Thursday, March 20, 2008

Recession and me: how will my behavior change

At Consumerism Commentary, there was a posting about how people were cutting back on their food expenditures substituting chicken for steak as an example. Sasha then asked readers what they were doing to cut back on expenditures. I commented I was reconsidering purchasing as much meat as I did before and buying block cheese rather than grated. I saved some money as I am not paying for the convenience of someone else grating my cheese for me. However, I really could not think of anything else other than buying fewer convenience items.

My food budget has remained unchanged for nearly two years. My last change: I increased my monthly grocery allotment by $10. Since I cook my own meals and buy fewer convenience foods, I have been able to purchase more than other people who buy frozen pizzas, Easy Mac, presliced cheese and frozen dinners. I still buy granola bars, soups and even four frozen entrees, but mostly I buy items I have to assemble and cook myself. Homemade dinners bring the cost per serving down dramatically even if Lean Cuisine is on sale.

Other than the category "gas" and "car insurance", I have not increased the amount in my spending plan for any other item. I take care of my car, generally drive the speed limit (rarely more than 5 mph over when I do speed), and plan errands in clusters to minimize gas usage and car wear and tear. While I live about 14 miles from work, most of those miles are driven at 45 mph or greater, a 20-minute commute in good weather.

My automatic transfers into various savings accounts have remained unchanged and I do not anticipate decreasing my contributions. While I could lose my job dramatically affecting my financial state, at this particular point, I believe the likelihood is small. Even if I do not get a raise, I would survive an economic downturn with most of my finances intact. I doubt I will remain unscathed, but for the moment I have needed to make few changes.

One thing I am more conscious of (and that was even before the "R" word was spoken) is my total savings accumulation. I could afford to buy many items without losing much of my savings, but I am extremely reluctant to touch more than $200 for anything. That money is my safety net and I want it there for emergencies, not there for me to spend. While I might fritter away small amounts of money, for larger items, I really think about if I want it and what it will do for me. For example, I would love to buy a 17" MacBook Pro for my own use. Do I need one? No, I have a perfectly usable iBook G4, a bit older but quite functional. Something shiny and new would be faster (and bigger), but a frivolous purchase I do not need. Want, yes. Need, no. (Technoenvy is not pretty but I still lust after shiny new Apple Computer hardware.)

While I sound confident, I cannot predict what the future will hold. Any number of things (injury, sickness, totaled car, fire, etc.) can change my financial state from secure to precarious. I do the best I can, save my money, continue to invest in my retirement vehicles every month, eat better, consider the balance of items coming in and out of my life and hope it brings me to a better financial situation. Any safety net is better than none and I have family close enough to help if I am in real trouble. I hope the doom and gloom talk is just that, but I have prepared the best I can just living frugally and saving as I have for the past few years. These strategies should help me weather this storm and get me to the other side safely. What do you think?


  1. How do you typically plan your meals to keep yourself in a budget? I have begun writing a menu based on things we already have in the house but would like to get into a groove of planning, buying, preparing, no waste, etc. Any tips?

  2. Hi again advocations!

    I have a few earlier posts that address this under my keyword "grocery" or here.

    My methodology boils down to a few things:
    1. Grocery shopping once a month (I hate grocery shopping).
    2. Have a list of planned items to cook for that month.
    3. Have a magnetic notepad or other list on the refrigerator to note what items I ran out of.
    4. Shop only with my list and my calculator.

    My calculator really is the key. I have a designated amount for groceries every month. (My number is $130). This covers my big trip and my one or two little trips for additional milk. I punch in every item I place in my cart and since I know I want to keep the amount to $120 (leave some room for those extra milk runs), I have to start debating what to put back when I see it on my calculator and I am not done with my list. Usually it is a convenience item or the extra large quantity I thought I could fit in this month. Between my calculator and cooking from scratch, I find this keeps me from going over budget.

    I hope this helps. Please let me know if you have additional questions.