Category Archives: budgeting

Creating a Grocery List Based on Weight

Ordering toilet paper was an easy enough task. Getting my sister to purchase the case of copy paper wasn’t too hard either. As I looked over what was left on my shopping list, it still felt incredibly heavy. I don’t know what my towing limit is yet, but I know I was not able to drag Oliver and Avery out of the 10th Street aqua-duct during Critical Mass last month. They weigh in at about 70lbs total. Trailer weight, bike weight, diaper bag and waters…it’s getting near 100lbs, probably more. Now add groceries like kitty litter, potatoes, milk, flour, and blocks of cheese. Good grief.

 

Family Fun

Several friends that have asked the question, “Don’t you need the van, there are six of you?” have received the reply, “We rarely go any where all together, except the grocery store, and we don’t have to go together.” It’s true. We are one of those annoying large families that have to bring everyone to the store. It’s not that we do this every single time we go. Most often, Brent goes with very clear instructions and I am disappointed when he returns, but not so frustrated that it was worth me going instead. Sometimes I go alone or with the little boys, but always come home so frustrated that I send Brent the next time, and the time after that.

 

Then there are the trips that I enjoy the most, the ones where we all go. I get to pick out exactly what I need, for the price I want to pay and pair it with the right coupons. Brent and the children will sometimes go get things I forgot on the other side of the store and I have good company, which is really what I like.

 

It should then come as no surprise that we all went to the store on our bikes this morning. Not the best of logic, but a good time none the less. Great exercise of course, good company and an extra strong husband to haul things on his spiffy new 29″ bike.

 

Brent on his spiffy new bike. A GT something or another. 29″ wheels. They are huge.

 

 

The List

I prepared our list the night before, trying very hard to keep it simple and light. We had to contend with space and with weight. Here’s my original grocery wish list. Those things crossed out did not get purchased because of price, space, or weight, and were based on importance to our survival this weekend. The actual amounts purchased are in red.

  • milk 4 half gallon plastic jugs
  • bread 4 1lb 8oz loaves whole wheat
  • beer
  • alternative milk (almond, soy, coconut) 1 half gallon cardboard carton
  • popcorn 1 2lb bag of kernels
  • small oranges
  • bananas 1 bunch of 8
  • apples 1 3lb bag
  • cat litter 1 3.5lb bag
  • onions 3 large yellows
  • sweet potatoes 4lbs
  • mozzarella 1lb 8oz
  • couscous
  • oils about a quart of each olive oil and coconut oil in plastic
  • pastas 2lbs of whole wheat egg noodles
  • Parmesan cheese 8oz wedge
  • turkey pepperoni
  • bar soap for laundry 2 bars
  • hotdogs and buns
  • peas, frozen 2lbs
  • tuna 4 small cans
  • nuts
  • ginger root
  • diapers 1 package of 27 paper diapers

I also threw a couple jars of peanut butter into the cart because they were a good price and we eat a lot of peanut butter.

Total Weight Estimated: 38lbs, does that add up right?

 

Hauling it Home

We knew everything had to fit just right so I asked the cashier if I could bag my own groceries. I didn’t think she would object, but I didn’t want to put any union workers out of a job either. I was also concerned about the bread. Last time it came home all smashed. I put the litter, diapers, onions and potatoes in my back pack. Everything else went into the trailer with Avery.

 

The nearest Kroger is 2.5 miles from home and they don’t have a bike rack. Might need to write a letter to the store.

 

The goods.

 

 

Bagged and ready to load.

 

 

We loaded up the trailer, unlocked all the bikes and helmets and put everyone in their places to head for home. We had one more stop to make. Our eggs were supposed to be picked up on Tuesday evening but we didn’t get out for various reasons. So we stopped by the rendezvous porch and tucked our three dozen eggs and four bundles of basil into the trailer.

 

Where the sidewalk ends on 1st St going toward PATH.

 

Coming out under 8th Street riding toward Ritter Park.

 

Very sleepy Oliver and London with eggs.

 

The ride back to the house is always more exhausting. Not just because of the added weight, but because we had already covered 2.5 miles and as the world turns, the sun’s heat intensifies. Then there is that slight grade change. The last two roads are uphill just enough to make my chest hurt. Two hours, 5miles, 40lbs, and ten degrees later, we were home.

 

Approaching Hal Greer. Loaded trailer, exhausted London.

 

The soft and smashables. Weepy basil, we wait too long to pick up.

 

Cold goods, still cold on the left. More heavy stuff on the right.
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Why Car-Lite?

We have lived in Huntington, WV for five years now. It was a good transition for us from Buckhannon, WV. The whole family took well to having a variety of things to do each and every day with other parents and families. I was able to find a MOPS group, a Mother’s Club and great libraries. There were a plethora of wonderful parks, many grocery options, an art museum, theaters, dance companies, a river, swimming pools, and of course, we had a good neighborhood with a school playground right around the corner. Every day there was something on the calendar for my pregnant self and my two children, then ages 4 and 2. We were movers.

 

Being new to a community requires a lot of effort. It’s hard work getting to know your resources and amenities. Combine that with trying to make new friends and relationships and it gets very emotional too. We settled in nicely here after all this time. And it has been a long time for us too. Before this house in this city, we had been moving to a new address every year, sometimes across state lines and twice between time zones.

 

How and Why are we choosing to Drive Less NOW?

Because we have such a wonderful network of friends, because we have a small, locally accessible community with good resources, because we have a moderate climate (by my standards), because we have some public transit, because my children are ages 9, 7, 4 and 19m, because we live less than two miles from both the children’s school and Brent’s office, because we have done it before (although with fewer children), and because we just needed to cut our expenses somewhere, I feel that we can live as six with just our old 2000 Cavalier.

 

Today a good old friend whom I hadn’t seen in well over a year, stopped in for a visit with her two young children. The issue of me trying to sell our van came up, as I sort of urged it to. I need a buyer, and I will keep talking about it till one comes along. She asked me all sorts of questions about the situation. Here is my paraphrased Q&A:

 

  • Why are you selling your van, isn’t it a necessity with four children?
    • Our motivator was trying to make sacrifices to live within our means. We had already given up our cell phones and tightened our budget in other areas. We were all set to sell our home earlier this year and move somewhere cheaper and smaller and then it occurred to me that I would rather sell the van than the house. We are keeping the car and five of us can fit into it, so this was a good compromise.
  • What about when you need to go out of town?
    • We may rent a van, or we will decide if we won’t go. It will be a matter of necessity. We are also fortunate to have a Greyhound and Amtrak station downtown. I heard talk of a car share program at Marshall University, but I don’t know what’s become of it.
  • What about in the winter?
    • The way we see it right now, we will either grin and bare it or we might just give up in January and buy another van. I am far more likely to like cold weather than the 90 degrees we have tolerated this July, it is the snow that concerns me. I do like that we are keeping the car and we have the option of just not going places sometimes.
  • If you get a new van won’t you be paying more?
    • I hope not. My logic, as flawed as it may be, says that if I could sell a six year old van with 90K miles for $11K, then I ought to be able to buy one for that price if I need to. Since we have been making our payments now, I would hope to be in a better place in five months and be able to make them then too.
    • Selling the van is also part of a larger picture. By selling the van and taking the proceeds to pay off our balance then use the remainder to pay down our second mortgage (combined with the extra income we are getting this summer thanks to Brent’s many many hours of labor) we will be able to have a home value to loan amount ratio under the 80% needed to refinance our primary mortgage. It’s a plan that may or may not work, but I have given myself till January to put all my efforts into it.
  • We don’t live in a big city. This is the sort of thing people do in NYC or Chicago, you can’t just walk and bike every where. Maybe you should just keep the van and try living without it for a couple months.
    • That’s what we have been doing. We have been weaning ourselves from the need to drive everywhere. We use the van one day a week for errands and we have been using it one other day for tennis, but I think we solved that trouble with the bus. We have had other things arise where using the van could have been avoided, but it is still in the drive way so we have used it. For instance, a couple weeks ago Brent’s group that he is working and living with, was an hour away so I took the children to see him. Family time is very important. I had saved enough gas from our fill up in late June to get us to Charleston, WV on July 9, where we tanked up and I still have 3/4 left. Good thing too, because we are going back to Charleston on Saturday to pick him up.
    • We don’t live in a big city, but everything we need is less than four miles and we are keeping the car. I am not saying this will work long term, but it is the catalyst for the financial change we need. I see it as something we can try for six months and evaluate.

I really like answering questions about what we are trying to do. I see it as a way to analyze the situation and get some perspective. Perhaps we are crazy and this won’t work. Where do you see this whole thing could go wildly wrong? What other choices do we have when it comes to saving money?

 

I did talk to my friend about how my husband doesn’t want to spend three weeks working away every summer. He doesn’t want to work after the children go to bed until the wee hours of the morning on extra projects. He wants to spend time watching them grow. I want to maintain a budget that sets him up for one job with one salary and the time he desires. I want to grow a healthy financial future for us all.

Car-Free vs. Car-Lite

Brent and I had a heated debate about the purpose of not using our van this month. It really was all my idea and we do have two vehicles sitting out there in the driveway that can be used. Some of our reasoning for going Car-Lite can be found on this blog’s car-lite family page. Here are the specific reasons for not driving our car for the month of August.


By the Numbers

There is a significant financial savings gained from keeping those vehicles in the drive way. Here are two charts I have kept on Mint.com. The first graphs our insurance, fuel and loan payments as well as any maintenance expenses. The second shows just our gasoline expenses.

Gas Only

 

All Auto Expenses Combined


I really thought July would have been a lot lower in gasoline. I only drove the van one day a week for errands. Then I remembered we paid for the gas for both trips to Elkins for Brent and we went to Charleston three times in one month. It adds up quick. June looks more accurate for what our expense would be if we reduced our driving, but we drove to Charlotte that month too, so I guess this is just a real life snap shot. It’s not reflecting any extreme measures, but more of our transition to using the van less, but also driving it when we had to.

 

What I get out of these graphs is that we spend, on average, $600 each month for our cars. I took a huge measure to knock out half of that expense by paying off the van loan today. After I get the title I will call our insurance company and reduce the coverage to liability. Maybe we will have a little less green on those charts in a couple months.

 

Different POV

The second thing I did was revisit the issue of selling the van. I see selling it as a way to drag ourselves out of the pit of debt that has consumed me and my family for the past decade. With it’s sale I can put more money toward more debt, and there is plenty of it, debt, not money.

 

Brent and I do not agree on this issue. The van still represents a lot of freedom and security to him. It’s a huge pain in my ass. I am doing just fine to not go anywhere far or anywhere at all. I have learned to tolerate the heat and take each incline on the bike one stoke at a time. I have been whittling down our errands and bringing our doctors closer to home. Brent is scared of the car traffic and having the children out on the roads. He’s concerned about the expense of buy a new van later and putting money into the Cavalier to keep it running. I should really ask him to weigh in on all his concerns here. They are very valid, but I just don’t see that as reasons to not try our hardest to pursue this route to financial freedom, however long it may be.

 

He brings up that renting a car will be more expensive; a minivan was running $100/day last I checked. I counter with, “where are we going?” He doesn’t know. Then I bring up the hope that Marshall University will get the ZipCar program they discussed last year. It would be a compromise in price and convenience of having a car. I should call them soon about this possibility.

 

Brent is concerned about school pick up. What if the baby is sick or napping and Brent’s in class and the children need to come home? I think we know enough people who would be able to bring them back or stay with the baby while I go out to get them.

 

Then there is the, “What about the weather?” Again, I don’t know exactly. We don’t have extremely rough winters, by my standards. The winter that Avery was in the hospital for two straight weeks we walked in snow nearly every day and it was fine. The roads were clear enough to drive, so the same roads should be clear enough to bike? Walking is still an option. Not going is still an option. The bus in an option.

 

There are many single car families in town. There are several folks we know who commute in all weathers by bike. I am sure there are many people in town without cars, but I only know of one. Finding out their solutions is also on my research list. I feel that each challenge is one to be overcome, not one to be answered with the mini van.

 

Car-free vs. Car-liteĀ 

Many people and families live without cars. Many people also live car-lite, by which I mean, they have a family with one car and make do, or drive less. I will make a list of them all later.

 

I do not plan to live car-free. After this month I intend to drive the children to school in the morning. I still think we will be doing our grocery shopping by car. For August, I want to see how much we can do without the car. I want to strip away the dependency on the vehicles and see exactly what we need them for. August is a good month to try this experiment. Two of the children start school on the 15th. Brent starts back to teaching on the 22nd. Avery starts preK on the 22nd as well. It will give us time to figure out how to get around in the early weeks, then add a week of commuting to school with two big kids, then a week of commuting with three. There will be a week of getting everyone home by first taking up two and bringing home four, then a week of taking up one and bringing back four. It’s sort of a step it up program in bike commuting, up hill, with children.

 

We may discover that I can get a lot of grocery shopping done when it’s just me and Oliver and we can load up the trailer and bring it home and put it away with no extra little bikes and bikers to take out. We might find out that the children love biking to school so much they are easier to get up and out the door in the morning (I can hope). Our regimen might provide us with enough exercise that we won’t be paying for soccer, basketball and swimming this year (more savings!). The children may sleep better and focus on homework with more intensity. Maybe Brent will like that I can’t call him home to pick up the children because the baby is napping and he will get more work done. There is the possibility that we will save enough money that Brent and I could date regularly again, something we gave up with the budget crunch of 2009. I see a lot of great things coming from not driving this month.

 

It may be that we hate living without our cars and we miss going to, I don’t know, Target or friends out of town. Traveling with out our van in the rain and snow might be a complete bear. Perhaps someone gets hurt and we immediately sell our bikes and swear off leaving our home ever again. Dramatic? Perhaps. I just wanted to give some weight to ideas that might swing a bit further in the direction of car usage.

 

A Verdict?

We will keep our vehicles for now. Until we know what we need them for and which one to keep. Sometimes I think we should give away the Cavalier and keep the van. Other times I think sell the van, keep the car. Then I have moments of give away the car, sell the van, good ridden to them both. We would give away the car because it was given to us and it’s not worth much more than the satisfaction of knowing someone who needed it would be using it. One last idea is to donate the car, sell the van and then later, six months, a year, or when ever, buy a crossover vehicle that is better on fuel, seats six and is less than $10000 that we can pay for in cash.

 

It’s certainly a lot to think about.

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