This morning I got a voice mail from Trader Joe’s. I knew, as soon as the dude said he was calling from Trader Joe’s, that it could only mean one thing.
I finally won.
After some dozen plus years of Trader Joe’s shopping all over Los Angeles, each time diligently filling out the raffle ticket and dropping it in a box, sometimes three or four times a week– I had finally won. It was like winning the lottery! Except for doing something I would already do anyway!
So I went to Trader Joe’s and picked up my prizes. Unfortunately the prize was two new plastic items- not the most auspicious start to Plastic Free July- but although I only use cloth bags for my groceries I can still use this as a beach/library/pool tote. I have two kids, I never run out of crap to schlep. And the $10 gift card doesn’t hurt. (Of course being the world’s biggest YNAB nerd I promptly created that card as a cash account with $10 in it and then budgeted that $10 to groceries. I guess I could have kept it off-budget and spent it on something totally frivolous but accountability is the new fun, right?)
I wonder, though, who gives the better rewards for bringing your own bags? Whole Foods gives you 10 cents a bag, Trader Joe’s gives you a chance at prizes. I shop at Whole Foods an average of once every 1-2 weeks and use 1-2 bags, on average. At that rate it would take me about 89 weeks- just over a year and a half or so- to “earn” $10. I shop at Trader Joe’s once a week and use 3-5 bags each time. If they paid me $0.10 a bag, I would “earn” $10 in just 28.5 weeks or so. Instead it took me over 12 years!
Obviously I don’t bring my own bags for the cash and prizes. But still, math sure manages to take the fun out of that big win.
So, I just crunched the numbers and we reduced our restaurant consumption by 70% in June, when compared to May. That is pretty astonishing (and way better than my goal of just staying under budget).
To be fair, like I said earlier, this was a bit of a cheat as there was some travel involved where the meals weren’t paid for by us. And Grammy came to visit, so she took the boys out for more treats than they otherwise would have gotten. But I also went to Jeni’s four times last month (a conference across from their new Easton Center, I could not resist) and the boys and Jeff got their weekend treats in, too. Looking back on June, I certainly don’t feel deprived. (I’ll have to ask Jeff how he felt about his packed lunches. I think he enjoyed them some as he has been taking more and more to work.)
Looking ahead, Jeff and I are headed out to eat tomorrow night for our anniversary- and we can do so guilt free knowing what the rest of the month will look like- a lot like June. Now that I know we don’t miss it, there’s no reason to let our restaurant overspending creep back in.
The other week I was looking at my CSA packing slip and I saw a section I had never noticed under “Special Items.” “No plastic,” the checkbox said.
Huh, I thought. And I emailed my lovely CSA and said, can I request no plastic in my box? What’s the deal? And they said, of course.
So this box all my veggies came loose, with the tomatoes and peppers and green beans packed in paper sacks. Less plastic with the most minimal of efforts.
Related news: I have a loooooot of tomatoes. Is it worth the effort putting up just one jar of tomatoes? Probably I will just roast them and freeze them, but I do want to can some tomatoes this summer.
This week was such a cheat, as Jeff and I both traveled with family and I can hardly consider a week in which I ate at Torchy’s Tacos twice a reduced-consumption week. (I am very glad I don’t live anywhere near a Torchy’s Tacos as that queso is my new kryptonite. Anyway.) It reminded me of two things- my kids looooooove to eat in restaurants and, um, so do I. Which is why the end goal of this challenge is not to never eat in restaurants- just to make our restaurant dollars count.
I did find that the whining for cake pops and frozen yogurt and other treats was reduced once we got home- I am hoping that by making it less of a regular treat we’ll make it more meaningful and reduce the whining for it. We’ll see. Also that I compensated for some of my own dine out treats (lattes and Sunday night tea) by giving myself a home pedicure and paying for those out of the “Hannah” category, not the “restaurant” category– so perhaps when the kids get allowances they will blow them all on cake pops and Yogurtland.
Regardless, here at the halfway mark in the month we have only used 25% of our restaurant budget. I am a pretty lame budgeting nerd because I am excited about the prospect of what to do if we don’t use it all by the end of the month– roll it over to next month? Have a family lunch adventure? Additional date night? Distribute it to other budget categories? A little restraint here has the potential to lead to more possibilities down the road. This is why I get excited about budgeting.
Turns out I’m just keeping up with the youths:
…millennials tend to spend their dining dollars sparingly and in a more calculated way.
“People have talked about health and food for a long time, but I think millennials are acting on that information in different ways,” Mr. Pace said. “They want healthy food, but it also has to be interesting food that tastes good.”
I am pleased to report a smashing success in this challenge so far, although it has not been without its difficulties.
Jeff took the boys out to In-n-out last Saturday and texted me apologizing, promising to take his lunch to work twice the next week to make up for it. I was like, ha ha, I win, because I had factored in one weekend boys’ meal out when doing the budget (it was a planned out in the original challenge).
Of course, the next day I was not so smug because Jeff offered to take the boys for a haircut- which they Pavlovianly associate with a Yogurtland trip after. Fortunately for all of us there was a four hour long congregational meeting at church Sunday afternoon, making the tough call of saying no to Yogurtland unnecessary. (Never has anyone been so excited about four hours spent debating the merits of using the accrual vs. cash system of accounting! I still don’t know what either of those are but boy do people have opinions.)
The rest of the week turned out to be pretty smooth sailing. James ASKED to get a cake pop and the boys brought up the idea of supper in a restaurant quite a lot but I just smiled and said no. So far we are 6% in to our restaurant budget category with 3 weeks to go. Nice work!
(Next week is partly a big cheat- we are visiting family- but I am going to try to not get any airplane/airport snacks or treats, which I anticipate being even harder than saying no to the suggestion of Mulberry Street pizza for dinner.)