Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Buying Groceries with Cash

We attended Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University at our good friend's church over the summer, and while watching the videos and doing the class homework definitely provoked changes in some of our opinions about money, the really great thing about taking the class was the group discussions. We took the class with just a small group of people (not surprising given the remote location where we live, and the church where we are taking the class is 45 minutes away even for us). Attending were us, our friends, another couple, and the couple that run the church (who are our friends parents/in-laws). Apart from the couple that run the church who are obviously older, us and the other 2 couples each have kids that are around two and a half years old - 2 girls and one boy. So we were about in the same life-stage, although one couple is a bit older than us and one couple is a bit younger than us.

We've been keeping track of our spending since before we married, and have been using a zero-based budget loosely based on Dave Ramsey teachings since shortly after we married, so we've slowly learned a lot about money and about behavior around money, so we didn't have huge steps to take during the class since we already had an emergency fund and were already using a zero based budget, but we still let ourselves get as much new information from the class as possible.

The group discussions were likely the part that I got the most from, not the strict class materials. It made me glad that we didn't do the class online like I had been thinking of, since we live so far out. During the group discussions we would often get off topic from the lesson questions, and talk about things like ideas for saving money, living simply, and cooking healthy food. As a result of some of these discussions, last month and this month my husband and I made the switch to using cash for our groceries. Our friends have been doing this now since the class started, and I've seen people blog about doing so numerous other times, so you'd think I would have tried it by now.

But for us, it seemed like grocery shopping was under control - and it was. We had a very small grocery budget, and if we went over, it was near the end of the month, so it just came early out of next month. And by going over, I mean like 20 bucks. After all, with a $280 grocery budget, it's easy to go that little bit over.

(Here is where I need to explain that there are a lot of things not in our grocery budget - dog food, we have a separate line item for it, to the cost of 2 bags a month for our 3 medium/large dogs. Toilettries or basically anything not edible, again, separate line item for those things. In addition, we raise our own eggs, we're currently raising a pig, we grow a larger-than-normal garden augmented by a separate deep freezer, and we hunt and fish (or trade) for a lot of our meat. The money for the feed that we give to our laying hens and butcher pig doesn't come from our grocery budget - we have a separate line item for that food. And the money for hunting licenses & gas for hunting also doesn't come from our grocery budget. So you see, there is a lot that we eat that really is outside of that $280/month (just trying for transparency here!).)

Anyway, back to our actual grocery budget. I read lots of posts about how people were amazed at the change when they switched, but I didn't really think it would be like that for us. After all, we use essenitally cash on our debit card, and know how much we have when we go in to the store, and generally stay within our allocated money each month for groceries.

But the reality was a bit different. I hadn't thought about the effort I put into making sure we stay within our grocery budget. Looking at our receipts, entering debit transactions into our budget envelope spreadsheet, keeping an eye on the grocery amount remaining in the spreadsheet before I go to the store. Having all the available cash right in front of my eyes when I was in the grocery store was just way way easier.

And come the end of the first month, I had only one trip left to get a few things to tide us over into the next month, and I realized that I still had $50 in the envelope! Obviously my spending habits, even with a monthly meal plan that I don't remember being different from previous months, were different using just cold hard cash than with a debit card. So we again took out grocery cash for this month. And I expect we'll do it again next month. Because it's a nice feeling at the end of the month to realize we can stock up on sale items that we'll use next month!

So, long story short, if you haven't tried cash for groceries, and I mean real hard cash people, not a debit card, you really need to give it a try. Say you're going to do it just for one month. Like I did. And then say you'll go back to your old ways, cause they aren't so bad, after the month. Again, like I did. And if you find yourself converted, like I am, then I welcome you to this side of the tracks :) (not that I think there is anything wrong with the other side of the track, I've just realized that at this point in our lives, I like this side better).
So now, we've paid cash for our late honeymoon in Hawaii, and I mean we used cold hard cash while we were there, we've been using primarily cash for our blow money (apart from when we order things online, when we deposit the money back into our account or don't take it out in the first place if we know we're going to order something) and now we're doing cash for groceries.... what next?

What about you? Do you have a zero based budget? Have you ever tried using strictly cash for groceries? Do you have other things you pay for in cash?

Monday, September 24, 2012

Forest fires & smoke

There are many forest fires burning in Washington State right now, 4 of which are relatively close to us. Two of these four are basically under control and out it seems, but the other two are much larger and have several areas either evacuated or on evacuation alert. The amount of smoke in the air is reaching the unbearable level - our mucus membranes are all irritated, and unfortunately the still air which is helping fire fighters fight the fires is not really helping clear the smoke out of the valleys!

The firefighters are doing a great job however, and we see them every couple hours either flying helicopters overhead or driving the water tanker trucks up and down our road. They are filling off an irrigation overflow valve just down the road from us, and driving back up past our place to the end of the maintained road and up the forest service roads to the fire nearest our house. Little M waves every time she sees them, and so far has meritted a water tanker honking his horn for her and a helicopter wiggling his tail for her. She's been having a blast!

Compared to the view with all the smoke, here is what we can normally see west of our house... Mountains? What are those?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Selling our farm products - getting customers

In my post last week about putting myself out there to fill up some spots on our weekly egg list, I promised to share some of the bits I've learned about getting customers. I'm definitely no expert, and I hope I keep learning more and more as time goes on, but here's what I've learned so far.

When we first had extra eggs, I took them in to work and hoped that some of my coworkers needed some. I sold a fair number, but then my hens started producing more than my coworkers could eat. Plus, I hated taking the eggs in and asking if anyone needed eggs - I think it made me feel slightly desperate, which I really wasn't. So then I let people know that if they wanted eggs they could contact me and get some occasionally. I also followed up when I saw people interested in eggs, and made sure they knew that I sold the occasional dozen. We had a regular buyer from the start, but due to distance, sales to her weren't as regular as either us or her would have liked, so that led to another lesson - customers have to be really local to make it work & be worthwhile.

Once we decided that we had consistently enough extra eggs to be able to sell regularly, and once I decided that selling just on an occasional basis wasn't exactly working for me, then we sent out that email. But before that, we had done a lot to prepare our market, to convince them if you will, that we regularly sold fresh good quality eggs for a decent price. We did that by offering a free dozen when we had extra to people who we thought might be interested in buying eggs but that we hadn't reached yet. We asked often enough at work or events with friends that those people knew we had eggs available, and a handful of them purchased from us occasionally when they needed eggs.

My email was pretty straight and to the point. I mentioned how many hens we have, that we feed them organic locally produced feed and let them free-range in our fields and orchard daily, and that they have constant access to a fully enclosed small yard attached to their coop. I told them that they were still more than welcome to purchase eggs from us occasionally, with no pressure or commitments, but that we had a list of weekly purchasers with some available spaces on it.

With our 11 hens, especially lately with one of them invariably broody, we have 4 or 5 dozen extra eggs a week. That means that I feel comfortable having 4 people who want to buy from us weekly, and I think we could likely pull off 5 if we were sometimes willing to give our personal eggs up to ensure that every week we had an extra 5 dozen. At the moment we don't have our list quite full, which actually works out well as we are still able to supply our occasional customers with eggs when they need a dozen, or give away or trade a dozen when the need arises.

Another thing that we would have given more thought if we had more hens and thus more available eggs is to have a sign at the end of our driveway. But we like our privacy and solitude, and just don't have that kind of farm yet. So we've shelved that idea for the years to come, when we might just have more than eggs to offer. What about you? I know some of you shared your strategies to obtain customers last week, and you had some really great suggestions, so check back there if you're looking for more. Any others that come to mind that you'd like to share with us?

Later next week I'll share what we've learned so far about keeping customers, and how careful selection of customers goes a long way towards keeping them around long term :)

Linking up to the Homestead Barn Hop.

Monday, September 10, 2012

On putting yourself out there, farming-wise

Last week I sat down and typed up an email that I'd been squirming over for a little while. I included the email addresses (via bcc to respect my customers and keep their information private) of local people who had bought eggs from us once or more over the past year. You see, we've got more eggs than we can possibly use ourselves, and in the past month we have ended up having more than we are able to sell. We needed more regular customers.

We are looking to develop a list of local people who want eggs weekly or biweekly, which we have put off before now because:

1. we seemed to have enough occasional buyers, and

2. because with our young hens we were still attempting to figure out how many extra dozen we had to sell in a given week and month.

Now that we've kept detailed records of production & sales all spring and summer, we've got # 2 dialed in - we know how many eggs our hens produce and how many our family eats on average. But lately # 1 hasn't been working out, so we've had extra eggs.

We've always had occasional egg buyers, either local friends or coworkers, but none had moved from occasional to regular customers, likely mostly due to us not having a regular customer distribution list, and them not being aware we were thinking of starting one. I was also fairly successful at selling eggs to a local corner store for several months earlier in the summer, but lately they have had enough from their other sellers, and since they buy the eggs for less than I can sell them to direct customers because of the store's mark-up, I haven't wanted to push to be on their regular seller list, if they even had an opening. In addition, I really value the direct connection between farmer and consumer that we get when we sell directly to the people eating our eggs. I know I feel better when I know exactly where my food is coming from, and I love being able to provide that connection to my egg customers.

In the future, as we attempt to move towards a bit more of a sustainable farming venture, we will need a good base of customers for our increasing line of farm-grown & produced products. This requires me to do what doesn't come naturally to me, put our name and our goods out there. Stir up a bit of interest in our product, and get some customers to shift from occasional purchases to being committed to buying from us regularly. Occasional customers are great, but in order to supply some kind of stability to our family as we attempt to shift a bit more into farming, we would love to have a larger regular customer list as well as all of our occasional customers.

Egg production from our hens will fluctuate as the seasons change, as they moult or become broody, as our current hens age, and as we add and remove hens from our flock, so we won't always have as many extra eggs as we did back in the height of this summer with young birds and long days, but having a list of regulars that are committed to buying eggs from us will keep us committed to providing good quality eggs on a weekly or biweekly basis.

My email was pretty basic, letting people know that we had a couple openings on our weekly egg-selling list, and if they wanted to move onto the weekly (or biweekly) list they just needed to let me know, but I was sure to give them a brief update on how our chickens were doing and what they were up to.  Later next week I'll share some more detailed tips on how I went about attaining my customers, both occasional and regular, but in the meantime, I know some of my readers are also small farm owners, or heading along that path. Have you gone out looking for customers? When you were starting out, or as you are starting out, did you let your business grow by word of mouth or have you been a bit more persistent to let people know about your product and it's availability? Did you find it difficult to pointedly ask your occasional customers if they would like to be on your regular list? What part of the customer-getting process do you find (or think you would find) the most challenging?

Linking up to the homestead barn hop!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A busy week of harvesting

Not that the fall isn't normally hectic and overly busy, adding in my week+ of travel isn't really making my schedule any more manageable. However, I'm lucky in that some of the things I most enjoy are some of the things that are most pressing to do right now - work in the garden! Or work in the kitchen preserving the bounty that comes from the garden & orchard this time of the year.

This week so far we've harvested, blanched, cut, and frozen 54 ears of corn, which turned into about 16 bags of family side servings of corn veggies. We've harvested enough dill for seed starting next spring, and there are still lots drying on the plants still down in the garden for use between now and next years harvest. We've brought in most of the apples from our early apple tree and made and canned applesauce to eat with our pork chops this winter. We've harvested what will likely be the last bunch of green beans, then blanched, chopped, and frozen them, adding these last 2 bags to the total tally which is now about 20. I picked & pickled my second batch ever of refridgerator pickles using produce from our cucumber & dill plants, which we've been enjoying nightly since. We've also picked a couple more smoothy-servings of strawberries, although they've already been frozen then added to our bellies!

The pig & chickens have been very happy with the amount of compost snacks they have been getting to munch on, that is for sure! All the preserving has given me a couple of very busy afternoon/evening combinations, but it is such a great feeling knowing that we've grown and preserved so much food from our garden so far this year, and I know there is still quite a bit more to come. Hopefully most of it will wait until later in the month when I get back from my friend's wedding - so keep your fingers crossed that it doesn't frost until after I get back! :)
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...