For a while, I’ve suspected that “no-buy days”—days in which you deliberately stay away from merchandisers of all kinds—would cause you to spend less on those days but create a pent-up demand that would predispose you to more spending and stimulate impulse buys on the days you allowed yourself into the stores.
In the wee hours of this morning, as I was wondering how I could get around what is now a migrating closing date on my American Express account, it occurred to me that instead of “no buy” days, you could establish set “buy” days during a given billing cycle, and otherwise letevery day be a no-buy day. In other words, you would not set foot in a retail establishment or click on a Web store’s site except on specific days set aside to make purchases. This thought drove me to Quicken as dawn was cracking.
There I discovered that over the past year I’ve tended somewhat in that direction: more and more no-buy days and fewer and fewer days in which I do purchase things. In January 2008, for example, I made 16 trips to various food purveyors, dropping an astonishing $734.33 on groceries. In January 2009, I made 10 trips and spent $333.99 on groceries.
Evidently, fewer trips to grocery stores mean less cash spent on groceries.
Now, in January 2008, my German shepherd was still living. She ate a lot of food, and that may account for some of the whopping bill. But what really accounts for it is that I was in the habit of stopping by Trader Joe’s or AJ’s (a local “gourmet” market) on the way home from work, where I would regularly buy a snack and beer or wine. I’ve almost stopped doing that. To the extent that I buy beer or wine—which I’ve also almost stopped doing—I buy it at Costco, where Corona is to be had at a significant markdown over the grocery-store price. And I’ve been sick for the past month and haven’t felt like eating…that could have to do with the drop in spending.
The December grocery bill was a hundred bucks more than January’s, but then I did throw an expensive Christmas dinner party.
The truth is, it looks like staying out of grocery stores cuts one’s bills significantly. With a little tinkering—establish specific days for shopping, build a week or ten days’ worth of menus beforehand and attack the store with a carefully crafted shopping list, and shop more at Target or even (ugh!) Walmart—it ought to be possible to reduce the grocery bill to a sane level. Three hundred and thirty bucks for one old lady and one small dog is not sane.
The trouble with grocery shopping at Target is that Target is a dangerous place. The last time I saved a bunch of money on grocery items, I spent $150 on sheets and bedding that I really didn’t need. I also spotted a $250 bicycle of the type I covet, available at other purveyors for $400 to $700. Ditto Walmart: they have the minivacuum cleaner I want, the one with the electric cord. Every other store carries only the cordless variety, which won’t run long enough to vacuum an entire houseful of tiled floors. All the big box stores—Costco, Target, Home Depot, and Walmart—pose the same threat. You go in to buy necessities, but they offer so much other tempting junk that it’s very, very difficult to get out with your wallet intact.
But I will say: last year at this time I was spending way too much at Trader Joe’s and AJ’s, emporiums that sell almost nothing but groceries and household items.
Here, apparently, is the key to surviving on a reduced income: plan, plan, plan! Plan specific shopping days and gasoline-purchase days. Plan purchases carefully, using lists and resisting unplanned buys. Defer impulse buys until the next scheduled shopping day, to give yourself time to think it over. And plan to make every day a no-buy day except for the scheduled shopping days.