Thursday, May 5, 2011

Feed me, Seymour! (sacrifices pt. 1)

 This is part one of a mini-series on how we save money by making small sacrifices and smart choices while still enjoying our comfy lifestyle. Read the intro post HERE!

PART 1. That food thing.
       The champagne taste we covered in the intro to this mini-series on how we save money is most apparent in my food choices.

This is a good example of what I want to cook and eat:

This is a good example of what I can afford:

Here's what I do instead.

  • Educate thyself. Learn all you can about whole food. Where it comes from, right down to what part of the animal, if you're a sharptooth, and where it is grown/raised. Learn which veggies are genetically altered, why, and if they're worth the sticker price. Figure out what the "next best" thing is to what you wanted. Local foods, especially produce can be found at a discount and usually with much better flavor, at farmers' markets. Knowlege is power. Profits are easily made off of consumers who don't have the time or care to figure out what they're actually paying for. Learn to read labels. That salad dressing that is $1.50 more because it's "now made with olive oil?" You'd think that means that ALL the oil in that dressing is healthier Olive, but in 99% of dressings claiming this, the main oil is still veggie or soybean, and they add a drop or two of olive just to stick that on the label. Always read the back, ignore the front. Learn to decipher ingredient listings to pick out fillers and other weird things you're actually going to be paying extra for. But why are you buying salad dressing anyway??? You should be...

  • Cooking! Break out those cookbooks and get your domestic god or godess on. I know making things from scratch can be a pain, but if you do it often enough, it becomes second nature, and you can save a bundle while making things that are healthier in the long run. Two things I make often are bread and salad dressing. Things that are also rumored to be made at home for pennies on the dollar include bagels, yogurt (true story.), jam, and others. Just remember to take into account how much time it will take and how worth it the monetary savings are. Yes, you'll still be paying for it some way, but I really like making just two sandwich buns and a loaf instead of throwing 6 perfectly good hamburger buns to the birds when they go stale. Cook with intention to store. The Hero has his own special collection of Pyrex dishes with snap-on lids that hold a lunch-sized portion of whatever we have had for dinner. This way we don't purchase "to go" style foods, at fast food restaurants or in the frozen and prepared food sections. They always cost a ton and are less than healthy. He prefers glass for food storage, and these are incredibly easy to fill with a lunch, stack in the fridge, and he can just grab and go. We also cook up REALLY big batches of things like chili, bolognese, chicken soup base (cook up the noodles per serving), etc. and freeze in large ziplocks. Then be sure to keep an inventory of what's in your freezer! Mine's in dry erase on the door of the freezer.

  • Consider buying in bulk. This requires knowlege of what's better to buy bulk and what's not, and also how much storage space you have available. Buying bulk and then letting it go to waste is just as bad as not pricing it at all. My dry pantry space is about 3 feet by 1.5 feet by 2 feet. Not much. I keep my dry staples, corn meal, rice, flour, sugar, balsamic, honey, peanut butter, etc. in there, with some cans of veggies I can't find fresh easily (read: green chile), and some cream of fillintheblank soup. I know that buying staples in bulk won't work for me, I have nowhere to put them, but it does work for some. Our typical grocery trip includes less than 5 "center aisle" items anyway, so I'll cover that later. I do buy bulk meat often, and freeze it. My mom taught me an easy tool for supermarkets a long time ago, and I use it every week, especially for bulk purchases. Know your price per oz./ct. Check what the product costs at a base comparison. You can find this info on the shelf price tag.

  •  Know how to work your grocery shopping. Plan, plan, and then plan again. I shop weekly, on Monday. I plan seven full meals, plus our favorite snacks and breakfast items. Then I go online and look at the circular ad for our main grocer, and make changes to the menu accordingly. I pay special mind to what meats on on sale. About 1/3 of our food budget weekly is spent in the meat department, and I want the most bang for my buck. I know that every 3-5 weeks chicken breasts go from $4.29 per lb. to $1.99 per lb, and sometimes the meat department can't sell the large cuts of pork tenderloin, so they mark them down from $50 to $30. I buy these big packages and then cut them into smaller portions and freeze them, rotating each week to whatever meat is on sale then, and using the frozen portions until another sale. :) Checking the circular is key. My main grocer posts theirs online, or you can pick them up in store. If you use the circular and any "member" deals, you can save about $30 easily without clipping a single coupon. And my store has an added bonus of a "ring yourself up as you go" gun system, so I'm ringing and bagging groceries as I shop. This way I can see what I'm spending as I spend it, so I never get an unpleasant surprise at the end. And don't forget your re-usable bags, most stores offer a small rebate for each one. My usual grocer refunds 5 cents each, but my organic grocer refunds 20 cents each, and their organics are usually CHEAPER than the big chain store for the same products, so I visit them bi-weekly for my organic and allergen-free must-haves.
What are your grocery shopping tips? How do you balance your time, budget, and wants?

Sacrifices (burnt or otherwise)

    Growing up in a religious family, the word "sacrifice" was a familiar part of my vocabulary, both in the old testament sense and a more modern notion. The Gramps, my father, has an awesome job that makes him feel happy and fulfilled by doing what he loves, but it doesn't pull in lots of money. He is self-employed and we've always worked together as a family to support the business. Combine that with The Gigi, my mother, staying home to care for us, home school, and help with The Gramps' business, money was tight! Start with that and then account for my "champagne taste on a beer budget", (if you use southern colloquialisms the rate my family does!) and you have a good idea of how I grew to be the "fancy saver" I am today.  If you show me 5 items and ask me which one I like best, it's a good bet I'll pick the most expensive one 90% of the time. Awesome skill for competing on The Price is Right, maybe. Not so awesome when you have to "make sacrifices" to make things work. As a kid I spent a lot of time dwelling on what I didn't have versus what I did. Now I see things slightly differently.

   A conversation came up in a motherhood support forum I frequent (but for some reason, cannot log into recently, so forgive the paraphrasing from memory instead of direct quotes), and the topic was being a stay at home mom. On this forum, as in reality, there are moms of every shape, orientation, race, occupation, and otherwise. This thread was focusing on some misguided comments some SAHM's have recieved regarding staying home. Most of them seem to orbit the big F word. Yep, Finances. Lots of moms commenting on the thread had heard things like "I wish we had enough money so I could stay home", "Oh, how nice your husband lets you stay home!", " We just don't make enough money for me to stay home, it must be nice to have that much income!". Most of the SAHMs bristled a little at the implication that they must be rolling in the dough to be able to stay home with their kids (not to mention that they'd need their husband to "let" them...but that's another story). A word that came up in most of their responses to the misguided commenters was sacrifices.

To help squash any misunderstandings right away, let me clarify. Not all parents want to/need to/can stay home, and all parents, regardless of career choices, make sacrifices, both knowingly and unknowingly. It's not just the SAHP set, but since that's the one I have experience with, that's the one I'll be covering. I really dislike when people who have absolutely NO experience with something try to tell you all about it. Thanks, Mrs. Igoogledthis. I'll just go with the person who knows what they're talking about. And yes, now that you mention it, my baby's feet DO look cold. I'll get right on that. I'm going to avoid being that person.

There are many different types of sacrifices one makes in the parenting journey, but to maintain a cohesive post, we'll just cover financial ones today. The Hero and I have a saying we use when we're a little too concerned about MONEY. We say "You're always paying for something, just not always in money." What that means to us is, if you're out making money, you're paying for it in another way. It's a reminder to work to live, instead of live to work. But as fabulously bohemian as that sounds, we're not ready to move to a commune in the woods, and we still need some money to make our lifestyle work. The key is to create a balance between our financial resources, our needs, and our wants. The way it works for our family is The Hero has a job in an office building, and Mompyre has a job in a house/car/grocery store/park/chaos. The Hero's job brings in money, and part of the Mompyre's job is to find ways to get the things we want and need for as little money as possible. I've been thinking recently that I'd write a post to share some of the ways I accomplish this, but I'm a rather verbose individual, so to avoid a mega-post, to simplify, organize, and gain clarity, not to mention maximize my writing time allowances, I'm going to do a mini-series on different EASY ways we've cut back on money while still maximizing our health, taste, and fun. After all, we're making *small* sacrifices, not punishing ourselves. I'm only an expert in our family, not yours, so the tips I share work for us, adapt them to work for you if you like!