Here I am thinking that four-&-a-half-dollar gasoline is driving me to the poorhouse…but WAIT!
Wai-wai-wai-wait! Not so! Whereas ’tis all too true that more of the Budget is going to support my driving addiction, something odd has happened: because of the changes in driving and buying strategies forced by the run-up in gas prices, I’m buying a lot smarter in other ways. Groceries, normally my biggest indulgence, have dropped by 50%; spending on yard items is an eighth of what it has been.
In fact, over the past month I’ve saved way more on these items than the extra amount I’ve had to spend on gas.
What is going on?
When the cost of gas headed for the stratosphere, I decided to shop for necessities only at stores that are on my way to and from the Great Desert University. No extra trips would be allowed: whatever I needed would have to come from someplace along the commute.
This cut out Home Depot, the scene of many an impulse-buy frenzy.
All my other regular stops in fact are along the route from here to GDU. However, the “no extra trip” rule eliminated an amazing number of junkets. Using Quicken’s transaction detail shortcut report feature (right-click on the category!), I compared June 2007 spending with June 2008’s in several areas. Here’s what happened.
Here’s the biggy for me, since I don’t eat out and I very much relish food. I don’t hold the horses in the grocery store: this is my only indulgence, and I do indulge. I’m given to shopping in gourmet specialty stores, and I do not worry myself with such details as how much food costs.
But within the constraints of the “commute-route” rule, AJ’s, a local retailer, is the only fancy grocer on my way. It suffices: you can bankrupt yourself there just as easily as at Whole Paycheck.
In June of 2007, my grocery bill was (hang on to your hats, frugalists!) $721.99.
Done hyperventilating? O.K. In June 2008, it was $334.96.
Wow! In 2007, I made 17 trips to purveyors of groceries, three of them to the dangerous AJ’s. This year, I made 12 grocery runs, five of them to AJ’s. Even though I made more hits on the fancy store, I spent less than half as much on groceries this year as I did a year ago.
Why? In June 2007, the Great Chinese Dog Food Scare was peaking. That was when I decided to make real food for Walt the Greyhound and Anna the Ger-shep, both 90-pound dogs. This would be about the equivalent of inviting a couple of 12-year-olds (or petite adults) to your dinner table. In May, shortly before the Scare, I spent $417.25, a more normal figure. But still: way more than I paid out last month.
In any event, restricting grocery-store runs to stops on the way home from work cut out five trips to the store, which evidently limited grocery spending
In this category, Home Depot is a real menace. I love plants. It’s almost impossible for me to walk through Home Depot’s nursery without buying a plant, a pot, or both. And the swimming pool chemicals are located in the garden department, so you have to walk past the plants to get to the chlorine, acid, and diatomaceous earth. Cleaning goods and some electrical gear are right next to the plants. Meanwhile, the whole store is laid out like a medieval street bazaar: impulse buys as far as the eye can see.
On the other hand, Ace Hardware, which unlike HD is on my way home from campus, has no garden department. I started buying at Ace to avoid the 8-mile round trip to HD. Ace carries almost everything one needs from Home Depot, but the store layout is pragmatic, boring, and untempting. The place encourages you to get in, pick up only what you need, and get out.
June ’07: $61.62 (3 trips)
June ’08: $7.58 (1 trip)
Why? No Home Depot!
In these parts the weather heats up the first part of May. Warm weather consumes chlorine tablets and, unless you stay on top of things, grows algae. Until the gas run-up, I’d been buying chlorine tabs, shock treatment, and acid at Home Depot. Lately, though, I’ve been stopping for those things at Leslie’s, in the same strip mall as the Safeway that’s directly on the way home from GDU.
June ’07: $92.78
June ’08: $55.98
Why? Lest you think that specialty-store pool chemicals are cheaper than HD’s, the truth is that in 2007 I spent $42.50 for a service call, and so the real cost for chemicals was $50.28. Still, that’s only five bucks less than I paid this year.
HD’s shock treatment contains a chemical that causes the filter to clog up, and so every time I use it, I have to backwash and then add 8 pounds of new diatomaceous earth (DE), which HD does not give away for free. A DE filter in theory is not supposed to need backwashing more than about every three months, and so having to do that noxious chore once a week got old real fast. Not only that, but the HD shock treatment turned the pool into a puddle of Clorox that was unswimmable, even in the hottest weather, for at least three days. Since I’m in the water two or three times a day, I found myself putting off shock treatments until the walls were coated with green stuff, not a good habit.
Leslie’s has a non-chlorine shock treatment that does not contaminate the water and does not clog the filter. You can dive in the water right after you dump the stuff in. And thanks to this stuff, I managed to delay the quarterly filter clean-out ($100) for about six months.
So, even though I paid $5 more in June 2008 than in the same month of 2007, over the long run I’ve been paying less on pool maintenance because I haven’t had to buy giant boxes of DE every time I turn around and I haven’t had the pool guy over here every three months. And now I can use my pool every single day, with no hiatuses to wait for scary levels of carcinogens to drop from ungodly toxic to only mildly poisonous.
June ’07: $ 83.45
June ’08: $138.20
That’s a $54.75 increase.
Grocery savings: $ 387.00
Yard item savings: 54.00
Pool savings: 36.80
Less gas rip: -54.70
Approximately: when I copied and pasted these posts out of iWeb into Word, the last character before each hard return disappeared, so I have no idea what appeared in the ones columns. At any rate, when I wrote this I appeared to be $423 to the good, thanks to the inflated cost of gasoline.
If This Is So Great, How Come I’m Busted, Disgusted, and Can’t Be Trusted?
Those of you who’ve followed my whining know I’m up to my eyeballs in red ink. Last month’s budget cycle ended $111 in the hole. So far this month, I was $126 in the red at the end of the first week and, with three days to go am $17 in the red against this week’s budget.
I’ve blamed this on the run-up in gas and food prices. But a closer look reveals the actual cause: a long series of extraordinary expenses biting into cash flow over the past two months.
Between April 21 and June 20, I racked up $1,012 in veterinary bills for the dying German shepherd. In May I pledged $100 to a charity, Andrea’s closet, thinking the amount would come out that month; instead it was charged against American Express in June, when I had to cover $332 of those vet bills. While I might have been able to handle around $300 of unplanned charges, $432 broke the bank. And so far in the first week and a half of this month, I’ve had to pay $55 for car service and $87 for pool service.
So, while I may have saved some $430 in a few categories these past couple of months, it’s as nothing compared to the $1,254 in unplanned expenses ($1,012.33 vet bills + 54.72 car repair + $87 pool service + $100 donation) that I’ve been trying to cover with cash flow and emergency fund savings.
Without those extra expenses, I would be doing just fine…thanks to the gas prices.