I just went a month without buying food in a restaurant and only spent $100 in groceries.
I’m still kind of in shock- it was not as difficult as I thought it would be. But it was still hard.
This whole thing started because in October I was sick of being broke. I don’t make what most people would consider great money but I’m pretty frugal, buy most of my clothes off the clearance rack (or thrift store) and use coupons for most household items. I should be able to live off what my accountant says I make and put some away for retirement. So why was I barely saving anything at the end of the month?
I was eating it. Seriously I was eating my money.
When I ran off my bank statements from August, September and partial from October I couldn’t believe how much money I was spending on food. I knew it was more than usual because I was doing a show and we tend to eat out after performances and long rehearsals but it had really gotten out of hand. I was spending all this money and had nothing to show for it. Additionally I was eating smaller portions when we went out to eat because I was trying to lose weight so many of the calories I was paying for were either going home with other people or being thrown away at the end of the night.
So I decided to test myself with a challenge for the month of November. Rule #1 was no eating out if I had to pay for it. If someone was taking me out or I had a coupon/loyalty card/gift card I could use it at my discretion. Rule #2 was I only had a $100 budget for groceries for the month. No exceptions.
Here is what I discovered:
I was addicted to certain foods: For the first week I CRAVED certain foods- particularly Chinese Food and bacon. For all the cooking I do I haven’t managed to create a dish that tastes like the sesame chicken at the Chinese place by my house (probably because I am in denial of how fattening it is). I also generally add bacon to things when I go out and I never have bacon at my house. It’s a “treat” food I was eating too often. After 30 days the cravings have passed and I rarely think about either.
I can be very satisfied with what I cook: I’m an okay cook- nothing fantastic. I really thought I was going to be tired of whole wheat pasta and salad. After that first week I didn’t even think about it. The pantry that before had looked so bare to me was suddenly full of possibilities. I threw things together I had never tried and discovered some new taste combinations. I can eat small portions and feel full which means the food stretches out longer. I had not appreciated leftovers the way I should have. They really are amazing.
I was using food as an event/coping mechanism: This was the biggest and most shocking revelation to me this month. While I work out at the gym most days of the week sometimes if I’m not feeling too great or it’s supposed to be a rest day I won’t leave the house all morning. On those days by lunch time I am ready to see a PERSON- even if it is the wonderful people who work at the Subway by my house. I discovered I was eating OUT just to get OUT and be around people. I also couldn’t depend on junk food to help me deal with stress (which is a bad habit of mine). I got stronger by forcing myself to deal with the loneliness and stress in other ways.
Everyone else is broke too: I REALLY thought that my social life was going to suffer because I wasn’t going to meet people to go out to eat. When I have a friend I haven’t visited with in a while I almost always just say “hey let’s go grab dinner/coffee” and we meet up somewhere. Every single time I met with people this month I always just suggested going to someone’s house potluck style and no one ever argued. We ate healthier, could loiter at the table as long as we wanted without bothering the waitress, saved a ton of money and still got the quality time we needed. And when I was honest about why I asked to have everyone cook some open dialogue about finances followed.
Living on $100 for groceries is HARD: Years ago when I was getting out of debt I pinched every penny. I felt guilty spending money on anything- even for things I really needed. My entire focus was on getting rid of my student loans and it consumed my thoughts. I had forgotten how incredibly stressful it was. With a $100 budget for groceries every decision in the store was carefully considered. Things I would have picked up before without a second thought were put back on the shelf. At the end of week one I got a fantastic deal on a turkey and for the next two weeks ate turkey sandwiches, hot turkey, cold turkey, turkey casserole and anything else I could think of. Then Thanksgiving came and I was assigned to bring stuffing and drinks for the family. That ate up $18 of my budget because you can’t ask your whole family only to drink the free soda and eat Stove Top (which would have turned out better than what I made- I have no idea what happened to my recipe!). To those of you on that kind of budget where every penny REALLY matters you have my extreme respect.
At the end of the month I met my goal- I spent $98.17 on groceries. I ate out five times- once using Subway points (LOVED that sub), once using a gift card and three times with a family member who wanted to eat out but didn’t want to eat alone or was hungry and didn’t want to drop me off first ( I thanked them all profusely). Considering before I was eating out five times a week I was pretty happy with that.
What did I do with the money I saved? I wish I could tell you something fantastic. I was supposed to have a quick trip to New York City for an overnight in a few weeks to see a show but just couldn’t get the schedule straight with my travel mate. So I signed up for the Surf N’ Santa Five Miler (an expensive race for me!) and the rest I had saved for the trip went out in the mail this morning to Uncle Sam to help pay my 2014 taxes.
I know the conclusion isn’t terribly exciting- there was no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. But I showed myself that I can do extraordinary things if I set my mind to it. I am a blessed person and I need to be more diligent with my resources and use them for the best possible purposes. And one day when I do have something fun I want to do the money will be there!
I know some of you did this journey with me- how did you do? Were you about to save?