A few weeks ago I was crying to Tim that it was impossible to spend less money per week on groceries even while getting out of debt. I felt like we were already spending as little as we could on just the essentials while still maintaining a meal plan and keeping food in the fridge. “We can’t possibly trim down our grocery budget without compromising our lifestyle standards or starving ourselves.” We were spending over $600 a month on groceries.
Since we’ve been married, we’ve meal planned each week pretty economically. We get what we need, and stick to our shopping list - for the most part. We’re on our own for breakfast and lunch, but for dinner we cook a meal and eat together as a family. It’s part of our evening and some nights it is more extravagant than others. We both enjoy good food, including meat, cheese, freshly prepared veggies and don’t forget the dessert and wine.
The more I thought about how we’ve been doing dinner for the past 2 years the more I realized we’ve been somewhat indulgent. Being indulgent isn’t necessarily a bad thing when it comes to food because who doesn’t like some nice home-cooked meals on a regular basis?
Then it hit me - who says we have to cook a full meal every single night? And if we want to get out of debt by next winter, we sure as heck have to change some of the ways we’ve been eating. With a history of an eating disorder, my treatment plan helped me to “relearn” how to eat balanced meals without guilt which included normal portion sizes at each meal. I knew that what we needed to change wasn’t going to be the quality or the quantity of the food we ate, but rather the types of foods we buy and how we prepare them.
1. Not all food needs to be organic - We were buying lots of organic fruits and veggies. Things with peels or rinds do not need to be organic because most pesticides that are used on them while they’re growing cant penetrate their thick skins.
2. Not all stores are created equal - It takes more time, but we don’t get all of our groceries at just one store. On shopping day, we could hit as many as 4 stores in order to get the best prices on specific foods. For example, Aldi is great for nonperishables, but their produce never lasts more than a day after we buy it. So we get all of our produce at a local farm stand.
3. We stay to the outer rim of the grocery store - this is where 99% of the unprocessed foods are stored. The isles get dangerous for our temptation and our wallet. And mostly anything that is sold in an isle can be made from scratch at home anyway.
4. We use a debit card - this might seem silly because you can get “points” on a credit card for a cash back incentive. But using a debit card makes the concept of using cash much more tangible without carrying around boatloads of cash on you. It allows you to only spend what you immediately have which is the key to getting out of debt.
5. We economize the essentials - if we need cleaners, paper towels, toilet paper, cat food, or any other long-term non perishable, we have to be really conscious of which week we buy it in so that we don’t break our weekly budget.
6. Alcohol - we’ve stopped buying bottles of wine and 6-packs of beer. And we’re just as fun without it! This isn’t to say we won’t have a glass or a bottle when we’re out at a restaurant, but cutting out alcohol at home just for a time has helped us live healthier and loosened some weight on our bank account. A home without access to alcohol is a lot more challenging than we anticipated. We didn’t realize how much we took it for granted when it was always available to us, but it is a luxury we’re willing to put on hold for a little while!
7. We only buy what can be stretched - we rarely buy an ingredient that can used for just one meal. For example, when we buy chicken, we buy a whole chicken. The meat is good for at least two dinners, and the bones can be boiled to make a broth for a soup. And buying a whole chicken is a lot less expensive per pound than buying pre-cut breasts or thighs. It takes more work to prepare, but in the long-run we’re saving.
Spending $400 a month on groceries has allowed us to actually eat healthier because we’re making more intentional decisions about what we’re putting into our bodies. Its a sacrifice now, for financial freedom in the not-so-far-off future! We appreciate everything we buy much more, and were able to choose and use what we buy well—making creative meals and snacks, less waste, greater attention to how we can use different items, and of course greater appreciation for what we choose as fuel!