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The Grocery Bubble

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You may not recognize the term, but I bet you know exactly what I'm talking about.

Let me explain to you what I mean.

My family's budget for groceries and household items is $150.  That includes people food, pet supplies, personal hygiene items, charcoal for my grill, laundry detergent and anything else we need to keep the Pizel household fed, dressed, and clean. 

Naturally the goal is to try to spend as little as possible, so maybe we find some things on sale, or maybe I turn that body wash container up side down, or push every ounce of toothpaste towards the end of the tube to make it last a little longer.

Sweet, $25 under budget, but I just blew a little bit of air into my grocery bubble.

On the next trip to the grocery store, I don't buy paper towels even though I know we'll run out halfway through the week.  I guarantee we'll get by just fine not having paper towels for 3 days.  The cats need their litter box completely changed but seriously, they're cats, so it can stretch one more week.

Yay me! $20 under budget this week, but that grocery bubble is getting bigger.

On week three I engage in an all out budget war and declare that the family is going to eat up all the stuff that's been sitting in the cupboards before we buy anything new.  No new snacks are purchased, and we're cleaning out all the items from the freezer that had been long forgotten.

This is awesome, I think to myself, three weeks in a row we've been under budget for groceries.  This week it was a whopping $30!  But that grocery bubble is looking mighty ominous at this point.

Each week we congratulate ourselves by adding the amount we were under budget into our discretionary funds and spend it.  We seriously contemplate permanently reducing our weekly grocery budget because we're doing so well.  We pat ourselves on the back for a job well done.

When week four rolls around we sit down to make our grocery list and realize we're out of everything.  I mean literally everything.  Every snack, beverage, food staple, and personal item that we could possibly think of is going on the list.  By the time we reach the check out counter we can barely move the cart it's so heavy. This week we went over budget by $75, which is coincidentally how much we saved the previous three weeks.  The problem is, we already spent the money we thought we had saved.

The grocery bubble just burst, and so did our budget.

Vonnie and I are pretty quick learners, so it didn't take us long to figure out it's best to take one of two approaches:

1.) If you're running out of something, just buy it's replacement if you have room in the budget. You'll need it eventually.

2.) If we do come in under budget, we put the extra funds into an envelope. If we get to the end of the month and still have money in the envelope, then we reclaim it. But more than likely, we'll have to repair a grocery bubble. This way the funds are available, and don't have to be taken from somewhere else.

Have you ever fought a grocery bubble?  How did you handle it?

Related Links:

The Risks of Secondary Grocery Shopping Trips

Date Night at the Grocery Store

A Grocery Store Dilemma


Travis Pizel, debt management plan customer with leading provider of debt relief, CareOne Services, Inc. Travis Pizel

Travis is a contributing writer for the A Straight Talk on Debt blog. He is also a very active member of the CareOne community forums. Travis is currently enrolled in a CareOne Debt Management Plan (DMP). Travis candidly shares his personal journey to pay off his debt and the tips he's learned along the way. As a father and husband he provides a unique perspective on balancing debt, finances, and family in Minnesota. You can also read more from Travis on the Enemy of Debt blog, where he is a featured blogger. Compensated Blogger for CareOne Debt Relief Services.

To connect with Travis on Google+ click

You can follow Travis on Twitter @DebtChronicles


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  • This is one of those things that makes perfect sense after you read it.  Our grocery budget usually gets messed up by a late in the month trip to Costco.  Most of the stuff will be consumed next month, but is on this month's budget.

  • This totally just happened to us...and the sad part is I saw it coming.  The only thing is there were other things that we did actually need so there wasn't too much I could do about it.  BUT in the future, I think the envelope idea is great...and that you really should acknowledge to yourself that you're not technically 'under budget' if you know you will be out of something during the week.  That acknowledgement will probably force you to put the money in the envelope because you'll realize better that you're going to need it, so no spending it!  

    I'm not happy that others have problems too, but it IS refreshing to hear stories from others that are going through the same thing or have encountered similar situations regarding debt and budget and living frugally!

  • Oooh, Bryan, the Costco trip is always a budget buster!  We've been trying to do a once a month super trip to costco and account for it in our budget for bulk items that we'll use the whole month.  It's SO HARD to get out of a club store without dropping a lot of coin!

  • Exactly, sabrinalc21, fooling ourselves into thinking that we were under budget  by just not buying something we know we will run out of is a bad idea.  It just pushes the purchase to the next week when there will undoubtedly be something ELSE that we run out of.  Hopefully our new tactics will help!

    I agree, I don't like hearing others having the same problems, but it IS comforting to know that we're not alone.  We can also share our experiences through the forums and blogs (and comments!) to help each other get BETTER at being better handlers of our finances!  

    Thanks so much for your comment, hope your journey is going well!

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