Funny about Money

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. ―Edmund Burke

The grocery pool

The pooling scheme I came up with for budgeting has worked exceptionally well. In short, all inflowing cash goes into a single checking account at the credit union. From there, the amount needed to cover recurring monthly expenditures, such as utility and insurance bills, goes into an account from which EFTs are drawn, automatically paying my various creditors. Another amount, currently budgeted at $1,200, goes to a money market checking account, where it is held to pay the monthly American Express bill; I charge all expenditures other than regular bills on this card and pay it off at the end of each billing cycle. Three hundred dollars goes from the “pool” into an escrow account each month, to pay annual property tax, car insurance, and homeowner’s insurance. And finally, $400 a month (soon to drop to around $100, thanks to the furloughs) is transferred to savings.

The upshot of this is that there is always enough to pay the bills. And then some: because the de facto pay cut created by the switch to bimonthly pay forced me to live on $220 a month less than I used to have, the two so-called “extra” checks this system presses on us go unspent. Over the course of a year, the equivalent of two net paychecks has ended up in savings.

Here’s where I’m going with this: Why couldn’t you do something similar with grocery and household supplies?

Suppose you took a chunk of savings, as I did when I originally bankrolled the “pool” account, and used it to buy a full month’s worth of groceries and cleaning supplies. Wouldn’t that have the same effect as “pooling” your income? Over time, it would create a fair amount of savings. Here’s how:
1. Given that the original month’s grocery stash would include a lot of staples (things like flour, salt, sugar), you probably wouldn’t use it all during a month. So, if you repeated your first stash run at the beginning of the second month, by the start of the third month you would always be way ahead of yourself. In other words, after the first two months, instead of buying a whole month’s worth of goods at a time, all you’d be doing is restocking, and you would never drop below a month of supplies in your stash. Over time, you likely would find yourself having to restock less and less.
2. Because you rarely would be in any hurry to restock—this assumes you keep an eye on what you have and become aware that you will need x or y before you run out—you could wait to make purchases until you found the items on sale or until you had time to drive across the city to retailers with better prices than those available at closer-in stores.
3. Three weeks of every four, you would stay out of grocery stores! We’ve already seen that simply not going into stores saves a surprising amount of cash.
4. It would force you to plan and to write lists; once you arrived at a store, you would be very focused on acquiring only the things you needed, and so you would be less tempted to make impulse buys. As commenter Anne reported, research by the supermarket industry has shown that a list is one of your most powerful money-saving tools at the grocery store.
5. Think of the amount of time it would save! I dunno about you, but I spend half of Saturday or Sunday driving around to grocery stores, searching for products, and standing in line at check-out counters. That doesn’t count the time spent stopping by a store on the way home to pick up things I’ve run low on or forgotten during the weekend expeditions. Shopping is far from my favorite pastime. Imagine having your entire weekend free to do what you want to do!

I’m going to try it.

Here’s my plan:

First, use some of the savings I’ve stashed over the past few months to buy a freezer ($200 at Costco).

Next, clean off some shelves in the storage room and in the garage to make space for dry goods, cleaning supplies, and personal items (such as shampoo, contact lens solutions, soap).

Third, compile a well thought out list of all the stuff I need over the course of a month.

Fourth, buy some airtight containers for grain products, such as flour, cornmeal, and oatmeal (or make room in the freezer for them).

Fifth, buy some wire baskets to organize goods in the freezer.

Sixth, reallocate the AMEX budget, which currently is divided into four equal “chunks” allowing about $300 a week for food, gasoline, household and yard goods, pool supplies, pet costs, and incidental expenses. Front-load the budget to allow about $500 in the first week (this will cover gasoline and a few other items in addition to a month’s worth of groceries), and cut the amount available in the other three weeks.

Seventh, download or clip coupons to assist in getting better buys.

Eighth, on February 21, which is the first day of the billing cycle (the food & incidental budget runs on the AMEX billing cycle, not from the first to the last of each month), spend the entire darned day running around buying enough to stock the first one-month stash. Package and store things so they will keep and can be accessed from the oldest stuff to the newest.

Ninth, keep a running list of items that need to be replenished. Try to refrain from buying these things until the next shopping expedition.

Tenth, on March 21, make a second run on the stores. In addition to replenishing things that have run low, purchase a second full month’s worth of stash goods. This will enlarge the stash so that at any given time it should contain well over a month of food and household goods.

Freaking brilliant, isn’t it? Sometimes I amaze me.

It has several golden advantages.

1. Over the long run, it should save a lot of money on groceries.

2. It forms a kind of “emergency fund,” in kind instead of in cash. Should I lose my job (a prospect that looks less unlikely as the days pass), I’ll have enough food in the house to last for several weeks. During that time, I should be able to earn enough to get a grip on making ends meet. Not having to buy groceries for a month will make that challenge a lot easier.

3. It saves a phenomenal amount of time and, three weeks out of each month, relieves me of a tedious chore.

4.Over time, the stash may accrue, just as money in the “pool” checking account accrues. In a year or so (assuming I keep my job and so can continue the monthly purchasing), this strategy could result in my having a lot of food, household supplies, and personal goods stored in the house. Effectively, it will grubstake retirement. When I do retire and see my income drop drastically, I will not have to worry about where my next meal will come from.

Author: funny

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15 Comments

  1. I wrote about something similar a while ago:
    http://frugalscholar.blogspot.com/2008/09/my-pantry-commodities-trading-with.html

    This strategy is also discussed in the Tightwad Gazette.

    It’s probably been my best day-to-day strategy for saving money.

  2. You might check your Penny Saver or Craigslist or whatever your Arizona version of that is to look for a freezer. I was on a quest myself for one and saw all sorts of really inexpensive ones people were getting rid of. I lucked out when the woman across the street decided to remodel her kitchen and gave me her old one.

  3. I can assure you as a 67-year old woman who did that 44 years ago, it works.

    It’s a pretty natural thing to do when you’re born on a huge farm in Michigan; lots of snow, ice, and not able to travel. We had no electricity or heat until I was 6 years old; you learn how to really survive when you’re miles from the store.

    We didn’t have a freezer; no electricity, but we made trenches in the summer; filled them with the things we wanted to store when the first snow came in mid-November. Then you cover with a thick tarp; put straw on it, and boards over that. My job as a kid was to go outside; pull the boards off – dig down to the tarp, and reach in for the ‘goodies’.

    We also had Michigan cellars; we could cold store anything; in fact we had to put items we didn’t want frozen inside burlap bags; fill with newspaper and straw to insulate, and it kept our produce year-round (in the summer we just kept the produce in crates; removing the insultation.

    We canned all summer long; we ate from our ‘storage’ all winter long; usually having some food left when the new harvest began. So we took those canned goods; got plenty of beans, and made up thick soups that (again) were canned.

    I learned ‘fund accounting’ in high school; that’s essentially what you’re doing. You create a ‘fund’ for each topic/expense – categorize those that are similar; add up the total, and then look t your income as you’ve done – distribute, and NEVER touch the fund even if it has a surplus (which mine always did). Usually I added 10% to each fund as a contingency; this means you end up with a nice bit of money after doing this throughout your life, and entering into an early retirement as I took back at age 55 (I worked 36 years).

    I had 5 children; worked 36 years away from home – managed to stick to an honest regime that I set up at 19 years of age. It’s all about ‘just saying no’ – no to buying; no to waste, and no, I’m not going to end up poor when I retire.

    When I bought me large freezer, I did it at an auction; I bought a second refrigerator and stove as well. I used the second stove in the garage to can during the summer; kept the heat down. The refrigerator in the garage didn’t have to run 24/7-365 because the winter months kept the foods ‘chilled’ inside.

    The nice thing is with a large freezer, you can buy huge hams, turkeys, and the like when they’re at their lowest prices. Get out your electric knife and cut them into smaller portions to ‘roast/bake’ later.

    Pre-baked potatoes freeze beautifully; I do that as well and have ready portions when I want them. It’s easy to make them into hash-browns or cottage fries.

    Pickling is a wonderful to preserve as well. I love pickled eggs; carrots, and string beans as well as asparagus. It’s very low cost to pickle, so you might consider that as a ‘hobby’ if you don’t do it already.

    I trim off the crust from bread; chunk and freeze to make home-made croutons; the bread is turned into little pretty sandwiches that seem to taste better just because they’re pretty.

    Hard cheese can be frozen; to get the best results, cut them into 4″x2″ squares and stack.

    You can make a good frozen yogurt by taking regular yogurt; an equal amount of cottage cheese that you’ve put through a blender with a small amount of half and half to help it blend into a thick creamy substance. Add a little vanilla; put all of it in a sauce pan on low heat; put in 4 egg yolks that are whipped and add about 1/4 cup of honey or sugar until it’s slightly sweet. Heat to destroy any potential for any bacteria from the eggs (use a thermometer); cool to room temperature, and freeze.

    Another thing that’s good is adding 1 cup of fresh orange juice to this; it turns into the best tasting dessert yet it’s nutritious enough to be served at breakfast for a wonderful change of pace.

    Remember too, if you’re buying cake mixes, you can replace the liquid with equal amounts of oil and eggs and create cookies from the batter.

    Nuts store beautifully; they freeze beautifully as well – good source of protein.

    I always have a 6 months supply of soy powder; I add that to many foods, and add protein at a much lower cost, and with all the benefits of good nutrition.

    If you’ve got plenty of white vinegar and baking soda, you’ve got a drain cleaner; a detergent, vinegar for spray cleaning and soda with salt that will replace not only your toothpaste, but replace your scouring pads.

    So, think of the ways you can make all of your stored items do multiple duty – makes it even better….

  4. @FrugalScholar: Yes. This is what SDXB calls “buying food futures.”

    He has hoarded food as long as I’ve known him. He has a large stash, to which he adds regularly (he’s the only man I know who likes to shop!). The trick here is that he never buys anything that’s not on sale, except for stuff he picks up at the Luke AFB commissary, where prices are apparently lower than most grocery stores.

    Although he will deny it, I have actually seen him buy food at estate sales: half-full bottles of spices, canned stuff. He also buys cleaning gear at estate sales.

    If you’re hoarding stuff, it’s much to your advantage to get it at a cut rate. And of course, just having the hoard gives you the advantage of being able to wait until you see things on sale.

    And @ SimplyForties: If I’d gotten my act together last September, when rumors of layoffs started to fly in earnest, I would have had time to track something down on Craigslist. At this point, though, I feel some urgency about this: I find myself on the shelf with the canned goods at any time. To pull this off without raping my emergency savings, I’ll need a couple of months of good cash flow. Assuming the university waits until the end of this fiscal year and then simply doesn’t renew my contract, I have the months of March, April, May, and June to build up a stash. I figure it will take at least two months to build a hoard that can serve as a basis of a long-term food futures habit. For that reason–plus the logistics involved in retrieving an object too heavy for me to lift–I decided to pick a freezer up at Costco while my son was available to help out. Price was pretty cheap…it being in Costco’s interest to have its customers own the things.

  5. I love this idea! Here’s some of my thoughts..I think I said before that the key to the freezer is rotation, but I forgot to say that to do that you need organization, the wire baskets will really help. Personally, I like to store bulk dry stuff in glass, even though gallon glass jars are way more expensive than plastic, it just pleases me. Here is the cheapest place I have found for gallon glass jars
    http://www.specialtybottle.com/index.asp?PageAction=Custom&ID=27

    Have you thought about getting a couple of hens? Eggs are perfect protein, chickens eat table scraps and a little mash, and eggs are also good for dogs. During the spring and summer, most chickens lay once a day, they are easy to care for, plus, they are really amusing. Taking care of two would be another low stress insurance. See Backyard Chickens for tons of info.

    Anyway, great plan – keep us posted on how it all works out.

  6. Thanks for the lead to the bottles! I went by my favorite purveyor of that sort of thing…they didn’t have much. I ended up buying some plastic stuff, paying $80, and figuring I’ll be taking most of the stuff back this week.

    Unopened bags of flour & cornmeal, I figure, can be wrapped tight in plastic grocery bags and kept in the freezer.

  7. Here’s an interesting food storage site for more tips on building up the stash…
    http://foodstoragemadeeasy.net/

  8. We eat a lot of fresh produce here and this entails almost a weekly grocery/co-op run. I would love to read about ideas to save on produce.

  9. @ Latha: So would I. The only ways to save on produce that I know about are

    1) Grow your own from seed (an iffy proposition, since building a garden is not cheap);
    2) Shop at ethnic grocery stores, which sometimes are cheaper than mainline stores (sometimes not: ghetto stores often jack up prices because large numbers of customers have no cars and so can’t drive to the competition);
    3) Shop at farmer’s markets (not cheaper in my part of the world, but apparently in some parts of the country they are);
    4) Raid the dumpsters behind grocery stores when staffers throw out produce. Grocers will toss perfectly good produce for no other reason than that it’s been on the shelf for a day or two.

  10. Pingback: Food Futures! Three-month stash grubstaked « Funny about Money

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  12. stockpiling? Do you stockpile non-perishable stuff too?

  13. RE meats – in this part of the world, at least, there are ‘customer cutters’ – old school butchers that will sell you a side of beef, or you can buy beef ‘on the hoof’ and have them butcher and package your meat.

    I know a farmer who sells ALL his grain fed, no hormone (but not organic, since not all his pastures are certifiable) beef and buffalo and some pork and free range chickens/turkeys this way. I just wish this guy lived close enough for me to buy my eggs from him. I love when I pick up my meat and can have a dozen or so of brown farm eggs.

    Once or twice a year (saving up for it), I’ll buy a quarter of beef and 30 pounds or so of poultry. It’s already packaged by the custom cutter and ready to just pop into the freezer. You tell the butcher what roast and steak cuts you want and the rest is VERY LEAN ground beef and/or stew meat. He also processes for hunters, so sometimes I can get venison or beef/venison ground meat or summer sausage. You get stew bones if you want them (you pay for ‘hanging weight’ – so you’ve paid for them, but they take up a lot of space in the freezer, so I don’t take all of the ones that I’m due).

    Check it out. Some places even deliver!

  14. oh – HINT – if your butcher packages in old school waxed paper – get one of those vac seal machines and vac pack his packages. Don’t bother unwrapping. The paper packages are freezer safe for about three months, the vac seal two or three times that.