My husband and I had just had our second baby and my maternity leave was winding down. The months I had for maternity leave dwindled down to weeks and I was feeling the same nausea-inducing anxiety about leaving my babies to go back to work as I did the first time around. This time was different, though. My husband was at a job where he was making better money than he did with our first baby, and this time our childcare expenses were going to be twice as much. Couple that with the fact that my commute was an hour long which meant even more time away with my children and an outrageous gas bill, and I began to seriously doubt whether it made sense for me to return to work as I had originally planned; even if it was a job I loved.
We both arrived at a place where we knew we wanted me to become a stay-at-home Mom, but we had no idea if we could actually afford it. My employer offered an amazing benefits plan, and we were cutting our household income almost in half. It was terrifying. However, after poring over spreadsheet after spreadsheet, we determined that although we would be pinching pennies, we could do it if we committed to drastically altering our lifestyle. The biggest lifestyle change would have to be how we ate.
To provide some context, both my husband and I worked at jobs nearly an hour away from our home in different cities. After working forty-hour weeks topped off with a two-hour round trip commute, both of us were constantly too exhausted to give a second thought to meal planning or budgeting our grocery trips. We bought a lot of snacks, wasted a lot of food, frequented many a drive-through, and ordered a lot of take-out. After looking back at a year of our spending, I figured out that we spent an average of $250/month on restaurants and fast food, and an average of $600 on groceries, making our total monthly food spending $850/month. In our defense, I was also pregnant for most of this year so please don’t judge us too harshly.
If I was every going to stay home with my boys, I knew we were going to have to drastically cut down the amount we spent per month on food. After adopting a completely new lifestyle, we managed to keep our monthly spending to $400/month. That’s right- with just a few behavioral modifications, we slashed our food budget in half! Here’s how we did it:
- Just say “NO!” to take-out
We stopped eating out and getting fast food. Period. The amount that we spent on one order at Pizza Hut could have provided all our meals for two days. We knew the first thing we needed to do was just stop resorting to restaurants to feed ourselves when we were feeling too lazy or tired to cook. That alone removed an entire category of spending from our budget spreadsheet and saved us $250/month!
- Hide yo’ kids, hide yo’ wife, hide yo’ DEBIT cards
The reason we were able to so easily rack up a huge receipt at Kroger and Aldi was because it was so easy to just swipe a card and not give it a second thought. After taking Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University a few years ago, we were familiar with his “cash envelope” system and decided to give it another chance. Each pay period, we withdraw $200 in cash for groceries for two weeks. That’s all we get. To make sure we wouldn’t be tempted to use our debit cards for food or other miscellaneous expenses, we literally hid them. My husband dubbed me Queen of the Budget, so I hid the cards in our house in case we ever needed them for an emergency, but my husband has no idea where they are. We use cash for everything.
- Meal plan like a 50’s housewife
I know, I know. Just the phrase “meal planning” makes my eyes roll into the back of my head. But I promise, it’s not as boring or tedious as it sounds. Our basic routine is that I do my weekly grocery shopping on Friday afternoons. Friday night we have a frozen pizza and then I plan for three major meals for the week. Three dinners per week isn’t at all burdensome, so I know I can realistically pull it off no matter how stressful or tiring of a week I’ve had. The other two days of the week we eat leftovers or make ourselves something simple like a sandwich or fried eggs and toast. For meal inspiration, I use Pinterest a lot, but I’ve actually relied heavily on our local library. Did you know you can check out cookbooks?! I check out huge stacks of cookbooks and then take a picture of the recipes I want to make. All I have to do when I meal plan is reference the picture I took, and I’m good to go!
- Stick to the list!
Armed with $100/week for groceries, it would be so easy for me to spend that amount entirely on Little Debbie snacks and not buy anything substantial. Once I’ve established my meals for the week, I make myself a grocery list on the “Notes” app on my phone. Anything I need to buy for that week needs to be on that list, or we’re going a week without it. No ifs, ands, or buts.
- Don’t hate, CALCULATE!
Once I’m in the grocery store, I open up my “Notes” tab and my phone’s calculator. Every time I add something to my cart, I also add the price on my calculator. Does it take longer to shop this way? Of course it does! But this way, I can make sure when I step up to the register that I haven’t gone over my budget.
That’s it! With just a handful of changes to the way we eat and shop, we’ve managed to save ourselves about $450/month! The other added bonus is that we’re eating so much healthier than we were before. No fast food, no late night snacking (because we no longer buy a ton of snacks), and many more homemade meals instead of frozen meals. In just one month of eating this way, my husband lost 10 pounds. TEN POUNDS!
And as a word of encouragement, if you’re reading this and thinking that we’re these crazy responsible, disciplined boring people, I must tell you that we are absolutely not. Both of us are completely impulsive, spontaneous buyers (hence the reason we hid our debit cards), so if we can do this, anyone can!
Do you have any additional tips for cutting your food spending? Or maybe you have questions on how we made the cash-only system work for us? Ask away, Dayton Mamas!