Thursday, June 16, 2011
Food will make us or break us.
I know I haven't been posting about my challenge to follow a weekly menu, but here's why: it's been working. Last month I came in $9.40 under budget! How great is that?!
I know that we still need to work on a few things to help our budget, so I have some new goals for the coming month (wait, we're midway through, aren't we? darn).
Genuinely limit the frequency we go out to eat. Once a week is NOT okay.
Going out to eat is a budget buster. It will kill us (in more ways than one, ha). Though I did great with the groceries, we were $60 over our eating out budget. SIXTY. DOLLARS. Not okay.
The one exception I will make for this rule is for our anniversary next month. We are going to Houston's restaurant and then to see Les Miserables at the Ahmanson Theater in downtown L.A. I love Houston's. Having worked there, I know that they have great quality food and I am okay with splurging a little. Ok, it will be a pretty big splurge, but worth it in my eyes.
My next goal is related to my first goal:
Make easy-fix homemade freezer meals for busy or "do I really have to cook today?" days.
With some planning this shouldn't be too difficult. Last month I made a big batch of pinto beans and froze the portions. They were easy to defrost (I stored them in quart-sized freezer bags) and were versatile. We used them in taco salad, fajitas and bean burritos. I'm sure I could have thought of other uses but these were simple and (not including the fajitas) didn't take a lot of effort. I just cooked the beans throughout the day in my crockpot. Easy.
I need other things like this. I had a friend who did freezer meatballs, but I am too cheap to buy the ground beef to do this and we don't eat them often enough to make it worth it for me. Something delicious, but also frugal. Ideas?
The last month has really been an eye opener for me. Through our (mostly) excellent planning we were able to have a $700 surplus and pay off our debt!
We're debt free!
Phew! What a relief! We've paid off over $20,000 in debt over the last two years. Please keep in mind that we are not wealthy, at least by American standards. We have one income and live in a relatively expensive part of the country.
The key to it for us was to make paying off our debt a priority. We set a goal to have our debt paid off by our fifth anniversary (3 weeks from now). It wasn't an arbitrary date. We made a budget, determined what our monthly surplus was and started making cuts and asking ourselves a lot of questions. Did we really "need" all the things we were spending my money on?
All our major cuts to the budget were on food. In the same month last year I spent $527.98 on food. This year I spent $244.75. That's a $283.23 difference! Holy cow! I had to exhibit a lot of self control, especially at places like Costco where many staples (milk, butter and eggs) are cheaper. We are trying to keep the ball rolling as we now save for a house.
The irony of spending less money is that we've actually been eating better. I love making things from scratch- just having that knowledge makes me feel empowered and knowing exactly what we're eating feels great. I've never felt so satisfied with the meals I prepare and the pride I have in our food.
I know I can improve, though. I am trying to slowly phase out processed foods by eliminating or replacing them with ones I make from scratch. Recently I began making yogurt, granola and granola bars. They are all very tasty and Stephen now requests granola for breakfast.
So please, I beg of you, what meals do you find freeze well and are good for those times when you can't (or don't want to) cook?