Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Guilt...and honesty about my spending

This is today's topic. So why guilt?

This is a blog about Frugal, Healthy, and, mostly, though I do delve into other topics. And I do a pretty good job of feeding my family in this manner. But I don't want to give anyone the wrong impression about my awesomeness (or lack thereof).

Earlier this year, I was at a race, and Kalli came up with her friend Krystle to run it. My friend Monica and I were running the 10 miles. As we were chatting before the start, Kalli mentioned my blog and how much I spend on food (which Monica hadn't heard of, and asked "a lot or a little?"). Now, I don't really go out of my way to *hide* my blog, but a lot of my friends wouldn't quite understand my obsession. Some of my good friends think I'm downright weird. Monica said something like "frugal food, what?" and we moved on. (I do, for example, have a link to it on my facebook page, so I'm not hiding it.)

But I try not to toot my own horn too much. Why? Well, my food is frugal, but it's not the be-all-and-end-all of frugal. I could feed my family for less, if I chose to. I could shop at Walmart if I was willing to drive to one. (But really? Why? I don't approve of their methods and the cost of gas would make it prohibitive. Though when visiting family, they are the only game in town.)

There are other blogs, websites, and books that show you how to feed your family for way less than I spend. People who combine coupons and sales and feed themselves for $5 day, $3 a day, $1 a day. Grow their own food. Order in bulk 25 lb bags of rice. I don't do that. And if you do, you are beyond me. All I can really do to help is come up with more creative ways to serve beans and rice. Still, I certainly feel that my blog can be helpful to others. For example, if you look here, you'll find the approximate weekly/monthly cost for families' food at home at four levels. When I'm really working hard, I fit us into the Thrifty Plan. Lately, we are firmly in the "Low Cost" plan however. If your grocery bill is higher than mine, I can help. Maybe.

So that's where the guilt comes in. For much of 2009, I was doing this alternating month thing. One month, budget $160. Next month, $320. I made it to September, and then I just got tired. At that point, our budget moved in the direction of about $425/month, not including the CSA. I think. Maybe. Why maybe?

Here are my confessions of a sort-of frugal cook:
1. I buy food at the farmer's market every week. Using cash. And I don't write it down anymore. It's probably about $10 a week. But I don't really know. So my total at the end of the year? Not gonna be accurate.
2. Sometimes wine gets counted in my food budget.
3. I've been buying convenience foods. As much as enviromental me hates the mini yogurts and applesauces - I have a four year old. And he likes them. And dang it, I'm buying them right now. And they are pricey.
4. I buy school lunch for my son once a week. Not counted in the food budget.
5. My food isn't at frugal as it could be. I don't buy very much processed food. When I do, I read labels. And I won't eat certain things. So I may end up paying more for something, because I refuse to eat HFCS or MSG or partially-hydrogenated vegetable oil.
6. I don't shop around for loss leaders on produce. I prefer to buy local and organic. Which means my totals on my recipes might be higher than yours could be. I can afford it.
7. I don't eat much meat. So, it's easy to eat more cheaply when you are doing beans and rice.
8. I get a lot of free avocados at work.
9. My spreadsheet of grocery store prices? (a spreadsheet version of a price book) - haven't updated it in a year and a half.
10. I don't do coupons. Not anymore. The amount of effort I was spending to cut out 20 coupons a week and comb the sales flyers, for the one chance every month where I could get brown rice or whole wheat pasta for cheaper than Trader Joe's...was not worth it. And, I've been into this frugal thing for a long while. In fact, read my post here, where I listed the coupons available one weekend and the likelihood that I would use them. No combination of sales on cheese with coupons is cheaper than Costco. Dried beans are cheapest at Smart and Final. TJ's has good prices on pasta and rice, and it's rare to find a sale that is better. The effort to cut coupons and get sales on toilet paper, tissues, and toothpaste? Also not worth the money.

If I find coupons on local organic produce though? I'm there!

Some of my methods, however, can still be helpful, as long as you aren't looking for "please just tell me what to eat!" Like:
1. KISS. Keep it simple stupid. A main dish and a side dish is going to be cheaper than a four course meal.
2. Shop wisely. Figure out WHAT you like to eat and HOW to get it more cheaply. Coupons. Loss leaders. Buying in bulk. Discount stores. Direct from the farm. Ethnic stores. If you are coming to my blog to figure out how to get inexpensive meat and cook it for your family 2x a are in the wrong place. If you want tips on how to save money on produce...come on down!
3. Cook wisely. What kinds of food are you eating? Are there more frugal meals that your family likes? Increase their frequency in the rotation.
4. Leftover management. Both creating leftovers so that you do not have to eat out and eating them so that you aren't wasting money.
5. Eat wisely. I have to say, when my bills get out of control, it's the snacks. The chocolate, crackers, pre-made hummus, chips and salsa. Which I don't need, really. I have nuts, dried and fresh fruit, bread, cheese...
6. Consider your time and what it's worth. If it's worth it to you to shop at 6 different stores to save money, have at it. If you want to drive 40 miles to the nearest Walmart (assuming other stores are closer), go for it. But gas isn't free. I've found that three of my "regular" stores are not regular anymore, because they are in areas of town where I just don't need to go anymore. And it seems silly to drive 10 miles round trip, which is 1/3 gallon of gas, or $1.25, to save $1-2 on something that's on sale.


Anonymous said...

thank you for your honesty Marcia but i still think you are an inspiration to me. bill and i have really cut back and i love saving money. hope you have a wonderful day! and you are still the frugal queen to me :)

Amy B said...

wow, thanks so much for this post. I get the feeing some of my friends and family are embarrassed for me, for blogging about my grocery bills. But I've realized that I can't afford to eat like most people in my circle. I work 40 hours a week, yet,truthfully, I struggle to support myself. The thing about groceries is, if you're not careful you can easily overspend. Supermarkets are built to maximize profits. Our mass culture doesn't value eating with health in mind, or frugality. Sadly, I have low income friends who waste money they don't have on convenience foods, because they don't know how else to eat. I love your blog and I get alot of good ideas from it. Thanks for keeping it real : )

Daniel said...

I don't think you should feel guilty at all.

This blog is extremely inspiring because you are a normal person (you have kids, you work, you run a household, etc.) who shows us, in practical terms, how to eat good, healthy food at a reasonable cost. You set an example for all the other normal people out there and show that it can be done. That's what's important.

The fact that you're not the very best frugalista in the entire world! or that you occasionally break your own rules from time to time in no way invalidates the insights you share here.

Keep it going!

Casual Kitchen

Milehimama said...

5. My food isn't at frugal as it could be. I don't buy very much processed food. When I do, I read labels. And I won't eat certain things. So I may end up paying more for something, because I refuse to eat HFCS or MSG or partially-hydrogenated vegetable oil.

Well, here I think you have confused FRUGAL for CHEAP. Frugal sometimes spends more for higher quality, knowing they will save money down the line. So, in the long run it might actually NOT be frugal to buy HFCS MSG laden food. There is more to frugality than just cost - it's getting the best deal, and spending money in a way that serves your familie's priorities, not just mindless priorities.

Have you checked out Mambo Sprouts for organic coupons? Sometimes they have organic produce coupons.

I used to shop at several different stores weekly chasing loss leaders, but now I don't. I know that rice and beans and spices are the cheapest at the Mexican market, but only go there maybe every 2 months. I know that canned tomatoes are cheapest at WalMart, but I don't shop there every week (and when I do, it's only for household goods and those tomatoes!)

I still think you are frugal because you are mindfully choosing where, when, and how you spend instead of being a victim of circumstance.

Laura said...

I REALLY like this post - it's frugal eating for real people instead of penny pinching like crazy. I do disagree with some of your choices, but hey, I'm sure you'd disagree with some of my splurges too. In the end, that's what personal finance is about though: figuring out what YOU want to spend on, and cutting back on things that don't matter to you so that you can afford the splurges.

Lana said...

I did the Hunger Challenge for a week for SF Food Bank earlier in the year, trying to feed my family of four on $4.00 a day. It was completely "doable" - the hardest part was calculating and dividing, trying to count in all the staples I already had in the pantry and the fridge.
But I cannot do that all the time.
I am glad you posted that link - I found it several years ago. We definitely fit into the "thrifty" plan, if I don't count wine (I still count toiletries and cleaning supplies).
When I had my own garden, it was much easier. But even now I shop for produce and most meat at the local Persian store (I wish we had a farmer's market at more convenient times), Costco is definitely a regular stop, as is TJ.
But like you said, each family has its own needs and sometimes little guilty pleasures.
Our youngest is Type 1 diabetic, and it's much easier to send a packaged pudding or apple sauce to school with her, because the carbs are already listed on the label.
I would do most of the calculating myself, but I work outside the home, and husband finds the more convenient ways to save time:)
I like your blog and I am glad I stopped by via CK.