Out of Debt For Good - This Little Piggy Went to Market

A couple of years ago a young woman turned to me in line at the grocery, sighed deeply and explained that she was trying to trim her grocery budget.  "It's so hard!" she said.  I sympathized.  "And why is it," she went on to ask, " that when we need to find room in our budget we always start with groceries?"  I think most of us will focus our attentions on utilities, food, and any areas we consider purely optional (entertainment, clothing, etc) simply because those are the areas where our expenses can be controlled easily.  Often the car payment and mortgage, insurance rates are pretty much set by the company that holds the deeds, but groceries?  That is strictly on us and we all know it.

Remember that old nursery rhyme, "This little piggy went to market..."?  Actually I'd forgotten it until this past weekend, when my granddaughter began to play with my toes and speak in her sweet little sing-song way.  I realized that she was doing 'This Little Piggy' when she repeated her motions a couple of times.  I was thinking about that incident and realized there's more wisdom in that little rhyme than I've given thought to before now.  This week let's focus on the little piggy that went to market.

I don't know about you, but I've about had my fill of the most obvious advice: walk around the outer edges of the market, never go in hungry, buy real foods and pantry staples not convenience items. Good advice. Got it.  I can read that info at least twice a year in every current woman's home magazine.  I've been reading that information now since I was first married in the latter part of the 1970's.  I want/need NEW advice.

 A  few months ago I found an old cookbook that had recipes, menu plans (I so love the inspiration to be found in old menus!), and a glossary of terms, etc.  The one thing that set this book apart however was a Food Budget worksheet in which the author had set down a pie chart with the percentage of the food budget that should be spent on each category.  I thought it genius.

Essentially it was divided up like this: 1/5 dairy, cheese, cream
                                                        1/5 vegetable/fruit
                                                        1/5 (or less) meat/fish/liver/eggs
                                                        1/5 whole grain breads and cereals
                                                        1/5 fat/sugar/other groceries

This information appeared new and fresh to me. She went on to give the then current guidelines for nutrition as well, so you could easily see how each category was balanced for good nutrition.  That's one of the reasons I'll pick up an older cookbook or magazine or household hints book and read it.  There's information in those books that we just don't hear these days, as though all info was obsolete simply because the book is older.

My favorite cookbook, The Culinary Arts Institute Encyclopedic Cookbook lists a use for leftover foods.  That's where I gained my knowledge and desire to use up those leftover foods of mine in a creative way.  That one section of the cookbook has proven it's value in information and budget saves over the years.  It inspired me to create the Leftover Makeover feature (gracious...I must do those again!) because so few people, including myself, grew up with leftovers being anything other than the 'same old boring meal all over again'.  You'd be surprised among my acquaintances how often I'll hear, "We don't eat leftovers.  I just throw it away.' {gasp on my part}.  At least feed it to your dog, I want to say, but the truth is that waste is so unnecessary. The greater majority of the foods they are tossing are just plain food items that would translate well into soup, casseroles, salads, sides, etc. You need only learn to recreate the foodstuffs and nearly all of them can be recreated into new dishes.

An old Hints from Heloise book c. 1959, urged readers to buy meats first, then dairy products and with the rest of the budget pick up your produce and canned or frozen vegetables and fruits.  She felt that those two segments of the budget were where the bulk of the money went.  We might well opt for meatless meals one/two/three/even four times per week these days but that bit of meat we're buying is still likely the highest cost item we're putting in the shopping basket.  And I'm just willing to bet even if you use the guideline from the old cookbook and allot 1/5 of your budget into the meat category, you're going to want to get as much as you can for that portion of your money.  As well, should you find you are over in that area (due to company or a special occasion), you'll know to trim back in the other areas of your budget.

Another hint I read in that old book dealt with the convenience of TV dinners.  Heloise suggested plating up leftovers and even making foods especially for your own homemade TV dinners.  She made 'green' cleaners a long time before green was in.

One last point: don't limit yourself to just the grocery store for food items.  I often find the best buys at drugstore, dollar stores, all inclusive retailers and even markdown stores (Ross for Less for example) or online through e-tailers or Amazon. (All are good sources for speciality items we'd like to splurge upon at bargain prices).  I look EVERYWHERE for the items we normally have in our home and I'll buy them if the price is appreciably lower than at the grocery store.  This weekend I bought soda at CVS.  3 12-packs for $11, with a $3 ECB.  I also had $4 in ECBs and a free 12 pack coupon (from MyCokeRewards).  My out of pocket cost was $3.34 and I received my $3 ECB.  That's $.34 for 3 12-packs! 

However, let us not think the 'market' mentality is just for the food market.

Nine times out of ten when I go clothes shopping, I head to the clearance racks first.  I seldom pay full price for a piece of clothing except pants or jeans on occasion.  Clearance racks are my way of saving on clothing but I know many who buy from thrift stores and they do find some bargains!  Rebecca posts photos of herself in her thrifted pieces. Other friends often find shoes, name brand or designer pieces of clothing with tags still attached.  I don't live near thrift stores that carry clothing and when I do I seldom take the time to go through the racks. My stores tend to bunch clothing by color and not by sizing.  I confess I stand in front of the racks and try to think of what color I might need in my wardrobe and I can't think of a thing until the next time I'm standing in front of my closet. Obviously this is an area where I need to make use of my thrift store list and jot down clothing items I need.  My daughter in law used to shop for clothes online, both through auctions and online retail sites. 

Appliances  are also 'market' items.  Sales abound on these, both large and small, and I've no problem buying used.  In the past two years every time we go into the DIY stores, I've looked over the scratch and dent/clearance pieces, especially dishwashers.  My dishwasher is 17 years old this year.  I figure it's going to give out one day (but what a blessing it's been to last so long and continue to work so well!).  I've seen some good buys on dishwashers.  Fortunately for me, when my coastal kids bought new appliances for their kitchen this spring they offered me their gently used dishwasher.  It's an older model that works just fine.  I happily accepted it and it's now waiting in the wings for that 'some day' time when I need a 'new' dishwasher.  A friend shared with me the bargain she got on her new stove.  It was discounted by nearly $500.  She asked what was wrong with it.  The salesman showed her a surface scratch on the back of the stove.  "It was going to be up against the wall anyway," she told me, "so I took the savings."

We can refurbish what we have instead of buying new.  Last summer, I broke the jar ring that fits on the bottom of my blender.  I was going to try and find one at thrift stores, but never got around to going out to look.  John looked it up online and found I could buy a new one for under $5, no doubt what I'd have paid in the thrift store.  We've also bought a new hose for our vacuum that is now going on 8 years old.  We paid under $50 for that vacuum but we paid only $15 for TWO new hoses from a dealer's warehouse.
How else can we be wise when we got to market?  We can buy gently used furniture to refurbish, or look for discontinued items on sale.  My niece has furnished her home entirely from Craigs List.   Some of my best pieces are thrift store finds.  Several pieces require some special attention but I promise you it's easy enough to slipcover or pay to re-upholster a chair you've gotten for $20 and it's solid hardwood underneath and sound overall.  I find that I'm more likely to buy a better quality furniture, though it might not look like much at first glance.  If I have the funds to buy new, I will if I find something I really love, but only if I can afford solid hardwoods.  I'm not planning to spend hard earned money on glue and wood chip pieces.

Recently I've been keeping shopping lists handy.  One for the fabric/craft store, one for the thrift store, one for clothing, one of gift ideas, a running grocery list of things that I can't buy at Aldi.  When I see a sale or one of those items at a reasonable price I purchase it, because I've come prepared, knowing just what I need.  

This weekend I went out to take advantage of an excellent sale on soda at CVS.  I decided to stop in at three different thrift stores on my way home.  I had my shopping list to remind me of what I needed.  I stayed focused on those items.  I was tempted by a few items, but I put each one back because it wasn't on my list.  Where was I focused today? Inexpensive but pretty plates to make up a picnic basket set, bedside tables, lamp(s), and headboard for the guest room, a chair and small bookcase for a reading nook in my bedroom, chairs and possibly a small table for the breakfast area in the kitchen.  I also list the price I think I want to pay beside each item based upon my budget and what prices I've seen in stores on similar items.

I'll share this one last piece of advice about going to market. One thing I've been doing for several years now, as I make out my shopping lists, before I walk into a store...I pray.  I pray for a good bargain on the items I need, I pray that the item be good quality, etc.  I don't find exactly what I'm looking for every time I walk into a store.  Patience and prayer seem to go hand in hand.  But when I do find the item I've been waiting on, it's always a bargain price that just fits my budget.  I waited nearly three years for the buffet in my dining area.  I had a price in mind and I bought the very style and good quality piece that I wanted for almost one third that price I had in my mind.  I don't go to any store without praying first that I resist temptation, that I find the items I have on my list, that I be able to find the best quality at the best price.

This Little Piggy Went to Market...


Lena said...

I've been reading your post and thinking, "That's me!" and "That's me!" :) Great advice! I found my most favorite pieces of furniture on classifieds or in thrift stores. And our much needed stove was discounted $350 because it was a floor model! It had one tiny scratch, and only I know where it's hiding :)

Rhonda Sue said...

hi Terri, this little Piggy really dislikes going to the market but we do have to go sometimes, don't we?

I never thought about dividing up my grocery money in 1/5s like that but it is good advice.
I've spent a lot less this month and I hope it is going to continue.

rebecca said...

Great "refreshers" and encouragement in this post :)

(We go one step further when it comes to soda - and just have eliminated it entirely.)

Kathy said...

Great advice! I would love to read more makeover suggestions...I love your ideas.

My grocery spending has gotten out of control the past few months. I joined a meat csa and a veggie csa, but I still spend the same amount at the store. The meat csa is taking a break this summer, and I am going to get the grocery budget under control. Will try to implement the 1/5 category! Thanks!

gramma D said...

One thing I seldom hear mentioned when people are trying keep the budget in llin is to cut down on the quantity of food cooked which avoids overeating, which leads to better health. When I has kids at home, I always cooked what would satisfy our appetites and no one at more just because it was there.. This meant one item of meat such as 1pork chop, 1 serving of beef, ect. I almost always served a salad, first then the entrée. Too many families eat until the food is gone, no matter how full they are. They did not get a handful of cookies,they got 1 or 2 and they were happy. A glass of milk, not 3 or 4 even as teenagers. I learned this from a book written by a lady named Joanne York. Great book. She had a small budget and decided this was the way to save. Because it is a long time habit,we don't worry about diets and both Gramps and I have very good health. Grandma D

Anonymous said...

I have a little notebook I keep in my purse. Mine is 4" x 6". It opens like a book. I keep lists for all the type of stores I may need things from in the front of it. with the things we are looking for or need to buy under each type of store. They are posted on sticky notes so they can be changed out as things are added and subtracted from the lists. No need to redo the notebook pages so the book stays nice almost forever. I also keep several blank sticky notes in the back pages of it for paper when someone needs to jot down a telephone number for someone etc. On one page I keep permanent information like the size of cooler pads or other house filters we use for easy reference. If I have a coupon for one of the items on the needs lists for a store I put a c after the item as a reminder. I also post on the back flap the store hours for places we go but seem to always forget when they close!! :) This little notebook has helped me keep organized for many years. I keep a running needs lists on the side of the refrigerator with a piece of tape on it. If I haven't posted the new needs items in the book when I am going out the door I just grab the note with the tape and quickly tape it in the front page. I can post it to the appropriate list later. Least I have all items we need with me! You can also list telephone numbers etc in this little book ..ones you don't have in your phone etc. Can you tell I love my little book! Thanks so very much for all your hints. I use so many of them!!! Sarah

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