We had just come from a business meeting. Our refrigerator was on fumes because we should have gone shopping the night before, but we were at a networking event and had to wait a day. My husband was on a conference call while we were roaming through Whole Foods. This was our downfall.
I should preface by saying I trust my husband implicitly, especially in matters of math and memory (weaker points for me). So even though he was distracted by the call, I thought he was paying enough attention to our shopping needs. He wasn’t. We were four dollars over budget in the produce section and I tearfully (I was really fighting back tears) put back oranges for myself (my first treat of the month) and a bag of frozen veggies. It turned out we were over because Greg insisted on a larger bag of sugar than we needed (he didn’t see the smaller bag) and he grabbed the wrong butter (organic instead of regular).
In the car, after he got off the call, we realized the mistake and I finally let the tears fall. I’m still missing the oranges. Sigh. Four dollars seems like nothing, right? But a budget is a budget and that was the choice I made. What I put back was stuff that I prioritized (fruit and vegetables); what I let stay in the basket was stuff my husband prioritized (sugar and butter). It was ridiculously frustrating.
We did redeem ourselves! Whole Foods had a Weekend Madness sale with chicken breast at $2.99/pound (normally $4.99)! After we got home and assessed the damages, we realized that we’d be way ahead through the end of the month if we went back and bought more chicken. We zipped back and got eight more pounds of chicken and, double bonus, three pounds of ground beef on sale for $3.49/pound!
We now have all the protein we need for the rest of the Challenge and buying the meat on sale saved about $18 on the overall budget. You already know how much a $4 loss hurt, so you can imagine the relief of a $18 windfall! It felt like I won the lottery (okay, not really, but sorta).
The takeaway here is to adjust your buying (not your budget) to capitalize on sales when they pop up. We borrowed money from future grocery trips because it would save us money over the long haul and now we can really focus on fruits and veggies on our two remaining shopping excursions. Yay!
Adjusting to a Budget
If you’re like me, you have a food budget and then ignore it when something looks appealing at the store. You went over “by a few,” but it was no biggie. You’ll just make adjustments elsewhere. Doing that every single time over four to six trips to the store and you’ve blown your budget by a lot, not a little.
In a way, sticking to a hard and fast budget makes grocery shopping a lot easier. You need to hit the number so you start making decisions and, you know what? The less important stuff goes back on the shelf … and you still feed everyone just fine.
The other big adjustment for us, which is actually going pretty smoothly, is not eating out. At all. We do crave a restaurant when we pass by it, but otherwise we’re okay with our homemade fare. We’re full, we get to eat as a family, we don’t have to worry about sitting by a cold window, or being next to a loud table. We just relax, eat dinner, and talk. We eat at home most of the time anyway, but it’s becoming a ritual now to gather three times a day and I really enjoy that. We’ve been having some great conversations with our son and that’s been priceless.
But Still I Worry
I’m averaging two to four servings of fruit and vegetables a day; I’d love to shoot for five! I’m hoping with the $18 wiggle room we created that I can leverage more fruits and veggies. I will be extremely proud of myself if I can accomplish that on our next shopping trip.
I’m astounded by how much I’m still struggling to get the balance the way I want it even with the knowledge and research I have behind me. I wonder every day how the harried, low-income Mom manages. If you’re working long hours, you don’t have time to watch bread rise. If you’re exhausted at the end of the day, you don’t want to chop a bunch of vegetables or get up early in the morning to pack a healthy lunch for everyone. Plus, it’s so hard to afford healthy choices.
I know the reason why adults buy cheap, processed food for their kids. It fills them up. And having a kid say, “Mom, I’m hungry,” and you don’t really have anything to give them is heartbreaking.
It’s day 16 today; two weeks from tonight we’ll be hosting a dinner party and feeling ecstatic (and proud) that this adventure is over. But I sure have learned a lot already and I’ll definitely NOT be going back to what we were doing before. I thought I was pretty good before, but now I’ll be even better.
What do you think? What changes would you make if you were doing this yourself?
PS – Interested in reading how the 30-Day Challenge has affected my husband? Read his “No More Buddha Belly” blog post at Lisa Johnson Fitness.
Read ALL the 30-Day Whole Foods Thrifty Challenge posts.