Monday, March 03, 2008

One Small Change

Welcome to March! Well, I was looking at last month’s spending compared to February 2007, and holy smokes, what a difference! Even without really getting seriously serious, just by moving to cash rather than the credit card for the day to day purchases, we’ve sliced our spending on things like groceries, clothes and the infamous ‘household’ bucket by almost two-thirds!

It made me stop and think about how small changes add up. You think you’re going to eliminate your debt or get your early retirement together by doing some Big Huge Enormous Thing. You’re going to find a way to save $15,000 a year, or get that huge promotion, or whatever.

While keeping your eyes open for those big things is never a bad thing…there really is a great deal of truth to the old adage, Watch the pennies, and the pounds take care of themselves.

Small changes add up. They aren’t nearly as hard as we tend to make them. Yes, we’re all tired. We’re overworked. We don’t want to futz around “endlessly” to save a stupid $3.

But the truth is, it’s seldom as hard as we want to make it.

I made it “impossible” to cook breakfast on a weekday for years and years. Even when I was staying at home, I was just waaaaay too busy. Baking muffins was a Saturday kind of thing. Sometimes. Except not this weekend, because we slept in. It’s really more of a brunch, well, lunch…thing. {pause} So! Warmed up leftover pizza, anyone?!

Anyway, I bought pre-made waffles and boxes of cereal and NutriGrain bars and called it breakfast for a long, long time – I paid the ‘convenience food’ premium for it at the register, and yet oddly, my mornings were no less hectic.

You’d think being able to shove a cold ‘breakfast cookie’ (a.k.a., NutriGrain bar) into the kids’ hands on the way to the van would buy some extra time, you know?

Now, a box of 8 NutriGrain bars runs around $4.65, right? And when you’ve got six people showing down on them, it’s a box a morning. Convenient, and a lot cheaper than pulling through McDonalds, right?

OK, but. I can make toast, eggs and bacon for six people for $2.07, and it takes me about ten minutes from the time I come downstairs from rousting the kids out of bed. Granted this is homemade bread at about a nickel a slice, but even if I bought your basic Homepride bread it’s still under $2.50. For the six of us.

And instead of a cold breakfast (or “nothing”, which seems to be pretty common with their schoolmates), they get that oft-eulogized “hot breakfast” Denny’s is making an entire advertising campaign around. For just $5.99, you too can have a couple eggs, a couple slices of bacon, some toast and coffee.

Or come to my place, and have it for $0.40. Fall in love with breakfast again!

The point is not to brag about my Kitchen Diva status. Because that would be silly. You are not going to see me on Food Network any time soon, folks. I’m more determined than slick in the kitchen.

The point is, this was not hard. It was inconvenient at first, and I didn’t wanna…but it was a small change that saves us around $670 a year. A couple weeks in, it was no longer any kind of bother – it had become the new normal.

Switching from buying a lunch for $8 a day to bringing one for between $1.50 and $2.50 saved me over $1,000 a year. Was it so hard to add lunch meat to my shopping list? Naw. No more than it was “impossible” to spend five, ten minutes putting together a lunch bag for myself. And I had more time at my lunch break, having been freed from the need to stand around for twenty minutes in line at the burrito stand waiting for my Guacamole Special. It was nice to skip that step and get straight to the part where I was sitting down with a book to eat my lunch.

Not allowing myself to buy something that wasn’t already on my list. Not letting things go on the actual shopping list until I had slept on it. Never permitting myself to buy something I could not pay for with cash-money. Shopping at the thrift stores first, and saving retailers for a last resort.

Small things. Little steps. All I had to do was overcome my emotional resistance to the idea, and I was able to save thousands – with minimal extra work.

So as we head into March, I’m looking for small things I can do to further refine our spending. I’ve got a few things in mind that would be relatively easy and painless…but which I’m not doing because, well, I don’t wanna.

I could, for example, start walking at least one of the three daily trips to and from school. Eliminating just one would save $0.30 in gas and get me that 30-45 minutes of cardio my doctor keeps harping about. (And who knows, maybe if I actually did it I could eliminate $8.75 a week in pain pills!) (not, uh, that I’ve sat around calculating how much my prescriptions cost me per pill or per day or anything…) (because that would be compulsive, which I am not).

On a related note, if I could manage to bend over and reach my toenails long enough to keep them tidy myself, I could save $20 a month on pedicures. See? The walking thing just keeps getting better and better…maybe…

(Y’all laugh, but my ‘condition’ has gotten to the point where reaching my own toes, while possible, is torture, not only during the action but for hours afterward. It does not match my Inner Vision of Self, which is a bit more robust and also bench presses Volkswagons, ya know?!)

Plus there is always recycling to be picked up along the way. It’s a good back exercise, keeps the neighborhood tidier, and scores me a nickel each time. GOOD LORD, IS THERE NO END TO THE BENEFITS?!?!

But seriously – look around. Take a deep breath. Pick one thing you don’t wanna do because it’s {insert excuse you know is kinda lame but that’s all you got so you’re going with it}. If you need suggestions, may I recommend The Dollar Stretcher? Or try Get Frugal. Or shoot, just type “frugal tips” into your favorite search engine.

Buckle up first, though. You’re going to get hit with a tidal wave.

Give it a try this month. Give it the whole month. It will undoubtedly be annoying at first. You will growl that it is stupid and also dumb and that you can’t believe you let that idiot blogger talk you into this.

But you may well find it isn’t so bad after all. Many of these things actually are ways you can express your love – for yourself, for your family, even your community. When I send my kids to school with bellies full of good, wholesome meals I made with my own hands that very morning and set before them, salted and peppered to their precise liking, I tell them how much I love them.

When I make myself a sandwich at home to take to work, I’m giving myself a lunch that is healthy for my body and my financial future. I’m saying that I’m worth the effort. I’m worth the trouble. I value me, thank you very much. And also, I prefer a little less mayo and little more mustard, ‘kay…?

When I shop at thrift stores, the money I’m saving is going toward our retirement and our children’s college funds. The money I’m spending is going into our community, to the hospice or the family shelter or the programs of Goodwill or the Salvation Army. The clothing I’m buying is given one more life before it hits the rag bin or the landfill.

It makes me feel good. It feels worth doing.

Give it a try. You might be surprised, both at how much you actually do save, and how good you feel while you’re doing it.


Anonymous said...

I am loving the tightwad gazette. Some of it is so outrageous that I laugh out loud and shout 'Never!". It turns out that I am much thriftier than I thought, of course there is much room for improvement. I think the key is little bit at a time. Likely I'll be keen for those 'Never' idea in a few months!!!

Anonymous said...

Okay... WHERE do you get bacon so that you can feed 6 bacon eggs and toast for that little?
and Okay... okay... Ill give up that latte.
I did so enjoy that latte....

Unknown said...

Ahem, sandwich bread recipe please. I can make a decent french loaf (right now I'm hot on Mark Bittman's "no-knead" bread), but my sandwich bread attempts send my family howling about the injustice of it all.

I cried big tears at being forced to cook breakfast also, but now it's honest-to-goodness easier for me to make bacon and pancakes than any other breakfast. Habit and routine kick in and we're golden.

needledancer, I get bacon at Sam's for about $3.75 per one pound package, and I'm buying the more expensive brand that my guys prefer. We use a little less than half of that per breakfast (8-10 slices), so that's let's say $1.70-ish. Then 8 eggs at about 10 cents apiece, we're at 2.50, and add the bread (I don't know, let's say 10 cents/slice) for another .60 and I'm at 3.10. Without milk or butter though. Hmm, maybe I can do a little better here also. Thanks for the food for thought Tama.

Anonymous said...

We buy our bacon at Costco, I can't remember how much it is right now, but it's a bargain and it's good, thick bacon. We also cut the pack in half making a bunch of half-slices and pack it up into meal servings in ziploc freezer bags (you can use "snack bags" for each portion or just roll in wax paper and put in bigger ziplocs). So each meal, we eat 2 pieces of bacon, but it's actually only one slice. Sometimes is more about the visual on the plate than the actual amount.

If you buy eggs at Costco too, you can eat very cheaply.

Patty said...

Okay, okay. I'm considering giving this a whirl. Thanks for the inspiration!

Rena said...

Um... you want me to cook something in the morning? I can't even make coffee that early. My hubby has to do it. Honestly, I usually forget to turn it on as I wander bleary eyed into my daughter's room to get her out of bed. Does toast from homemade bread count? Come to think of it, I shouldn't cook any time, especially in the morning. Even dinner is a bit... much. My hubby will look at my feeble dinner attempt of pasta and a can of sauce and force himself to smile. How do "Non-cookers" save cash on meals?

Louiz said...

Second what Terena said (and have decided I've been doing this for years without knowing!)

Anna said...

Have you tried oatmeal? Easy to cook, healthy and cheap! Buy it in bulk and you'll feed them all for pennies.

Mother of Chaos said...

AAAAAAH! Don't start me on the oatmeal, DON'T START ME ON THE...

Dang. Too late.

Boo Bug will eat oatmeal. The rest of them? "SWOON!!!"

They. Won't. Eat. Oatmeal.

They do not like it with brown sugar. They do not like it with cinnamon. They do not like it with or without apples, raisins, or apricots. They won't eat it with blueberries. They won't eat it with cream. They won't eat it lumpy, or smooth.

I do not understand this. I love oatmeal. Oatmeal is an ABSOLUTE GOOD. They were fed oatmeal as babies and thought it was OK. WHAT HAPPENED?!?!


OK. Thank you for giving me this moment of Rantitude. We now return you to your regularly scheduled comments...

(Not even oatmeal cookies. YES WAY!!) (They were switched at birth. This is also why they are so beautiful, and smart.)

Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh and garters! You're nagging me in the "Oh, I really didn't intend this for you, seeing how I was talking to myself; but, if the shoe fits, then put it on, already!" way.

I think you've been reading my mind waaay too much. Now, the following through needs to begin!




Anonymous said...

A lot of what you just said sounds like this site

Granted it is in Australia so the brands and stores are different but the basics are the same. They have a free monthly newsletter and lots of other free things - like a savings calendar. Worth the browse time.