Monday, July 26, 2010

Budgeting Experiment

I know that most people who visit my blog are looking for bankruptcy-specific things, so if you're not interested in my own experiments in budgeting, please feel free to skip this one. I'm trying to keep us out of debt again in the future so it's relevant to me.

I recently switched my way of budgeting as an experiment. Instead of spending $140 a week for the three of us (including all household items, food, and eating out) I spent $20 a day. Yes - $20 x 7 = $140, so it's not a difference in amount, rather in timing.

The first thing that changed was that I was shopping almost every day. Now, I'm out and about town and the grocery store and fruit stand are pretty much on my way home from everywhere, so this wasn't a big deal in regards to time or gas. (Though I did notice the kid expected a cookie at Publix every time we went. There were some tears involved.)

One of the rules that I made was that I could buy two days worth of food if I was some place like Whole Foods and did not want to make two trips as it's out of the way. So I might spend $40 on Monday, but it would cover Monday and Tuesday. Three days at a time was my max, and I tried really hard to buy for each day.

The second rule was that I could not borrow ahead. If I wanted a super special meal or to eat out or something like that I had to wait until the money was available. I couldn't use Tuesday's money to pay for Monday's food.

One of the things that I noticed was that I got a lot less food. I've changed my eating habits some recently, so this didn't affect me a huge amount, but it did make me feel a little pantry-paranoid.  I've been a big fan of and using coupons and stockpiling. Suddenly I wasn't coming home with $60 worth of free food after spending $100. I was spending $20 and getting $20 worth of food.

The reason for this is two-fold. One, it's harder to use some of the coupons I've gotten used to. The Albertson's ad comes in the mail and often has a $5/$50 coupon. Publix takes competitors coupons. Two, the things I'm buying are much more whole-food and don't usually have as many coupons.

I should add another reason. I'm not getting the best price per ounce. If I only have $3 left to buy salsa, for example, I'm not going to get the big jug that will last us for weeks and weeks. I'm going to get the small jar that only lasts a few uses. (We love salsa and went through the stuff I made really fast, so we're back to buying it until next tomato season at the local farm.) Another example is when buying training diapers, I'm not buying the giant pack and saving $0.05/each. I'm buying the smaller pack which costs $10.99 or $8.99 if on sale.

I was, however, eating much healthier and I was excited about all the different things that I could get. Instead of making a menu for several days, I would figure out what I wanted for supper and plan on leftovers for lunch the next day. I'd get a few different snacks. We made the switch to grass-fed organic meats. They taste better and are healthier for us. We switched over to only organic dairy and local grass-fed organic milk. Both these things are more expensive. (Though the milk is only $0.70/gallon more at the fruit stand than regular Publix milk is at Publix.)

I'm not eating grain right now (that's a whole other topic, not one that's really relevant, I don't think) so I didn't stock up on things like spaghetti and crackers and bread and rice  and popcorn like I normally do. My pantry is a little bare right now. That makes me a little nervous.

The experiment was exciting for a few days. More like a week, actually. But then things like cat litter and diapers needed to be purchased. Suddenly I had to figure out how to eat on only a few dollars a day and do it on my new diet guidelines.

I decided to keep my budget at the $140/week but to go twice a week, roughly $70 every three days. This is somewhat where I'm at now, though I'm not as strict about it. I was getting pretty anal about the $20/day. We compromised on the grass-fed beef and decided that whenever possible, we'll go that route. However, if we're not able to get enough other nutrient-rich foods with our budget, we'll get regular meat. (We've looked at buying 1/4 to 1/2 a grass-fed local cow, but we don't have the money saved up right now.)

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