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Oregon Family Magazine

Toughing Out a Tough Economy

10/01/2009 ● By Anonymous
Times are tight, so this is the ideal time to perfect the art of budgeting.  It really isn’t the dirty word everyone thinks it is and can be implemented almost painlessly.  All it requires is a bit of advance planning and determination.  (For those of you short on determination, one successful trip will help that determination grow by leaps and bounds – I guarantee it!)

There are so many ways to save money, but let’s tackle the area where consumers spend the most money and overlook the most savings opportunities – groceries, kids clothing, and gifts.

The Food

Traditionally in the U.S., households typically spend between 15%-20% of their monthly income on groceries.  However given the steady increase in prices and the decrease in the ratio of groceries per unit price that number has jumped in some cases to as high as 40%.  Gone are the days of shopping each evening after work, without a grocery list, on an empty stomach.  We have to be smarter in order to protect our wallets, and the following tips should get on you the right path.

  1. Coupons really are a great place to start.  Most grocery stores will typically double and often triple amounts up to $1, so savings can add up quickly.  However, they require serious discipline as it is very easy to end up with an envelope full of coupons for products you don’t typically use or want; and require some work each week to find them.   Check local Sunday newspapers, on-line sales flyers, and such sites as to find coupons.  You’ll also want to invest in an inexpensive coupon organizer.  The dollar store is a great place to look.  When my child was a baby I had a smaller one just for baby products and kept it inside the larger one for everyday grocery items.
  2. Did you know some days are better than others for grocery shopping, and not just because of the crowds?  It’s true.  The best day to hit your supermarket is the day after the store is replenished.  In most cases stores are restocked from the busy weekend on Tuesdays, but ask the staff at your store to find out for sure. You’ll get fresher items and a have a much quicker shopping experience.
  3. Look for the values.  Many grocery stores donate their breads and meats to pantries when they reach their shelf life, but some also offer these items as “reduced” daily specials.  It’s no surprise that this normally occurs the day before, or the morning of restocking day, it’s a prime time to stock up on items you’ll be cooking or freezing the same day, as items are often reduced by more than 50%.
  4. Pay attention to prices.  Buy larger club or big packs and freeze what you don’t need for later meals.  Shopping in bulk can save $2/lb. or more.  A single pork tenderloin may be priced at $3.89/lb., while a club pack of three or more tenderloins can be $2.49/lb.  It’s not just meats either.  I‘ve seen a gallon of juice for $3.69, while two half gallons of the same juice were $1.49 each.  All of these savings add up.  I’d rather keep them for my family than have the grocery store make a larger profit.
  5. Who said you have to stick to grocery stores/chains?  With more and more Walmart and Target stores selling food (and not just their “super” versions), they offer some of the best deals on certain items.   Not to mention, pharmacies, hardware stores, and convenience stores.  A little planning can reap huge weekly savings.  Tip: Group trips in specific areas to reduce the expense of shopping at more than one store.

The Clothes

It seems like such a shame to spend tons of money on children’s clothing, since they grow out of things faster than you can blink!  Since we can’t let them out of the house in their skivvies, bargains and ingenuity are the next best things.

  1. Some old clothes can be turned into cool new looks.  Short jeans and pants make awesome Capri’s and shorts.  Cut sleeves from long sleeve t-shirts and sweatshirts and you’ve got cool spring and summer wear.  Typically sewing will not even be required.  A cool pair of pinking shears, or make some fringe and the look will be complete.  Get the kids involved and let them come up with ways to repurpose their clothes.  Their ideas maybe the next trend.
  2. Clearance anyone?  You can get clothes for as little as 10% or less, of what their original cost was by waiting until it makes it to the rack.  But patience is needed.  Like supermarkets, most stores have designated days when new clearance items are added to the racks.  For fresh selections, get to know the schedule and you’ll rack up on the savings! (Pun intended!)
  3. EBay is a fantastic way to save money on children’s clothes.  Items can be purchased individually or in “lots” and just about anything you’re looking for can be found.  However, research is a must, as some items can be found cheaper at stores, both online and off.  If you are looking for a hard to find item, EBay can be a great source.
  4. Exchange children’s clothes with other families.  If you find a child or two older/larger than yours, and another couple younger/smaller, and you have similar tastes; well, you’ve got a nice clothing exchange in the making.  You can both receive and pass on all stain-free clothing and clothes will never pile up because you can pass them on to the next family.
  5. Garage sales and consignment shops are two great sources for inexpensive children’s clothes.  They are also fantastic places to find sporting equipment and dance outfits/shoes.   Clothes are often brand new as children too often, quickly grow through sizes much to the dismay of their parents.  Their loss will be your bargains.

The Goods

It feels good to give gifts.  Thinking you can’t afford to be generous in today’s economy?  Well, think again! Even in a tough economy gift giving does not have to go by the wayside.  You simply have to be a little more proactive and organized to make the most of a reduced budget.  Here are five tips to help you get more goods for your gift-giving dollars:

  1. Make a list of the recipients, an idea of what you might like to purchase and set your maximum budget for each item/recipient.  The most important tip: Do not deviate from that amount – for any reason.  In fact, it’s a good idea to follow this process for all of your gift recipients at the beginning of each (or as soon as you get to it, like May for instance if you’re just reading this article) so you have an accurate idea of what you can realistically afford to spend on gifts for the rest of the year.
  2. Keep your list with you at all times.  This makes it easier to cross items off your list as you find them (hopefully on sale) and helps you keep track of your purchases.  For those of you with good hiding places, it might be a good idea to write down where you put your finds once you get them home.  (Don’t ask me how come I now do this, please.)
  3. The best time to shop for gifts is at the end of the season of the previous year, so start shopping really early.  You can get items for 75% to 90% off by hitting the clearance rack at the end of a season.  If you have the storage space, there is almost no reason to ever pay full-price again unless it’s a brand new item.
  4. If it is brand spanking new, don’t despair, you can still find a good deal.  It just may take a bit more work.   Start your search online and see if you can find your item there.  Many websites will price match.  Often many new releases of games, DVDS, etc.  are available online before they’re in stores.
  5. 5. When in doubt, get a gift certificate. Due to the economy many businesses are offering ½ price deals - $50 gift certificates for only $25.  This is a fantastic way to double your gift-giving budget and provide someone with an unexpected night out on the town.  When purchasing gift certificates and gift cards of any kind, be sure to carefully read the fine print, check expiration dates and/or exclusions.  Also, when possible, purchase directly from the business responsible for redeeming the gift certificate/gift card.