Yesterday the Department of Agriculture released their latest surveys on the average costs to feed a family of four. They wisely broke the numbers down, based on a thrifty shopper, and then one for those who pay no attention to sales, coupons or discounts. The range was wide indeed. The thrifty family reported spending about $ 760 per month while the "free spender" spent almost double that at over $1300 per month.
When my wife and I were raising our kids there was no question that we would be "thrifty shoppers". Military pay back in those days was far less than what the troops are paid now. Even after ten years of service, and after having achieved commissioned office status, my pay was less than $600 dollars per month. The six of us had to live on that so my wife sewed clothes for the kids and we ate a lot of hamburger.
I can still remember when our first foray into financial freedom was reached when we could go to the commissary and buy our food on any day of the month. That meant we had sufficient money in the bank to cover the food bill....and didn't have to wait until payday to shop. We weren't alone. Pay day at the commissary was a circus as most military families also lived payday to payday.
The next rung on the "financial freedom" ladder did not come until after I retired and began working in lucrative civilian positions. That was when we had reached the point where we could write any reasonable amount on a check and not have to check the balance.
Now I'm back to "thrifty shopper" status. I'm retired, live on a fixed income and cost of living increases are rare, if they come at all. So, as real inflation creeps into my "personal economy", i.e., the 15% annual increases in the price of food, in increased utility costs and increased service costs, I have to learn each year to live with a little less.
To date, I'm giving myself an A- for a grade on managing my finances. I continually seek out ways to save money. I try to time my gas fill-ups as the price of oil declines (I monitor this on line). I seek out and clip coupons whenever possible, I sign up for rewards programs, and I'll wait until as late as possible in the season to turn on the Air Conditioning or the Heat.
I'm a bit perplexed about why folks don't bother with coupons. This week I went into my local Fry's grocery store armed with coupons and my Kroger reward coupons, some of them include free items.
I was able to buy over $100 dollars worth of groceries for $32 dollars. And no, I did not buy a single item that I would not have bought without the coupons. Now, I know most folks, if someone handed them $62 dollars and change would not turn it down! So why not clip those coupons!
I also hold back coupons to use in conjunction with a sale on items I need. For example, every month
Fry's sends me loyalty rewards coupons that are general in nature that gives me flexibility when choosing what to buy. About once a month Fry's offers bone-in chicken breasts for .99 cents per pound. By using my $1.50 off any meat selection coupon I'm able to bring the costs of those chicken breasts down to less than .70 cents per pound. Fry's also gives me a coupon for a free dozen eggs.
I always wait until the price of eggs spikes up before I use that coupon and buy when eggs are on sale. Fry's also offers up to .40 cents per gallon discounts on their gas when you spend a hundred dollars during any month. I use these discounts and use my USAA credit card to buy my gas because USAA gives me back .3 cents for each dollar I spend on gas!
Speaking of USAA, I'm retired military and fortunate that I qualify for car and home insurance with USAA, at costs about half of what any other insurance company charges!
I have also learned that store brand merchandise has significantly improved their quality over the last few years. I buy store brands whenever possible and find many of them superior to other well known, advertised brands.
Finally, even though I am often just cooking for one, I will, whenever possible, prepare food in bulk, then portion meals out in tupperware for freezing and eating later. This is a huge savings winner!
I am by no means a "coupon queen"....I've witnessed women in the check out line in front of me run two carts of groceries through checkout, hand over a satchel of coupons, and have them walk out without spending a dime, and often with cash back! That would probably be just to hard for me to manage but coupons and rewards programs are well worth using.
I do admit to one failure. For years my daughter has been after me to join Amazon Prime, with Amazon.com. I am a big Amazon customer but just never wanted to shell out the annual $79 dollar annual costs for membership. Then one day last month I finally engaged my brain and added up all the rewards for Amazon Prime. For $79 bucks a year Amazon gives you free two day shipping, they offer free loans of thousands of books, free video streaming of tens of thousands of movies and TV programs. They actually give you too much for this price and I suspect that some day they'll raise the fee!
But last month I gave up my $140 dollar cable bill, bought a ROKU unit and watch free streaming movies and even the new TV shows for free from Amazon and the hundreds of other ROKU channels! Score!
Shop wisely folks! Take advantage of what folks are willing to give you!