Friday, April 30, 2010

New Food Allotment Standard

Have you noticed the new packaging for old foods? Lately there's arisen some 100-calorie craze. I think it started with cookies and stuff (I am particularly fond of the Oreo 100-calorie packs). And then I noticed the dried cranberries 100-calorie packs. Now the latest are packages of Kraft processed cheese squares (no, I did not notice that they were processed when I bought them or maybe I wouldn't have - a friend pointed that out). Apparently 100-calories equals something like six bite-sized squares of cheese. I'm wondering what food they'll dole out next in these small amounts.

And what makes 100-calories the magical number? Admitedly, it is a very visible and easy method of portion control. But really, who eats just one 100-calorie pack for a meal? There's everything else that you're not measuring out that adds up fast. Of course, this may be a conspiracy to package all of our foods in little packets and have us eating each part of our meal in systematic 100-calorie bits. Feels a bit Huxlian to me.

Also it runs terribly afoul of the whole green movement. The packaging is a virtual environmental nightmare. Inside each multi-pack box or bag are a half-dozen or so little packages. Yikes! How long before protestors notice and start saying something?

The whole thing has me scratching my head. Does it really work? I suppose when it was just the cookies I was feeling pretty good about myself because I could limit my snacking to a mere 100-calories. And perhaps that's the aim with the cheese bits too - that snackers control how much they munch on cheese. Beyond snacking though, it doesn't make any sense.

Anyone gotten hooked on the 100-calorie trend? I'm wondering if people have worked this new packaging into their diet. Does it work? Does it make you want to buy things because you can eat them 100-calories at a time?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Your Laugh for Today

If you are the mom of a preschooler or have ever been the mom of a preschooler or even just know a preschooler, you might want to check out an essay of mine that is running on their website about some things I've noticed about the perils of public restrooms. You can find it here.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Living on a Budget

Can you believe that my husband and I lived without a budget for most of the past 14 years? How did we do it? Well, I guess we both mostly just tried not to spend much and tried to save lots. It worked fine since our bank balance always stayed positive. Sure, we did have fun and splurge from time to time, but there wasn't a plan for it.

Then in February I read Dave Ramsey's book, The Total Money Makeover. For the first time ever, we spent the month of March living on a budget. At least I did. I'm not sure about my husband. He looked at the budget I prepared and contributed to deciding on the final numbers. But I don't know if he really paid attention to his spending. The good news is, it did seem to work. The numbers mostly balanced at the end of the month (with a little tweaking here and there). So for April we have another budget to live on.

It's definitely been a learning process. Here's what I've noticed so far:
  • if you think that $5 for prescriptions is a totally reasonable amount to budget because nobody. ever. gets. sick. you can plan on at least two trips to the pharmacy in the first week, one of which is for your own allergy medicine that completely blows the budget, even with insurance.
  • pharmacy coupons go a long way in making up for unexpected expenses and after two trips and two good coupons, you may manage to stick to your budget after all. Having a budget means you get to pat yourself on the back for such dollar wrangling.
  • there are so many odds and ends of expenses that you never notice if you don't have a budget. Like yet another field trip to pay for. Or new soccer shoes for your growing fifth-grader. Or that whopping pool club maintenance fee that is due this month, but you weren't thinking about because who in Illinois is thinking about swimming in April???
  • if you have to account for spending only what you have available and it looks tight, you'll become very creative in finding money. Your dining out fund is already drained for the month? Gee, maybe it's time to use that restaurant gift card that's been languishing in a desk drawer. And hey, how about cashing in the credit card reward refund check while you're at it. That counts toward more money to spend, right?
We're only in month two and I can't give any final analysis yet. But it's definitely been an eye-opener living on a budget. I'm much more aware of our household cash flow. And I'm stunned to see how much of our income gets sucked up immediately by all those fixed expenses. Yeesh!

On the whole, it feels good to have a plan. We're on our way to controlling our money better and directing it to where we really want it to go. Sure, you can't change the course of a river overnight, but bit by bit you can channel it in a new direction. That's what I hope living on a budget will do.

Anyone else have thoughts on budgets? Budget or no budget? What do you do?