Thursday, January 14, 2010

Fainting Buffaloes

I've had a former patient on my mind lately...actually, I've been thinking about a phrase he often said. "That wife of mine," he would beam, his face smiling with loving pride. "She knows how to squeeze a nickel until the buffalo faints."

(Yes, boys and girls, there was a time when a buffalo--and not a dead white guy--was depicted on the front of a 5c piece).

Although I knew this man years and years ago, I thought that this year, 2010, I would try to emulate his wife's thrift. Several factors drove, ahem, inspired this quest. First, I was laid off in a horrible and totally unanticipated 15 minutes during a Thursday lunch hour, three-fourths of my income vanished. Poof.

And then, at the start of December, I attended a presentation by Jodi, a perky, 30-something working mom of 3 from Florida who blogs on living the good life on a small budget .

Initially I was frustrated by what I heard--I do all the recommended penny pinching stuff already. I pack leftovers for my lunch every day, I bring my own tea bags to work, I use coupons, I buy on sale, I repurpose. I buy "close to the source" and almost never buy processed foods (soup and pizza are my family's two concessions, but those are also our emergency fall-back foods). On an average grocery shopping expedition, I save about 25% by focusing on specials and coupons and the bonus card. I shop at stores with the lowest prices in the area (which isn't saying much--Philly has some of the highest cost of living in the country for a place that's not NYC. Did you know the state sets minimum allowable prices for milk? Yeesh!).

After stewing about the issue, insisting to myself that I was doing all I can, I finally concluded that "I can do better." And so it's become a quest. Can I make the same magic as Jodi and her peers and cut my overall spending on groceries/household goods to $75 per week? And what would it take to do that?

Well, part of achieving this goal is planning: what do I need, what can I stockpile, and can I buy every single item using a coupon? How do I capitalize on the BOGOs that occasionally appear in the store flyer? It's taken detective work; fortunately, I love a good mystery.

I've been scoping out coupon websites and matching offers to our needs, and my list (I am a committed lister...otherwise I end up in aisle 4 muttering to myself about something that I know I need but what was it again?). I haven't quite figured out the best list method yet--that's my next thrift goal.

The past few weeks, a consistent 33% remained in my pocket. Paul was impressed, noting the low margin on grocery items and predicting that if all shoppers did what I was doing, we'd drive the store under. But I doubt if many others have the tenacity to scope out thrift (my cousin postulates that it's genetic...we come from a long line of trash pickers and do-it-yourselfers).

33%? Not bad. I can do better.

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