Saturday, December 10, 2011

Savings Series Part One: History and Food Purchases

Beth Anne from The Catholic Couponer expressed interest in hearing more about my frugal side. Admittedly, I have had a post in the works for a few weeks, but NFP sort of took over for a bit so it got neglected. She gave me the push I needed to work on a series.

Because I'm long winded, I'm going to break the topic into 4 different posts. Part one is why I'm frugal and how that translates to food purchases. Part two will cover things that aren't food related and somewhat of a budget breakdown (I'm a budget nazi but it pays off), followed by part three which is how it affects our lives and Steven's feelings on it since he sort of got thrown in head first when he met me. Part four will be beneficial to me because I'm going to have sort of a brainstorm post about how I plan on being frugal in the future.

So first, my frugality might be different from what is typical. Some people might not even view it as frugal, but I'm living it and it FEELS frugal! I also usually get the results I desire from it, which is having money in the bank for emergencies/necessities, a sense of self control (I control my money now where it used to control me), and the knowledge that there is SO much more to life than having the newest of this or that. Oh, and did I mention it's sort of fun? I view it as a challenge rather than an evil necessary which helps a lot. I won't say there aren't days where we are down because of our financial picture. There are most definitely those days... but I have to remind myself how much worse it could be if we weren't focused on being frugal, and then point out to myself all the amazing things as a result of us living this lifestyle. For example, I never would have been SO into festivals and discovered the awesomeness of free, outdoor fun right in the middle of downtown if I didn't need to find some entertainment that didn't cost $50 for an afternoon like most things (movies, Frankie's Fun Park, etc.) do. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

 I grew up in a family where we sort of got what we wanted. I mean, we weren't living in a mansion or driving BMW's, but we had plenty of toys, very big Christmases and birthdays, went on nice family vacations, and enjoyed new things. It caught up with us eventually and I specifically remember the period in our lives where we had to become (cue scary music) FRUGAL! My dad took on a part time job in addition to his full time job and my mom began working part time (she stayed at home with us until then) when I was in late middle school/ early high school. I remember things tightening up for everyone. I remember being afraid that my parents wouldn't be able to pay the bills. Around the same time, I was working my own part time job, and my dad put a rule in place that I had to save half of everything I made for college. I hated it and was often angry when I would get my paycheck and immediately have to put some in savings, while my friends would blow through theirs. Come one, things are tightening up financially at home AND I can't even spend all MY money!?!?

It was the best thing that ever happened to me. I'm pretty sure I've told my dad once or twice (I should probably do it again) and I know I tell Steven all the time- that time in my life really shaped who I am in relation to money and, in my opinion, for the positive. And my mom was a good example of managing money on the domestic side. I remember every week my whole life (and to this day she still does it) she would get the sale ad and match them up with her coupons. It took her some time, but it was worth it to save money. Some of the things all this influenced are:

  • I call myself poor when I don't have $1,000 in my checking account. To me, that 1k doesn't 'count'. I might as well have $0. That's so I never get to the point where I only have $100 and then I'm REALLY poor. I won't say I've always maintained that (especially during wedding planning!) but that's my goal and it means I'm never truly broke. This last year has really tested it and there are times when I get down near to the $100 or $200 mark, but being uncomfortable until I reach the $1,000 mark means that I have something to work towards instead of just feeling scared and down about how much I do or don't have.
  • I also don't like to have less than $3,000 in my savings. I worked really, really hard to build that up through college part time jobs and my current job. I'm a social worker; I work really hard for very little. And it's not quite there right now because I had to have a $600 car repair that I couldn't afford out of my checking at that time, due to the fact that we're putting a huge chunk of money in a wedding account each month. But again, it's a safety net for me. Life isn't over if I don't have that much in there, but it certainly makes me nervous because I know in the blink of an eye one of us could be jobless and need that money to float us through, or have some huge medical issue, etc. I never would have felt the need for a safety net if I hadn't seen what crunch time looked like in my family when we didn't have money and I never would have known how to save if my dad hadn't made me do it for the 3 years I worked while in high school. I never had that typical college/early career lifestyle where you don't really worry about money; you just sort of spent what you had and waited for more to come in. I was always, sometimes painfully, aware of my financial picture but again, I think it's helped me as an adult tremendously. 
  • I use a coupon almost any time we go out to eat; certainly we have a coupon at any 'real' restaurant. Now this one took some warming up to. I remember being very embarrassed by my dad's use of coupons at restaurants. I'm not sure why it bothered me so much, but of course my view point changed when it was my turn to foot the bill! Now we don't go to a sit down restaurant without a coupon, gift card, or both. Right now, it's simply not in the budget. After the wedding, it will be, but I don't see the point. We can get a week's worth of groceries for $30-40.... so it's hard for me to spend that on just one meal! With our coupons we usually come out spending about $15 which lets me enjoy the treat of being served and not having to make the meal, without the guilt of the money we spent. This means we only go out to eat once a month or every other month, but we do have usually either Chickfila (we can eat for $12 and it's DELICIOUS) or Subway (we eat for about $15) once per week as a treat. We try to never eat out more than once a week, which hasn't been hard since we're used to it but did take some getting used to in the beginning.
So those are the things I learned from my upbringing and have applied to my adult life, but there are also things I had to learn and discover on my own. The hardest thing for me, for a while, was being frugal but recognizing that grocery coupons don't really fit our lifestyle. Now, I'll be the first one in line with toilet paper, kleenex, and paper towel coupons. But really, there aren't many more I can use. Now that we have gone to more of a 'whole foods' or 'real food' lifestyle, coupons aren't helpful because we don't eat 95% of what coupons cover. Canned foods are now being shown to have BPA in them (our bodies register it as estrogen, which is bad enough but worse when you already have hormonal issues) and less nutrition, so for anything we don't buy fresh, we buy frozen. Yes, there are some coupons out there, but more specifically we buy fruits veggies with no sauce, flavoring, etc. We also buy all our frozen fruit/veggies now from Trader Joe's because we can get organic (pesticides are another thing that wreck our endocrine system and I need all the help I can get keeping mine in check) and there are no coupons for TJ's. We don't eat much cereal anymore, though we do sometimes, and no freezer meals whatsoever for similar health reasons. We also don't eat boxed meals as we can control the ingredients when we cook or bake from scratch. So as much as one can save with grocery coupons, they are only helpful if you eat the things commonly bought with them, which we don't. 

So as far as groceries go, my frugality is a bit different. We shop about 95% at Trader Joe's, which we are blessed beyond belief to have. If all we had was Earth Fare, Whole Foods, and Fresh Market (we have all of those here), we wouldn't be able to eat the way we do. We simply can't afford those stores. But Trader Joe's has 95% of the foods we eat and at such affordable prices. Ok, maybe it costs more than buying a similar product at Walmart, but I also believe in shopping by morals, and I know my money spent at TJ's is a more moral purchase than buying something at Walmart. Please don't take this as an "I'm better than you because...." statement, as I don't mean it that way at all. I don't judge someone who shops/eats differently than I do, but these are the things I know to be right for me and my situation. Anyways, we are able to purchase our groceries for 2 people for 19-20 meals per week for about $35 per week. This includes a $25-30 purchase at TJ's and a $5-10 purchase at the Farmer's Market, which is where we get all of our fresh produce. Through the fall, we pretty much only get apples and sweet potatoes. In the spring/summer we will buy less frozen and fruit cups (by the way, fruit cups are in the 5% of things we have to buy at a 'regular' grocery store and do use coupons on), and put that money towards a bigger Farmer's Market purchase. I super love the FM and we've made it a tradition to go to both the FM and TJ's after church each Sunday. It's one of my favorite parts of the week! 

We are lucky to live only about 10 minutes from the state farmer's market which is open 7 days a week, 365 days a year. It's about 5 minutes from church, so it's a great Sunday outing. I'd never seen a farmer's market so big before moving here!

Now there are some times where our grocery budget goes a bit over. Like last week, we stocked up on chicken and beef at TJ's. We don't eat a lot of meat, but like to keep it on hand for a few meals a week. We also were out of honey, which we bought at the FM (yay local!). So last week we probably spent about $60 which made our eyes bulge a bit. But we'll both be gone for a few days for Christmas so we are counting on staying in budget by not having to buy groceries that week. If we did have to buy groceries that week, we'd certainly be buying less because we have some staples at home. That would be a good week to choose to eat some of the things in our freezer (pizza pockets we haven't run out of yet) or make a pasta dish.

As far as cooking from scratch though, it can often be very frugal and that's what I count on since I don't use many coupons. When we made our pizza pockets (basically a calzone) and calculated the cost, I don't remember the exact cost but it came to far under $1 per serving and those things keep me so full until the next meal- no snack needed! When I bake muffins for breakfast, we have one each per day (plus a piece of fruit) and it turns out to cost less than a box of cereal. These are the ways I can keep us eating healthy but shave a little off of typical grocery costs. 

Our farmer's market is SO awesome. This building is really long and lined with vendors on both sides, plus there's another indoor building which is almost as big. The produce always looks so pretty! 

If you keep a tight budget, what do you do to save money? If you aren't a big couponer, what are other ways you  stay on budget? 

Stay tuned for parts 2, 3, and 4 of the Saving Series! 


  1. This was a great post! I hate to say but I'm one of those crazy couponers and basically only shop at Publix or Winn Dixie (sometimes Food Lion if they have a REALLY good sale). I usually only shop at Winn Dixie for meat. But the things I buy with coupons are things that we have ALWAYS bought. We've always bought frozen veggies, rice a roni, pasta roni, chips, etc. And with me unemployed we're on a super tight budget.

    There is an area on the weekend that is a flea market and depending on the weekend they have fruits and vegetables we will go to (if we're in the area) but usually we go to this local store that is run by a family that goes to our church. One great thing is sometimes they will have a box of different fruits and veggies for $1 or this whole box $5-10 of stuff that is going to go bad and we'll get a TON of stuff and cook it up right away and freeze it. I hardly EVER buy produce in the store unless they are SUPER cheap or I have to have it (which is rarely).

    One thing you didn't mention was personal care items. If you shop Walgreens/cvs you can get a lot of personal care items (soaps, razors, etc) dirt cheap or even free with coupons. I'm getting ready to post some how-tos on my blog soon.

    Once I get a job I need to work on saving money way better than I already do. I've never really had a job where I made more than minimum wage so it's been hard to survive let alone save.

    I'd love to see some of your "made from scratch" recipes if you are open to sharing them. I'm always trying new ones! okay this comment is long enough can't wait for parts 2-4

  2. You are so right!- I will address personal care items in the next blog. Though I must say, I'm really excited for your how to's in that area because it's mostly by chance that I save on those things! (Or I use my last razor for a scarily long time to wait on a good sale/coupon combo lol.)

    All the recipes I use right now (except for where I throw something like rice/veggies, quinoa/veggies together) come from I swear by that website! My favorites are pizza pockets, the various muffin/bread recipes for breakfast, and the mac n cheese!

  3. okay awesome! I felt bad I wrote all that and I got ahead because you covered it in post 2 :)

    Thanks I'm working on them. I'm trying to get through the whole "how to coupon" and then go into how-tos for each store. It's taking a lot longer than I thought it would.

    I always love to see how other people save money I find it interesting.

  4. I didn't add it til you mentioned it here ;).