Lean at Home

Going over the sadness that was our 2008 tax numbers we decided to dig a little deeper and see where our money was burning.

The biggest cash burn was buying groceries. It was sometimes $2500 per month big. Ow. That’s a lot of food and stuff.

Obviously cutting back on that is going to free up some cash right? So what to do?

The one thing I was not open to was trying harder. You know, recommit to less spending; really mean it this time; really really try hard. I hate trying harder more than I hate banks, and that’s saying a lot. I hated trying harder before I started studying Lean.

Ahh Lean. Lean business techniques are the opposite of trying harder and so that’s what we’re going to do.

Lean has all the counter intuitive charm I love. So here are a few things we’re trying:

1. Stop buying things on sale.
2. Pay full price to get small amounts.
3. Aim to have an empty freezer and pantry at the end of the week.
4. Don’t plan ahead too much. Try to have only enough on hand to make a few meals.
5. Run more errands, buy less stuff each time.
6. Cook tiny amounts. Shoot for zero leftovers.

With that mindset we saved a huge amount of money our first week of applying this. The proof for us was when Jennie called me at work to say it was bill paying time and we had a whole lot more cash available than usual. Lean for the win!

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2 Comments on “Lean at Home”

  1. Mark Graban Says:

    I appreciate your efforts to apply Lean principles at home.

    A few questions:

    To point 3, it takes more electricity to cool an empty refrigerator or freezer. Are you considering energy costs? That’s probably nit picking

    To point 5, this only holds true if stores are near by. You wouldn’t drive 15 minutes to Wal-Mart to buy a single can of soda each time. Sometimes inventory is OK if it keeps total cost (including transportation cost) down. The math would work out differently if gas were $5 a gallon.

    Leftovers are OK as long as you consume them. The energy cost of roasting two chickens at once might be the same as roasting one.

    Just being a pest with my questions… keep us posted on your efforts!


  2. munch Says:


    Good questions.

    Concerning point 3, yes it takes more electricity to keep a refrigerator or freezer empty, because no thermal mass exists. Or, so you’d think: putting warm items in the freezer requires a rather large transfer of energy from the food to the atmosphere up-front, so I think any differences in cost will be, amortized, in the noise. But even ignoring that, let’s consider the cost of food which suffers from freezer-burn, and thus must be thrown away. Or, food in the fridge which spoils, which again must be discarded. The cost of food, plus the cost of energy consumed to acquire said food, will dwarf the cost of running a refrigerator/freezer empty. My fridge and freezer are very nearly empty, and my energy bills never exceed $33/month (in San Francisco), with an average of $26/month. Note that I do leave a computer running all the time.

    Concerning point 5, I think a little bit of common sense applies here. If long distance introduces inconvenience, then having a household “warehouse” of goods you rely on frequently certainly makes sense. Using a two-bin system of resource management permits the frequency of store-runs to vary, since you have a one bin “buffer” of whatever goods you regularly consume. So, if your city lacks the property of walkability, a two-bin kanban system fits better. For example, I use this approach to manage my laundry runs, since living in an apartment complex prevents me from having in-home laundry facilities.

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