Planning is simple, in a kitchen drawer there is a piece of paper for each shop. When we use or open the last item of something we write it on the appropriate list. Everything is then ready to go. Not flying by the seat of our pants and no rushing about compiling a list as we try to race out the door. Those lists cover everything so that a shopping trip involvs everything including fuel collection, groceries, vehicle servicing, the lot. Less trips less fuel.
Deciding where to shop was not a haphazard exercise. We established which suppliers sold which products at the lowest price. We calculated everything at a per kilogram price (simple spread sheet). This then gave us the optimum size to buy as well as which supplier and brand. Once this price list is built it is easy to maintain as suppliers seem to stay consistent with the exception of the occasional special.
Budgeting was based on historical fact. We kept all our grocery shopping dockets for a few months and compiled a summary of each category - month by month. We then knew what we had spent and that became the maximum allowance. If we could spend less we did so as often as possible. In the following year's budget (we prepared a budget annually) we took the actuals of the prior year as the new budget. If grocery shopping was down the allowance was lowered accordingly.
We made allowances in the budget for all sorts of things, personal items, maintenance jobs and white goods replacement. But that didn't mean we spent the money. If it wasn't absolutely needed it wasn't spent.
Because our sole focus was on clearing the mortgage we were careful with every purchase. We made our own espresso coffee and took it with us on a day out finding a quiet park to enjoy the coffee and some home made cake.
Any money saved went towards mortgage reduction. Some of the most satisfying moments were seeing how much we hadn't spent at the end of each month.
When we finally paid off the mortgage there was this large amount of money appearing in our bank account that once used to go to the bank to pay off the debt. Now it sat there for us.
Frequency plays a significant part in saving money. We gradually, through circumstance initially and then by design went from weekly shopping to fortnightly to every three weeks and then monthly. We settled on monthly and continued that regime because we discovered we were spending less on groceries when we shopped monthly than when we shopped at any other interval. This saving remained consistent over the 5 years we maintained a detailed budget.
We couldn't put our finger on why exactly but the suspicion was that a number of factors came into play:
- Firstly, the obvious one is there were 75% fewer opportunities to buy something on impulse.
- Secondly, if we ran out of a much loved item in week 3 we did without and ate something else that was in the pantry.
- Thirdly, we took advantage of bulk buying to cover the monthly interval and sometimes covering more than one month. Bulk buying not only means going to a wholesaler and buying a carton it also means taking advantage of the "buy 10 and get them at a discount" type offers that you often see with cat food (which we fed to the cats).
- Fourthly, when shopping monthly there is less attraction in buying easily perishable products such as bread and instead buying flour and making your own. Baking your own bread is much cheaper. So in this we also mean getting back to the basics i.e. cooking using the basic ingredients rather than pre-processed products such as sauces.
- Fifthly, we grew as much of our own food as possible. Vegetables, fruits and herbs. And avoided buying anything if we had a substitute product in the garden. Especially important was not to buy out of season items in the supermarket. This forced us to cook according to what was in season in our garden and to become creative. Taking the easy way out encourages laziness. After a while it really does become easy to walk through the garden collecting what is available and create a meal. It broadens the imagination and the palate and reduces the costs.
- Finally, we never bought pre-cooked meals. No matter how hard we worked, how late we got home, how tired we felt. We always cooked our own food. And this is not hard to do. How often don't you know you will have a long day at least the day before. We just planned ahead and made extra of the meal that day before and had it ready to warm up. Sometimes we even had a meal in the freezer ready to warm and serve. Often we would remember to get it out of the freezer in the morning to defrost.