Just because your BFF just bought a smokin’ hot pair of $150 jeans doesn’t mean you need to too! Just because your brother bought a brand new truck doesn’t mean you need to do that either–what is YOUR financial reality?
You have to understand…this started with $50 two years ago…
Kaden and I have always done the shopping for the school food bank drive together. It’s become a tradition. At 3, he got $20, the same at 4 and 5. At 6, he asked for $50. Then he set a goal. Kind of the beginning of the end…and yet we’re no where near the end yet. Last year, at age 7, he raised $435. Now he’s 8…
He inspired his sister last year (then 2) to help too. She’s 3 now and her shopping partner is Daddy.
A few months ago, I posted a picture of Kaden from his shopping trip last year. He has grown, in height, maturity, and heart.
This year we did a lot of comparison shopping and used a notebook to keep track of coupons and the comparison shopping list so we knew how to shop for the best bang for his buck.
It was a little hard to see him.
But, he was able to make enough room to buckle and wave!
My water bottle felt so squashed by the mountains of bags.
Kaden and I unloaded the food from the commissary in front of the fireplace. (Yes, there’s a fireplace behind all those bags.) And while Kaden and I were unloading his first trip…
This year Slaeda saved and received donations totaling $103 to take with her on her shopping adventure. She and Slade had a grand old time going to Wal-Mart and choosing food together. She also wanted to buy bananas for the food bank, but those are perishable, darn it! Slade said it was all he could do not to laugh when she walked right up to a can of SPICY Beef Ravioli and said, “Daddy, I like these!”
Slaeda purchased more than 80 lbs of food! She worked really hard and put a lot of thought into the purchases she wanted to make!
After we were done at the commissary, and Slade and Slaeda were off on a different adventure, Kaden and I grabbed a bite to eat and headed off to Sam’s Club. This year Kaden’s school is collecting food for the Salvation Army food pantry and kitchen. Every day the Augusta Salvation Army food kitchen feeds over 250 men, women, and children. The purchases made at the commissary were made for the purpose of filling food baskets; these purchases will go towards feeding the homeless and hungry of Augusta, GA.
Light stuff up front.
Heavy stuff in the back. Kaden purchased 200 lbs. of rice and 100 lbs. of beans.
A little celebration once almost all of it was loaded…
Slade and I got the car unloaded and everything organized so that we could see what all had been purchased.
The kids really had a good time sitting on the cans!
I thought it would be a good idea to know how much food (in pounds) had been purchased.
Slade worked really hard sorting and counting.
Fortunately, the spreadsheet Kaden and I had created for comparison shopping had some of the numbers on it, so we were able to keep a SMILE on Slade’s face as he worked.
He came out alive, I promise!
Kaden and Slaeda both worked hard this year to make this project a reality. Kaden sets such an amazing example for Slaeda. She wants to put money in her food bank jar to save up because she sees her big brother doing it. At three, she is learning how to save! Kaden took 5 hours a few Saturdays ago to do comparison shopping at 4 different stores so we’d make sure we knew where to get the best bang for our buck (since Slade is in the Army, the commissary was the best place to shop, though WalMart did have a better price on canned fruit.) They both saved Christmas and birthday money, allowance, and received donations from friends and family for their efforts.
Kaden’s fundraising efforts were significantly more intense than Slaeda’s (of course) and in addition to the dollars donated through Go Fund Me from friends online, the private donations he received, and the change he picked up here and there, he also raised more than $300 in his yard sale! Kaden has learned how to comparison shop, is starting to understand how interest works, and sees how he can use money to positively impact others.
Oh…and I suppose you want the totals???
The kids got a GRAND TOTAL of 985 items purchased for $1521.95 with a total weight of 1,544.16375 lbs. That’s more than 3/4 of a ton of food!!
Grocery shopping isn’t always fun. Frankly, it can be a chore. Not just the shopping and choosing and buying and loading and unloading the car…and hopefully putting everything away before the cucumbers get lost and sit in a plastic bag with the box of Velveeta you are supposed to use on Sunday for the church potluck and then they rot and leak and the Velveeta gets ruined…oh, sorry, got off track there for a minute.
Grocery shopping isn’t always fun. Frankly, it can be a chore. One whopper of a chore. It’s not just about choosing food off the shelves, but EFFECTIVELY choosing food off the shelves and combining those ingredients to make a meal (or more). But, even before we choose the food off the shelves, there is work to be done.
My eight-year old son, Kaden, has been working for the past year to save some of his birthday, Christmas and allowance money to go towards the purchase of food for the hungry. Not only has he saved his own money, he’s inspired others to cough up some of their money to help him reach his $1100 goal. He’s $18 shy of his goal and has his “Food Bank Yard Sale Fundraiser” this weekend–with a goal of $300 for the yard sale itself. That’s a total of $1400 this kid wants to come up with to feed others. What? Huh? He’s a kick–he spoke to my mentor, his honorary grandfather, a couple of weeks ago, when he found out he’d just crested the $1000 mark. “Nothing’s going to stop me now,” he excitedly exclaimed. He’s ready, willing, and able…and is putting in a lot of hard work too.
This past weekend we took 5 very, very long hours to go comparison shopping. We went to the commissary (love Army benefits, especially this one), Publix, Kroger, and WalMart. We had lunch about halfway through the trip and we spoke a little bit about his thoughts.
I asked him, “What do you think about this comparison shopping thing?”
“It’s great because I like walking around,” was his reply. Okay, clearly I need to work harder to draw some usable quotes from this kid. I reminded him that I was going to use this for my blog and we agreed to revisit the topic a little bit later when he’d had more time to think.
We finished our shopping trip and had completed comparison shopping on products commonly found on the “wish lists” for food pantries, especially for this time of year when they are getting ready to compile holiday food boxes. Spaghetti, canned sauce, canned meats, green beans, corn, sweet potatoes, stuffing, boxed mashed potatoes, gravy, soups, rice, corn muffin mix, boxed cake mixes, cranberry sauce, dried beans, even salad dressing. By far, as Kaden says, “the commissary WINS”– in terms of the best prices for the most items.
Publix and Kroger were within pennies of one another on most items. WalMart had some items that beat out Kroger and Publix by more than a few pennies. We recognized just how fortunate we are to have the commissary as a benefit. Kaden determined, “It costs more for them (civilians) to shop for groceries.” Yes, my son, yes it does. We talked about the difference between store brands and name brands and making sure that when we did the comparison shopping that we compared “apples to apples” i.e. same net weight to same net weight, same brand to same brand. He even thought to put the weight in ounces on a few of our items so that we priced the same size throughout the day.
We talked about the difference between buying for our family and buying for a food pantry where they will give the food to others. He took great care in looking at the price per item, the price per unit, and how many families we could feed if we bought two of the smaller boxes as opposed to one of the bigger boxes of cereal, pasta, etc. For our family we would buy the big box (lower price per unit/ounce). One large box of cereal may stretch farther within our family and be a better price per unit/ounce, but if two smaller boxes, even if more per unit/ounce, adds up to about the same in terms of overall cost, we’ve just fed two families instead of just one. We put on our “shopping by price tag” glasses, rather than our “shopping per unit/ounce for the family” glasses.
There were some items he wanted to compare store brand against brand name. Overall, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that…many times, as I explained, you can get more for your money and get a good quality by going with the store brand. However, I explained, there are some store brand things that just don’t taste the same, so you have to decide where you’re willing to take a taste difference to save on cost. This was brought up when comparing the blue box mac and cheese to the store brand…I’ll let you draw your own conclusions. (In these cases, we wrote down the cost of both so that we could determine if a store brand beat out the price at the commissary for the name brand item. Sometimes the store brand beat out the commissary price, sometimes it didn’t.) For the record, there are things that I will only buy name brand because of taste and overall product (Reynolds foil is one prime example…I have yet to find a store foil that is not completely inferior to Reynolds. We only buy Tyson chicken nuggets and Stove Top stuffing…there are a few tastes I just will not sacrifice. We’re fortunate that we can, for the most part, shop with our taste buds not just our pocketbooks.)
As we went into the different stores he looked for coupons, “Look, Mom! Coupons!” At one store they had coupons for refrigerated items, this did not thrill the boy, as they are unusable for his project.
At the end of our very long day I asked Kaden, again, what he thought about this comparison shopping trip.
“I’m going around seeing what the prices are and where I should spend. The prices tell me where to shop because if I shop at the commissary then I get a big bang for my buck, but if I shop somewhere else, I’d have to pay more,” he replied.
“What if you didn’t have the commissary to shop at? What if we were a civilian family like most of the rest of the people?”
“Then I’d have to spend more money to buy groceries.”
I’m working on dragging longer, more extensive, critical thinking quotes…but he’s 8…and I’m awfully damn proud of him for staying awake and excited through the whole process. 🙂
Grocery shopping CAN be a chore. Embrace the walking around. Embrace the opportunity to teach your children about effective shopping habits and how to get the best “bang for your buck”! Embrace the love that a child can have for feeding others.
I’d love to hear your about your effective grocery shopping trips–what best serves you, what advice do you have for others?
*If you’d like to help Kaden feed families in the Augusta, GA area, please visit http://www.gofundme.com/KadensFoodBank to make a donation.*
Have you ever started the day thinking, “Why couldn’t I have made a better decision last night?” I find typically this kind of discussion is related to food–yum, yum–but often times it also is related to money.
It’s not always the big expenses that throw us off. Sure, an unexpected trip to the mechanic, a forgotten annual check up for our pets, or a spur of the moment jaunt out of town “just to get away” can really put a monkey wrench in our budget–but so can “nickel and diming” ourselves.
The small expenses add up–sooooo dang quickly! A quick soda at the gas station here, a candy bar there, a new tube of mascara, little “I’m thinking of you” presents or cards for friends or relatives. My daughter is IN LOVE with Hello Kitty and My Little Pony. Today she wants me to pick up Hello Kitty Band-Aids for the ouchie on her toe. Is there an ouchie? She says there is. Is there something that I can see, something Band-Aid worthy? Um, yeah, no. Will I buy her the Band-Aids? Probably.
I set out every single month to have all my dollars and cents fall in particular areas. I have a plan to keep money in savings and keep us all entertained by doing things that don’t cost a lot–if anything at all. Even when we do take a quick trip “just to get away” I have a budget in mind for that event. Sometimes things fall right where I want them to. Other times I/we have an “Oh! That would be AWESOME” moment and realize that WHILE I HAVE THE CASH, while I am NOT in any way, shape, or form causing grievous harm to my family’s financial well-being–boy howdy do those dollars and cents just seem to disappear.
Case in point: I went to the Type-A Parent’s Blogging Convention this weekend. I had a budget, it was a good solid budget. Emphasis on “was”. I underestimated what I would need to spend on food. I went over my food budget by about $40. I went over my “gift” budget by $120. (Mostly because I didn’t plan on buying any gifts and I did.) I went over my “me” budget by $100. (Again, I didn’t plan on buying anything as a momento, but I did…a few things in fact.) So, $260. Gone. Is my family going to suffer for not having that money? No. It’s money I wish like hell I’d left in savings but by spending it I did not interrupt our regular flow of life. I would not classify this as “Buyer’s Remorse” as I do not regret the purchases I made. I do, however, classify it as “Spender’s Remorse”…I could’ve more effectively spent those dollars (or most of them anyway) if I’d said “No” to the frivolous stuff.
My husband and I plan for some flexibility in our spending budgets. He and I work very well together as a team to keep things flowing and adjust as necessary. Every pay day all the bills are paid before lunch time. What we have left goes to savings, groceries, gas, miscellaneous spending, pocket change, and date nights. We talk a bigger savings game than we play sometimes. It frustrates us both and we are working diligently to find ways to hold each other accountable and keep our spending down.
What I’m trying to get at here is that we are all HUMAN. We are going to make mistakes–but we HAVE TO PLAN for those mistakes/errors/snafus/changes in plans/last minute “oh, I want tos”. It’s kind of like I tell all my students when we’re working on Emergency Savings–it’s not if something happens, it’s when. It’s not IF my husband is going to want to eat out or get a soda, it’s when. It’s not IF I’m going to want to buy a spur of the moment gift for someone (whether that’s a card, buying them lunch, or actually buying a “thinking of you” gift), it’s when. It’s not IF my husband is going to take our daughter out for lunch…and then a movie because her behavior was so good at lunch…and then ice cream…because her behavior was so good during the movie…and then to the store to buy a toy…because they’ve been having so much fun together. It’s not IF I’m going to go to conferences for work or school…and then need a new blouse that will help me make the impression I want…or those great new heels…or new lipstick…or those highlights…I know you see where I’m going here.
Creating flexibility in your budget is absolutely key. Slade and I have spent over 11 years figuring out how to build in flexibility that works. It’s not always easy to build in that flexibility. Sometimes you just don’t have enough money left after all your needs are taken care of. Sometimes you’ve planned for flexibility, but then the electric bill is higher than you planned, or the car needs to be repaired, or the dog has to go to the vet.
I’m not going to provide any answers right now. I know what suggestions I would make to someone, I know how to make the changes I want to make (I just have to buckle down and say “No!” to myself…and my husband…and my kids) but what I want to know is HOW DO YOU PLAN FLEXIBILITY INTO YOUR BUDGET?
Let me know how you provide flexibility in your budget, or if you have a question about doing so…you can respond to this post, @KateMielitz on Twitter, or facebook.com/financialwellnesscoach.
I look forward to hearing from you and generating some discussion on this topic!
I am an AVID ice cream lover. Especially Chocolate ice cream. Ben and Jerry’s carries more than one flavor that gives my tongue much happiness! Those sweet pints are my go to when I’m happy, sad, tired, frustrated…or frankly, just in the mood for chocolate ice cream!!
At $4.50 a pop, those puppies are an EXPENSIVE addiction! And, unfortunately, a budget leak. How often do we buy things that we just throw into the grocery cart without thinking about it? Ice cream isn’t a NEED (sad, but I do have to admit that), it’s a nicety. And, if I shop around, I can find some seriously delicious, yet cheaper ice cream–and in a larger size. Yes, friends you too can find ice cream–creamy, delicious, chocolaty goodness (or many other flavors) in 1.5 qt or half gallon sizes which will meet your need for the cool treat without having it affect your bank account quite as heavily.
Case in point: Two weeks ago I bought a pint of B&J and ate it…maybe in two sittings, maybe in one (my eating habits are not the subject of this blog, so moving on… ;)) and then two or three days later, my husband stopped at the grocery store to get some more milk and bought me another pint. (I love that man!) Three days after that we were doing our weekly grocery shopping and we went to peruse the frozen dessert aisle. DING DING DING…WAKE UP CALL!!
Now, when I shop for ice cream WITH A PURPOSE, I always look for the best deal–something that will last more than a sitting or two in my family of four. When I shop without thinking, holy cats, that money LEAKS right out of my wallet. At $4.50/pint, we had spent $9 in ice cream that may have lasted all of 3 sittings. Mayfield (Georgia and Tennessee made) offers a 1.5 qt product that lasts about 8 sittings and costs less than $4.50 for one container!!
We all have budget leaks. These budget leaks change as our lifestyles change, as our tastes change, as our families change.
Families with two working parents tend to eat out and leak money through the convenience factor. Frankly, I understand, because who wants to work 8-10 hours a day, come home and cook on top of helping the kids with homework!?
When I was working for a non-profit organization last year here in the Augusta, GA area, our son ate school lunch at least 2x/week ($2.50/day) and I ate out at least 3x/week ($8/day). When I stop to calculate ($116/month) over the course of the months that he was in school, I was eating out, that’s around $1500 in one year. I cringe when I think about the fact I could have packed lunches those days for my son for about $1/day (no joke) and for myself for about $2/day and saved, or spent elsewhere, the difference.
My husband used to be a huge fan of soda vending machines. Hey, you can use your debit card, so let’s do it, right? WRONG! $1.25 for a bottle of soda is just not okay. Starbucks is right there on post–let’s drink up, right?
Convenience is a WONDERFUL thing. I just hate to pay for it.
Cooking on the weekends for the week ahead can use up a large portion of our family downtime. Occasionally it’s okay, but it’s not my first choice for every weekend.
If you want options for easy meals that can cook while you’re at work or on the go, check out the links here. There are so many options available to feed your family, regardless of picky eaters, and you have less to worry about when you get home from work. Yes, it requires the purchase of a crockpot–but if you don’t want to buy one, next time someone asks you what you want for a gift, put that on your list. (Practical gifts are a money saver and very thoughtful!!)
Also, menu planning is KEY. Get the family involved! There is nothing worse than planning a great menu only to hear everyone else in the family say, “Oh, I don’t want that!” Plan the menu EVERY WEEK. Plan the menu AS A FAMILY. Shop WEEKLY for your groceries. With these three steps you’ll cut your grocery bill because you’re only shopping for that week. Everyone will have a say, so there (should be) less complaining because they had some input. Weekly planning gives you the opportunity to mix things up and yet hit on everyone’s favorites in a timely manner.
Also, remember to utilize your leftovers. While we rarely have taco meat leftover, if we do, the next night is typically spaghetti night. I just dump the taco meat in the sauce which enhances the flavor…always a hit. We serve French bread with our pasta–if any is left, we use it for French bread sandwiches the next day.
Finally, remember that changes in the eating arena aren’t always the easiest to make. Start small. If you normally eat out 5 times/week, try for only four. If you have a crock pot, but have never used it, break that puppy out and use some of the recipes at the link above. If you have the time to cook ahead, try putting together an easy lasagna or a chicken and rice casserole that just needs to be popped in the oven when you get home.
When water drips from a faucet, those drops add up to a cupful one drop at a time. Those budget leaks (whether a penny each or more) add up very quickly to significant money. Cut off your leaks and use your money more effectively…one penny, nickel, dime…or pint…at a time!
Menu planning and grocery shopping are two key pieces of getting a budget in order…and keep things from getting out of hand!
There are three general categories to expenses: Fixed, Variable, and Periodic. Fixed expenses are the things that have the same payment every month (rent, car payment). Periodic expenses are the things that come up occasionally, but not every month (gifts, car maintenance, for some this includes car insurance). Variable expenses…things we typically pay monthly but can vary in cost (electricity, water, GROCERIES).
Variable expenses are, by in large, the easiest to change. Note, I did not say that they ARE necessarily EASY to change, but easiest of the three categories. At any rate, I have seen a couple of comments from friends on Facebook recently regarding menu planning and grocery shopping and what a chore it can be. I agree. Especially when I change my mind every couple of days. 🙂
I have found, though, that when I plan and shop WEEKLY, it tends to make it easier to shop, plan, and cook the things I’ve planned for that week. Truthfully, it’s also more affordable. After all, if I don’t want to cook what I have scheduled for Tuesday on Tuesday, at least I have the groceries and the ingredients for everything on the menu that week, and I can change things up a bit based on our schedules, work, and so on without having to hit the grocery store again.
I’ve attached two forms (as PDF, but if you want it in Excel so that you can type in your own rather than handwriting, please let me know!)–one blank so that you can use at your leisure and one with examples of what I needed for this weekend. As you can see, I had plenty of shopping to do. 🙂
I find that it is MUCH easier to stay on track and continue utilizing a menu if I recycle menus every 2-4 or 6-8 weeks. Sometimes, frankly, I want to use the same menu on back-to-back weeks, but my husband tends to protest. 😉 The handy thing about this form is that not only does it keep my meal descriptions, but also the groceries I needed the time before…so hopefully I’ll be able to do a quick check and add/delete as needed to get my shopping list ready for my weekly shopping night.