Pre-Fishtailing Joyride, food spending around here was a gluttonous orgy of expensive shortcuts and splurges. The way my partner and I fed our family of four single-handedly kept us from saving enough, let alone aggressively enough to achieve financial independence. So our first step down the path of frugal living was a dramatic food spending overhaul.
We stopped paying others to do what we could do easily ourselves.
Outsourcing much of our cooking, coffee making, and even grocery shopping grossly undermined our well-being. I don’t need to crunch numbers to know these habits cost us many thousands of dollars over the years. It’s easy to get mired in remorse about this spending for which we have nothing to show. Instead, though, we decided to look these bad habits squarely in the eye, make changes now, and never look back.
Out the window went the grocery deliveries! Defenestrated immediately! This service had seemed justifiable because it gave us more time to hang out with our young kids and let them play freely. We frankly also felt tired and wanted to avoid this errand. Quality time together, free play for our kids, and getting enough rest are still priorities, but we can meet those goals in other ways.*
Out went the coffee shops and restaurants too—for the most part. Pre-Fishtailing Joyride, I frequented coffee shops 3-4 times a week; my partner did so twice on most workdays. What can I say, the man loves coffee more than anyone else I know! All this in spite of the fact that we made coffee at home each morning. We also ate lunch out almost every workday. As with grocery deliveries, we did all this with the quick justification that it helped us be the parents we wanted to be by saving time (the lunches) and providing a means of so-called “self-care” (the coffees, not that we benefited from ingesting more caffeine or pissing away our money).
Now I never go out for coffee or food; my partner still does occasionally but keeps it under a strict $150 a month limit. Being great parents and taking care of ourselves are still priorities, but, as with our other high priorities, there are more productive ways to meet those goals.
We got more strategic in our grocery shopping habits.
I took over all grocery shopping for the first several weeks (this might be a permanent change to keep our food management efficient). This helped me get a handle on a strategy for keeping our food spending under $100 a week. The incredibly economical Aldi became our regular grocery store. We also joined Costco. This step cost $55, but we more than recouped that membership fee in our first two trips just by saving money on things we already eat!
We instituted a basic meal plan.
A simple menu made it easier for us get used to our new shopping habits. We don’t follow a precise schedule, but it sure helps to work from an easy, inexpensive meal plan. Here it is:
- Breakfast – Oatmeal with raisins, ground flax seeds, and milk
- Lunch – Salads or leftovers
- Dinner 1 – Salmon (wild frozen from Costco), veggies, and rice
- Dinner 2 – Whole grain nachos
- Dinner 3 – Crock pot chicken with tomato sauce, a grain, and veggies
- Dinner 4 – Quinoa and brown rice pasta with pesto sauce and veggies
- Dinner 5 – Homemade pizza loaded with veggies
- Dinner 6 – Loaded baked potatoes
- Dinner 7 – Frittata with veggies and maybe some leftover meat
The results are in!
We’ve lowered our grocery spending by 1/3 AND stopped eating out. I wrongly predicted that our grocery spending would rise when we cut out all the extracurricular eating. But planning and being savvy about our food choices more than made up for the fact that we now make everything we eat. An extremely rewarding collateral benefit to all these changes has been that we almost never have food waste now, whereas we used to throw out spoiled food more often than I’d like to admit.**
In retrospect, these changes seem obvious and were easy to implement. That means there is plenty of room to develop even more frugal food spending habits! My partner votes for more Paleo-friendly meals, so next we’ll tackle shifting away from the grains and legumes that figure heavily into our current diet without increasing our food spending. After that, I’ll aim to lower our weekly food spending to $90…
* More on those other ways another day! Hint: The other ways don’t cost anything.
** I now realize that anytime we throw something away we should step back and assess whether the consumption that produced that garbage needed to happen, could have happened with less packaging, etc.