Yesterday I stopped into the grocery store with my kids and husband. We needed to pick up just a few things like produce and milk.
As we were headed toward checkout, going down the snack/chip aisle, my four-year-old daughter exclaims, “I love these – they are my favorite, can we get them mama?” She’s pointing enthusiastically to a package of Keebler cookies, priced at $3.89.
I reply, “Sorry honey, those cookies aren’t sale, not today.”
My daughter pauses for a second and then says, “Okay, maybe next time!” and she skips off down the aisle. This happens many times during a grocery shopping trip, I didn’t think twice about it – and frankly, neither did my daughter.
I glance up and notice a women who was watching (and hearing) the conversation from a few feet down the aisle. She smiles a half-smile/frown and turns slowly away. Her half-smile/frown felt like sympathy for me. Like, “I’m sorry you can’t afford those cookies for your adorable kid, it must be so hard to say no. . .”
But what this sweet woman didn’t know is . . . she didn’t need to feel sorry for us. . . .This is how we shop.
When I decided to stay home with my kids (seven years ago!) it meant cutting our income by 60%. That’s right, 60 percent. Take $100 and throw $60 of it out the window. What was once $100, became $40 at the grocery store. I wouldn’t change staying home for a second. I wouldn’t trade anything for those extra 60 dollars, but I would be picky in how I spent the money I had left.
For us, this meant – if it wasn’t on sale and/or we didn’t have a coupon – we generally didn’t buy it. It was that simple. If it wasn’t a loss leader in the grocery ad (one of the best of the best deals), we would wait, and do without, until it went on sale.
And now, seven years later, our budget isn’t as tight – but we still live by this principle. I could have afforded to buy my daughter those Keebler cookies, but it wasn’t a NEED. And if we’re being honest here – they aren’t her favorite cookies, I think she’s had them once or twice in her entire life – those Keebler cookies are just one of dozens and dozens of products in the grocery store that she “loves with all her heart.” I’m sure, if you have kids, you understand.
For half the price of those cookies, we purchase two pounds of apples on sale – which actually, while I’m typing this, she’s eating with great joy. Those Keebler cookies are a distant memory.
Now this isn’t a debate about processed junk food and produce. If the apples were $3 a pound, we wouldn’t buy them this week either. But if baking supplies were on sale, I could probably buy ingredients to bake many batches of cookies for under $4 – while also creating memories with my daughter.
This is really about determining needs VS wants – and how can we manage a tight grocery budget by saying no to items that are essentially overpriced. It’s a constant juggling act of prioritization and thoughtful consumerism. It’s about avoiding impulse purchases, ignoring the in-store marketing gimmicks and making intentional choices about what we put into our cart- and how we spend our hard-earned money.
It’s about building our weekly menu on what’s on sale. Not just going into the store and buying what sounds good – that adds up so fast. It’s about eating what’s in season in the produce department (those are the best prices!), it’s about finding manager markdowns on meat and produce – and making a meal from it. It’s about being flexible and enjoying the puzzle of putting together the very best bargains in the store, to feed my family. It’s not a miserable-do-without-lifestyle – it’s money-smart and it’s about making the most of the resources we’re blessed with.
Our society is so full of consumerism, marketing and the idea of – you can have what you want, when you want it – with no implications. The grocery store is no different. They are set up to sell – the smells, the fancy displays, the free samples, the misleading signage – it’s all set up to make shopping enjoyable and easy for you – because ultimately you’ll spend more money. But remember, you are in charge. It’s your money. You can play the game strategically and come out ahead – every time – if you can say no when the prices are too high and say yes when it makes sense for you, your family and your budget.
EVERYTHING GOES ON SALE. . . EVENTUALLY. Most everything we want or need goes on super sale about every 12 weeks – some items much more often than that. If it’s something my family loves and uses often – we stock-up when it’s at it’s best price. I know those Keebler cookies will be as low as $1.99 in two weeks when the stores are pushing junk food for the Super Bowl and people have fallen off their New Year diets. I might pick up a package then, but probably not, because it really was just a passing impulse.
As your stockpile grows, it’s easier to do without. Some weeks I don’t shop, except for maybe produce – because the deals just aren’t that great. By having a stockpile of basic foods – pasta, rice, bread (in the freezer), canned tomatoes, freezer meals – whatever we might on hand – we are able to avoid paying high prices and still make healthy, enjoyable meals at home.
At the end of the day, my kids are healthy, happy and well-fed kids by any calculation. Compared to other areas in the world – we are downright spoiled by the food choices and the meals we eat. I stock up on their favorite foods when they are on sale (and especially when paired with a coupon) and they are joyful, happy kids. . . . who understand and know the value of a dollar. They understand that if we don’t buy something now, we can probably get it later. We aren’t just surviving, by living without, I truly believe we are thriving.
By living with a balanced budget (and saying no) we’re able to splurge in other areas – like an amazing trip to Disneyland last summer (my kids saved their pennies, too), weekend road trips, eating out when it makes sense and the occasional splurge on our “favorite” foods. 🙂
If you stick to a tight budget – find ways to reward yourself and your family! Perhaps you cut out soda or chips – and the money you’re saving goes into a vacation fund? Or maybe you use $10 in coupons and want to treat yourself to a $4 latte? The beauty of it all? It’s your choice how you spend your money – make it count.
When you say no to something – you can say YES to other things. If you’re strategic and steadfast in what you choose to give up – you can say YES to the things that truly matter to you and your family.
I think you’ll find that by doing without, you actually end up with MORE in the long run.
What do you think about this? Are there certain things you say “no” to, so you can splurge in other areas?
Lisa Riley says
I whole heartedly agree with your philosophy! I don’t always do well, sometimes falling to temptation, but I try to embrace this idea. I never have been one to buy things I couldn’t afford but I often did buy things I just wanted, not needed. You are a wise woman. I applaud you!
Wish more people teach their kids this way, we won`t have overwight kids at five, nor kids screaming at the grocery stores. Children were healthier enjoying the outdoors, and less people taking sick leaves because they or their kids were ill.
Stockpiling when things are on sale saved my backside last month! Most months, I spend between $250-$300 on groceries. Last month, I got kicked in the wallet with a HUGE tax bill. Because I had a full pantry and full freezer, I only spent $70. 😀
My husband and I had this conversation last night. It is interesting to me that people associate withholding instant gratification with insufficient funds. Like you said, we do not need everything we can buy.
We are saving for a new house and last night we were looking at were our money was going and what we could do without. My husband struggles the most with this because he loves to stop at the gas station for a fountain soda. But when I said $5 a week x 52 weeks = $260, it made sense.
I love this post! This is something I’m trying really hard to teach my husband and kids (and myself to a certain extent). We have much more than we need, and we have grown far too accustomed to just “running out to the store” for every little thing. It has made a HUGE difference is our spending and organization!
This was great to read….and very well said! My 3 kids who are now teenagers still ask for random things sometimes (when we are shopping)…..but usually one of them will ask “Is it on sale?” And it makes me laugh everytime! My kids are bargain shoppers too! And I’m proud to say….they have learned it from me!!
So great! Good read! Smart!
Diana Ferrier says
I think we must be related, exactly how I became the shopper I am today..2 to 1income, wants versus needs. After kids were teens I went to work at a great paying county job….living the high life….and then December of 08, ripped my job away..being close to 50 and everyone else was unemployed or hanging on for dear life. I never did find a new job. But somehow we managed to save half of every unemployment check for 2years, I stayed home from unnecessary trips, have up haircuts and mani pedis, thinned my wardrobe and became a better cook and baker.
Thankfully seeing the lay off coming we refinanced before I had no income.
And now 6 plus years later I own my own store and keep up with my unemployed ways…and went to Disneyland this past September.
Helen in Meridian says
We don’t have QVC in Idaho, but my Fred Meyer cart often has those mark downs. Were your turkeys fresh or frozen that were marked down? On the 26th I bought 3 fresh Butterballs from Costco that were $5 off each. I got 3 12# turkeys for less than $25. Just stuck them in the freezer and they are good for months ad months. Last year I scored organic burger and ground turkey at Fred Meyers marked down so much I couldn’t believe it. Haven’t seen that in 6 months. They must have changed meat managers, but for a while, it was great. I always look for the shelf with the mark down .99 sacks of fruit and veggies first when I go to Fred Meyer. Our newest NW grocery chain store here has a section where I often find milk for .50 a gal. or less. They also mark down cottage cheese, orange juice and yogurt way down too. Not Fred Meyer but another store. We eat drink and wipe on sale.
Yep! That’s the way to shop! I kinda have in my head the best price for most things. I also have a list of the best place to buy most things. My children understand, not today. We will wait for the best price.
Good training mama!
Kristen @ Joyfully Thriving says
Beautifully said! I’m a new SAHM myself and the monetary sacrifices are definitely worth the joy of staying home with my son. I was just debating a grocery store trip this morning because our fridge looks a little empty, but the sales aren’t great, so I decided to skip shopping. We’ll eat out of our freezer and pantry this week – and my loss leader bargain stockpile!
Laura | Unpunctuated Life says
Yes, yes, yes! I don’t have any children, but I shop like this for my husband and me. It is so satisfying to me to be able to feed us well without breaking the bank. Sure, sometimes I look at couples we’re friends with who also don’t have children who seem to spend money with impunity. But I am beyond blessed and have MORE than I need, and it feels better in the long run to be frugal. Shopping from home and thinking about ways to spend the money we save intentionally on things we’ll enjoy are two of my favorite concepts.
Liz Bernard says
I so agree! I was without a job for a couple of years due to some health concerns and we were living on just my husband’s income. It wasn’t the most pleasant experience I’ve ever been through but I have learned some really great skills that I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t gotten sick.
I find that even though our income has increased, I’m still the same financially-intentional person I learned to be during our season of “less”. Wouldn’t trade it for the world!
Great advice! You are going to help people with these practical and valuable pieces of information. Every little change adds up in a wonderful way-whether it be healthier eating, better financial choices and families learning how to take care of each other today and for the rest of their lives. Good for you!
I’d almost be willing to bet that the woman wasn’t pitying you–she was admiring your parenting and frowning slightly about why more parents don’t have the same, level-headed, well-behaved, cooperative children.
Angela R says
Heather, I love what you have to say in this post. For the past year I have been thinking a lot about how our financial decisions are fueled by our values and we have the privilege to pick our values. For example, for this season of life we are choosing simplicity in life and family time which means I’m not working while we get my husband’s new career off the ground and my kids are young. The costs are we have less money, can’t yet afford to buy a house,and a splurge is a Starbucks drink rather than a vacation. It has helped me a great deal to remember that this is our choice and not something that has been thrust upon me. I am really working on being grateful for the abundance that God has given me. Thanks for the reminder.
Yep I so agree! Privilages are just that, and they are earned by good behavior. I love it when parents aren’t affraid to disipline in public (that doesnt mean spanking necessarily). In the last 2 years my couponing has allowed me to have more and do much more than before when we bought whatever groceries we wanted. Last summer we went camping 4 times vs once the previous years because we used my stock pile. And I do use my savings to treat myself to a Mocha. And I get to shop in stores that I use to think where too pricey to shop at.
Very greatful for Heather and all your helpers!!!
Nicole S. says
I so so so so agree with everything you said in this article. I have had almost the exact same situation happen and I, too, have had people give me sympathetic glances when I tell my children “No, that’s not on sale”. But my kids don’t go without things they need. They eat healthy and they do get treats. I make them cookies, etc. 🙂
I love how your daughter just went with you telling her not today. My son is the same way. I am a single Mom and it can be hard at times to say no. However we have to stick to the budget or things would get really bad quickly. One shopping trip he wanted something that even with a coupon I happened to have was more than I could afford that week. I told him maybe next time. He really wanted the item then so he asked me if he could use his own money and my coupon to get it. I let him and he saviored that treat the whole week.
This was a very well written article. Thank you for posting it! Loved reading it.
Your daughter’s attitude also shows that you have done a great job with her!
Heather Clarke says
Chris – We try our best. 🙂
I love this post. You’re spot on with this! My grandfather used to say, ‘It’s not what you make, it’s what you do without.” As a kid, I couldn’t understand that and it drove me crazy. Now I get it!
Tasha Dalton says
I am just curious what your monthly grocery budget is for a family of four?
I have to admit, my grocery bill is quite high. I have had diabetes, and have been able to control it with diet. So I eat all veg and protein. No rice, potatoes, pasta, beads, crackers, canned fruits or juices. So I shop regularly, and since I have been in the fields where produce and beef grow in Mexico, I won’t buy anything that comes from there. So I have to give up on other luxuries. My furniture is still from the 90’s. We never bought up from our starter home (it’s smaller than the apartment I shared with friends in my youth). I drive an older car with no payments, and no big insurance costs. We don’t have a home phone. I have three drawers of clothing, mostly from Goodwill. I buy myself one good pair of work shoes once a year, but everyday shoes are Amazon deals. I stockpile good deals for birthday/Christmas presents. We take a nice vacation every three or four years, and go camping in between. We wait to see movies in the 2nd run theaters, with some almonds to crunch on from home. My daughter wants to get her drivers license, so when that happens, cable TV will go. I am impressed with the reaction your daughter gave you regarding your denial of treats. Working retail, I see kids that come unglued when they don’t get what they want. Good job mom!
Wow that is an impressive budget! I have to ask…why would you need to give anything up when your daughter drives? I distinctly recall being a 16 year old myself not too long ago. My parents did not incur a cent from me driving. If anything it saved them money since I no longer bummed rides off them. I worked at a restaurant at nights and on the weekend. I paid for my car, insurance, and gas. I continued working through college, and since I paid for everything myself I earned my bachelors in 2.5 years by loading up on credits and taking summer courses at community college. I worked about 50 hours a week while maintaining a more than full time course load, so no excuses about not making kids work!!!!
Celeste Casello says
Great post…obviously most of us follow your posts because we are like minded! A few of my closest friends are also like minded… about shopping carefully & saving money. They are just as healthy and well dressed and educated as people who spend twice or three times as much on the same items! We value people, time with our friends, families and loved ones over material things however. Other people (some of my other friends) appear to value brand name handbags or pricey items as though those items make them more desirable or valuable. Not trying to sound judgy, but I’m always impressed with people who are thoughtful with money.
Like you, I gave up a high pay job that had me traveling a lot to be able to stay home. I’m a single mom, caring for an elderly parent (and my kindergartener). I do part time massage and have to shuffle a lot to make ends meet. However, thanks to your site, amazingly I can afford a lot of things!
I grew up with highly underpaid private school teachers for parents. We rarely spent money outside of the thrift store, garage sale or off-priced grocery store! We went camping and to parks and we entertained ourselves with movies and books from the library. We went on a lot of bike rides and danced a lot in our living room! So, I learned the value of a dollar and how to entertain myself without it costing much.
As an adult, I value balance! Yes, I splurge on a few fun or pricey items, but keep my eyes on the prize… of a vacation or new experience is my favorite thing for my family. Keep up the good work, you are truly helping us find our own bliss with your ideas and finds!
Wonderful thoughts Heather. You know the first thing I noticed? Nothing to do with the main point, but it was the response your daughter gave you when you told her no. She didn’t miss a beat and pout or something. She simply went on with her life. That speaks volumes to the way you are rearing your children. You have taken what you’ve been given and taught your children well. We, as readers, can see the benefit of you spending time with your children and teaching them the value of a penny saved. Thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
Heather Clarke says
Angela – She does awesome but she has had her moments. 🙂 In fact she threw an epic fit in the grocery store about 5 months ago – just out of the blue, over a. . .cookie, believe it or not. I thought I was going to die of embarrassment. She was tired, cranky and having a bad day. But there were some big consequences – we left immediately, she went home and she went straight to bed (she needed a nap anyway!) and for the next four shopping trips there were no free cookies from the bakery, having to ride in the cart (which she doesn’t like right now) and not any extra special treats (sale or not). We did the same thing with my son. If the kids throw a fit (essentially demand something they want), they lose other privileges and ultimately end up with less than they started with. We call it the gimmies. We all can get them once in awhile – and I’m not a perfect mom by any stretch of the imagination – but we do the best we can. 🙂 Thanks for your kind comment – I so appreciate you!
You’re welcome! And, yes, we’ve all been there. Kids are kids; it’s how we train them that matters. My 6 year old still has major attitude, which was why I was glad when school started and I didn’t have to take him to the store with me anymore! 🙂 Keep up the good work, Mama!
Love your article, Heather, but I do want to give you fair warning. You know I was a SAHM for a long time, and we lived exactly as you describe. But once my daughter hit adolescence, peer pressure started to affect her attitude. I’ll never forget the time we went underwear shopping and she frowned at my suggestion we go to JC Penney. Turns out all her friends bought their underwear at Victoria Secret. (Of course now that she’s grown and on her own, she shops at Goodwill…)
My sentiments exactly! I totally agree and this is how our family shops. My 9 year old understands that if it’s not on sale we probably won’t be buying it:). My 6 year is learning this principal also.
Debi Durkee says
I love your phylosophy, it’s the way we live too.
We talk over big purchases and give it the “Nice or necessary” and “need or want” test!
We own our home and cars outright and have chosen to retire early.
I’ve never seen a hearse with a baggage carrier or anyone in their death bed saying I wish I would have worked at my job longer”.
I came from a family of less than nothing, as well as lacking in love….as I started having my own children, I felt the need to buy them everything!!!! 21 years later, I still struggle with that and their are 4 of them. I have gotten better (10 grand a year in gymboree to about 600 a year per each kid in clothes), but I still struggle. It breaks my heart to tell them no, even though I know, they that are all well rounded great kids and hearing no doesn’t upset them, it upsets me. This Christmas was incredibly tight. My 21 year old son gave me 100$ gift card every week for 10 weeks so I could get his sisters and my parents and sisters Christmas gifts. I already knew he was an amazing kid, but it totally sealed the deal. I was so worried about the less my kids would get this year, even though I still know it’s more than many. But they were all completely happy with their gifts. My 10 year old wanted to buy me something so bad, so my husband took her to walgreens where she happily wrapped chocolate covered cherries. I then went and let her wrap candy for dad and brother, and a dvd for sisters. She was so happy about giving everyone a gift, she kept hugging me over and over and saying thank you for letting me wrap those for them. I need to realize that i have great kids that know they are loved, but they are so great i just want to reward them with cool stuff;) On the opposite end, my husband was very spoiled as a child. He was the baby, mama’s boy and grandma’s boy. He had computers galore when computers were an unheard of thing in a private home. He had 4 phone lines to use said computers when phone lines were hundreds of dollars. he is the one that hates spending money on our children, and would like to them to go without…so I have a hard time wrapping my brain around that one, and it has caused more than one financial argument. I would like to spend this year saving instead of shopping so I can take them to disneyland for christmas next year. I hope I can stick with it, and just say no to stuff!
I was actually waiting for people to blast you, no one knows how to do without anything, its a veruca salt syndrome the world is entangled in. We don’t know how to say no. I have commented in other blogs how ridiculous people are for buying there kids anything an everything and gotten lit up. I’m actually glad there are still people with sanity left!
our society as a whole would be better if we all had this frame of mind. My kids hear,”that’s not we came in here for” a lot. But, they know giving up whatever trinket at the Target Dollar Spot is one more dollar towards a trip to Disney.
Thanks for reminding us all that doing without is not necessarily a bad thing.
My sentiments exactly! Maybe that’s why I love this blog so much….
It’s a way of life for my kids too, and I think we are teaching them valuable lessons of wants vs. needs and getting the most VALUE from our hard earned money. Just because something is cheap doesn’t mean it’s a good value, and just because something is expensive doesn’t mean it’s a good value. Only an individual can determine their personal values and then spend their money accordingly. Our grocery cart is full of mark downs that others turn their noses up to, but it works for us. Thanks for keepin’ it real =)
Heather Clarke says
So true, Crystal! A few weeks ago, while shopping, I heard a younger man talking to a girl he was shopping with. He said, “NEVER buy meat that’s marked down – it went bad days ago.” He picked up a full-price pack of steak and tossed it into the cart. He didn’t give the discounted ones a second look. That’s their choice. I won’t judge. But I also know that we almost always buy marked down meats and it saves us so much money! As long as you freeze or cook the meat by the listed package date, it should be fine – and it’s always worked for us.
I love that you said, “Only an individual can determine their personal values and then spend their money accordingly.” I couldn’t agree more. That’s why I’ll never judge another’s buying choices, just as I’d hope no one would judge mine. As long as we’re all being intentional with our buying choices and realistic with out budgets – we can all work toward the things we’d like to have.
Thanks for following my blog, I so appreciate it. And yay for carts full of markdowns!!
Your cart full of “Manager Markdown” looks like my cart almost every week! I always shop from the dented can, meat and dairy markdown and clearance aisles first. (Of course I would never feed my family from a can that is leaking or unsafe but a little dent doesn’t bother me.) I figure I save at least 75-90% off and my store will also take coupons even if the item is on markdown. Just got a ton of yoplait markdown yogurts yesterday for less than .10 cents each. We will eat most and the rest will be made into smoothies. I love the markdown produce deals. My store packs over ripe, small or slightly bruised produce into red bags and sells them for .99 cents per bag. Yesterday I got 8 count bags of large organic apples for .99 cents. Our meals do get a little adventurous at times but we always have plenty to eat. My kids also know if it isn’t on sale and I don’t have a coupon, it most likely will not be going into our cart. That’s just the way it is and very rarely do they ever complain.