Friday, July 23, 2010

Money Drudgeries

Today I'm crunching numbers and trying to get creative about low-cost (read: free) activities and entertainment. And how in the world to half my grocery bill.

My garden is a bust this year because ... well, of all the reasons a garden might go bust: forgetting to water, not planting in time, etc. And plus, my uber-responsible Master Gardner roommate moved out and I haven't gotten into the swing of things regarding garden mentality.

So no free food there.

There's a Grower's Market in Eugene that I can take advantage of. I can donate a couple of hours there every week and then I can get 15% off my groceries purchased there, as I understand it.

And I can talk to a friend of mine that does really interesting things with her food budget, like: buying all her grains online wholesale, and shopping at Costco for certain things and picking fruit all summer long and preserving like mad.

I think I'm a little behind in the season for preserving all the things I could preserve, but I've already frozen blueberries and raspberries for smoothies, and canned strawberry jam. I'm interested in picking apples and making applesauce and apple butter, and picking peaches for canning and freezing. That was a big hit last year; they went fast. But honestly, I doubt I will have the energy or know-how for much more than that.

I could start buying produce at Farmer's Market and just put that into my schedule (for instance, tomorrow is Saturday's Market/Farmer's Market ... I could go and see if there was a type of food that the family would eat and buy something there instead of at the wonderfully convenient and shiny Market of Choice down the street from me.)

And I'd need to start buying produce more often, because oftentimes it whithers before we eat it and I just compost it.


Disclosure time.

Paul and I are extremely serious about cutting back our expenses this year. So serious in fact that we are going to (most likely -- still leaving a loophole) sell our huge house. It's been a good house, but the mortgage is just too high. We knew the house was too expensive for us when we bought it, yet still we did. It was just the right decision at the time. But now. We don't need it so much. And we especially don't need the ginormous mortgage.

So, we'll take a few months to work out the details ... like, do we want to buy a smaller house here in Eugene? Or rent an apartment and try to save even more money? And I anticipate making this change by the end of the year.

We'd like to be able to subsist on my income only, leaving Paul's for extravagant things like paying off credit card debt and paying for the girls' tuition. Aubrey wants to go to the Eugene Waldorf School and Aniela's getting into a private fashion school in Portland and needs some help with the living expenses that will evolve because of that. And he'd also pay the rent/mortgage at the new place.

So ... my income will pay for everything else. For a family of four. I get $2483/month from the VA and Social Security Survivor Benefits. (This will go away when the kids reach a certain age.)

Let's take groceries for a minute. I just added up the receipts I could find for the last month (and a few days), and I spent $1093.37 on groceries. I'd like to take that down to at least $600/month.

(insert blank stare)

I'm not sure where to even start.

And that's just groceries. We've allowed for me to have $200/month for allowance for me and the kids to use for everything. Everything. Last month I spent $359.14. (A little bit on underwear and socks, a gift for someone, a few drinks at Starbucks, a game for Family Game Night, and ordering a pizza on a day I couldn't fathom cooking dinner.) Oops. That didn't include all the money I spent on babysitting. I guess that'll have to come out of my allowance from now on, too.

Then there was $178.99 emergency vet bill for Kiya's hives, and the hundred dollars I spent in supplements for us yesterday.

I'm not trying to be one of those people that complain about having to give up their Gucchi allowance, and I don't get a latte everyday -- more like once every week (or even two!) But I am concerned about how to make this huge change. I grew up maybe not "poor," but I remember my mom deciding which of the bills to pay that month, and I learned from her that even if the bill is $63 and you only pay $10, you can't get sent to a collection agency or have your service shut off because you've at least paid something.

And when I got married the first time, we lived pay check to pay check and sometimes had $16 to last us until pay day. And when I was married to Rob (2nd husband), we lived with his mom the whole time and rarely went out to the movies or on dates or ate out. And still, sometimes Fernanda (Rob's mom) provided a buffer between our paychecks and reality. So when Rob died and I got some cushion, I stopped having to count my quarters to buy a few gallons of gas (or cigarettes depending on which time you're talking). Some might say that I chose not to worry about money at that point, some might say I didn't have to.

Either way, the result is ten years of not concerning myself with what things cost and allowing my values to dictate where I spend my money, thereby creating a dynamic where I don't know how to live frugally anymore.

Allowing values to dictate where you spend your money is not necessarily a bad thing. But when I go to the grocery store, I automatically throw the organic canned beans in the cart and don't even look at the difference in price for the conventional ones. Or sometimes I'll notice that organic peppers are $freaking-three or four ninety-nine EACH and the conventional ones are 88 cents. Bugger. So then I go through the huge conundrum of Do I Choose To Poison My Family This Week? Which pepper should I buy?

Shopping takes a long time for me and my conscience.

Or the DOG FOOD.

Damn. That one took me years to settle. Raising cattle is so destructive to our environment and I've watched so many documentaries about the hideous living conditions they live in, not to mention the antibiotics and hormones that are injected into them. And that the diet they are given kills them slowly and painfully. So if I don't want to support that industry and buy dog food with beef in it, then I need to go with lamb, chicken or turkey. Lamb doesn't agree with one of my dogs, so "no" for that, which leaves poultry.

Can you say "battery cage?"

I can't go down that road either. Paul and I were on our honeymoon in Mexico and happened to be driving down the highway behind a big truck FULL of stacked battery cages stuffed with white chickens. I could tell by looking that a third of those birds were already dead -- or wished they were -- from pure mistreatment.

So I've tried making my own dog food, which is spendy when you add in all the supplements that I've been told need to be added for their health and so I don't give them a deficiency in their diet, making them sick.

I've tried buying dehydrated raw food from my vet. Just add water and mix with your kibble to cut the cost in half. Still spendy.

And I've found one source in Eugene that carries organic dry dog kibble. So I'm currently feeding them that. But it's $50 for a 25 lb. bag. And I only knew that because I just went into the garage to look at it.
So, I identify two problems. One, that I can support my value of only buying organic meat products and pay $50 for 25 lbs of food, or not, and buy a 40lb bag of a FAR inferior product with god knows what in it (I've read those reports, too) for $20. And Two, that I didn't even know what the bag cost, because I just buy without checking in .... and that I think will save us the most money this year, if I can manage to not do that anymore.

I'm stopping. I feel like this post has turned into a rant. And I'm sorry for that, Dear Reader.

But I still don't know what to do about my budget. :)

Any suggestions for ways to cut back on spending? What has your family done for this past recession?


HappyOrganist said...

I don't have any advice - just I feel your pain. I worry over the organic/non-organic thing at the store, too (add to that food allergies we used to deal with and my irrational fears connected thereto), add to that following my 'intuition' when buying things (which can of cherries to pick up). It's a pain.
And I hate cooking.
That makes it hard, too.
And I don't know HOW people cut their grocery bill down to what you want. But I do have neighbors who do it.
I refuse to clip coupons, though. That's just a waste of my energy. I think I'd sooner get a job than clip coupons (every time I try that I spend hours clipping, cutting and plotting - and save like a dollar at the store. really wonderful. )
Good luck with that ;D

Valerie Willman said...

I don't like cooking either, which creates a lot of money spent on eating out or buying convenience foods.

And we have lots of food allergies in our home, too. My son is on a GF/CF diet, and my husband and I don't eat gluten either (among other things). So, buying specialty foods take up a lot of the cash.

But if I become diligent about buying cheaply in other ways, maybe I can get away with buying teff tortillas, and such.

Or I could once and for all come up with a homemade bread mix, instead of buying them in boxes. That would save me a load right there. :)