Goal-oriented groceries.

Yesterday I filmed my first “Ask A Money Expert” video for MSN Money. I’d done several videos for MSN in the past, but this is a different format: Readers post questions on Facebook, to be answered by people like Jim Jubak and Liz Pulliam Weston. And now by me too, also (as the cat from Mutts would say).

The challenge was giving good information succinctly, since I had just 3½ minutes to answer a trio of questions. I’ll post the link once the finished product is available. In the meantime, I want to talk about one of the responses I gave.

A reader asked for help with grocery shopping: She wants to cut down on food costs but her resolve fades once she’s in the supermarket. I mentioned a few old chestnuts, such as not shopping while hungry, creating menus based on the best deals of the week and making a list of only the ingredients you need to cook those meals.

Then I suggested a different way to write the list: Begin with a goal.

Holding ourselves accountable

Before you write “milk,” “bread” or “ground beef,” write down something else that you really want:

  • Debt-free in 2011
  • Pay cash for our next car
  • Down payment for a home

Halfway down the list, repeat the goal. When you’ve reached the end of the list, write the goal one more time. I suggested it be written in capital letters with a black Sharpie so that it can’t be ignored, or easily crossed out.

Do this with every shopping list, every week. Seeing the goal spelled out should help hold you accountable as to where your money goes.

Our choices have consequences

While I think you should allow for a payday treat, it’s easy to get carried away — especially when you smell the chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the in-store bakery oven. Having your goal right in front of you may help you put things in perspective: Overspending on nonessentials is not getting me any closer to my dream.

Some weeks this might not help. Some weeks we really do want the Doritos, or to buy a rotisserie chicken and a sack o’ salad because we’re too tired to cook.

But we have to remember that choices have consequences. The more work that’s done for us, the less value we get. Money spent on Double-Stuf Oreos is a few more dollars that don’t help snowflake a debt. Frozen mac ’n’ cheese is much costlier than making our own. Those prefab bottles of “all natural” iced tea work out to as much as $13 a gallon. All this works out to money that doesn’t go toward your goals, whether that’s summer camp for your kids or a Roth IRA for you.

Yes, some days we’re just going to say “the hell with it” and buy the cut-up pineapple or the pre-marinated steaks. But if we do that consistently, we forfeit the right to complain about how much longer our months are than our money.

We can’t pretend that our choices have nothing to do with the bottom line. We can’t eat our cake and have it, too. Or, for that matter, our Double-Stuf Oreos.

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  1. Great ideas!

  2. Margaret

    So honest! Thank you for your sincerity. It is really refreshing.

  3. I love this idea. I used to keep a photo of my goals in my wallet right in front of my credit card. It prevented me from buying clothes and other non-essential items on more than one occasion. Just looking at the picture reminded me that money going towards X couldn’t be used for Z. I think your idea is a great one!

  4. FranticWoman

    Good idea and well explained.

    When I quit smoking, and it was very rough to stay quit in the early days, I kept a list of reasons why I should stay quit. Any time I considered buying a pack I would take the list out of my wallet and read it, which brought me back to why I should choose not to smoke. It definitely helped my resolve when I was feeling weak.

    I bet seeing your goal(s) while shopping spelled out could work the same way.

  5. Good Answer! Now we know how you cleaned up on Jeopardy.

  6. What a fantastic idea!! This reminds me of one I read somewhere to create a little paper sleeve for your credit card that has your $$ goal(s) written on it so you have to see them every time you pull out the card.

  7. christy

    To keep spending under control at the Grocery store I do the following:

    Night one: I make a list of what I want.
    then I find coupons for what I want and rewrite the list to work with coupons I have on hand, reconsidering sales and coupon combos that will save more money (www.couponmom.com)
    Night two: I go through the list again and check the cupboard to make sure I don’t have something on the list I already have or can live without. Often I rewrite the list with less stuff.
    Then I force myself to put shopping off another day or two to eat food I already have, use up veggies, fruit etc. Sometimes I find I can put shopping off a whole week by eating omelets or frittatas and soups.
    Most importantly I only take cash with me to the store, well I do have a card, but I don’t reach for it (others may want to leave it at home). I limit myself to $10 for non planned for items, often I find I don’t use that up. Taking cash means I can’t just put stuff in the basket.
    Eat before you go shopping, or at least eat a big (healthy) snack. IF you are full you’re less likely to grab junk food items. I have water with me always, I drink a lot of water. Since I have no desire to pee using the grocery store bathrooms my shopping trips are quick, there, back, no dilly dallying and back home to pee.
    It might come easier for me to stay focused on a budget with shopping as I am a numbers person, I calculate the items in my head as I shop to keep it under the cash I have taken, most cellphones now have calculators too.

    • Good tip about the cellphone calculator ! I’m terrible at/hate math and often quickly give up on calculating the cost of stuff in my head. Now I can use my cellphone to do that tedious business : )

  8. christy

    and I agree, writing what you want, what your goal is, at the top of your list big and bold is a wonderful reminder to not buy stuff you don’t want. I know someone that tied her bikini top into her purse so everytime she opens it it reminds her to stay on her diet and save for her vacation.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Christy: The bikini top in the purse — I love it! What a great reminder.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  9. zzzzzz

    Why just groceries? This idea can work for all kinds of activities that involve spending money.

  10. Loved this so much it made my blog today!

  11. You can have the Double Stuf Oreos! You just have to wait until they are on sale and you have a coupon. 🙂

    • Donna Freedman

      @Karen: I think we should allow ourselves a treat with every grocery trip, if possible. Myself, I prefer regular Oreos — but on sale and with a coupon is definitely the way to go.

  12. Msjbelle

    You rock! I always love and nod my head as I read your stuff.

  13. Msjbelle

    I need to use that method with a picture of me skinny so I can get off my behind.

  14. Donna, you’re FABULOUS ! — Humor, intelligence, expert writing skills — and FRUGAL ! Right up my alley ! thanks so much !

  15. I also keep diced celery, carrots, peppers and onions in the freezer. Great to make quick “Djuvec Rice”. Also keep individual frozen cookie dough and make 3 or 4 in toaster oven – enough to share with hubby and satisfy my sweet tooth.

  16. Spending MONEY – ask myself all the time — do I really NEED this or just WANT this? After a lifetime (50 years) of shopping I have found a LIST is a MUST. I will now add the listing of GOAL/S – – FANTASTIC IDEA – – what an inspiration!!!

  17. Hi, I love garden mags but now that they are up to 9.99 I guess I
    won’t be getting anymore. I saw one yesterday at 11.99 Sick.
    I have a number of subscription that are not being renued. Did
    you ever notice that they keep sending mail to resub. If you are
    carefull you do it without even looking. I finally noticed one it
    is up to 2017. I may not even be alive then. Now I really notice
    exp date and keep the label ec month so I don’t make that mistake
    again. That’s what happens when one doesn’t pay attention.
    Dumb on my part.


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