Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Mother Smuggers, Whiners & Groceries

First let me explain the term "Mother Smugger."

This is a phrase I coined one day when I popped into the bedroom to find Springs curled up with Dr. Mad Scientist. He was snug as a cat on, well, a human curled up in bed!

He had a smug look of contentment on his face. If you've ever seen a cat, you probably know this look.

Check out this Mother Smugger in action.

Anyway, if you've ever been around a sailor or trucker, you'll know the quasi-play on words I'm using with calling a comfy cat a Mother Smugger.

Lately though, I'm starting to use the term more liberally to apply to humans.

I read this post by my old friend's mother on the MSN Smart Spending blog and it struck me as kind of well, smug.

I understand the thrill of a good bargain--it's so hard not to brag! I also understand she's being paid to blog about penny pinching--so the more citations of her own frugalness she can shove in a post, the better for the reader.

But the Mother Smugger vibe just really put me off. Before you know it she'll be posting about how she likes to smell her own farts.

Then literally a few hours after reading that blog post (yeah, so I've got some down time at work!) I read this article about the rising price of groceries.

And to me, everyone they interviewed came off as extremely whiney.

At the time I read the article I had an extremely hard time believing that chart that the average family similar to a family like mine --a couple with 2 children 6-11 years old--spent an average of $197.50 a week on groceries!

Ok, I am missing a kid to compare to that number, but I also live in one of the most expensive places to buy groceries. Outside of Alaska, I've never encountered groceries as expensive as the ones we buy here.

I'm going to put myself out there as a Mother Smugger and say I'd like to think I've done my research in this respect having lived and grocery shopped in five states different states in four different time zones in the past ten years.

Mmmm...does anyone else smell rotten eggs? Mmmm...delicious!

However, after today, I'm totally convinced of the numbers on that chart.

The girls in my section of the office and I were talking about groceries today because I was convincing Single Girl Coworker that she could totally live off of $100 in the bank until our next paycheck (the Friday after next).

She said she had all her bills paid and all she had to do was buy groceries until we got paid again. She joked that she could live off top ramen and mooch off her boyfriend.

And here's where I'm afraid I was being a total Mother Smugger--I told her that if I could feed a family of three buying $91 worth of groceries to last us two weeks, then she could totally live off of $100.

When the other two girls in my section of the office overheard that I only spent $91 in groceries for the three of us to be fed for two weeks they were floored.

In fairness, $91 is what I spent last weekend.

Sometimes it's more (but never more than $115) and sometimes it's less (never less than $75). I also do a monthly pilgrimage to Costco where I buy hamburger (every 2 mos.), cheese, peanut butter (every 2 mos), fruit cups and boxed juice (for Chunky's lunch and school snacks) and jelly (every 2 mos). However, when you figure in the costs for those, in addition to what I pay every other week for groceries, I spend $60.50 per week to keep the three of us fed.

Older Divorced Coworker demanded proof that only spent $91. And Married Girl With A Boy Chunky's Age and a Husband said she spents about $250 a week to feed her family (which includes a sister of hers they've been putting up)--although she confessed to us that she only buys name brand and can't bring herself to buy the store brand stuff.

I think I've managed to convince them that we don't eat.

But in some ways they're right--we don't eat much.

We've cut down to using 1/2 a pound of hamburger in our hamburger dishes (we used to use a full pound).

We no longer buy milk. I use powdered milk (Chunky's the only one that drinks it and he doesn't know any better) which is a bit (not much) cheaper than "real" milk. I like the fact I can make up just a little bit and if we don't drink it all before it goes bad, I'm not out a couple of bucks that I literally pour down the drain. I make it up in a pitcher by the 1/2 quart, and I take a dry erase marker and write down the date I made it on the side of the pitcher.

I know, especially in the winter, we don't eat enough vegetables. We live off of bags of onions and potatoes in the winter. In the summer it's not so bad with the farmer's stand across from the office to supplement (and I will splurge on good produce!) our groceries.

I can stretch a 10 pack of chicken cutlets to last us a month. I only cook them one at a time and we divide them by three.

Avert your eyes from my designer kitchenware!

For lunch (ever since Sucky September) I've started bringing 1/2 a peanut butter sandwich (one piece of bread with peanut butter folded in half) to work for lunch instead of a full peanut butter sandwich to save on bread.

Are we hungry? Nope. Not in the least.

But these changes did take some time to get used to.

I wish there was a way that I could totally understand and get what it's like to spend $250 a week on groceries so that I could feel Married Coworker With a Boy Chunky's Age and a Husband's pain in trying to cut back.

But I also wish there was a way I could get her to see that we're not suffering spending $61 a week on groceries.

And I wish we could do it without the whining or the rancid smell of sulphur filling the air.



Blogger Jo said...

Your cat looks inordinately long in that picture.

I do mu grocery shopping in spurts. Probably not the best idea, but I started doing that in Japan and it is a hard habit to break. I need a freezer so I can stock up on things.

7:54 PM  
Anonymous Necia said...

I spent about $60 last week, and I'm gonna be honest, I don't know how I did it, and how we're doing it! In all fairness, the hubbs is left to fend for himself most of this week, because he doesn't eat any poultry or meat at all. I turly do believe the fact, that me and the kid eat only poultry, is how I managed to only spend around 60 bucks. I still have food left over too. It's hard to me, but as long as the kid is eating, I'm ok with that. Wonder if I can push it to next week, ya think?

8:43 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Your cat does look smug. My husband's old cat was the smuggest cat I'd ever seen and boy did he let you know he was the king. When hubby and I were dating, I once sat in the cat's spot on the couch. The cat looked at me, walked by, came back, and looked at me again. Then he jumped on my lap and made himself comfortable. I looked at hubby, who told me that if you sit in the cat's spot, the cat sits on you!

I wish I could spend $61 bucks a week on groceries. When it was just Pi and I, we spent less than $50 a week. But with the addition of hubby, we spend about $100 a week (that's with coupon clipping and deal catching). Though, that $100 includes all of our bathroom, grooming, cleaning, and laundry products.

8:49 PM  
Blogger Carol said...

I totally believe you on the grocery thing. It can be done. i have done it. most people eat way too much meat, which is where the big bucks go. Throw in a couple of vegetarian meals and a couple of pasta meals, and you are rockin. BTW, the pasta does not have to have meat sauce. Butter and sage make a very nice pasta sauce. So does plain old tomatoes and onions. And I'm not counting those as my vegetarian dish.

9:06 PM  
Blogger turtlegirl76 said...

Portions. Chicken breasts in the stores are so freakin' huge that people don't realize that by eating one, they're really having at least 2 or 3 portions all to themself! If you practice proper portion control, the average grocery bill would decrease dramatically. People are just used to larger portions now.

9:59 PM  
Blogger Beverly said...

Anyone else have a giant for a husband? When I was single, I could live off of $40/week in groceries. But when I got married, that total jumped to $100+ in groceries, and an unholy amount on restaurant food. He's 6'4", 225 lbs, and eats only once a day. I usually make a meal for 4 for the 2 of us, and there are almost never leftovers. I'm so screwed someday when we have kids.

10:27 PM  
Blogger Zonda said...

ahhh lounging in front of the window!

I love buying in bulk, I do hate the dividing up, but it is so worth it. Will be interesting next year as #1 eater will be gone and DD doesn't eat red meat anymore...she will eat tell her its red meat, she doesn't care.

10:27 PM  
Blogger Wendy said...

For my family of five, we probably spend around $120 per week on groceries, including the occasional visits to the health food store for "local" flour.

But we eat really well, we buy lots of "gourmet" stuff, like local, organic rootbeer for about $1.10 per bottle, local cheddar cheese at about $7 per pound, local milk at almost $6 per gallon, not including bottle deposits, and olive oil at a cost of over $8 per liter. We don't buy "name brands", but it does have to be "local", which is sometimes more expensive even than some "name brands." I also stretch a lot of the meat we eat, and we'll use a whole chicken for two or three meals, before it's all gone, and a pound of ground beef starts out as taco meat and ends up in chili.

We could probably do much better in the frugal department for our groceries.

I'd love to live off of $12,000 per year. That would be fantastic, especially as my husband is convinced *we* can't do it.

But first, we have to pay off our mortgage and convert to wood heat and solar energy ;).

10:57 PM  
Anonymous NikBudnik said...

Oh boy. You don't even want to hear how much I spend on groceries. you would probably go into convulsions. If you can do what you are doing and be happy with it, then good on ya!

5:54 AM  
Blogger Poops said...

I could spend 250 a week on groceries, but then I'd have to get a job.

For us it's about 70 to 90 bucks a week. And that includes cleaning products and pull-ups for the Child Who Refuses to Potty-Train.

It can be done. I've thrown parties for 40 guests and didn't spend 250, including booze and plasticware.

I think I'm a cheapass to the core.

6:34 AM  
Blogger The Curly Knitter said...

I can relate. I have a lot of friends that whine about their grocery bill and I can't understand why they think they have to spend so much. I don't spend very much at all. I can get by (just me and my husband) for between $40 and $50 per week depending on what we are doing.

7:20 AM  
Blogger maggie said...

We spend less than $100 a week on food these days, unless we dine out, and we even buy organic and fair trade (for the most part). That's for a family of three. And we are extreme "foodies"! Granted, we do have a pantry and freezer full of vegetables we canned and poultry we butchered...

I think a lot has to do with portions. People do tend to eat more than they need. (I worked for a major weight loss company after losing baby weight, and learned and saw a lot...) It's amazing. I also notice people's grocery carts. Processed food, frozen meals, pre-packaged food for "convenience" all add up to a lot more moolah (and empty calories). Our meat consumption for this week was/is 1.5 lbs of steak, 1 lb. chicken breast, and one awfully mean rooster. Half of the beef went into the freezer after grilling for a later meal.

Unfortunately, I think we are going to see a lot of people learning to penny pinch in the near future. I hope it doesn't affect our tailgate market sales this summer.

7:27 AM  
Blogger weezalana said...

I didn't realize how much we spent on groceries until I started keeping a budget. Then, after I picked up all the hair that fell out of my head, I started shopping smarter. Coupons, specials, and a weekly menu so I stopped tossing a bunch of uneaten food at the end of the week made a huge difference.

That, and not letting Hubster shop with me. (Boy shopping mentality = looks tasty, throw in cart, ignore price tag.)

8:12 AM  
Blogger sgeddes said...

I;ve been working to trim a lot of the excess out of our grocery bill and it had been challenging. I think a couplepeople here are right - portion size can be a huge culprit.

8:14 AM  
Blogger knottygnome said...

that is one oddly shaped cat. he looks like a Draft Buddy on your windowsill.

i'm impressed that you spend so little on food. even i spend $40 a week for 1.5 people.

i also can't believe that your coworker is so attached to brand-name foods. sucker.

8:14 AM  
Blogger Macoco said...

Again I have to compliment you on your thrifty ways. I've always been thrifty, but learned true thrift when I lived with Mick. That guy can really stretch a dollar. I feel like we ate well, but very cheaply - love you rice and beans!

A big part of it is we never threw out food, we only bought produce that we needed for a meal or two (we had a market across the street so daily shopping wasn't an issue). And we didn't go shopping until that food was all gone. I hate throwing out food!

Also - I rarely buy fresh milk since I can't drink it quickly enough so I always have a box of powdered milk.

8:19 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Wow, Bezzie, I thought I was thrifty when it comes to food shopping, but you totally have me beat! I would say that my husband and I spent about $100 a week in groceries (family of 4).

I think the problem is not just eating too much meat, but like you also mentioned, people who won't buy store brand products, or who insist at shopping at full-service grocery stores, where the prices are higher. My husband and I buy most of our food from a local chain called Marc's. It's a discount store that sells a variety of things from food, to tolietries to closeout items, etc. I can get a box of cereal there for $2 that would cost $4 for the same exact size/brand box at a major chain grocery like Giant Eagle. Milk prices seem not to vary much from store to store here in the Cleveland area, but Marc's is cheaper on nearly everything compared to a major chain grocery store.

Yeah, Marc's doesn't have nearly as much food as a major grocery, but I don't feel deprived shopping there. We've even shopped at this Save A Lot chain, that's even more bare bones than Marc's, and gotten really good deals.

Another thing we've done is use this Angel Food Ministries program ( I know some people might be turned off by the religious aspect of it, but they don't preach to you (other than putting a newsletter in your box of food), and you don't need to belong to a church to participate in it.

8:20 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

P.S. Awww, kitty! I just adore cats!

8:21 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

P.S. The thing about the leftovers (in the one article) is funny. I have no problem with leftovers. My husband and I will make a big pot of chili or spaghetti and eat the leftovers for lunch or dinner for a couple of days afterwards. One of my older sister's has been married for about 20 years, and her husband has never/will not eat dinner leftovers. If he were my husband, he'd be eating leftovers, because I won't cook dinner if there's leftovers that can be eaten.

8:25 AM  
Blogger maryannlucy said...

My FIL spent £91 (almost $200) on himself for one week when MIL was away!!! I spent hardly anything, and am still alive. There are a lot of BOGOFs about which are great. And toilet roll tally - you will be SO proud of me - 2....there are going to be some serious words when they get back!!!
Love the photo, that cat so needs a cat-massage, does it double as a draught excluder in the cooler months??

8:51 AM  
Blogger Dkswife said...

I spend about $75.00 - 100.00 per week for my husband, pets, toiletries and myself. I don't think that is too bad. Honestly though, as frugal as I am, I don't scrimp on food at all. There was a time when my husband and I had to go w/o food so my kid could eat, so I say the hell w/ being frugal on the food front.

9:17 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

P.S.S. Sorry for leaving so many comments, but you've got me on a roll here, LOL!

I've also found that Walmart has really good prices on food. I know some people won't shop at Walmart though, because of it being non-union, etc., but that bothers me, because I think by putting all the focus on Walmart for their labor practices, etc., that it takes away any focus on all the other business that underpay/mistreat their employees - drugstores, fast food restaurants, gas stations, etc.
And as far as the pay issue goes, I have a 20 year old niece who makes $10 an hour working at Walmart as a cashier, and has medical insurance and paid vacation through them. Now, when I was 20, I worked at Burger King and made the minimum wage, and had no benefits or insurance.
Last time I checked, the minimum wage in Ohio is still only about $5.75 an hour. $10.00 an hour or $5.75 an hour - which is worse?

Now, I know a person can't support a family on $10.00 an hour, but here in the Cleveland area, many of the white collar, office jobs, requiring at least an associate's degree barely pay above $10 an hour. For example, child support caseworkers in Cuyahoga County, with bachelor's degrees and experience start at less than $15 an hour.

OK, that's my political rant for the day, LOL!

9:21 AM  
Blogger Miss T said...

Prices have gone up--you're doing really well to only spend that amount per week!

9:38 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

$250 a week on groceries? Even I (with no grocery budget to speak of and who randomly buys weird exotic stuff) would have a tough time doing that. Granted, we're not big meat eaters, we share a chicken breast 3 ways too or cook two and have leftovers for lunch.

I'm chunky myself and could use a little trimming. We planted out vegetable garden last week, too, the first one in years.

10:11 AM  
Blogger Stacie said...

wow. yeah. I have SILs that think everything has to have a designer label, even their groceries. who are these people? they would surely perish if they knew how the rest of the world eats!

10:28 AM  
Blogger Olga said...

Hmmm, not too much to add to what everyone said , I do about 130.00 a week to feed 6 people,and that covers TP and laundry soap and other non edibles. Every one packs lunchs and I make everything from scratch, no prepackaged nothing. We don't drink juice or soda, we are down to one gallon of 1% milk a week-everyone gets one cup a day for cereal or to drink,your choice! otherwise it's water or a cup of hot tea. When I ate lunch at my daughters school with her, all the kids had those lunchables and would only eat the sweet stuff out of them and throw the rest away and pull out a candy bar and eat that too. Boy, I was shocked at the waste . I always think that the sign you are truely weathy is when you can go grocery shopping whenever you feel like it, not just on payday, and casually toss any ol' thing into your cart and never worry about how much you are spending. I confess, I'm a shopping cart peeper too, I always scope out what people are buying..gee, for someone who didn't have anything to add I sure blathered on.

11:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hahahahahaha!!! Have you stirred up a hornets nest!!! It is just your father and I and sometimes your youngest sibs. And we basicly spend around 400$ every two months. I only go shopping every other month. That includes TP, personal items, and laundry and cleaning stuff. I remember when the quilters were SHOCKED when I just happened to say that I budgeted 600$ a month to feed all eight of us!!! We ate pretty good also. I don't think that any of you went to bed hungry. I think that these budget minded people need to think of new ways to save on money. Most of what they are putting out I do and have been doing for a LONG time. Now that we are just about over the winter I am thinking that I will start walking to work again. Well enough said....All that screaming that Lincoln is doing must be why I hear crickets year round....And there aren't any up here. Love, Mom

1:32 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

When we first moved to Madison and had an unsold house in NY, our money was very tight and I know I spent very little on food (hell, on anything!) compared to most people. Now, I'm not as careful, but I could be. I know how.

Now that Owen is rapidly turning from a child to an enormous teen age boy, I've seen a huge increase in the rate of consumption. We buy milk all the time and we never have any go to waste. About 3-4 gallons a week. For us, powdered milk isn't any cheaper. I occasionally do the math, just to make sure, and the fresh stuff keeps working out to the same price.

When I look at what other shoppers are buying, I'm not surprised that they think they need that much money every week. All that soda pop. All those Lunchables. And Lean Cuisines and so on.

The smugness, though, is bad. I like the Tightwad Gazette books, but I do find a certain moral superiority that seeps through her writing a bit tiresome. She'll be quick to say that being frugal isn't just for its own sake, but rather, it allows one to choose to spend money (or not) in the most personally meaningful ways. But in the next breath, she's making snide comments about other people's choices.

I'm grateful to have a choice. I like thrift shops. I don't mind eating on the cheap. But if my kids trash a pair of sneakers today, I'm glad that I have the option to go out and buy a new pair without waiting to find some that'll work at the Goodwill.

2:30 PM  
Anonymous joymama said...

I'm glad you wrote about this Ms. Bezzie. Our family of three eats very well on about that much a week. We eat organic and are vegetarian which costs way more. One would think it would costs less to buy veggies/fruits, grains, beans and nuts but it does not. We do eat dairy but limit that too since it is expensive. I'm not as hard core a meal planner as I used to be and like you could make a wonderful meal and know that I spent $3 or $5 or whatever. I think those that whine about the costs are buying too many convinience foods that are over processed, over packaged and over priced.

4:25 PM  
Blogger Sherry W said...

No wonder they don't believe you! I can't imagine only having 1/2 a PB&J for lunch and giving my husband 1/3 of a chicken breast for dinner!

6:05 PM  
Blogger Carol said...

See? YOU should write that book! It's pretty pricey here too, just in case you were thinking of moving ;-) I do spend, but we get aLOT from what I buy. A half lb of meat is plenty for 3! We eat too much!

6:43 PM  
Blogger Alisha said...

Your cat is so cute. I wish I could lay in a window all day sunning myself.

There is five of us and I spend about $220 every two weeks. I will spend another $30-$40 each week for fresh stuff.

My 13 year old daughter is so active in sports and she goes through spurts where she eats so much. Milk is the worst thing in our house. She drinks a lot of milk. I probably go through 6-8 1 litre bags of milk a week. Milk never goes bad in our house lol

Thankfully I don't live in Nunavut where a 3 litre bag of milk can cost $14.99....that is insane.

I know so many people who get sales at different stores and run around to five different stores to get the deals. I have tried this before. It takes longer, more gas and more stress. Not worth it for us.

I always worry about how much I spend but I think after reading comments we are not doing to bad. I think for five we are probably adverage.

10:46 PM  
Blogger Carina said...

I used to spend too much on food for the four of us. Then, I read the Tightwad Gazette book and decided to keep a price book for a month. I was shocked! My favorite grocery store was costing us almost forty bucks extra--per trip! They were that much more, and I'd never realized it. So, now I keep a closer eye on sales and shop at Meijers and Big Lots and the bakery outlet, and I've cut a ton out of the food budget (more than half!). I still have more to cut, I'm sure (have to check out Aldi, though Save-A-Lot really didn't have much of what I use).

One thing that really cut down on our costs was to fill up the deep freezer with half a bison. That's saved us good money, and it's better than any other red meat.

10:53 AM  
Blogger Rebel said...

The way you eat is probably right on target with the way we're *supposed* to eat... with maybe the exception of the lack of fresh veggies in the winter (although arguments have been made about not eating food when it's not in season). BUT I would feel deprived on half a PB&noJ for lunch every day.

I also think it's easier to buy food for 4 than for 1. I end up wasting a lot of food (mostly veggies) because it's all packaged for multiple servings. If I buy a head of lettuce for my sandwiches at least half ends up in the compost. If I make a can of soup, and I don't feel like eating leftovers, half ends up down the sink. And often buying in bulk is cheaper but there are only so many leftovers a person can eat!

So while I think it's true that people *can* get by on only $100 a week for food, I can see how the singleton would find it really hard.

4:05 PM  
Blogger Nancy said...

Wow,,, this post brought back memories. Not all of them pleasing either.

I remember between hubby #1 and #2,, how after I paid the bills, rent, babysitter, kept money aside to get to work, diapers, and the like,, how if I was lucky I had 30 bucks to last me 2 weeks till then next paycheck. Son was 2 years old then so naturally he didnt eat alot. Neither did I at the time either, lol.

I did more pb & j than I care to think about. A treat was bologna. Dinners were usually Mac and cheese (blue box or other cheap brand), and to jazz it up IF I had extra change,, either a hot dog or 2 cut up thrown in, or nuked bologna crumbled up in it. Lots of rice, potato's. Did my veggie shopping from the damaged bins at the fruit stand (I wasnt proud, couldnt afford to be) and would cut the bad parts away and make a veggie stew.

The only good thing that came out of it then was while trying to lose weight then,,, it was a good thing. 1 chicken cutlet split between me and my son,, split a potato or other, and some veggies,,, that would be the extrangant dinner for us. Made my own yogurt,, and yogurt cheese, we both ate that. If something was on sale I tried to stock up.

The big treats were making egg creams for my son and I. Cheap as dirt and 1 bottle of choc syrup lasted a long time.

On the other hand, is it a wonder I became diabetic with all the starch I had to eat?

4:06 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

Smell her own farts. LOL.

Don't you just love Southpark.

3:04 PM  
Blogger DomesticOverlord said...

Bezzie! Half a peanut butter sandwich is not lunch! Please tell me you have an apple with that or something. Now I feel like you're wasting away.

There are 4 of us and we probably spend $100-$150 on groceries each week BUT that includes cleaning products and other household extras like paper towels and toilet paper, shampoo, tampons, soap, toothpaste, etc.

I do a Costco trip once a month (well, every 4-6 weeks) for all the meat, peanut butter, cheese, and whatnot. I do buy milk and eggs there too but most of the time those come from the grocery store.

I'm sure I could do a much better job of saving money but I'm also sure I could do a much worse job. I just don't want to have to think any harder at the store than I already do. My cheapassedness gives way to my lethargy the moment I walk into the store.

5:53 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home