Shopping when you live "out in the boondocks"

Country Shopping

by Dollar Stretcher Contributors

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Country Shopping

Do you have any great ideas for young couples who have children and don't live in the city? Everything we need is at least a 10-minute drive away? How do we keep from spending all our time getting the things that we need to live?
Sheryl B.

Find Local Sources

We also live "out in the boondocks" and we love it. We have 140 acres. There are only seven houses on our road. The nearest store is about seven minutes away and it's a family-owned convenience store. To save money, we buy our milk from a local farmer, our produce from the local auction barn (10 minutes away) or from the Amish (also 10 minutes away). Whenever we go shopping, we buy enough to last a month. Then, if we need something like bread, we go to the convenience store. The beauty of rural living is that there are no shopping centers around, you can see the stars and you can hear yourself think without the noise of traffic. Our nearest shopping center is 20 minutes away. Do I mind? Never! And I hope and pray that it stays like this at least until I die, and I'm only 55.

Carpool with Neighbors

To reduce trips, this is what helps us:

  1. Keep a geographical list in your purse or car that is sectioned by North, South, East, West, and Central parts of town, include malls if that works. Put your errands and shopping needs on that list so you do not do any backtracking.
  2. Keep a central house calendar so that each Sunday you can look ahead and know where you will need to be for what appointments. Add these to your geographical list above.
  3. Ask the children at the beginning of each week what they will need for school supplies for projects, etc. Ask your husband too.
  4. Make up a weekly or monthly menu and keep your pantry stocked with at least a week's worth of meals that do not require a trip to the grocery store. Milk can be frozen. Take some out of the top first.
  5. Carpool errand trips with a neighbor. Go together. Also, ask a neighbor if you can get them anything while you are out. They will return the favor and save you a trip sometime.
  6. Know what times of the day that the roads are the least busy and shop during those times. Take advantage of 24 hour stores. Write down times that the bank, post office, etc. are open.
  7. Make a daily errands list. Try to consolidate errands to the same part of town. Try to not go out every day of the week.
  8. Carpool with other people for the children and their activities. Choose their lessons according to how easy or far it is to get there. Believe me, this really, really helps.
  9. Give each trip and yourself 5-10 minutes of "tangle time." This is the time it takes to get your purse straps untangled, your stockings pulled up, hair brushed, find a parking spot, wait for the rain to stop, wait for a traffic snarl to clear, wait for the children who are late getting out of lessons, etc. Tangle time allows us to keep to our schedules so we can get all our errands done.
  10. For home repairs, get two of what you need and keep the receipt. If it breaks while you are installing it or it is the wrong size, then you have saved a trip that day. Chances are you are going back to that store sometime. Put what you don't use in a box with the receipt and put that box in the car.
  11. Use a cell phone to call home to hubby, children, sitter, etc. We don't have one and it would save time.


Make It an Adventure!

A ten-minute drive is a blessing! We drive 15-30 to get to any place for shopping. Of course, the obvious solution is to combine trips. Make sure you never just run out for one thing. Plan your trip so that you can get bread at the day old bread store, pick up the sales at the grocery store, and stop at the bank and the post office on the way (or wherever your errands take you).

I enjoy my errands because I take a child or two with me and it gives me the opportunity to catch up on what's going on in their life, or I pop a book-on-tape in the cassette player in the car and the trip goes by way too fast. Some of my favorite times with my kids have been in the car when you can talk with less distractions. I even think of topics ahead of time, especially if they are the one word answering type of teenagers. Make it an adventure, not a chore!

Learn to Substitute

  1. Stock up on your most used items and keep a running "almost out of" list for the times you do have to go to town.
  2. Learn to substitute. Dry or evaporated milk are not easily tasted in a recipe, and tomato paste mixed with water can substitute for tomato sauce. There are whole websites devoted to substitutions.
  3. Get to know your neighbors. Some of them are in the same fix and you can borrow or even ask when they will be at the store. My neighbors and I know each other's normal weekly schedules and have learned to depend on each other.

Living 20 minutes from the closest grocery store with four children, a husband, and disabled in-laws for 12 years has taught me that these three suggestions are truly lifesavers at times!
Lauren in Louisiana

Grow and Make What You Can

How well I know Sheryl's problem! I grew up in a city, but we moved to my husband's hometown when our first son was 2. I was so used to the city conveniences. I about went into shock when I tried to grocery shop on a Sunday evening and found the grocer was closed!

After 5+ years living rurally, I am loving it. It does take some adjustment. The following tips are good frugal tips that will work for anyone, but are especially good for rural life. All of these can help you avoid trips to the store.

  1. Grow what you can. Start a small garden and grow veggies. When you're low on food or gifts, use your garden!
  2. Make what you can. Make your own canned foods, crafts for gifts, etc.
  3. Make do when you can. It is tempting to run out to the store the second you realize you are out of Mayo. Instead, ask yourself if you have other options. Can you make a different meal? Use mustard only on a sandwich? The same applies to larger issues. My DH has been using a paperclip to zip his jacket for two years now. After he used it to "make do" for a week or so, he decided he didn't need a new jacket.
  4. Plan. Keep a running list of what you need next time you go to the store. Make it a rule that if something was not on the list, you won't make a special trip later. Also, make a master grocery/household list. Check every item against what you have on hand before going shopping. This should help you catch those items you are about to run out of. Keep on hand extra TP, sugar, and whatever else you use a lot.

    Really use your family calendar. Look ahead to see what events are coming up to avoid last-minute gift shopping, and to know what days you'll need quick meals.
  5. Combine trips. You'll use less gas and spend less time in the car if you combine trips. I like to take one day of the week to buy groceries, go to the pharmacy, do my banking, get gas, and run other errands. This is usually on Saturday, since I work full time. This is also the one day I get drive-thru food. But even just stopping at the bank on the way to lunch instead of making a special trip is helpful.
  6. Use the phone and the Internet. Do banking and bill paying online. Call in prescription refills so all you have to do is pick them up. Shop online. Call ahead to be sure that "special something" is in stock before running to the store.

With time, you'll find that you don't need those city conveniences. There are a lot of bonuses to rural living, so dig in and enjoy it!

Make a Day of It!

We live pretty far from anywhere. This is how I keep from feeling like I am running all over all the time. I plan one day a week to do errands. I use the Internet to look at the weekly flyers of the major grocery stores or have my husband stop on his way home from work, just to run in and get the flyers. Then, I plan my shopping list the day before. Right now at McDonalds, happy meals are 99 cents on Wednesdays. So unless someone has an appointment that must be kept on another day, we go to McDonalds for lunch, and the kids (1 and 3 years) spend some time playing on the playground. Another option for this is a picnic lunch. I bring a cooler with two-liter bottles of water frozen into ice to keep freezer items and meat cool from earlier shopping trips.

Our library system has their catalog online, and from my home computer, I can request a big stack of books and have it waiting for me. If the kids aren't tired, we usually spend some time browsing in the children's area.

I make sure to stock up on necessary items so there are no last minute trips to the store, and in a pinch, I can have my husband pick something up on his way home from work. Doing this, instead of making 3 or 4 not-so-quick trips into town, I can get it all done at once, and have a fun outing.

Use Your Freezer

I raised my kids in a rural area and only shopped "in town" twice a month. We did have a local mom & pop store where I bought filler items, but I tried to keep that to the absolute minimum. I mixed regular milk with powdered milk and water (1/2 of each) and made 2 gallons of milk out of one. My kids never knew the difference and it's just as nutritious. I got a group of women together once a week. While our kids played, we visited and baked bread. At the end of the day, everyone had homemade bread to take home and the kids had a great time. I bought a huge deep freezer and kept it filled, so that we rarely ran out of anything. It held all my garden produce! We did go to a local library once a week six miles away, as it was a savings in entertainment. We never had cable. When you feel the impulse to jump in the car and shop, try looking in your own cupboards first and making do or changing the menu to suit what you have. Needless to say, we were a one-income family and I was a stay-at-home mom. Sometimes economizing means a richer, more creative and fulfilling life!

Stock a Freezer

The best advice I can give (from someone who used to live in the country) is to buy a freezer and stock it. When the nearest grocery store is 30 miles away, there is no such thing as ordering a pizza or Chinese food. Rotate the food, first in, first out, so nothing will perish. I personally prefer the standup freezer as the chest type can seem to bury your food and it is hard to reach down to the bottom of those. Almost anything can be found frozen now, including meat, potatoes, fish, pies, etc.

Need Three Things First

We live in the country as well and love it! It is about 20 minutes to town. It's a much simpler life. But, going to town does take time, and with gas so expensive, it costs a bit of money, too. We try to combine trips! This takes planning, but it works pretty well. I try to do other errands when I am in town for scheduled events. We have a rule that we need to have at least three things to do before we can go to town. Also, buying items on the Internet (or catalog) and having them shipped to my house saves a lot of time! UPS, Fed Ex and USPS come down my road daily. It is incredibly wonderful to have the package just brought to my house. There's no driving from store to store just to find it is out of stock. And when I do go to town, I plan my trip to get the most of my time, making stops in order of how I drive by them, finishing up with the groceries so food does not spoil. I also try to have at least one day a week I do not get into the car. It is amazing how much I get done at home! And it is relaxing, too. I sometimes have to be a bit more creative with meals for a day or two, but we don't go hungry.
Dee in Culleoka, TN

Maximize Online Shopping

I would maximize online shopping through your favorite stores or, and take advantage of free shipping offers and online coupons. Stores like Walmart ship online orders to local store at no charge. These items would be paid and waiting for pickup.

Another option is to find a shopping buddy who will take turns with you to shop/drive for each of you. If you find enough shopping buddies, you could rotate trips to suit your schedules.

Wholesale purchasing is another option. Purchase in bulk and stock up for future use. Make jam, jellies, preserve, breads, cookies, pies, etc. and keep dry goods sealed and baked goods well wrapped and frozen.

Planning Is Key

When my children were very young, we lived a good 20 to 30 minutes out of town. I shopped every two weeks, so keeping an accurate list of what I needed throughout the house was essential. I set menus and tallied all household and grooming needs. I kept back-ups of everything from toilet paper to jam and toothbrushes to powdered milk for the times we might run out of fresh. My best investments were two small freezers, one was used for garden produce and the other meat and make-ahead meals.

Once in a great while, we ran out of something. However, with planning, it was rare. Planning is the key, and being stubborn about not running out to the store unless it was life or death saved my sanity and kept us on budget. So make those menus, buy in bulk, and create a spreadsheet for tracking what your family uses.

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