When I was a child, we lived on a farm that had a grape arbor loaded with Concord grapes. Each September, my mom would can jars upon jars of grape juice, and I have fond memories of evenings around the kitchen table as our family ate popcorn and drank that delicious stuff (which doesn't taste like anything I've ever purchased from a store).
Well, apparently, nostalgia set in this year, and I ordered 1.5 bushels of Concord grapes. (And if you're wondering how much that is, it felt like a whole vineyard.) The grapes came earlier than I expected, so I texted my husband that morning: "The grapes are here and they're RIPE. We need to can the juice tonight."
He texted back: "Sounds grape." Yes, he really did.
I've been cooking for years. Although, if you ask my husband, I've been screwing up fried eggs for just as long. (His secret: Fry them on low to avoid cooking the egg too quickly.) So I am no genius in the kitchen, but I am getting better.
I used to follow recipes exactly, afraid to deviate at all. (Didn't have all the ingredients? Find another recipe!) But then I discovered a recipe in a cookbook that had the same basic ingredients (meat, pasta, diced tomatoes), but the recipe authors gave suggestions on how to use different spices (chili powder or Italian seasoning) and cheeses (mozzarella vs. sharp cheddar) to totally change the taste of the dish.
Since then, I have been trying my hand at doing a little kitchen experimentation. And I came up with "Flexipes" or flexible recipes. (Uh, at least I thought I coined the phrase. I guess not.) Flexipes are recipes that allow you the flexibility to create delicious, delicious dishes while using up what you have in your pantry.
Some personal finance advice is just plain ridiculous. I'm talking about the kind of advice that's great for filling up a webpage but that had neither saved nor made anyone money ever. Or maybe you could follow it and save money, if you wanted to hate your life.
I'm not entirely innocent, I admit. I'm sure I've espoused my share of well-meaning-yet-impractical advice in the last seven years. (Okay, stop searching the archives right now!) But I do try, people. I really do.
So today I wanted to talk about one of these questionable nuggets of advice that I frequently come across: Pay off debt faster by starting a garden.
I spend a lot of money on food. (More than I spend on my mortgage.)
Part of it is need, of course. But much of it is want, because I'm both an enthusiastic cook and a health nut. I view food as a cross between health care and hobby. And I know I'm fortunate to be in a position to buy things like freshly pressed olive oil and porcini mushrooms. I know that not everyone has that option. For some people, food is about survival. They have to stretch their food budget as far as they possibly can. Sometimes they go to bed hungry.
From time to time, I read GRS comments asking for advice for people who are struggling just to make ends meet. They can barely afford to eat, let alone save a six-month emergency fund or open a Roth IRA.
I spend almost as much on groceries as I do on my mortgage.
Now, before you spit your coffee all over your keyboard, you should know that my mortgage is pretty low, lower than what some of my friends pay in rent. And for me, "groceries" includes all of the extras one buys at grocery stores, like paper towels and soap and the latest issue of the weekly tabloid.
No matter what I do, we're still spending more on food each month than I want to be spending. Two of my weapons in the battle to lower my food bill that I haven't talked about yet are Aldi and bulk-food stores.
One thing I don't like to do is stop at several different stores, so I don't shop at all stores every week, or even every two weeks. Both these stores are small, and I prefer to shop at these stores instead of Walmart or other huge stores. (Does anyone else get exhausted by the sheer number of decisions, people, and products in the huge stores?)
Positives About Aldi
Aldi and I go way back, but it wasn't a pleasant start. As a college student, I shopped there because it was cheap, but I didn't always like the food. I think they have really improved their products since then, however, plus I like several things about the store. But first you have to find one. Aldi stores are found in 32 different states in the US. There are two within driving distance from my house.
In 2010, my husband and I were pregnant with our second child. And although we were making plenty of money, we were burning through all we made at lightning speed. Yep, we were wasting it. In fact, we were spending money we didn't even have by financing cars, miscellaneous purchases, and trips. And, even though we had a baby on the way and two rental properties, we didn't have much of an emergency fund to speak of either.
Although I can't put my finger on it, something about having another baby on the way finally prompted us to become weary of the path we were heading down. All of a sudden, we got serious. It was then that we took a hard look at ourselves and our spending habits. We started by sifting through old bank statements in an effort to find out where in the world all of our money was going.
What we found was shocking. Along with the regular ol' bills like our mortgage and utilities, we were spending massive sums of money on car payments and entertainment. And even worse was the fact that we were spending more than $1,000 on food each month…for three people! Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? I mean, what we were eating? Gold-plated caviar? I'm still not sure, but I know that nothing we were eating was worth that much money. Nothing.
This reader story come from SB, a regular reader and commenter on GRS. SB writes about personal finance and personal development topics at One Cent at a Time.
Some reader stories contain general advice; others are examples of how a GRS reader achieved financial success or failure. These stories feature folks with all levels of financial maturity and income.
This is my second guest post at this blog. I am grateful to J.D. and his team's humble gesture in allowing me to do it. I hope to provide the same value regular writers of this blog provide to you.
Before I dig into this topic, let me just put this out there: Expiration dates are important and you should always consider them so you don't get food poisoning and end up in the hospital or whatever. Please don't interpret this post as my arguing that expiration dates are total bull.
That being said, expiration dates are total bull. Just kidding! Well, kind of. I recently came across an alarming study from Harvard, which found that Americans waste 160 billion tons [Editor's Note: Kristin pointed out that she should have written 160 billion pounds] of food annually. A similar 2012 study from the NRDC calculated that waste in terms of dollars: We throw out about $165 billion worth of food and beverages each year. On average, that's between $275 and $400 per household.
The Dating Game
The Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic titled their study "The Dating Game," and they came to the conclusion that many "sell by" dates don't really have anything to do with safety. Companies mostly determine those dates based on taste tests.
Few questions are as unwelcome or unanswerable (at least in my house) as "What's for dinner?" Every few months, I make futile attempts to meal plan or grocery shop smarter. I spread out cookbooks, I write down recipes, I make shopping lists, and then everything disappears (it seems) and I am back to my usual chaotic "It's 4:45 and what are we going to eat again?!"
In these moments, I am much more likely to order pizza or stop by for a supermarket rotisserie chicken. Not only are these choices probably not as healthy as what we could make at home, but they are also more expensive. And at the moment, we need to cut our eating out/convenience food spending as much as possible.
I am no domestic diva, as you have already discovered. But there are plenty of people of who are. And some of them don't even require googling. Take my mother-in-law, for example. She raised eight children on a tight budget, and I think she came up with a genius idea. Listen to this: She served the same seven meals every week. For instance, Monday was always spaghetti night, Tuesday was always chicken potpie, and so on. It meant her shopping list was the same every single week. Of course, it also means that my husband was burned out on repetition, so we definitely can't adopt the same policy in our house. But I do think it's a great idea.<