Monday, April 30, 2007

Down to only $20, and it isn’t even noon…

One word: Costco. Oh yeah. The Big Box warehouse. The place famous for bringing you the Lifetime Supply of Disposable Razors.

Today, I handed over $159.65 to the warehouse in exchange for a bunch of staples (I listed them out at the bottom – feel free to skip if it bores you to tears).

I’m having a lot of trouble adjusting to the new budget. If my budget is a bus to get us where we’re going, well, my brain got onboard, but my guts were still in the gift shop and missed the boarding call.

I keep having ‘gut feelings’ about things. Like, I have a gut feeling that I can totally afford getting pizza tonight, or I have a gut feeling that a new keyboard for my Treo is not only OK, but downright necessary, considering how often I’m using it to write things while waiting for one Denizen or another on the road.

I can afford a small amount of that kind of thing. Very small amounts. Each thing is usually under twenty bucks (negligible, right?), but kind of like the way a single drop of water is nothing to worry about but a bucketful can drown you, the twenty bucks come flowing together until at the end of the month I’m scratching my head going, “Wait, how in the world did pizza delivery end up costing us $2,521.72?”

I’ve decided to give myself the budgetary equivalent of electric shock treatment. Instead of using my credit cards, I’m getting my weekly allowance when I get groceries. At the first of the month, I get $180; each week thereafter, I get $140.

So when the register came up to $159.65, I swiped my card and got twenty bucks cash back. Twenty measly bucks. I looked at that lone twenty dollar bill and groused to myself. Well. Not entirely to myself. I may have muttered aloud a bit. Twenty @*^&@ing bucks. Ridiculous!

But it is exactly what I need to do. As I went through Costco, I was keeping a mental tab as I went. $20. $25. $35. $57. $80. I had to! I knew I only had $180 for the week, and this being the first week I have precisely zip in carryover from previous weeks!

As the mental tab was getting to be more than I had, I was putting things back. Prepackaged snacks for lunches. String cheese. Potato chips (shouldn’t be eating those anyway).

This is exactly what the cash diet is good for – it forces you to acknowledge how much you no, really have, and to act accordingly. I won’t be going into the supermarket and blowing $40 on stuff I didn’t go in there to get, purely because it’s ‘only’ $40.

I have $20. That’s it. There it is. One twenty dollar bill. And if I cheat, well. It’s like cheating a solitaire, you know? I’m cheating myself, and the family who rely on me to make it all work.

Fortunately, we have a half-full freezer, an almost full tank of gas, and good sneakers – there will be a lot more walking to and from school now, both to save gas and hopefully so that mommy can lose some of the jiggle that seems to have made itself at home around her waist.

Hopefully, next week’s grocery trip will be more of the $40 variety…

Costco Carnage

Item Price
50# Sack of flour $9.49
Milk (4 gal) $9.58
Mac N Chez (15 pak) $8.99
Ritz crackers $6.29
Canned mushrooms $5.49
Applesauce! $6.39
Diet Pepsi (oh, vice!) $8.79
Sin Tax (CA redemption) $1.44
Ramen noodles $4.29
12-pack bagels $3.99
Toilet paper $18.89
Shredded mozzarella 5# $9.89
Shredded cheddar $9.19
5 dozen eggs $6.49
Dishwashing gloves (9 pair) $5.99
Bananas $1.30
5# Rotgut non-gourmet WOE IS ME coffee $9.69
Babybel cheese, 28 $8.89
Yogurt $5.99
Half-n-Half, 1/2 gal $2.29
Butter $6.99
Pasta sauce $6.59
Tax $2.72
Total $159.65

50# of flour is a month's worth of six to eight loaves of bread a week (I already had a 5# sack of yeast in the garage), a weekly batch of cookies for lunches and snacks, waffles, muffins, and however many pies and banana bread and whatever other fool thing I take it into my head to bake. I go through not nearly as much sugar as you might think, though – one ten pound bag will last me a couple months.

The milk, though, will be toast by next Monday. Four gallons is conservative; I actually already had a gallon and a half in the fridge. We go through a lot of milk. A lot of it.
The canned mushrooms will last me several months. So will the Ramen noodles – we don’t really eat them all that often. They’re more of a junk-food-snack for us.

I’m sure I will survive the gourmet coffee deprivation. And it will make me that much more grateful when I do manage to acquire a bag or two of Da Good Stuff.

I go through dishwashing gloves at a shocking clip. I swear, I go through a pair a week. What am I doing wrong?! Even ‘heavy duty’ gloves always seem to acquire a hole in the tip of a finger within a week or two. ARGH.


Unknown said...

Hello, I've been reading for a while (found your blog from the Fool) and just wanted to say "I'm interested, I'm interested!" We're going full speed ahead on the debt reduction plan, and I still can't seem to stay under a $600/month spending money budget.

Your posts on the Fool in past years were great. I hope to keep as much of my sense of humor about the choices we're making as you have. Best wishes!

Dallas (nebroots)

Science PhD Mom said...

Here are a couple of things I have found recently with Costco carnage...maybe they will help you.

Shredded cheese--you can cut that down. Buy their block cheese, and put your eldest Denizen in charge of shredding it in the food processor if s/he is old enough, or set aside 10 minutes to do it yourself. Better yet, have your DH do it! You can customize blends and the DIY shredding approach will cut your cheese costs by over half. I am doing this, and although it's a pain sometimes to shred it all, we shred & freeze in gallon bags. Perfect, and even for the good cheese (Tillamook) you're saving big over the pre-shredded.

Mac n can make your own and it will be tastier. Freeze portions in those ziploc containers...we do this for DD. It does take some time. Easier in some ways is to make a big batch of cheese sauce & then freeze the sauce. You can cook the pasta & add the cheese sauce--homemade mac&cheese. Might work for you.

The toilet paper gets us too. Ouch. But less painful than the tree bark cheapy toilet paper at the grocery store.

I feel ya on the "WOE IS ME" coffee! We do the same, and yeah, it is kinda sucky. If you do your own taxes w/TurboTax, might I suggest planning next year to buy some pre-paid Starbucks cards out of any refund you get, sort of 'pre-budgeting' some good coffee for a few months. I've tried that this year and it's working well thus far.

I am going to try the Grocery Game starting next week. If that works well to cut costs, I'll let you know.

21stCenturyMom said...

No dissing the San Francisco Bay coffee! That is the kind you bought, right?? It is socially responsible and perfectly delicious - and that comes from a Peets snob. I think SF Bay is far superior to Starbucks, by the way.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, I'm confused. You said in the previous post that you had a $600/month discretionary budget, which includes groceries and gasoline, but if you get $180 the first week for groceries, and $150 each following week, isn't that $730/month? Before you even get to gasoline?

Anonymous said...

Whoops, sorry, bad math on my part, you get exactly $600, 'cause the last three weeks are $140/week. Still, where does your gas money come from?
(And yeah, I followed you over here from the Fool. Hi!)

Magpie's Mumblings said...

It's weird that you're doing a financial 'crunch' thing just when we're facing doing the same! Our family finances will be cut by about $500/mo starting in July and we're going to have to stretch our already strained budget even further. I'll be following your progress!

Anonymous said...

We go through so much milk that a cow is looking like a good investment, so I know what you mean. Now, if I could just plant a toilet paper tree, things would be great!

Brett said...

I assume she pays her gas money in cash.

What I noticed was the toilet paper. $20??? I know it was probably a 20 roll pack or something but I've never noticed how expensive that stuff is.

Amy Lane said...

I'm just did math and my brain glazed over. But my admiration got exceptionally sharp and inspired...yes, maybe I could do that...maybe not, but maybe:-)(and I guess, when things are dismal, you can always go to the storage place and visit your stash, right?)

PipneyJane said...

Oh, how I hear you!

Spending is all the more painful when you know that the cash in your pocket is all that you have FOR EVERYTHING for the rest of the week/month.

- Pam (off to sort our her own finances for the month)

Very Herodotus said...

With all that baking, you must spend hours and hours in the kitchen! I bet your house smells great though 8^)

Spaghetti sauce is super-easy to make too, if you have time after all that baking. The homemade kind is usually a lot healthier - lower in fat and whatnot. This year I've got an herb garden so the sauce should be extra yummy! By the way, did you ever get your victory garden going?

Jeanne said...

Coming late to the party and just catching up, but wanted to comment on the coffee situation. I buy a big container of cheap crap when it's on sale, and a bag of fancy flavored coffee (usually something chocolately). I measure out the usual amount of El Cheapo and add about a scoop of the fancy stuff. The result is coffee that tastes upscale but costs far less, and the fancy bag will last for months.