All this constant worry about money, however, equals one giant knot of stress in my stomach.
Sometimes, one giant knot of stress in the stomach leads to more worry, perhaps even a doctor's appointment, or a series of them, referrals for tests, missed days at work (= even less money) and even possibly a round of painful endoscopies, colonoscopies, cleanses, etc.
I know what it's like — my husband went through all of that just after we were married.
It was hard for him, living in Miami, where if one guy will paint your house for $300 in two days, five other guys are in line right behind him saying they'll do it in one day for $250, $200, $150, — you get my drift. Job security was laughable; working conditions characteristically deplorable. I can only imagine what would have happened if that were all going on today for us, amidst this global financial crisis.
The correlation between health and money goes both ways, you see. You cut out healthy organic foods when you get a pay cut because you can't afford Whole Foods any more. You drop your gym membership but don't hop on the treadmill at home any more either — just too tired, maybe even a bit depressed. You sacrifice everything but the stuff you can't live without — coffee, milk, sugar and (of course) your Blackberry.
But it'll come back to haunt you. Try fighting with your HMO or PPO when there's trouble with the endoscopy coverage. Try looking for another job while you're feebly attempting to combine not missing work from being sick with faking enjoyment the days you do actually make it in. Try explaining to your wife that you'd rather spend money on a new video game and "live a little" than go shopping with her for your favorite healthy foods, as you stuff another corn dog into your mouth while your children play in the yard outside, oblivious to their father's skyrocketing cholesterol levels.
I'm a victim of the crime myself; I constantly go over my monthly food budget and yet I'm buying frivolous, unnecessary items such as sugar-free pudding and fat-free Cool Whip instead of asparagus and roasted red peppers. We all fall into one trap or another. But I can't keep piddling away my salary on tasteless chicken and mediocre steaks. Things have to change.
How? Maybe that's the problem. I don't know how, or my bank account would be much fatter. Should I switch to the cheaper grocery store, the one with those "specialty brands" where you have to supply your own grocery bags and do it yourself? I look at the ads each week — I even have a seven-page Excel spreadsheet with about 300 line items, comparing prices across 10+ purveyors of Bounty paper towels, kitty litter, tomatoes, Butterball turkey breast and countless varieties of fruits and vegetables. But has it ever come in handy? No. I can't exactly drive from store to store, buying what's cheapest at each one, because then I'll be wasting gas! All I've gathered is to never pay more than 2/$4 for DanActive, Wheat Thins and Activia. Genius.
I've tried coupons — but if I'm starting out by trying to follow the "only buy if it's on sale" rule, it's a rare joy when something's actually on sale and I also happen to have a coupon. And even when I have a coupon, it's for the name brand — and the generic's always cheaper. So how about doubling coupons? Does any grocery store in the Chicagoland area actually double coupons? I've sure never heard of it around here. (It is on my to-do list to call around and find out, however.)
I guess I'll do what I do best — make a list. The scintillating list of all my grocery store money-saving options under the sun. Something's gotta take, right?
- Shop at the discount stores — Sam's Club, Aldi, Ultra, Westbrook, Brook Haven, Meijer, CostCo. No exceptions.
- Make shopping lists, and refuse to buy anything not on the list. If you forgot, apparently it wasn't that important to begin with.
- Shop alone (this is hard to do — my husband actually likes to come along — but he often picks out stuff we don't need) — then you'll only have to deal with your own temptations, not your partner's or your kids'.
- Only allow two "treat" foods for each member of your family, assuming you all have different tastes in snack/dessert foods (I'll shamelessly admit that I stole this idea from someone else).
- Don't buy "three for $5" if you really only need one — usually, they'll still honor that price if you only purchase one out of the three.
- Instead of constantly updating a useless Excel spreadsheet, circle what's cheap in all the weekly ads and buy 1) what you need 2) when you're out and about and 3) when you need it! Wait, this could really work, people! I usually try not to make a trip out for just one errand, to save gas and to be good to the environment — but if I'm going to Starbucks, I might as well swing past Ultra on the way there, right?! This is all actually starting to make sense! What good is an Excel spreadsheet if produce prices change with the seasons, manufacturer discounts vary biweekly and store specials are a dime a dozen?
- Match the coupons — even check on line, before you go — to what's on sale where you plan on shopping. If nothing matches up, just leave the coupons behind and don't forget about the generics. I'm not talking toilet paper, but shredded cheese, block cheese, bread, etc. Often the generic is cheaper even when you have a coupon for the brand name — and I plan on finding out if that's still the case even when you double coupons.
- Buying what's in season/local produce can often help, too. If you get to know your local farmer's market, you can also get to know the cheap guy at your local farmer's market. Mine is an older couple with a big white truck. 10 banana peppers for a quarter? Where else are you going to get a deal like that? If you live in a temperate climate, you probably have farmer's markets available year round. Lucky duck. Go there! You'll never find more fresh and flavorful options on the cheap. Just remember to resist the $40 orchids.
- Pay in cash, not with a card — even if it's debited directly and instantaneously from your bank account — because it's harder to part with actual bills than it is to swipe a card. Put your grocery budget money in a marked envelope, and when it runs out, it's time to get creative with the eggs, rice and peas left over in your kitchen. Fried rice, anyone?
- Buy in bulk when you can. This doesn't just mean at the big warehouse stores; it's also cheaper to buy a bag of onions or potatoes than it is to pick out a few and put them in your own plastic bag. Plus, those little mesh baggies do wonders for the shelf life of your average kitchen sponge if you tie one on and use it for extra scrubbing power on some of your hardest gunked-up pans.
- Don't buy the convenience foods — things like pre-washed lettuce in bags and pre-sliced mushrooms. Wash a head of romaine yourself (you can also better tell how fresh it is when it's not hiding behind colorful plastic packaging) and slice the darned mushrooms yourself! It takes no time.
- If something that you regularly use is on sale, buy it even if you don't need it right that second. Don't pass up a good deal this week because when the craving hits next week, you'll get sucked into buying it at a higher price.
I'm remembering why I started this blog. It's like a public brainstorming session. Does anyone else out there have any grocery store money-saving tips they'd like to share? Have you ever even thought about your weekly grocery bill, and what you can do to get more for your money? Share your ideas with me! Whether you're the drummer in a band or the retired mom living next door, I want to hear what you have to say. We can all help each other out, even if it's just a quick phone call to say that your favorite juice is on sale this week — want me to pick up a few bottles for you?
I have to make a grocery trip today, so we'll put my rules to the test. I am convinced that having a smaller waistline doesn't always mean your pocketbook has to downsize too. Eating healthy, all-natural foods is a right that should come easily to us in this country. Please, don't cut back on the organic milk, strawberries and broccoli next time you run out just because the future is a little more uncertain than it was two years ago. Respect your body and the food you put into it, and it will do wonderful things for you in return.