Will Spend for Food

Y’know, for someone who is constantly complaining about being broke, I spend a LOT of money on food.

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What can I really say? I love eating out, I like to cook with high-quality ingredients, and, in general, I just love food. So it’s a pretty natural place for all my cash monies to flow to, right? Granted, I’m spending less on food now than I was when I was regularly shoveling $17 worth of Taco Bell’s finest offerings down my gullet, back in my not-so-glory days, but still. With quite a few things in the works that have begun to seriously cripple my spending habits (a stellar vacation, starting classes and needing a new car, just to name a few), I’m trying desperately to tighten my proverbial belt.

Of course, with my history of being a bit of a spendaholic, this is easier said than done. I’ve since eradicated the credit card debt that had shamefully plagued me since graduating from college (w00t!), but I’m still not very good at saving. I mean, sure, I contribute to my 401(k) and I’m not literally living paycheck to paycheck anymore, but my savings account is still rather sad, really. The few dollars I do have in there are probably quite lonely. It’s not that I haven’t tried! I’ve created numerous budgeting spreadsheets, reconfigured my Mint.com account at least a dozen times, and have subjected myself to lectures from my frugal sister. After months of continuing to fail at putting any significant chunk of my paycheck into savings, however, I think that some of the lessons are finally starting to sink in.

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One of the biggest things that has been saving me money over the past few months has been bringing my lunch to work. Obviously, I’m a huge proponent of this for health and weight loss reasons, since it’s a lot easier to count your calories when you’ve brought your edibles from home. Beyond that, though, I am saving SO much money. The savings come two-fold:

First of all, I was easily spending anywhere from $8 to $12 (or more!) on lunch when I was buying it. On the low-end, maybe I was just picking up a sandwich from the deli downstairs, but if I was getting something from the weighted hot bar, or going across the street to Potbelly’s, Roti, or Au Bon Pain? Double digits, my friends. So, on my worst weeks when I was buying my lunch every single day, that’s at least $50 that was going straight down the drain. $50 a week adds up fast, and before you know it, that’s hundreds and hundreds.

The second way that bringing my lunch helps save me money is that it actually discourages me from eating out for dinner so often. See, I actually am not the biggest fan of your average lunch fare. Sure, I get the occasional craving for a turkey-on-white, but for the most part, I would much prefer to see a repeat of dinner come noontime than have to scarf down a PB&J. I LOVE having dinner leftovers as my lunch the following day. So knowing that I’ll need something to bring for lunch helps ensure I’ll be cooking something delicious for dinner. When it’s time to pack up the leftovers, I just portion them out into the appropriate Tupperware (okay, well, technically it’s Rubbermaid), and then in the morning I just grab a couple of containers out of the fridge, toss ’em in a bag, and voila!

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As I’ve mentioned in the past, I don’t do very well with trying to follow a specific set of rules. You know, things like “Only eat out once a week!” or “$100 a week on food, and that’s it.” For whatever reason (my brattiness, most likely), I’m just not very good at sticking to ’em. So I just try to set myself up for success as much as possible by being proactive: I don’t wait until I’m hungry to go to the store, because by the time I do, the likelihood of me caving and purchasing 3 boxes of Velveeta Shells & Cheese is like, 450% higher. Instead, I go grocery shopping on my way home from work. I cook more than one or two people could (should?) eat, so that I know I’ll have plenty of leftovers to last through lunch.

I’ve been doing really, really well with bringing my lunch almost every day for the past couple of months, and I can already tell the difference. The burden of my credit card bill each month is just that much lighter, you know? Hopefully, this new(ish)found initiative to budget, save, and finally start moving forward with my sort-of-grown-up-maybe life will stick. I like the feeling of having money in my savings account, after all. It makes me feel much more prepared for the inevitable zombie apocalypse that is right around the corner the future. I’m sure I still need to work on being a smarter grocery shopper, because I’m probably leaking all sorts of unnecessary money when it comes to that, but progress is progress, right?

What are your tips for curbing your food spending?

PS: Episode 3 of the Reach the Beach video is up! Check it out:

Weight Loss 101: Eat Real Food, Not Your Savings

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So lately I’ve been thinking a lot about eating healthy and finances. As in, how do you eat REAL food without going REALLY broke? And then yesterday Ali tweeted at me that she had similar concerns: How do you eat healthy without going bankrupt at the grocery store? Which obviously got me thinking about it even more. I’ll be the first to admit (and I’m sure that my sister will be the second, haha!) that I am not exactly the most frugally minded person. Sure, I can appreciate a good deal as much as the next person, but for the most part I adhere to the mindset that I would rather pay more for better quality, faster service, or convenience, than have to deal with the opposites of those things. Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate a rockin’ deal as much as the next person, but some things aren’t worth the hassle to me. Hence why it’s more likely you’d find me leisurely perusing the displays at Nordstrom than getting sweaty and harried pawing through the racks at Marshall’s, haha.

That being said, I’m not exactly rolling in it over here. And real food is expensive! Ramen is cheap, produce is not. So while I often ignore my own advice, I do feel like this is an area where saving money really matters. And I feel there are some surefire ways to make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck when it comes to healthy eating.

Number 1: Eat at home.

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Uh, duh. This should probably go without saying, but I’m gonna say it anyway: If you want to save money, don’t go out to eat. Shop for your own groceries, and prepare your own food. I spent just over $20 at the store yesterday and will be covered for meals for three days. When you break that amount down, you’re talking about something like $2 – $3 a meal!

Number 2: Meal plan.

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I’ve admitted in the past that I’m not very good at creating and following meal plans. I try to pretend it’s because I’m all spontaneous and like to be creative with my meals, but really I’m just lazy and unorganized hahaha. This week I tried to make an exception, however, because I’m taking off for the Fitness & Health Bloggers Conference in Boulder, CO on Friday morning! So going grocery shopping mid-week, while a complete necessity given the state of food options in my house, wasn’t the most ideal situation. I didn’t want to buy things that were just going to spoil when I left! I feel that the biggest money-suck when it comes to eating real food is having it spoil because you weren’t able to utilize it in time. Meal planning is the absolute best way to avoid this.

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Number 3: Make (and stick to!) a grocery list.

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My list yesterday was super short because I was literally only shopping for a few days’ worth of food. But if I hadn’t done up a list, I would have walked out with so much unnecessary, unusable food.

Number 4: Buy generic.

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Stacy’s pita chips are priced at $2.99 a bag. Giant’s Nature’s Promise brand pita chips at priced at $2.49 a bag. Which product should you purchase? Seems like it should be a no-brainer, right? I mean, sure 50 cents might not seem like that much, but it adds up. Fast. And this rule applies across the spectrum: groceries, pharmacy items, etc. People will pay a lot more just for a particular brand slapped on the packaging, when the generic version is just as good (and oftentimes, the same manufacturer makes both products anyway. So you are LITERALLY just choosing between a branded and a generic version of the exact same thing.)

Number 5: Stretch your meat.

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There are lots of creative ways to make the expensive items you buy, like meat, last longer. Cara gave me the tip of adding ~2 cups of mashed chickpeas (which you can snag for about $0.89 a can!) to turkey burgers to bulk ’em up and stretch ’em out. I took that tip as inspiration for my own dinner last night, which involved bulking up my T-burgers with tons of veggies that I already had!

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I chopped up green onion, red onion, button mushrooms, and grated baby carrots and added it all to the mix. Not only did it make for big, thick patties, the mushrooms kept the meat SUPER moist (often a complaint when it comes to turkey burgers — thanks for that tip, Aunt Lynda!), but the meal was healthified with the addition of extra veggies, AND it helped alleviate that whole food-spoilage thing mentioned previously by letting me use up more items that were just waiting to spoil in the fridge! Win-win-win.

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With the addition of asparagus that I subbed the grocery-listed bibb lettuce for because it was a much better deal, and potatoes that I already had lying around, we have a complete meal, with enough leftovers to last me for lunch today AND tomorrow (and would have lasted another dinner, too, if I hadn’t been a piggy and had two patties last night. Whoops! Hahaha.)

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I really need to get on this meal-planning train much more regularly. That way I’ll have more money leftover for the massages I apparently desperately need! 😉

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What are your tips for saving money but still eating healthy? Another thing I should probably look into doing more is deal-shopping (going to different stores for specific items) and couponing, two things I’m terrible at! Any advice on those fronts?