Sunday, October 23, 2011

2012 Planning - Food and other shopping

So, in addition to food to eat at home, what do we buy?  A long list of stuff including:
- toiletries
- household products
- beer and wine
- printer ink and paper
- clothes
- books and newspaper
- cell phone service
- gifts, cards and postage
- haircuts
- dog food, grooming, and vet care

I also include donations in this category.  There are many other small things I am sure.

These expenses together with food-at-home expenses will account for about 25% of our 2011 living expenses (excludes taxes and retirement savings).   This group of expenses can be hard to manage because they occur generally in small amounts and prices change frequently.

However, I am the one who does most of the shopping and this is where I probably have the most opportunity to save without decreasing our enjoyment of life.  Not sure I can have more fun in this area although being more creative would be enjoyable.

Food is the most frequently shopped for item along with non-food consumables such as toiletries, household products, and beer/wine.   These are budgeted together and in 2011 we are on target to have spent an average of $126 per week on these items for two people.  That's not bad given the specific foods bought for my husband due to food allergies, but it still could be reduced.  I look for coupons in the paper, store aisles and packages, but there aren't too many for the items we buy.  I also check for sales, often buy generic, shop at the major grocery store on the day the 5% senior discount is applied, and stock up to a reasonable extent.  We cook from scratch usually, alternate vegetarian and meat based dinners, and don't waste food.  My husband packs his lunch almost always.  Five stores are used and that is my limit!  One regular grocery store, Whole Foods for specific non-dairy and no salt products, Trader Joe's for other no salt and some other products, coffee roaster/shop, and a drugstore.  Sometimes I also go to the nearby Saturday Farmer's Market for fresh organic produce. 

Other shopping is occasional and based on a need to replace an item, obtain a service, or a perceived need (that is really a want isn't it).  I did recently make a purchase for the first time through Craigslist as we wanted an extra large dog crate for a dog visiting over Thanksgiving and I was unable to borrow one that size.  If I decide to sell it I could probably get all or most of my money back and it was less than a new one.  What else have I bought recently?  Slippers, shoes, printer cartridges and paper, a book, replacement home phone, nutrition newsletter subscription, membership in county arts center, and a vet visit to check a possible eye problem all appear on last month's credit card statement.  Certainly the book, newsletter and membership were not needed.  The dog crate was not strictly needed, but it will certainly make the visit more pleasant for everyone including the visiting dog and our dog.  The other purchases replaced worn out/used up items or were to take care of our dog's health.

Giving was a big expense in 2011.  Although we reduced the amount we donated we have gave a lot more to family members.  For 2012, I want to continue to support our public radio and TV stations, public library, and Heifer International.  In addition I will have to think about where else to donate money given how people are truly struggling in this economy - perhaps St. Vincent de Paul for their food pantry.  Gift giving will be limited to our adult children and their sweethearts as well as flowers for my Mom and a token gifts for my father-in-law.

Action Steps:

Food, Toiletries, Household Goods - Compare Trader Joe prices on items purchased regularly.  Set a budget of $110 per week.

Giving - Make a list of birthdays, other occasions, and Christmas gifts.  Look for inexpensive cards for those who don't have email or Facebook.  Set a budget for gifts.  Set a budget for donations and decide on recipient organizations (we do this every year - it makes responding to solicitation phone calls so much easier!).

Other Shopping - Keep a record of where found lowest price for higher cost infrequently purchased items like printer ink.  Make a list of items to buy and shop sales, etc.  Look on Craigslist as appropriate.


  1. I have a couple of suggestions:
    Shopping online. Thanks to online coupons, many of them for free delivery, you can find prices that are as good as or better than local stores. You mentioned having a dog; a site called gives free delivery to any order over $49, including jumbo bags/boxes of dog food or cat litter.
    Shopping online through a cash-back site. This means an additional discount in the form of a rebate check. (I like Mr. Rebates, because you can request a check every month as soon as you reach $10 -- and they start you off with $5.)
    Using discounted gift cards like cash. Suppose you shop at Petco or PetSmart, or at any of hundreds of other retailers, from contact lens places to drugstores -- buy gift cards for those places from a secondary market and save an additional 3% to 20%. Go to an aggregator called Gift Card Granny, type in the store you want and see where the best deal is to be had.
    I've written about these tactics for my MSN Money column. If it's kosher to post URLs, here goes:

  2. Good plan! I've found that menu planning each week really helps keep the food budget down by creating meals out of what I already have on hand and what's on sale for the week. When it comes to gift giving I generally only buy for my children and a just a couple friends who just can't stick to the idea of not exchanging gifts. I try to give my time volunteering in place of cash donations for other organizations I want to support.

  3. I'm with you on the gift giving although we give to our surviving parents and well as our kids and their sweethearts. Otherwise its just season's greeting. I volunteer time too but we are able to give money as well and really target the organizations we want to support.

    I used to plan meals in advance but do it sort of half and half now. I know what we have already before I go to the store but then fill in the gaps with what looks good and is at a good price.


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