So, since I’m not really rolling in cash these days, I decided to try to see if I could cut back a bit in January. Now… my budget doesn’t have all that many things that can be cut, and my landlord didn’t seem too keen on renegotiating the rent. So I set my sight on food costs.
I’d cut most of the eating out and tried to limit my grocery spending to 55 dollars a week, which is quite a bit less than normal.
It seemed like such a good idea. It would force me to be creative, and really shop deals; To make big meals at home, instead of going out for unhealthy treats. Plus if I succeeded I would get to feel like a champion budgeter, a master of the frugal lifestyle.
But somehow, it doesn’t feel at all like I thought it would.
Here are a few of my take aways:
– One of the best ways to save on groceries is to avoid eating meat. I never thought anything would turn this farmboy towards vegetarianism… I was wrong… my new budget cut my meat consumption down from twice a day to twice a week. You know what the worst part of not eating meat is? You don’t get to eat meat.
– Eating cheap is all about lentils, beans, couscous, and quinoa. All things that I really enjoy, but a solid diet of legumes makes my body want to explode…
– Eating grilled cheese (cheese was on sale) 4 times in one week is not appropriate. It does not help my ability to function like a contributing adult (a concept that is shaky on the best of days for me).
– Making fries at home can be a great way to avoid going out for a treat. Learning that I could make fries at home, however, was a horrible discovery. And you know what goes great with a nice plate of fries?…. A grilled cheese sandwich.
– In an effort to avoid indulging my sweet tooth at the local coffee shops I baked a batch of cookies at the beginning of the month. They were a hit with my roommate, and I loved having something around to meet those cravings. So when they disappeared… I made more. And then… more… and then more and then… well… there was not one day in January in which there were not cookies in the house. Financially… not that expensive, but …. I ate sooo many cookies.
One fateful night… I had used up my weekly grocery money and had no food left. I was waiting until the next day to shop. All that was left in the fridge were carrots and pickles. That was dinner.
I was so hungry. I just sat there, in a bad mood, until I snapped a little.
I pillaged my roommate’s food. Made myself nachos. Felt guilty. Ate an apple. And fell asleep in a pool of my own shame.
When you’re not living on much, sometimes the solution that seems to make sense is to cut back on everything. Save some more money, put a little extra towards your debt (so many cavities)..
But I realized that sometimes it’s not worth it.
I’m not saying there aren’t times to scrimp and save and make sacrifices, but each one of those decisions needs to be carefully thought out. Life is about more than a few dollars saved.
There’s cost (the money you spend), and then there’s value (the benefits you get).
It was worth all kinds of value for me to have some more dollars of food around every week, no matter the extra cost. To buy some vegetables… To make sure I was eating decent meals.
It’s easy sometimes when you get in the personal finance groove to get hung up on the numbers and loose sight of the prize.
“I’m going to live cheaply!” *strikes heroic pose*
Living cheaply is fine. But sometimes it’s easy for me to take it too far. I get a little too ‘into’ budgeting, a little too attached to the money I’m saving. I start avoiding spending money at all, even on important things.
Like good food.
Because the truth is, it doesn’t really matter that I saved a few bucks on groceries this month. The prize is living a good life, and right now I feel gross. And every time I go to the gym (which is harder to do when you’ve got grilled cheese/cookie energy) it’s like I’m going to die.
Plus all my pants are fitting pretty tight… and I really can’t afford to buy new pants.
So for February, I’m going to start thinking more about good value for my groceries. I’m going to buy some vegetables, maybe some fruit, and chill out with the whole cheap food thing.
Or at least learn to do it better.
I do not think that being frugal means that you will eat like crap. There are tons of people who eat healthily and don’t spend much. I just haven’t quite figured that out yet myself.
When I rank my priorities, I say that health is a far better investment than a few hundred bucks in my savings account!
So to all of you who are way better at this than me… how do you eat healthy but stay in your budget? Do you just accept the fact that good food costs more, or have you figured out the secret to eating well with little cost?