Sunday, February 10, 2008

False abundance and necessary frugality

With baby's arrival looming, I've been sorting through the details of my "maternity leave" benefits at work and our future one-income budget. Yikes. Somewhere along the line, we became really comfortable with out two-incomes... more comfortable than we should have, since we knew all along that we'd be going down to one. I have such regret over this. I wish I could go back and change our thinking and some of our actions. Yet, regret is only useful to the extent that it changes our future actions. And so, I'm trying to be wise about our future decisions, and not spend too much time wallowing in our past mistakes.

I've always tried to live in a way that wasn't wasteful. Now, I enter a phase (probably a very long one) of necessary frugality.

I've been thinking a lot this week about how, in many cases, you must spend money in order to save money. The bulk option, while more money up front, is often less expensive in the long run. And yet, when you have a limited quantity of something on hand, it's easier to save it and make it last. Buying in bulk only works if you don't consume it wastefully, living with a sense of false abundance.

My husband's favorite snack is crackers and colby jack cheese. We usually buy him pre-sliced colby jack from the refrigerated section of the store - by the deli. A friend lovingly pointed out to me that his cheese is really expensive - something she would never buy. Costco sells a loaf of colby jack for less than the price of two of his deli packages. Ouch. I got him a loaf of the colby jack, and then we hunted for a cheese slicer that would let us adjust the thickness of the slices. Hubs went to work slicing the entire loaf of costco cheese into thin slices. It worked perfectly. We calculated that his slices cost $0.11 per slice, compared to the previous price of $0.37 per slice. However, this is only a good deal if he consumes it at the same rate as he did before. If he starts living on cheese and crackers, since they were cheap and we have a hundred slices in the freezer, then the good deal goes out the window. As a side note, I hate that we had to buy something (the cheese slicer) in order to do this, but it was the only way it would work for us. We'll just have to stick with it in order to make it worthwhile.

We also stocked up on our favorite cold cereal this week. We usually eat homemade Egg McMuffins or oatmeal. I love the protein in the egg breakfast, and the extreme frugality of the oatmeal. Cold cereal is usually saved for days when we eat breakfast separately or when we are in a huge hurry. Unfortunately, the kind we like is normally priced at $4-5 per box at the grocery store. On sale, we can find it for $3. This week, we noticed that the Rite Aid had it on sale for $2.50 per box. I've never seen it that low. When hubs knows about a deal, he's a great hunter! He looked online to see where all the local Rite Aid stores were, and during our errands out and about all week, we stopped at 3 or 4 different stores to see if they had our cereal in stock. I think we ended up buying 6-7 boxes. However, we had the same talk about the cereal. Eggs are still a lot healthier and cheaper, and the oatmeal is a LOT cheaper. We can't just start eating our cold cereal all the time, simply because it's abundant in the pantry. If we do, we will have wasted money rather than saved it.

We've been living for years now with a sense of false abundance. Shame on us. I can't help but notice that as we begin our necessary frugality, the temptation to live in false abundance will be there. Perhaps this is the great downfall of many frugal attempts.

1 comment:

Reformed Grits said...

Kel, I know what you mean. Most of the time what others consider "buying in bulk" is just "grocery shopping" for my family of 8. But when I do find a good deal and stock up on something, sadly I have to HIDE it (yes, I do!) from the kids. I know when they see a lot of boxes of cereal in the pantry, for instance, that it's directly proportional to how much is left wasted in their bowls and on the floor. (I know that sounds horrible but we deal with food all over the place all the time. I hope you don't have this same experience but it is a common one!) I started "hiding" things in a box under my bed or in the deep freezer in our basement, etc so they are "out of sight; out of mind."
We have cut back on our finances as well to reach some personal goals and I agree that different ways of "saving" usually incur an extra expense-- hanging laundry on a clothes line instead of drying in the dryer requires a clothes line to be bought and installed; growing food in a garden requires gardening equipment; cheaper electrical bills through florescent (sp?) bulbs require buying them. It's a big job to figure out where the savings meet up with the costs, but it's a part of our job descriptions as home economists.
Semper reformanda, huh?! We will always be learning and changing and growing. Hang in there!