#5TF: Spending & Saving

Five Thought Friday Challenge:  Week 5 – July 22 – July 28, 2017

Over the weekend we found ourselves making several minor purchases that added up to a significant little chunk of change. For minimalists who hate shopping anyway, coming home with several bags and one giant box, was enough to create a panic, even though every item was purchased with intent (well, except for the travel spork, and I just wanted that).

We’ve walked/hiked 328.4 miles so far this year (not counting general walking about the house, yard, stores, etc.) and our shoes were clearly beginning to show the effects of that travel. The inside of my left shoe was so bad that it was starting to wear holes in my socks…my wool summer socks! And those things are supposed to be nearly indestructible. So first up on our list of purchases was new walking/hiking shoes.

The next purchase was new camping gear – specifically a small tent and tent light. We sold our large 8-person tent on OfferUp a few months back and have been debating on getting another ever since. With a rafting trip planned for next month, we thought it might be a good time to look for something compact and easy to set up. Believe it or not, we bought a kid’s tent. It was actually 12 inches longer and 6 inches wider than the smallest 2 person adult tent and a full $20 cheaper.

And finally, a larger freezer. Our biggest downsizing regret ever was selling our chest freezer when we left Florida. We’ve missed it terribly. The little one we bought on Craigslist last summer has been great but it is too small for any real attempt at storing food for winter. For now, we have two freezers, though I think the little one may be re-homed soon. My mom seems particularly interested in adopting it.

Big enough for food, yet small enough to fit in the Peanut…it’s our new freezer.

Spending money for stuff (even necessary stuff) is often very difficult for us. We usually talk ourselves out of most things or debate about them for so long that we forget why we thought we needed them in the first place. But there are times when you have to spend money to save money later on. This was one of those times…and I think all in all, we did alright.

One thing I really enjoyed this week was (definitely not shopping!). Instead, the highlight of my week was Wednesday…the whole day was about as close to perfect as it could possibly get. We had breakfast in the park, picked blackberries, took a walk at Bicentennial Mall State Park, picnicked outside the Nashville Farmer’s Market, and went to our first Nashville Sounds baseball game (on free hat night!). We even managed to make running errands fun that day…and we picked up a great CSA basket full of peaches, cantaloupe, and corn. I don’t think I could have asked for a better day.

Enjoying the “cheap seats” at the Nashville Sounds game…in our new shoes.

I am grateful for whatever it was that sparked my mom’s sudden interest in her own health this week. She didn’t say why or how she plans to do it, but she has finally decided to quit smoking. Though I have never smoked, I know how hard it is to quit and I know not every day is going to be a good one but I’m here to help in whatever way I can. Just making the decision seemed to lift a great weight off of her and she was much more active this week. She played outside with the little one on Tuesday and even helped us in the yard yesterday.

I need to let go of my obsession with minimizing our shoe collection. As much as we’d love to wear flip-flops or go barefoot every day, that’s not always appropriate (or allowed), so shoes are a must have item. The average woman in America owns 27 pair of shoes, the average man, just 12. We each have 7 pair (including our new ones, flip-flops, water shoes, bowling shoes and winter boots) and I still think that’s too many. As I put the new shoes in the closet on Sunday, I stood there staring at the rest of them, questioning their necessity until I nearly had a headache. That’s not minimalism. It’s just silly. There are no arbitrary limits to what one can own as a minimalist. The point of minimalism is that everything you own has a purpose. Every single shoe in our closet does so I give myself permission to leave them alone…for now.

We made progress on saving money…despite our little shopping spree. We managed to stay in budget on groceries and household goods, spending less than $150 total for the month, and we added $425 to our savings and investment accounts. Our CSA basket and garden are really helping on that front. Speaking of which, we put away 4 quarts of blackberries, another 1/2 dozen ears of corn, and 2 gallons of snack peppers. Angie also canned 2 more jars of pickled jalapenos and I made 2 more quarts of spaghetti sauce (though we ate most of it already). And we continued our technology time-out, leaving the phones behind for several enjoyable hours of hiking and picnicking this week.

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The funniest thing that happened this week happened at the Sounds game. Angie has such a small head that the free baseball cap didn’t fit her, even on the smallest setting. She looked kind of forlorn sitting there in our grass seats with that giant cap on her head, so she set it aside. Though I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it happen, I promised to fix the hat when we got home. (I would literally have sewn a brand new hat if I’d had to, just to keep her from making that sad “my head is too small” face.) As it turned out though, in the 3rd inning, a random guy stopped by our blanket with a wad of money in his hand and said these magic words, “I’ll give you $10 for your hat.” Sold! I guess it pays to have a small head after all.

 

The Grocery Game

From extreme couponing to urban foraging, there are numerous ways to save money on groceries. Just Google it sometime, if you haven’t already. I did, and I found that a good many of the suggested options required a whole lot of effort to see even the most minimal results. Sure there are folks out there who can spend hours sourcing coupons and get an entire cart of groceries for $2. I, on the other hand, could spend hours sourcing coupons just to arrive at the store without them. Or worse, walk out with 3 bags of free mustard.

We play a different kind of grocery game. Simple shopping.

[I chose cutting costs on grocery shopping for our January focus because I feel like we’ve gotten away from the core concepts of simple shopping and are in great need of a refresher.]

The basics of simple shopping are:

Make a Stock List: The single best way to improve grocery spending is to make a list of your favorite meals and snacks. From this selection of menu options, make a second list of all the ingredients and/or products required to create those meals. Only purchase the items on this list and always keep at least one of each of your most used stock item in your pantry reserves.

Shop Less Often: Keeping extras of your favorite items in the pantry means fewer trips to the store and fewer trips means fewer spending opportunities. Create a schedule for grocery shopping – one that fits the way you like to eat.

When we lived in Florida, we had a system worked out for shopping – weekly trips to the Amish Market for fresh produce and eggs, monthly trips to Walmart for dry goods, and as-needed trips to the grocery chains for meats and when certain items from our list were on sale. Moving threw a monkey wrench into that system. There’s no year-round farmer’s market here and Walmart is the place to socialize, not shop. We do have an ALDI though and Angie’s mom gave us a Sam’s Club membership for Christmas. Our new plan going forward is to shop ALDI for the majority of our groceries and Sam’s Club quarterly for bulk items. The local farmer’s market, which is within walking distance of our apartment, opens in April (yay!).

Farm Market Finds
Oh how I miss the Amish Market! Our weekly produce runs used to look like this.

Cut Down on Convenience Foods: In most cases, frozen convenience meals are significantly more expensive than making the same meal from scratch. And let’s face it, scratch meals taste better and are better for you.

Pizza is a great example. Angie makes a mean pizza using a large burrito-sized tortilla for the crust. We top it with fresh veggies, fresh mozzarella, ham and bacon, for a cost of about $1.75 per pizza. Even the best frozen pizzas can cost 3 times that much on sale.

Forego (Most) Couponing: Coupons often promote spending rather than helping to reduce grocery costs. A lot of coupons are for processed foods and many are offered to encourage you to try new items. Sometimes that new product is great but more often that item will just sit in the cabinet or fridge until it goes bad. By only buying from a list, it’s easier to resist the temptation to use coupons for the latest and greatest new food fad (and it also helps cut down on food waste).

I do spend a few minutes every Sunday morning checking the coupons in the newspaper for items we use regularly. I may find 1 or 2 per week. The same thing applies to downloading coupons to our Kroger card. Occasionally there’s one we can use (usually it’s just the Friday Freebie).

Total - $8.57. Nature's Harvest bread was the Friday Freebie last week and our favorite sausage was on sale (2/$6 and each had $1 off coupon attached).
Total – $8.57. Nature’s Harvest bread was the Kroger Friday Freebie last week and our favorite sausage was on sale (2/$6 and each had a $1 off coupon attached). Plus we got $1 off the milk.

Shop Sales: Grocery stores have sales for a reason – to get you into the store. They know that the majority of folks who come in for those few bargain items will also do the remainder of their shopping there, making up their loss. The real discounts go to those who only buy the bargain items…the bargain items that are on their stock list.

To supplement our regular grocery trips (and to pick up items at a better cost), Angie scans the weekly ads from Food Lion and Kroger. If an item that we have on our list is on sale at a greater savings than ALDI or Sam’s, then we’ll get it. If the item can be stored, we’ll get several of them.

Make it Fun: Grocery shopping really can be fun and there are a lot of different strategies to make it so. Set a target goal – like $50 – and see if you can get all the items on your list for that amount. Wager with your significant other (or child) to see who can find the best overall deal. Loser makes dinner.

Recently we’ve found a way to make money while grocery shopping. Trendsource is a reputable mystery shopping company that pays you to gather data while you shop. In our area, shops pay $12-$17 and take about 30 minutes to complete.