Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Guest Post: Is Thriftiness Worth the Trouble?

By Jen Colburn

“Well that was barely worth it,” is the phrase my husband and I mutter at the end of most outings with the kids. Our Kodak moment-filled adventure turns sour when the kids inevitably get hungry/tired/poopy, and we’re forced to make a quick exit. Of course these “fun” activities with the kids are worth it, or else we wouldn’t keep doing them. But when they are grown, we hope they have fond memories of their family outings and no recollection of their frantic mother screaming at them to: 1) get off the ledge; 2) watch where you’re walking; 3) don’t hit the nice lady with your tree branch “walking stick.” All while hearing mom growl, “Well, that was barely worth it.”

I think it’s good to ask ourselves if what we’re doing with our time is truly worthy. One silver lining to the cloud of recession is that we scrutinize our expenses more than when the future seemed more certain. Women’s magazines and even Oprah have been promoting thriftiness more (as a Christian woman, note my obligatory disclaimer that I never watch her, but just tuned in for her show on saving money). But living in America, a lack of information is not our problem. Likely any healthy habit, the key to success is belief that the change will impact our lives. I know that Gwyneth Paltrow works out 2 hours/day, six days/week to keep her post-baby body in shape, but until I believe that I can tone my post-baby belly so that I don’t look 4 months pregnant after a big meal, I’m not going to keep up my stomach crunches.

The first step to getting on the thrift bandwagon is determining your monthly grocery expense. If you don’t know, then keep all your grocery receipts for one month. Next, settle on a reasonable target for your family. According to the US Dept. of Agriculture, the average “thrifty” family of four spends over $540 on food per month. Doing a quick survey of bloggers out there who play the “drugstore game” and shop the grocery store sales with coupons, the average cost of food PLUS diapers, cleaning, paper products, etc. is $200-400. They are no smarter than the rest; the difference is that they have decided that it is worth the extra time it takes to be more intentional about saving money. If you have a specific target in view, as opposed to just trying to spend less, you’ll be more driven and therefore more successful. What would you do with an extra $200 a month? Pay down debt faster, save for vacation, contribute to charities you’ve always said you would when you had more money? Spending more than we need to on household expenses is never the better option. Would the extra money be worth the time spent planning your shopping trips and clipping coupons?

Yes? (Surely, your answer is yes!) Then an excellent place to start is by checking out The Frugal Muse’s Coupon Boot Camp series. It will teach you step-by-step how to play the “drugstore game” and how to use coupons in conjunction with grocery store sales to stock up on necessary items at rock-bottom prices.

Jen is a wife and mother of four young children in Nashville, TN. Check back tomorrow for Part 2 of Jen's series: Is Thriftiness Worth the Trouble?

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