Author Topic: UPDATE: Newbie to Mustachianism's Exploding Volcano of Wastefulness, 1st Month  (Read 14974 times)

kittenwhiskers

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(post has been updated with FAQs)

Howdy folks, thank you all so much for your valuable input over the past month! We have made some progress, but still have an Exploding Volcano of Wastefulness.
Our original post can be found here: http://forum.mrmoneymustache.com/ask-a-mustachian/newbie-to-moustachianism-with-hair-on-fire-requests-help-from-veterans/

Changes already made:
  • Groceries: Started shopping almost exclusively at Winco and Costco, buying pre-sliced deli meat to buying raw meat and cooking and slicing it ourselves, buying more generics and bulk items. Estimated cost savings: $200/month.
  • Internet/phone: Switched from Comcast to DSL, and switched to VOIP landline. Estimated cost savings: $30/month.
  • TV: Switched from Comcast to Dish Network. Estimated cost savings: $50/month.
  • Dining out: Our goal was to only eat out twice a month; technically we ate out 3 times this month, but one of those times was at a fast food joint. About $100 of the total below is from spouse's coffee habit, but he now has a thermos and has been using it religiously. He's a non-mustachian but has been a great sport! Estimated cost savings: $850/month.
  • Income taxes: Rather than paying extra toward income taxes from each paycheck, we changed withholding to Married with no additional withholding and maxed out 401K contributions. This did lower our take-home pay by about $1200/month, but if I did the math right, it only cost us about $294 more per paycheck to put $692 in 401k. I didn't like the idea of missing out any any further 401k contributions since it's limited to a certain dollar amount per year and no catch-up contributions can be made until after we would like to be semi-retired/financially independent. Was this the right decision when our hair is on fire...?
  • Emergency Fund: We are putting half of the income remaining after expenses into online savings earning 1%, and the other half into a Betterment account with 60/40 stock/bond split (the default emergency fund setting for Betterment). When we have a sufficient total emergency fund to cover 3 months of our new expenses, we plan to funnel all future spare cash directly into the student loan.
  • Roth IRA: Had to reverse and discontinue Roth IRA contributions since we will have made too much to qualify for IRA contributions... Sheesh! This is what made me realize we have an Exploding Volcano of Wastefulness!! See increased 401K contributions above.
  • Transportation: I have an absolutely ridiculous 38-mile commute, but cannot jump ship at this time due to Hair On Fire and pretty stable work situation. My Toyota has about 285,000 miles on it, and maintenance costs are increasing. I'm leaning toward trying to hang on to this puppy for another year, until/unless I get a repair bill over $4,000, at which time I plan to buy a 3-5 year old used reliable compact to mid-size car.

Next steps:
  • Cell phone: Need to decide on alternative carrier. There is a lot of information out there (including on this forum), both positive and negative about various carriers. Part of my decision-paralysis comes from the realization that bloggers are getting kickbacks for recommending services, which makes it hard to know who to trust. We already have smartphones that work, and want to bring them to a new carrier. Any additional input would be greatly appreciated!
  • Groceries: Obviously need to cut back, but are not sure how to get it cut down by about half as previously suggested.
  • Other suggestions...?

Since the main focus of previous posters seemed to be how the heck are we spending so much on groceries, here's a breakdown of the current month:

Category$% of total
Meat, nuts, eggs20725%20%(excluding one $56.66 deli purchase for Italian beef sandwiches)
Produce (all other vegetables not sold in a bag)607%13%(total produce section)
Packaged/sliced vegetables (bagged salad, single-serve applesauce, shredded carrots, etc.)455%
Dairy (milk, cottage cheese, pre-shredded cheese, single-serve yogurts, half-and-half)9812%
Baking91%
Sweets, fancy packaged drinks (chia seed, etc.), chips709%
Packaged carbs (bread, tortillas, frozen potatoes, etc.)577%
Condiments (salsa, ketchup, salad dressing, croutons)628%
Frozen pizza, snacks, deli sides567%
Muscle Milk223%(Meal replacement for spouse when too busy at work for a meal)
Coffee (ground & canned)496%(note this will be cut by about 2/3 in October due to spouse's new Thermos)
Bottled water51%(I use a reusable bottle, spouse still uses disposable… but at just $5/month, I think we have bigger fish to fry)
Flowers, chocolate for birthdays at work152%(already included in Gifts in expense table)
TP, paper towels, feminine hygiene385%
OTC meds 304%(Tylenol, cold, etc., first cold of the season, replenishing stock with cheapest store brand stuff available)
Total822100%

Abbreviated Case Study Info:

Life Situation: IRS filing status Married Filing Jointly, no dependents, early 40's, residing near Seattle, WA. I work in Healthcare (maybe 75% job security) and my spouse works in a completely unrelated Transportation field (probably about 95% job security).

Gross Salary/Wages: Before any deductions: about $204,000 total projected for 2015.

Pre-tax deductions:
#1: about $300/month for healthcare (this is charged whether or not we want the healthcare). Currently no deferred compensation contributions.
#2: about $692/paycheck for deferred compensation plan, $158 in another deferred compensation plan (pension?? still need to figure out what this is).

No other significant income, dividends, capital gains, or rental income.

Current Emergency Fund balance as of 9/15: $5312

Liabilities:

Student Loans: original total $129,000, currently owe $108,000 at 6.55% interest with autopay. First payment on schedule in 2012. Originally set up for 25 year payment plan, currently on 10-year payment plan, but my hair is on fire and this debt is eating away at my well-being every moment it's there. Monthly payment currently $1527.10, payoff date 3/2023.

Car loan: Fancy truck purchased for spouse in 11/2013. Original owed: $39,704.50 at 2.59%, $707.05/mo and $27,079.99 remaining on the 5-year loan. (I am awaiting the expected face punch, but this is currently non-negotiable with anti-mustachian spouse. He is coming around, but I think this truck is here to stay. He has a relatively short commute.)

Credit cards: Paid off all $39,000 in credit card debt over 9 months (YEAH!!). Available balance: about $89,000 total.

Summary of this month's spending, as compared with average numbers from the past year and from 1998:

Category9/1520151998
Mortgage$1,391 $1,295
Rent$478
HOA
Property Tax$234 $234
Mortgage Insurance
Home/Rent Insurance$33 $33
Beauty Shop
Bicycle Maintenance
Cable TV$47 $83 $28 (2015 recently reduced to $50)
Car Insurance$220 $220 $162
Car Maintenance, Registration, etc.$5 $564 $165
Charitable contributions$9
Child activities
Childcare(DINK)
Gifts$126 $199 (Christmas & birthdays)
Clothing/Shoes$225 $156
College costs
Computer (paper/software/etc.)$24
Credit card fees$46 (2015 recently reduced to 0)
Dental Insurance
Dentist
Dining (Pizza, Restaurant, etc.)$211 $921 $691 (9/2015 reduced to about $111 with new thermos, 1998 includes leisure, movies, etc.)
Donations(already included in charitable contributions)
Dry Cleaning
Electricity$101 $124 $39 (includes natural gas heating)
Emergency Fund$3,010 varies(9/2015 includes $1,100 one-time refunds, previous average including tax refunds and debt paydown was about $4,055/month)
Entertainment$24 $265
Financial Fees$46 $4 (includes credit card interest but these are all paid off now)
Fuel/Public Transport$380 $416 $101
Gas/Oil for heating(included in electricity)
Groceries$937 $1,178 $493
Hair Care$12
Home Alarm System
Household; Maintenance$31 $116 $103
Internet$60 (9/2015 reduced to $55 which includes home phone service, not billed yet)
Landscaping/Yard work(included in household maintenance)
Life Insurance(included in auto insurance plus post-tax deduction of $100 thru employers)
Lunches(included in groceries and dining out, generally we bring lunch from home)
Medical (Doctor, Hospital, etc.)$17 $47
Medical Insurance$346 $346
Medicine (Prescription)$15 $21
Miscellaneous$20 $200 $545
Parking/Tolls$79
Pets$136 $80 $194
Phone (cell)$139 $139
Phone (landline)$35 $35 $96 (9/2015 reduced to 0, bundled with internet; 1998 includes both landline and cell)
Recycling/Trash$27
School Tutition/Books/Etc.$95
Sports/Recreation$43
Subscriptions (paper/magazines/etc.)$9
Travel/Vacation$1,071 ($448/mo excluding a once-in-a-lifetime ridiculous vacation to Vegas)
Water/Sewer$116(includes city water and wastewater, city storm drainage, county wastewater treatment)
Wine/Beer/Tobacco
Work/Professional fees$63
Total$7,584 $8,396 $3,313
Average take-home pay$9,030 $12,347 $2,926

We get all city/county services on one bill and original post had it all listed under Recycling. The table above was edited to split out water/sewer from garbage fees. City wastewater ($28), storm drainage ($13), county wastewater treatment ($43) are all minimum monthly charges and cannot be adjusted. Water is read every second month and this happened to be the month; base charge $18, we paid another $15 for the past 2 months. Garbage/recycling fee of $27 could be reduced by about $8 if we switch from a 35 gallon container to a 20 gallon container (note that garbage and recycling are picked up every two weeks, composting is picked up weekly). We have high-efficiency washing machine and haven't been watering our yard, so I don't think there's much savings available here...

Mustachian veterans out there have been great, giving us all kinds of awesome feedback! Any further input/suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
« Last Edit: October 01, 2015, 09:58:08 PM by kittenwhiskers »

jengod

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Some suggestions on your grocery budget, divided into judgmental and non-judgmental:

JUDGMENTAL FACE PUNCHES, i.e. STOP SPENDING MONEY ON THIS SHIT

Dairy    98   12%   ---> Cut dairy, save $100, make less phlegm. Are you a baby cow? No? Then this is not for you. Contract a pregnant adult female chimpanzee or gorilla if you need to drink lactation fluid.
Sweets, fancy packaged drinks (chia seed, etc.), chips   70   9%   ---> NO. MAKE IT YOURSELF IF YOU NEED IT.
Muscle Milk   22   3%      ---> What is this? Is this human food?
TP, paper towels, feminine hygiene   38   5%      ---> Replace paper towels with rags. Replace disposable feminine hygiene products with menstrual cup. Better for the environment, less trash. You can have the TP, but google "family cloth" and consider it for pee only.

NON-JUDGMENTAL, i.e. supportive and loving fellow Mustachians who can see that you are trying remind you that you can make almost all of this stuff with an investment of time and ingredients. Try one new thing at a time and see what sticks.
Packaged carbs (bread, tortillas, frozen potatoes, etc.)   57   7%      
Condiments   62   8%      
Frozen pizza, snacks, deli sides   56   7%      
Coffee (ground & canned)   49   6%   ---> Find a grinder at a thrift store and then start buying whole beans.

robartsd

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I don't think MMM's recommendations of Republic and Google Fi are based on kickbacks (though I doubt he puts nearly as much research in as IP Daley). My biggest reason to avoid Republic is that they don't have BYOD, their devices can't be used anywhere else, and their devices don't have removable batteries. Google Fi (currently) requires one of the most expensive phones.

IP Daley's guide is superb. Visit his website at http://www.techmeshugana.com/. He recommends Airvoice on AT&T's network, P'Tel on T-Mobile's network, Ting on Sprint's network (with Verizon roaming), and Selectel on Verizon's network (though he only recommends this if you have a Verizon device you want to continue to use) - so if you're only shopping for a carrier but not a device or network, you should be able to choose a plan that fits your usage from the appropriate one of these without noticing much change in your service at all. If you're choosing a device, then GSM based provides the most flexibility in future carrier choices.

I assume that the facepunch you need for still paying a TV provider at all is also due to your non mustachian SO.

4alpacas

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I don't think MMM's recommendations of Republic and Google Fi are based on kickbacks (though I doubt he puts nearly as much research in as IP Daley). My biggest reason to avoid Republic is that they don't have BYOD, their devices can't be used anywhere else, and their devices don't have removable batteries. Google Fi (currently) requires one of the most expensive phones.

IP Daley's guide is superb. Visit his website at http://www.techmeshugana.com/. He recommends Airvoice on AT&T's network, P'Tel on T-Mobile's network, Ting on Sprint's network (with Verizon roaming), and Selectel on Verizon's network (though he only recommends this if you have a Verizon device you want to continue to use) - so if you're only shopping for a carrier but not a device or network, you should be able to choose a plan that fits your usage from the appropriate one of these without noticing much change in your service at all. If you're choosing a device, then GSM based provides the most flexibility in future carrier choices.
I second the IP Daley recommendation.  He goes into a lot of detail and takes your usage/device/preferences into consideration.  IP Daley was really helpful when I gave up Sprint for Ting because I wasn't to continue to use my iPhone.

BDWW

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Some suggestions on your grocery budget, divided into judgmental and non-judgmental:

JUDGMENTAL FACE PUNCHES, i.e. STOP SPENDING MONEY ON THIS SHIT

Dairy    98   12%   ---> Cut dairy, save $100, make less phlegm. Are you a baby cow? No? Then this is not for you. Contract a pregnant adult female chimpanzee or gorilla if you need to drink lactation fluid.
Sweets, fancy packaged drinks (chia seed, etc.), chips   70   9%   ---> NO. MAKE IT YOURSELF IF YOU NEED IT.
Muscle Milk   22   3%      ---> What is this? Is this human food?
TP, paper towels, feminine hygiene   38   5%      ---> Replace paper towels with rags. Replace disposable feminine hygiene products with menstrual cup. Better for the environment, less trash. You can have the TP, but google "family cloth" and consider it for pee only.

NON-JUDGMENTAL, i.e. supportive and loving fellow Mustachians who can see that you are trying remind you that you can make almost all of this stuff with an investment of time and ingredients. Try one new thing at a time and see what sticks.
Packaged carbs (bread, tortillas, frozen potatoes, etc.)   57   7%      
Condiments   62   8%      
Frozen pizza, snacks, deli sides   56   7%      
Coffee (ground & canned)   49   6%   ---> Find a grinder at a thrift store and then start buying whole beans.

http://www.cc.com/video-clips/ru6wnc/joe-rogan--rocky-mountain-high-a-vegan-s-favorite-thing-to-say

honeybbq

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Some suggestions on your grocery budget, divided into judgmental and non-judgmental:

JUDGMENTAL FACE PUNCHES, i.e. STOP SPENDING MONEY ON THIS SHIT

TP, paper towels, feminine hygiene   38   5%      ---> Replace paper towels with rags. Replace disposable feminine hygiene products with menstrual cup. Better for the environment, less trash. You can have the TP, but google "family cloth" and consider it for pee only.


what? They should share a family pee rag but they can still buy bottled water??

Seriously, too far.

TrMama

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Facepunches coming.

Your grocery bill is still obscene. Do you actually eat all that food every month? How much are you throwing out? Based on the $143/mo garbage bill (please tell me that's a typo!) you're pitching a lot of it. Get yourselves on a meal plan, STAT! Also, what's up with the garbage bill?

Do the math on how much it costs you to have that truck per day. If SO's commute is short, he should be able to bike/walk/transit to work and save himself the cost. At $707/mo for the payment and $110 for insurance (half the total car insurance bill) it's costing him $27.23/day just to own it. That doesn't even include the cost of actually driving it. How many hours does he have to work each month to earn that?

How are you spending $126/mo on Christmas? Is your last name Claus?

Look into refi-ing the student loans. The rate and balance are both high and you can use all the help  you can get to kill them.

jengod

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Some suggestions on your grocery budget, divided into judgmental and non-judgmental:

JUDGMENTAL FACE PUNCHES, i.e. STOP SPENDING MONEY ON THIS SHIT

TP, paper towels, feminine hygiene   38   5%      ---> Replace paper towels with rags. Replace disposable feminine hygiene products with menstrual cup. Better for the environment, less trash. You can have the TP, but google "family cloth" and consider it for pee only.


I assumed they already gave themselves 40 lashes for the bottled water.

what? They should share a family pee rag but they can still buy bottled water??

Seriously, too far.

Cloth diapers, handkerchiefs, dish rags. Family cloth is just the next step in a progression of disengagement from our corporate-enabled dependence on disposables. This dependence enriches the companies that produce disposable tissue, disposable pads, disposable diapers, disposable paper towels, ad infinitum, at the expense of your personal bottom line.

http://www.pennilessparenting.com/2010/06/reusable-toilet-paper-family-cloth.html
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=olWArpqK3F0

Hypocrite warning: We use TP! But our hair isn't on fire, so it's an insane first-world luxury in which we can choose to indulge. :D

Juslookin

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I read this thread and your original completely. I feel the need to post on your groceries.

The one problem I have in our household is money spent on groceries. So between you and I OP, lets just be real.

I spend $1200. a month on average. However I have two teenagers, one boy and one girl and two adults, one who is a diagnosed gluten free celiac.  I am going to be brutally honest that what I buy is convenience health food.  Pre-washed kale and spinach, whatever berries the teenagers will eat, regardless of season. Organic meats on occasion, organic dairy always. Gluten free breads, waffles and english muffins. Individual bottles of juice, water and Perrier waters. Cups of Greek yogurt instead of tubs.

Teenage boy eats constantly, he often eats Bell and Evans chicken fingers for a snack and than an entire dinner an hour later. We are foodies and enjoy crab cakes, gulf shrimp and a lot of salmon and fish meals. I include wine and specialty cheeses in my cost aswell as the most outstanding Vermont Smokehouse Pepperoni you ever did taste. (Google it, it's fabulous)

I am not posting these details to brag, my grocery budget in my opinion is much much too high, however, our income is slightly higher than yours, we have a paid off mortgage and 3/4 million cash saved in 401ks and IRAs. We have made a choice to spend our money here, even though I would like to see it reduced. I gave the details about what I'm buying to show you that we are living pretty damn high on the hog in my opinion and we are still spending less than you per month.

So the point OP is this......what in the world are you spending all of that grocery money on for two people? You are either miscalculating or not being real with yourself or us about the details. This is not about healthy eating, that is an excuse.

« Last Edit: September 30, 2015, 12:57:55 PM by Juslookin »

nvmama

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I do not have much more to add, but I wanted to sympathize about the non-moustachian SO.  I have one of those too and it is a struggle to get certain expenses lessened (I am forever trying to get him to cut cable or at least reduce the package and now he wants us to get a new car).  Continue to do what you can.  After looking at your breakdown, I would tackle that grocery budget (especially if your SO won't budge on the truck).  Do you do all the grocery shopping?  that may help, put one person in charge of the majority of the grocery shopping.  That's how we do it, that way I can control that part of the budget more.  I know that when I send my So to the store to pick up a few things, even written on a list, he always adds more and doesn't tend to pay as close attention to the unit price of things.

midweststache

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Hi kittenwhiskers! Glad to see an update--I was wondering how your September spending had turned out after our facepunches!

A few notes:
1. I'm reading a surplus of ~$2,500/month right now, between your spending (including car and student loan payments) and income. Where are you putting that money? If the car is really non-negotiable for your husband, I would recommend paying off the car ASAP. Not only will you be able to snowball an addition $700 toward student loans once it's gone (putting almost $5,000/month toward them), but you can stop bringing up the major inhibitor to your husband's jumping on the MMM bandwagon. Your relationship will be better for it.

2. Great job on reining in the dining out this month! Fantastic! For October, your grocery budget could still use some work. Here are some fairly low-hanging fruit: water bottles (really? find thee a Klean Kanteen and use bottled water no more!), meat consumption (beans and lentils are good, cheap alternatives), dairy (unless you live in HI, you shouldn't be paying that much for milk), condiments (how did you all spend $60 on condiments?), coffee (we buy a bag every 10 days at about $7/bag...), and Muscle Milk (unless you're competing in IFBB, this isn't necessary). So work on that for the coming month.

3. I know you mentioned you're looking into it, but change out those cell phones ASAP.

4. Great job on lowering your Miscellaneous spending! WOOT!

So glad you checked in. Keep up the good work (maybe start a journal to chronicle progress, especially re: food).

TXScout2

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I think dairy is great even though I'm not a baby cow, but I also want to know, how are you spending $98/month on dairy?

Cassie Hill 2

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The development of the ability to digest lactose was important in allowing humans to utilize another source of protein and calories. This ability allowed humans to utilize, indirectly, grasses that only ruminents can digest. It's a great thing. Plus cheese!
That said, are you eating a lot of fancy cheese?  You might consider cutting back and only buying a small amount as a treat. Or is it many serving size yogurt packages? Either make your own or buy quart size.

kittenwhiskers

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Hi everyone, thank you so much for all the feedback! I've updated the first post with FAQs including more details on what we buy, emergency fund, etc.

Dmy0013: I haven't asked him to get rid of the truck and I'm not going to. It's his baby, his last truck he ran into the ground, and he has otherwise been a super awesome sport about all this. I'm really lucky. :) You have an interesting point about snowballing the payments from truck to student loans (the student loans are mine).

annajane83: This may actually be a good option and my phone qualifies! Thank you for including it! I'll check it out...

jengod and honeybbq: A "family pee rag"? Really? I didn't even know such a thing existed. Interesting idea, but NO, we will be sticking with TP. Thanks for the suggestions though! The coffee portion will be greatly reduced next month due to a Thermos, and I just recently noticed Costco has like half gallon size containers of yogurt. I'll probably switch to that for myself! Also, I actually have cloth napkins that we used previously, but have gotten lazy and have been using disposable recently. Have to get back to it!

robartsd: Yes, the TV is non-negotiable. I was all about the rabbit-ears when we got married... then his mother came to visit and without my knowledge or consent installed cable TV and left me with the monthly bill. If I disconnect she will re-connect. At least the cost has been decreased.

TrMama: The garbage bill includes water, recycling, and whatever other utilities are provided by the city. We get one bill. There is no food going in the garbage because we are required to put it in the yard waste container for composting. However, we don't typically throw much out at the end of the month. I do have family over sometimes, but this is mostly our own cost. Facepunch accepted! Re: Truck, I know, but that is not going to happen. Re: Christmas: The original template only listed Christmas for a gift category. I clarified by changing in my post to "Gifts", includes gifts for Christmas, birthdays, etc. Any time we buy something for someone else it goes here. This month we had $60 for flowers for spouse's grandma who lives alone, plus I think about $20 for flowers and chocolate for coworker birthdays. I will be cutting down on this moving forward. Re: student loans, thought about refinancing, but don't want to lose the ability to defer payments if I ever lose my job (I've had to use this once already).

Juslookin: Thank you for the suggestions, using a Costco-sized tub of yogurt instead of individual servings has been on my mind recently, and I plan to switch to this for my own yogurt moving forward. Yes, those numbers absolutely are accurate, I went through all my receipts to put those numbers together! The sweets/snacks portion is definitely not about healthy eating, and I didn't realize we were spending so much on that.

midweststache: Thank you for the follow-up reply! I updated my original post above with Emergency Fund details; savings from earlier this year were mainly used to pay off the credit cards. Excluding one-time refunds, this month we were able to put another $1,910 into savings. Previous months included $4,055 of debt paydown/savings, but that was when our income tax withholding was all messed up due to spouse's very generous donation of overtime to budget. We had to subsequently increase our tax withholding which decreased our take-home pay, and now we are not putting any extra toward income taxes but are maxing out the 401K contributions. So although our monthly saving is down, so is our take-home pay. Still looking for other efficiencies to increase savings / debt payments! Re: groceries, you have a very good point about beans and lentils. I'm going to start looking up recipes! Coffee cost was mostly due to single-serve Starbucks Doubleshots which were spouse's previous standard, but he has been a great sport and is now using a Thermos instead! Spouse uses Muscle Milk as meal replacement, a lot of the time he doesn't get breaks of any kind at work (including restroom breaks!) so has to has something he can drink while he drives. I don't know how that can be legal for his employer to require this...! And yes, cell phones are next on the chopping block! Thank you so much for all your suggestions!!

TXScout2: Dairy mainly includes milk, cottage cheese (we just switched to tubs), shredded cheese, sour cream (also switched to tubs), single-serve yogurts (I'll be switching to tubs for October). I have been using half-gallons but have been going through about one a week, so I'll check out the expiration date next time I shop to see if I can graduate to gallon-size milk. And try shredding our own cheese!

Everyone else, I did read your comments, and if I didn't respond it's probably because I covered in someone else's reply. Thank you so much for all the suggestions! They are most welcome, including the many deserved facepunches! :)
« Last Edit: October 02, 2015, 05:42:54 AM by kittenwhiskers »

Juslookin

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Kitten whiskers: You have an excellent attitude regarding everyone's suggestions.

Grocery bills are a huge area to improve on. I would make an inventory of what you have in the house and start doing meal planning. Only buy what you need to complete meals.

Bob W

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Sorry I don't have time now to fully absorb your posts.

One thing I did note was that in your grocery budget you have many items (muscle milk, hygiene, coffee etc.) that are not considered food.

I would suggest you group your store shopping into separate categories

For example:

Category 1 - real and needed foods (think meat, veggies, whole foods)
Category 2 - beverages (coffee, soda,  milk,  Juice etc..)
Category 3 - Booze, beer
Category 4 - soap, hygiene,
Category 5 - Household cleaning supplies
Category 6 - Junk, comfort, fun food

You can be a better shopper on Cat 1 but by and large you will need these items.  Cat 2,3 and 6 could go to zero.  Cat 4 and 5 could be whittled down.

For example (and I know for some reason people have succumbed to coffee marketing) you could easily cut your coffee consumption and buy a standard brand.    I completely cut coffee out and now buy 100 tea bags for $1 at walmart.  They last me 2-3 months.  So my annual caffeine fix is around $6 vs your $500 or so.   $500 is real money and over a 30 year period would end up being worth $160,000.    I buy about 1 gallon of milk per year and soda/fruit juice is just evil.  Love the veggie juice though.

I'll look and comment more as time allows.   I'm glad you are putting lots of thought into your choices. 

MayDay

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I am honestly confused by how 2 adults can consume that much in food, unless you are marathon runners who need twice the number of calories as the rest of us, or you only buy food at Whole Foods, or.... I don't even know?

I mean, we buy mostly organic for 4 people for about half what you are spending.  And I just sat down and ate a third of a box of graham crackers in one sitting so obviously I am getting plenty of calories for that $$$$. 

Maybe post what you each typically eat in a day?  What kind of stores do you shop at?  If you really are eating huge volumes of food, maybe Costco would be a good fit for you. 

ShoulderThingThatGoesUp

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$62/month on condiments

Is this the person you want to be?

MayDay

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$62/month on condiments

Is this the person you want to be?

I'm dying. 


Rosy

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First off - yay, you've started on the road to success - it takes time, especially for those of us who are not naturally inclined to be frugal on reflex:)

I'm with you on the communal pee rag - no thank you:) no actually, whew:) - but hey, to each their own. That is what makes MMM such a lively and interesting forum.

On the groceries, I wish I could just go shopping with you and teach you a few tricks that I've learned over the years. It isn't rocket science, but given that we all have to eat, everyday for years and years, it makes sense to hone your cooking, pantry inventory, grocery shopping and kitchen sink soup skills.

For me this isn't about scrimping or depriving yourself, as a foodie and coffee lover I am not about to give up my preferred coffee beans, I'll just find other ways to impact the food budget. Asian and Balkan grocery stores are so much cheaper on many things and you can buy in bulk or buy a small amount fresh out of their bins.
I see it as optimizing your resources, challenging the status quo and coming up with better solutions - you can do this!:) 

Let me pick apart a couple of things:
1. What is glaringly obvious to me is that you buy way too much prepared - pre-packaged, pre-something foods, from pizza to salad to cheese to..... Not only are they more expensive, but they lose some of their goodness, vitamins and nutrients during this process. There is a reason why the really good cheeses do not come shredded already:)

2. I never buy lettuce or salad sealed in a bag, a) they never wash it well enough anyway b) once the stalk/trunk is removed it wilts quickly and loses nutrients quickly.
But, I will buy shredded cheese from Sargento when it is on sale bogo. Re-thinking your food budget doesn't mean you suddenly have to do everything yourself - people have a life and there is something to be said for having something on hand for those days when you are too tired to mess with anything.
If you have kids, then food prep is automatically their job.

Do you have the sort of hubby who will hang out in the kitchen with you while you cook? Maybe offer him a beer or a glass of wine - while he grates the cheese for you. Savings between 50 cents up to $2 every time for years to come - time spent with hubby - priceless:)
Maybe he cooks and you grate?

3. It is all about strategy - if you are a busy young woman, pick your battles as to what makes the most financial and time impact on your life. I am always on the look out for ways to improve even now that I am retired, case in point:
We happen to like Bounty paper towels which are hands down too expensive, but although we tried for years, we never found one we liked better or at least was good enough to finally swap out. Last time I was at Aldi I noticed they switched their house brand so we tried one roll - yay, we like it.
Victory!

4. The best tip I have found lately on MMM is: saving 5% on your grocery shopping every time you shop by having a Sallie Mae credit card. It gives 5% on food, 5% on books and 5% on restaurants - why didn't I know about this years ago?:)
So if you do nothing at all to improve your grocery shopping you can still show a 5% win - reduction of your grocery budget forever. How easy is that!

Bob made a good point about categories - it helps to see it that way, because then you can attack one category at a time.
My categories are:
Groceries - real food:)
Green groceries -anything fresh - fruit - veggies - salad fixings, this is the most difficult category to find consistent, good organic produce at a good price. It is also one of the few categories where we waste food on occasion. I hate when that happens.
Chocolates, Candy, Chips - the 3 Cs are not mandatory gasp:), they are indeed a luxury.
Paper goods - party supplies - emergency supplies.
Misc. household and cleaning supplies.
Drug store purchases - personal health care.
Alcohol - we are beer and wine snobs, so we go to a liquor store that is consistently one to three bucks cheaper and they just started a rewards program - more savings.

About that kitchen sink soup - it is what was for dinner every Sat, whatever we have left in the fridge becomes soup or casserole. Just a challenge I set for my cooking skills back in the day when money was tight and I had a million other things to do on Sat. So figure out a way to throw it all in one big pot - add rice or pasta or potatoes or grits or bulgur or a head of cabbage, whatever - voila. Make it fun - it ain't rocket science and it is not an exercise in self flagellation either.

Tips
1. Don't get seduced by bulk buying unless you have the storage for it or you can split it with friends, neighbors or family. The goal is to save, not to create more waste.
... and incidentally when you optimize you can't help but do good things for the planet by default - so there:)
2. If you know someone in the military with access to base and commissary shopping - you can easily save 30% on meat. Make it an outing every once in a while - I do it for a good friend of mine.

There are a ton of ways to save and not all of them easy to see at first glance - you'll get there:) and don't forget to have fun along the way.
 

 



I'm a red panda

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robartsd: Yes, the TV is non-negotiable. I was all about the rabbit-ears when we got married... then his mother came to visit and without my knowledge or consent installed cable TV and left me with the monthly bill. If I disconnect she will re-connect. At least the cost has been decreased.

How can someone who does not live at your house subscribe to a service and put your name on the bill?  You have a major beef with the cable company - how can they bill you without your consent?

If she connects the cable, she should be paying for it.




sunflower_yellow

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You're on the right track.  :o)

Random little suggestions...

1)  Look into an MVNO and ditch the contract-based cell phones.  It may be less expensive to get an unlocked phone, like an early series Moto G from eBay, and combine it with a <$30 smartphone plan from PureTalk or a <$50 plan from StraightTalk.  Republic Wireless gets a lot of love, too.  The beauty of an MVNO (with the exception of Republic - you gotta buy one of their phones) is that you can easily jump ship whenever.

2)  I'm a dirty hippy, but even I don't do "family cloth."  Having said that...  give water a try.  It's what most people in the world use.  Once you switch, you'll never feel cleaner.  Now, using TP at work just feels gross.  And for feminine products, I can't recommend a menstrual cup enough, not for frugality reasons, but for practical purposes.

3)  RE: food

a)  Buy the BASICS and cook.  I think your food spending is so high because you're paying for food cost + someone's labor cost to wash/ shred/ bag it.  There is no reason to buy a bag of lettuce when you could purchase a head and take 2 minutes to wash the leaves, shake them dry, and slice 'em up.  Don't try to go too far at first - let's save homemade bread for when you're not purchasing chia chips - but simple things like single-serve applesauce aren't a great way to spend your food dollars (please eat an apple instead, less added sugar!).

b)  Go store brand when possible - I seriously doubt you'll notice the difference on 98% of products.

c)  Bulk.  No single cups of yoghurt.  That's why you have a $143/ month trash bill (!).

And most importantly...
d)  MEAL PLAN!  This is probably the most important thing you can start doing to reduce your grocery budget.  Let's do it together!  This weekend, why don't you set aside an hour come up with a plan of what you think you're going to eat this week.  Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.  Find recipes, and make a grocery list.  Share it with us!  Then let's see how your week goes and find ways to help you improve.

I don't expect that your first week using a meal plan will be easy.  You'll probably overestimate in some places and underestimate in others.  And if you don't have a good recipe collection built up, making the plan is going to be annoying and take a while.  That's ok, stick with it, you gotta practice in order to improve!

Other...

I see you have OTC medicines listed twice ($30 in food budget, $15 as its own line item).  Are you and your spouse generally healthy?  What are you purchasing (if you feel comfortable sharing)?  Can you purchase it in bulk online?

Pets - I don't have pets, but that seems like an awful lot to be spending on a companion animal that probably only needs food, water, shelter, and attention.

Recycling/ Trash - this is the only thing that really strikes me as an Exploding Volcano of Wastefulness.  What's your trash situation?  How can you reduce that?

You seem like a very well-intentioned person who is willing to take a few gentle face punches in order to improve your situation.  I wish you the best of luck!  And let me know if you want to try meal planning this week.  :o)

robartsd

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On the one hand, I can't imagine anyone thinking it's OK to sign someone else up to pay a subscription. On the other hand, I hope this is your biggest M-I-L gripe - I'm sure others have bigger problems!

I like the meal planning excercise idea. Some really great feedback on grocery spending here - which based on your responses so far is the area where you can make the most difference right now.

BDWW

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On the one hand, I can't imagine anyone thinking it's OK to sign someone else up to pay a subscription. On the other hand, I hope this is your biggest M-I-L gripe - I'm sure others have bigger problems!

Off-Topic
Seems to have been a while since I observed this, but it is/used to be a thing. People would buy others cars, but only cover the down payment, and maybe first payment. Then the recipient takes over the payments. I mean covering the down payment is nice, but the whole affair always struck me as bizarre.

cincystache

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I don't see the 700 truck payment in your expense table for September and I wouldn't call "emergency fund" an expense.

You guys make tons of money, congratulations.

I won't argue about the truck; Although I can't help but imagine a marketing executive for one of the big three truckmakers laughing somewhere about how they've convinced yet another man to buy a truck he doesn't remotely need and treat it like their "baby". Okay, I'll stop now, at least he is planning to drive it into the ground, hopefully it will last 30+years. 

Here is what I'd do (in order):
1. Max HSA (if available)
2. Max both 401ks (good job)
3. Max Traditional IRAs for both
4. Emergency fund
5. Pay off highest interest debt (Student Loans in your case?)
6. Pay off any other debt >5% interest rate
7. Put any remaining funds into taxable brokerage account

Good job turning things around, a gigantic income is a great tool, keep on using it wisely.

 

 





lostamonkey

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$62/month on condiments

Is this the person you want to be?

That's nearly $750/year on condiments. That's insane.

bacchi

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4. The best tip I have found lately on MMM is: saving 5% on your grocery shopping every time you shop by having a Sallie Mae credit card. It gives 5% on food, 5% on books and 5% on restaurants - why didn't I know about this years ago?:)

Sadly, the Sallie Mae is going away. The next best thing is probably the AmEx Blue Cash Preferred. It has an annual fee but gives back 6% on groceries (and has a $250 signup bonus right now).

https://www.americanexpress.com/us/credit-cards/blue-cash-preferred

As for the OP, I can only reiterate.

Shredded anything -- do it yourself.
Condiments -- Wha? Mustard and catsup last me months. Does not compute.
Sweets and fancy drinks and chips -- Start slowly reducing these. Buy chia seeds in bulk and add them to lemonade/grape juice/whatever. A watermelon makes a gallon of juice when blended and costs $4.

Villanelle

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Muscle Milk for when Spouse is too busy to eat?  Surely there are cheaper options.  Soup in a thermos comes to mind if s/he truly can't even stop to shove solid food in to his mouth.  But I can scarf down a lunch in less than 5 minutes if necessary.  If he can find even 5 minutes, it opens a world of options and then it seems like the issue is just not preparing. Consider salad in a jar, for example, which you can put together in about 5 minutes, making 5 days' worth.   Spouse can shake, dump it in a bowl, and eat in it.


kittenwhiskers

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Thanks for all the suggestions!

Bob W: You have a good point about categorizing and splitting out unneeded stuff. Fortunately we don't drink alcohol (or smoke).

MayDay: We shopped almost exclusively at Costco and Winco this month, only going to QFC for the rare item that we can't get there.

ShoulderThingThatGoesUp: We don't normally use this much in condiments... but we also haven't eaten almost exclusively at home for years. It remains to be seen whether this was just a restocking of supplies to last several more months...

Rosy: Thanks for the info about ethnic food stores. This reminds me we have a very large one close to us, could even easily walk there and they have loads of stuff. I've never price shopped there, but this reminded me to check it out! When I go shopping this weekend, I want to weigh a head of lettuce at the store to see how much it would be per ounce and compare with the bagged stuff we've been buying. I'm sure it will be shocking and am prepared to do it all by hand this week to see how it goes; might even be better quality that way as you say!

During the week, hubby heats up dinner we prepared earlier in the week while I am driving my ridiculous commute home, so not much opportunity to cook together on weekdays. Weekends are another story! :) I am interested in a better rewards card than we have now, but, the stores we shop at now (Costco and Winco) both only take debit. Re: bulk-buying, Winco has a lot of stuff available in the bulk section, several aisles worth of nuts, flour, rice, cereal, etc. We usually only cook once on Sun/Mon to last us Mon-Fri and generally have the same things for breakfast, lunch, and dinner all week long.

iowajes: She signed up using my husband's SSN and since I manage all our finances I pay the bill. MIL knew we were really poor at the time and could not afford it, so it was dirty pool. That's how she rolls...

sunflower_yellow: Yes! We are switching cell phone plans. Just trying to decide which one. Re: groceries, I stopped by Costco on my way home and bought my first huge tub of yogurt. We already do meal planning since we don't have time for it during the week. Re: OTC's, I was just using the Case Study Template on the sticky at the top of the forum. I've edited my first post to delete the OTC part since that was only prescriptions. Re: pets, I had bought a bag of food because I was out, then of course received a 20% off coupon in the mail, so I went back to get 2 more bags. This should last about 3 months or so.

Re: Trash, my city's utility bill didn't fit the generic template very well. We get billed for lots of stuff on the same bill: city water, city wastewater, county wastewater, recycle/garbage, and storm drainage all on the same bill. I pulled out a bill and split out all the different parts in the first post. The following were all minimum charges: $28 city wastewater, $13 storm drainage, $43 county wastewater. City water has a minimum charge of $18 then they come out every 2 months and read the meter; this happened to be the month, so we spent $15 on water for the past 2 months. Garbage/recycling is picked up every 2 weeks; we have a 35 gallon can that can be reduced to 20 gallon for $8 savings per month. However, 20 gallons is pretty small to last 2 weeks. We can try it again though. Just out of curiosity, how large is your can and how often is it picked up?

cincystache: I was just following the template in the sticky. Thank you for your list of priorities! It is helpful to see what people feel is most important.

lostamonkey: That was just this month, not an average. This was our first month eating almost exclusively at home, and I think what we bought will last us awhile and not be a recurring monthly cost.

bacchi: Bummer about Sallie Mae, that sounded like a great deal to me! We will try shredding/chopping our own stuff where we can.

Villanelle: Some days he literally does not have time to eat, or even to pee. He has to carry something with him that he can literally consume at the same time as he is driving. Ridiculous, I know, and I don't know how it could possibly be legal for his employer to force him into that. Some people have to literally keep an empty bottle in their bag in case they have already held their pee for 6 hours and can't hold it any more. His employer has literally had to budget extra money into their vehicle maintenance costs to replace soiled seats on a regular basis.
« Last Edit: October 02, 2015, 05:41:31 AM by kittenwhiskers »

Villanelle

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In that case, I'd look in to soups in a thermos, which can by consumed like a drink.  Drinkable yogurt would be another option, though it couldn't keep for more than a few hours outside a fridge.  You might be able to make shakes at home as well.  All of that has got to be cheaper the Muscle Milk.   Also, it seems like he could eat a granola bar or other energy bar while driving or walking. 


Villanelle

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Also, I haven't read read the entire thread, but if no one has suggested it, a CSA might save you some money on produce costs.

ShoulderThingThatGoesUp

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We actually buy enormous bags of shredded cheese and freeze them. Then you can just scoop out what you need frozen since shredded cheese doesn't really stick together much. It's a much more practical way to buy in bulk for us and actually cheaper per pound than the pretty blocks of cheese.

Moonwaves

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It's really nice to see you coming back and responding to everyone's ideas and suggestions. You seem to be making good progress.

Here are just a few small things that occur to me:

  • First of, just by the by, you turned Jen's family cloth into "a family pee rag" and at least one other person picked up on your expression so before we get a Chinese Whispers thing going, I hope it's clear to everyone that this doesn't involve one cloth that everyone uses over and over. It's lots of small cloths that get used once and then washed before being re-used. :)  I started doing this about seven years ago and it really is great. But I can understand how many people think it's going too far. I had a similar reaction the first time I heard about menstrual cups - was totally convinced it was a joke because it was way too icky to be real. A few years later it had percolated through my sub-conscious and didn't seem so crazy anymore. :)
  • Even if cloth TP isn't for you, Jen's general point is a good one: look at absolutely everything disposable that you use and consider whether there is a non-disposable option that you would be happy to use. Not saying you have to immediately stop using every single disposable product but at least know that you're not using any disposables mindlessly or just out of habit
  • Muscle milk: I'm not too sure on how easy it would be to drink hot soup while driving but gazpacho type soups might work. Would smoothies (the type packed full of vegetables rather than the yoghurty type, I mean) maybe be something he could try? There are lots of websites dedicated to smoothies/juicing. Although I could see this being difficult if he never knows when it'll be a day that he might end up on the road with no time to stop. It's at least a thought for days where he might be able to anticipate in advance that it'll be one of those days.
  • Shredded cheese: I buy a big block of cheese or two (usually I mix gouda and parmesan), grate the whole lot and store it in a big Tupperware container in the freezer. Don't pack it in too much and it'll freeze loosely enough that it's easy to just take out the amount you need. I mostly only use grated cheese in cooking so don't have any worries about the texture on defrosting but honestly, I have sometimes just defrosted a small amount to use in a sandwich or salad and not noticed any issues. I also sometimes freeze a box of cheese mixed with breadcrumbs, which is a nice topping for a pasta bake (stretching the cheese to go further as well). Next time you're in the supermarket check the kilo price of the ready-grated cheese versus the blocks. Where I live anyway, there is a fairly substantial difference, even if the item price doesn't seem to be that different.
  • Condiments: it's funny, when everyone was commenting on the condiments I was wondering if this was just a stocking up. Thanks for clearing that up. On that note, though, and just in general when it comes to groceries, it might be good to do a full stocktake and perhaps even a pantry challenge for a month. So you don't buy anything and try to just eat what you have in the house. It forces you to get creative and to use up things that might have been lingering for a while. Also, if you're not used to eating almost exclusively at home, there is a chance you could be overbuying. At least, I used to have a problem with this, especially when it came to estimating quantities of fresh veg. Since I started geting a CSA-type delivery I've realised just how far you can make a small amount of fresh veg stretch. I always think November is a particularly good month for a pantry challenge as you can save a bit on groceries and then have a bit of extra money for the festvie season. Well, I suppose your festive season kicks off before the end of the month of November but you know what I mean. 
« Last Edit: October 02, 2015, 05:14:26 AM by Moonwaves »

kittenwhiskers

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Villanelle: That's not a bad idea about the smoothies! I will search around online and try to find a super awesome recipe, maybe using protein powder from Costco to make him feel fuller longer than fruit/veg alone. I won't suggest he replace the Muscle Milk but will make him a shake and if he likes it maybe he will start using it instead of Muscle Milks on his own. Also, I hadn't heard of a CSA and had to google it. There are some near my place but it looks like it's all in-season stuff, probably better for the summertime.

ShoulderThingThatGoesUp and Moonwaves: Thanks for the suggestion about shredded cheese, this weekend when we go shopping I'll take a look at per-ounce prices of already-shredded cheese in big vs. small bags and vs. big blocks we can shred ourselves. I didn't think about it, but I guess shredded cheese does freeze well (e.g. frozen pizza).

BTW I did not make up "family pee rag", someone else used that term; regardless, I think I'll still plan to use TP for the toilet, but maybe I can find a less expensive alternative to what we're getting now. I read somewhere that the Walmart brand is actually pretty good and much cheaper than the name brand stuff. I'll check it out in a month or two (or three?) when we work our way through the Costco-sized supply we have now. We already have cloth napkins which I used to use religiously but it is a lot of work to scrub out grease stains and I just got lazy the past few months. We've been working on the same bag of disposable napkins for several months now, but when it runs out, I will return to cloth napkins.

I'm a red panda

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iowajes: She signed up using my husband's SSN and since I manage all our finances I pay the bill. MIL knew we were really poor at the time and could not afford it, so it was dirty pool. That's how she rolls...


Yeah... that's called fraud.

I guess it's up to you if you want to accept it. 

MonkeyJenga

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iowajes: She signed up using my husband's SSN and since I manage all our finances I pay the bill. MIL knew we were really poor at the time and could not afford it, so it was dirty pool. That's how she rolls...


Call Comcast and Dish and tell them you DO NOT WANT FUTURE INSTALLATIONS ALLOWED, and if need be find all possible providers for your area and preempt the issue with them, too. If a request comes in to them for your address or SSN's, make them call your cell/work phone to confirm.

Personally, I would do another step, which is get my husband to tell his mother to fuck off. I hope you guys don't share any financial logins with her. Actually, you should set up additional verification for all of those (email, text, etc), since with a SSN, she might be able to learn/change a password.

Rosy

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4. The best tip I have found lately on MMM is: saving 5% on your grocery shopping every time you shop by having a Sallie Mae credit card. It gives 5% on food, 5% on books and 5% on restaurants - why didn't I know about this years ago?:)

Sadly, the Sallie Mae is going away. The next best thing is probably the AmEx Blue Cash Preferred. It has an annual fee but gives back 6% on groceries (and has a $250 signup bonus right now).

https://www.americanexpress.com/us/credit-cards/blue-cash-preferred

As for the OP, I can only reiterate.

Shredded anything -- do it yourself.
Condiments -- Wha? Mustard and catsup last me months. Does not compute.
Sweets and fancy drinks and chips -- Start slowly reducing these. Buy chia seeds in bulk and add them to lemonade/grape juice/whatever. A watermelon makes a gallon of juice when blended and costs $4.

Bummmer, I hadn't heard about the Sallie Mae credit card going away, I just looked at it less than two weeks ago, it was on my list to do for this month.
Well, I presently have the Chase Freedom card which also gives you 5% on grocery stores, but unfortunately that is on a rotating basis - since they switch their 5% category every quarter.

It is clear as day that you are still learning your way around the kitchen, so I really appreciate that you lay it all out for us. I figured the condiments had to be a bulk buy to start with - even if you overbought, you now have a stocked pantry:) and less to buy for the next few months.
Bacci made good points about everything. Making your own juices - it is super easy, super quick and a lot more nutrious and flavorful when made fresh. No cooking skills required, but makes you look like a hero.

Here is another way to make your own juice for pennies. There is a polish grocery store in my neighborhood that carries big bottles of concentrated fruit syrup, like cherry - our favorite. A couple spoonfuls of syrup is all you need, then just add water (and sugar if you must) - voila.

I don't envy you that MIL, because it means she is a woman who knows nothing about and will not accept boundaries, even if she means well. Not easy to deal with, you'll need to learn to hold your own in any way you can.
If you want and can afford the cable or hubby insists upon it, that is fine, otherwise cancel it. It is your home and it was totally outrageous of her to open an account, that by law you are responsible for payments on. We'll never get rid of cable, because Mr. R. loves football and since he is a frugal guy in all other ways, I see no reason to drop it, besides how could we host all those football parties without a TV:)

Just saw Monkey Jengas post - great idea about setting up an extra confirmation step on this account as well as on anything else that is important, you do not want her having access, passwords or logins to any of your bank accounts or credit cards or anything. Just block access for her, before anything disastrous happens. An alert to your cell phone or e-mail account is the best thing you can do.

If there is anything else going on binding you together financially, make it a top priority to disengage immediately.

TrMama

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iowajes: She signed up using my husband's SSN and since I manage all our finances I pay the bill. MIL knew we were really poor at the time and could not afford it, so it was dirty pool. That's how she rolls...


Yeah... that's called fraud.

I guess it's up to you if you want to accept it.

That is nuts. If you need any more convincing on why you should cancel this, check out this article, http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2015/07/02/if-you-wouldnt-buy-it-you-should-probably-sell-it/

As for your DH's lunches, what about sandwiches? Handheld, easy to eat on the go, and don't contain a ton of liquids. Since getting to the bathroom is an issue for him (one that should probably be addressed with his employer) I'd try to limit his liquids while on the job. Sandwiches, granola bars, apples, trail mix, etc.

chaskavitch

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Just an FYI, I'm fairly certain Costco does accept credit cards (as that's what I use when I shop there), but only AmEx.  Unfortunately, it doesn't count as a "grocery store" toward the 6% back on groceries with the AmEx Blue Preferred card :(  You still get the generic 1% back, but I tend to chose Costco just for big things: huge blocks of cheese, 7 lbs of ground beef, bulk spices, a billion Gatorades since DH loves them and would otherwise buy them for like $3 each at gas stations. 

I try to stick to the Sprouts right by our house for produce and most day to day purchases to get that 6% back, because I love redeeming it and putting it in our e-fund or toward getting rid of our PMI :)

1967mama

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I've just read through this whole thread and there's some really great suggestions here. Two I didn't see (and my apologies if I missed them):

1) Divide out the tub of yogurt (store bought, or better still, homemade) into individual servings. I use small canning jars. Easy for lunches, or other grab 'n' go meals. Sprinkle a bit of granola and frozen fruit on top in advance if you want.

2) Salad spinner. I hadn't seen one of these before, since my mom never used one. My mother in law introduced me to them. They're a speedy way to wash lettuce and I do a few heads and box/bag up the extra for instant salad in the next few days. Photo:
http://www.amazon.com/601-486-78-Tokig-Salad-Spinner-White/dp/B00PNJTF7M/ref=sr_1_2?s=kitchen&ie=UTF8&qid=1443810681&sr=1-2&keywords=salad+spinner

I think you're making great progress! Keep at it!
Posting to follow!

Villanelle

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Villanelle: That's not a bad idea about the smoothies! I will search around online and try to find a super awesome recipe, maybe using protein powder from Costco to make him feel fuller longer than fruit/veg alone. I won't suggest he replace the Muscle Milk but will make him a shake and if he likes it maybe he will start using it instead of Muscle Milks on his own. Also, I hadn't heard of a CSA and had to google it. There are some near my place but it looks like it's all in-season stuff, probably better for the summertime.

ShoulderThingThatGoesUp and Moonwaves: Thanks for the suggestion about shredded cheese, this weekend when we go shopping I'll take a look at per-ounce prices of already-shredded cheese in big vs. small bags and vs. big blocks we can shred ourselves. I didn't think about it, but I guess shredded cheese does freeze well (e.g. frozen pizza).

BTW I did not make up "family pee rag", someone else used that term; regardless, I think I'll still plan to use TP for the toilet, but maybe I can find a less expensive alternative to what we're getting now. I read somewhere that the Walmart brand is actually pretty good and much cheaper than the name brand stuff. I'll check it out in a month or two (or three?) when we work our way through the Costco-sized supply we have now. We already have cloth napkins which I used to use religiously but it is a lot of work to scrub out grease stains and I just got lazy the past few months. We've been working on the same bag of disposable napkins for several months now, but when it runs out, I will return to cloth napkins.

Husband makes his smoothies with cottage cheese and milk, to up the protein intake.  Spinach is another great addition.  You can also buy things like powered peanut butter or protein powder, but truthfully unless your DH is a athlete, that's probably unnecessary and those things are expensive.  If he really does need the protein, a small bag of nuts to toss back while he drives should suffice, and is very portable and could easily be eaten with a smoothie. But tossing a scoop of cottage cheese and a handful of spinach into the smoothie, along with fruit (I prefer frozen), milk or juice, and maybe some cinnamon or other flavor enhancer, makes it a pretty hearty meal without have to go to expensive additives. 

For shredded cheese, if you have a food processor, you can shred a large block in almost no time.  This is how my mom does it and it works great. 

Bee21

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Hi kitten, you got lots of useful advice here, just adding a few tips for reducing that ridiculous grocery budget ( I spend a bit less than you for a fam of 4 and still feel bad about it). Here is what helped for me to cut about 100/pw this year without compromising the quality and quantity of the food we eat:
-check what you are throwing out regularly and reduce that item (hint: fruit and veg, esp salads, deli meat, fancy cheese). Lots of packaging is a bad sign.You will be shocked. I was.
-do a stocktake and plan  at least 2 meals around what you already have. do a search on storecupboard recipes etc.
-make a meal plan and go shopping for ingredients not groceries. (write a list and before you get to the checkout take out everything from your trolley which isn't on your list)
-write a list of the 10-20 meals you have most often and cost them. this way you can compare the price of a sandwich made w deli meat and pre-shredded cheese vs a lunchbox containing leftovers from dinner. Give yourself a allowance, say 2 for breakfast, 5 for lunch, 10 for dinner (whatever you are comfortable with). Try to find recipes which fit your target number: ie 3 dollar lunches, 5-10 dollar dinners etc
-don't buy individual sized portions of anything. make your own dressings. applesauce is the easiest thing to make and it is much nicer than the jarred stuff. avoid the overpriced things from the 'health food' aisles (chia seeds? goji berries? wtf)
-cook in bulk if you can. not everything tastes good when frozen and reheated, but you can find a few meals which work ok. 
-plan for the leftovers or freeze them immediately in individual portions.
-buy generic brands.
- stock up on non perishables (tp, cleaning products, pasta, peanut butter, jams) when they are 40-50%off. Have say 20$ allocated for stocking up at each shop.
-understand the supermarkets around you: ie I avoid Aldi because I always end up buying something tempting from the 'middle isle' and I end up paying more than planned for those weird and wonderful things they sell. I have little self control, so I just avoid them. The more expensive supermarket around me regularly discounts the meat close to its sell by day (my regular shop never does that, or I just haven't figured out when they do), so I often go there and stock up on the reduced items. Find an ethnic shop- I spend 30% less on fruit and veg since I found a cool little indian shop.

good luck, you can do it.
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1967mama

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kittenwhiskers,

Something I forgot to say in my post was that this jumped out at me from your original post:

"Bottled water   5   1%      (I use a reusable bottle, spouse still uses disposable… but at just $5/month, I think we have bigger fish to fry)"

I know for myself, I used to think, "Oh what's five dollars? No biggie." But you know, over time I've come to realize that its not that one five dollars; its the many, many five dollarses scattered throughout our spending that does the damage and feeds that exploding volcano of wastefulness. Just a thought :-)

kittenwhiskers

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Bee21: Great tips, and timely for weekend grocery shopping! Thank you!

1967mama: Point taken! Yes, that $5 is unnecessary... but is for SO's spending, and I have other things to deal with first and I don't want to alienate him. It's great having him fully on board even if it's only for one thing at a time. It is still a struggle suggesting we purchase generic instead of brand name products... and why on earth are we spending $207/mo on protein products and $70 on sweets & stuff for just 2 people? To me this is the blazing 4-alarm fire burning my house down; the $5 embers can smolder while I run for the fire hose.

Lski'stash

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I may make a couple of posts here:)

First, looking at your grocery budget, I'm surprised no one has suggested where you should be shopping for your groceries. Most of your items can be bought at either SAMs Club or Costco in bulk. Aldis is also a good choice for grocery shopping. Hell, you can't even spend that much on most items at Trader Joes. Hope you have one of those around!

Lski'stash

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I just saw that you already shop at Costco- maybe try Aldis first before you make a Costco trip?

Lski'stash

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Next, the loans. Have you looked into SOFI? Almost seven percent for an interest rate for that much debt sounds just awful.

Goldielocks

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Also, I haven't read read the entire thread, but if no one has suggested it, a CSA might save you some money on produce costs.

But the produce costs are surprisingly low already...

Goldielocks

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To change the grocery habit, try cash only..

Take your weekly grocery budget, and divide it into basics, and treats.

Anything with a single serve, pre made, expensive per ounce or serving food is a treat.  Eg, nuts, yogurt, muscle milk.

When you shop, get your cash from its dedicated envelope, and  shop. 
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At the checkout. Put all basics on the belt first, then treats.

When you reach your grocery cash limit, put the rest back.  You can live without croutons for a week, figure out how to not eat cottage cheese today, for a quick $4 off the total, that sort of thing.

Cash was the only way I could change the habit.  It was embarrassing the first time to give the cashier some things back, but then became my own personal game / challenge.

Once habit is built in 3-4 months, you can go back to credit\ debit.

kittenwhiskers

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Lski'stash: There is no Aldi in our state. We do use Costco and Winco; Winco is the least expensive grocery store I'm aware of. Some items there are even a little cheaper than Costco; other things are a few fractions of a cent more expensive for a package a quarter the size of Costco's. I think there is a restaurant supply place a few miles away; maybe I'll check it out to see if there's anything I could use at a price or size more reasonable than Costco.

goldielocks: Great conveyor belt idea! I think I'll try some variation.