Wednesday, September 10

What are your budget busters?

Budget busters are your weak spots. It might be a shoe sale; or a bookstore’s clearance section; maybe that video game you’ve read so much about. Whatever it is, it hits – and it hits hard.

At our house, it’s food.

It seems like such a simple idea: Just don’t eat at restaurants, don’t get fast food. But a lack of food makes it harder to think of alternatives. You just want to stop being hungry.

And so you go for whatever is easiest, not whatever is cheapest.

But, like most frugality issues, it seems to come down to thinking ahead.


Every two or three weeks, we visit Tim’s family in Sumner – about an hour’s drive from Seattle. We also go see Tim’s friends in Tacoma, about 20 minutes’ drive from Sumner.

Running around means we find ourselves stranded for at least two meals. When two combos run $12-$15, we’re out around $30 – more if there’s a third meal in there. Add to that an inevitable snack run to Wal-Mart, and you’re up to $40 or more.

What can we do?

  1. Start bringing food
  • Bring four meals’ worth, so we can eat before we leave his parents and when we’re out visiting in Tacoma.

  1. Stop snacking
  • I’m the major instigator for snack runs. When I eat less sugar, we don’t go to the grocery store and spend money. Pretty simple.

  1. Make lists
  • I never think of snack runs as actual grocery shopping. For groceries, I make lists. But from now on, we won't be going anywhere without a list. This means we’ll roam less, which means fewer impulse purchases.

  1. Choose carefully
  • Instead of combo meals at Wendy's, we can order from the Super Value Menu. Get small fries or a baked potato. A 5-piece Chicken Nuggets instead of a chicken sandwich. 2 Jr. Bacon Cheeseburgers instead of a Baconator.

Too few cooks

There are days when Tim isn’t feeling well and when I’m exhausted from helping take care of him. We have simple meals like hot dogs, soup and frozen entrees. Sometimes I just eat a PBJ, Tim has cereal. It’s a good plan B, for a day or two.

But an eczema flare-up or other health problem can last longer than that. Then, we’re sick of the basics and too tired to think straight.

That’s when we order pizza. The bill is usually $25-$30 for two pizzas and cinnamon sticks (very tasty, very addictive). The pizza lasts usually 3-4 meals each. But that’s still a good chunk of change.

What can we do?

1. Half & half

  • When we first met, Tim could inhale a 14” pizza. Now, his appetite has mellowed. But we kept ordering two pizzas. What we should do is share a pizza: half with my toppings, half with his. This’ll save $10, minimum.

2. Nix the sticks.

  • I love these things. But I need to get back to my low-sugar diet. This includes avoiding the cinnamon sticks, however tasty. Plus, the price was raised from $2.99 to $3.99. Extra incentive.

3. Frozen pizza

  • We’ll have to be careful about freezer space but we’ll save a ton. With a pizza in the freezer, you really can’t rationalize paying for delivered pizza.

4. Breathe & eat

  • When I can’t think of what I want, I stress out, which makes it worse. I should just grab a small snack (crackers & cheese, yogurt, fruit) and try to get my blood sugar back up. Then, I’ll be more likely to think clearly and come up with a frugal answer.

What are your budget busters? And, other than avoidance, how can you cope with them?

Don't forget, this week's giveaway ends Sunday at 11:59 P.M. So enter now! And next week look for my review of "Pay It Down" by Jean Chatzky

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Blogger Crystal said...

I have a weakness for shoes, so what I usually do is if I see a pair I really like at a higher-end store, I'll write down the brand and style number and look them online once I'm home. Usually I can find them at a cheaper price!

Also, this is going to sound random, but in terms of grocery shopping I am addicted to watermelons. Think 2 to 3 per week. Sometimes more. I always try to buy them at Costco versus Safeway or Whole Foods, where they're usually at least a couple dollars more per melon. I love them more than candy!

September 11, 2008 at 5:53 PM

Blogger Abby said...

I love the idea about shoes! I often will try out a shoe fashion with Payless versions to see if I'd actually wear them.

And I actually understand about watermelon. I was on a no-sugar diet, I would slice the baby melons in half and eat one to help calm cravings. After something that sweet, your sugar cravings calm way down. Or mine did, anyway.

Plus, they're great for you and the baby ones are basically in their own little dishes. Darn it, we just got back from the store and now I want a baby watermelon. Sigh.

Well, anyway, thanks for writing in and I'll go ahead and enter you in the drawing.

September 11, 2008 at 6:12 PM

Blogger Shevy said...

Food is definitely a problem. When I track it, I can see we're spending about $200 more than I budget for. Eating at work 2 days per week is part of the problem. I had sushi and a decaf coffee today and there went $9.50. The cheapest I can buy lunch for is $2.95 for a slice of pizza or $4 for soup and a corn muffin and the pizza doesn't even fill me up. And now we're spending even more now that school has started and I'm making lunches.

September 11, 2008 at 7:45 PM

Blogger Abby said...


Is it possible to pack your lunches ahead of time? Keep it in the fridge and grab it on your way out?

So $20 a week, say, is $80 a month. What do you think the other $120ish is going?

September 11, 2008 at 8:17 PM

Blogger Donna said...

I started a "brown bag challenge" over on the Smart Spending message board last year, suggesting that readers take their lunches at least twice a week for one month and note the savings. Some of them were frankly shocked by how much they'd been spending -- since it was "only $5" or "just the Dollar Menu," they were thinking of days, not weeks -- or months, or years.
The result was an article, "Take the brown bag challenge," which has a lot of really useful and innovative ideas to making packing a lunch nutritious, easy and, best of all, cheap. Some of the ideas are so simple yet I never would have thought of them -- for example, putting mayo or mustard between the slices of meat and cheese, to keep the sandwich bread from getting soggy.
You can find it at
Hope it helps.
Best regards,
Donna Freedman, MSN Smart Spending

September 12, 2008 at 9:44 AM

Blogger Kathleen said...

For me it's definitely clearance sections at Target, or should I say Target in general. Like many people, I go in there planning to buy X and come out with X,Y,Z and A,B,C too. We're on a pretty tight budget due to my staying at home with our baby so it seems like a good deal to buy stuff on clearance, but often it's not something we truly need.

September 12, 2008 at 6:08 PM

Blogger Rachel said...

One of my budget busters is not sticking to my meal plan -- it leads to wasted groceries (I despise throwing good food away, what a waste of money), and can lead to eating out at a fast food restaurant (unhealthy and a budget-buster).

Not making a list for the grocery store, especially when taking hubby with me, also is a budget-buster. We do so much better with a plan, plan, plan.

September 13, 2008 at 11:11 AM

Blogger Shevy said...

I was trying to post a reply the other day and I was having trouble with both Blogger and with trying to answer your question about where the extra money is going.

I looked back at my excel sheets, what's filled out on them anyway, and couldn't figure out where we're spending it all. I think it's a combination of eating out, junk food on the way to our other house, Hubby buying candy for himself and our DC and buying wine and meat for Shabbat.

I have gone back to having grape juice more often for Shabbat (roughly the difference between $6 and $17) but that's the only time we have meat. We have salmon sometimes on Friday night, but we do try to have meat because that's when you're supposed to eat the best out of the whole week.

And now I'm buying stuff like granola bars and pudding cups and fresh fruit to put in DC's lunch, which I wasn't even buying before.

September 13, 2008 at 8:59 PM

Blogger Abby said...


Sorry about the problems posting!

I hope you had a good Shabbat. I think as long as you know where it's going, fresh fruit in DC's lunch is a pretty good expense. Nutrition is important, after all. And now I want fruit and grape juice. You're a terrible influence on me.

Don't forget that a lot of grocery stores have great markdowns on meat that is closer to the expiration date. You can freeze it or just cook it immediately.

Of course, depending on your level of orthodoxy, most of the meat in a grocery store won't be acceptable for your dietary needs.

I know nothing about wine. All I do know is the help the grocery folks gave me picking some out for others. I think it was like $10-12. So maybe you could go and ask for some recommendations on good, more affordable wine. Of course grape juice is tastier in my way of thinking. But I've got no class when it comes to sophisticated drinks like wine.

September 13, 2008 at 9:18 PM

Blogger Donna said...

Get in the habit of eating whatever fruit is on special that week. Apples last a long time; new-crop Galas were 98 cents a pound last week, so I bought about five pounds and put them in the fridge.
Bananas are among the cheapest fruits. Watch for markdowns of really ripe fruits, which can be to your advantage -- who wants an UNripe pineapple? But the store doesn't want to keep it around.
Speaking of pineapple: a produce employee at one local grocery store would cut a pineapple in half if I didn't want to buy the whole thing. She'd just wrap up the other half and sell it to other single people. I'd also ask her to cut off the big spiky part at the top -- that way, I was only paying for fruit, not for the surprisingly heavy spiky thing. Maybe your produce folks will do the same for you. Can't hurt to ask.
Always keep some canned fruit on hand -- when fresh fruit is too pricey or just doesn't look tip=-top, take a little container of applesauce or mandarin oranges in your lunch. (Mandarins go on sale fairly regularly at Walgreens, two cans for 99 cents.)
Watch for sales on granola bars. This week at Albertsons, for instance, they're $1 a box if you buy 10 (or mix and match the granola bars with some other products on sale). And if you have coupons, so much the better; I will wind up paying 85 cents per box. Yes, 10 boxes is a lot, but they don't take up that much room -- and remember, you don't have to keep everything in the cupboard at once. You can store the extras in other places in your apartment such as under your bed, in store boxes or containers in a spare room, behind a bookcase, whatever. (Ask Abby about all the packages of napkins stored under our couch when she was a kid -- hey, they were FREE with the coupons! I couldn't NOT buy them! It's not like they'd go stale or something.)
If you have any free time at all, cook up a batch of chocolate pudding and pouring it into small plastic containers. Voila: "pudding cups" at a discount, with no preservatives. While you're at it, make a DOUBLE batch of chocolate pudding, or rice, or tapioca, or whatever. If you don't want to do scratch puddings, a box of chocolate pudding mix runs about a dollar on sale; buy it and hang on to it until milk goes on sale or until it's put on special because it's close-dated. Once you cook up some pudding, it will last long enough to be eaten -- and really, in the average home, how long does pudding hang around???
Shameless plug: Go to and click on the "Groceries" and "Extreme savings" tags. There's a lot of frugal hacks to be found there.

September 13, 2008 at 11:33 PM

Blogger Abby said...

Shameless plug, indeed! But that's what comments on blogs are -- besides explanation: shameless plugs. It's a good source. And I'm not just saying that because of blood ties.

September 13, 2008 at 11:52 PM

Blogger Donna said...

No, you're saying it because you still have nightmares about the napkins under the couch. It's Post Traumatic Paper Products Syndrome.

September 14, 2008 at 10:37 AM

Blogger Abby said...

For anyone wondering what on earth she's talking about:

One day, when I was in my teens, she came home loaded down with paper towels. I mean loaded down. So many, in fact,that she couldn't fit all of them in the various kitchen cupboards. So she packed the entire space under the couch with the things. For years (and yes, I do mean years) whenever we needed a new roll of paper towels, we had to kneel down and dig under the couch.

And that's not even getting into the baking cups debacle. She bought so many that I'm pretty sure she's actually still using them up today. There was a joke that they'd be my dowry. But now that I'm married, I guess she's saving them for future grandkids.

September 14, 2008 at 11:36 AM

Blogger romeo said...

Fuel is my budget buster since I love to travel.

September 17, 2008 at 7:54 PM

Blogger The J said...

I'd say food for us too - not because of the eating out, but because (a) fresh food costs a lot here, and (b) I have yet to figure out the whole meal planning thing (every time I do it, I crash...), and stuff will actually spoil before we eat it, or our "staples" are things that ordinarily cost a lot and we haven't figured out the sales or the best place to get them. It's also the thing we spoil ourselves with - fresh salad and fish for Sunday lunch, or chocolate from the bulk store...

Second thing - library fines. Borrowing movies for free? Good thing. $2/day fine for not bringing them back on time? Very, very bad thing. Yeah, it's cheaper than Blockbuster, but with Blockbuster you'd remember the next day, or the next - not a week later :P.

September 22, 2008 at 7:17 AM


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