Feb. 1 = $0 spent
I thought you might be curious how I conducted myself in the money department on Monday - my last day of "legal" spending before the calendar rolled over to February.
I also wanted to answer a couple of questions from readers following Sunday's article in the Work & Money section.
So here goes:
With the $14 and change I had left in January's $50-per-week grocery budget, I stopped at Aldi's on my way home from work and bought: ham, Swiss cheese, rolls, a bag of frozen blueberries, a jar of applesauce, a couple of cans of beans for a future pot of chili and a box of graham crackers. I left paying $14.38.
My next stop was to the post office to mail off two packages. It was an errand I had already put off for several weeks that just couldn't be left undone for another month.
I made a final stop to purchase a small birthday gift that was already two weeks late.
Can you tell I'm used to working on deadline?
I briefly flirted with the idea of having one last spending hurrah at a fast-food establishment but in the end I decided against it.
To keep myself honest, I dumped my remaining coins into the old blue canning jar that sits on our kitchen counter to collect spare change.
The wallet is empty.
Now on to your questions and comments.
Many readers found it hard to believe we spend just $50 per week on groceries during the course of a regular month.
Yes, it's true. No exaggeration.
First of all, I use cash.
At the beginning of each month, I withdraw $200 from the credit union. And when the money is gone, it's gone. I stop shopping.
As I mentioned on Sunday, I shop the sales, use coupons and stock up on the very best deals of the week. I prefer Harris Teeter but will go wherever the deals are. I also shop at least twice a month at Aldi's, where I pick up some of its best produce deals, such as 99-cent whole pineapples, and other staples like oatmeal and canned goods.
But mostly, we are able to limit the grocery budget to $50 per week because of what we DON'T buy.
*We pack our lunches in reusable containers and store our leftovers in glass so I almost never purchase plastic.*I make my own laundry detergent and foaming hand soap.
*We clean with rags instead of paper towels.
*We set the table with cloth napkins and our everyday china, which means you will never find paper plates or napkins on my grocery list.
*We also don't buy bottled water.
*We rarely buy convenience foods.
One reader wanted us to fess up about our cigarette and alcohol use, saying that should count in our grocery budget.
The honest, somewhat boring, truth: Neither of us is a smoker, and we rarely buy alcohol. I will occasionally buy a bottle of wine for a special occasion. And Mr. Dollar Diet loves his Yuengling but can make a 12-pack last a long time.
*And thanks to coupons and the drug store rewards programs, I spend next to nothing on all of our shampoos, soaps, deodorants, toothpaste and other personal-care products.
For the uninitiated this may sound too good to be true. It's not; it really works. My colleague Sue Stock offers a great how-to guide on her blog, Taking Stock.
Take all of those items out of the grocery cart and $50 buys you plenty.
Several of you asked about recipes for my laundry detergent and foaming hand soap. I plan to post both of these, as well as several other do-it-yourself recipes, in upcoming posts.
Finally, one reader reminded me how fortunate I am to be voluntarily curbing my spending for a month. Think about the many folks, she said, who live this way month after month following a job layoff or other financial crisis.
I couldn't agree more.