At this time of year, regardless of religious affiliation, most people spend most of the month in a state of atonement. The credit card statements mock us with the accrued interest, and we often spend more time talking to God than to our spouses.
“Oh, God; why did I spend all that money?”
“Oh, God; what was I thinking when I spent $100 on that Christmas sweater?”
“Lord, have mercy on my soul. When Harry sees this bill, he’s going to kill me.”
Good luck with that. If it’s any consolation, I forgive you. You’ll figure it out—by September—for sure.
Budgeting is such a crass word, second only to the dreaded concept of dieting. Having a zero credit card balance seemed more like a fantasy to me than a goal.
The debit card changed my thinking habits. It didn’t change my pitiful bank balance, but it created a reality to spending money—my money. The debit card allowed me to pay cash without carrying currency.
As someone who has never recorded a cheque in my lifetime, overdraft protection solved the problem. The interest rate was far lower than my credit card and my bank statements made me aware of my expenses. Unlike a credit card balance, seeing my bank account in the red, created a greater urgency to correct the matter. I felt broke and panicky until it leeched back up into positive numbers.
Why did I never think about my credit card balance in the same way is beyond me. Maybe it was that minimum payment box that distracted me, allowing my fantasy of affluence to fester.
A wise man once said, “It’s not how much you earn; it’s how much you have left at the end of the day.” Those words stuck to me like Crazy Glue.
When I faced the fact I needed to get out of debt, I took a hard look at my expenses. My set costs, the mortgage, car loan and taxes could not be shaved, but I was spending an obscene amount on groceries.
I was a pleaser, the kind of wife and mother that tried to make sure everything my family might want was in the fridge. Every single week I’d throw out wilted lettuce, limp vegetables and leftovers I meant to use, but forgot about.
Despite my efforts, my teenager would strike the time-worn pose, opening the refrigerator, and staring at the contents, and announce there was nothing to eat. “Can we order pizza?”
Frustrated by the waste. I circulated a memo. Yes, I actually did type up the directive and gave copies to all household members.
“Write down what you want and will eat, and I’ll buy it. If it’s not on the list, don’t expect it in the pantry.
No one took the memo seriously. Fools! I did not receive a response from anyone, but by George, I saved fifty or sixty bucks that week and no one starved. Later, I make the announcement that if they wanted treats, they could buy them. I had a chip-free household for years.
My grocery bill was obscene to begin with, but I surprised myself when I managed to cut it in half. It was a good change of pace to see an empty fridge before I went shopping.
I don’t like rules that make me feel deprived, but once I started seeing extra money in my wallet, the whole shopping thing became a game. I wanted to see how little money I could spend and still feed the gang interesting and nutritious meals.
I used to gasp at the price of a ham, and save that purchase for special occasions, but in my new state of mind, I forked over the forty dollars and managed to reduce the per-person cost per meal to a ridiculously low amount. We’d have the traditional ham with scalloped potatoes then instead of expensive cold-cuts; I’d shave a pile of it for sandwiches, freeze slices, chop ham for omelettes and soups and used the bone for stock.
The lowly egg became my friend. I made quiche and salad, easy to make and so cheap. Potato pancakes, Latkes, were not budget fare, they were considered a treat, yet the ingredients amounted to pennies.
Dollar stores have the cheapest name-brand cleaning supplies I’ve ever seen—a steal. Yes, they’re often in smaller sizes, but if a mindful buyer compared prices, ounce-for-ounce, she’d see there was still a substantial savings from buying it at the supermarket.
The outside perimeter of a grocery store offers the best value for the money. The minute you start to wander the aisles, stores make big profits.
When is a bargain a bargain? We are a gullible lot, assuming that volume purchasing guarantee savings. My son sent me pictures of a local grocery store display of Kraft Dinner. The price for a single box was $1.17, a four-pack was offered for $4.00, and the twelve-pack was offered at $14.97. Cheaper by the dozen, huh? Do the math.
A wise shopper knows what the price should be for any article they are planning to buy. Many major retailers use a hi/low shopping strategy, marking up products up to five times their cost to establish a regular retail price then off-price the goods at 50% off or more. The sale price is actually fair market value, but it is common to find even a lower price in retail stores that do not pander to the ‘on sale’ mentality of most shoppers.
Today there are dozens of ways to save money. Coupons are not just in flyers, but available on-line. Price matching is becoming common practice. A shopper need only present the cashier with evidence of a cheaper price at a competitor and an immediate discount will be applied to your purchases.
Deciding to get the most for your money requires an attitude adjustment, and more work, but when the savings are in your wallet, it’s worth the effort.