My Journey out of Debt

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A Grocery Store Dilemma

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My wife and I were walking through the grocery store aisles looking for the next thing on our list. Having found the sought-after granola bars, I picked up a box and placed it into our cart. 

A Grocery Store DilemmaAs I pushed the cart forward I heard what sounded like something being dropped into the cart. Looking down, I saw a second box of granola bars had been put on top of the one I deposited.

"I already got one," I declared.

"There's an instant coupon on the box," replied my wife, "Save a dollar if we buy two."

I knew a grocery store "discussion" was about to begin as I blurted, "We don't need two."

Before going grocery shopping, we make a list of the meals we want to make for the week, and list the things we need to make those meals. Then, we round out the list with snacks and needed household items.

As far as I'm concerned, when we enter the grocery store to do our shopping, we only buy the items on the list, in exactly the quantities that are documented on the list. There could be a guy giving away free pizzas while simultaneously playing ring toss with a unicorn and hopping on a pogo stick. I would walk right by him if pizza wasn't on the list. 

If we purchase everything on the list, we'll stay on budget. Stray from the list, and we'll stray from our budget.

So when my wife suggested we purchase something additional, my reflex reaction was that the extraneous granola bars should be put back on the shelf. She attempted to explain to me that if we're going to purchase another box of granola bars next week anyway, why not get it now, and save some money?

Completely overreacting, I insisted that it was important to not stray from the list. It may start with an extra box of granola bars, but the next thing you know we'll be buying four twelve-packs of soda instead of one because they have a four for $12 sale. Then it'll be five frozen pizzas for $10, and before we know it, we've spent twice our grocery budget for the week.

After a bit more discussion, we didn't get the granola bars. 

As commonly occurs with hard-headed husbands, thinking about it on the way home I started to understand my wife's point of view.  Saving money on something we would eventually purchase in the near future did make sense, but I still feared busting the weekly budget.   

We came up with some possible changes to our grocery shopping system:

a.) When making our grocery shopping list, come up with a list of items that total $10 less than the budget, leaving us some funds in case we find something not on the list.

b.) Have some items on the list marked as "non-essentials" that could be bumped from the list if we found something better.

I think the moral of the story is that we have to have some amount of flexibility in the grocery list if we're going to go shopping together.

What do you think? Do you rigidly stick to your grocery list, or do you have some flexibility built in?

Related Links:

Food Squirreling...It's a Real Thing I Promise

The List

Ban Grocery Budget Busters!

Travis Pizel, My Journey Out of Debt Blogger for CareOne Debt Relief ServicesTravis Pizel

Travis is a contributing writer for the My Journey out of Debt blog and is a very active member of the CareOne community forums. Travis is currently enrolled in a CareOne Debt Management Plan (DMP). Travis very 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. You can also follow along with Travis on his personal blog, Our Journey to Zero. Compensated Blogger for CareOne Debt Relief Services.

Follow Travis on Twitter @DebtChronicles

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  • Whoa Travis!  

    I've been reading your blogs for months now, and admire your determination to become debt-free.  As you know, sacrifice and discipline are required to reach that goal.  I can understand your fear of losing control and blowing the budget by not sticking to the list.  I also realize the importance of compromise.  Your wife can help keep a healthy balance.  The late Larry Burkett always said that if two people were just alike, then one is unnecessary, and he also used to say never do one thing to the exclusion of all else.  

    Your idea of keeping a little wiggle room in your budget for extras, like the "buy two, save a buck" deal, sounds like a great idea.  It's a win-win-win way to go--for you, your wife, and your budget!

    Best wishes to you.

    Susan

  • Hi Susan, first and foremost, I want to thank you very much for having read my blogs for the last few months!

    I agree with you (and Larry Burkett).  I think what he was really trying to say (or to expand upon it) is that we should celebrate our differences, and use them to enrich and enhance our lives.  It is this very reason that Vonnie and I have such a wonderful life together.  We are very different, and we balance each other out.  She is a very spontaneous, throw caution to the wind, let's just DO IT kind of woman. I'm a very "by the book", take it slow, cross t's dot i's, kind of guy.

    I ground her and keep her from going too crazy, and she keeps me from being the guy who thinks "letting loose" is turning the stereo up past 3.  She lets me believe it's OK to use silly string inside on New Year's Eve, and I'm there to remind her someone has to clean it up.  

    Maybe not quite that extreme, but you get my drift. :)

    Compromise is a very powerful tool - people who refuse to do so run into problems.  In cases like this, not only is compromise necessary, but our two differing personalities are needed to really produce the best possible outcome.

    Vonnie's there to point out how we can save money by being flexible with our grocery shopping.  I'm there to ensure that we adjust the budget accordingly to make up for the extra expenditure.

    Thanks again for your comment, and look forward to hearing from you again soon!

  • this is known as shopping brainwashing. it is has been for years now and they are improving their skill levels everyday. it is tied down with impulse buying. this takes time to control and learn to manage but it can be done. the next time you go out just try to pay attention to your surroundings, this is all around us daily. i am not perfect by a long shot but i am now growing and learning to be annoyed just going to the supermarket. i prefer going by myself these days.

  • Very true, Belto7264 - the whole goal is to get you to buy two packages instead of one - therefore getting more of an opportunity to get a customer "hooked"on the product.  People who buy the product anyway can utilize this to save money...of course you have to do it right.  By that I mean a.) don't eat the product at a faster pace than you normally would b.) be a regular consumer of the product.  In this particular case, we could save the money.  

    However, the coupon itself is not really the point of the article.  The point is that if you're going to go grocery shopping with someone else there is going to be differing opinions in regards to some "impulse" purchases.  This could even happen if someone is shopping by themselves.  Either you agree that the list is the list, or you introduce some flexibility and allow some "wiggle" with your purchases.  If you allow flexibility, the budget must be adjusted in the end so that it still works out.

    Thanks for your comment!

  • I have learned to pack extra funds in my grocery budget since i try to take advantage of deals on things I buy and use often ... key is to only purchase deals on things I use weekly. I will not go over budget on things that are on sale - it must be useful!  I'm not as strict as you are, but I do try to stay within budget and my list.

  • Great job Travis on sticking to your budget. I make sure to go the online site for the grocery store I plan on visiting when making my shopping list. They often will have coupons and list manufacturer rebates as well. Then you can work all of those into your list/budget.

  • Thanks for your thoughts, saracarr - I agree that sales on things that are used all the time should be taken advantage of.  Having some discretionary funds left in the budget in items like that are found has definitely helped.  Sounds like we handle such a situation very similarly - great minds think alike, heh?  :)

  • Thank you very much, lisajanelle522!  Your comment makes a good point that I didn't mention in the article - and that's to check the weekly ad so that the grocery list could be built taking into account the weekly sales.  In this particular instance, however, the "sale" was one of those "stickers on the box" things - so it wasn't listed in their weekly ad.  So, checking the weekly ad will certainly reduce the chance of "suprises," having a bit of flexibility while at the store may still be a good idea.  Thanks again for your comment!

  • When I make my list for the grocery store, I usually go through what recipes I will be using for the week and I also keep a running tally on what has run out or is close to being out. Things like Ketchup or Miracle Whip or pickles  and other condiments I always try to have one in the fridge and one in the pantry. Having those backups keep multiple trips to the store a minimum - if I go to the store a second time I'm more likely to overspend on things I don't need to buy. I have also realized that just because you are on a budget does not mean you can't eat well. . . for example:

    When my husband and I were first married, we spent the first two months of our marriage apart - he had found a good job in another state and I had to save some money to move and I still had to pack up my life. Before I moved to be with him I was balancing our new joint checking account, I discovered he was spending way too much for food. He was spending over $600 a month to eat out and $200 on groceries hahaha - the man can't cook for himself to save his life! I couldn't believe it, I was like, "honey, I love you but you are going to eat us into the ground!!!" Luckily, this was his only spending issue, so we were able to sit down and come up with a grocery budget and we treat ourselves to dining out only once or twice a month. We are happy and well-fed and save A LOT of money now - I don't think people realize how much they (over)spend on food.

    I think your post will help some people sit down and think about what they spend at the store.

  • It sounds like you and your wife have come up with some solutions to your grocery dilemma.  I like the posts you have received.  I think it is smart to look on line or check coupons before completing your grocery list.  If it is something you will be purchasing again the following week then it would be ideal to buy the 2 and save the dollar if you can fit it into the budget.  

    I personally have a list when I go to the grocery store and stick to the list.  I force myself to do so by estimating the cost (from prior receipts) and add a little buffer in case of an increase in price and then I only bring cash so I can't go astray.  I only have myself to worry about so it makes it easier to do it this way.

    I think you and your wife are on the right track.  You two will make it work.  :-)

  • Great comment, saracarr - I wish I could be more disciplined to keep track of supplies that were running low (like on a whiteboard, notebook or whatever).  I usually end up looking in cupboards and the fridge when making the grocery list to see what we're running low.  Unfortunately, I do usually end up making secondary trips to the store on my way home from work during the week.  Some weeks it really skews the grocery budget as it becomes more difficult to keep track of how much we spent on groceries.  I'd LOVE to  be able to get to a point where I go to the grocery store just ONCE!  :)

    Also, I agree with you 100% - just because we're on a budget doesn't mean we can't eat well.  In fact, I like to plan a  couple of really special meals during the week - and encourage others to as well.  If you plan to make things you really, really like, then you're less likely to want to  go eat out.  For me, there's not much to order at a fast food, or even most decent sit down restaurants that I can't make myself better and cheaper.

    Thanks for sharing more of your thoughts!

  • Your grocery planning sounds a lot like mine (estimating prices based upon prior experience/receipts), mdavis1964.    Thanks for the support - we will definitely make it work!

  • Well, quite a commotion over a box of yummy granola bars!  It sounds as if most of us pre-plan our meals and try to stick to the grocery list.  BUT (there's always a but)  my grocery budget is the only place I really have any "wiggle" room.  So, one box of granola bars would not have caused a financial disaster.  I'm glad you were able to see your wife's point of view and could appreciate what she was trying to do.  Sometimes, those boxes of goodies with pre-printed dollars off fly off the shelves pretty fast.  It would be interesting to know if they were still available the next time you went shopping?

    Unlike most people, I plan my meals for one month and try to shop only one time for the majority of my grocery needs.  It takes a bit more time but, in the long run, I think I'm saving money.  I can usually make several meals out of one night's cooking - just change the form a bit.  By doing this, I find that I don't need as many items from the store.  For example, making chili.  I make a large pot (can't make a small amount of chili) and that is one meal.  A few days later, the chili can turn into chili-mac with a salad and hard rolls.  Then, there is usually enough left for a lunch of baked potato covered with chili or chili dogs.  

    Anyway, my husband and I used to grocery shop together before we both retired.  After retirement, I decided this was a chore he enjoyed more than I did so we made a deal.  I would do the meal planning and put together the shopping list and he would do the shopping.  Most of the time, this works but there are times when I go instead of him.  Guess what - when I shop we spend less money because I'm able to make some substitutions and, like your wife, I go for the sale items as they are available if it is something we use.  He just has the list to go by but, bless his heart, he does stick to the list and doesn't bring home a bunch of impulse buys.  

    Good Luck Shopping and let your wife know I voted for her!  :)

  • Grocery shopping once a month?  You are a grocery shopping ninja, Tiquie We do a major shopping trip once a week, but still end up going back at least once sometime during the week.   The "impulse buy" is exactly what I was really trying to head off.....if you grab one thing that wasn't on the list on impulse, pretty soon it could snowball into a lot of impulse buys.  Which is why I love our compromise...it gives some "wiggle room" and flexibility, while still sticking mainly to the list, and definitely to the budget.

    Great to hear from you Tiquie!

  • So there I stood in the break room with a hand full of change, staring at the vending machine because the cafeteria was closed, and I perceived heading out to hit up a drive through would be more money than I wanted to spend. Not that I had time to do

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