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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Frugal Friday--Pay Cash for Groceries

The next phase of saving money at the grocery store is to pay cash for groceries.  Yes, it's scary.  Yes, it's uncomfortable.  It's uncomfortable because you don't want to be at the cash register and not have enough money.  I did that once way back in the 80's, but not 1988, and I was humiliated and never went back into that store for fear of being recognized.

Fast forward 20 years.  We weren't making enough progress with our TMMO (Total Money Makeover) and so it was time to throw caution to the wind, get crazy and do something radical.  It was time to pay cash for groceries.  This time I was much smarter about my plans.

Last week we talked about knowing where to find the 'best price' on the items you buy.  So I combined that knowledge with my inability to do math in my head; L will confirm that inability with story after story in case you have doubts.

I started at home with my grocery list.  I was already planning the week's worth of meals and writing down all the things I needed to buy.  Why not also write down what each of those items would cost.  Then in the safety of my home and with my trusty calculator by my side I could add it up at home and decide then if I had enough cash to make the purchases I wanted/needed.  Unless the item was $0.50 or less (are there still items for that little anymore???), I rounded up to the nearest dollar.

Then when I went into the store I had the cash I needed to buy what was on the list, plus I would add an extra cushion of $10 or $20 to my pocket (I don't carry a purse) to take advantage of any unadvertised specials or clearance items or slight overages in the total.

As I shopped and added items to my cart I would validate the price of each item on my list and as long as the price on the shelf was close (i.e. less than a dollar difference) to what I had written down, I would still have enough cash at the register.  For those items where I could buy an off-brand and be under my total I would.  For those items that were slightly over my estimate I had my cushion money.

Once when I was shopping for leeks to make L's, from SoHo, potato leek soup I had no idea how much leeks would cost while in the comfort of my home so I wrote down an estimate of $2.

Isn't it great that L and I just exchanged pictures of leeks a few weeks ago so I could share this picture?  Yes, we're a little strange, but we'll just leave it at that.      
Anyway, the recipe called for six leeks which turned out to be two bunches.  I estimated $2 for all leeks.  When I got to the store, they were $3 per bunch.  This particular week the funds were tight and I only had an extra $5 in my pocket vs. my list, but I was months into this process and feeling confident.  After a few minutes of deliberation with myself I decided that instead of six leeks we could make do with just three.  I selected the biggest ones I could find and was only $1 over my estimate.  The soup tasted just fine.

That day I came in $0.27 under at the register. It was the closest I'd come to going over.  This is serious Price is Right action here; I was a double showcase winner in that moment.

Oh what about those impulse purchases?  Well, they will have to be less impulse-y with this system.  I have no issue with buying chips, gum, coke, ice cream.  Just write it on your list and add it into your total.

I think I've been paying cash for groceries for at least five years now, maybe more, and it works.  Every payday I withdraw cash specifically for groceries and keep it in an envelope.  When I receive change back, all of it goes back into that envelope.  When the money is gone it's time to stop shopping.

In all that time I think I've run out of money only two or three times, but we had plenty of ingredients to fall back on thanks to my well-stocked pantry.

Remember, nothing changes if nothing changes.  

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