We are trying something new in the Suddenly Frugal household throughout the month of March. We are trying to make it through the month with no new spending.
In a way we are kind of like that book from a couple of years ago called Not Buying It. It revolved around a couple’s decision not to buy anything for a year except their necessities–and I think they got some grief for what they considered to be quote unquote necessities, such as a daily New York Times habit.
For us, here’s how we’re running this experiment. We are spending nothing (ideally) except to stay current on our monthly expenses–bills that we have paid automatically on our credit card or through online banking. And we are spending (albeit hopefully less) on food shopping.
Even with food shopping, we’re trying to cut back a bit by limiting how much we spend for each trip to the grocery store. On average, we’ve been spending anywhere from $800 to $1,000 a month on groceries. That just seems like too much. And even though I was trying to keep grocery shopping to about $150 to $200 per trip, once I reviewed our recent credit card statements, I realized something–together, my husband and I were making way more than one trip a week to the grocery store.
If we ran out of milk, we would run to the corner convenience store, where milk is about $1 more expensive. If I decided to bake something and needed ingredients, I’d hop over to the supermarket that’s walkable to my house but that’s also about 20% more than the farther-down-the-road grocery store where I do my regular shopping. Or if I got an email from the fundraising grocery shopping service that the school offers, reminding me to place an order, I usually would. And trust me it was never cheap.
So here’s what we did today–we being my husband and me, since he’s been accompanying me to the supermarket lately.:
- We meal planned for more than one week at a time. We did this by not only looking to see what food was on sale at the grocery store but also by taking a dish–say grilled chicken–and discussing three different ways we could serve it (served on a bun, with a side of rice and veggies, or in a salad). Voila, three meals. We did the same with many of our favorites–breakfast for dinner, pasta and pork. In addition, I perused the A Year of Crockpotting blog to find various slow-cooker recipes that use similar ingredients.
- We searched for coupons beyond the Sunday paper. For the longest time I’d been wanting to investigate the notion of printing coupons out from the Internet, because that seemed like it could be a huge time- and money-saver. So today I joined CouponMom and downloaded their coupon-printing software. And with that I was able to print out a couple dollars worth of coupons, bar code and all, and use them at the checkout lane. The cashier didn’t give me any grief about these coupons. (I have to say, I was surprised. I really thought she was going to reject them. But, alas, she didn’t.)
- We stocked up on anything that was on sale. Pork loin, for example, was $1.99/pound in the butcher department. So we had the butcher give us four 1-pound packages of it, which will give us four dinners at least. Peanut butter was also on sale (too bad I didn’t have a coupon) as were black beans. So was canned corn. Pasta? A buck a box. We got 10.
- We froze what we weren’t going to use immediately. As of this writing I’ve got about 15 pounds of chicken and four pounds of pork in my freezer. (The chicken was also on sale for $1.99 a pound.) I’d already defrosted a previously purchased package of chicken over the weekend, and that’s what I’ll use for Monday’s dinner–maybe Tuesday, too.
- We bought gift cards to pay for our purchase. Our idea for this month was that we were going to try to limit our grocery purchases to $600 only. While at the grocery store, we picked up six $100 gift cards. We used one full gift card and a portion of another for yesterday’s grocery shopping. (We’d spend $222.) Once these gift cards are gone, it’s going to be “clean out the pantry” meals for us. But hopefully it won’t get to that because of all of our advance planning.
We shared our experiment with our kids, who usually have more cash on hand than my husband and I do. So they weren’t too affected by our notion of not spending in March. But I could tell the message sunk in. On Sunday morning (that would be yesterday, March 1, the first day of the month), my youngest daughter wanted to get a movie On Demand. After she’d looked through the movie menu, she turned to me and asked, “I should get a free movie, shouldn’t I?” “Yes,” I replied. And she did.
Later that day my husband and I took our eldest daughter to her last softball training class (already paid for in January), and I really could have used another cup of coffee. As we drove by a Dunkin’ Donuts, I had to remind myself that, no, I couldn’t just go spend a buck on a cup of coffee. I hadn’t planned well enough to make a pot of coffee and put it in the thermos to bring with me, and tough! Lucky for me, though, the softball place had free coffee and donuts for parents and kids because it was the last day of class.
Since becoming Suddenly Frugal nearly two years ago, we’ve done a great job of cutting back on a lot of things. But after our fall off the frugal wagon last month–and then reviewing our spending in the process of getting ready to do our taxes next week–I realized something: even though we’re a lot better than we used to be with spending, there’s still room for improvement. And that’s our goal for March–actively improving our spending by not spending at all. I’ll be sure to keep everyone posted as the month progresses.