Fool.com: Shopping for a Change (Fribble) July 19, 2000

Fribble Shopping for a Change

By Joann Floyd (TMF Hunzi@aol.com)
July 19, 2000

I went shopping for groceries today. Not something I expected to write about. I went to the commissary on the nearby Air Force base. My husband recently retired after 20 years in the Air Force, and commissaries are the grocery stores on base.

Since they don't have a profit motive, they tend to be a little less expensive than the local commercial stores. I live around 15 miles away, and years ago I had become disenchanted with shopping there. But I peeked in a few weeks ago and discovered they had made some pretty big improvements, so I decided to give it another try.

So there I was, cruising the aisles with my little metal grocery cart. I made notes of all the improvements, comparing prices to the place I shopped before. It seemed like the stock was better, and the produce no longer looked like they beat it with a baseball bat before they set it out. I noticed it seemed less crowded than I remembered. I liked all the improvements.

Still, there seemed to be something different. I wandered around the store, trying to figure out what it was. The wider aisles? The better lighting?

Then it hit me. The change wasn't in the store. The difference was in me.

Flashback:

During most of our lives as a single-income Air Force family with two kids, we had lived paycheck-to-paycheck. I would sit down two days before payday, sort through the bills, struggle with how to pay them all and write the checks, and get everything ready to be mailed on payday. The grocery cash was the last thing on the list. If we had a higher than normal bill anywhere else in our expenses, the money came out of the money set aside for groceries. If that meant we ate Ramen noodles for two weeks straight, so be it. We were too proud to ask for help. We got in the situation through a lack of financial planning, no emergency fund, and several family emergencies. We were in debt to our eyeballs, and had no clue how to get out.

So when I'd go to the commissary on "pink check day," the day before payday, I was always armed with coupons and a calculator. I tracked every penny that went into the cart because I knew I didn't have much cash left in the checking account.

The store was normally packed that day with other families doing the same thing. It was crowded. There were often empty shelves for popular inexpensive items. The produce left, by the time I got there, looked a bit abused. I would shop, list in hand, coupons and calculator ready to compare every item for the best value.

There were many, many times I had to make a small amount of cash go a long way until the next payday. We bought lots of macaroni and cheese. We ate the cheapest reduced-price, frozen hamburger. There were times my calculator said I had to stop long before the list was fully checked off. I remember the pit in my stomach, especially when we had diapers and baby things on the list, from worrying how I was going to cover the basics. I was stressed.

Flash forward to the present:

Last night I had sat down, sorted through the bills, examined the budget and wrote the checks, and prepared everything ready to be mailed. It wasn't payday. We have a rainy day fund to cover unexpected expenses. We have reduced our debt, and soon will have the credit cards all paid off. We live below our means and gave up a few frivolous things along the way. We have money in our checking account. We're learning about 401(k)s and IRAs. We have a financial roadmap and know where we want to go.

Now I know what was different in the store. I was no longer afraid as I zipped down the aisles. We may not have yet achieved our goal of financial independence, but I have something more important. Financial peace.

Always ;-) Hunzi