Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Game Called "Outsmart"

Yesterday we had our annual finance review.  The day we both gather around the kitchen island with computer, printer, and calculator.  We gather totals of expenses for the last year, 2010, sorted in categories, such as Electricity, House Heat, Medical, Dental, TV/Internet Service, Groceries/Necessaries, Phone, Vehicle Gasoline, Vehicle Upkeep, House Insurance, Vehicle Insurance, Boat Insurance, Health Insurance, Cancer Insurance, Real Estate Taxes, Eating Out, New Purchases, such as furniture, Water/Sewer/Garbage, and Miscellaneous. 

I'm an aggressive record keeper, complete with year-end pie graphs and charts. This helps us see where we are at with our income vs. what it costs us to live.  About ten years ago when my husband had a severe health problem and could not continue at his workplace, I turned to the Internet and furiously studied the art and importance of family frugality.    

When we notice that one expense category goes up, or when we have an unexpected expense hit us, then we call a family meeting, and seriously come up with a plan of how we will outsmart the system. Then we get to work.  By that, I mean we balance a price hike with an equal cut back.  Then there is no change to our retirement plan, and we can adjust our living accordingly.  We both see eye-to-eye when it comes to living within our means, so this has actually become a fun game of Outsmart for us. 

There isn't a household that isn't feeling the back lash of the recession.  All of us are.  A couple of weeks ago, a friend and I were talking about plastic toothpicks.  She said to me, "I'm surprised you don't wash 'em off and use them again."  Hey, I was tickled that my Ph.D in Frugality shows, and I'm darn proud of it.  There's no sense trying to pretend we are millionaires when we aren't.  Neither of us came from wealth, neither of us had high-falootin' jobs, neither of us had college educations, so obviously we are common middle class citizens.  So far as we're concerned, Show and Tell belongs in kindergarten. 

This morning our grocery list is pretty long, and we're soon heading to a nearby city to replenish the cupboards.  Both of us will take a shopping cart, divide our list in half, and go out to find the best deals---for us.  There are tons of grocery store secrets, such as lower prices are on bottom shelf, store brands will save us money, every coupon counts (if you really use the item), big brand labels are shoppers-bait, and the pricey frills are found on the inside aisles. 

Frugality is getting more popular, as it should be.  It's wise to save for the future, because one day "the future" does arrive, holding hands with old age.  Both sneak up on us.  I might be old-fashioned about money, but be that as it may.  Every dollar I save here, is a dollar I can use over there.  My pockets are full of "outsmart secrets" that I use all the time.  And, once a person gets in the game of outsmarting the system, well, it puts a whole different slant on things.  All merchandisers have tricks, but we consumers can fire back with some of our own.   

So, today we're off for the grocery aisles, but we're going out for lunch first.  Otherwise, our ravenous appetites will kick up fits when we're surrounded and tempted by rows and rows of food. We Americans are incredibly blessed to have safe and delicious foods available to us, and we must be thankful first and foremost.  We middle-class shoppers simply have to keep our eyes open to the cost challenges that are only getting worse.

And, by the way, if you see me stop to pick a penny off the ground, please don't laugh at me.  I don't pick them up because they will bring me good luck, but rather because a penny supposedly marks the spot where an angel has just been. 

Tata for today.