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January 07, 2010


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FMF, I was thinking the same thing about the food budget! Maybe they know of a way I can get free food plus some extra to sell? Granted, we're only a family of 2, but we probably spend about $2,400 a year for food.

How are you able to spend less than $5000/year on food? We are a family of five and we spend about $9000 on groceries per year. I am out here in California. Please share the secret!

"I've heard of all these ideas so I don't think there's much here for me. How about you?"
@FMF - There's not much for me either.

There are some expenses that we could eliminate completely i.e. Cable TV and NETFLIX but we get so much pleasure from them so why would we do that, especially when we aren't hurting for money.

We have been sold on high quality, low mileage, good condition, used cars for many years - that's a no brainer especially since in retirement we don't put many miles on them and vacations always involve flying. I guess vacations also aren't a necessity of life but what's money for?

Rather than a low volume shower head, unless you live in a hot, steamy, climate or get filthy dirty at work, how about the European approach - don't shower every day!
You can save a lot on utility bills once you have double pane windows, energy saving appliances, especially your furnace, (and A/C where needed). I also put in the maximum possible roof insulation some years ago, that helps a lot both in summer and winter.

I also pick up some nice bargains on eBay, especially high end brand name sweaters and shirts, in almost new condition for a small fraction of the retail price. I buy my books at amazon and recently received two hardcover copies that were brand new, shipped from England, at the unbelievable price of $0.01 each plus $3.99 each for shipping.

My wife used to buy her expensive Clinique products at Nordstrom but I now get them for her on eBay and other online sources for far less.
In general my approach is to try to get the best possible price available on everything I buy. Some things where there's either little or no competition it's either take it or leave it.

Growing your own vegetables and fruits is another help - today I was in the garden picking oranges & tangerines - in the summer we grow almost all the veggies we need and save water because it's all on a drip system.

We save on prescription drugs by using our HMO's mail order company that gives us a 3 month supply for the drug store price for just 2 months.

In summary, a good way to make money is to write a book like the one in this topic - there are plenty of suckers out there that may buy it.

Not everybody is as advanced with savings as most of the readers of this blog. Unless the book has bad advice, I see it as another resource for someone who doesn't already know how much they'd save if they pay their mortgage off early. With all the foreclosures and debt, obviously there are people who need good financial guidance.

I do believe a person should do both the big and the little things to save money...even if they only did the big things, wouldn't they be better off? I wouldn't consider them "suckers"...

Old Limey,
For what it's worth. don't stop posting here. I always enjoy your comments, you are a hoot. That's a compliment. I'm about 15 years behind you and except for the college thing; can't think of much we disagree on. Happy New Year to you. BillV

What's with the college thing? I am all in favor of education, isn't everyone? I would love to have a PhD but it takes a greater sacrifice than I was prepared to make. I already had two little girls of 3 and 5 when I got my MS in '63 and from the tales I heard at work from guys in the PhD program at Stanford I realized what a huge effort and sacrifice was required. A couple of them gave up and settled for what was then called the Engineer's degree (a PhD but without the thesis). One of my best friends got his PhD under the G.I bill, what a fabulous piece of legislation that turned out to be! A Happy New Year to you also.

I wish you had a blog, Old Limey! I'd read it.

I need tips on grocery shopping. How do you spend only $2400 and $5000 per year? We spend in the $9 to $11k per year range. Granted we have a family of 5 but 3 of them are boys. What will my bill be when they are ALL teenagers? We buy in bulk too. If you ever go to Sam's/Costco and wonder who buys 50 lb bags of rice or flour, that would be my family. We buy nearly all bulk and very little frozen or prepared foods.

Anyway, share the wealth of knowledge for us dummies. HELP ME LOWER MY GROCERY BILL PLEASE! Thanks!

I like the philosophy that you should save on "big" stuff, but you have to properly identify what "big" means. Each individual meal purchase is small, but 3 meals per person per day adds up. Furniture is "big" per piece, but even replacing my whole bedroom and setting up a nursery cost me about half as much as food for the year.

A lot of the standard money-saving advice people give, like taking a sack lunch or skipping out on Starbucks, is based on this principle. Sure, it's only $5 here and $7 there, but you add it all up and you're looking at saving maybe tens of thousands of dollars a year by making small lifestyle changes. That's all for nothing if you throw away those tens of thousands of dollars on a bad mortgage or an overpriced car or an expensive medical procedure you could've prevented. But it's definitely worthwhile for most people to save that way.

Some people save more by getting a good mortgage rate than by cutting out Starbucks, taking sack lunches, etc. But I think the original post gives bad advice by suggesting we ignore the second bit of advice.

(Also, Limey's advice about bathing European style should be taken with a grain of salt. There are people who can get away with that, but there are a lot of people who really can't. For most people, the little bit of savings just isn't worth it.)

Just read the section in the book called the fast flow mortgage and you were right it is a bunch of tips/ideas and logic for paying down your mortgage early.

We're a family of four and we spend less than $5000 per year on groceries, too -- and eat very well.

To save almost $8000 a year on just lunch means the author has to be spending MORE than $21.92 a day on lunch alone ($8000/365). What is she eating???

Another gripe about the saving small by packing lunch being less efficient than saving big by strategic shopping -- saving $7 a day for five days a week and 50 weeks a year equals $1750 a year. That is over a third of the $5000 you can put into a Roth IRA a year. It's misleading to call it $7 a day (which sounds like a little bit of money) rather than $1750 a year. Just a few of these "little" savings can fully fund a Roth IRA.

Emma --

I'd turn the question around and ask what do you buy that costs $9k? We simply employ the basics of food shopping -- using coupons, buying in bulk, making most of our own stuff, using store brands, etc.

texashaze --

A few pieces to consider:

Emma and texashaze: We are a family of four in the Chicagoland area and budget $500 per month for food AND toiletry items (laundry detergent, dish detergent, toilet paper -- i.e. household items), for a grand total of $6,000 per year. That does not even account for the 6 week surplus we had at the end of 2009 and the food we gave away to charity... No big secret, just generally available advice -- much of which has been posted here. Use coupons (take advantage of stacking) along with the Coupon Tom and other websites out there that help with the strategic side of finding deals. In addition, plan your meals in advance (we personally have one meatless dish per week).

There are a couple tips posted by FMF that we don't do, but they work for us. First, we got rid of our Sam's and Costco memberships because a primary strategy of couponing is buying the smallest possible item to get the best savings. Second, we generally do not buy many store brands because we get better savings on name brands by combining store deals with coupons.

My advice - get educated on how you can save money. There is some upfront education that takes time, but once you have a strategy the maintenance is not very time consuming. Also, realize how much convenience (multiple trips to the store, prepared meals) can impact your budget.

Now we are retired we are just a family of two but are big believers in Costco, especially their Kirkwood brand for many items.
Years ago I bought some nice but inexpensive cabinet kits from Home Depot that are easy to assemble and attach to the wall and now have lots of storage space in our garage for food and other household items. You do have to buy a quantity that will often last several months (such as 36 toilet rolls or 5 litres of olive oil for example) but the savings are large. We could easily live for months without shopping with what we have stored in the garage and in our freezer. I also bought a Foodsaver vacuum pack device and use that a lot, example - when we buy a huge bag of chicken parts I can vacuum pack them into portions just right for one meal, same with a leg of lamb or a beef roast. We also buy our milk at Costco, 2 gallons at a time, that also freezes very well. We also stew up excess items that we grow in the summer such as apples, plums, and tomatoes and freeze those for use in the winter for making desserts and homemade soups (my favorite) which I think are fabulous. I guess if you live in Detroit right now you don't need a freezer, your garage is already a huge one.
The $50 membership fee is soon returned through all the savings, especially if you also have the Costco/Amex card and save 3% on gas and at restaurants, 2% on travel costs, and 1% on everything else. Each Costco store surveys gas prices in their area and always sets their price lower by a few cents/gallon. My wife also checks the newspaper supermarket inserts every week and builds her menus around the good deals they have, especially for seafood (how about King Crab legs for $7.99/lb!). Costco's Kirkwood brands will also save you a lot if you use vitamins and other nutritional supplements, they also send you a book of coupons every month with special savings on certain items. Go Costco!


We don't use coupons, but we do look for sale items. Other things we do include:

1. Calculating price/unit rather than assuming that biggest is best.
2. Avoiding processed foods and junk snacks.
3. Eating healthy and preparing most things ourselves.
4. Reducing the number of meat dishes. We're not vegetarians, but there are plenty of good meatless dishes that still provide complete proteins. Meats really drive up the cost of meals.
5. Using store brands as much as possible. (We buy name brand on a few items, like Berio extra virgin olive oil.)


P.S. We also plan our meals ahead to try to use the same items several times and to avoid waste.

Our budget for a family of 4 (including a boy that eats me out of house & home!) was $500 per month for food, toiletries, and cleaning products. The last 3 months I've gotten more determined to lower that. We spend only $350 per month. At the end of the month what is left of that is used to take us out to dinner as my reward for a good job!

Check out for a ton of help. I've been couponing for years, but she has one of the best websites I've seen. Even those who are not in the South can get a lot of information from her site and help as you begin. I've recently had a friend get on the bandwagon in a big way. Her goal this month is to only spend $20 per week in groceries. Granted, she does not have to get meat this month, but they will be using what they have at home and making do!

I also shop at Costco. Since I moved, it is further for me to drive, so I only go about once a month and stock up on stuff that I can't normally find in the grocery store at a better price. Between the 2% cash back with our Executive Membership and the cash back we get from the AMEX, I more than make up for the cost of the membership.

@ texashaze

Buy nothing prepared. Cook everything from scratch. No canned beans, buy the bag of beans and cook in the crockpot and freeze. Our simple rule is this: Only buy it if it comes directly from the plant or animal. I've never found coupons for vegetables so that's a relief not to have to coupon. Bleh.


I'm interested in learning more about cutting down on the big expenses. It's the little things that make life bearable so i refuse to give those up! Not that I do the little things a lot, mind you. But I don't know how to go about reducing the big stuff.

And the only "big stuff" I know of is a house and car. What else big can I cut out/down on? And other than paying off a debt early, how do we save on big items? Starting with the big stuff is a lot less overwhelming than starting with the little stuff.

I feel I'm advanced in some areas of personal finance (we'll have our 1BR condo paid off this month), but I feel like a beginner everywhere else because I've been so uber focused on paying off the debt that I haven't researched anything else. You're advanced so that information won't help you, but it will help us beginners! If you don't want the book, I'll take it! (I'll pay for the shipping.)

Wow...I'm not sure how much of my daily diet breaks your rule, but definitely a lot. Wow. That is definitely healthy...I wonder if I could pull it off for a week...maybe I'll just start little by little.

Other than paying off debt early, I've saved a ton on "big" things by looking around for the best prices and rates. I also haggle.

The dealership wanted $27,000 and 6% interest in 2008 for my husband's used 2007 Prius (it was during that period where Prius's were on back order). After two hours of haggling back and forth, I talked them down to $21,000. My husband had already found a 4.1% rate from US Bank and we put $5000 down (what we had to spare at the time). In short, we save $6000 by just being patient and a couple of thousand in interest by doing some research ahead of time.

You can haggle on house prices too. I also use the internet to find the best deals on almost everything. My favorite sites are Amazon, Ebay, Craigslist,, and Freecycle groups are great for de-cluttering your own home and finding some things you need too.

Figuring out how to fix things yourself (replacing parts in a hot water heater or fixing your own toilets) will also save you hundreds each time. I can usually find a bunch of directions online but I know people who like to find their answers from actual books in the library. :-)

Generally there's nothing that you can replace in a hot water heater, they usually rust out and start leaking. With a dishwasher, by the time it stops working it's not cost effective to have it repaired - buy a new one. I have just replaced a Maytag dishwasher after 5 1/2 years, the door latch was made of cheap plastic and eventually the heat did it in. I took it apart and it was broken into lots of pieces, some of the plastic rollers were likewise very cheap and on their last legs so it was an easy decision to get a new one. I got a Miele - it's the Mercedes Benz of dishwashers - no pizzazz just good old German quality. Even though we fought two nasty wars against them I like their products, like them personally very much, and also their well run country which we will be visiting again this year. The installer told me the best American made dishwasher is Kitchen Aid and my other Kitchen Aid appliances are holding up really well.
Toilets on the other hand are very inexpensive and easy to fix yourself, as are faucets and shower heads.
The new energy saving furnaces are very quiet and very efficient but just like newer cars, they have quite a bit of electronics in them and a new board will be expensive, just as it is if you get the "Check Engine" light come on in your car.

It's also easy to change the oil and filter in your cars. I used to do it for years but I have it done at Jiffy Lube these days and don't ruin a nice shirt in the process.

@Old Limey
I replaced the thermostats and heating elements in our hot water heater when one of the thermostats died. It cost us $28.15 and saved us $350, which is what a plumber quoted on the phone. Replacing them required me to flush out the water heater as well, which is good to do once in a while and costs $150 to be done by a technician. Other than thermostats and heating elements, you are correct...there are no other replaceable parts in our electric water heater.

I agree about dishwashers needing to be replaced when things break...luckily our Whirlpool hasn't given out on us yet. We love Kitchen Aid appliances too. :) I changed my car air filter at Auto Zone for $10, but I get my oil changed for $'s worth $20 to me not to spend an hour getting icky. I agree that if you purchase quality products, you usually have fewer problems.

I've never heard of Miele...I'll look into it when we're in the market. :)

A big thanks to everyone for your advice on groceries! We are going to try this year to get that bill down. Unfortuneately I think 3 growing boys aren't going to help out too much.

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