Kathy Petersen’s Blog

Taking steps….

Posted in frugal by Kathy on March 14, 2008

In my last two posts I’ve talked about my food budget, and how I’m taking steps to reduce it.

One thing I really need to crack down on myself is to make up a price book, like Amy Dacyczyn talks about in The Tightwad Gazette. I’ve got one started, but I’m not getting the hang of it. I really need to fill it in, and just make myself do this. I know it’s a learning process, and I shouldn’t feel like I should be able to master everything with ease, but it’s kinda getting to me. One difficulty is that I’m not going to go down the store and just write down all of the prices. Not only is that rude, but it would likely attract attention from the store manager, and may cause tension or questions. Also, my kids are not that patient. 🙂 So I’ve tried to rely on receipts and store flyers. Only problem is that I don’t get the flyers until I’m already at the store, so I couldn’t write them down until I’m already home. And the receipts don’t have good information on them, like the price per pound on meats and things. Note to self–must step out of comfort zone!

I recently realized that I was looking at the food budget incorrectly. I looked at it as a single item, like every other item on my budget–mortgage, electricity, car insurance, etc. The problem is that food is not a single item–you don’t go to the store and buy one food for the month. This is, I think, a turning point in my mind. I’m starting to write down and track what foods I buy. Currently, I’m dividing what I’ve spent on food into various categories–meat, dairy, vegetables, etc. Only when I know what I’m really spending my money on can I take steps to reduce it. It’s one thing to know that I spent $400 on food last month. It’ll be a lot more powerful if I can look at the types of foods I purchased with that $400, and see that I spent $30 on produce but $100 on meat. Only when I look at what comes in and what goes out can I really see what I’ve consumed. It’ll take some tweaking and tracking over several months, I’m sure. For instance, the other day I bought a 10 lb. ham, cooked it, cut it into cubes, and will use it in soups and things throughout the next few months. That $15 was spent in March but will likely not be fully consumed until the end of May. A few months ago I bought six bottles of ketchup; we’ve just opened the second one.

Once I can see what we actually spent on meat, cheese, milk, vegetables, rice, beans, etc., I can really start to think of ways to reduce consumption of the more expensive items while increasing the consumption of the cheaper foods. Will I be horrified if I discover that half of my budget went to meat and dairy? You betcha! But it’s important to know that, so I can consciously use less of it.

Right now, my freezer is full and my pantry is stocked. I think I won’t have to spend much more at the grocery store this month, except for some perishable items. Of course, time will tell. I thought I wouldn’t have to buy anything this month except for produce, and I’ve already bought $100 worth of groceries, including $30 of meat.


4 Responses

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  1. Lizabeta said, on March 24, 2008 at 5:12 am

    But the $ you spent on ketchup in that month is money you will not spend on ketchup another month. If you find pre-pricing things and keeping track to be difficult, then track your spending in a spreadsheet based on your grocery receipt. You can catagorize, total, cross check…
    The next step in that is to plan your meals to overlap so that if you open something that will spoil, you use it in your next recipies before it goes to waste.
    My husband hates LEFTOVERS, a residual effect of his mother serving up some pretty awful stuff past its happy time. Except, I love them. He realized I wasn’t trying to torture him when I started calling them Planned Overs. Something we intend to eat for lunch the next day.

  2. womantowomancbe said, on March 24, 2008 at 2:25 pm

    That’s a great idea! The lazy part of me doesn’t want to “go to all that trouble”, but the “nerd” part of me wants to do it. 🙂 I’ve already written it down a bit in a spreadsheet, just to keep a running total on the computer (I tend to lose paper, and forget about it). I’ve made a spreadsheet for our budget for the year (one tab for every month, plus a tab for the full year–obviously, a work in progress), and could do this for food. Ok, now you’ve really got me thinking… 🙂 Gonna do it right now!

  3. Kristy Moore said, on March 30, 2008 at 12:50 pm

    Well, you AREN’T supposed to go to the store and write down all the prices! Not only did Amy specifically say that in her book (in response to several letters about being harassed by store managers), but she says that it is way too time consuming to stand around in a store logging 100’s of prices.

    And I record all of my meat prices off of the labels when I get home. I can see that I bought 2 pounds of 80/20 ground beef for $1.25/lb on manager’s special (half-off about to expire meat).

  4. Kathy said, on April 5, 2008 at 12:35 am


    Yeah, I know she says not to do it, which is why I haven’t done it for so long. But I’ve got a hang-up somewhere somehow about getting this price book done. The largest part of it is having it “complete.” I seem to get some of it done before getting bogged down and frustrated that it’s not done. The main thing seems to be in trying to find the prices for staples and other items I buy regularly; but I buy them in quantity, so I might go several weeks or even a couple of months between buying sugar or flour. If I comparison shop between 4 different stores, then it would take me a year to complete the price book. Also, a lot of my receipts (esp. the salvage store) make it hard to match the prices to the items; and I tend to wait too long to record prices, so I’m not really sure what items or quantities go with which prices some of the time.

    I’m not talking about writing down hundreds of prices at the store — just jotting down a few here and there each trip. This is where my perfectionism is a curse rather than a blessing — I’ve got a mental hang-up about using an incomplete price book. It’s like if it’s not complete, then what’s the point of using it for anything. Stupid, I know, but very real and very difficult to overcome.

    Must. try. harder. 🙂

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