"How We Saved $10,000 in Just One Year"How one woman and her reluctant family slashed their spending and shrunk their credit card debt.
At more than $1,000 a month, food is the single biggest discretionary expense in my budget. We eat out just once or twice a week. The bigger problem is the grocery store, where I shop aisle by aisle, loading up the cart with random items — a sure way to overspend, according to Wood — rather than using Susan's strategy: creating a list for her weekly Sunday shopping trip and buying only the things she knows she absolutely needs.
I try to become a list-maker. After just two attempts I realize why it doesn't work for me: a) our tastes and schedules are unpredictable, so the chicken I buy for Tuesday sits till Friday, when I end up throwing it out; b) I forget to put things on the list, so I'm forever running back to the store for, say, eggs or apples; c) I hate shopping with a list — it's too regimented, too restrictive, too un-fun. I like to let whim and taste guide me.
The question is, can they guide me to less expensive items? Turns out, they can — sort of. I buy less meat and more fresh veggies. Instead of chips, I pick up supercheap plain pop-corn and spruce it up with a little salt, Parmesan cheese, and butter for the boys' lunches. Surprisingly, they don't complain. In place of the mango, papaya, and pomegranate juice the boys glug down by the jugful, I buy frozen OJ and powdered lemonade: not as healthy, but a significant savings. Will says he doesn't like orange juice, but when I explain that it's less expensive, he drinks it or opts for tap water — free, and healthful. The boys are grudgingly getting with the program in other ways, too. They agree to take sandwiches from home rather than buy their lunch at school every day, and when they hear the price of a surf camp they wanted to go to in the coming summer, Griff says, "That's stupid. We don't have to go."
An obvious way to cut our expenses would be to buy conventionally grown food instead of organic, but I'm torn — actually, more like tortured. For years I've shelled out for organic because I believe it's healthier and better for the environment — and in northern California, where I live, it's considered practically negligent not to buy organic. But the price! I dither for a full five minutes in front of the milk: Should I continue forking over $6.99 for a gallon of organic or save $3 by switching to regular?
For help, I employ an eye-opening calculation Wood calls The Power of 365. "Multiply any potential savings — even $1 — by 365 days a year, and you'll get a graphic sense of its value," she says. "A $4 latte every day costs $1,460. That's a pricey habit."
Since I only buy milk twice a week, I use a modified version: The Power of 104. The upshot: I spend $312 more every year so we can drink milk from hormone-free cows. Is it worth it?
After much agonized mulling, I fall back on my own mathematical equation: Guilt Calculus. The guilt I feel over spending the extra money is less than the guilt I would feel over watching my kids chug down glass after glass of potentially chemical-laden milk every day. I buy the organic.
In the produce department, I'm paralyzed again by the organic-versus-conventional impasse. Instead of pears and plums, I see difficult choices. Brain sputtering from decision deadlock, I leave with just one bag of organic grapes ($3.99 a pound, versus $2.49 for conventional). When I mention my produce-aisle panic to Susan, healthy eater extraordinaire, she admits, "I don't buy everything organic anymore. I use the Environmental Working Group's guide to pesticides on produce to decide when I can get away with conventional." It lists 53 fruits and vegetables from most to least contaminated (ewg.org/foodnews/list). I print it out and stick it in my purse to use as a shopping guide. Phew....
WEEK TWO REALITY CHECK
$80.08 under budget. I rock!
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