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Long ago, when I was a metal-mouth teen in my native Louisiana, my family would pile into our battered black Cadillac and make a beeline for Griff’s Hamburgers. We’d gladly pass up McDonald’s and Burger King for a sack lunch from our favorite greasy spoon. This was our ritual every other Friday — payday.
My mom and stepdad both worked, so my sisters and I assumed that money flowed freely from their wallets. And because we dined out biweekly, we thought we were living large.
Two-plus decades later, my kids think we’re rolling in dough, too, because they get treated to an occasional meal out.
But it’s not their fault. We were restaurant row regulars before I quit work to become a stay-at-home mom. Now that we’re a solo-income family, our buying habits have changed dramatically. Every dollar counts, and we try to stretch each one as far as we can.
First of all, I now think in terms of how many chickens I can get for my money.
My girlfriends laugh at my logic, but here’s how it works: Let’s say our family of six eats at a mid-range restaurant such as Pei Wei every Friday. If we spend $50 weekly, that’s $200 a month. But if the average roasting chicken costs 8 bucks, I can get about 25 birds with that $200 and make chicken enchiladas, chicken and dumplings, chicken pot pie, barbecued chicken — the options are endless.
The same principle applies when I get the sudden urge at Target to buy the same Mossimo purse in three colors, or when I absolutely must have my favorite gluten-free pizza from Pie Five. No matter what, I gotta consider the cluckers.
Also, we make fewer trips to the grocery store. Instead of running to the market two or three times a week, we “power-shop,” which means buying stuff that will last longer than, um, a day.
Before we started power-shopping, snacks would last about two days, fruit only a few hours, and milk about a day and a half.
So now we do what one of my mom friends suggests: Get several gallons of milk at a time (the rest can be frozen), and divvy up snacks into individual servings as soon as they come home from the store.
Plus, we have a secret pantry. Instead of putting out all the food at once, we store it away and ration it out accordingly. (My husband says his parents had a secret stash — or so they thought — until he and his brother got busted stealing Twinkies and fruit pies.)
And to stretch our bread supply I dusted off my 7-year-old breadmaker and let the flour fly. Mrs. Baird’s it’s not, but it’s edible and kinda yummy, if you ask me. If I ever learn to make my own Honey Nut Cheerios, I’ll be one happy mama.
Next, because the kids and I would be home during the day, my husband and I anticipated an increase in our utility bills. So I declared myself the queen of the thermostat. I can tell if it’s off by even one degree, which has led to a few thermostat throwdowns.
Husband: I’m cold.
Me: 78 degrees for cooling; 73 for heating.
Him: I don’t wanna wait for the thing to kick on. I need to adjust the thermostat now.
Me: 78 degrees for cooling; 73 for heating!
Him: I can see my breath in the room!
But seriously, we try to take advantage of discounts for washing clothes or running the dishwasher during off-peak times. Our service provider says we can save money if we shift those duties to nights or weekends.
And I’m thinking about putting egg timers in all the bathrooms to encourage shorter showers. I’m the worst offender — I could stand under a hot shower for about 10 minutes, which is a big no-no, according to the friendly folks at the Fort Worth Water Department. We’ve already got low-flow showerheads, so that helps cut our water usage considerably.
Plus, we send fewer items to the dry cleaners. (A good can of spray starch works just as well on shirts and jeans.) We get more than one wear out of our clothes. (It’s not dirty if you wear it only five minutes, my mom buddy Shannon says.) And we switched to a cheaper cell phone and cable plan. (We’d never watch 900 channels anyway.)
My kids have jumped on the budget bandwagon, too.
I almost screamed the last time I paid $7 for 40 diapers, and that wasn’t even for name-brand ones. Thankfully, our youngest child is finally potty trained, so no more diapers or wipes to buy!
As far as entertainment goes, our movie-going routine has been supplemented with Redbox, Netflix, and on-demand movies from our cable provider. When we do venture out to the movies, we go during matinee hours. We also check out free movies from our local library. As long as I remember to return the movies on time, this is a pretty cheap way to keep my kids happily occupied at home.
For other excursions away from home, it takes a little more research and creativity. Parks and playgrounds are always free, and many museums offer free or cheap admission. And on Tuesdays – family night – the Chick-fil-A in my neighborhood is teeming with kids, and you might find a clown, a musician and deals on meals.
You’ll find my family there sometimes, living large. It’s no Griff’s, but it’s the next best thing.