprises at the register. There are so many products and prices and sales and aisles and advertising, and you fill this big cart with everything that strikes your fancy, and at the register, with people behind you and an impatient cashier, it feels too late to re-think decisions.

I'm finding if I follow this, it works. I can decide if it's a wise time to buy whatever I feel (frantically) like I need to stock up on, or if we ought to wait. It helps me divide needs and wants. I stay in control of my fate.

Tell me: what are your (gentle) strategies, for frugality or otherwise?


heather said…
This is something I actually feel really good at: spending wisely (especially on food/home goods necessities) so that we have enough for whatever fun we want to do.

The first essential for me is planning meals. I have a chart I printed out from (I'll share if you're interested) that has a place to list meals on the left and columns for produce, meat/fish, frozen, dry goods, dairy on top. I write in which meals we'll eat that week and what I need to buy, and what staples I need to restock and I ONLY get that. And I allow myself one impulse buy per trip-which often takes the form of a Naked Smoothie.

Secondly- and this is controversial- I don't shop at Costco. That store is just, as you said, designed for impulse buying. And honestly, there are very few things you can only get there that you can't get at Market Basket, and there's almost nothing there that's cheaper than MB.

I totally get that MB is the worst shopping experience ever and it can drive one to tears. But as I've learned to embrace it, I've become fond of it.

Finally- you can do this! Don't worry about the crazy couponing. I really think planning ahead is what saves the most money, and once HP gets into more of a rhythm, you'll find some time to yourself to do that planning.

Good luck! It's a worthy endeavor.
eden said…
i'm a big dave ramsey fan. if you haven't heard of him, i think he's totally worth looking into. he has a website, he has a great book - 'the total money makeover' - and some other books i think too.

anyway, i like what he says. it makes sense and it's totally doable.

good luck!
Giuli said…
Let me tell you a secret. I find that most of the things at Costco and Sam's club are just overpriced. If you are a name brand shopper, then it might be a good deal, but the frozen food, produce, and especially the canned goods are outrageous. It takes me more time, but I don't buy chicken breasts unless they are under two dollars a pound. I buy a couple of packages of them at the grocery store, trim them, wrap them in foil and put them in the freezer. Don't buy produce at Walmart. Or meat, for that matter. It might be cheaper, but it tastes gross. I usually shop at an Arizona store that sells local produce, and they also ad match. I also LOVE to get produce from the local mexican grocery store. I've even bought produce dirt cheap from the Mexican man at the flea market. It's usually about to go bad, but I freeze it, or make it into something and freeze it. I have yet to conquer canning, that is my next step. Make a weekly grocery budget, buy only what you need for the week, and that's it. If you can believe it, when we just had Max at home, we lived off of 35 dollars a week for groceries. Now it's alot more because Kizzie eats like a horse, and Max is lactose intolerant now. You'll find that if you are home now with your baby, you'll have more time to plan and cook meals and have to eat less junk. Good luck!
Deja said…
Heather, I actually love Market Basket. We didn't have one close to us in Brighton, and I hear there are some sketchy locations, but the one near us is big and bright and beautiful and full of everything I could think of to eat, and CHEAP. Thanks for sharing your system. I like meal planning. I may pick that up again. We've been doing the system where we just have all the ingredients on hand for meals we usually eat, and that's been going well, but I may get more strategic.

Eden, I like Dave Ramsey. I'm slowly, slowly converting Sam ...

Giuli, 35 a week?! Wow. I've been marveling at that all day. That's truly impressive. Thanks for your tips!
faith said…
I never go shopping without a list after menu-planning. If it's not on the list, I don't buy it. There have been a couple of times I've added something to the list while at the store (literally have physically put on the list) that I forgot about, but that is very rare.

I also love the envelope system. We have different envelopes for food, household items, even diapers and wipes. Sometimes I have three different transactions to keep it all straight, but I figure that is what the employees are there for (I am nice about it) and I tell myself, "This is what winning looks like."
Giuli said…
I don't want you to think that we ate high on the hog or anything for 35 a week. Lots of beans. It's a good thing that my famiy likes em. We actually only bought meat that was under a dollar a pound for several years, and absolutely no soda or packaged stuff. Even ramen is too expensive when your budget is that low. Just realize that you do what you do to get by, and we were willing to make sacrifices to have more flexibility in the family work situation. And be advised that my bread winning teacher's salary at the time was 25 thousand a year. Crazy!

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