Posts Tagged ‘Frugality’

Groceries for October 10: pre-travel week

October 11th, 2009 by Reinder

This week's groceries bill: €5.66. I only bought half a loaf of bread, a litre of milk, some bananas and a kilogram of tangerines.
It's gonna be an unusual sort of week though. I'm leaving for the United States (staying in Amsterdam overnight) on Friday, and the odds are I'll be doing stuff in preparation leaving little time to cook. At the same time, I do want to empty out the pantry some more, and that played a big part in my decision to buy very little. By Thursday, I'll probably be eating lentils for breakfast and canned food for dinner (keeps stuff to clean that last day to a minimum) and then on Friday and Saturday I'll eat mostly on the go, spending more on food and drink on those two days than I have in a month.

After that, ultra-frugal eating will go out of the window as I'm not going to inflict it on Aggie and her boys... but for me doing this the past few weeks has not felt like deprivation at all. I haven't missed more expensive food and have in fact enjoyed getting creative with what I had in the pantry and with the smaller amounts of food I bought at the € 15 limit. And with those tax bills coming in, and the cost of travel, plus the urgent need to save up for a wedding, emigration and a chance to get off the salaryman treadmill at an early age, it's very much a good thing that I can live for a month and a half of that little money (even though I did fall off the wagon a bit last week - but even then I merely went from being ultra-frugal to being frugal).

The one thing I didn't get rid of was the occasional craving for salty snacks. Apart from that, I adjusted well to snacking a lot less and not eating meat unless someone else paid for it. I think I ate a whole lot healthier as a result of simply being more mindful of what I bought and brought into the house. Like I mentioned last week, I lost quite a bit of weight as well, in combination with my increased running schedule. In fact, I lost so much that I began to worry about it and am now making myself eat a little more.

I'd do it again. Maybe I should have done it from the moment I came back from the US and saved a little more money that way.

Groceries, 26-9-2009, plus turntable woes.

September 26th, 2009 by Reinder

Today's grocery bill: about € 13.50 - I managed to lose the receipt. The lowest figure so far and most of that was made up from coffee. Without the need to feed my coffee addiction and my preference for Fair Trade coffee which the supermarket now only sells in duopacks, the bill would have been about € 10. I do think this proves it is possible to live very cheaply indeed if you manage your pantry well; I'll be shopping the pantry all week because I want it to be empty come October 17 when I go back to the US.

Other expenses: € 7.50 for a new belt for my turntable. It was starting to get whiney from wow/flutter even though I hadn't had the old belt for very long. The turntable store gave me a noticeably shorter belt this time, suggesting that I'd try it and return it if it was too short. It fits well, plays well and has reduced the whine. I think they gave me the wrong size the last time around, because the belt I showed them then was more stretched out than we realised, and the recent use has pulled the belt I got then over the threshold where it was unable to keep the turntable going at the correct speed. I may need to redo some of my ripping projects starting with the most recent ones and going back until I'm sure everything sounds OK.

I have already decided that a large portion of my vinyl will be getting shipped to the US. It's something I don't want to sell; indeed I feel like adding to the collection now.

Groceries, September 19, 2009

September 20th, 2009 by Reinder

Total groceries bill this week: € 15.60. A little over the self-imposed limit, but that's not too bad as I'd just sold € 50 worth of comics an hour before. None of my food and other grocery expenses this month and until I go to the US again in October will come out of my bank account. This is just as well as I paid nearly € 600 in bills this week, including the first of the tax rebates (healthcare subsidies over 2008) that I have to pay back. I'm expecting another bill for 2008's rent subsidies, and while I'd be happy if that could wait another month, I would like to have it in by early October so I can settle it before I leave. The way things are going, I should be able to tackle it without hitting the emergency fund.

Good habits (i.e. shopping the pantry, looking for cheaper options, keeping a mental running tally of expenses and quitting when it reaches 15) are keeping up. The self-imposed limit is temporary but the good habits should last a long time.

Groceries, week of September 12.

September 12th, 2009 by Reinder

Total grocery bill at the supermarket: € 14.70.

Changes in behaviour: the third week into my scheme to keep the groceries budget ultra-low, I found myself keeping a running tally of the prices of the items I picked out in my head. Cool; I've never been able to do that. I also gave myself some extra exercise by getting down on my knees and picking the super-cheap items from the bottom shelves.
And I am betting better at making choices: I needed cheese, so I couldn't have chips or nuts. Snacking will consist entirely of fruit this week. I managed to make this choice even though I went to the supermarket slightly peckish. I also forewent organic veggies this week as I couldn't afford the premium on the ones I wanted. Still kinda miffed about the supermarket not stocking any kale yet - I'd have had to go to the farmer's market for that. I got andyves instead. Yum.

The budget experiment only applies to groceries, just like in 30 bucks a week. It does not apply to eating or drinking out, which I'll do a lot of this week. There's Sunday's contribute-two-Euros-and-eat-with-me group dinner at Sidsel's, a restaurant dinner at Mechoui on Tuesday (pricey for me but worth every penny) and today I'll be going for a 10 K run out of town as part of a relay team, which means I'll probably eat fast food and drink beer afterwards, sitting downwind of the other eaters. That together should wipe out the rest of the money I made selling my drawing board this week.

Speaking of which, I love having the extra space in my bedroom, and I love having the extra € 100 in my pocket, but I do kinda regret selling it. I hadn't used it in years (there was another drawing board in the last studio I was in, which I had already given away) but I did have a sentimental attachment to it. But sentimental attachments don't pay the bills and there was no way I was going to ship such a large unwieldy thing to the US, so it had to go, and at least it's going to a good home.

I like Frugal Bachelor

August 29th, 2009 by Reinder

Frugal Bachelor seems to fit the bill for a frugality blogger who is more challenging than others in terms of having original ideas and questioning the fundamental assumptions like I said I wanted to read last week. I'll be spending a lot of time reading his stuff unless I can pull myself away from the PC.

Update: never mind. This guy's just a bit creepy-weird even if it takes a while for the picture of that creepy-weirdness to emerge. Once you see it, though, you can't un-see it and it really affects how I interpret his writing. So I don't like it that much after all.

Some quick food/budgeting notes

August 22nd, 2009 by Reinder

This week's groceries expenses were €35 - they'll be €37 when I get the peanut butter, which I forgot. Most of my groceries were bought at the farmer's market, and because I brought a list and stuck to it, I did not splurge on expensive cheeses and sun-dried tomatoes.
Last week's groceries expenses were €27; the week before it was €70 because I was re-stocking after my trip to the US (and got tempted by said expensive yum-yums). Numbers not exact because I don't always get receipts and I don't always keep them when I do. Even this week, I am still buying a lot of stuff to replace what was in the pantry before I left for the US; when I get the peanut butter, re-stocking will be complete though.

This week, my meal plan will be based on the How Low Can You Go meals Trent has posted on The Simple Dollar; specifically, meals will include Potato-peanut curry and Moorish-style chickpea and spinach stew. I will also have Fish curry and Sweet potato and lentil curry. Yes, it's a week of mostly curry, and mostly vegetarian food. Going (mostly) veg for a while after 2 1/2 months on a meat-heavy American diet with large portions has helped me fit into my pants better already. It's not a lifestyle for the long term for me but I can do it for a few weeks.

The recipes on The Simple Dollar are pretty much the first bit of food advice from any frugality blog that I'm taking action on. Most of the food-related advice from frugality blogs is either stuff that I figured out for myself ("dried legumes are cheap!") or things that I've been doing all my life, i.e. box up your lunches, make your own coffee, cook from scratch. In fact it is fair to say that frugality blogs have introduced me to a lifestyle of wanton profligacy: until I started reading them, I was not aware that there were people on average, middle-class incomes who ate out for lunch and drank coffee at Starbucks every day. To me, boxing up my lunch and making my own coffee is not something I call "frugal", it's something I call "normal" - one of those unquestioned assumptions about my life in comparison to other people's.
Advice like that, advice that tells me to do things I already consider normal, annoys me, especially when it's repeated over and over again. Of course, to a person who regards eating a nine-dollar lunch every day as normal, these repeated messages count as counter-marketing: they need the repeated messages telling them to consume less just to counter the endless bombardment of media messages telling them to consume more.
(Another one that irritates me but is probably useful for many people is the one telling people to turn off their TV and use the time saved to do other, more productive or interesting things. I haven't had a TV in the house since 1995, apart from a few months when I borrowed one, but most people do and waste a lot of time on it)

Anyway. I'm glad that there is some advice there that I can actually follow and it does look like I'll be eating very well on a budget this week. I may be ready to move onto frugality-related material that takes more of a "guerilla" approach like the old Tightwad Gazette used to do, or that questions fundamental assumptions more, such as Early Retirement Extreme.

Update: Thirty bucks a week may come in handy for bringing my budget down further.

The death of consumerism?

December 4th, 2008 by Reinder

If you go to frugality blogs, you'll occasionally see comments from trolls telling the frugal blogger "thanks for wrecking the US economy, buddy". This was easy to ignore and be skeptical about as late as three months ago, when the live-within-your-means crowd were very much the outliers. What, a bunch of guys who tore up their credit cards were going to wreck consumer spending?

It's a whole 'nother story if millions of people, voluntarily or not, tear up their credit cards all at once. In those conditions, there is, to say the least, something to the idea of the paradox of thrift - the notion that what is good for one person (living within your means, cutting down frivolous expenses, saving) can be bad at the collective level.

But it seems to me that there's more going on than Americans and to a lesser extent (so far) Europeans deciding to be all virtuous about their personal finances out of fear over their own future. The consumer hasn't just capitulated like that Krugman article I linked to says in its title. I think the consumer has also decided that he or she has had enough. As the blog Of Two Minds says, one of "the structural realities which have yet to play out" is that

7. The U.S. already has too much of everything: too many hotels, malls, office towers, homes, condos, strip-malls, lamps, furniture, CDs, TVs, clothing, etc. As 50 million storage lockers filled to capacity with consumer crap are emptied in a desperate move to reduce expenses and raise cash, the value of literally everything ever manufactured will fall to near-zero.(via Financial Armageddon)

And I think he's right. The change that is in the air isn't just economical although that aspect of it may well turn out to be so god-awful that it's going to block out all other aspects over the next few years. It's cultural. Over the past few years there's been a boom in online resources relating to frugality, decluttering and related lifestyle changes; a small house movement has sprung up, and local food has become a fad. As I've said before, those issues are related; they reflect a desire to simplify and a realization that enough is enough, that we don't need to have that much stuff in our lives. Or, alternatively, they reflect a new calvinism for a new era of sobriety, envy and conformity. Take your pick. I'm more inclined to the former but I might end up loathing the tendency a few years down the line.

In any case, I think we just might be seeing consumerism dying in the next couple of years.

That about wraps up the market experiment

September 6th, 2008 by Reinder

I spent €60 at the market this afternoon, plus €17 at my local organic butcher's, and €6 at the market yesterday during my lunch break (when there were different stalls including an organic bread stall that I didn't discover until after I'd bought bread. I'd have spent much more if my lunch break had been longer) . It's safe to say that my food budget has exploded this week.

I'm not going through an itemized list this time, but I do want to mention that some of these expenses were one-offs. The biggest extra expense was tortilla chips plus four kinds of dip to go with them; the plan is for me to reverse-engineer and then improve on the dip I like the best (which is probably going to be the chilli), so that's €8-10 that I'll only spend once. I also bought enough cheese to last for three weeks, plus fresh cilantro, which I usually do without.
I've located milk! But I didn't buy any as it was €1.30 for half a liter. Locally produced and organic, so probably very good, but the price was one I'd expect in a cafetaria, not in retail. I can technically afford to pay € 2.60 a liter for milk, but only if I still save money overall, which I'm not doing.

Going back to the original purposes of the experiment, I ended up buying a lot of things that weren't whole food staples but prepared foods: melba toast, the dips, chocolate nuts, the tortilla chips which by Michael Pollan's definition are edible, foodlike substances. So the experiment's purpose was defeated entirely and I might as well get those things from the supermarket again. On the plus side, shopping at the market is a lot more fun - you're outdoors, there are bargains to be had and new products to try, and the smells from some of those stalls is just divine. Goat cheese in particular taunts and tempts me whenever I pass it, as do Moritz's olives, sun-dried tomatos and feta.

Experiment over! It would have been fun and interesting to do this for a couple of months; describing your shopping in great detail is the sort of thing that's dull if you do it once, but becomes more interesting if you keep it up until patterns become visible. But the pattern that's showing up already is that I spend more and don't stick to the experiment's purpose, so to protect my wallet, I'm cutting it off here. I'll be splitting my purchases between the outdoors market and the supermarket like a sane person.

How and when not to buy crap

August 2nd, 2008 by Reinder

Why Do Americans Insist On Buying Cheap Crap Instead Of High Quality Merchandise? at The Consumerist is, on its own, little more than a summary of Should You Splurge or Skimp? from MSN Money with some stuff added to make it look like original writing. But the comment thread is wonderful, full of concrete, practical advice on how to consider cost-per-use, how to recognise different kinds of seams and use that to evaluate the quality of an item of clothing, what to skimp or splurge on (naturally) and where you can still get these quality goods you hear so much about.