When I started looking at going to Europe this fall, I knew my budget was going to need to be tightened up. Two of the ways I decided to do that was to significantly reduce the amount of money I was spending on twice daily lattes (shut up I know) and (gulp) acknowledge that I was frequently throwing away more food than I was eating.
I’d start off the week with good intentions, but after a few days the ease of take out proved too much to resist and by the weekend soggy lettuce (and a bunch of other stinky fridge stuff) would get tossed. With London and Paris beckoning, I decided that it was going to boil down to me, a menu plan and a $60 weekly budget consisting solely of (gulp again) CASH.
1) The Menu Plan – I like to cook, so I knew the only way this was going to be successful is if I liked what I was eating. I usually make something more labor intensive at the beginning of the week and then my dinners get consistently easier as the week goes on. A menu plan is the only way I can make a list and make sure I have ALL my meals covered. This means daily breakfast, lunch (usually leftovers from the night before) and dinners at home at least 5 nights a week.
2) $60 Budget – $60 at the beginning was kind of an arbitrary number. It felt roomy enough to be able to get some ice cream but strict enough that I couldn’t veer too far from my list on the $5 magazine purchase or cute vase at Target that usually derails my budget.
3) Cash Only – The only way I knew I was going to pay attention was if I used cash. My debit or credit cards were too easy to use. I must admit it was MORTIFYING the first week when I held back two grapefruits to see what the total was with and without. Especially when there was a cute guy behind me in line. ”I put myself on a cash budget,” I told the checker. Everyone I’ve told this to at the stores? SO SUPPORTIVE. I haven’t had anyone look at me sideways.
Each week I’ve been spending about $55, so I had a $15 surplus this week. I was tempted to cut my budget back even further, but this week I had to get laundry detergent, dog food and mouthwash and buh bye surplus! I got a $5 gift card coupon for Target, so now technically I have a little surplus which will help to buy coffee next week. It has been a GREAT exercise and feels so much more conscious.
Some upsides I wasn’t expecting:
1) There is less stuff to haul from the car into the kitchen.
2) My kitchen is so much easier to clean. The cupboards are cleaner from eating up the pantry items and I eat my way through the fridge as the week goes on so the shelves are easy to wipe down.
3) It’s teaching me what my “must haves” are. Two cups of coffee a day are mandatory, but it’s fine if they come from my kitchen. Eating out a few times a week staves off the deficit hawks. I’m lucky that downtown Portland has a ton of inexpensive food carts. (Eating out comes from my personal spending money.)
4) I’m getting creative in the kitchen. I only needed 1/4 cup of heavy cream for a curry I made a couple weeks ago. I didn’t want to toss the rest of the cream so I tried a new recipe and made some cream biscuits. They freeze well and can be heated up in the microwave for 30 seconds. I’ve had them for breakfast and as a side with soup. Big, big fan.
5) Good food doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. I shop for staples at Target, but I’ve been buying most of my produce and meat at a local organic market. It is more expensive, but that’s the cool part of shopping and cooking for one–you don’t have to buy a lot!
This week on the menu:
Breakfasts: Biscuits with an Egg & Fruit or Vanilla Yogurt with Granola & Fruit
Lunches: Leftovers from dinner the night before & an apple
This chicken salad
This egg dish
Tomato soup & grilled cheese