Friday, 9 March 2012

Frugal Friday

I went for a walk with Papa Bear in the park today. Lured by the gorgeous pink and golden sunrise that we'd seen an hour or so earlier over the rooftops opposite our apartment block, we went out before Papa Bear left for work. It was so beautiful in the park at that time of the day. The sun was just beginning to shine and all around were birds, having their breafast. We saw a song thrush, a rare treat for us here in the part of England where we live. And everywhere the earliest stirrings of spring. So lovely! Among other things, we talked a bit about our plans for the weekend, which are pretty much the same as they are every week, and of course include a trip to the supermarket, and after seeing all the sweet wee birds in the park, it got me thinking.

I really enjoy our supermarket trip on Saturdays. It's only in the last couple of years, that Papa Bear and I have been able to take our weekly trip alone together - when the cubs were younger, it was a full-on family event - which was fun, but for altogether different reasons! In those days, we use to divide the shopping list up into 2. Papa Bear and Cubby would take one half, and Little Bear and I would take the other. We'd have competitions to see who could get round the supermarket first, and ones to see who had made the most savings when we got to the till! Of course we girls always won! Actually that's not true - when Cubby and Little Bear joined forces, THEY were the pair that were the canniest, when it came to clever shopping! That was often a big surprise to us grown-ups!

One of the reasons why they were so clever at shopping was because they'd stick rigidly to the list - they weren't swayed or tempted by bargains or new products, because as they were children, they were more focused on the game of seeing if they could be the most frugal, rather than the distraction of spending money on things they didn't need. It wasn't their money to spend, after all!

Well in fact NONE of us have money of our own to spend. The Bible tells us that God wants us to be good stewards of all that we have on earth - because it isn't ours. Everything we have belongs to Him. David tells us this in Psalm 24 -

"The earth is the LORD's, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein" (Psalm 24, 1).

Jesus also had plenty to tell us about the love of money, and the damage this can do to our relationship with God -

"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:
But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
(Matthew 6, 19 - 21).

It's very easy to get carried away in the supermarket, especially if you haven't planned your shop carefully beforehand. But there are lots of ways to ensure that you do shop sensibly, and frugally - and in a way that pleases God, just by employing a little forward thinking. Here are a few ideas that I've found to be helpful for us as we do our supermarket shop ...

The first thing I've learned, and which I've spoken of before, is to menu plan. This way, food-wise at least, you know exactly what you need to buy, because you know exactly what you will be eating. You don't have to shop once a week like we do, to be able to menu plan sensibly. There are lots of different ways, and your personal circumstances, and the needs of your family, will dictate how often you are able to do this. The point is really just that you DO do it, no matter how often or infrequently you shop. If you don't know what you will be eating, how on earth can you plan your spending? It may seem restrictive, to plan for a week or more ahead, what you are going to be eating. But actually I have found it's bought me more freedom. It makes life easier if I know what we're going to be eating beforehand. And I have also found that I really do enjoy the menu planning because I enjoy cooking, so it's fun working out which dishes to make for my family, and how to plan these wisely, to take account of how much money we have to spend at the supermarket.

Next on the list ... the list! Always shop with a list. As above, if you don't know what you want to buy until you get to the supermarket, how on earth can you manage to stay in budget? Surely no one shops without a list? OK, some people do! But there's always time to change! Transforming your attitude to your spending starts with small changes like this, but it will make a huge difference to your bank balance! It may seem boring, but it's no fun being in debt either, and that's what is really at the heart of this. Self-control is needed, to stay on top of your finances. If we exercise self-control in this matter, it pleases God, because it shows we are choosing to live under His guidance, placing Him first and trusting in Him for all things -

"No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
"Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?"
(Matthew 6, 24 - 26).

Before you write the list, consider offering up a prayer to our Father God to ask for His guidance as you write it, and also for His help in ensuring that you shop wisely. I do this and I'm sure it has made a huge difference to the results of our weekly shop! Also bear in mind things like the time of year (seasonal foods are usually cheaper, but at holiday times there are also mark-ups on certain items, so it's a good idea to take this into account). Consider coupons - there are websites where you can download these, and some stores will post flyers through letterboxes or print them in newspapers.

When you're at the supermarket, there are a few points worth remembering, as you push your trolley up and down the aisles. Bargains may not be as good as they seem. We've been caught out oftentimes in the past by the "2 for £2" offers, thinking this must be a great saving. But look at the unit prices. If the single unit is 99p, and you only need one, you are only going to be saving 2p to buy two, and in reality not saving anything at all since you only needed one item in the first place. Also read carefully which items offers actually apply to. Sometimes it may seem as if you can choose from any of a certain brand, but read the small print on the signs carefully, and you may find it only applies to a selection of that brand, and not the whole range.

Items that are marked down are often about to go out of date, so consider whether it is still worth purchasing them. If you can't use them before the use-by date, then you're wasting your money. Do also check the dates on multipacks. I've often been caught out by this, and found that although the multi-unit buy was cheaper than a smaller amount of single units, the use-by date means we can't eat them all before they're out of date. Of course perishable items like meat and fruit and vegetables can be frozen, but make sure you've enough room in your freezer! In the past I've been carried away by bargain buys of meat or soft fruit, only to find when we got home, that (and I'm very ashamed to confess this) I've had to discard something from the freezer, to make room for the new purchase. Suffice to say I've learned my lesson now, and don't do that any more!

The cheapest items are often on the lowest shelves, because the supermarket wants you to spend more, on the more expensive ones that are at waist height or eye level. So make sure you've compared all the prices before you buy. Having said this, quality does count for some things. If you are going to be using twice as much of the cheap item as another brand that is slightly more expensive, it is a false economy to buy the cheapest. We tend to usually go for the shop's own brand, but not the real bargain one. There are some exceptions to this. We always get the cheapest all-purpose flour, rice, pasta, potatoes, carrots and onions. But the cheapest tea or coffee? Ugh! No thank you! We'd rather go without if we can't afford the better brands.

Which brings me to my next point! When you are confronted (and let's face it, all of us are, now and then) by something which seems a really incredible bargain, say, electronic goods that have been marked down to 1/3 of their original price, it's very tempting to snap them up just because they are offering such a great saving. But ask yourself these questions before you buy ...
1. Can I afford it?
2. Do I really need it?
3. Can I buy it even cheaper elsewhere?
If the answer to the first question is no, you don't even need to think any more about it!

Another suggestion that I've read of, which works well for impulse buys, is to give yourself a week or a fortnight, or longer even, to think about what it is that you really want to buy. If you are still sure you want it at the end of that time span, then revisit the 3 questions. But very often (and I know this to be true from my own experiences) you will find you've completely forgotten about what it is you so desperately wanted! (Better still, the shop has usually sold out by then, so you can't have it anyways!).

We know how hard it is to have to stick to a strict budget. Sometimes it isn't fun. We don't always get to buy or eat the most exciting food. Our menus these days look a great deal more interesting than they have done in the past, when money has been very tight indeed. There have been seasons in our lives when we've really not had a choice at all about what we ate, and while we did survive those lean times, I'm very thankful that we don't have to live that way now. We are grateful for the gifts that God has given us, but we also know we can't be complacent. That's why we try to be sensible and frugal with our spending, and not let ourselves get carried away when we do our supermarket shop! It's terribly tempting, especially with all the lovely produce available in the stores these days. But it's not God's plan for us to be over-indulging ourselves. We don't need to! Our riches come from Him, and will be in Him, and with Him, for evermore. Let's praise our Saviour for His goodness as we do our shopping, and thank Him for His provision and protection. If he can take care of the wee birds in the sky, He will certainly take care of us.

"Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?" (James 2, 5).