Several times a year I spot check my spending to see if I am still following my plan, and invariably I see that I am spending more than my ideal on food and sundries.

Recently I decided to examine my “behaviour” before I underscored the amount in red, yellow and green markers.

By checking out “how I did things” as well as assessing “the big picture”, I gained some insight. Here I want to consider (1) how and where we shop, and (2) how we handle overspending.

1. Over the years our neighbourhoods have expanded. What began with the local butcher shop on the corner, to the local “super” market, to many supermarkets and the introduction of online shopping and Amazon. A lot of these stores distinguish themselves in terms of product (organic) or appeal (ethnic) or atmosphere (Pusateri) and price.

With the idea that I wanted to lower my grocery spending, I took the advice of friends who shop at Walmart. Much cheaper than the Superstore, and definitely cheaper than Metro or Loblaws.

I checked out a Walmart in Florida. Just because I was there at the Home Depot next door. This Walmart was in a larger outdoor plaza that housed Target, and some chain Restaurants. I went in and found a few items I needed, including a fantastic pink plastic laundry basket under $10. Yes. Anyway, back to the food. I walked through the isles and ticked Walmart food as a “go”.

Fast forward to Toronto. Went into the local Walmart supercentre and found a different atmosphere. In this store, the isles were closer together, about three times as many people were shopping, and instead of a “greeter” a guard covered the door and checked bags as people left. The floors looked like they needed a good scrubbing but that may have been the tile pattern. I left, I had a plan. There is another Walmart close by in an outdoor mall complex. Shades of Florida, eh?

The second Walmart was not much better. But I picked up some vegetables that were beautiful and fresh and cheap. McDonalds had a coffee shop there and I decided to get a coffee but turned away when I saw the lineup was so long it blocked an isle. I went to pay for my vegetables (in the 1-8 category) and found a cashier without a line up. I went up to her as she was finishing with a customer and asked if she was free. She turned and pointed to a long line up waiting to skew into a handful of cashiers. I had missed the setup. There was no line for 1-8 items or ever handicap. I paid for my vegetables (too cheap to leave there!) and left.

That is my story. Walmart, Loblaws and Metro are all businesses, and at the end of the day these public companies must show a profit to stockholders to thrive. If Walmart is going to offer cheap vegetables and not post a loss, they must make up the difference on another product and/or volume. I saw huge volume pass through cash registers. I saw staff at the registers and I saw long lineups. I saw staff bringing out product, BUT I did not see anyone one the floor assisting customers.

That brought me back to my own situation, and my second point.

2. If I spend more than my budget on groceries, and if I do not go into debt each month, then obviously something else making up the difference, just like Walmart. If that category is a low priority, all is good, just jiggle the budget. For many people though, it is a disaster waiting to happen. Usually savings programs are put on hold. Sometimes the first sacrifice is the emergency fund. Not good. The car can break down, the roof can leak, utility costs can spike. You know I can go on and on. “A wish and a prayer” is not the way to live stress free.

There is a way to balance spending. Always. Sometimes the solution is long term, like moving to a lower cost home, owned or rented. Sometimes the solution is immediate, and simple. Like pack a lunch, lower the clothing budget, eat more beans (healthy) and buy vegetables at Walmart.

What is important: at the end of the month, spend only what you have and plan for the unexpected. After all, then it really is – all relative.

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