Mommy's Secret Slush Fund

by Keenan McGrath
Originally Published: 

What does a woman who has based her lifestyle on the acquisition of nice things do when she finds herself on a budget?

Remember the days when you could plonk yourself down in the manicurist’s chair at the slightest chipped nail? When you didn’t bat a designer-mascaraed eyelash at the price of a full head of highlights? Remember when a new pair of fashionable sunglasses was a seasonal must-have?

Those were the carefree days of youth, when money was for spending and retirement wasn’t even a speck on the horizon. Now saddled with the responsibilities of adulthood, the finer things have been replaced by IRA contributions and mortgage payments.

It’s even worse for a mom, staring at gnarled cuticles and two inches of dark roots, feeling guilty for pampering herself when there are school supplies to buy. (I, personally, see hair maintenance as the “cost of doing business, ” and insist it be budgeted in the household necessities, but I’ve never been able to make handbags fall into the same category.)

Unfortunately there are times, like when the dentist tells you that your 6-year-old is most certainly destined for braces, or your 15-year-old air conditioner dies in mid-July, that dropping a couple hundred bucks from the family fund on new jeans, feels slightly selfish (even if they do make your butt look a full size smaller). When depriving myself for the family had me on the brink of a fashion disaster, I discovered the secret to financial happiness…right at the cash register of my grocery store.

It has already been established that I cannot walk into the grocery store without spending $100. I might only have 3 items on my list, yet somehow I will leave with a cart full of food. The digression usually begins in the gourmet cheese department and is fully off the rails by the wine aisle. Sufficed to say that I like to graze around the store, and if my husband were to look at the receipt later, he would roll his eyes and carry on unpacking the bags. The “you spent how much at the grocery store!?” argument is old news. It’s a fight entirely too boring to have again. Same with Target, there’s just no point, these stores just have things I need to buy, you aren’t going to stop me, so don’t bother trying.

But now I’ve placed a savings plan on my grocery trip that has made all the difference. You know when you pay with your debit card and the little machine asks you, “Would you like cash back?” Well yes you would! Just $20 is enough to get you started. Now you must go directly home and place the $20 in a safe spot. One hidden from all the prying eyes and wandering fingers in your house, and that you don’t look at very regularly either so that you basically forget it’s there until you go to the store and the machine asks you again, “Would you like cash back?”

For a solid month I took $20 cash back every time I went to the grocery store for anything at all. At the end of the month I had nearly $200 in my secret kitty. What does that tell me? First of all that I visit the grocery store entirely too often and I should really get myself organized so that for once I come home with every single thing I need (and only a few things I do not…like mayo, always mayo?)

But most importantly I learned that I didn’t miss the $20. You know when you find money in the back pocket of jeans you haven’t worn in a while and can’t remember when you even had that cash? It’s like found money that you never knew was lost, and when it’s finders-keepers, you don’t have to share! And anyway, what’s $20 but a fee for buying, hauling and unpacking those groceries in the first place? I figure, if it’s going to cost me $100 to pick up bread, milk and eggs, it might as well cost $120, with a little deposit in mommy’s secret slush fund for good measure.

Just think what a trip to Costco would be worth! Standing in line for a half-hour to pack my own boxes with 80 tubes of Go-gurt and 100 juice boxes ought to be worth at least $40, and since I can’t get out of Costco for less than $300 that’s just a drop in the bucket! My bank account will never know the difference.

Look, this isn’t about hiding money from your spouse, though there is the added bonus of not having to, yet again, explain the value of seaweed body wraps. The truth is I’m hiding the money from myself because if there’s money in my bank account I’m gonna spend it, mostly likely on something from Target, and almost certainly on one of the two adorable pet leeches that call me “Mommy” and always seem to need new shoes. I finally realized that because I love those little money-suckers there will always be something they “need” that I would buy before something I “want.” At that rate I was never going to get a massage again in my life and for God’s sake I’m a mother not a martyr!

So I started stashing my grocery store twenties, and after a few months I checked my kitty and discovered I had enough for a spa day! Look, if it put a strain on the family it’s always right there to return to the community fund, but if no one notices the difference, then I head to the mall!

If you’re feeling especially benevolent use it for a birthday gift for your honey or a donation to your favorite charity. Sometimes I save for Christmas in March and then go on a cosmetics rampage in June. Oh well, I can start saving again immediately because if there’s one place you can be sure to return, it’s the grocery store.

Whatever splurge your little savings account affords, it’s 100% yours to decide and 100% guilt free! Looks like I can have my new sunglasses this season after-all.

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