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I’m Tammy Strobel. Welcome to my digital home!

I’m an author, photographer, and cat lover.

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How We're Slaying Our Food and Dining Bill

Photo by Tammy Strobel
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

A Homemade Life

How I’m Letting Go of Money Worries