“Ha, I did it again!” I exclaimed to myself.
My total was illuminated on the screen of the grocery store checkout register: $110.57. It was the third week in a row that I was within just a few dollars of my estimate, and right on budget for the week’s groceries. I had certainly done all of the pre-shopping steps to ensure success at the grocery store. I meal planned for the week, made a list of the items I was going to buy, and yes I had even estimated the prices of all the items.
Unfortunately, I’ve followed these exact steps before, and ended up with a total well over budget.
I can do all the grocery shopping prep in the world, but when I’m walking through the isles of the grocery store, just as in life, the unexpected usually happens. I find something not on the list that’s on sale, or see something that suddenly sounds very good that just has to go into the cart. I also discover items that are the list are currently out of stock, causing me to throw out a whole meal, and add something else in on the fly. I do the math in my head and think I even things out, or that the one or two (or ten) items that were added to the cart won’t add up to much, only to end up $25 over budget. That may not seem like a lot in the grand scheme of life, but when you’re living paycheck to paycheck, $25 may be the difference between having enough gas in your car to get to work and back all week, or not.
What am I now doing differently that makes me so confident I’m right on budget? I’ve been using a weapon that we likely all have in our homes. If you have a cell phone you certainly have one of these.
I’m talking about a calculator.
As I go through the grocery store I keep a running total of everything that goes into the cart. I went into the grocery store with a budget of $110 for groceries for the week, and a list that added up to roughly $108. As is not uncommon, I had to make some adjustments. They were out of vanilla coffee creamer and Sunny Delight so cross those things off the list. Soda was no longer on sale, so that will be extra. Oooh, pork chops are on sale. Yum, let’s switch up the meal plan a little bit.
When you play a life sized game of Tetris with the grocery budget you can see how you might end up with a surprise when you roll into the checkout lane.
When I was done filling the cart with the revised list of items, and even some extras (chips and salsa, this is me giving you the stink eye), the calculator showed a total of just over $128. I looked through the contents of the cart scanning for unnecessary items. After putting a few items back, I was at $108 and change. Add in tax for some non-food items and we were right on budget.
I’m certainly not the first person to use a calculator to add up my purchases while shopping. But how many people actually do it? I thought about that as I was roaming through the store with my list sitting on top of my bananas, and my calculator resting on the top of a container of strawberries. I stopped for just a minute in a major isle of the grocery store and looked around. You know how many people I saw with a calculator handy?
I wonder how many of them will have a surprise waiting for them in the checkout lane.
Author’s Note: Thanks for reading my post today here on Enemy of Debt! I have a special bonus post for you today over at The Budget School. I did an interview with them in which I gave them an inside look at my struggles with debt. I also describe how a new outlook changed the way I approached my personal finances as I began to budget to improve the quality of lives of my entire family.