Friday, August 2, 2013

More about Living Below your Means, a key to preparedness

Apparently, in this new economy, frugality is becoming part of the main stream.  In my last post on Living Below your Means, I discussed a lot of major purchases, like cars and houses.  I also addressed a working wardrobe ( at least for women).  Today I'll discuss more mundane topics, like food and everyday household needs. Most of what follows is for non-perishables but you can apply this to produce that you preserve or freeze. For fresh produce, see my posts on Bountiful Baskets food coop.

One of the major transitions to a frugal lifestyle for us has been getting off the 'just in time' method of purchasing food and supplies. That may sound odd, but there are several points of economic benefit to the 'buy on the dip' method for non-perishable items. The two that I appreciate most are having the items when you need them and being able to buy when they are most affordable. With most savings earning little or nothing, and many consumer packaged item prices still rising, you may 'earn' more by having tangibles than by waiting to purchase as you need them.  I am not advocating filling your garage with toilet paper, but having more than 1 roll per person on-hand may be a good move.

Most consumer products have prices that change over the course of weeks or months.  Most obvious are Christmas or Patriotic theme items, but virtually all products have a price cycle.  Part of the frugality cycle is tracking a few of these and combining the dips with coupons or special offers. This improves your preparedness by having a little cushion of critical or high use items, like toothpaste or toilet paper, on hand.  I'll share a few examples.

Recently I bought contact lens solution for a friend using this method.  Normally, the product was $15.99 for a 2-pack of 16 ounce bottles (about 5 cents an ounce).  I saw it on special for $13.89. There was also a 'bonus pack' with 2 24-ounce bottles for the special price.  A $5 gift card was offered if you bought 2 boxes, AND I had 2 $1-off coupons for the product.  So I bought my friend 2 boxes for $12.89 each and deducted $5 from the total because I used the gift card on my purchase.  The  final price to her was $10.36 per box or 2.2 cents an ounce. By the time she is running low on the product, it will probably be on special again. In the interim, she can spend the $10 not spent on contact solution to take advantage of another cyclical product special, like toilet paper.

To start the transition to cyclical 'stocking' you need to pay attention to what you use and how quickly your family uses it. You may also want to know your first and second choice of brands.  I like AngelSoft toilet paper, but the Target brand is almost identical. I monitor prices and when one dips into my target price range, I pounce. No, I don't fill the garage, but I may buy a 24 or 36 roll package to last a while.

I find my best deals on consumer packaged items at Target or Costco. I won't really discuss Costco because the nearest one to me is 70 miles away, so I only shop there if circumstances require that I go to the BIG city.  The Target is much closer, so I'll share my strategy which usually reduces my cost by about 30 percent. We buy the local Sunday newspaper. I clip the coupons from the enclosure, but only on products I normally buy. These more than pay the cost of the paper.  Next, I go to looking for any new coupons on items I normally use. Last, I go to the Target website for their coupons.  The great thing about target is that they will let you coupon match AND use both coupons on sale and clearance items (many stores won't allow matching, especially on their sale items).  So , another example: I love the Glad handle-tie trash bags. Target had a coupon for $1 off one box (I had 2 of those), I also had a manufacturer coupon for $1.25 off two boxes.  I found 2 boxes of 56 each on clearance for under $6 per box. Final cost was about $4.25 per box. The reason these boxes were on sale was that the new boxes, which cost $8.99, had 68 bags per box. End bargain was 7.5 cents per bag versus 13.2 cents.   Yes, I was fortunate to find them on clearance, but I had about a 3-shopping-trip window to use the coupons, so I waited for a sale or clearance. Because I still had half a box at home, I could AFFORD to wait for a better deal.

The other thing you'll notice is that I calculate the UNIT PRICE.  That is the only way you can find the best price. Example:  recently cotton swabs were on sale in the 300, 500, 600, 750 and 1000 swab packages. Yes, I did the math. The swabs in the 500 swab-packages were about 30 percent less expensive than the 1000 swab-packages. Who would have known without a calculator. Hey, use the one on your phone!

And speaking of your phone.... I have a neighbor who pays an unbelievable amount per month  for their phones and service. I still have my 2006 flip phone.  I don't do a lot of texting, and I don't have Internet access on my mobile. I pay for a fixed number of minutes and they nick me 20 cents if I send a text. My bill is less than $50 per month, and I'm looking for a cheaper provider.  Problem is that not many providers want to do business in this part of fly-over country.  The ones that provide service where we need it, the boonies between major cities in the Western US, charge a premium. If the interstate exits with services were closer together, I'd drop it altogether. I'm just not ready to volunteer walking 20 miles to the next exit when it's 105 outside if the car goes south, unless there's no other option.


  1. excellent post as always MM. the rat

    I would comment more if I didn't have to deal with the word verification.

  2. keeping a log book is part of the frugal lifestyle. Our last major purchase was Mac and Cheese at .49 each (the character type - SpongeBob, Monster inc., etc) when the normal price is 1.49 each. We bought 70+ boxes to last us until the next dip. $35.00 now saves us over $100.00 over a year. i can't think of a better return.

    Use a log/price book to track those prices!

  3. Many that I try to explain this concept to act as though I am talking Greek to them. So many people have problem thinking past a week or so for any type of planning.

    One friend that does understand this concept has attended a couponing class where they let her know coupons run on a 9 to 12 week basis. I've found some ads are even more frequent. Anything we use that is in this category we buy enough to last 3 months. We then backfill each time these items come on sale also looking for coupons.

    We estimate our savings at 35% for groceries/household items. Besides saving a considerable amount of money this routine allows us to eat quite well. A good example was boneless rib-eye steaks for $5.99/lb. MMM- good!