I’ve hired my friend and huge blog supporter, SherryH as an occasional staff writer here at BFS. 😀 SherryH lives near the coast of North Carolina. Her family consists of her husband, their two adult sons, and the requisite writer’s cats. In 2013, Sherry survived a brain tumor that destroyed her eyesight. She’s determined not to let that slow her down. She recently started blogging at http://www.blindnotinvisible.wordpress.com/.
When my sister and I were little, our mom used to take us to the grocery store. While we trailed her up and down the aisles making “helpful” suggestions about what kind of cookies she should buy, the three of us would play a game. We’d keep a running mental tally. At the checkout, as we helped Mom put the items on the conveyer, we’d wait anxiously to see whose guess came closest to the final total.
I’m pretty sure my mom’s intent was to keep the two of us from getting bored and misbehaving, but her game was a valuable life lesson as well: It’s important to know what things cost and to keep track of what you’re spending.
Counting Your Costs Early On
In the early years of our marriage, and again a few years ago, my husband and I went through some pretty lean times, and my mother’s lesson served me well. I’d walk into the grocery store with a budget and a list, and I’d walk up to the register with the items we needed-or most of the items we needed-and the knowledge that I had enough money to cover what was in my cart. I didn’t keep track down to the penny (unless things were super-tight), but I always had a pretty good estimate.
It’s not just something I do at the grocery store. Back to school shopping, ordering in a restaurant, pretty much anywhere I go. If I’m spending money, I want to know how much I’m spending.
At any given time, I have a pretty good rough idea how much money is in my wallet, and how much we have in the bank.
I never thought anything much of this little habit of mine. It was just something I did, something I thought everybody did.
An Unusual Mindset?
Five or Six years ago, I read British journalist and writer Polly Toynbee’s Hard Work: Life in Low-Pay Britain. In the book, Toynbee, a member of Britain’s upper class, writes about the months she spent working a series of minimum-wage jobs, living in government-subsidized housing, and trying to get by.
It’s a great book, and I highly recommend it. But one sentence stopped me cold. In talking about how she adapted to her much reduced lifestyle, Toynbee says something along the lines of: At the grocery store, I’d been used to putting what I wanted into my trolley, without thinking about the price.
Wait, what? You can do that?
Counting Costs Isn’t Just for the Broke
My parents, as far as I know, were never hurting for money. They could afford to buy the things they wanted without checking the price. But they did check, and I think that played a role in not hurting for money.
If I walked into a grocery store with a million dollars in my pocket, I’d walk out knowing which brand of corn was four cents cheaper than the other and that ground beef was on sale this week. I might walk out with filet mignon (Not really. I have no idea how to cook it.) but I’d know how much I spent on it!
It’s a mantra I hear repeated again and again: keep track of what you’re spending. Money will trickle away like water if you don’t.
I think this is a trait successful frugalists have in common. We may use different methods, or do it to different degrees, but we have a tendency to know what we’re spending and to have a finger on the pulse of our budget.
I’m not saying we obsess over it (Well, okay, some of us obsess over it…) but we all have that little ticker running in the backs of our minds, watching where the money goes and ready to say, “Okay, here’s where you need to draw the line.”
I think keeping track is a habit everyone should develop, and a good one to pass on to our budding frugalists and frugalistas.
If nothing else, it’s a good way to keep them distracted while you’re rolling through the grocery aisles!