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How We’re Slaying Our Food and Dining Bill

Photo by Tammy Strobel

My obsession with tracking every penny and saving more income amped up in January. Part of me feels like my desire to save more and spend less is a control issue. My worries about the Trump administration—and the direction of public policy—continue to grow. I fully realize that I can’t control politicians or public policy, but I can control my actions, which include spending and saving mindfully, calling my representatives, being a kind human, etc.

In addition, the five-year anniversary of my dad’s death is approaching quickly. As a result, I’ve been thinking about the fragility of life. There’s a lot I want to experience before I die, and some of those experiences require money. For example, Logan and I want to live abroad for a year. (This probably won’t happen until our early 40s.) We’re also planning a trip to Amsterdam this year. (More on that in a future post.) In short, making some of our dreams come true means we need to save more. That’s where our food and dining bill comes into the picture.

The Numbers

Whenever I read essays about money, I find it helpful when people share real numbers. Today, I’m going to share our numbers with you. By sharing this information, I hope it will provide context for our situation and give you a few ideas, too.

During 2016, Logan and I spent $11,281 on food and dining. That’s roughly $940 per month! When I looked at the numbers, I stomped my foot and yelled, “Holy shit, Batman! That’s a lot of damn money!!!!”

Leaving Batman aside, below is a list of what’s included in our food and dining bill:

  • Groceries for the house
  • Dining at restaurants and fast food establishments
  • Cafe stops
  • Coffee and tea for the house
  • Food and coffee gift certificates for friends and family (we prefer gifting people experiences rather than things for birthdays, holidays, etc.)
  • Alcohol

Friends, we’ve taken our DINK status too far. On the one hand, I’m ashamed that we spent so much money on food during 2016. On the other hand, I’m incredibly grateful that we have the resources to eat well and to share the gift of good food with loved ones. However, I know we can spend our food dollars a little more mindfully (and have fun with the process).

How We’re Slaying Our Food Bill

In 2017, our aim is to cut our food and dining bill by 50–65%. That seems like a huge decrease, but with a little planning, I believe it’s possible.

Here’s how Logan and I are going to make it happen:

1. Tracking spending. We’re tracking every cent in Mint and reviewing our purchases a few times each week. As we get into the routine of going to the store less for food, I’ll probably only do this review once a week.

2. Planning meals. My CrossFit coach, Mykala, turned me onto meal planning. I love sitting down every week and mapping out what we’re going to eat. I always thought meal planning would be boring, but it’s actually helpful and fun. Since I know what I’m going to eat, I don’t have to agonize over each meal. Also, the types of meals I make aren’t complex.

For example, here’s what we ate last week on Wednesday:

  • Pre-breakfast: Brew coffee.
  • Breakfast: Rolled oats with 1 tablespoon of almond butter, 1 scoop of vanilla protein powder, 1 teaspoon chia seeds & 1 teaspoon of shredded coconut flakes mixed with hot water. This breakfast bowl takes less than five minutes to prep.
  • Snacks: Small apples, tangerines, coffee, tea, and lots of water.
  • Lunch: Black bean tacos with sour cream, cheese, spinach, and hot sauce.
  • Dinner: Tilapia with coconut rice and asparagus.

As a side note, we slow cooked one pound of black beans on Sunday. Pre-cooking food like beans, chicken, rice, etc. cuts down on cooking tasks during the work week.

3. Less easting out. Other than buying expensive groceries for the house, we spent way too much on dining in 2016. That includes going to coffee shops, nice restaurants, fast food, etc. We’re still going to eat out in 2017 but less frequently. Also, the more I learn about cooking real food and baking, the more I love it. I’ve even been fantasizing about going to culinary school.

4. No booze for me. I began to reevaluate relationship with alcohol in July 2016. Forgoing a nightly glass of wine (or two) has been good for my body, mind, and wallet. Logan and I were spending between $25 to $50 per month a month on wine. Now, that money is going toward our CrossFit membership. This is a much better investment in my overall well-being. I’ll eventually write an in-depth essay about why I gave up drinking alcohol.

5. Buying in bulk. We buy in bulk from local grocery stores or via ‪amazon.com. For instance, I love making coconut rice and Logan is going to experiment with a few coconut curry recipes. Recently, Logan did a little price shopping for coconut milk at local stores and online. He ended up buying a dozen cans of coconut milk from ‪amazon.com. That might seem crazy, but we have an Amazon Prime membership and this bulk purchase made sense for us. If the price is right, we’ll do the same for rolled oats, quinoa, dark chocolate, and other staples in our diet.

6. Growing food at the community garden. Yreka has a beautiful community garden that’s only a few blocks from our home. Logan was the gardener in our family last summer, and he’ll be playing in the soil again this summer. I’m excited to see if we can lower our food budget by growing some fresh food.

Parting Thoughts …

When I look at the list above, it feels really basic to me. It also seems like I should have this shit nailed down by now. With that being said, I’m trying not to be hard on myself. Instead, I’m looking at everything with beginner’s eyes. Logan and I began our downsizing adventures over ten years ago, and we continue to learn, grow, and make mistakes along the way.

Further Reading & Listening

Tim Ferriss’s interview with Mr. Money Mustache

Killing your $1000 Grocery Bill by Mr. Money Mustache

Grocery Shopping with Your Middle Finger by Mr. Money Mustache

MONEY Master the Game by Tony Robbins

Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin & Joe Dominguez

With gratitude,
Tammy

13 comments… add one
  • Sharle Kinnear March 20, 2017, 10:24 am

    It’s so easy to eat out when there are so many wonderful restaurants here in California. I can relate to being appalled at how much they cost you over a period of time. Thanks for sharing your food project with us, Tammy! It encourages me to be more mindful.☕️(<<some of my downfalls!)

  • Sandra Pawula, Always Well Within March 20, 2017, 11:30 am

    This is so inspiring, Tammy! Food is so elemental, please don’t feel bad about enjoying yourself over the past years. I’m glad you’re finding new ways to receive enjoyment through food, via food planning, cooking, and baking that will allow you to reduce your expenses. I’m sure we all spend so much money we’re not even aware of by not keeping track.

  • Linda March 20, 2017, 12:10 pm

    check out frugalwoods.com if you haven’t already done so.

    • Lindsay March 23, 2017, 5:42 pm

      Frugalwoods is great! Check out their Uber Frugal Month challenge!

  • Bette March 20, 2017, 2:48 pm

    Great post! I love food — everything about it. I’ve even learned to love meal planning, which I assumed was going to be an onerous chore — but it’s not!

    Would you consider a post on using Mint? So many people I know use it, but I have been leery of taking the first step, i.e., giving my account numbers and passwords. Do you like Mint? Is it working well for you? I’d love your opinion on it.

    • Tammy Strobel March 20, 2017, 3:20 pm

      Thanks Bette! I don’t know if I’ll do a post on Mint. Overall, I love the website and app. It’s really easy to use and secure. On the downside, I’ve had trouble syncing a few accounts to Mint. If Mint isn’t able to fix the issue, I’ll switch back to a basic spreadsheet or find another service for budgeting purposes. I’d encourage you to give Mint a try. I hope that helps. Thanks for reading! 😉

    • Tammy Strobel March 20, 2017, 3:26 pm

      Also, check out this article: http://www.thesimpledollar.com/budgeting-software-alternatives-to-mint/

      The author offers a good summary of Mint, plus other options.

      Good luck!

      • Bette March 20, 2017, 3:55 pm

        Thank you! Very helpful. I honestly think a pad of paper is my best solution. It’s easy, reliable, safe, secure, and perhaps even more accurate. It operates in real-time, with no lag or synching issues. I don’t have to pay for a subscription or read ads or wade through advice. Simple is best, at least for me.

        • Tammy Strobel March 21, 2017, 8:11 am

          Right on Bette! Simple solutions are often the best. 😉

  • Sarah Russell March 20, 2017, 9:26 pm

    tammy, so often throughout the years, i come back here to your blog and notice that we’re on the similar wavelengths. I’m also looking at personal finance right now and realizing that i’ve been doing a LOT of things wrong. i loved that mr. money mustache interview! I’ve also been a Dave Ramsey convert recently. religious anecdotes aside, listening to his podcast has kept me jazzed while I’ve been walking this road! good luck and I’m looking forward to the next essay!

  • Vishal March 21, 2017, 1:47 am

    Interesting post Tammy. Best wishes for your journey towards savings and fitness.

    If you buy in bulk, do you think you might encounter potential wastage? Do you also think that pre-planning meals for a week takes the fun out of cooking? Or does the predictability make it easier to consume?

    Off to check out Tim’s podcast you shared. Cheers.

    • Tammy Strobel March 21, 2017, 8:16 am

      Like I said above, I love meal planning. It’s fun and it’s given me more flexibility than I imagined. I’m not super rigid when it comes to planning. For instance, if we don’t feel like eating curry and rice one night, we will have a different meal. It’s OK to diverge from the plan. But having a general sense of what I’m eating during the week makes my life run a little bit smoother.

      I don’t think buying in bulk is wasteful. Obviously, it’s important to eat what you purchase. 😉 For example, before we bought 12 cans of coconut milk we picked up a few at the store and experimented with different recipes. We loved it & knew that it would be a stable in our pantry (just like rice & beans).

      Good luck!

      • Vishal March 21, 2017, 7:22 pm

        Thanks Tammy. It’s a lot clearer in my mind now 🙂

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