My Frugal Life: Stay Out of Stores

Being organized has saved me a lot of money. By the same token, when I am disorganized, I spend more than I should. A budget and a grocery list are my best tools, but there is a third that is almost as important. It is staying out of the stores.

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I pay myself an allowance every two weeks. Out of that comes the food, gas for the car and my thrift store shopping. For grocery shopping, I make a menu. I use recipes that I don't have to buy many ingredients for. That means I have to look in the cupboard and refrigerator to see what is on hand before starting my menu. After all, the cheapest meal is one that is already waiting for me, right?

Right now I have frozen leftovers from Cajun Red Beans and Rice (a ThriftyFun recipe), two pounds of butter, a bag of chopped bell peppers and a bag of chopped onions left from last summer's harvest, a pound of ground turkey, 8 cups of rhubarb and some cottage cheese. Right away, I know I can make turkey meatballs one day, red beans and rice one day, and a luscious rhubarb tart for dessert on Friday night.

In our big freezer we have ground beef, so I'll make either beef enchiladas or a casserole. The tortillas are easy to make from scratch so I don't buy them unless they're really cheap. The cottage cheese will probably become cottage cheese patties because that's our favorite recipe for it. There are always leftovers enough for lunch the next day. (I was talking with a friend yesterday. He stockpiles nonperishable food. Once he had to live for a year on it except for a few perishable items. His wife quit nagging him about the stockpiles after that.)

The second place to look is at the grocery ads. Spread them out on the table where you can see two big pages at a time. Examine the sales to see if you have coupons for any of the desirable items. By desirable, I mean good for us! If they don't build health, they tear it down. That's the reason we have dessert once a week instead of every day.

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Desirable also means within my means and very reasonable in price. Sale items are not always marked down. You may have already noticed that prices are amazingly flexible. I have seen the same item at $2.99 and $1.00. It pays to have an idea of what to shop for by the price. I carry mine mostly in my head, but a price book is a good idea. If I find a really good bargain on an item and I have a coupon for it, it's a no-brainer. If I have ten coupons for it, I ask myself whether I would have a use for ten of that item. This week it will be ring sausage, because the price is incredibly low, and with coupons it will be almost free! I can freeze it, and it goes very well with our homemade sauerkraut. I will buy three, because that's how many coupons I have. One day's supper just got planned!

The budget is not a hard thing to do. I have an idea of how much I want to spend. I put that amount in my wallet in a separate compartment as soon as I get my allowance. When I run out of money, I quit. This tells me how much to spend, and whether I can buy "beef or beans." Once I have my menu made out, I make the list, noting which store carries each item at the price I have chosen. I may go to three stores. In our small town of about 10,000 souls, this takes less than an hour. I always know that if I don't get into a store, I can't spend any money. So I limit my shopping to once weekly unless something unexpected comes up. The exception would be for a sick friend or an emergency like getting stuck in town and not able to cook.

On the same day as I go to the grocery store, I go to at least one thrift shop. That's where I look for needed clothing articles to replace what's wearing out, gift items, books and craft supplies. I read a couple of books a week, and my husband does, too, and they are not always the same books.

For 2008, I kept a record of all my grocery store expenditures, including the non-foods. My out of pocket cost was $1,800, while the combined coupon and sale savings and a few rebates came to just over $1,700. If someone offered me that much money for a few hours' work, do you think I would turn it down? Not a chance! That's better pay than I make at my part-time job, hour for hour.

For 2009, I hope to spend less. It would be nice to see the coupon savings and rebate portion be even larger than the out of pocket portion. Those savings go into my bank account. Although I will need to get another car soon since ours is 11 years old and has over 250,000 miles on it, I hope that there will still be money in the bank when that's done. No payments, Lord willing! Ultimately our goal is to have six months' income saved for emergencies. Maybe someday?

By Coreen from Rupert, ID

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March 11, 20090 found this helpful

Thank you for your advice. I strive everyday to spend less, it just seems that I never stay in my budget, I'm always needing something extra. Putting an amount in an envelope is a great idea, one that I plan on trying. Do you print your coupons or buy a couple Sunday papers? Also, you mentioned cottage cheese patties. I would love to have the recipe for these. I can never find enough to do with cottage cheese.

Thanks

Jan

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March 11, 20090 found this helpful

Great advice! Yesterday my husband and I went in to town. I had a list and 4 stores I needed to stop in. Knowing that he was waiting (impatiently of course!) caused me to rush through and ONLY get the things on my list. I KNOW I save money that way!

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March 11, 20090 found this helpful

Great idea! I, too, buy things when I am in stores! So I limit my visits. A tip - it's best to window shop at stores where you can't afford anything. It's fun, you are clued into trends, etc. - & you aren't tempted to BUY anything! P.S. in thrift shops nowadays I limit buying to things that I absolutely LOVE.

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March 11, 20090 found this helpful

Staying out of stores that tempt me to buy what I don't really need is my way too. Also, I can look online but unless something is needed, like a new bible study book for class, or kitchen towels that worn out and landed in the rag bag, it is best to not have the debit card anywhere near the computer to stop temptation in it's tracks.

Cooking at home saves a lot of money, and I like your desert once a week idea. Good for our health.

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March 12, 20090 found this helpful

Excellent advice. I have now started to take all the catalogs that I get in my mailbox and go directly to the wastebasket and recycle bin before even opening them. I don't get tempted to buy something 'that I just have to have'. Funny though, I didn't need the item until I saw it. That's where the temptation stops. I love all of your input on saving money and the ways you are doing it.

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March 12, 20090 found this helpful

I loved your advice. I do sewing and quilting as my main relaxation (not TV Watching) and I am selling many of my creations locally. So I have been buying off of Craigslist for the items I need and try to make my creations from only the material that I have on hand, like your menu. It's fun, creative, energizing!

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March 12, 20090 found this helpful

Well put! I always make lists and I limit my shopping trips, but I could work on the organizing. I can't tell you how many times I've unloaded the groceries to find I just bought something I already had unopened in the cupboard. Now I take my grocery list to the cupboard and mark off what I already have before I hit the store.

Tracey in Jacksonville FL

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March 14, 20090 found this helpful

About those unwanted catalogs. It takes only a few minutes to ring up the company and request to be taken off their mailing list. If they ask why, I tell them I already have internet service and am aware of their website. Just think of all the time to be saved not having to deal with unwanted mail!

I have saved money by setting up all my monthly payments electronically, including deposits into two savings accounts. I know what my expenses are so when I get paid once a month, I schedule one day to sit down and pay everything. Then I know exactly how much I have to work with. I recently took a small pay cut but actually increased my savings!

I also take out a set amount each week for spending on gas, groceries, and misc. It really makes you think twice when you're paying with cash instead of a debit or credit card.

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March 18, 20090 found this helpful

If you are unable to stay out of stores then at least buy stuff online and check out deals or coupons websites before paying full price on an item. At the same time just because an item is on sale it doesn't mean you have to purchase it. Just ask yourself. Do you really need that item? Many a times I go the store and just by stuff then later have to return them because I realize I don't really need it. When you shop online, it forces you to think twice because you not there to feel and inspect the item. You know what I mean? Cleona

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September 14, 20100 found this helpful

Among the many great ideas in this essay is the mention of a weekly trip to a thrift store. This may seem counter to the advice to stay away from stores to help avoid overspending. But in my experience, for people who depend heavily on thrift store shopping to supply items we really use and need, it's important to go regularly. On many trips you may leave emptyhanded, not finding items that are appropriate for you. The key, of course, is to be disciplined and not buy things you don't know for sure you'll use.

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September 14, 20100 found this helpful

How does one have the time to do these type of things working a full time job and a ton of other chores at home?

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September 14, 20100 found this helpful

What are "cottage cheese patties?"

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