Archive for the ‘budgeting’ Category

Saving Money on Pet Food

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2008

When I wrote my post on common sacrifices in budgeting to get out of debt, I forgot to include one major area we saved money: pet food.  I used to buy high quality pet food for my dog and cats.  When I say “high quality” I am talking $28-33 per 40 pound bag for the dog and $20-23 per 20 pound bag for the cats.

Warning: what follows might be TMI for some of y’all. (TMI=Too Much Information)

Last year, after much deliberation, I switched the dog to the Kroger brand of dog food, which is now up to only $10 for a 40 pound bag.  However, there is a non-monetary price for that decision considering I turned in my Army-issue gas mask when I left the service in 2005.  The cheap dog food gives my Rottweiler gas!

To make matters worse, hubby has hidden his Army-issue gas mask to keep me from putting my eyeglass inserts into it and using it at night or while he is at work (my eyeglasses are thick enough “to see into the future” as the joke goes).  He knows I can sleep in a mask if need be, having learned that little trick in Kuwait and Iraq.  So I am stuck with suffering noisily or chasing the dog with a can of air freshner and lighting a large amount of incense and scented candles.  It might not be so bad if she wasn’t a house dog who only goes outside to leave yard mines and puddles.  Maybe it wouldn’t be as bad if she were a smaller dog (she is about 130 pounds of spoiled wanna-be lap dog).

As for the cats, they simply refused to eat the Kroger brand of cat food.  There was much meowing and pitiful crying the one time I bought a bag of it.  They don’t seem to mind the Wal-Mart brand of cat food, which is $12 for a 20 pound bag.  Of course, there are olifactory consequences to that decision as well.  They might not get gas (that I can tell) but they do stink bomb the litterboxes now.  Did I mention there are three of them?

Days like today make me seriously reconsider my decision to switch to the cheaper pet food brands.  Right now I am really suffering.  Perhaps I should refigure my cost analysis to include the extra expense of air freshner, incense, and scented candles into the equation.  Or maybe do another sweep-and-search for hubby’s gas mask…

Common Sacrifices to Get Out of Debt

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2008

This phrase has turned up in my search hits, and I also promised Middle-Aged Man over on his blog I would do this post.  Most people who want to get out of debt quickly will make a budget, then start cutting. 

Naturally, the first thing you need is a budget!  Once that is drawn up and you see where your money is going (and how much) here are the most common budget items that go on the chopping block and get sacrficed:

  • Eating out: Restaurants can kill your cash flow fast.  trust me on this one, it is a vice I struggle with myself.  While dine-in restaurants can take large chunks out of your budget at one time, my problem has always been the convenient and “cheap” fast food drive-through while out and about and pressed for time.  Yes, that’s a double whammy: the food is less than nutritious and it hurts the budget.  When I first started out on the budget last year, I allocated only $20 per week for all eating out.
  • Cable or satellite television: This one waited until last summer to go on the chopping block.  Now I am not even sure why I waited!  Since there is no “a la carte” channel choosing option available in our area, we were paying for 60 channels and only watching about 15 of them.  Last fall, I decreed that until the cable company offers the “Nerd Channel package” we weren’t going to bring this back (nerd channels: Sc-Fi, TLC, Discover, A&E, History, etc.  You know, stuff “only nerds watch” that I do enjoy.)
  • Cell phone package: If you are under under contract like we are, then the cell phone calling package gets stripped down to the lowest level.  The teenagers in the house will cry and moan, but as an adult I personally see no reason to text message “lol” and “what u doin?” all day.
  • Store brand groceries: Buy the store brand at the grocery store instead of the name brand!  Usually they are made by the same company anyway, so this isn’t much of a sacrifice except in image.
  • No “window shopping” for entertainment: So-called window shopping and mall-crawling end up in impulse purchases that we so often don’t need.  If you need to venture into the land of retail temptation, make a list and stick to it!
  • Cut the clothing budget: Buy only what you need.  I don’t consider myself a clotheshorse, yet I have enough clothing in my closet to last two weeks without doing laundry.  Honestly, I don’t know how this happened.  Children outgrowing clothes is a necessity.  Work clothes are a necessity.  A nice outfit you might wear only once a quarter isn’t.
  • Movies or DVDs: I haven’t been able to stomach movie theater ticket prices for about half a decade now, unless you are talking about the dollar movie theater (which is now $1.50 even!), but impulse buying DVDs were a drain on our finances.  We now have a movie-buying policy: If we won’t watch a DVD at least five times we don’t buy it.
  • Home phone (Land line): If you have a cell phone package that includes long-distance, you can cut your home phone service to local only, then strip off all the little add-ons like call waiting, caller ID, and about a dozen other little services that I don’t even recognize anymore. My monthly home phone bill is under $21 a month!  That is for local calling only, which is the only thing I use it for anyway (and to receive incoming calls from friends and relatives who have had that phone number for years).  I’m even thinking of getting rid of the home phone completely.

This is just a list of the simple little budget sacrifices that often add up to a surprisingly large number!  Cutting back on these things often doesn’t even feel like a large sacrifice after a short time of adjustment (usually two months max).  I haven’t even touched the larger sacrifices some folks make to slash their budget like selling vehicles with notes attached or actually going back to a dial-up internet connection (which I shudder at!).

Now I’ll throw out the question: What are some common budget sacrifices that you know of and have done?

Week Two: Teenager on a Food Budget Experiment

Monday, March 31st, 2008

I know somewhere out on this great internet is someone waiting eagerly for this update LOL  What a beautiful fantasy world I live in, huh?  This evening was the Teenager’s second week of grocery shopping for himself!  I am happy to report that I think he did better this time :)  (For new readers, I have put my 14 year old son on a food budget of $35 per week and am allowing him to do his own grocery shopping.)

  • He did not spend the entire allocated weekly amount.  Instead he bought $25 worth of food, leaving him with $10 for a mid-week grocery run should he need it.  If not, he is free to roll that money into next week’s $35.
  • Yes, he bought a full gallon of milk this time!  He is free to drink milk at every meal, at snack, and drown his cereal in it if he so chooses.  Don’t laugh too hard: it IS a possibility.
  • Since he still has fresh fruit left from last week, he did not need to purchase any this week.
  • He bought those fruit and grain bars to take to school or for snack.
  • He bought Kroger’s version of Spaghetti-O’s (yuck) which I had been refusing to buy for him.  Personally, I prefer real pasta.  It tastes better and costs less, but I have told him this before.  He says he likes the Spaghetti-O’s.
  • He bought stuff to make his own quesadillas.
  • He bought his own doughnuts.

When hubby and I hit the doughnut case, we were happy to see it still had doughnuts in it, so we picked out half a dozen.  After we checked out, I asked hubby if we should share with the Teenager and he said he didn’t see why not (we’re not completely heartless after all).  Imagine our amusement when we pushed our cart alongside son’s cart to see an identical box in his!  We had a chuckle (but we can be easily amused I suppose).

Over the past couple years, I have emphasized to son the importance of NEVER ever going grocery shopping when hungry.  In fact it has become a ritual to eat out somewhere before going to the grocery store.  It just occurred to me, that all three of us (myself, hubby, and son) shopped last week on empty stomachs.  This evening, we stuffed ourselves before ever stepping foot into Kroger.  That might have made a difference along with last week’s experience.

So for the second week into this experiment, I am quite pleased with the results.  Son says he is enjoying it as well, as it gives him the freedom to choose his food along with the bonus of getting experience with an important life skill.  Hubby says he is enjoying the peacefulness of no longer listening to us bicker and fuss about food bought or not bought.

Teen on A Budget: The Milk Update

Saturday, March 29th, 2008

Those of y’all following the teenager on a budget saga remember Monday my son only bought a half gallon of milk, smugly convinced HE wasn’t the one who was drinking all the milk in the house.  It didn’t take long for him to realize just how wrong he was about his milk consumption.  Hubby and I have been watching (with amusement) this situation to see if the Teenager could come up with a decent resolution on his own, since the boy only had two dollars left over from his allocated grocery money.

We adults know that if you don’t have sufficient funds in the grocery category, some money gets pulled out of discretionary funds (also known as “fun money”) because food is always more important than nonessentials.  Hubby and I have been watching for some sign that my son has learned this.

Thursday my son asked if I would take him to the post office so he could mail a gift (long story, don’t ask).  I instead volunteered to take him to the grocery store so he wouldn’t have to suffer the shock of how much a convenience store charges for milkMy son replied that if he bought milk, he wouldn’t have enough money to mail his gift.  Since I disagreed with the boy’s order of priorities, I didn’t take him to the post office (and he did not want to go to the grocery store).

Yesterday, my son purchased a bowl of milk from me, carefully doing the calculations starting from the price of a gallon and dividing by how much milk it takes to fill his (super-sized) cereal bowl.  He was a bit dismayed when I rounded that figure up to 85 cents.  I offered to take him to the convenience store if he preferred a real-life example of something called “convenience markup.”  He declined and gave me three quarters and a dime.

I also offered the Teenager the opportunity to do extra chores to earn some milk money.  He knows that extra chores equal extra pay, and that payment is often immediate in those cases.  My baseboards are still dirty, so I guess the boy is just not that interested.  It’s a shame, because cleaning the baseboards is worth between $3-5 depending on how thorough he is.  He could buy an entire gallon of milk if he expended one hour of work.

I could bail him out, but I think that would send the way wrong message to the Teenager.  Yes, I am his mother and I do provide for his food, shelter, clothing, and schooling.  However, my son himself tells me: “Mom, you’ve made your mistakes already.  Please let me make my own mistakes so I can have some kind of experience.”  This is usually in response to my pleading for the boy to learn from my mistakes so he doesn’t have to repeat them.  What can I say?  My son is hard-headed (my mother insists he is just like me in that respect).

So far I have resisted the urge to bail the boy out of his short-sightedness, and refused to indulge his skewed priorities.  He DOES have the money to buy himself more milk, but simply won’t.  He DOES have the opportunity available to do extra chores for extra pay, but so far has not taken initiative.  So his other options are to do without or buy milk by the bowlful at a convenience mark-up price.

Did I mention my son can be stubborn?

Now, I have seen a bit of commentary on a message board calling me a bit harsh for doing this.  I did stop and think about that criticism, but as noted above, the Teenager has the money to buy his own milk, but wants to spend it on something else.  He also has the opportunity to earn money for it, and is simply not interested.  Finally, I really don’t think the boy wants me to bail him out of this.  Judging from his remarks, I think he’s got quite a bit of teen male pride tied into this experiment and rescue-by-mom goes up against that pride.

Basically I’ve just expended a lot of typing to get around to a simple question: do y’all think I am somehow being harsh by not bailing my son out of his milk dilemna?

A Gallon of Milk Costs More Than a Gallon of Gas

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

Today my teenage son made an earth-shattering discovery about life here in America: “A gallon of milk costs more than even a gallon of gas!”  This epiphany came swiftly on the heels of his realization of just how much milk he consumes on his own.  As y’all may recall, last night at the grocery store he only bought a half gallon of milk for himself (details of the teenager’s first shopping trip on his own personal food budget here) and I wondered just how long that half gallon would last him.

Apparently, he realized this morning a half a gallon of milk will not last him long at all.  He poured himself about 6 ounces in a glass, then filled his super-sized cereal bowl up just as he usually does.  He now only has a quarter of a gallon left!  That’s right: his half gallon carton of milk is now half empty.  For those feeling witty, the teenager will not be persuaded it is actually half-full.

It was an interesting (and for me, amusing) conversation as he held the milk carton up for me to see.  I think he is beginning to understand why I was so strict about how much milk he could drink when we all shared a gallon.

“I didn’t think I drank THAT much milk by myself!  I thought you two were drinking it too!”

“No, son, I usually don’t get any milk to drink.  If I am lucky there will be some left for cooking most weeks.”

“This isn’t good, Mom … a gallon of milk costs more than a gallon of gas…” (pausing for thought) “…and I ain’t getting any more grocery money til next week, right?”

I think the first lesson of this experiment just hit home!  After months and months of trying to tell the boy about how grocery prices are rising and how he just can’t eat everything in the pantry and refrigerator unrestrained, I think he has learned the concept on his own in less than 16 hours.  I think he will no longer fill the super-sized cereal bowl to the rim with milk (these cereal bowls are barely smaller than mixcing bowls - only because I refuse to let him use the small mixing bowl for cereal).  I think the tall glasses of milk for each meal and every snack in between may fall by the wayside as well.

I also predict next week the teenager will buy a full gallon, and keep about $5 back from his grocery budget for a midweek milk run.  Of course, I also think my hubby will pour some of our milk into the teenager’s half gallon carton when I’m not looking … but as long as it’s only this week I won’t fuss about it.

This experiment is working out better than I dared to hope!

Related posts about my teenage son and just how much he eats:

Teenager on Food Budget - First Try

Monday, March 24th, 2008

Y’all asked me to post about how my experiment with putting my teenage son on his own food budget is going.  Tonight was our first stab at it, and the testing ground was perhaps the most challenging of all: Wal-Mart.  Yes, I turned my 14yo son loose  on a Wal-Mart with $35 and his own shopping cart!

I would call tonight’s shopping expedition a smashing success.  I fussed at the teenager to make a list, informed him he had to buy his own milk, juice, fruit, pasta, and what-not.  I figure I can cover him on things like condiments and margarine, but he is *SO* on his own with the milk.  Yes, he objected to the milk idea, but I held my ground then pointed out an obvious benefit: with his own milk he won’t hear me throw a fit when he decides to drink a tall glass of it at every single meal and snack time.  I guess it was a huge eye-opening experience for him in the dairy case, since he only bought himself a half-gallon instead of a full gallon!

I know y’all are dying to hear how the kid did: he came in a little better than two dollars under budget for his food!  In fact, before we left he ran and fetched his calculator out of his backpack, with no prompting from me.  After we got back home, he even put his own food away.

If every week is this easy, this may end up being the singly most brilliant idea I have ever had in my entire life!  This shopping trip was free of stress and - dare I say it? - even enjoyable (well, about as enjoyable as a trip to Wal-Mart can be).  I didn’t have to guard my cart against packages “jumping” into the cart.  I didn’t have to listen to “Mom I want…”  And I didn’t have to spend half the time in the store saying “No, no no!”

Hubby is still a bit unsure of the amount of money I am budgeting for the boy’s groceries.  I am trying to reassure hubby that $140 for a month is about the same amount I was spending on feeding the teenager (when I could keep things from jumping into the cart, that is) and is about the same I spend on the two of us adults to eat as well.  I don’t expect my son to be a natural bargain-hunting coupon-clipping frugal shopping machine … at least not immediately LOL so I tried to figure in a bit of “wiggle room” in the amount of money.  I just don’t plan to up it any time soon, so if inflation kicks in the teen will have to learn how to really do some aggressive shopping.

There it is, folks.  Week one of the teenage boy doing his own grocery shopping on $35 per week.  I have to admit, I am pretty proud of him.  When I asked son how he liked the experience, he said he definitely likes this plan.  Now he won’t get any more grocery money until next week … so it should be interesting to see just how long that little half-gallon of milk lasts!

Budgeting for Irregular Income

Friday, March 21st, 2008

OK, enough opining for this week.  How about a useful post?  One of the common “excuses” for not doing a budget is “I never know how much money I am going to make/bring home because I am not on a set income.”  Bah!  (Fiddlesticks!)  That excuse is just weak!  If you work on commission or tips you can still make a budget.  Irregular income is no excuse, you still need a battle plan for your money.

While most of our household income is fixed (about 75% of it) I still bring home some irregular income because I work on tips.  I still need a plan for what to do with that money, or it ends  up burning a hole in my pocket and “disappearing” like unbudgeted money usually does.

When you don’t have a guaranteed income level, you need to shift to a prioritized spending plan, where you list out your expenses in the order of importance.  If you have no fixed income, then your entire budget is a list of spending priorities:

  • Food:  should always come first!  This is grocery money, not restaurant money, with the absolute bare minimum amount listed.
  • Housing/shelter/utilities:  You need a roof over your head and your heat and electricity and water to stay on.
  • Transportation: this is where the vehicle notes, driving insurance, and gas money if you have those expenses, or a bus pass if you use public transportation.  Everyone needs a method of getting to work and back.
  • Necessary clothing: Clothing required for work or growing children, and you should probably budget the bare minimum and put “wants” further down the list.
  • Insurance: health, life, and disability insurances are all part of a good financial plan.
  • Minimum payments for debts (if owed):  Down here is where you put the minimum payments for things like credit cards, NOT above housing!!  I have never understood why some folks will pay their credit card bills before buying groceries or paying their rent/mortgage.
  • Discretionary spending: HERE is where all the fun stuff should be … below all of the necessities.  This is where eating out money and vacation spending and fun stuff belongs.

OK, so what happens when you run out of money before you run out of list items?  You draw a line where the money runs out.  Anything below that line doesn’t get paid

Dave Ramsey tells a very humorous story of when that happened to him, and he got a collection call for some company “below the line.”  The collector was quite shocked when Dave Ramsey explained he couldn’t pay that bill “because you’re below the line,” and what that meant.  The collector (who had been exceptionally rude at the beginning of the call) asked how he could get above the line.  Dave Ramsey quipped, “You be nicer when you call,” and hung up.

It’s a humorous story (especially with him doing the different voices) but it illustrates a very important concept.  When you make your priotized spending list, you do not deviate just because someone is trying to bully you!  The priority list is set in stone, unless an emergency comes up and YOU make the decision to change it.

In fact, with the prioritized spending list, you can break it up by pay period to better control where your money is going.  This is often easier to do than a monthly budget.  This gives you a plan of exactly where your money should go before you get paid, even if you are not sure how much you will bring home.  If it’s a really really great pay period, and you run out of list items before you run out of money, what to do then?  Rather than blow it on fun stuff, I would recommend starting on the next pay period’s list or put it into savings as a cushion for when you have a bad pay period.  But that one will be up to you.  After all, it is still YOUR money.

Putting Teenage Son on a Budget

Friday, March 14th, 2008

I went grocery shopping yesterday with my teenage son, since he’s been grumbling that I don’t get him enough of the foods he likes.  Big mistake.  Actually, BIG MISTAKE.  Things kept “jumping” into the cart when he thought I wasn’t looking.

By the time I got to the deli counter (and was quite happy to see alll the sale signs) I was getting quite fed up with my son’s antics.  He was bouncing into the chip aisle, the pop (soda) aisle, and through the freezer aisles as I waited for the lady to slice up all the cheeses for me.

It was then I got this “brilliant idea.”  I am going to stop grocery shopping for my son completely!  Instead, I am going to give him the money I would usually spend on his food (he for some strange reason is a vegetarian) and then I will let him get his OWN grocery cart and buy his own groceries

Son says he loves the idea, although we had to negotiate about the amount of money each week.  I held firm at $35 per week.  I called up hubby out in the parking lot and flew the idea past him.  Hubby loved the idea as well, since getting the teenager to write out a grocery list for me to shop from is like pulling teeth.  (Maybe that is why he doesn’t get the groceries he wants…?  Hmmm….)

On the way home from the grocery store, another idea occurred to me.  I could also put him on a budget for clothing!  In fact, I think I will give the teenager my “envelope system” that came with my FPU membership kit that I don’t use, just so Son can keep his money straight as to how much he has for which category.  I also advised Son to keep his weekly pay (from chores) in a separate envelope, because he will no longer be getting fun money from me or hubby.

I will admit I have my own motives for doing this.  I don’t think my son has a very good grasp on how much food costs nowadays or how to shop for the best bargain.  Yesterday, Son even said he thought stocking up on sale items was a “waste of money.”  Perhaps buying his own food will change his mind on that subject!  It might even alter the boy’s “champagne tastes” since he is getting a “beer money” budget.  I also see this as a way to prepare him for the Real World, and budgeting for food is a necessary Real World skill!

I’ll have to remember to post about how this little experiment/experience goes for us.  Has anyone else done this with their teenager?  Or had parents who did it?

Added: Here are the follow-up posts for this experiment