Wednesday, March 10, 2021

My Extreme Grocery Budget – How It All Began

 


In the fall of 1989 I moved myself and my two year old son out of our one bedroom apartment into a two bedroom apartment situated much closer to my new job.  I had recently finished school and had begun a job as an optician in a new town that summer.  After three months of working and saving up for the cost of the move I had found the right apartment, a new daycare and was excited about this next chapter in my life.  We didn’t have much at the time so I was able to move us mostly on my own.  A friend of mine asked her boyfriend to help me move my full size bed, an armchair and my kitchen table and chairs in the back of his truck.  Everything else I moved in two trips with my Datsun 210 sedan which was packed tight.

 


At this time I had a daycare bill, apartment rent, an electric bill, a car payment and a student loan.  Rent and daycare was quite a bit cheaper in the town I had just moved to and I had just completed my probationary period at work so I received a 39¢ an hour raise.  With only a only a handful of payments left on my car I was very excited about where I was heading but I also knew I had a several months ahead of myself where money was going to be pretty tight.

 


We got paid every Thursday so I would pay my daycare bill every Friday.  I considered that my most important bill to pay because my son was most important to me.  Then I would hold out enough to save up for rent and my other bills to pay on the first of each month which would usually leave me with $15 to $20 (more often than not just $15) a week for gas and groceries.  I would put $5 into my gas tank, gas was only about $1 a gallon at that time, and the rest had to cover food, diapers, any cleaning supplies or toiletries we might need and toilet paper.  My son only used a diaper for naps and night time so a bag of store brand diapers lasted all month but at least one week each month I had to buy a bag of them at nearly $5 a bag.  Up to that point I had used cloth diapers because our old apartment included a washing machine.  Now I needed to use a coin-op laundromat which proved to be a bit on the expensive side.  Disposables diapers made the most sense at this time.

 


Our Friday evening entertainment and something I very much looked forward to each month was to go grocery shopping.  I eagerly awaited the arrival of the grocery store ads and coupons in my mailbox each Wednesday so I could sit down to figure out our menu plan for the week and see how much food I could acquire with just $10 plus any change that was left over from the week before.  I would make my list and map out to the penny what I was going to spend and factor in any coupons I might have.  It completely depended on the ads as to what store or stores I would shop at each week.  Then on Friday evening I would pick up my son from daycare and off we would go to get our groceries.  He loved bananas so I always made sure I picked up bananas and a gallon of milk for him every single week, no matter what.

 


In those days I was super careful with not only what I spent but how I used the food I bought.  We didn’t have any food waste at all because everything was so precious to us.  And even though we didn’t have a lot of money at the time we still managed to eat very well and nutritionally.  I am proudest of the fact that ramen noodles were rarely ever on the shopping list.

 


We had spaghetti, mac & cheese with sliced hotdogs in it, soup, hamburger mushroom gravy over rice, soup, sandwiches, toast, eggs, pancakes, hamburger patties (steak night), chili and chili dogs, chicken leg quarters, chicken & noodles, and frozen veggies on the side as they were much less expensive than the canned ones.  Jiffy muffin and cake mixes made for a lot of thrifty desserts when we needed a little something to satisfy our sweet tooth.  Somehow I always made it work and we never went hungry.

 


Occasionally there would be an extra week in the month and I would have an extra paycheck, free and clear.  I wouldn’t squander the extra money like some of my co-workers did by heading to the bars or buying things they didn’t need.  Instead I would put some money into my savings account for emergencies and the rest would be used to stock up like crazy on groceries, toiletries, cleaning supplies and laundry detergent.  I would also hold out enough to get my son a new outfit or a pair of shoes if he needed something.  Those were my favorite days and I eagerly looked forward to them.  It made me feel rich!  



That is how my extreme grocery budgets got started and after a while it just became a habit.  After so many years it is so deeply ingrained in me that I don’t even have to think that much about it.  There are a lot of great benefits to an extreme grocery budget too, but that will need to wait for another day.  I’ve rattled on long enough for now.  I’ll share more on the benefits in an upcoming post.

 

 

22 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing your story. Sometime it is crazy to see where we came from and how well we survived! I look at my adult children and the budgeting and thrifting we did as a family are things they are doing now. Makes this momma proud!

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  2. Great post!! I enjoyed reading it. It’s amazing what you can do when you set your mind to it!

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  3. I loved reading this post. It took me back to the 80's when my daughter was very young. I remember having 13 dollars a week for groceries and making that stretch the same as you. Twice a year I think it was I would have a 5 paycheck month and would stock up on everything. I can remember having no laundry detergent for weeks at a time, using some bar soap on our clothes, rinsing them and then putting them in the washing machine. I used candles and an oil lamp on my kitchen table for light to save on electric, walked wherever we could to save on gas. And you know, we were never sad about it or felt deprived. I was just grateful I could make it all work. Thank you for sharing

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    1. That was me too. So grateful it was working out and super grateful when those extra paychecks came along. :)

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  4. I am proud for you that you did not brag about making it with ramen noodles since I feel they are the most unhealthy food on the planet. I don't think I ever knew you had a son.

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  5. Thank you for sharing your story-- these personal background stories might be one of my favorite kinds of posts to read. So much to learn from you and also really tugged at my heart, as I have a 2 year old son. Sounds like you provided a great life and example for your son!

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    1. Anything is possible. Sometimes we have to get really creative, but we can make it work.

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  6. I developed similar habits after I graduated from college and moved to my first place, and still have them. And you're right, habits are what they are. I still have an extreme grocery budget, though I really don't have a need. I continue with the behavior for many, many reasons. Off the top of my head the first three are: 1) It makes no sense to me to spend more on groceries when there's no need; 2) It saves time, lots of time; (Yes, it really does) and 3)It's actually fun!

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  7. I don't remember if I even knew you had a son

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  8. This is a truly great post. I have read your initial story way back when you started the blog but this is richer in detail. You are proof that this works. Thank you for the encouragement!

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  9. What a great read. Thanks for sharing your story. I also didn't know you have a son.

    I remember getting through college (just me, so no child to take care of) with a $100 grocery budget, and thought it was tiny. I should have called you for advice! You were crushing it, feeding two people with that. I didn't have a lot of space or skill in the kitchen, and often reflect now that I made some poor choices, in an attempt to make the money stretch. Had I invested in a few pots, spices, etc, I could have eaten healthier for less. Lessons learned.

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    1. I made a few mistakes along the way as well. It's how we learn and become better. :0)

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  10. Love this post! You are such an inspiration ☺

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  11. I enjoyed this trip down memory lane! I'm far behind on my blog reading and will slowly be catching up as we have internet minutes available. So much I have missed!
    Jeannie@GetMeToTheCountry

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