New Year, New Spending Habits

By Clair Boone on 29 January 2010 (Updated 1 March 2010) 14 comments
Photo: qmnonic

After a month of eating badly and not really moving around, I decided it was time to get my body back in shape and get fit again. Instead of turning to an easy workout, I decided I’d let my very fit friend talk me into the 30 Day Shred with Jillian Michaels. Although it’s making me extremely sore and tired right now, after 5 days I can already see the benefits and know that the end is in sight and the benefits will far outweigh the sacrifice.

Saving money is no different. Christmas has a way of sneaking up on you, and before you know it, the budget is out the window as you spend money like no other month. This year I want to encourage you to set some budget goals that are easy to maintain.

Habit #1: Making Wiser Choices

My new workout plan is hard right now, but I know — in the long run — the benefits are going to be enormous, and I’ll feel better. It’s also like that when it comes to spending habits. You may have gone along for years on a nice income, and then you lose your job and things were tougher. Or you may have thrived on two incomes, and then your spouse has a baby and it’s now time to trim the fat off the budget.

2010 can be the year that you significantly cut your grocery spending so that you can live better and have more money in your back pocket, but first you have to make the decision to do it by making wise choices. Being a wise consumer is the first step to cutting your bill, because even when you want to splurge, you will know whether or not you have the money to do it. It’s not about cutting back in every area, but making wise grocery decisions that will lead to more money for the piggy bank. Being aware of where that money is going and how it’s being spent is the first step on the road to new spending habits.

Habit #2: Buying on Sale

This seems simple enough, and yet it's huge when it comes to budgeting. You know the drill: you run into a store last-minute to grab a couple of things, and you end up with a cart load of groceries that weren't on sale. Because you shopped without a list and ignored sales, you spent more than you wanted to.

Or, while browsing the aisles you found the strawberries for $3.99/lb that looked so yummy and the apples at $1/lb that just didn’t quite appeal. The difference is a whopping $2.99/lb, and this year it’s time to think through decisions like that. Although it may seem like such an insignificant amount, if you put just 15 items into your cart that are $2 more than another similar item, your grocery bill just went up $30. If we’re going to really save money this year, you need to watch seasonal sales and buy accordingly. During the summer, when exotic fruits are in abundance, stock up on your need for mangoes, star fruit, and the like, but during the winter resolve to eat apples and oranges to truly cut costs.

Habit #3: Buying Generic Brands

A friend of mine and I went grocery shopping a few months ago, and watching her was an interesting study on human behavior. As she wandered the store, she “blindly” threw items into her cart, not paying attention to what she was doing. It almost looked like she was looking for name brands, and when she spotted one she threw it in the cart. Perhaps that’s why her grocery bill for a family the size of mine is $75 more per week. She bought items because she always did and because her Mom used to — without even comparing prices.

I won’t lie. I’m a box reader. I read the ingredients and the price. You may be thinking, “Woah there, I don’t have time for all that nonsense.” In honesty, I don’t think it takes that much more time, but it will save you a lot.

Compare the prices and save. Generics typically cost much less than their brand name cousins. Worried about the taste? This research done by Yahoo proves that there’s no difference.

Habit #4: Re-discover ALDI

Once an unclean, unkempt place with more MSG, high fructose corn syrup, and water-added ingredients than is healthy for any normal person, ALDI may not be the first place you want to shop. However, if you haven't stepped into an ALDI recently, may I suggest that 2010 be the year you do? Here's just a few reasons why...and trust me there's many more:

  • Their Fit n Active line is perfect if you’re on a diet or trying to eat healthy. Unlike most healthy food, it won’t cost you the earth.
  • When I’m thinking baking, this is one store that has me covered for way less. From pie crusts to powdered sugar, I’ve found that the ingredients at ALDI are about $1 cheaper than elsewhere.
  • For a place where cutting costs is premium, I was shocked to learn they have a great meal planner tool online. If I can plan all my meals online before going and have a list to take with me, voila! How easy is that?

Don’t forget to bring cash or a debit card (as they don’t take other cards), a quarter for the cart, and some reusable bags.

Spending Habit #5: Couponing

I can hear you groan through the computer as you think this is reserved for people with too much time on their hands and no children to tag along. Consider this: Through couponing I haven’t paid for most toiletries in 8 years. Through couponing my family of 3 lives on $50 a week for groceries. As for the time spent couponing? With about an extra hour per week, I save at least 50-60% on my grocery bill. That’s huge. In fact if I think about monetary savings it’s about $35-$50/week that I save. That calculates out at around $40 an hour, which to me, is a great wage!

Feel incentivized?

I am very simple when it comes to coupons:

  1. I cut out mainly toiletry ones (to couple with free things at the drugstores for their rebate programs).
  2. I only cut what I need. Once my kiddos are old enough to cut, I'll circle the ones I want and have them clip away.
  3. One night a week, while watching a show on TV with hubby, I clip and sort. (Sometimes it takes way less time than that.) I then put them into one of 2 folders: one for toiletries and one for food.
  4. While I'm adding new ones, I take out expired ones and so I don’t have to do tons of weeding out.

Coupon-clipping can appear daunting at first, but it is well worth it in the long run. Over the years, it’s enabled us to get things we already use for free, get things we don’t use but can donate for free, and live on one income.

Like any other habits cutting your grocery bill takes time and takes work — but, oh the payoffs! The benefit of being able to buy a caramel macchiato every week are so worth it for to me to be clued into where my money is going and what it’s doing when it comes to the grocery store.

This is a guest post by Clair Boone. She bought diapers for 20 cents a pack and earned the applause of the cashier checking her out. Over the past year, Clair Boone’s website Mummy Deals and money-saving tips has helped thousands of people all over the U.S. save hundreds of dollars.

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Guest's picture

New habits really do make a different. You can live larger when you're aware. I worked with a client this morning who wanted to make some changes. So we instituted a practice where she wrote down her spending every day. Here it is close to the end of the month and her budget said $300/month for food and she's hit $317 so far and realizes she really needs more food for the end of the month... so do you start eating the rest of the eggs for the next few days or re-evaluate the use of your budget.

Thanks for the blog.. happy to see the message continually getting out there. Change can happen when we realize we can make simple changes to improve our quality of life at work and at home.

Guest's picture
Robert

I see Bounce in the basket. Not a store brand!

Guest's picture
Molly

ALDI ROCKS! Canned goods not even on sale for 35 cents? 45 cents maybe for a big can? wooohooo!

Linsey Knerl's picture

Hey guys!  Thanks for the comments.  Robert, the photo was selected by the editing team, and is not one that was provided by Clair to represent her own shopping adventure.  (Although I know Clair personally, and I'm fairly certain -- if she could match a coupon with a fabulous sale to get it for free -- she'd buy Bounce in a heartbeat!)

Linsey Knerl

Guest's picture

This article is great as I am always searching for ways to cut down on my spending. And you're right, we could start by just trimming off of our budgets. I live in a house with two other people and realized mid year of 2009 that I was spending over $500 a month on food...and we don't even cook much!

The tip about the generic brands is great. I have learned though that if you coupon right that you can save a lot more through buying name brand IF it's on-sale and you have a coupon that doubles or triples.

Checking to see if your local grocery store doubles or triples coupons is often the first step. Then you grab your Sunday paper and look online for coupons of items that you use. By comparing the sales to the coupons that you have--you can often buy name brand and save a TON of money.

I list freebies, samples, coupons on my blog all of the time if anyone is interested at Frugal Francines Money Blog

Guest's picture

One of the best ways from preventing yourself from spending too much is to go into the store with a set list. Don't be tempted as you walk through the ailes, grocery stores are designed to tempt you! This can actually make grocery shopping a whole lost faster as well, get in and get out.

Guest's picture
Guest

Personally, I love Aldi because it's really hard to "go wild" in there with the grocery money! There's only one kind of everything. I know the aisles, I know the brands, I know exactly what's consistently good and what's not. I can zip through in twenty minutes or less, and I'm outtie with a week or more in groceries for $50. I find I shop more with coupons that I do without, so I only "coupon" for things that can't be found at Aldi.

However, when I go to Kroger or WalMart, there's so much choice that I can't process all of it and am confounded into spending so much on things I can get down the road at Aldi for much, much less. Also, I get sidetracked by duct tape or pens or underwear or greeting cards...

When shopping Aldi, don't lose your sense. Read the ingredient labels. I get wonderful cereals, excellent frozen green beans, whole chickens and great deals on vegs and fruit (that usually must be eaten within a day or two). I am worried that it's not the healthiest food, that it's not organic (although I'm seeing more of that at Aldi now), but when it's a choice between utilities or gasoline or groceries, it's survival mode, baby.

Guest's picture

I just opened my email shortly after my girlfriend and I were discussing how to improve our spending habits. This just supports it.

Guest's picture
Susanne

Thanks for a great article! I've been cutting coupons for several months now, and the savings, while nowhere near yours, is significant. I have a few questions though. I've seen coupons offered online and most of the time you have to download coupon printing software to get them. Is the software safe? I'm very cautious about what I download. Is the software the same for all or most of these sites, or do you have to download a new one for each site? And finally, is it worth it? Are there enough savings in online coupons to make it worth the download and the effort? If anyone can help me out on this I would reallly appreciate it! Thanks!

Guest's picture
Guest

The World Is A Very Big Place - what the hell is an ALDI? (OK, I know now - I looked it up - but there aren't any in my whole state, let alone my vicinity.) Don't assume it's universal, or that you don't need to clarify and perhaps suggest an alternative.

njg

Guest's picture

Wow I never knew you guys went to Aldi. I have so many fond memories of going there when I was a student. Great place. The pain au chocolats are so nice!

Guest's picture
Jessica

I'm always curious when people say they spend X amount on groceries/food for the week to know; what exactly they're buying, where they live, how many meals are eaten outside the home. I'd love to see some kind of "grocery store confessions" diary, to see how people buy food over the span of a week. My inner sociologist/anthropologist wants to know these kinds of details!

Guest's picture
Clair

Thanks for all the comments.
ALDI is but one place with great prices. As they're owned by the same people that own Trader Joe's (great organic healthy store) they're bringing in great items.

Coupon downloading: I love coupons.com, Smartsource and RedPlum and wholeheartedly trust them.

Finally, on the grocery snapshot: that would be an interesting one! For me (without the diary!) we eat out about once/week, we eat healthy meals and rarely eat pre-packaged frozen items or things like frozen pizza. I cook from scratch (although I don't enjoy it) and I buy wholewheat more often than not.
When you get most of your toiletries for free (http://www.mummydeals.org/search/label/Walgreens) and are able to use coupon overage to buy the rest/toilet paper, it really helps!

Hope that helps!

Guest's picture
Tim

My wife and I have diligently logged every dollar spent in a Google Docs generated spread sheet for the past 2 years. I'm amazed at the amount of money that we spend and we are pretty frugal.

Put down everything and after 2 or 3 months you will get a good idea of your spending habits. Don't stop recording though, you need to see what the damage is after one year. It really isn't that big of a task either since most of us are at our computers everyday and your Google Docs can be pulled up from any computer as long as you have net access.

I ask a lot of people if they know how much they spend for certain things over a month or a year and they have no idea.

How can you get to a goal if you don't know the roadblocks that are created by yourself and your partner! How can you curb spending when your total monthly expenditures are a mystery!

In all the blogs I have read I don't think I have ever seen anyone stress the importance of an easy (and free) way of tracking daily spending.
Watch those dollars,
Tim