So it seems that just when you think your mother can’t be right about one more thing, she really can be. I am terrible when it comes to finances. Always have been. My sister was the super-saver. I was the teen begging for a ride to the mall to spend a crisp $5 bill burning a hole in my pocket. Although that temptation has long since subsided, I’m always a work in progress.
My mom suggested keeping track of where I spent every dollar (from a Starbucks run to a newspaper to paying an insurance bill) for a month. I really just did it to reinforce the fact that I knew where I was spending money.
And, of course, I didn’t. Not completely anyway. For the entire month of January, I kept careful track in a little notebook I carried everywhere with me. At the end of the month, I gave her my notes and she plugged the numbers into different categories (food, entertainment, medical, clothes, utilities, etc.). In a glance I could instantly see how much I was spending and on what. Some totals (food, for example) downright shocked me. Others I had a firm handle on (more like the fixed expenses).
I was spending way too much on food. Even rationalizing that that amount included everything from cleaning supplies and health and beauty aids, right down to cat and dog food … it was still way too much. Even given the fact that I cook so much (and a lot of it is for freelance work). Still.way.too.much.
The other thing that glared at me as I looked at the numbers? If you look down the food column (which also indicates what stores the money was spent at), it showed $15 here, $3 there and oh $2.67. There were maybe 20-25 entries for the month. Running into the store every time I need something causes extra time, gas, and energy. Seeing how many stops I (unknowingly) make during the course of a week (or the month) was another eye-opener for me. Especially at what gas costs these days. And as for extra time? I don’t have much of it, and if I have extra time, I’d much rather spend it doing something fun with the kids, family, or friends. Not making three trips to the grocery store in one week, you know?
So for February, I started to make little changes. I planned menus. For every week. I shopped twice during the month at Shop Rite (online, see more on that below) and got nearly everything I needed. But more importantly perhaps, I allowed for flexibility. I might not have the exact dish on the exact night I schedule it for, but I had a plan and the ingredients, so I was ready. I also built in nights for leftovers, foraging in the freezer, and using already-purchased pantry items. To further grab hold of what was going on in my kitchen.
And then I went one step further.
I ordered all our grocery needs online. There are a bunch of grocery stores that do it (including Stop ‘n Shop, Shop Rite, and Fresh Direct). As an aside, I’m totally jealous of those of you who have Fresh Direct. It’s gotten closer to us as a delivery zone (my mom loves it and uses it, as does my sister), but so far, they don’t deliver to our town. Each place has pros and cons. I use Shop Rite because I think their sales are better. Every other Friday, I placed my order to cover what I would need for the next two weeks. Then I supplemented it by one weekly stop at the store to stock up on fresh fruit and vegetables because a) that stuff isn’t going to last two weeks and b) some of it I want to see and feel. And then one trip every two weeks to Costco. Because some of their items are cheaper.
So instead of making 3-4 trips a week, I was now down to six trips a month. All told.
I honestly couldn’t wait for the end of the month (February) to see the effect this planning had on our food totals. Ready?…