Her suggestion: "Try raising your annual savings by the amount of money on your X list. That won't limit your style: It will simply, and profitably, limit the things it occurs to you to buy."
Despite falling off the wagon last Friday, my daughter hands her paycheck to me for deposit in her college account. In fact, she's handed over her checks to me since she started working last August, so I really shouldn't complain. Jan. 29: Finally, I've got my shopping down right. I do a quick pantry check (a snap because the pantry is all organized now), check my coupons, and then calculate the bare minimum I will need for lunches and to supplement ingredients I already have on hand to make meals. I spend just $33.54, knocking $9.68 off my total by using $8 worth of coupons and saving another $1.68 by buying advertised specials. The key: Don't use coupons for anything not on your shopping list, or you won't save any money. (And my budget even allows for feta cheese and a bottle of soy sauce. Those soy packets from Chinese takeout I used earlier in the month are gone.)
We're not suffering in the food department. In fact, because the home-cooked meal quotient has gone up and the packaged food way down, no one's complaining. (No bread to go with the chili? I make a batch of cornmeal muffins. Want something special for Saturday brunch? I make a cinnamon coffee cake.)
Jan. 30: The Girl Scout cookie season is in full swing but so far I've resisted those $3-a-box thin-minted, peanut-buttered wafers of joy. Reporter Jim Wyss takes pity and buys me a box of Thin Mints and I am very grateful. Note: This only works once. Though your friends might be willing, anything after that first spontaneous act of generosity becomes mooching on your part.
Jan. 31: I've discovered the magic of compound interest calculators. If, for example, I lop the premium channels off my satellite TV service, I could save $20 a month. That might not sound like much, but calculating just a 2 percent return, if I save that much every month until 2011, I will have $1,207 -- enough to pay for my daughter's books her final year in college. (Moneychimp.com is among the websites where you'll find a compound interest calculator. It also has calculators for portfolio performance, bond yields, capital gains, mortgage payments and so on.)
Feb. 1: I ask my husband to estimate how much we saved in January compared to December. He guesses $430. When I do the calculations, the figure is more than $800. I am shocked. Where did the savings come from? We pared $546 off our grocery store and Costco bills, saved $122 by forgoing restaurant and takeout meals and cut $61.98 by canceling deliveries of bottled water. Even though Ali got sushi, she saved nearly $78 by giving up Starbucks, Jamba Juice, dinner with her friends and the beauty salon. There were also additional savings by staying out of the stores and taking our lunches.
March 1: Now the knives are sharpened and I'm looking for other household expenditures to cut. As I promised, our estimated savings have been deposited in my daughter's 529 college savings account. And we just may try this no-spending plan every other month.
Last week I asked readers whether I should include cleaning supplies and other nonfood items in my weekly $70 grocery target. Most say the budget is already tight, so no. This will give me a little more leeway at the supermarket.