Spend a Fixed Amount at the Grocery Store Every Week or Stock Up During Sales?

A few months ago, I went grocery shopping in the morning on the first of the month, and I couldn’t believe how crowded it was.  After all, it wasn’t a Saturday morning when the usual grocery shopping rush occurs, but a Wednesday morning.

I waited in line to pay for over 20 minutes.  When I asked the cashier what was going on, she said that it was the first of the month, so many people’s SNAP benefits had just replenished.  These people were stocking up after possibly having had very little to eat at the end of the month when they were out of funds.

This phenomenon is not unusual.  Many people who are living on a tight budget (with or without receiving SNAP), after scrimping and doing without for the last 10 to 14 days of the month, are happy to go shopping and stock up.  The problem is that this stock up can consume most of their food budget, and the cycle starts all over again.

I mentioned in my last post that my family is experiencing a period of low income and a tight budget.  Luckily, I don’t foresee this situation remaining stagnant for years.  Within another year or two, my husband will be eligible to apply for a much better job, and as my kids grow up and become more self-sufficient, I should have more time to grow my freelance business.

However, for now, we sometimes run into this feast or famine pattern.  In our high cost of living area, we budget $700 a month for groceries for our family of 5.   (We have food intolerances including beans, gluten, dairy, and eggs, so we have to eat a special diet.)  The last week of the month, we’re eating an odd mix of foods, and we don’t have as many fruits and vegetables as we’d like.

Spend the Same Amount Every Day to Avoid Feast and Famine

I’ve been researching different strategies to help with our grocery budget.  One that I found is rather basic–determine how much you can spend per day on groceries.  For instance, in February, we can spend $25 a day on groceries ($700 divided by 28 days), while in May, we can only spend $22.58 per day.

If I’ve not been to the grocery store for 6 days, I’ll theoretically have $135.48 to spend on that trip, based on a 31 day month.

Using this pattern, I can avoid the feast or famine food cycle by making sure I have enough grocery money, even at the end of the month.

Drawbacks to Spending the Same Amount Every Day

The biggest drawback I see to spending the same amount every day is that there is not much flexibility to take advantage of sales.  For instance, if I normally buy ground turkey for $2.95 a pound, but it’s on sale for $2.45 a pound, I should stock up.  Maybe I’d buy 25 pounds at this discounted rate.  That right there would cost me $61.25, or almost half of my weekly budget.

However, it would save me $12.50 on ground turkey, and the stock would last us a few months.

While spending the same amount every day helps even out the feast or famine cycle, it may not be the best way to stretch your grocery dollars.  Instead, I prefer to buy on sale in bulk so I pay less and get more food, even if it means at the end of the month, each meal with meat has ground turkey in it.

How do you handle your grocery budget?  Do you set a fixed amount to spend each week, or do you set a fixed amount for the month so you can take advantage of sales?

How a Drop in Income Turned Out to Be a Good Thing

Over the last few months, my husband and I have lost some income.  Not a little drop in income.  About 20 to 25% of our monthly income.  And let me tell you, we weren’t earning more than the median income for a family of five to begin with.

Our budget was already tight, so when the drop in income happened a few months ago, I’ll admit, I panicked a bit.  I felt a little bit desperate.  I’m sure those of you who’ve been in a similar situation know the feeling.

And then I took a deep breath, and told myself we’d be alright.  And we are alright.  We’re actually better than alright.

Taking Stock of the Positive

The first thing I did, after I calmed down a bit, was to look at the positive side.  We had already paid off half of our debt, so we don’t have several debts to pay monthly.  We’re only left with one student loan payment every month, so that is a relief.  (When we started our debt repayment over two years ago, we had five monthly debt repayments that totaled almost $1,000 a month.  Now, we only need to pay $315 a month.)

drop in income a good thingSecondly, we’re used to living on a tight budget because we’ve been doing so as we try to pay down debt.  Our income drop, though not slight, was not going to throw us into a completely different style of living that we weren’t accustomed to.  I’m used to buying my clothes second hand.  I’m used to cooking all of our meals from scratch and not going out to eat.  The only adjustment we had to make was buckling down even more.

Why Our Income Drop Turned Out to Be a Good Thing

While our budget is lean, we still had some fat there.  We subscribe to Netflix for both streaming movies and DVD home delivery.  After the income drop, I decided the home delivery at $11.99 a month could go.  I had been thinking this for awhile, but I was afraid we’d miss the service.  Guess what?  We don’t.  I can borrow most of the movies for free from the library.

In addition, I think much more carefully about purchases now.  Buying something on a whim is no longer a possibility.  I have to think carefully before making a purchase, which has made me realize I don’t need many of the things I’ve been thinking of buying.

I also took other frugal steps that I’d been to lazy to take previously.  I had always read that making your own laundry detergent can be a big money saver.  A year ago, I bought all the supplies that I needed, but I never got around to making it.  Well, I finally did a few weeks ago, and it works great.  Sometimes it takes circumstances to prod me into changes I should have made a long time ago.

Of course, we don’t want to live with such a tight budget indefinitely.  But now I know that there are many cost cutting measures I’ve implemented that aren’t difficult.  When we make more money, that just means I’ll have room for greater savings and paying off that last student loan.

Have you ever experienced a tight budget?  If so, did you find it to be a good thing as I have?

Frugal Estate Planning

One of the joys of getting married and having kids is that you then must face your own demise.  The poet Donald Hall wrote about this in his poem, “My Son, My Executioner” stating, as a man and his wife look down on their newborn son, “We twenty two and twenty five/who seemed to live forever/observe enduring life in you/and start to die together.”

Cheery, thought, eh?

Estate Planning Isn’t for the Faint of Heart

Yet, if you have children, you must plan for their future should you die while they’re still young.  I know, no one wants to do this.  In fact, 4.5 years ago when I was pregnant with my last child, I sat down to do a will and trust kit that I got online.  I only got about three questions in, before, in my wild hormonal state, I broke down crying when I started facing the questions about when I would want the cord pulled.

It took me another four years to feel ready to have our will written.

I know.  Irresponsible.  Yet, it took me that long to accept that yes, I will die at some point, and yes, I need to plan for it now, while I’m still healthy and (relatively) young.

It Takes a Strong Wallet, Too

However, facing my own mortality was only part of the problem.  Once I was ready to have a will written, I had to face the fact that it was unbelievably expensive!

We live in the suburbs of a large city, so I don’t know if that’s the problem, but the first lawyer we contacted quoted us $2,500 to set up our will.  When I told him that we are living on a smallish income and paying down student loan debt, he generously agreed to put us on a payment plan without charging interest.  While I appreciate the generosity, we still couldn’t afford $2,500, even on a payment plan!

Next, I contacted a lawyer from my small hometown, but he still was expensive, quoting $1,200 to $1,500.  As Dave Ramsey would say, “It’s not in the budget.”

A Frugal Estate Planning Option

Frugal Estate PlanningIn the end, we made a compromise.  My husband and I both knew we needed a will in place, but we didn’t have the kind of money lawyers were asking for.  Instead, we turned to LegalZoom.

For less than $250 total, my husband and I each had our wills drawn up.  We each answered a few simple questions online, and each will took less than 30 minutes to create.  Then we paid and waited for the lawyers at LegalZoom to look over the document.

Less than a week later, the wills came through the mail and were in our hands.

When we don’t have so much debt and have a larger income, we plan to get a will and trust set up in person with a lawyer.  However, for now, on our budget, LegalZoom works perfectly.  We have a will in place should anything happen.

Have you used LegalZoom for a will?  Would you consider it?  Does $1,200 to $2,500 for a will created by a lawyer seem outrageous or normal to you?