Paper or Plastic? Or…Boxes?

“Please stop throwing away the bags.” Karen asked for the second day in a row as the bag hit the bottom of the trash can. I normally store my lunch in what has come to be known as “Wal-Mart” bags and toss it after emptying the contents of plastic containers that held whatever leftovers we had from the night before.

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“Why?” I thought with confusion in the five seconds it took her to answer the question right after I had thought it.

“We don’t go to Wal-Mart any more.”

This is not a post railing against Wal-Mart or any other big chain retail or grocery store. They have their place in our life, but they don’t have it as often as they used to. I remember one Saturday complaining to my wife that it seemed like we had just been to the same store the day before. Shortly after we realized we had actually been to that same store for something nearly every day that week!

After my family woke up and realized the way we spent money, groceries were automatically an area we began looking at closer. I have to give credit to my frugal wife, she is the one who took charge of this area of our lives and is doing an excellent job. These are a few observations I’ve noticed since we started to live differently:

Budget for groceries

Make an amount that should be spent on groceries, now according to Dave Ramsey, double it. We spend way more than we think we do. Once that’s set, start planning.

Plan a trip once a week

Don’t underestimate this point. Gas isn’t cheap. Whenever we are making a single trip to the store, we are hit with a double whammy. The money we are going to give some merchant for whatever item we happen to make the trip for, and the gas we are spending to get to and from the store. If we go more than once, it’s multiplied. Right now gas is about $1.85 a gallon on average here in OK. My wife and I live 6 miles away from our local Wal-Mart, her car gets roughly 24 miles to the gallon. Say we make two trips a week to buy groceries and what not; that is 12 miles each trip, so if we go 2 trips, we are spending 1 gallon of gas, minimum. Multiply that by 52 weeks in a year and we’ve spent the same amount we would in the store alone on one trip, $96.20. Doesn’t sound like much huh? Remember, this is JUST to go to the store, not to a ball game, not to drive to work, or any other fun family function. It’s even better if it can be planned on the way home from work.

Make a grocery list BEFORE going to the store

One would think this goes without saying, but we won’t. Think before leaving. Write down the days of the week, think about eating for each meal, each day. Put together a menu. Once the menu is built, buy the ingredients needed for it.

Combine ingredients across different meals to save extra.

For instance: This week, I’m eating oatmeal for breakfast. I am forcing myself, because high cholesterol dictates this. I will also be eating chicken of some sort at least twice this week, so I buy a big flat of it, to make sure that there is enough for myself, Karen, and left over for our lunches. Sandwiches are a good cheap meal: bread, lunch meat, cheese, mustard, veggies to go on sandwich. How about some beans? Good fiber! Yes, write it down. Need stuff for kids? Pizza, cookies, fruit, or how about they just eat what we eat? Got it all wrote down? Let’s go!

Try some place different

Do some research about discount grocery stores, there may be one near that will help save a bundle. According to Money & Career Cheat Sheet, here are a few of the more affordable stores across the nation. Incidentally, we love Aldi’s. It’s in the next town over, but it’s well worth the gas spent (or saved because we planned accordingly). I just had a friend exclaim how she’s going to Aldi’s today, she’s heard too much good about it. Sure, patrons have to bag (or box) their own groceries, but it makes grocery shopping affordable. It’s good for the environment too. We use Aldi’s own boxes to put our groceries in, rather than them crushing them and sending to a recycler. No plastic bags for me to throw into the bottom of the trash can and then go to a landfill because I’m not thinking when I come from home from work.

'That's Jeb Lambert. He was actually the first one to say 'paper or plastic'. Before that everyone said 'plastic or paper'... I mean, can you imagine?'

 

Eat what is bought

Again, this should go without saying; but I can’t count how many times we have bought good, wholesome groceries and they rotted in the fruit or vegetable crisper while we went on a fast food bonanza. Lately our refrigerator looks naked just before a trip to the store. One would think we aren’t making it, but we are, we are just controlling ourselves. Babies aren’t starving, the boys are fine, and K and I might be losing weight because we are making wiser decisions without going to the local Sling-A-Bean Burrito Shack.

Take advantage of discount coupons

Okay, I was going to try to go without mentioning coupon clipping, but I would be lying to say we haven’t had a cheeseburger or pizza every now and again. The only time we buy them, though, is when Karen gets a fancy coupon the store can redeem on her smart phone through email. It comes in handy in a pinch, but a pinch only comes once a week, and it’s BUDGETED.

Finally, give this a TRY. If it gets screwed up, so what? Try again. Savings will come but don’t give up! It’s food, we have to eat, but we don’t have to eat from stores that think they are monopolies. Save gas and coupons, save money by not bingeing because a grocery list was made, and relax. Everything’s going to be fine. Me and mine are out to prove it.

The Foot of the Mountain

Lost. That’s how I feel when it comes to our money, and our budget, absolutely lost.

It’s different when my wife and I have just graduated from Financial Peace University, created a budget, paid our bills and put money in the bank. Life is good during a time like that. We got some extra income in because we are reaped what we sowed. Then we decided we are ready to buy a house because we had some extra cash, and it’s probably the next best thing to do. After all we don’t want to be retired and still trying to pay off our mortgage. Along with our sons who were getting old enough to be pretty independent, we just had a new baby girl, I had to put her in her carrier in my truck to move the last load from our little rented duplex to our new four bedroom home. I was all smiles.

Looking back on it now, I can see where our mistakes were. We should have stayed put. Karen just had the baby and we had forgotten how expensive it was to just do that. I should have let life reach some kind of equilibrium. I should have let the money we received grow in a bank account somewhere and used it as a down payment LATER, when we were ready. Life could have been different. The moment we signed those papers, we started rolling down hill, and we never recovered, not really. The utilities were different, the travel was different, the money was different, we never set the budget in stone again, and we spent crazy amounts of money to make an older house half way livable so we weren’t spending so much on energy bills and the kids had a warm, or cool place to sleep depending on the season.

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Now as I take a very clear look at our REAL money, not what I think is there, not what I think we spend, but what we actually do, and I see what we actually have. Now, five years later I’m staring at a budget that looks like this…
I’m pretty stressed. I’m pretty horrified.

Loki’s our dog by the way….

 

 

 

When I look at this budget and list, it’s not a huge deal, at least I don’t think it is. There’s nothing on here that is just crazy, other than phones and car insurance that I will be posting about later on. To be honest, we have been coasting so long with what we had, and it may have been just enough, that when an emergency hit (I’ve had some medical issues that needed some attention), and the car broke down in the same week, well, the avalanche stopped. There’s not really anywhere else for it to go; we are at the bottom of the mountain. Oh sure, we have a little in retirement accounts, but we know that if we go there, that’s just going to prolong our perpetual bloodletting.

We have decided enough is enough. This blog is a tool my wife and I are using to get our bank accounts back under control. It’s not about sympathy, we are suturing our wounds, and plan to make this blog our accountability check. I plan to give at least a report two or three times a week on what we are doing to crawl from a money hole back into the light. If you are family and friends, encourage us. If you are someone just like us, follow our lead, it’s time we get wise about spending and do what needs to be done to stop the madness. It’s time to start crawling back up the mountain to conquer it. We hope and pray that as we find hope, and we will, that you do too. We’re starting with a budget of $20 for savings. If the Lord’s willing, and I believe He is, it’s time to make it grow.