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Posted on Jun 7, 2012 in Dear Diary, Food | 23 comments

Will Spend for Food

Y’know, for someone who is constantly complaining about being broke, I spend a LOT of money on food.

IMG_5429 Maki
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What can I really say? I love eating out, I like to cook with high-quality ingredients, and, in general, I just love food. So it’s a pretty natural place for all my cash monies to flow to, right? Granted, I’m spending less on food now than I was when I was regularly shoveling $17 worth of Taco Bell’s finest offerings down my gullet, back in my not-so-glory days, but still. With quite a few things in the works that have begun to seriously cripple my spending habits (a stellar vacation, starting classes and needing a new car, just to name a few), I’m trying desperately to tighten my proverbial belt.

Of course, with my history of being a bit of a spendaholic, this is easier said than done. I’ve since eradicated the credit card debt that had shamefully plagued me since graduating from college (w00t!), but I’m still not very good at saving. I mean, sure, I contribute to my 401(k) and I’m not literally living paycheck to paycheck anymore, but my savings account is still rather sad, really. The few dollars I do have in there are probably quite lonely. It’s not that I haven’t tried! I’ve created numerous budgeting spreadsheets, reconfigured my Mint.com account at least a dozen times, and have subjected myself to lectures from my frugal sister. After months of continuing to fail at putting any significant chunk of my paycheck into savings, however, I think that some of the lessons are finally starting to sink in.

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IMG_1400.jpg Grrrrapes!

One of the biggest things that has been saving me money over the past few months has been bringing my lunch to work. Obviously, I’m a huge proponent of this for health and weight loss reasons, since it’s a lot easier to count your calories when you’ve brought your edibles from home. Beyond that, though, I am saving SO much money. The savings come two-fold:

First of all, I was easily spending anywhere from $8 to $12 (or more!) on lunch when I was buying it. On the low-end, maybe I was just picking up a sandwich from the deli downstairs, but if I was getting something from the weighted hot bar, or going across the street to Potbelly’s, Roti, or Au Bon Pain? Double digits, my friends. So, on my worst weeks when I was buying my lunch every single day, that’s at least $50 that was going straight down the drain. $50 a week adds up fast, and before you know it, that’s hundreds and hundreds.

The second way that bringing my lunch helps save me money is that it actually discourages me from eating out for dinner so often. See, I actually am not the biggest fan of your average lunch fare. Sure, I get the occasional craving for a turkey-on-white, but for the most part, I would much prefer to see a repeat of dinner come noontime than have to scarf down a PB&J. I LOVE having dinner leftovers as my lunch the following day. So knowing that I’ll need something to bring for lunch helps ensure I’ll be cooking something delicious for dinner. When it’s time to pack up the leftovers, I just portion them out into the appropriate Tupperware (okay, well, technically it’s Rubbermaid), and then in the morning I just grab a couple of containers out of the fridge, toss ‘em in a bag, and voila!

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As I’ve mentioned in the past, I don’t do very well with trying to follow a specific set of rules. You know, things like “Only eat out once a week!” or “$100 a week on food, and that’s it.” For whatever reason (my brattiness, most likely), I’m just not very good at sticking to ‘em. So I just try to set myself up for success as much as possible by being proactive: I don’t wait until I’m hungry to go to the store, because by the time I do, the likelihood of me caving and purchasing 3 boxes of Velveeta Shells & Cheese is like, 450% higher. Instead, I go grocery shopping on my way home from work. I cook more than one or two people could (should?) eat, so that I know I’ll have plenty of leftovers to last through lunch.

I’ve been doing really, really well with bringing my lunch almost every day for the past couple of months, and I can already tell the difference. The burden of my credit card bill each month is just that much lighter, you know? Hopefully, this new(ish)found initiative to budget, save, and finally start moving forward with my sort-of-grown-up-maybe life will stick. I like the feeling of having money in my savings account, after all. It makes me feel much more prepared for the inevitable zombie apocalypse that is right around the corner the future. I’m sure I still need to work on being a smarter grocery shopper, because I’m probably leaking all sorts of unnecessary money when it comes to that, but progress is progress, right?

What are your tips for curbing your food spending?

PS: Episode 3 of the Reach the Beach video is up! Check it out:

23 Comments

  1. I love cooking dinner for the same reason! I can pack a lunch for hubby and I for the next day and don’t have to worry about eating yucky fastfood for lunch. Plus its just as easy to fix 4 servings as it is to fix 2 servings. So eat 1 serving for dinner pack the other for my lunch, hubby eats 1 serving for dinner and pack another for lunch :)

  2. I have to plan. If I can plan out meals for the week and shop on Sunday, I usually spend so much less than I would if I just went to the store and bought things I think I’ll eat. So, yes, it does mean a weekly grocery trip, but I’m still spending much less because I am a huge fan of leftovers. I don’t mind eating the same meal for dinner one day and then lunch the next two.

  3. Trader Joe’s. Done and done. $40 bucks a week gets me breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the week plus a bottle of wine.

  4. Bringing lunch to work is SO KEY. I have a rule that I’m only allowed to buy lunch 1 (or 2, if there is a specific reason) days per week, max. It’s a great Friday treat to look forward to. I am trying to be better about eating out less during the week and saving that money for weekend dining — but when I have a very spendy week (like this one, oof), I try to actively avoid making too many dining out plans for the upcoming weekend to balance it all out. Also…I’m very careful about tracking my spending, and I’ve accepted that food will always be a major expenditure for me, so I budget for it and have actively cut back in other areas.

  5. I loveeeee eating out. It’s so much fun! Sadly i don’t do it anymore..

  6. I am with you. I curb my spending habits by cooking dinner and bringing leftovers for lunch the next day. I don’t feel bad about my ridiculous spending habits on food because I rarely eat out during the week. Anddd justified.

  7. Do you have amex blue? We use our amex points to get gift certificates to dining establishments for a nice treat every once in a while – current favs are Big Bowl, California Pizza Kitchen, Seasons 52, Bonefish, etc. We usually use those when we do “date night”

    Like everybody else suggested, I menu plan and then I cook in bulk – once or twice a week. Hubby and I both need lunches & dinners to eat, so I try to make stuff that is good leftover.

    I also use mint.com to track our spending. one month the 2 of us spent $1000 between groceries & restaurants and I was APPALLED!!! that whipped my butt into gear.

    I generally buy meat in bulk from costco and store in freezer – ribeyes, ground turkey, chicken breasts, etc. i also spent last month working hard at using the ingredients we were storing in our pantry – love only going to the store to buy exactly what we need for the week – we don’t usually “store” a ton of food related stuff other than costco beer & meat.

    go to meals =

    chili

    ground turkey taco meat – usually placed in a brown rice bowl with beans, cheese, etc.

    cheap korean beef – there is a recipe floating around pinterest.

    chicken & bowties – cheap family recipe from hubby’s mom – invovles pasta, chicken, and potatoes – ovbviously potatoes aren’t the epitome of “healthy” but this makes a great cheap delicious comforting meal on those rare occassion and if you portion it and pair with some green its delicious – email me for a recipe if u want it. 1 baking potato, package of chicken wings and box of pasta = CHEAP.

    chicken caccitore – another cheap one – chicken, pasta sauce, onion, peppers

    sweet potato quesadillas – sweet potato, whole wheat tortilla, mozz cheese – this is one that my friends landlord gave her as a super cheap recipe.

    masala chicken – chicken, simmer sauce from TJ’s – veg & rice

  8. I totally agree with your tips! I am way more likely to cook dinner knowing I have to pack lunch (and sandwiches just do nothing for me). I always make 4 servings for 2 people (although my boyfriend usually eats 2 at once).

    I also try to buy the sale brand and in season produce. I’ve found that really helps.

    I also attempted to only eat out twice a week, but failed hardcore at that.

  9. I guess I’m kind of lucky that I really don’t have a choice buy to pack a lunch every day. The only other alternatives would be buying cafeteria food (which I have never done in my whole teaching career) or eating nothing. Packing lunch is a HUGE pain in the ass, but it’s worth it.
    I am horrible about not overspending on groceries though. I kind of have blinders on when I grocery shop and grab pretty much whatever the heck I want. The only way I can justify it is that we RARELY go out to eat- probably twice or three times a month on average (and that’s usually lunch at Whole Foods or Chipotle). I just really LOVE cooking at home and getting Greg into it too- so I guess that’s my “money saving tip.”

  10. We’ve started doing two things – one, we’re trying to eat out only once a week, with plenty of exceptions (when traveling, drunk, etc.). I do still cheat by buying lunch out probably once a week (instead of two or three, though).

    We’ve also cut back a lot at the grocery store just by paying attention. I’ve always hated the idea of buying generic and store brand – sure, green beans are green beans, but I’ll pay a little extra for less stemmy and careless ones! But we’ve started looking at the per-unit price of a lot of things and (for instance) switched from Starbucks to Maxwell House. I also (reluctantly) switched back from organic to regular milk because organic was so expensive. Junk like that. And trying to buy less packaged, processed stuff and more ingredients.

    sigh.

  11. No joke, having a Safeway card has been a huge blessing. It’s hit or miss, but often the store brand of my staple items (i.e. Greek yogurt, which I eat every day) is just as tasty and nutritious as the name brand, and buying it frequently means I get coupons for it frequently. Which, in turn, means I’m buying Greek yogurt for the same amount I used to spend on non-Greek yogurt, but with a gazillion times the protein and kitchen power (lately I’ve been covering fresh berries in Greek yogurt, and freezing them–makes for a sweet, guiltless snack, and it’s a good way to prolong the berries’ shelf life).

    I’m also a HUGE supporter of the today’s-dinner-is-tomorrow’s-lunch plan, especially because I’m cooking for one and it’s often difficult to buy perishable items that won’t go bad before I’ve had a chance to eat them. Also, chicken fajitas two days in a row? OKAY SURE TWIST MY ARM.

    Now that I’ve got a Trader Joe’s that I’m forced to walk by twice a day, making and sticking to a list has saved me. Although Trader Joe’s has some seriously low prices (A BUCKET OF HUMMUS FOR ONE DOLLAR? I’LL TAKE FIVE.), they sneak in extreme prices on things that I could get at Safeway for less (and also on things like cocoa peanut butter spread that I’ve still managed not to buy but would like to swim in a pool filled with it and then lick myself dry). I keep two shopping lists in my iPhone notes at almost all times–one with items I know are priced best at Safeway, and one for Trader Joe’s staples. It’s working well now that I’m in a groove, but if I move away from Clarendon I’ll probably commit grocery shopping suicide.

    • I love this comment so much I want to cook it dinner and give it leftovers to take to work the next day.

      I’m with you on the Safeway card savings though, forrealz. The most I’m really doing these days when I grocery shop is paying attention to the little sales tags that stick out on the shelves, you know, “10/$2… with your Safeway card” and whatnot. Honestly, I think that alone is saving me a lot!

      • YES. This is why I now have 10 cans of lentil soup in my cabinet. GETCHEN, THEY WERE A DOLLAR EACH, AND THEY’RE NORMALLY THREE DOLLARS EACH. I am so terrified of becoming one of those people who builds a storage cabinet for on-sale paper towel rolls and cat food, even though I don’t have a cat. I COULD GET A CAT.

  12. I had some serious problems with lunch time spending at my previous job, in Bethesda no doubt. Upon realizing my damage I opened a new checking account JUST FOR FOOD and would give myself a biweekly allowance for food stuffs. Groceries, restaurants, icecream etc. I only carry my “food debit card” with me to work and it causes me to put the brakes impulse feasts. :D

  13. 1. Cooking is key. I’ve always lived by the mantra that I can make 80% of the stuff I eat out in a healthier and cheaper way. And it helps me hone my man-nabbing (or in my case, man-keeping) skills ;)

    2. Healthy/high quality does not have to equal expensive. I’ve always believed this myth is something people who can’t budget tell themselves when they blow their entire paycheck at Whole Foods. The beef you get at Hmart is just as real as the beef you’re paying for 1.5X’s the price at Giant. The bok choy from Great Wall is probably MORE authentic than the Bok Choy package from TJ’s.

    3. 3 Square a day and cut out the crap. It doesn’t really cost much to feed myself 3 meals a day. Its the filling in between that costs a ton. I eat mostly grains (rice is cheap, couscous is cheap, pasta at TJ’s is really cheap), veggies (cheap at the Asian markets), and some lean meats (pork tenderloin can be cut up and stir-fried and made into 3 meals). That probably costs me close to $7 a day. Everything else, like snacks, is extra. A pack of beef jerky is $5 in itself!

  14. Cooking definitely curbed my spending! I think we used to eat a lot more meat than we do now because I’ve increased the amount of veggies and legumes. That cut costs a lot too! I’ve recently taken up couponing which helps me cut a few dollars here and there.

    Great tips!

  15. I’m all about dinner leftovers for lunch. I’m eating some right now actually.
    I actually don’t like eating out– I’d much prefer to cook my own food and eat at home so I’m of no help to you in that respect.

    I save on the grocery bill by taking stock of my fridge and cupboards and menu planning on Friday night for the entire upcoming week. …oh and the fact that Matt and I eat dinner with our parents/in-laws about twice a week helps! LOL : p

  16. When budgeting is required, I’ve been of the rule “I have 80$ for the whole week and that’s all I have to live by (food, transportation, shopping, going out… everything).” It works for me.

    Also, I tend to keep a sharp eye on my credit balance. I decide at the beginning of the month how much I want to spend on my bill in total, and then make adjustments to how I spend my money as I go to stay within my limits.

  17. Eeeep, I’m super indulgent when it comes to purchases too. I make big, unnecessary, spur-of-the-moment purchases just about each month (hello this month’s stand mixer! hello, May’s camping supplies! hello, April’s ping-pong table, hello March’s 10-course omakase at Uchi). It’s so easy for me to justify because I figure that I’ve been contributing 10%/month to my 401K since I was 19 (and I’m 25 now), I’m paying about $500/month towards reducing my credit card debt (which I still have like $4,000 of), and I’m still able to put a few hundred in savings each month. But it’s like, if I could someone just cut down on my random purchases like new appliances and books and random meals out, I could be saving so much more and my debt would probably be gone. But honestly, I just feel so powerless to stop! It’s like, I’m afraid of denying myself those nice things and in the moment, I feel like I really do NEED those things. It’s kind of scary because now that I think about it, it’s not that different from disordered eating (my main issues with disordered eating are thinking that I’m never going to eat that food again and not wanting to deny myself anything, so I give myself everything). I feel like I don’t know how to stop spending unless I’m totally crazy about it and track every single dime, much like I used to track every calorie. BALANCE, WHY DO YOU ELUDE ME SO?!?!?! Ugh, sorry for the gut spillage, but I just relate way too much to this post!

  18. I definitely cook meals at home during the week to then take them as leftovers the next day, I think it works best, you have the right idea about it! I am so bad at the grocery store though and even worse when I pass some sort of kitschy foodie store that sells expensive food products. I ALWAYS walk out of one of those stores with something in hand that I definitely did not need (last week it was a cilantro and garlic balsamic glaze. Why??).

    We also saved a lot of money a for a few months ago when we reduced our meat intake–it was getting expensive! The thing that has worked for me lately at the grocery store has been planning out our meals and writing a corresponding grocery list to match. I know a lot of people hate this and we just started doing it so we shall see how it goes. But so far it has stopped me from picking up random things in the grocery store and wasting food that goes bad when I forget to use it!

  19. I too bring my lunch to work everyday. However, my big saver has been not paying full price for a restaurant meal anymore. I still go out about once a week (because I LOVE food), but now when I do I plan it so I can go for cheap. I watch Groupon, Living Social, etc. and stock up when places I like offer deals. I’ll go for lunch/brunch instead of dinner to save cash. I also look for happy hours deals – like this great sushi place that has price rolls M,W, & F from 5-7 or other places that have deals on certain nights of the week. It has really help me to save and even though it may leave me with less choices I can still always find some place my friends and I agree on for cheap.

  20. I have no tips for you to curb food spending. I go to the Farmers Market all the time because produce is super cheap there, and then I buy everything, and then I go out to dinner because going out means there’s a patio, margaritas, and no dishes. I suck at keeping a good budget.

    But hey! I love the RTB videos! It looks like so much fun.

  21. I’ve been “packing” lunches more these past few months as well. I actually stock up on canned soup and just leave it at my desk. I don’t mind eating the same soup day in and out, which most of my coworkers find strange but..at least I’m not spending $5-7 a meal!! :-) Good for you for packing your lunch. It is definitely a challenge but pays off in the end!

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