Don’t Feed the Alligators

A Personal Finance Blog from a Small-Scale Landlord’s Perspective

Archive for February, 2008


Editor’s note:  I am away on business in New York, and so I introduce Mrs. MITBeta, ScrapperMom, who has volunteered to write a guest post in my absence.  I hope you enjoy what she has to say!  — MITBeta
Do you ever feel like all you do is throw away produce that has since gone bad? Are you eating Ramen Noodles even though you have long since graduated from college? Is your pantry full of food, yet there is nothing to eat??

If you want to save money, throw out less or no food, and eat healthier, then the following tips should help to accomplish those goals. It does take a little bit of planning, but in the end, like budgeting your finances, planning your meals and food purchases will also bring great rewards.

Write a list of the meals you are planning to make for the week.

I find that if I plan all my meals on the weekend I am more likely to eat what I have in the refrigerator. It only takes about a half hour to do this and will save you a lot of time mid week (think laying out your clothes the night before). This list can and should include any leftovers you may have. Also, each meal does not have to be unique. You can plan to make a big pan of lasagna for you and your husband and eat that all week for lunch. If you plan for this you won’t end up buying cold cuts at the market and having them go bad when you don’t eat them. The Organized Home website has a great form for weekly menu planning.

Buy on sale.

Base your meals on the sales flyers, which typically come out on Thursday. For example if chicken is on sale this week, plan meals with this in mind. We will talk more about how you can utilize a 3 lb package of boneless chicken or ground beef in Part II.

Use the grocery game or a price book.

A great way to save even more money at the store is to buy things at their cheapest price. The stores put all their products on sale in cycles, you just have to be savvy enough to buy them only when they are at or near this low price. This means you need to change the way you shop. By stockpiling your pantry you can eliminate the need to buy things at the last minute when they are at their highest price. A price book can help you determine what a good price is on each item you buy. The Organized Home also has a great article on making a price book if you want to go this route. This is a time consuming method though and for a cheap price you can play the Grocery Game and essentially have someone else tell you when to buy certain items.

Seasonal Shopping.

We all love the fact that you can get strawberries year round but if you try to eat seasonally you will win financially. Eat foods that are available in the winter months to make stews, pot roasts…. In the spring look to leafy greens… In summer, fruits and squashes… In the fall, carrots and sweet potatoes. The World’s Healthiest Foods has a great article on Seasonal Eating.

Shop on the exterior of the store.

This is more of a tip for healthy eating, but processed, prepackaged foods can add up in the long run. By shopping around the exterior of the store you are only buying the fresh ingredients; produce, meats & poultry, dairy, seafood and grains. Although the fresh foods due tend to be more costly, in the end eating healthy foods will be a benefit to your health and that saves money in other ways.

Don’t shop on an empty stomach!

This one should be a no-brainer, but I am still guilty of it as well. If you are not hungry (try shopping after lunch or breakfast) you will not be tempted to buy snacks and other items you may not need. You also may be able to avoid a stop at the in-store coffee shop, which is becoming more and more common!

Check out the day old bakery items.

I find great deals here. Usually the bread is still very fresh and if you plan to use it that night you can get the items half off. I also like to buy French and Italian bread on sale to cut and freeze for French toast. It doesn’t need to be fresh for this use anyway.

So head out to the store armed with these tips and tricks and watch the savings add up. It becomes a fun and addictive game to see how much your bill will decrease after they scan your rewards card and coupons! I find I average at least $25 to $35 worth of savings at each trip using the tips listed above.

Editor:  So what do you think?  Do you have any tips for saving on groceries and other food items?  Share them with us in the comments section.  Interested in writing a guest article here?  Send me an email.

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A young reader writes:

“My husband and I got got into an argument after I paid a bill that he says he was going to pay. Since we keep our finances separate, what’s a good way to manage our combined bills?”

Firstly, let me tell you how my wife and I handle our finances, and then I’ll give you some ideas about what you can do in your present situation.

Mrs. MITBeta and I have combined accounts for all of our banking and credit accounts. Both of our paychecks get deposited into our Money Market account along with rent that we collect from our investment property. Our budget is set up such that all of our fixed bills are paid out of our Checking account. Periodically I make transfers from Money Market to Checking to be sure that all the bills are covered (remind me to automate this…). Our discretionary expenses — things that we don’t have to spend money on but choose to — all go onto our rewards credit card. This balance gets paid monthly out of Checking. Additionally, the following accounts are all held jointly:

  • Mortgages
  • Car Loan
  • Some other credit cards
  • ING Direct Savings Account

The only accounts that we own individually are my remaining student loan, our 401(k) accounts, and obviously our Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs). Read the rest of this entry »

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Now that you have Stopped Contributing to the Problem, Reduced the Cost of Debt, and Freed up Some Extra money, all as outlined in Part I, and then picked a Strategy for Paying Down Your Debt in Part II, it’s time to look at the third and final installment of this series for Caveats, Tips, and some glimpses of what’s to come here at Don’t Feed the Alligators.


  1. In Part II, I used a mix of consumer and investment debt to outline the various kinds of debt reduction plans. In reality, these two types of debts are not created equal, and as such should not be treated in the same way. I generally would not advocate including things like mortgage and student loan debt in an aggressive debt paydown plan without first carefully evaluating your current, near term, and long term situation and considering whether your money might work harder for you elsewhere. This is on my list of topics for future exploration here.
  2. I have made no adjustment to the paydown plans listed in Part II to account for the tax advantages of deductible interest payments. For example, a student loan with a 6% interest rate only actually costs something like 5.1% after taxes for someone in the 15% marginal tax bracket, and even less if you can deduct it from your state income taxes as well. So if you have a credit card with a 5.5% interest rate then it should be above the 6% student loan in your debt paydown plan.

Read the rest of this entry »

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In perusing the articles, comments sections, and forums at a number of Personal Finance blogs, I have developed a theory that I like to call the “Credit Card Continuum.” This theory is that everyone travels an arc of credit card use populated by a number of different stages. Credit card users can get their start on the continuum at any point, and move towards any other point at any time. Generally speaking, however, I would suggest that most people do not move far past the left side of middle after having inhabited the right side.

Here is a graphic that I put together to help visualize the Credit Card Continuum:

Credit Card Continuum

The Continuum is an inverse curve. All categories to the left and right of center represent credit users, the left side bad, the right side good. The lower down the curve you go, the more credit that’s used.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Now that you have Stopped Contributing to the Problem, Reduced the Cost of Debt, and Freed up Some Extra money, all as outlined in Part I, it’s time to look at the best way to attack the debt itself.

There are a few schools of thought on this. No matter which way you go, you will still need to make a list of all of your outstanding debts. Each item listing should have the outstanding balance, minimum monthly payment due, and current interest rate charged. Separately write down how much extra you can pay monthly towards debt elimination from the extra money that you freed up in Step 3 of Part I. Here’s an example:

Debt Owe Minimum Payment Interest Rate
Mortgage $250,000 $1,539 6.25%
Car Loan $15,000 $445 9.0%
Credit Card 1 $2,500 $100 13.0%
Credit Card 2 $14,400 $576 19.0%
Student Loan $25,000 $271 5.5%

Extra money to put towards debt reduction: $350/month

Read the rest of this entry »

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