How Low Could you Go?

I know, I know…you are probably tired of hearing me talk about money. Well considering it’s the season when most of us lose our heads in the quest to give the best gifts we can (or cannot) afford I figure you can never talk enough about money.

I have been reading this blog almost since it’s inception, I think I mentioned here once before. Basically it’s about a family that lives off $1000 a month! Yes, you read that correctly a thousand dollars a month. Long story short, it’s a married couple with 3 small kids, they live here in Maine and actually seem to do ok. Ok at least as defined by the blogger.

I must admit that while I strive to reduce debt and be frugal that there is no way I could live off that little, hell I couldn’t do it as a single Mama almost 17 years ago. That said, while there are a lot of choices this family makes that I couldn’t see doing personally, I have to admire their desire to live within their means…even when they don’t have much.

This weekend, while I was happy to have solved the car problem without going into debt, I must admit I was having a bit of a pity party. See, I busted my ass to get my bonus from work. If you read this and you know me personally, you know the work I do and at times how grueling it is. I love it but at the same time it leaves me drained. This organization has never given the director a bonus…so you know a sista was grinding away to get that extra cheddar. (translation, I worked hard as hell to convince them to give me a bonus).  Now I had not planned anything specific other than to visit family with that cash, I had planned on there being some cash left over for Mama to have some fun. Fun? Oh yeah, simple shit I no longer do like getting nails done and actually a trip to get my hair done since the fro has gone crazy. Well all that is history at this point thanks to the car situation.

Now I know I should be grateful that we were able to resolve the car problem yet human nature being what it is, I was feeling pissy yesterday and realized what a hypocrite I can be at times. Hell, I was just telling my sibling the other day you have to focus on what you have and not what others have….great advice, even better if I were to heed it myself. Truthfully I do a great deal of the time, but this weekend was not one of those times.

This morning though as I made the rounds to blogs I read while I feed my coffee habit, I was once again struck with how some folks are seemingly able to make do on so little and appear to be content. So I wondered again, what would it take for me to be one of those folks? I don’t have the answer yet but I am thinking about it and when I figure it out I will be sure to share, in the mean time I ask you, could you live on a thousand bucks a month and be content? If so, why? If not, why?

Saving money…let me share

Time to make a public update on my money situation. In the end, Oct was an okay month with my money, but I think I shared that recently. What I want to share is how I have started saving cash at the store, now for some of ya’ll this is kid’s play but you gotta understand for me this is huge. Like many folks I have always poo-pooed the idea of using coupons after all, most of what I see for coupons is stuff I would never buy since we don’t use a great deal of convenience or processed items. Yet recently I have been reading more and more about folks who shop the sales and combined with some coupons end up saving a great deal.

Well times are tough, money is tight and I have a lot of plans in the coming months chiefly some trips to visit family and friends and since I haven’t seen my raise yet and still don’t know exactly what it is going to be, I know I need to reduce my spending.

So last Sunday, I actually took an hour with the sales papers from my local grocery store along with a few coupons and decided rather than making my usual grocery list that I was going to only buy what was on sale, stock up on those items and plan my meals based off what I bought rather than my usual way. Normally I make the meal plan and shop based off what I think we re going to eat.

Well in changing things up I have saved over $120 this past week and stocked up on quite a few items. Now I mentioned this to a few folks and there seemed to be an assumption that I must have a crate load of junk food. No, darling not at all. Examples of things I bought in volume only using the sales would include 5 lbs bags of King Arthur flour that I got for $2.50 a bag. King Arthur is a decent brand and generally pricier than the cheaper stuff, I now have 15 lbs in the cabinet. I also stocked up on sugar, shredded coconut and other baking goodies. I rarely buy chicken breast but the store had a buy one get one free deal on Purdue Split Chicken Breast, so I stocked up on those too.

The only processed items that I stocked up on were Annie’s Mac and Cheese, the girl child will not eat my homemade mac and cheese no matter how much I try to make it look like Annie’s and frankly there are times I don’t feel like cooking. Also the boy will be home soon, and he likes to snack on these as well, so I took advantage of the 3 boxes for $4 sale.

In the end, I spent maybe an hour and a half poring over the sales and creating my list and clipping coupons for toilet paper and paper towels. (I tried to give these up but it created more laundry and sadly juggling family and my outside job, creating more laundry is not an efficient use of my time)

I even took advantage of the new chain drug store opening up and saved a bit there on items I would normally purchase with their $10 off a $20 purchase coupon. At that store I stocked up on laundry soap (el cheapo brand I use for linens since due to skin sensitivity, I can only use 1-2 brands for my clothes) toothpaste, and other related items. The Spousal Unit has been teasing me that I have become one of those women, but I admit I kinda like getting deals especially when its stuff I would buy anyway. Yes, it took time to actually read the flyers and plan but if saving money and switching up things means I can head home for a visit soon its all good.

I admit, I doubt I will ever be the lady getting $200 worth of food for $5, since unless coupons start coming out for fruits, veggies and meat, there are still only limited items that I can use coupons for. However by shopping the sales it seems I may be able to reduce our grocery bill by at least $100 which is a plus since currently it stands at close to $600 which is a tad insane for 3-4 folks.

So I share this with you to say if this not the way you shop, it might be worth looking into, after all what might you do with an extra $100 a month?

Financial failure

Hi there! My name is BGIM and I am addicted to spending money. Yeah, it sounds like I am kidding but lately as I strive to live a simpler life and get a handle on my finances, I am realizing I have a problem. For the life of me I cannot go a day without spending money. Even the days when I plan to spend it’s not uncommon for me to overspend by a good $50 to a $100.

So what am I buying? Um, food…we don’t do a great deal of eating out anymore but I am a sucker for any and all local foods and farmers markets. I average over $100 a week going to the farmers market. Then there is my coffee stops which while I drink cheaper drinks now (no $4 or 5 beverages) the fact is they add up. Despite the fact they are not daily occurences.

Then there is that thrifting habit, now this is a tricky one, having lost a lot of weight my existing wardrobe is a piece meal operation and there are still a lot of things I don’t have and only realize it when I have a meeting or conference to attend. Yet I am starting to feel, it would have been cheaper to devote $400-500 at one time and hit the outlets rather than the constant thrift shop search for clothes since $20 here and $30 here adds up.

The thing is, I am planning a few getaways to visit family and friends who I have not seen in years and now that girl child no longer goes to the insanely overpriced full-time childcare it is realistic that in the next 6 months we can visit family but only if I am not nickeling and diming our cash away.

Just today, I set aside $50 for the week (house filled with food) yet already I have spent half of that and we have a trip to the city planned later this week which will take the remaining $25. Which means either I have to spend no more money all week or go over budget.

So all you frugalistas out there…how do you not spend money? And no not leaving the house is not an option since I do have to go to work this week. I do pack water and today I even brought snacks for girl child in the car yet still spent $7 buying her and I drinks at the evil Starbucks. Somebody? Anybody? Help me! My name is BGIM and I am addicted to spending money and I need an intervention.

Happy Monday!

Living Simply…what does it mean to you?

I have noticed lately that folks talk a great deal about living simply. Yet when I think about that term I wonder what the hell does that mean exactly? For some folks it means living within their financial means and not accruing debt, for others it means getting off the grid and living off the land, for others it means  crossing the country in a veggie fueled RV and taking whatever job they find to put food on the table.

Right now for me living simply means struggling with getting out of debt, yet I still succumb to a daily iced coffee on the way home from work…this is down from the multiple espresso drinks I used to buy daily, yet it still involves spending cash, just a lot less than I used to spend.

I no longer visit malls unless I know exactly what I need, I go in, get what I need and leave quickly before I buy something just because it was cute or on sale. Yet I still get weak in thrift and consignment shops, hence the second vintage dress I bought recently that no one in my family likes…what do they know?

I cook a lot more from scratch, yet I still eat the occasional meal out especially in the summer time when I just don’t feel like cooking. However it tends to be an inexpensive salad or tart from a local eatery. Gone are the days of the $75 lunches. Though I know there are many that would say that I still waste money, true but I strive to find my balance between living a lot more simply but not feeling deprived. Drugstore lipstick probably could work at $5 a tube but MAC lipstick at $14 a tube definitely works and if I save 6 empties I get one free.

So what are you doing to live more simply? Do you even think about living a more simple life? Let me know…I can always use ideas to streamline my life.

Frugality on hold

The past couple of months, I have been diligently recording all expenditures and trying to abstain from the use of plastic including the ever faithful debit card. In the past two months  I have been working hard at seeing where my money goes. I learned that the reason my budgets always seem to never work is because I am never completely truthful during the budget writing process. Its easy to forget small reoccurring expenses like Netflix, etc…

I also have a habit of running to the store for one small item to make a recipe, I am happy to say that I have cut down on extra trips to the store. Lately I have taken to doing one large grocery trip every 2 weeks and only running out for milk, water (my tap water taste like Donkey ass and the Brita filter doesn’t fit my faucet) and produce. It definitely cuts down on spending. It also meant that when the girl child’s nitrate, nitrite gluten free turkey hot dogs were out, she went a week without her favorite food and guess what? She survived.

However after 2 months of being a good frugalista, I have to confess it was driving me crazy. So this month, I took a break. My son also known as elder boy was home for spring break and truthfully while I know he would not have said anything if we just sat around the house, it was time to go out and have a little fun…sadly fun in Maine in April when the weather doesn’t quite know if its spring or winter, will cost you.

So I figured I blew the budget by at least $400 and you know what? Its okay, I realized that I will get back into my daily financial journal by May 1. While living within your means or even below should be a goal, there comes a time for some when it starts to feel like a burden and at that point I am realizing its OK to give myself permission to spend a little.

So frugality will be on hold until May 1 around here. Hopefully I can get those electric blue Chucks I spied the other day before I go back to no-spend land.

Results from the low spend February

Thanks to the economic downturn deciding to get up close and personal with my family in the form of less work aka less money coming in, last month I decided to record every expense we made. I started last month rather excited by the challenge and half way through the month realized that this new adventure was going to be a lot harder than I initially thought.

I have not considered myself a shopaholic in a number of years but as I recorded every purchase I realized there are some areas that I needed to tighten up in….I spent a whopping $1300 in food and miscellaneous expenditures which is a tad over what I budgeted. We ate out 10 times which is a great reduction for us and considering a couple of those meals were legitimate business discussions, it was a little less than 10. Still we have to do better.

I must say that not trying to spend money is hard as hell, look, I don’t do mall visits but its always little shit that seems to trip me up. There is also the fact that I need to make a more realistic budget that includes clothing and grooming items especially with kids since the girl child has decided to have a mid winter growth spurt that required clothing to be purchased. (pesky child…stop growing!)

However the biggest single trap that I seem to be stuck in that undermines my grocery budget is that while I do cook most meals at home, I have a tendency to cook what I am in the mood for rather than cooking what is in my house. I am the type of person that if I in the mood for say steak sandwiches and there are no steak sandwich fixings in the house, I run out to get the items to make the meal. Yes, its cheaper than eating out but the reality is it would be better to just cook what is available.

So for the month of March, my goal is to cook from my pantry. I am off in a bit to do some grocery shopping and from this point on, we will eat what is in the house. I suppose by the middle of the month, I may be salty as hell but my savings account will love me.

Speaking of savings, we actually did manage to put a little something in savings despite having less income, so all was not lost.

While I am not completely happy with the first month of reduced living and see definite room for improvement, all was not lost. So here’s to a better March, by the way tell the weather folks we need spring up here, a sista is tired of snow…almost another foot fell here yesterday.

No Spend Challenge Gone Wrong

These days everyone is looking to save a buck anyway they can, which is why I was all gung-ho about doing one of the no-spend challenges that are so hot these days. If you do a quick google search you can read up on how millions of folks are committing themselves to only buying the bare necessities as a way to save money.

So 10 days into this challenge, I decided to tally up what I have spent so far….drum-roll please…..I have spent a total of $613.71 for the first 10 days of the month and that includes the one day I only spent $3 on a Misto with mocha at Starbucks. This figure doesn’t take into consideration our bills just groceries and things that I am now using cash for; we have gone a tad off track since the little one needed art supplies and shoes, plus there is my pesky dry cleaning. I have only eaten out 2-3 times so far, so I can’t even say its eating out that got me off track. My original plans were for $200 in groceries and $150 in miscellaneous costs (excluding gas since that is a different line item in the budget)

Now I will say that this figure is better that what we usually would have spent by now which almost certainly would be closer to a thousand bucks but its still not as good as I had hoped for, as evidenced by the fact that yesterday I had to pull out my debit card.

Turns out my plans for a $400 a month grocery bill as a working Mama is fantasy, I use a few too many convenience items such as canned broth….tried to make pizza crust last night and ended up getting a Boboli crust since the one I made was a tad funky at first. Though I did turn it into a second pizza and it was edible.

So while I am still committed to reducing our spending and working towards truly not spending on anything that is not critical (guess one could say that my $20 eye brow wax wasn’t critical, on the other hand unibrows are not attractive) the reality is this shit is much harder than I thought it would be. The only plus is that I have put more in the savings account that I normally do by this time in the month.

By the end of the month, I will post again on how I wrap up this month’s challenge. As for today, I am grappling on whether or not I should spend $1.50 on a tasty cinnamon roll on my way home from my morning meeting…its these damn cravings that get me every time.

Really it’s fun

So last night I was at home chilling with some friends celebrating getting another year older and the conversation turned to the economy. Long story short, everyone at the table is feeling the pinch these days. Gone are the days of spending money without a second thought, instead its all about pinching pennies and getting the most of what few shekels we still have left.

So when I brought up the fact that I planned to go check out my favorite consignment shop which is having its annual blowout sale, I didn’t think anything of it until my girl gave me a crazy look and said “You mean the clothes are used”. Um….yeah, the clothes are used. Granted this particular shop carries a mix of new, used and vintage stuff and is without a doubt my favorite place to shop.

Well it turns out my girl who is getting a fast and dirty lesson in being broke due to a nasty divorce and a soon to be ex-husband who has decided he doesn’t want to do the right thing, has never been to a thrift or consignment shop. In fact she was stunned to realize I rarely buy anything other than undies, socks, shoes, and accessories new. Well since it was my birthday, I was rocking my favorite skirt, a wool mini skirt picked up at Goodwill a few months ago for a mere $6. When I pointed out that my outfit was second-hand she was amazed…amazed enough that after I explained the difference between a thrift and consignment store that she said she would like to go with me soon when I go make the rounds.

Now, I am still a amatuer when it comes to thrifting compared to my Mom and others I know, but since 2007 when my cushy teaching gig went south, I have become a proficient thrifter. Things I have learned, are that the best times to thrift for me personally are when I don’t have any specific thing in mind. After months of searching high and low for a bread machine, I landed one at the local Goodwill for $4 when I wasn’t trying to find one and yes it works.

In my opinion, thrifting is officially in style these days and gone are the days when you need to feel bad about it, shit I can hit the Goodwill and spend $50 and everyone in the house gets something plus a trinket for the house. Now I take that same $50 to the mall and even with the deals that are being had due to the economy, I don’t make out so well.

Truth is thrifting has spoiled me, I rarely want to buy new anymore as evidenced by the fact that during the holidays I got a gift card and went to the mall thinking I would get a new outfit and honestly I didn’t like anything I saw. I am not paying $40 for a sweater that I can get for $5 or $10, sorry but that is crazy and even more crazy now that times are tough.

Look, I know when you grow up poor and you were forced to wear second hand stuff as a kid that you grow up and want nothing to do with used shit, but really unless you are making a lot of money, have some money saved and are doing well…buying new for the sake of buying new is silly. Plus the upside of buying used is that its good for the environment…really, I am not kidding you. I don’t know about you, but I hate the way new shit smells, nice and chemical like and sometimes even gives you a headache. Well that’s because that new sweater is off-gassing and that shit ain’t cool.

Check it out, maybe you wanna help the environment but money is tight, after all organic food costs 2 arms and a legs but you can buy used and buy local and help in your own way. So if you have never ventured down to the thrift store check it out, really its fun.

Simple Living, race and class

I know, the title is goofy as hell, but right now no sooner than I start feeling better my allergies decide to act up, so back to hazy head. Please bear with a sista.

Anyway this is more of a rant and a chance to stop thinking about the election before I start raising my blood pressure. See, I love looking at blogs and sites that talk about simple living. It always touches that Suzy Homemaker side of me when I visit a blog with some cool ass pictures of some homemade treats. Hell, just the other day I was inspired to make some banana-chocolate chip muffins which I must say were very nice. (sorry no pics, them babies is long gone)

However most of these sweet Suzy Homemaker blogs that go on about the joys of cooking from scratch are written by white women. Now there is nothing wrong with that, but I am starting to think that middle class white woman’s view of inexpensive and my Black view of inexpensive are two different things.

In the crafty Mama circles there is a woman who blogs who is well known, now this blogger lives in Maine, probably about 20 mins from me as best as I can tell plus I know someone who knows her (that whole 6 degrees of separation thing). Now this blogger does a wonderful job of making her little life look cosy and affordable but living here in Maine, I can tell you she is full of shit.

See, every store or restaurant she mentions shopping at, us locals know is not cheap. She often writes about what she cooks in fact she posted an amazing recipe for pasta sauce, she got the tomatoes from her CSA (community supported agriculture) and the local farmers market. Well how come my Black ass spent $21 yesterday buying the tomatoes to make this recipe? Yeah, it came out tasty and shit but 6 pounds of tomatoes at $3.60 a pound ain’t cheap. Shit, I could have bought some Classico for $2.29 a jar and been done with it. Since in addition to the tomatoes I had to get garlic and basil. By the time I was done, I could have eaten out and it would have been cheaper. And, there usually aren’t many deals for organic and healthy; but Kelloggs coupons are a dime a dozen.

I see this sort of thing happen a lot online, where folks are seeking a simpler life and often white folks will say make it yourself its cheaper. Now all summer I have been pricing shit out and the fact is I spend more at the farmers market than when I shop at the grocery store. Ultimately its worth the money to me to eat local and organic since I think in the end the benefits outweigh the costs but lets not lie to ourselves its not always cheaper dollar for dollar.

Take bread, I know all these folks that suggest making your own bread. I almost fell for that until I realized that my bread consumption (low) is not worth the cost of a bread machine or the kitchen-aid mixer I need to make bread. Have you seen the price on these items? Sorry, my local Goodwill don’t ever have shit like that lying around… I know I keep hoping to find em.

No, all this ranting is about the fact that in my humble opinion, to live a frugal, simple, healthy eating style life generally requires you already have some resources at hand. I mean if all you got is $30 to feed you and a kid or two for a week, the reality is eating produce from the farmers market or the co-op probably won’t stave off them hunger pangs. On the other hand some lunch-meat sammiches on white bread and ramen noodles while unhealthy as hell, will keep the hunger pangs at bay.

In an online community that I am part of, someone brought up a KFC commercial that is running that speaks of getting a chicken dinner to feed the family for $10. Many of the community participants said that was a rip off and that they could make a fried chicken dinner for under $10. Damn, well my hat off to you because I will admit I stopped frying chicken because it was too time consuming for starters plus when I buy enough chicken to feed my crew it ain’t cheap. Even in my little hamlet here in Maine, barring a sale on the chicken, a fried chicken dinner with some fresh mashed potatoes and handmade biscuits costs me more than $10. So again, dollar wise that KFC deal would in fact be a bargain, but taste wise cooking myself would be better.

Now I know most folks would say, well you buy when stuff is on sale and stock it up in your freezer. What about if you are broke and don’t have extra money to stock up for the future? See, I been there too. Thankfully I do have a spare freezer that is stocked but again having been po, that wasn’t always my reality and for folks on the financial edge that often isn’t their reality either.

Nope, while I think its great to strive for a simpler life where one can home cook meals if that is what they desire, I think its naive to not see the privilege inherent that makes such a lifestyle not available to everyone. Back to the blogger I mentioned earlier, she is a stay at home Mama but her husband has a very lucrative career. Lets just say she is not married to a freelance writer like yours truly.