So today, I got a glimpse of what my life was like in 2009, when I embarked on the grocery budget challenge. Back then, I was aiming for $160 or $320 a month (alternating months), not including the pre-paid CSA.
The problem with a tight budget is the inability (or difficulty) in stocking up. In 2009, the $320 a month months were stock up months. And of course, I rolled over unspent money to the next month.
This year, I started my $80 a week challenge 3 weeks in, and was already over budget by about $100 when I started. So there is no "overflow" and won't be until probably April. I periodically check to see when I break even. I am lucky that I have bulk chicken breasts and pastured pork in the freezer right now, but when that runs out, it's going to be even more of a challenge than it is now.
Case in point: Oats.
I've been making granola a lot lately. For V-day today, I decided to make oatmeal cookies. When I checked the pantry, I realized I was short on both oats and brown sugar. I knew a grocery shop was in the cards today, but I have only $22 left for the week.
My memory tells me that oats are generally $0.80 on sale, and I can usually find them for $1 - $1.25 a pound not on sale.
Well, my memory sucks. Here's what happened today:
1. I wasn't going to check out Costco, because it's out by work (11 miles away).
2. I remembered that oats are cheap at Whole Foods, and sometimes Lazy Acres.
3. Since I was heading to Trader Joe's, I opted for Whole Foods because it is nearby.
4. I needed milk at Ralphs.
- Ralphs: 42 oz oats on sale for $3.49. $1.32 a pound. A little expensive. Also needed brown sugar. $1.69/lb. Opted to skip Ralphs.
- Trader Joe's: 2 lb oats for $4. $2 a pound. Nope. Brown sugar: $3.49 a pound. Nope.
- Whole Foods: Bulk oats at $1.79 a pound, and packaged was even more. Nope.
- Albertson's (my regular store): I was sure it would be cheaper here. $3.99 for 42 ounces, or $1.52 a pound. And brown sugar $1.79 a pound.
At this point I couldn't stomach another stop, not even going back to Ralph's, which is on the way home. So I spent $0.60 extra and learned a lesson (again).
When you are on a budget and out of something, it's a problem. You end up spending more for non-sale items or smaller items. (I also spent too much on hand soap yesterday.) In order to get great deals, you have to keep your eye out for prices AND for the amount that you have. If you are out of something, then you can just decide to make something else instead - this is a seriously good way to save money, and I've gotten better at it over the last few weeks.
So for today, I could have skipped the oats until I got a better price, and made chocolate chip cookies instead of oatmeal cookies. But my husband doesn't like chocolate, so what's the point of making a Valentine's day "treat" if it's not a treat for your honey?
In the end, I split the dough, and half are oatmeal raisin, half oatmeal chocolate chip, because my big boy doesn't like raisins.