Thursday, July 31, 2008

Challenge #1 Dining on a Dime

I can't speak for others, but for me food seems to break my budget. I seem to spend a large percentage of my paycheck on food, whether it's going out for lunch at work, going out for dinner with friends or picking something up on my way home. I seem to live to eat, rather than eating to live.

Looking at my bank statement from last month, I spent 17% of my paycheck on food, whether at the grocery store or out at a restaurant. This seems a little ridiculous, especially on items that have such short term satisfaction.

I need to challenge myself to cut down, and my goal is for food to be no more than 5% of my monthly income. For me, that is less than $100 per month for groceries and eating out. I am going to see if by the end of August, I can make this goal.

So what habits can I change?

1. Cut out unnecessary purchases. The easiest things for me to cut will be the $3 coffees and snacks throughout the day. If I bring a case of diet Coke to work, I won't buy multiple 75 cent cans every day. The harder piece will be saying no to coworkers who want to eat out for lunch several times each week, or planning ahead for the nights I work late. It's easy to spend a lot on food when there are three dining options in the building.

2. Plan more cost effective meals. When I do get around to cooking, I tend to try to make recipes that require a lot of ingredients I don't have on hand, which means I am going to the grocery store more than once each week. It's also how I end up with things like fish sauce and other random ingredients in my cupboards, but no sources of protein or staples. has a great section of their web site, Cooking on a Budget. The recipes still seem to be flavorful, but may save some money.

3. Eat leftovers. I'll be honest, I'm not a big leftover fan. I'll usually eat a meal for a second time, but you can't talk me into the third or fourth. One suggestion that I got (from my mom, who else), was to immediately freeze 1/2 of the leftovers right away, rather than planning to eat the same entree for a full week. Now I just need to talk myself into getting that lasagna out of the freezer at some point down the road.

4. Plan ahead for grocery trips. My plan is to plan out my menus ahead of time and stock up towards the beginning of the month so that I don't have to make multiple trips. I am also going to try to make sure that I go both with a list and not when I'm hungry. I know that's a big no-no. I'll also have to start checking coupons. Hopefully this will also help me waste less.

5. Eat local. I am going to try to hit up the farmer's market this month. I've been fairly good about it in the past and have found some fantastic deals there. Plus the fresh produce is delicious.

This is my plan. At the end of August I will have to add up all of my purchases and see if I came out ahead of July. Stay tuned!

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