Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Cinching the Belt

Mr. Peevie created a household budget that allowed $600 per month for groceries. I was shocked. "Six hundred dollars!" I squeaked. "I'm sure we don't spend that much on groceries."

"You'd be surprised," said Mr. Peevie grimly. Sure enough, ten days into the month, he notified me that we had already spent $250 on groceries. Forty-two percent of our budget gone, but 67 percent of the month left.

So I decided to start paying closer attention when I loaded my cart at the produce market. It turns out that food is rilly, rilly expensive! Even the basic stuff costs way more than you think it should. Bread, for example, is $3.29 per loaf if you get the kind that has a little bit of actual nutrition left in it. Milk is $3.09 or more per gallon. And if you're lactose intolerant, forget about it. A half gallon of soy milk is close to $4.

(Why is soy milk so expensive, anyway? Isn't it cheaper to grow soy beans than to raise cows?)

My little local market has great prices on some things, like produce and deli meat. But the price on some staple items will stop your heart. Cheerios, for example. My family goes through an entire institutional-size box of Cheerios in about 45 minutes--so I refuse to pay $6 for it. I can usually get it on sale at the big chain grocery store or the local big box store.

But now I'm faced with an additional trip, which means extra time and gas. With gas at nine bajillion dollars a gallon, is it really worth it? Get out the calculator.

I've started to make a side trip to the Holsum bread outlet (9207 N. Milwaukee Ave, Niles) as well. Instead of paying more than $3 per loaf, I pay $1 per loaf--and sometimes even $.50. I did do the math on this trip, since the store is exactly five miles from my house. If I conservatively get 12 miles to the gallon, and gas is $3.30 per gallon, then I'm spending about $3 to save $2.30 per loaf. Four loaves of bread will last me 9 or 10 days. That's a net savings of $6.20, which translates to $223/a year.

But this little outlet saves me money on more than just bread. I buy cookies for the kids' lunches, and gravy packets for 79 cents instead of jarred gravy for $3. I save on bagels and biscuit mix, too. On Sunday I fed my family of five a delicious meal of biscuits, sausage, and gravy. Total cost: $4.50.

Last night I made southern fried chicken (thighs and drumsticks), garlic mashed potatoes, and yummy gravy. I even opened a bottle of wine, and the total cost was still less than $10.

Is there a recession around the corner? Looks likely. But I'm slowly getting the hang of cinching my grocery belt and cooking frugally. (Not cheaply, as the Frugal Gourmet used to say. Cheap is no bargain, but frugality delivers quality without waste.)

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