My husband and I reflected this week on how this is the one-year anniversary of our financial face lift. Last January, we got really serious about saving money and buying a home. I tracked our spending and we created a budget. We cut our spending substantially and saved up a down payment for our condo.
As I’ve mentioned before, eating out was a huge monthly expense for us. We were just being lazy and taking full advantage of Portland’s foodie scene. Eating out was one of the biggest habits we needed to break in order to really get a handle on our finances. Our food spending makeover went like this:
If our food spending were a pre-op “before” picture, it would be laden with dining out and convenience food items. We didn’t plan meals out in advance. So during the week, when 5 o’clock rolled around and it was time to go home from work, I had no plan for what to make for dinner. This meant that one of two things would happen. Either I would stop at Trader Joe’s on the way home and purchase some really easy meal, or we would just decide to go out to eat. This was literally every night.
Sometimes we’d do a “large” run to the grocery store on the weekend for staples like bread, milk, and eggs. I’d also purchase a pile of frozen Lean Cuisine meals to take for lunch. We tried to come up with some ideas for meals to make while at the store, but since we weren’t shopping from a list or looking at recipes beforehand, this usually didn’t go over too well.
Not only was our food spending inflated because of eating out, I went to the store many times throughout the week–a huge waste of time. Our small meals from Trader Joe’s also cost more than cooking from scratch, and didn’t make enough for any leftovers. So I always ended up buying frozen meals to pack for lunch.
The whole deal was a vicious cycle that we had to break.
Over the past year we’ve dramatically changed these habits. Setting the budget and having a home purchase on the horizon helped motivate us at first. Now, we’re motivated because we are saving for other goals and we enjoy cooking in our new kitchen more. It was extremely difficult at first, but now our new lifestyle is second nature.
Now, we shop once a week. (For the most part… sometimes we still need to run out for something mid-week.) We plan our meals out for the week at home by looking at recipes and then we make a list and head to the store, usually together. We try to keep our spending within the budget we’ve set for ourselves. We still eat out about once a week. And sometimes we grab lunch out on the weekend if we’re out running errands.
Since we’re cooking from scratch, we almost always have leftovers that I pack for lunch. This is great because it saves so much money and is much healthier than the processed frozen meals I used to rely on. The Mr. usually takes a sandwich or some soup.
I actually find that we have so much more time during the week. It’s comforting when 5 o’clock rolls around, because I know I get to go home and I don’t have to leave again. We can just take our time walking our dog and then get started on whatever meal we have planned. I think our dog also appreciates that we stay home in the evening because we get to spend more time with him.
How about you? How do you manage your food budget? Are you different than you used to be? In the midst of changing habits?