How Much Stuff Do We Need?

DVDs, CDs, video games, books…how much is enough? I have a feeling that if I could undo every purchase I’ve made in these categories I might be debt free today. Maybe that’s a bit of a stretch, but there is no doubt I’ve burned a lot of money on this stuff. I’ve spent some time over the last couple of weeks going through what I own and figuring out what I can get rid of. If I am brutally honest with myself, I could get rid of all of this stuff- I don’t NEED any of it. If I lost my income and had to figure out how to survive none of this stuff would help- unless I built a shelter out of DVDs and burned books for heat and light. 🙂

Ultimately, there needs to be a balance here. We do need (lowercase need) a few items for entertainment and it is hard to argue with the value of a good book. The problem is our rabid consumerism culture drives us to always buy more and more stuff. If you buy a DVD and watch it 10 times, I’d say it’s a pretty good value. However, if you watch it once or never, what good does it do to have it on your shelf? Is a DVD collection some mark of pride or satisfaction? I imagine that it could be for some people, but it really shouldn’t be. I think the other problem inherent with large collections of ‘stuff’ is that we naturally must put less value in each individual item that we own. If you own 4 DVDs, there is probably a good chance you really like those 4 and you will watch them over and over. If you own 50, how many of those DVDs do you really like? Could you possibly name all 50 that you own? If not, what is the point? What if you could go back in time and turn 40 of those DVDs into $400 that was sitting in the bank right now or being paid toward your debt? I know which I would rather choose, though I probably would have made the wrong choice not too long ago.

So…what is the point of this little rant? I’m trying to practice what I preach and spend some time cleaning out my collections of stuff. Currently, I am spending a lot of time listing things on Ebay and preparing some boxes of things that wouldn’t sell for very much to take to a local used book store to cash in. I have literally found so much stuff that this is going to take at least a couple of weeks, but look for a report later this month on how much cash I’ve turned this junk into and what I will do with the money.

Spending Too Much on Groceries

In the month of August, for two people, I spent $628.26 on groceries. That number does not include eating out or any household items- just food from the grocery store or Target. That was a little under 9% of our net income last month. I’m not sure if that is an unreasonable percentage, but it is the highest dollar amount we have ever spent on groceries. When I see our total debt only decreased by $700.25 over the same month, I see the grocery spending as a major opportunity for improvement this month.

Stupid Things I Do With Food

I buy too much of it. My pantry is overflowing. I have no shelf or cabinet space left. I cleaned out the pantry recently and found food that I didn’t even know I had anymore. The freezer is so full I have to spend time digging and rearranging it when I come home with groceries (yes, I add more food to the already overflowing freezer).

I throw it away. Just last week I threw out about $12 worth of old food from the refrigerator. A couple weeks before that I threw away a rather large amount of food from the pantry because it was expired, though I did not take the time to think about how much money was wasted then. It strikes me as rather ridiculous that I throw away perfectly good food just because I didn’t feel like eating it in time or I was too lazy to do so. It’s not that $12 of wasted food is breaking the budget, but it is a good indication of a problem- and I can tell you that I’ve had this problem for a while.

Smart Things I Can Do With Food

Obviously, I don’t have all the answers, but my first step is to eat the food I have and not waste any! Last week I made a large portion of rice. It was tasty and I had a lot left over. In the past, I would have stored the leftovers in the fridge, maybe have one more serving, and let the rest just languish there for a while until I had forgotten about it and forgotten how old it is- then throw it away. This time, I brought the leftovers to work for lunch and didn’t stop until I had eaten all of it. So not only did I not waste food in the first place, but I saved a lot by using it at work and not eating out or preparing other meals for lunch.

I’ve read a lot of great blog posts recently about spending on food. I’m going to work to implement some of these ideas and see what kind of progress I can make this month. Look for updates in the future.

Here are a few of the great posts I read recently: