Monday, May 23, 2011

Taking Control of Your Finances: Part 1

I start this blog series for two reasons:
  1. It's been a long time since I've done a finance blog, and I can be honest and say that half of the reason that I'm able to organize thoughts even to blog is because of the peace that has come from having our budget in place.  In the event that there are new readers, or old readers wanting to make their finances new, I felt it was worthy of being touched on again.  
  2. I'm reviewing our finances in the month of June, and it seemed like good timing to remind myself how to do this.  I also thought it'd be fun to do together and hear the feedback from you all!  SO - this blog series is written in such a way that there are 5 easy steps to revolutionize your finances in the month of June.  Obviously a month isn't long enough to pay off all of your debt and be financially secure, but it sure is long enough to start some good habits to lead you to those goals.  So my goal in these blogs are to give you easy steps that are not time consuming that anyone can incorporate into their lives and apply.
So part 1 is tackling the place where, if you are like me, people spend their most money without noticing it: at the grocery store.  I'm not just talking groceries here, I'm talking diapers if you have kids, I'm talking toiletries and cleaning supplies, I'm even talking all of your paper products.  All of the money that you would, essentially, spend at the grocery store.

This is how my financial revolutionary journey began.  I saw a friend who realized how much money she was spending at the grocery store each month, and it dramatically changed the way she shopped.  Which brings me to your first step for revolutionizing grocery shopping in the month of June:

  1. Sit down and get a realistic idea of what you are actually spending at the grocery store.  And I mean really.  Every stop in for a loaf of bread and gallon of milk, every candy bar, every grocery trip, every box of diapers, every bottle of shampoo and stick of deoderant should be included in this total.  Use your debit or credit card?  Get your statements out and tally it up.  Use cash?  Think about every purchase you made and guess a little high.  If you are like me there's something you've forgotten.  Finish this step before even moving on to the others.  You need to know that total.  Our total was around *gasp* $475 a month a year and a half ago. 
  2. Look at this number and decide how much you think you could practically cut outI'm going to address couponing here in a minute, so think about coupons when putting this together, but don't rely on them all together.  Life gets busy sometimes.  Don't sell yourself short, though, make it a goal that you know you have to work for! Initially, I cut $225 out of my grocery spending and set my budget at $250 a month, $125 every two weeks.  It made sense for me to divide our grocery budget by the number of 'pay periods' each month, as this is when my grocery budget would "refuel' itself. (Our grocery budget has since been revamped and is now $200 a month.. though it probably won't go much lower.)
  3. Use a method of payment that has a cap, in other words, when the money is gone, the money is gone.  This was the hardest step for us.  We used our debit card for everything.  We thought we could control that spending by controlling our purchases, but let's face it, since we knew the money was in the bank, we did a whole lot of small "it's just this once" purchases that killed our budget.  Those small purchases add up.  We use cash as our method of payment, just because there is an emotional response to seeing that money leave your hand and to see, physically, that when it's gone, it's gone.  If you are absolutely against using cash (which we were at the start and now look at us :) ) I do have a few friends who do some interesting things.  One friend keeps only the money in her checking account that is her grocery money.  If she has a $300 grocery budget, there may be $303.27 in her checking account, but it's never far over her actual budget.  Everything else goes in their savings account (easy to do now with online banking), and she watches their grocery budget like a hawk.  She has to as to not be overdrawn.  Another friend uses a gift card from the grocery store she shops at and reloads it every pay period with her grocery money.  Either way, there is a limited number of funds that are 'disposable' at that point. 
  4. Menu plan, practically.  What do I mean by that?  I mean go look in your refrigerator.  Go look in your freezer.  Check out the pantry.  Brainstorm what meals could already be made with stuff that you have in your house or could be with very few, inexpensive purchases.  Have chili seasoning, beans, and hamburger?  A couple cans of tomatoes or tomato sauce spends maybe a dollar out of your grocery budget for a batch of chili that could probably feed you for a dinner meal, and lunches again for leftovers.  Have frozen chicken and a marinade?  Make some homemade "poor mans" garlic bread (you know, bread out of the loaf, butter and garlic salt), and buy a veggie to compliment the meal, and you have another meal for the price of the veggie... and it's healthy.  Be creative.  This is the most important step of revolutionizing your grocery budget (yes, even over coupons, the coupons help, but you'll see how later.)  Set out to make your grocery list based on what you have on your menu plan.  Maybe you'll plan for a week at a time.  If you do, make sure you divi your grocery budget into weekly increments to see how much you have to spend.  I, sometimes, plan for two weeks at a time and leave enough money in my grocery budget to buy perishables or things I know we'll run out of like lunch meat, bread or fresh fruit (a staple in our house).  Then, when you grocery shop, stick to the list.  This step helps a ton of things!  It helps me not have to wonder 'what's for dinner tonight?', because I know what items I have in my house to make meals.  It expands my menu because to use up an item, say rice, I find recipes to use the items I have in my house... and now we have jambalaya :)  It makes grocery shopping faster and easier, and I don't end up throwing out a ton of food that I didn't use... or leave the grocery store with hundreds of dollars in groceries and wonder "now, what can I fix for supper."  It's definitely a win win, and may take you a half hour or so the first time, but you'll be surprised how easy it gets and how much money it saves you.  By the way, I normally put on my menu plan a day to eat out so that I know I have a day coming where I don't have to cook, I then set money aside out of my grocery or miscellaneous budget to do so.  Don't forget to add in breakfast foods, things you may need for lunch (but remember leftovers make good lunches), and snack foods!  
  5. Coupon.  I know, I know.  Life is busy, it's confusing, it takes too much time.  And you know, you may find that you are right, but I think it's worth a valliant effort for a month before you totally write it off.  Here's what I'm asking you to do: clip some coupons, either in your Sunday paper or print them online ( is a good resource).  Put a small amount of your grocery budget aside for couponed items.  (You'll see why this is important in just a few sentences.)  When you have your coupons clipped, take an hour - yes, set aside an hour - on the day of week that your grocery store (ahem - grocery store, not super center) puts out their new ad (you can usually look at these online), and see what coupons you have for things that are in their ad.  Often times you'll see that items come up cheap or sometimes free.  It helps to know your grocery stores coupon policy.  The most important thing I know about Kroger's coupon policy, they double coupons .50 or less.  Two weeks ago I bought 12 boxes of Ronzoni pasta (the pasta that we use), and they paid me .12 to take them off of their hands.  The pasta will last us, probably, the rest of the year and I paid nothing for it.  Last week we bought Sister Schubert's frozen rolls (5 packages to be exact) and a box of texas toast that we use for many of our meals, and I spent $6 for all of them.  They freeze so they last a long time, and I saved well over half on what I would have spent full price for later.  Obviously I won't use all of those in my menu plan, but (here's there important part of couponing), these purchase help build a stockpile of items for me to use in next week or next month's menu plan.  Without purchasing these, I run out of 'the stuff you already have in your house' to make the menu plan with!  Occasionally I use coupons for items that may be on my menu plan that current week, but more often than not, my best couponing is helping me save money later, not now.  See what I mean?  You need those stockpiled items to make the menu plan later.  Trust me, it's worth it, and not near as hard as it seems.  You can even use websites such as Southern Savers who will show you what items are on your stores sale ad that week and will match up coupons for you, many times giving you websites where you can print them!  It makes it really easy!  Start slow and work your way into it!  When you start seeing the money saved and how much it helps your menu planning, I'm betting you'll want to continue it!
And that's it's it.  I'm asking you to try that for one month.  Spend the first week of the month getting into the swing of things.  Once it gets easier you'll be able to make more drastic changes to your budget, but think about what you could be doing with an extra $200 a month or more!

Check back tomorrow for week 2 of June's activity - creating a budget.


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