Thursday, September 22, 2016

Reflecting On My Spending Recently

Something I've been doing right now-
 to correct an unnecessary and expensive splurge-
making my own alcohol.
I want to be frugal, to budget well, to save money where I can, but I realize that, often, even to the most frugal minded of us, money sometimes can slip through our fingers in a slow trickle, so that, over time, the little pennies add up and you spend so much more than you'd intended to spend, and your expenses are way too high.

Then again, "too high" is relative; what would be frugal for someone would be overspending for someone else, depending on how much income they are bringing in, and how much money they have left to budget once the non negotiables are budgeted in.

For example, for our family, I decided that our regular budget of $570 per month on groceries is too much. Though it is hard, I am trying to lower it, and to see just how low I can get it to be. The thing is, though, that I'm not doing enough.

I've been keeping track of my grocery expenses every single month, writing down how much I spent on each shop, where it was, and approximately what I bought every time. Looking over my chart of my August expenses, where my total was $509 for the month, already an improvement but not as much as it could have been, I realized something.

StoreDateCost ($)What
Mom and Pop's8/3/16$2.85Sardines, cherry tomatoes
Market8/3/16$35.14gizzards, zucchini, sprouts, pumpkin, chard, bananas
R store8/4/16$15.14chicken wings, rice, cereal, onions
R store8/7/16128.57cheeses, yogurts, milk, cereal, rice cakes, nectarines, cucumbers, tomatoes, cabbage, butternut squash, tomato paste, sardines, eggs, french fries, pasta
Mom and Pop's8/10/1614.28milk, grapes, peaches
O Store8/11/1669.42chips, pretzels, cheese, bread, coffee, tahini, cranberry juice, corn flakes, tuna, mango condiment, soda, mustard
Ethnic Store8/11/166.57plantain
Wine shop8/11/1611.14wine
Market28.54Fruit and vegetables
O Store36.29Bread, mayo, beer, coffee. tuna
Mom and Pop's8/18/1642.26Milk, wine, Breezers, lollipops, salt, toilet paper
Outlet Health Food 8/18/1622.22Corn flakes, peanut butter
Market8/25/1630guava, peaches, plums, persimmons, clementines, zucchini, melon, jaggery, salmon head, fennel, beets, leek, pumpkin
Random snacks8/26/1619.34muffins, ice cream, fish, pineapple
Mom and Pop's8/26/1634wine, candy, energy drink
R store8/29/1620.29cheese, milk, gizzards, sugar
Outlet Health Food8/29/1611.42corn flakes

Overall, I did make an effort to be frugal in August. And it did pay off- I managed to lower my grocery bills. But not to anywhere near where I want them to be. I am realizing that that issue here is that in my mind, I think, that as long as I'm trying to be frugal, and do lots of very frugal things, it's OK to spend extra on certain things, because it's just a "little bit", nothing extravagant. And that is true generally- little splurges are fine if you can afford them and have wiggle room in the budget, but they still will have an overall effect. If I am trying to cut my grocery bill by at least 25%, if not more (my goal is to get it to be around $375, something that I am seeing is doable if I try hard, not not impossible), that simply isn't doable if I keep on spending money on little things. I've written it on my blog plenty of times, but I guess it hasn't sunken into my head enough- little pennies add up, and a little spent here and a little spent there, overall can make a big difference in a budget, and can even make the difference between keeping your head above the water financially or not.

When I look at my August expenses, I can tell just by seeing where I bought what that I did a lot of things right. I bought cereal and peanut butter at an outlet health food store, with the cheapest prices around, even cheaper than making these from scratch. I went to the market to do much of my produce shopping. I went to the O store to stock up on gluten free bread where it is 1/3-1/4 of the price in other stores and possibly even cheaper than making it from scratch. And I didn't go so often to the local Mom and Pop's store, but went a little further to the cheaper R store to do the bulk of my shopping.

But even among the "right things" I can see where I went off. When I see that I wrote "candy" or "Breezers" or "cheese"or "muffins" or "fries" or other sorts of junk on the list of what I bought, my brain is replacing those words with $$$, because that essentially is money that I blew, since those are things that are pricey! Each time I buy cheese, even when I buy it from the "cheaper place", it is at least $4 or $5 for a pop, for one single serving (and I bought many servings of it over the month of August, not just the amount of times that cheese is written on that list, because each one is a few servings). I love cheese and it is hard for me to give up on it, but if I logically think about it, for the same price of one serving of cheese, I can buy 4.5 pounds of chicken wings, and have at least 10 normal servings of that, or 4-5 giant servings of chicken wings, and when made properly, I actually enjoy some good chicken wings even more than I do that cheese (not to mention them being better for me). 
Similarly with the alcohol. Each time I buy alcohol, whether Baccardi Breezers or wine, it doesn't matter how cheap it is (and it wasn't cheap most of the times that I bought it), that is practically money down the drain. Well, not completely, but it's money on extras, that adds up tremendously and affects the overall picture.
Also holds true for any produce that I bought not at the market. Even when I try to be money conscious at the grocery store and buy from cheaper grocery stores, it still is at least twice, if not 4 or 5 times the price of what I can buy the same items for at the market. 
And condiments... it's healthier and cheaper when I make them at home, and it isn't even so hard. Bought condiments (other than mustard, pretty much), are just my being lazy for no reason.

I have been aware of how much I "flubbed" in August, and so far, with most of the month of September behind me, I can say that, while I haven't been perfect, I really have made terrific strides in improving things. 

StoreDateCost ($)What
R store9/1/16122.85Chicken, beef, rice, produce
Salvage Store9/3/1634Oyster crackers, chestnuts, oil, cakes, wafers, hearts of palm
Market9/3/1624.57apples, potatoes, peppers, bananas, zucchini, grapes, tomatoes, limes
Mom and Pop's9/7/162.86Yogurt, sugar
Mom and Pop's9/8/163.75aluminum pans, yogurts
O Store9/10/1643.2bread, juice, hot dogs, cheese, honey, popsicles
S Store9/11/166.42rice
Mom and Pop's9/12/162treats
R Store9/12/165.43chocolate
Market9/18/1614.14eggplant, beets, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, onions, apples
A Store9/19/163.75spices, dried fruit, candy
R Store9/19/1666.28chicken, grape juice, aluminum pans, fish, frozen green beans, sugar, nori, sesame seeds, gluten free buns, toilet paper
M Store9/21/161.4apples
Only $330.65 so far for the month of September, and I'm trying to keep it close to that (I will be going to buy milk and cereal, but that doesn't get so pricey). I have enough food in the house that I can easily go until October 1st without shopping, and still not remotely decimate my large stockpile.

I can't say there there is no possible improvement I could do this past month in terms of my expenses, but things I did very right were pretty much only buying produce from the market, so I got the best deals for them (and it really was amazing), saving the R store and the O store for things that are cheapest there (animal proteins and bread). I didn't buy much junk, and what I did, predominantly was from the salvage/scratch and dent store, so it barely cost me anything. As for alcohol, I decided that instead of doing without, I'll make my own, which really is the best of both worlds- I get to be dirt cheap but still enjoy a nice drink. 
I am able to see what still can be improved for future months, if I should so desire, but I am happy with the overall picture and what I've managed to accomplish there.

But other than just groceries, which mainly is my focus on cutting back, because I see how variable it can be, I'm also trying to be conscious of other "little things" I am spending money on, which also makes a difference to our finances. Things like clothing shopping. I needed a few things, and made sure to get my new clothes from cheaper places, but still, it ended up being over $150 on new clothes for myself in the past month or two, so now, even though I do want more new clothing, I'm trying to be cognizant of the fact that that is a want, a nice extra, but as long as I don't fall behind on laundry, I do have enough, and therefore, spending money on more clothes would be a choice I'm making to spend on something extra, which I have to think about whether or not that is a need.

Same goes for art supplies for my kids, not to mention toys. When I'm feeling like they don't have enough, and want to go by more, I need to remind myself that they have more than enough, but the problem isn't what they have, but how organized and accessible it is (or not), and that better than actually buying them new supplies and toys, I should first reorganize what we have, make sure that it is available to be used, instead of spending money on repeats of things that we already have, but they can't or don't use because of a lack of orderliness.

With transportation costs, I'm doing similarly. Weighing the costs of various methods of transportation, calculating whether or not it is cheaper to get day passes for public transportation or paying for individual fares. When doing my errands, I'm also often choosing to do them once Mike gets home from work and can be in charge of the kids, so I don't have to pay twice or three times as much for transportation since I am only paying for myself. Then that even has the added bonus that I get some precious alone time (something that doesn't happen so much as a homeschooling mom), which is pampering myself (by spending less money!) so I don't feel the need to spend money on myself to feel pampered. (There's also the added bonus that when I shop alone, I don't have all these little voices in my ear telling me to buy this treat or that...)

I'm really feeling on the ball this past month, and I've realized that the only reason I have been able to do what I've done is because I've been tracking what I have been spending, and seeing where I was spending and on what. Because even frugal people can make mistakes and think that "this is just something little, not a big deal at all", but when you see the numbers and facts black and white in front of you, it is easier to see how these little pennies do add up, and that even if you thought you were very frugal, you still might be having some rather unfrugal habits, that can be changed, should the need arise, or should you want to be able to spend that money on other things instead.
I highly recommend that if you don't, currently, have a list of what you spent and where each month, that you start writing it down. And I don't mean just looking at your credit/debit card bill, because that might be able to tell you which shops you went to, but can't tell you, for example, if it was on certain expensive groceries, on items that you could have bought cheaper somewhere else, or seeing any patterns and habits that can be changed. It has been so eye opening for me.

What has your spending been like lately? Do you keep an itemized list of expenses you have, so you can see where, if any, changes can or should be made? Have you ever discovered that you had certain unfrugal habits that you hadn't even realized, and then set about to change them? What were they?


  1. How do you make your own alcohol?! I would love a post on that!

    1. Here's how!

  2. I don't know Penny, long time reader and definite admirer of your frugal and creative ways. I was happy to read that lately you invested a little in your own happiness! Keep in mind that you already do a full-time job raising your kids, giving classes, being a housekeeper, writing this blog etc etc. Keeping up your own happiness ( and sanity!) Is important too and the way you do it sure doesn't seem wasteful to me. Your family depends on you, so keeping yourself running, sane and happy seems a priority to me! Keep up the good work, but don't forget yourself

  3. Lately, I haven't been seeing many posts about foraging. Is it that you're no longer foraging as often or that you're just not posting about it. I remember you used to get a tremendous amount of your produce from those excursions. :)

    1. Locally, it is a slow season here in terms of foraging. It doesn't rain here from about April until October or so, which means that there aren't so many things available to pick because much is dry and dead. The stuff that are available to forage are mainly seeds and spices, and I do that, but its not in significant amounts. Other things I can forage are cactus paddles, cactus fruit, grapes, figs, purslane, and amaranth greens, and lambsquarters, but I haven't been finding much of those around lately, so yes, foraging has been slim. I picked some amaranth on Thursday evening and plan on picking some grapes this week, as well as going to forage carob. Basically, in order to forage, I find I am needing to make specific excursions for it, and to places that I don't necessarily get to on my day to day travels, so it hasn't been happening as much, and I miss it. Can't wait for it to start raining again!!!

  4. I think my problem is getting it across to my spouse that we need to use up what we have instead getting more of the same. Lucky for me, he's starting to work out of town which means I can use up some stuff.


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