The Day We Blew The Budget to Smithereens

untitled So, since planning and implementing our budget late last year, I’ve got to say that Todd and I have done a pretty dang good job of sticking within that budget. We stick to the budget that we have set for ourselves, and we even plan ahead for things coming up down the road (like birthdays, etc). So all in all, we’ve been feeling pretty good about things.

And with those good feelings, came a bit of complacency, methinks.

This past Saturday we did our usual grocery shopping. We split it up over several different locations, in order to ensure that we get the best deals going. We make stops at a local place called Gateway Meat Market (that always has at least one or two crazy insane cheap items — like this past week, broccoli for 17 cents per head!), sometimes Walmart, Costco, depending on what we need, with our last stop always being the actual grocery store itself.

This weekend we made stops at Gateway, Costco, and finally the grocery store. As we were at our last stop, pulling up to the cash register it hit me: we weren’t going to meet our budget this time.

And boy, was I ever right on that. In fact, not only did we end up being over, but we ended up being WAY over. So much over that we spent all of this week’s allotted grocery amount, and almost all of next week’s, too.

So how it in the blue hell did THAT happen?

Looking back there were lots of reasons for it. Many of these things could have been prevented, but again, my complacency led me down the wrong road.

1. This week is an irregular week.

Our youngest daughter turned 10 on Sunday and so this week we’re having a big birthday feast to celebrate. Our family tradition is that the birthday person gets to choose any meal they want. This year, Mo chose home made sushi. This is something we only usually make a couple of times year, just because it’s one of the more expensive meals when you consider all the extra things (like seafood) that need to be purchased. Still…it’s her once a year birthday request, so who am I to say she can’t have it?

2. I didn’t do a pre-shop inventory.
Usually, in order to stay on budget, I create a meal plan, which involves first taking stock of what we already have in the house. Last week was insanely busy at work, and I just didn’t have the time (or the energy) to go through my freezer and cupboards like I normally do. I went by memory, which means that — whoops! — I wasn’t sure what we did and didn’t have in the house already. This resulted in buying a lot of things we didn’t really need this week — rice vinegar, sushi rice, coffee cream…after I started putting things away at home, I realized that we’d bought a number of things that we didn’t really need to buy at all. Let’s just say we’ll be eating a whole lot of apples for the next little while. Sigh.

3. I strayed from my list.

One of the cardinal rules for staying on budget when grocery shopping is to make a list and stick to it. These past few months I’ve been pretty good with doing exactly that. But this week, I’ll admit, I fell into the trap of making a few extra purchases. “Oooooh! Look! Pork is on sale. I should pick up a couple of packages.” (Not on the list). “Wow! This giant package of Naan at Costco is a great deal!” (Also not on the list). “Let’s pick up some extra seafood for that chowder to make it extra delicious.” (Again, not an item that had been planned for). While unpacking all of our groceries I was able to see just how many extras we’d picked up. There were quite a few of them.

4. I shopped while I was hungry.

I know…I know. It’s one of those things that everyone knows, right? Never grocery shop when you’re hungry. Todd and I had been out running around all day, doing a ton of errands and other than some coffee and a gluten free muffin from the Farmer’s Market, I hadn’t eaten anything else all day. Big mistake. Shopping hungry likely had a lot to do with all those extras I slid into the cart (“Yum! Sweet potatoes!” “A little extra bacon won’t hurt…” “Gluten free cookies! Just what I need!”) So yeah. I can confirm that there’s a reason why “they” say don’t go shopping hungry.

So all of these factors worked together against me to result in a whopping grocery bill when all was said and done. Now, in the past, I would have simply shrugged, chalked it up to “life” and shopped again as usual the following week. Likely putting it on the credit card.

Well…not this time.

After a quick conversation, Todd and I decided how to handle this overage. Since we basically spent all of next week’s grocery money, the only thing we can do is not spend any more until next payday (March 13th). Of course, there’s still $13-ish left in our grocery budget (which is good, considering I forgot to pick up dish detergent — whoops!), which we are free to spend, but if there are any food purchases that are required over and above that amount, we are left with two choices:

1. Suck it up and make do; or

2. Find the money somewhere else (and by somewhere else, I mean not credit cards or our savings account).

So that’s the plan. The good news is that our house is basically crammed to almost overflowing with good food, so making it through the next couple of weeks theoretically shouldn’t be that challenging. Of course, I’m saying that two days after buying food.

I could be singing a whole other tune come March 11th or 12th.

Time will tell, I guess.

Until next time,

~Kelly

 

Meal Planning: A Step-by-Step Guide

Handwritten Shopping ListI think I wrote before that after our housing costs, our next biggest household expense is food. Food is an important thing to me; I’m a big believer in healthy, home made food. It’s one of those things that I actually don’t mind spending more money on, but obviously if I CAN save money, I definitely want to.

In the past, while I always set a “food budget” for myself, it was really only a rough guide. I routinely went over budget and spent more than I’d planned on, justifying it by telling myself that “It was on sale” or “I had a craving” or “It looked really good.” Um…yeah. While this meant that we always had plenty of delicious food around, it also led to a lot of unnecessary food waste, which is really like just flushing money down the toilet.

In any case, when our food budget got tightened up with all the other changes that we made, I knew it would become more important than ever for me to have a solid meal planning process in place. I’ve used this plan for a while now (despite straying from it whenever it fancied my interest). For those of you who have never written a meal plan and have no idea where to start, I thought I would share my own step-by-step process with you.

Step One: Take Inventory

Before I begin making my meal plan, I have a look at what I have sitting in my freezer and pantry for meal making. I often pick up extra things on sale (when my budget allows). So before I start planning, I see what I currently have to work with. I often have meat for a meal or two as well as frozen vegetables in the freezer, and things like pasta sauce, rice and pasta in the pantry. Makes sense to start with what I’ve already got before I buy more.

Step Two: Check the sales flyers.

My next step is to check what’s on sale this week and try to incorporate those foods into my meal plan. A sale on something like ground beef or chicken means that I’ll be incorporating those foods into the meal plan. Same goes with vegetables that are on sale as well.

Step Three: Look at the week (s) ahead.

I tend to meal plan for a two-week time period, and so the next step in the process is to look ahead at what’s going to be happening for the next couple of weeks to determine if that’s going to affect my meal plan at all. Things like dinner out, having friends over, or evening activities that might require us to have a quick meal before we have to head out. Knowing what nights these things are happening help with the plan.

Step Four: Assign a meal to every night of the week.

I then write out a list of meals for the next two-week time period. As I do this, I consult my list of foods that I already have, as well as what is on sale. As I do this, I add items to my shopping list. As part of the meal plan, I always have a night or two in there that I leave open. This allows me to take advantage of “flash sales” at the grocery store that I just happen to see when we’re out there, or nights when we eat leftovers or just grab something quick and easy like scrambled eggs on toast because I’m too pooped out at the end of the day to cook anything.

Step Five: Finish filling in the grocery list.

One I’ve made my meal plan and written what I need to make those meals on my grocery list, I then continue to finish my list, with things like food for breakfasts and lunches, snacks, and any staples that we might have recently run out of. And then I always re-write my grocery list and group like things together to avoid confusion in the grocery store and having to double-back more than once because I missed things on my list the first time.

And…voila! That’s how the magic happens in terms of meal planning at our house. Do you make a meal plan? Does your method differ from mine any way?

Until next time,

~Kelly

Letting Go of Financial Embarassment

So Todd and I have been doing this whole budgeting thing for nearly three months now, and it’s been going really well. Our system of using cash for variable expenses has been working. We’re paying off our bills. We’re sticking to the budget. We’re building our savings. We’re more aware of our financial choices and are focused on making smarter ones. By all accounts, all is going pretty darn good.

One thing I’ve noticed throughout this whole thing is that there is a certain amount of embarrassment attached to financial matters. Not just mine, but for other people as well. I’ve quickly learned, however, that this embarrassment is simply something that one has to shove to the side if you’re going to be successful at this budgeting/financial responsibility game.

I admit that when we first started using the cash system I felt a little bit embarrassed when I counted out my money at the cash register, particularly when I was spending a larger amount of money, like at the grocery store. I mean — cash? Seriously? WHO USES CASH ANYMORE??? I’m sure I saw a cashier or two roll her eyes as I dug around in my bag looking for change. Cash is just so…90s, isn’t it? I mean…plastic is totally where it’s at.

Except plastic is the reason why there are a lot of people in financial trouble, and certainly one of the reasons why Todd and I needed to make some major adjustments. So I’ve been working hard to let go of that embarrassment. I mean, shouldn’t it be MORE embarrassing to pay for a pack of gum with a credit card than cold, hard cash?

It all came to a head for me over the Christmas holidays. For New Year’s Eve, Todd and I planned a board game and home made sushi night with our three girls. I’d budgeted for the sushi supplies and we hit up the grocery store. The only thing we couldn’t get at our chosen store was smoked salmon…everyone’s favourite sushi ingredient.

We decided to head to a different store to see if we could get what we needed. I mentally noted that I only had 8-ish dollars left in my grocery budget. Of course, we had other money, it’s not like it was our last $8.00 in the world, but I’m committed to this whole sticking within my budget thing, dang it. Of course, truth be told, I was perfectly willing to go over budget and chip in some of my own personal spending money for this sushi venture; after all, it was a special occasion.

So without paying much attention to the price of the smoked salmon, I grabbed what I needed and headed off to the cash register.

Imagine how tickled I was to discover that the salmon came to exactly $7.99! And then I remembered — sure, I’ve got the exact amount I need, but it’s all in change. Small change at that. I pulled my handful of change out of my bag and started counting, albeit with some discomfort. Todd and I often joke around a lot when we’re waiting in lineups and such, and this was no exception. While I kept counting, he feigned impatience, cracking jokes in an attempt to embarrass me. I noticed that the gentleman waiting in line behind us was showing some signs of true impatience. I cringed inside more than a teensy bit.

As I finished counting the very last of my change, equaling precisely $8.00, I turned to the somewhat grouchy gentleman behind me, giggled, and said “Exact change! It was meant to be.” Todd and I skipped off, laughing together at how this random guy likely thought this crazy chick was spending the very last of all of her money on smoked salmon, of all things.

Financial embarrassment? Ain’t nobody got time for that.

….

….

….

….anymore.

 

*cough*
I’d love to hear if anyone else out there have experienced any moments of financial embarrassment, and if so, what you’ve done to move past them.

Until next time,

~Kelly

Things That I (Happily) Cheap Out On

shopping

I’ve written previously about how there are a number of items I refuse to pay full price for. When it comes to these things, I seek out deals and when they go on sale, I will stock up a bit.

I also wrote about how there are things I consider worth paying full price for. In most cases, for me, it is not a matter of brand loyalty, but more a matter of me being particular. In any case, I have a small list of items that I will happily dish out a little extra cash for, since the additional cost is worth it for me. Sure, I do my best to get these items for the best possible price, but even if it’s not always possible, I will still purchase them.

When it comes to other things that I purchase, I have zero brand loyalty and zero desire to dish out extra money for. These are items that I happily buy the cheap version of, in order to save a few bucks. Admittedly, this list is actually a lot shorter than I assumed it would be.

1. Ketchup.

I know that I’m in the minority here, but I’m one of those people who really doesn’t care one bit about brand loyalty when it comes to ketchup. Sacrilege! Most people I have know have extremely strong opinions when it comes to ketchup, but I’m not among them. I’ll gladly buy other brands of ketchup, basically whatever is on sale, and eat it without issue. Granted, we’re not huge ketchup eaters in our house, so it’s not like this is a huge savings or anything, but as we’ve discussed before, those little savings definitely add up over time.

2. Mayonnaise.

I guess maybe I’m not much of a condiment person in general, but when it comes to mayo, again, I have zero brand loyalty. My only stipulation is that it absolutely must be REAL mayonnaise and not this “whipped mayonnaise-type dressing” b.s., but other than that, what brand it is means nothing to me. Lucky for us, I’m able to buy a big vat of the stuff at Costco and it lasts us a fairly long time.

3. Shampoo and conditioner.

I realize that I’m also in the minority here when it comes to shampoo and conditioner. I don’t buy the cheapest of the cheap, but really, I don’t find much difference between the “the good stuff” and what I’m able to pick up on sale at the drug store. Maybe I’m missing something here, I’m not sure, but shampoo and conditioner are two things I’ve never ponied up much money for, and I’ve always been relatively satisfied with how my hair looks. Y’know…give or take a bad hair day here or there.

3. Canned beans and legumes.

Admittedly I don’t buy these nearly as much as I used to, basically since Todd moved in with the girls and I. My daughters and I used to eat vegetarian meals fairly regularly when we were on our own; however, Todd is much more a meat and potatoes guy and our family eating habits have changed accordingly. The girls and I do enjoy vegetarian meals every now and again when Todd is away for the weekend visiting his son, and when he’s gone, we make a point of trying to break out some our old vegetarian standby meals. And when we do, those beans and legumes are 100% no name brand all the way. Again, only small savings to be had, but every bit helps.

4. Tomato sauce and paste.

Occasionally I use plain tomato sauce and paste when I’m making my own pasta or pizza sauce from scratch. I always use no-name brand tomato sauce, unless I happen upon a brand-name variety that is on sale.

5. Rice and pasta.

I’m a gluten-free girl and so my pasta is more expensive than the regular wheat kind. I still buy the regular stuff for my family (it’s only a small inconvenience to cook two bunches of pasta), and when I do, I grab whatever happens to be cheapest. Same goes for rice, which we all happily eat. If there’s a difference between brand name dry pasta and the cheap stuff, I have yet to discover what it is.

So what about you? Are there any items on your shopping list that you happily buy the cheapest version of, in order to save money?

Until next time,

~Kelly

Wants VS. Needs

wantsvsneeds

When you’re living on a budget it is extremely important to be able to distinguish your wants vs. needs. So many of us (Todd and I included) fall into the trap of referring to things we “want” as things that we “need”. The truth is, when we stop to really examine our budget, the list of needs vs. the list of wants is actually a whole lot smaller.

One thing I’ve noticed since implementing our new budget is that I’m stopping to ask myself a little more often, “Is this something that I need to buy, or is it just something that I want?” Asking myself this small question has actually prevented me from spending money needlessly on more than one occasion, and that self-restraint has actually left me feeling pretty darned, too. Who knew?

Now, it needs to be said that there’s certainly nothing wrong with indulging in a few “wants” here and there. I think that most of us need a little indulgence now and then, even those of us living on a budget. Heck, especially those of us living on a budget! I know that some people out there are great with the whole “extreme self-restraint” thing, but Todd and I are definitely not among them. We’re all about taking small, manageable steps with all of this. So although I may have walked away from a tempting shoe sale recently because I didn’t actually need any of the shoes I tried on *cough* humblebrag *cough*, I have made some other “purely wants” purchases in the last few weeks, just for the purpose of treating myself a little.

Spending your hard earned money on things only becomes a problem when a) you can’t distinguish between wants and needs and b) you don’t have the money to pay for all those wants.

It’s so easy to justify purchases by telling yourself, “But I NEED that!” when it comes to that shiny new whatever that is calling your name. That’s definitely how Todd and I got ourselves into this spot with more consumer debt than we want, and I’m pretty sure we’re not alone in that. Now that I stop to really consider if an item is something I truly need or just want, it’s a whole lot easier to walk away from something when I don’t have the cash available for it, instead of just whipping out that credit card like I did so many times before. Sure, I may want a new pair of shoes, but with all the pairs I’ve got at home, I certainly don’t need any more.

Just one small change in wording has gone a long way in changing my perspective.

Until next time,

~Kelly

 

 

Worth the Price

 

shopping

I wrote recently about how there are certain things that I refuse to pay full price for. Sure, these are products that I like and use, but really don’t feel like they’re worth paying extra for. My solution for these products are to simply stock up on them when they’re on sale. Lucky for me, most of them are easily stock-uppable.

As I was making the list, however, I realized that while there are things that I won’t pay full price for, there are some things that, to, me, are totally worth a premium price. The list may be short, but for me, they are the things that I gladly pony up the dough for.

1. Maple syrup.

None of that “pancake syrup” stuff in our house…ever. For us, it’s either real maple syrup or nothing…because once you’ve had the real stuff, the others just isn’t acceptable. When I was living on government assistance I couldn’t afford maple syrup at all, so pancakes and waffles just didn’t happen. This actually began my sister’s Christmas gift tradition of giving us a honkin- big-ass bottle of local maple syrup every year. Honestly…best.gift.ever.

These days we’re able to afford maple syrup a bit more (even though it *is* pretty dang expensive); we eat a lot of homemade pancakes and waffles. Though I try to buy local whenever possible, I have found that the best price for real, honest-to-goodness maple syrup is at Costco. Hopefully my sister will remember her little Christmas tradition again this year. *cough*

2. Premium tissues.

This one is all Todd’s fault. I was always a “anything goes to blow my nose” kind of gal, but then when Todd moved in, he insisted on the “good” tissues. Always. You know what I’m talking about — those sexy 2 ply tissues with lotion. At first I scoffed at his insistence but I slowly had to admit that they really do make a big difference, particularly when you’ve got one of those awful, runny nose colds. I’m at the point now where the “regular” tissues at work make me kind of bitter. Todd brings his own from home.

3. Premium toilet paper.

Another one to blame Todd for. In the past I didn’t much care about this kind of thing, and truly just bought whatever was cheapest. And then Todd introduced me to the world of premium toilet paper and well…I can’t go back. Fortunately it goes on sale quite frequently and is on my list of “things I refuse to pay full price for”. So while I totally think it’s worth the price, I never shell out the full amount for it.

4. “Good” coffee.

Full disclosure: I am a coffee snob. Even though until recently I was dishing out way too much money buying my coffee at a coffee shop most weekday mornings, when I did make it at home, it was always a certain brand, no exceptions (except for the bag of coffee I brought back from Honduras a few years ago, but that totally doesn’t count). Now that I’m making my coffee at home every morning, having “my brand” is more important than ever. When it comes to caffeine, I need “the good stuff”, otherwise, life just ain’t worth living.

5. Brand-specific toothpaste.

I’m not normally a brand-loyal kind of gal. So even though I like things like premium toilet paper, I will bounce around from one brand to another, whichever I can get the best deal on. Not so when it comes to toothpaste. Again — totally my husband’s fault. He introduced me to a certain brand of toothpaste and though I’ve made several attempts to go back to “the cheap stuff”, it’s just not the same. Our whole family loves this certain brand and well, I’ll buy it whether its on sale or not. Fortunately for us, toothpaste is a relatively cheap item in the personal care world, so it’s not like we’re spending *that* much extra money on it.

 

I would love to hear if there’s anything that you happily pay extra for. Are there any must-have items in your household that you buy whether they’re on sale or not?

 

Until next time,

~Kelly

 

 

Smart shopping: Know your prices

I consider myself a pretty smart shopper for the most part. I can sniff out a bargain and there’s nothing I love more than stocking up on things when they’re on sale (and when the budget allows). As lame as it makes me, I admittedly get a little thrill when I see those tags in the grocery store showing that something is marked down.

My big beef with Costco, in fact, comes from the fact that I am a savvy shopper. Todd and I bought a membership in June of 2013 (which we allowed to lapse but decided to renew it as a Christmas gift from my mom this year). Just because things are sold in huge amounts with less packaging, doesn’t necessarily mean that they are, in fact, cheaper. Yes, some things are less expensive when bought this way, but be smart about it, people. Just because it’s for sale at Costco and seems like it “should” be a good deal, doesn’t necessarily mean that it is. When in doubt, whip out your calculator. You might be surprised, like I was.

But back to my original point: I love a good deal. Recently when Todd and I were on our weekly shopping trip,  we happened upon this “Great Buy”:

IMG_20141108_112026243_HDR

Let’s ignore for a moment the fact that I never buy Cool Whip so I can make an important point. At first glance one might think, “Wow! This deal is so good that there’s a limit on how many I can buy!” Because we’ve all seen that at the grocery store. But upon closer inspection one sees what happens if you exceed the limit on this “Great Buy”.

You pay exactly the same amount.

Wait….what?

I’m seeing this more and more, where grocery stores are using borderline dishonest tactics to try and convince people that they should buy more of something. And quite frankly, I don’t like that story. But what’s a person to do?

Really, the only thing we can do is be on the ball and be familiar with the prices of things. If your memory is crappy, you might even want to make a list of things that you regularly buy so that you’ll know for sure when things are on sale for a good price. Generally, though, my experience has been that over time, you will naturally become acquainted with what things cost, and you’ll know immediately if someone is trying to pull the Cool Whip wool over your eyes.

Until next time,

~Kelly