debt busting March

wallet

2010 was a banner year in debt busting for us. It was epic.

In February of 2010 we were $81,607 in debt. By November of 2010 the number was down to $24,500. In eight months we paid off $57,107 in debt.

In the last four months we’ve paid off $3,108 and taken it down to $21,392.

It’s been S-L-O-W. Here’s a graph:

We knew it would be. I’m not working. We have a child in daycare twice a week.

The highs of paying off huge chunks of debt are gone. We’re in a bit of a funk. Sure, I’ve stopped buying anything from BabySteals or the crazy expensive stores in my neighborhood. But you can still spend money without coming home with a shopping bag.

We go to the movies once a week when we have a sitter (my mom). Most of the time we use coupons that we purchased using reward points. Sometimes we go to the theatre that we don’t have coupons for. And often we get snacks.

Chris and I work from home but sometimes that means a coffee shop. I stopped ordering the $6 Grande Lattes with extras over a year ago but drip or Americanos still run $2-$3. Most days I bring an apple and almonds to avoid the calories and dollars of the baked goods. But not always.

We’ve loosely set a weekly cash limit for each of us but haven’t held ourselves accountable to it. Chris often eats lunch out to get a break from the home office on long days. At least once a week I find some reason to have lunch out with Henry, often at Whole Foods because I am a sucker for their by the weight salad bar.

Meal planning has been hit and miss for me. When I am on it we do a good job eating at home and don’t waste food. When I am not on it we have Thai takeout and I visit the grocery store for a frozen pizza because I forgot to thaw a roast the night before.

It’s time to get serious.

This blog has connected me with some great people. Some are even local. One such new friend really inspired me when we met up the other week. She and her partner had resisted meal planning and limiting their casual spending for years. It had initially seemed un-fun and restricting. Things changed, they needed to watch their pennies, and now they like having a rotating meal plan. They like knowing what’s for dinner each week and what they need to buy at the grocery store. They’ve found freedom in planning and spending less.

I want that!

We’ll be pushing ourselves to stay on a budget this month. Here are the details:

Groceries: $500. Last month we spent $626.30 on groceries and I was a C+ on meal planning. We have enough Nespresso pods to make it through February and March and I also have groceries stocked for meals until this Friday. Sure, Chris is gone for 9 or 10 days but $500 is still going to be a challenge.

I want to get my fridge to look like Jo’s at the end of the week. This type of grocery planning isn’t for everyone but I think it could be for us. Just have what we use on hand and no more. For many reasons, I haven’t bought into  kid’s snack cracker/Cheerios packaged food stuffs. Henry doesn’t snack much, just eats at meal times with some milk/water in between. This isn’t just for his benefit: if there are crackers and such in our home I WILL EAT THEM. That’s right, I have no will power when it comes to Wheat Thins or Teddy Grahams or those super salty Gold Fish crackers.

So in an effort to get our cupboards down to zero I will be using up what’s there. I’ll be meal planning every week. When Chris is away I will eat my favourite frugal meals he isn’t partial too (salads!).

Casual spending: $100. Chris and I will each have $50 for socializing and whatever else we choose to spend $ on. This may seem like a lot but lately neither of us can stick to $20/week in this category. Last month I kept track and between some casual meals out and coffees and such, I spent $137. I’m planning on writing at the library and sneaking in tea or coffee from home.

*Date night: Our sitter (my mom) is away for half of the month and Chris is also on the road a bit. If we do get out we will use movie coupons and these are not included in our total.

Transportation: $100. We’ve barely spent on transport so far this year but we have a possible weekend trip this month.

Miscellany: $200. We have at least one family birthday dinner and a possible weekend away. If we do go out of town I want to use our grocery budget for eating on the road. Including any restaurant meals. Great motivation for ordering water and no appetizer.

I’ll be updating weekly on our progress.

It’s good to say goals out loud. Or blog about them. Accountability is a big part of goal setting.

If you’re looking to pay off some debt yourself check out Adam Baker of ManvsDebt’s Crush $1000 in Debt pledge. Adam’s partnered with his tour sponsor, Adaptu.com, to inspire people to pay off $1000 by the end of his RV tour. Check it out. You only need to enter your first name and zip code to make a pledge.

Now, I need your help. What are your favourite ways to cut spending? I’m specifically in need of help in the areas of grocery/meal planning and casual coffees and meals out. Can you still be social if you decline the lunch meet-up? Do you think it’s rude to bring a snack with you to a coffee shop? Do you get arrested, or just kicked out, if they spot you drinking coffee at the library?

**If you missed it: great comments on my Friday post about baby-gear. Many thanks for all the excellent contributions. Also had a few on the Facebook page.

Like what you read here at The Minimalist Mom? Sign up by RSS or Email to get posts delivered to you. You can also find The Minimalist Mom on Facebook(I’ve deleted my personal account but have a page for this blog). Comments are always read, appreciated and responded to – even if we don’t agree on the subject at hand.

Photo Credit: mangpages


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Comments

  1. says

    How did you get 80 thousand dollars in debt? Is that school loans, was someone out of work? I worry that by thinking you can plan meals ahead of time and by not ordering a muffin is going to help with your bottom line when in fact it’s identifying how you got in the situation you are in in the first place. Do you know? Are you aware of where your real spending is going? Are you living beyond your means? Cutting down a food bill is one thing but if you are paying more to live than you make you will never get your head above water. Just trying to throw out a bit of a reality check here.

    • says

      Hi Gretchen,
      Thanks for commenting here. Yes, we are aware of our spending and yes, we know that cutting out a muffin is not the answer to tens of thousands of dollars of debt.
      We got into debt because we were living above our means and then that debt doubled when we assumed some debt from my husband’s small business. It was a mix of student loans (20k), business debt (30k), renovations when we moved ($12k) and the rest was loans on investments and credit cards.
      As we have paid off over $60,000 of it in a year, I think it is fair to say we have done a lot more than just cut out some muffins. If you look through some older posts here, or the essay I wrote for the Globe and Mail, you will see that we drastically reduced out cost of living. We canceled cable, newspapers, gym memberships and sold our car (we walk or use a car co-op now).
      Thank you for the reality check but, and I say this without sarcasm, I’ve been giving myself a huge reality check for quite a while.
      I write openly about our debt not only to help myself conquer it, but to get the conversation started. There are lots of people with debt too ashamed to talk about it. As you can see from comments here, very few people with debt want to discuss their situation. The tips and suggestions I get are from others that have either paid off debt or never been there in the first place. We need to reach out a non-judgemental hand to those that are struggling. One of the reasons people stay in debt is because the shame of it just drives them to find more short lived happiness in shopping.

      • says

        Amen to that! I am so very impressed and inspired after reading your blog. You are so right about the shame and judgment — it comes from within and it comes from others, too.

        I ask my business owner clients to tell the truth about their money, which is often quite difficult (emotionally) for them. But, just as you are saying, once they reveal the truth to themselves, the shame begins to lift and they can take meaningful action. I would love to point them to your blog for encouragement!

        Thanks for sharing what you are up to!

      • says

        In no way was I trying to throw out a judgmental hand…not at all! I have only just began subscribing to your feed and wasn’t aware of the journey you have been on. I wish I had time to backtrack to catch up but i don’t and as a fellow blogger I also know that many people don’t have the time to read months/years back posting. And our job as writers is to simply answer the question and that you did, my dear. thank you! I wish you well on this journey. I know first hand that it isn’t easy to be the “bigger” man and put yourself out there, so to speak.
        I wish that more “get out of debt” types of blogs and articles were as honest as you have been in your reply. Too often I think people are led to believe that if they do just cut back on Starbucks and muffins that they will get out of debt when in fact it takes real sacrifice. Best of luck to you!

        • says

          No worries, Gretchen. I understand – it is hard when you are fresh to a blog to get the back story from one post. And, rightly, you pointed out a fact: tens of thousands of dollars in debt is not going to be saved by limiting Starbucks. Those that have been living above their means for a long time have to make some hard changes. My husband and I often discuss if selling our home and renting would be a better option for us (big mortgage and live in a very high cost of living city).
          I’m hoping to save a few hundred dollars a month with this strategy and get some momentum for paying off the last of our debt. As any FYI to other new readers: we do have enough in retirement and savings to pay off our debt. When we tallied up the amount of $80k+ in debt over a year ago, I told my husband I wanted us to work our way out of it – not just flip over our savings to be debt-free. I am sure a financial planner would have counseled us otherwise but so far I believe it was the right decision. We’ve made some big lifestyle changes and have drastically reduced our spending. Oh, and the best part: we are happier.

      • Abracadabra says

        I don’t think a financial planner would have counseled you otherwise. The $ you’ve save is worth not only the dollar figure you have right now but the compound interest you will earn over the life of the savings. So depleting savings early in you savings lifetime results in a much bigger hit down the road. I forget what the actual ratio is and it has probably changed significantly over the past several years but a $ saved in your 20s is worth $$$ in your 60s. Plus, it depends highly on the relative interest rates and if you would pay a penalty for withdrawing for whatever savings mechanism (I.e. Tax deferred accounts). Finally, it is important to take into consideration that dipping into savings to make a double payment one month does not mean you can skip the next month. You could end up hurting more by zeroing out savings and then having an unexpected expense or cash flow problem and not be able to meet daily expenses.

        All of this might be much more relevant in the US where unrmployment is still 9 %, a single illness can lead to financial ruin, and student loans are both large and could not, until recently, be defaulted on (no matter what, you had to pay them until they were paid off or you died and being late or unable to pay them because of un(der)employment could result in $1000s in fees and charges).

        In the end, I think you made the wise choice to make the lifestyle changes in order to live within your means rather than move money around so the numbers on the spreadsheet were more to your liking :).

  2. says

    Hi Rachel, Thank you so much for the shout out… we have a saying in the UK ‘Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves’, every penny not spent is reducing your debt further. It may seem insignificant but it’s not. It’s a bit like weight loss (why do I use dieting analogy for everything?) you lose a few pounds week one, then a couple week two, three, four, then it gets harder as you have less fat to skim off. Then ultimately you need to ensure the weight (debt) doesn’t start climbing back on. You’ve done fantastically – keep going! My top tip is to invest in a nice water vessel and insulated coffee mug with lid. I have a SIGG bottle. I fill with water, or I fill the mug with coffee if I go somewhere I may be tempted to buy. Not always, but where I know I can get away with it! It’s the little savings that make the big difference long term! Have a lovely week! Jo

    • says

      Dieting and debt reduction run on the same principles. I also have similar parallel thoughts about losing 12 pounds and paying off the last $20k in debt.
      Every time I make a good choice – say no to a coffee out or bring a snack with me or make something for dinner when it looks like the drawers are empty – it builds my momentum and resolve. Just like eating well =)
      Water bottle, check, coffee mug, check.

  3. Marti says

    Rachel- this is the first blog I have ever followed, and so the first time I have ever participated in ‘discussion’. I have to say it has been a very enjoyable experience. I used to live on the West Coast, but am now in PEI. Restaurant prices might be better here, but groceries are about the same, in my experience. You might even have it better, with neighbourhood stores, for certain things.

    This plan might not work for everyone, but it is my story.
    We have a family of 4, kids are 5 and 2. Our grocery bill, including diapers, dog food, house hold items….. is around 80-1oo0$ a week. This is partly because we live in the country, about 30 minutes outside Charlottetown. We both work, but our son goes to school out here in rural land, so we have to rush home after work to pick him up from sitter. Therefore there is no time to grocery shop. We spend a lot of nights having cold cut up veggies and grilled cheese sandwiches because that is what the kids like anyway. When we lived in town, I was always ‘popping out’ to the store to get something for dinner. Now, other than milk, we shop on Saturdays and I try to cook a couple of nice, hot meals on Sat/Sun and maybe 1-2 other things for the week, like chili, that an be heated up quickly. Sometimes I will serve my husband and me a meal made up of 4 very small portions of different leftovers! Or say – ” there’s only enough left over stir fry for one portion, and pasta for one – which do you want?” Ha! This cuts down on waste. Very little goes bad in my house. I am a complete miser on that count. We would probably only eat meat twice a week.

    I am not good at meal planning, but I am good at ‘what’s on sale’ planning. This is a guilty pleasure, because for us it involves getting the flyers (waste ! I know!) and instead of reading magazines, I read the grocery flyers. On Thursday night when they arrive, it is an inside joke that we all run around the house shouting “the flyers are here, the flyers are here!” I then buy what is on sale only. Bread, meat, grapes, veggies, cheese, yogurt, peanut butter – any packages items … are _only_ bought on sale and I stock up. Then we plan around that. If there’s no veggies/fruit on sale we make do with carrots, apples, bananas, spinach – the items that have fairly constant prices. As an example, we would only eat asparagus, broccoli, or any sort of meat if it was on sale. I buy a lot of 50% off breads and veg/fruit, and on Sat a lot of meat goes 30% off in our store – it can be frozen for later. I guess none of this could be done without a freezer chest.

    We have no family support, so we don’t go out much. Sigh. This is probably not healthy, nor is it all that much fun. I go out with a mom’s group of friends once every couple of months. Sometimes to each others’ homes (potluck app’s) sometimes to a restaurant for drinks/desserts – this is cheaper than full meal and can be later at night – after we help dads put kids to bed! My husband and I probably only go out 4 or 6 times a year.

    We paid off $100, 000 (my husband’s student loans) in 2 – 3 years, by living on my salary and using his mostly to pay off debt. Our biggest expense/guilt that I wish we could cut back on is gas – living 27 km from town and with 2 kids and 2 jobs (with different hours) means we have to drive 2 vehicles every day, a total of well over 100 km per day in commuting. But this is where we chose to live, and there is no public transit.

    • says

      Marti,
      Thanks so much for this window into your life and how you paid off $100k in debt. Fantastic!
      I’m also into the un-fancy dinners… but I need to sell my husband on them. Grilled cheese and soup from the freezer is easy, quick and cheap but not that exciting. I also enjoy scrambled eggs and toast for dinner but again, I need to sell my husband on it. One night a week we have a quick dinner like that but I would like to up it to 2 or 3 nights. Good reminder about cut up veggies – thanks.
      Two vehicles: it sounds like you are very aware of needs vs. wants. Two cars for your household is a need. Don’t feel bad about it.
      Thanks for the tips and inspiring story.

  4. KrissyFair says

    First of all, good luck! I’ve been there with the groceries/meal planning. Here are a couple of things that helped us.

    – Make sure you have a regularly planned shopping day and your meal plan coincides with it. We used to make a plan that ended on Friday, but we might not get shopping until Sunday… sometimes even Monday. That’s when we went back for frozen pizzas.

    – Lock away your cookbooks. I looove to cook so I was always trying new recipes and usually it would need an ingredient (or 3) I don’t keep in stock. Of course, half the time I never make that recipe again so I’ve got a $5 jar of who-knows-what going to waste in my cupboard. So until you get good at sticking to a plan, only cook what you can make from memory.

    – Track your spending in the 3rd week of the month. That way you know how much you’ve got left for you last grocery shop and you can plan simpler meals if need-be.

    • says

      Krissy – did you see me at the store the other weekend buying a frozen pizza on Saturday because I hadn’t organized my meal plan yet? That is exactly what happens to me.
      Sold all my cookbooks. I do follow some great cooking blogs and I am often tempted. But, like you said, I end up with a bunch of lemon grass in my fridge that goes bad and my food bill skyrockets.

  5. KT says

    I have been writing down every penny spent for about 2 years, when you see were you are spending it is easier to shift your direction. I had $100/m in my snack fund (mostly from coffee) which is now down to $15.
    My theory (which most may disagree with) is that you can not always change overnight, and sometime you need to have some incentive NOT to spend. As I may have been an addict to my favourite coffee shop, I now allow myself ONE a week, as opposed to the regular 3 or 4 or 10.
    Some may say I am weak that I should just stop – but that one a week keeps me focused and makes me appreciate what I have!!

    • says

      Erin (her story was on here the other week, Minimalist Families) also says it is best to just reduce, not eliminate. She said that now that she goes to Starbucks infrequently, it feels like a treat. I like this idea.
      I use an app on my phone to track spending. Despite last month’s excess in the personal spending, it does help.

      • Jenn says

        What is the app that you like to use to track your spending? I am interested in finding a good one that someone recommends!

        • theminimalistmom says

          Budget by Deskescape. 99 cents on iTunes. But have a look through the free ones first – I’ve heard there are some good ones there too.

  6. says

    My family’s been focus on debt reduction too this year. I track our spending by paying almost everything in cash. That way I can’t imagine money that isn’t there. For things I have to use my VISA for, I try to already have the money put aside. This way works well for us.
    I also try try try with meal planning, and feel like a fail fail fail. But I have gotten better, and I think it really takes practice (and a solid plan!) I am pretty surprised about how much you spend on groceries. I put aside 120$ every other week, and we usually don’t go over that (We’re also a 3 person family, with a one year old), plus 25$ specifically set aside for eating out.

    • says

      Meal planning: I am getting better at this. I know it will just take a couple months of making it a regular thing and then it will be a habit. And then I won’t even have to think about it – it will be automatic and I will have weeks of set meal plans to choose from.
      $120 every other week for a family of 3? Eeek, please tell me you live in a low cost of living area.

      • says

        I live in Montreal. Definitely better living costs than Vancouver.
        We get a very cheap CSA type thing from a community program of 10$ every two weeks. I buy anything I can in bulk, and despite being bad at meal planning, I do make all our own yogurt, granola/cereal, and bread.

        Have you read the book Miserly Moms, by Jonni McCoy. I find the book a bit hokey, but her chapters on how she brought her family’s meal spending down to between 2-4$ a meal are inspiring, I don’t do anywhere near that well, as I am not a sale searcher. She lives in San Fransisco (I think) which has a very high cost of living. I recommend it.

  7. kristin says

    For meal planning, I like the blog Budget Bytes http://budgetbytes.blogspot.com/ both for meal ideas and for its tips on meal planning and freezing food before it goes to waste if you’re buying in bulk (which may or may not work depending on how much freezer space you have).

    Re: drinking coffee in the library – when I lived in Vancouver in the late 90′s and would study at the Central branch of VPL, they had people walking around handing out fines if you were eating… a lot of libraries have loosened up on food & drink policies so coffee in a lidded cup may be just fine now. There should be signage somewhere in the library that would tell you what’s acceptable – if not, plead ignorance if you get caught, and likely the worst that will happen is they’ll ask you to leave.

    • says

      Budget Bytes: wow! Just had a look and love it. Love that they break down the cost per serving. Will have a longer look this week. Thank you.

      VPL: good to know. Maybe I just need to suck it up and bring some water. I should be able to last 3-4 hours without a snack.

  8. says

    Good for you for making so much progress!
    On the food front, my top tips would be – eat less meat, use what you have, buy bulk, and invite people over rather than going out. This all ties in with meal planning, too. I just started a meal planning calendar last month and it’s great – otherwise I tend to ignore or forget what I have in my pantry. Some 10 kg bags of rice, chickpeas, lentils, and maybe some other grain or legume of your choice make for many many possible meals. My husband also isn’t a big fan or pulse-and-grain type meals. You have to dress them up. Chili, curries, Asian style (think spicy nut sauces)… the same staples can be used in very different ways! When you make something like pizza dough, quadruple the batch, then separate and freeze the other 3 blocks. So easy.
    Can you invite friends over instead of going out for coffee? If you are just dying to get out of the house, can you go hang out at the library, or the park? What is it about going out to lunch or coffee that you like, and how can you re-create that experience at home? My library has a little café area where one can eat and drink freely, though yeah, the security guard (a mild older gentleman) will tell you you may not drink anything in the library proper. Inquire at your own library.

    • says

      I can definitely hang out at the park (if it’s not snowing like it was this weekend) and library. The library even has a small toddler play area that I take Henry to when we go to story time (stretches out the even).
      And yes, I need to invite people over for coffee. We have a great coffee machine and (for downtown living) lots of space.
      Being a mostly SAHM, I do like the feeling of getting out of the house. But I can get that without spending $. There are a lot of free places to take children downtown. Thanks for your comments, Amy.

  9. shelly says

    Hey Rachel,
    I’ve starting buying all my meat direct from local farmers. I’m sure in the long run it’s slightly more expensive than grocery store meat, but definitely a lot cheaper than the organic stuff from the store and way healthier than the non-organic. The stuff I get isn’t certified organic, but I like that I buy directly from the person who cares for the animals, the beef is grass fed instead of grain, and that they are not mass processed. I also find that when I have a freezer full of quality meat it’s always pretty easy to come up with something to make for dinner. And the leftovers are awesome for lunches :) I just have a regular fridge with a freezer on the bottom in my condo and I can get a lot of meat in there!
    Alberta has a few websites that list local farmers and what they produce, most also deliver to the city….hopefully you can find something similar in your area!
    Good luck!

    • says

      Thanks, Shelly! Katy and I were looking into finding something similar to what you get. Still looking and I am very interested. So far we’ve either found it is really $$ or the packs are just too big (we would need to find a third person to split with).
      Hope school and life are good. July? Stampede? Hope I am there.
      R

  10. Eva says

    Hi Rachel,
    So far I’m impressed with the debt reduction you’ve already accomplished! I go shopping for groceries twice a week. Before I go shopping I make a list of the meals we will be eating that week and make a shopping list. Since it’s not possible to buy all the fresh foods so far in advance, I go shopping a second time in the week to buy those. I almost never have to throw anything away and also almost never miss out on stuff. Also I try not to go to the store hungry! I use a coffee mug to save on coffee costs, but sometimes I allow myself a treat and buy a nice good cup of coffee. I think it’s important to still allow yourself a treat now and then (i.e. the movies or good coffee or whatever you’re into), so you don’t lose motivation.

    • says

      2nd shop: When I have meal planning I have also noticed I have to carefully arrange meat purchases vs. consumption date. While I want to have a bare freezer, I have noticed it works quite well to eat fresh meat early in the week and then things from the freezer in the latter half of the week. Hmmm.. have to think about the 2nd shop idea. Although, if I could convince the household to go vegetarian Thursday – Saturday we would be fine =)

  11. Ashley says

    Hi Rachel,
    Way to go, these are GREAT goals for any family. My husband and I don’t have any debt (thankfully), except our mortgage which takes up almost all of the one income coming in so we have been trying to be very diligent in not spending. Here’s what works for us:
    -Meal planning for the week has saved us lots of money. Once you start it just becomes habit, like brushing teeth. Also, eating more vegetarian (adding lentils in spaghetti sauce instead of gr. meat) can be cheaper.
    -I like to have people over to my house for coffee/tea/lunch (well, especially with two little boys at home, it’s hard to get out). Lunch is basic…egg salad sandwich, or just cut up apple/cheese, a few crackers.
    -Basically, if I don’t go out to the stores, I don’t buy stuff. So if I need to get out of the house, we go to the library (as you said you’ll be doing when you need to write) or just walk down to the water, or go to a friend’s house.

    I think I’m just repeating what other people have posted already. Hopefully you’ll get into a routine that ends up feeling natural and effortless!

    • says

      Thanks, Ashley. I think you nailed it about the routine. It needs to become a habit but also be something that works for us. In the last year I experimented with cleaning, what scheduling style worked best. For a short time I did an hour each morning of real clean time – think bathroom floors – and then did up keep here and then the rest of the day. In the last few months scheduling a 4 hour window each week for intense cleaning has worked best. I know my two best chances for grocery budget are meal planning and reducing waste. Thanks for your tips =)

  12. says

    Thanks for the Adaptu shout out! We’d love to hear your feedback on the Crush Debt Challenge (and the rest of the site).

    I’m all about bringing sack lunches to meet ups. If you just set the precedent that you are always going to do it, your friends will get use to it. Just be prepared to buy lunch for special events, birthdays for example, but it’s a nice treat. My roommate and I save money buy buying food and cooking in bulk. That way we have lunches for the rest of the week.

  13. Erin says

    First of all, I have to give you a giant WHOO HOO! for paying off $60k in debt in one year! It took us over two years to save up that much for our down payment when we had no kids and I was working two jobs.

    I think your budget looks pretty realistic – we aren’t very good at limiting our spending on food (it’s the only area where we don’t really worry about what we are spending). I am terrible at meal planning as I don’t like to plan too far in advance what I will be eating at any given meal. The only real way to get around that is to have a variety of meal-worthy ingredients in the house at a given time. The ONLY place I buy meat for dinner is at Costco – it is just too ridiculously expensive at any of the other grocery stores around here. We tend to shop there about once a month, and when we get home I divide the meat up into individual freezer bags (each with enough for one meal) and freeze it all – that way there’s always something in the freezer to start a meal with. I do tend to hit up the local grocery stores for produce throughout the week. Dining out can be ridiculously expensive so we try to limit it, but we do eat out as a family about once a month (I also like to take the kids out for lunch once every week or two, but I don’t tend to spend more than $10 for all three of us).

    Up until two months ago, I was hitting up Starbucks almost daily just for the convenience snack-factor for the kids (Thomas has been known to yell “Starbucks!” from his stroller as we walk down the street. Oops.). Since the beginning of the year when I started baking at home I haven’t actually bought any snacks or treats at all (either at the coffee shop or the grocery store). When I realized I was paying $7 for six muffins at the grocery store and it actually cost less than a dollar to make those muffins at home, it was a huge realization for me. I’ve also discovered that my friends LOVE homemade goodies, so when I go to playdates now I take something homemade rather than just picking something up at the store. So yes, I think it is definitely possible to stay social while keeping spending in the area of food under control. :) Good luck!

  14. cara says

    I’ve just started following you and am totally inspired. I am starting the 30 day clutter bootcamp today! I will not bore you with the details but needless to say – I see a lot of my family in your family. I think I probably like to shop more than you.

    Here’s my tip for meals/grocery bills…I’ve started going to SupperWorks. I think you must have one or similar type thing in Vancouver. You book in advance, go and make 6-7 different entrees which you can split into at least two meals for two each. Not only is it super fun (especially if you enjoy cooking but hate prep and cleanup), but now you have a whole bunch of great meals for dinner. I just pull them out each night and throw them in the oven. Maybe make some rice or salad to go with it. No prep, no mess, no clean-up.

    You do need to have a big freezer to store it all. Some argue it costs too much but I see the savings as follows:
    No trips to the grocery store to buy food for meals and then end up buying the new Insider’s Report item.
    No buying a huge bunch of cilantro for one tablespoon.
    Huge time savings, which I am all for with two under two.
    Did I mention – NO MESS!

    Any way – it’s worth checking out to see if it works for you and your family.
    Looking forward to following your journey.
    Cara

    • says

      Hi Cara,
      Let us know how the 30 Clutter Bootcamp goes!! Shoot me an email or please post a comment about it.
      There were a few companies doing SupperWorks type meal prep in Vancouver and it seems they have all moved to delivery service (and are quite spendy). I do like that idea of batch cooking. I have heard of friends doing a meal swap – everyone makes a multi-batch meal and then they trade off. Sounds fun and I do love to know what others are cooking. Might propose a test run with some friends.

  15. Katie says

    So glad to see this post. The graph is such a realistic look at how debt reduction speeds up and slows down over time – my husband and I are experiencing the same thing!
    In terms of saving money on meal planning, one thing that my husband and I realized was that ignoring all the sales and coupons actually saved us money. It seems counter-intuitive but the reality is that we eat many of the same foods repeatedly over the course of the month. We’re lucky enough to live in an urban area with many choices about where to shop (from home, we can walk to a jewel, trader joes, whole foods, a butcher & a produce market). About a year ago we took several weeks to price out our staples at each shopping option. We found that we spend least when we do the bulk of our shopping at Trader Joes, while purchasing milk and “stock up” items (such as spices) at Jewel, and any meat (although we eat very little) at the butcher.
    We’re down to less than $60/week on groceries for the two of us! Others may find a different combination works better for their eating habits…. figure out your shopping patterns and your options and your grocery bill will hopefully be reduced as well!

    Also, I saw many comments about not experimenting with recipes – I agree that can get expensive and we generally avoid it for our day-to-day menu. But it’s sometimes how we save money on socializing. We often decline dinner or lunch out with another couple, but instead invite them over explaining that there’s a new recipe we’d like to try.

    • says

      It really is about finding what works for you. I’m fascinated to see/read so many great comments from people that have reduced their grocery spending and that they’ve all done it in different ways. Some are coupon and sale chasers, others are bulk shopper and others are planners.

  16. says

    I always have on hand the ingredients for several super easy meals I can make instead of ordering out/going out/frozen pizza. These are usually vegetarian. For example, Thai Peanut Pasta with frozen spinach, Yellow Rice with black beans and peas, Stir fried rice with frozen stir-fry vegetable mix and extra eggs or almond slivers, lentils with rice and carrots, salmon noodle casserole with peas, or Mexican dip with refried beans, salsa and cheese served with tortillas or chips. Each of these you can make in 20 minutes, or the same amount of time as a frozen pizza and much quicker than take-out :) Pick a couple to always have on hand for the “I planned xyz for dinner but forgot to defrost the meat/ran out of time/didn’t get to the grocery store” days.
    As for kids, I always grab a bag of snack mix (cheerios, raisins and peanuts) before I leave the house (and our waters of course) and often bring “quesadillas” with us if it will be lunch time while we’re out (tortilla topped with shredded cheese and microwaved until melted) as I’ve found those easy to transport and make, as well as pretty clean to eat on the go.

  17. Jim says

    Hi,

    Great to hear you’ve reduced your debt, and I’m interested to learn more.

    What has changed, and/or what were the key financial opportunities available that you were able to pay such large amounts towards debt vs incurring more? For example, if I added it up correctly, your car sale and the money saved there contributed less than one month of debt payments (which seem to have averaged over $5,600 toward principle alone for the last year).

    If the debt payments are not sustainable, what was your reasoning for the decision to pay down the debt vs the flexiblity of having the cash on hand or investing.

    thanks for sharing your story so far.

    • says

      Hi Jim,

      We are high income earners so that has been a big contribution. I should say my husband is now, I am at home with our young son. Half of what we were able to pay off was due to a huge tax return + small family inheritance. I’ve detailed more ways that we saved in others posts, reduced our bills by $1000/month, sold things, stopped buying things.

      Our #1 reason for wanting to be debt free is for a flexible life. The idea of both my husband and I working 50+ hours a week with a young son at home is not appealing. We want to spend more time together as a family. We need to reduce our cost of living to do this.

  18. Cath in OttAwa says

    I have been much better about meal planning over the past six months and also build in a day a week or so for leftovers (it originally started as a bid to end food waste but it has had really good benefits in terms of money as well). We decided that it was worth it to us to buy organic when it comes to milk and those fruits/veg that are highest in pesticides etc so our budget is a bit higher than it might otherwise be … But that
    ‘s a trade off we’re comfortable with. I agree with the comment re: a big cooking session on a Saturday or Sunday – I often will do a roast chicken or something similar and then build 2-3 other meals around it, including a hearty soup or grain-based salad. I also now keep a frozen pizza shell in the freezer for leftovers – I find my DH is more likely to eat leftovers if there’s crust below and cheese on top! Am very inspired by your journey and look forward to hearing more!

  19. Cherrill says

    Just out of curiousity, why do you want an empty fridge/freezer, even though you want to eat at home more? Is it just a matter of not wanting so many things around? I only ask because there’s a huge cost savings for things like meat if you buy in bulk. If you compare the $/kg for a package of 2 chicken breasts, for example, to that of a “club” pack of 10 (that you could then split into 5 meals and freeze), it can be a huge savings. That’s just one of my shopping tips–I never buy a single meal’s worth of meat, I always go for the bargain.

    The suggestion about getting rid of the cookbooks is great–I am TERRIBLE for doing the same thing of buying something for one recipe only to never use it again (and they are always the super pricey things).

    Congrats on the major debt reduction. That is really incredible and inspring!

    • says

      I’m still new to being frugal and minimal-ish. The idea of having just what we will eat that week in the fridge appeals to me: less food waste, easy visual for what we have.
      I agree that buying in bulk is a great cost savings. We do visit Costco for meat and eggs. But our kitchen is very small and fridge not so big. I’m limited in storage.
      Going to give this idea of having just staples + food for the week on hand a run and see how it works for my spending.

      • abracadabra says

        I’ve been contemplating this strategy but have been conflicted. We get a lot of information about disaster preparedness — and one of the recommendations is having 2 weeks of nonperishable food on hand (plus enough water for several days). We grew up with more or less this much food on hand because we lived in the country and were occasionally snowed/iced in for several days but once I moved to an urban area, I didn’t bother — thinking it was rather extreme but we do live up river from New Orleans and 2005 is not too far from mind. We also have had a couple of times this year when winter storms resulted in grocery stores closing for a day or so…

        I like having several stacks of canned beans, rice, oatmeal, etc. on hand just for last-minute meals but also a little piece of mind.

  20. Darris says

    Rachael,

    GOOD JOB! It doesn’t matter to me where you began and why. What is inspiring to me is where you are now and your vision for the future. You’re awesome! I’ve had over a million dollars of net worth and lost nearly all of it through divorce (I gave up a lot of my 26 year contribution to get out). I am in my later fifties and essentially starting over and it’s been difficult for me to ‘kick start’ again.

    As a young woman I had drive, determination, and a vision. My first husband and I created wealth on modest incomes and at the time of our divorce had only a small amount left to pay on our home that we built together. The path was not easy but it was simple. We did without ‘toys’ and conveniences that I see many young people acquiring these days. We took simple vacations to the family cabin every year and had a good life. There really isn’t anything I’d do different as far as lifestyle.

    No one marries expecting divorce (or at least they shouldn’t marry if that’s the case). I was in my relationship for 26 years. There are financial decisions I would do different now and that I am doing differently in my second marriage.

    1. Every woman should have her OWN retirement account. I chose to take a higher rate of pay and invest my money in my husbands retirement account and 401K because it seemed the most financially intelligent thing to do at the time. I contributed to my husband’s retirement, 401K, and various other accounts for 26 years with very little to no benefit after divorce. We were ‘legally’ married for 17 of the 26 years and in CA you are not legally entitled to anything outside of marriage.
    2. Every woman should have her own ‘emergency fund’. It should be in her name and kept in a secure account. I had $20K in my separate emergency fund. My husband had no ‘emergency fund’. When he was injured at work we went through every penny of my account to make ends meet and it was never replenished.
    3. Every woman should have her OWN health insurance plan that includes her children. We made a decision together for me to take a higher rate of pay in lieu of benefits. In hindsight I see now this is never a good idea. I cannot tell you how this one choice has negatively impacted my financial and emotional life.
    4. Every woman should have a vocation and something that contributes to the income of the household on a regular basis.
    5. Every woman should have a reliable means of transportation and it should be paid for and reasonable to maintain. We lived in a rural area so we needed a car to do life.

    I have many more pearls of wisdom in this area but I will stop here. It’s your blog not mine. I’ll close by saying that my recommendations do not stem from bitterness but from the desire to have a happy, stable marriage where both partners are equally valued. I have found that in my second marriage.

    I think you’re a brave woman to lay it all out for us on your blog Rachael. I wish you all the best in your journey and I will be out here supporting you all the way.

    You go girl!
    xxoo

  21. Vanessa says

    We tried several times unsuccessfully to meal plan, I think we had great intentions before, given the amount of food we would end up throwing out at the end of the week, but it wasn’t really motivation enough to stick to it – I think we really felt that we would be losing out if we budgeted and meal planned – Where’s the spontenaity and creativity in that! lol That really changed for us when financially we didn’t have a choice, my partner was looking for work and our savings were dwindling. And so we sat down, looked at our finances, and said, okay first priority is eating – if we want to have our money last us x amount of months until work is found, then this is how much we have per week to spend on food. It was a huge eye opener…I had never ever budgeted to that point, where there really wasn’t anything else to spend, or it meant not eating in a couple of weeks. This isn’t the case for everyone obviously but it was enough for me at the time to kick me in the butt – and of course, is something I wanted to do for a long time but I now had a real reason to do it. It’s definitely not easy when you first begin, because you have your vices, of things that you really enjoy – which of course are most likely your budget killers, and will take up a good percentage of your grocery bill. And so those are usually the first to go – BUT – if you have the time in your schedule – they don’t have to be. It does mean making pretty much everything from scratch – which believe it or not, once you start doing it – you won’t miss what you used to indulge in, because your homemade stuff will taste a million times better than what you used to get, and you know what’s in it :)

    We have hovered around spending $90/week on food for three people (our son is only 19 months so he doesn’t eat an adult sized portion but does like ‘snack’type foods throughout the day). Right now, while we wait for some additional funds to come in, our budget per week has been $64.

    Sounds scary, and initially was really difficult to accept, BUT, oddly enough our indulgences have not suffered too much at all.

    We have found some great recipes that we usually include in our meal rotation, and will sub one or two in and out each week for variety. We have found this way, we know what we’re buying when we go to the grocery store, and know exactly how long everything will last us because we have eaten it before.

    I’m a big fan of making everything in bulk, and either freezing it, or eating it as left overs. So when I cook, I make enough for what would feed usually a family of 8 or 10 people. Get yourself some larger cooking pots, if you can, it makes things much easier, so that you can just double, triple or quadruple a recipe. Most things freeze well.

    We eat mostly vegetarian, but occassionally sometimes once a week will have some sort of meat. Shopping while things are in season or on sale (ie turkey season for example), can save you big. One turkey can make many many meals for a family of 3 or 4 – especially if you use the bones to make a bone/turkey broth, and then this can then turn into turkey soup for many great meals, some even make turkey pot pies – i’d love to do this but haven’t ventured it just yet.

    There are things that I still buy organic on, and I will buy organic whenever possible – the biggest suggestion I have (when I lived in Vancouver), is to stay away from the grocery stores, unless purchasing dry type ingredients like flour, or beans.

    There is a great market actually on Granville, that I used to shop at, that is almost entirely organic, and I paid SIGNIFICANTLY less there for organic produce than I would have for conventional produce at the supermarket.

    I also now stay away from anything premade, so no beans in a can, tomatoes in a can we still do (diced, tomato paste, unless I can find fresh tomatoes on sale – which does happen often, and tastes much better, and of course is much healthier). We buy our flours, beans, and rice in bulk. Lots of spices on hand can make any dish different, even if it uses practically the same ingredients each time.

    Having a car can make things a bit challenging in this, but if you don’t mind splitting up your shopping over two days (which is what we did, as our preferred shops were in different directions), we would spend one day getting our dried ingredients and dairy products at the supermarket (superstore is I think the cheapest in this department), and then the other day at the market. I would say on average 90% of what we ate was organic, and of course homemade..and that was on a $90 budget for 3 people – so it can be done.

    Staying with recipes that have 5 or less ingredients makes things much easier, and much less time consuming, and you are more likely to like what you’re eating.

    I would suggest, with Chris, as I can completely understand his view point – is to suggest that you guys try this for a month, with a meal plan and a budget, making everything from scratch, and if by the end of the month he is still not happy with it, then you can see what needs to be changed to make everyone happy. I truely feel once he tries it and sees how much less stress it is, and how much easier it is on the budget, and how much better he feels eating homemade food, he will change his mind. :)

    Don’t be afraid to price shop, to go and write down all of your regular purchases and compare at a few different places. What I found was incredibly surprising the price markups, from one store to the next, especially grocery stores, which honestly make me sick – when you realize how much more you are paying – for the same, if not an inferior end product.

    I have heard some suggesting to have a cash jar set aside, for bigger purchase of items that you don’t have to buy regularly but will take a big chunk out of your weekly budget on the weeks you do have to replace that item, I really liked that idea, but for the most part we haven’t had the additional budget to do it, just yet – but I plan to as finances improve.

    My suggestion on the playdates, and meeting friends – is to tell them your goals – if they read your blog, they will see where you’re coming from and may even be inspired by your personal challenge. My feeling is that most people spend beyond their means, and of course don’t want to admit it – so by telling them why you are on a cash budget, why you are forgoing the restaurant eating out, or the latte, they may just join in with you, if not, you may find you have reduced visits with them, but then you know that you likely aren’t on the same page anyways.

    I still bring my own coffee from home, my own snacks, and if some parents question it, why my child can’t have a certain goodie, If I don’t feel that my answer would be openly accepted, or would be judged, my response has always been, oh he has allergies so we’re being cautious about what new foods we introduce, especially if I don’t know the ingredients.

    I’ve never received anything other than, a smile and nod of understanding. If you want some of the recipes we have on rotation, I’d be happy to email them to you :) You don’t have to just live on salads, and grilled cheese :) We regularly eat sweet potato curry, with fresh naan bread, homemade pizza, homemade stews and soups (sweet potato carrot, carrot lentil, minestrone, dhal), and I like to include a new recipe once or twice every couple of weeks to see if we like it.

    For Sam’s diet (he eats mostly what we eat), and I also include seaweed, bee pollen, hemp seeds, cut up pieces of fruit, young coconut, dried fruits like apricots, plums, figs, mango, raisins, coconut, etc. And almost all of these are all organic.

    We also have a bad coffee habit :) And realizing that that takes up 10% of my budget when I have to replenish, it has made me really aware of my vices – although I’m not ready to give it up just yet lol

    It is a lot harder where I’m living right now to price shop, and purchase organic, it’s a small town and options are limited…but it’s my intention when we move in the next couple of months to make sure wherever we move, it has that option.

    Some things I’ve learned when shopping is that some items are not worth the price tag, and means waiting until they go on sale or come in season – like grapes for example, I usually will not purchase these unless they are .99 a pound, we occassionally will purchase them at 1.49lb if we REALLY want grapes, but if they are over that, they are not included in the grocery budget. The same goes for squash, bananas, sweet potatoes, onions, mushrooms – this is where it really pays to know what stores around you charge, and where you can get the best deals. Squash – I don’t pay more than .60 lb, sweet potatoes not more than .60lb (its usually closer to .49lb), onions .89 lb, you can even find fresh organic garlic, (a 5 pack) at a market for $1 (imagine my surprise when I realized that I had been paying $4 for a three pack of organic garlic).

    Pulses are usually cheap (beans, lentils) and do great to replace meats in dishes, if you have the option to buy items loosely in bulk, they are usually cheaper.

    And of course all of our veggie scraps (with the exception of brocolli stems, beets, cauliflower stems) all go into a freezer bag, and into the freezer, when the bag is full, I dump it all into a stock pot, add water, a big of spices, and make soup stock (much cheaper than those small tetra containers, full of bpa, for $4-5 each. )

    Brocolli stems can also be frozen and used to make broccoli soup :) This is also what happens to any extra veggie stuff, that doesn’t get used up by the end of the week, it gets frozen and then I make something out of it, so no waste.

    Ahh okay, I think I wrote enough for a small novel there :) So awesome that you are doing this – I will need to get some tips from you on debt repayment once our finances change in the next couple of months – that’s our next goal.

    I love that you’re posting this, it’s so inspirational :) You rock.

    *Hugs* miss you :)

    • says

      Excellent stuff here! You should write an e-book on this topic.

      Particularly inspired by your veggie scraps and the soup stock and soup idea.

      I’m writing you an email tonight. Have some interesting news and want to hear more about the move and how you are all doing.

      R

  22. Vanessa says

    I just wanted to say – remember if your friends don’t understand, or don’t want to accept your reasons behind dinner dates, or not having that extra latte or what not – you have nothing to be ashamed of, declining isn’t a sign of poverty – it’s just a matter of where your energy and goals are invested, and it’s not in quick entertainment and indulgences, it’s in what’s most important to you, and your family, it’s in spending your resources wisely rather than dwindling them away on things that are not important. That’s something inspiring, not a sign of weakness. :)

  23. K says

    I agree with many of the posters above – do your best to eat as low on the food chain as possible. This is usually healthier and cheaper and make it yourself. Once you start it’s not as big of a time suck as you think it might be. It also sounds like you need a few recipes that you and your husband both really enjoy that fit your lifestyle and budget once you have those you’ll be set. Maybe scrambled eggs don’t work for him but what about an omelet or a souffle? Basically the same ingredients. Also, look up the no knead bread recipe from the NY times (if you can eat bread, I know you mentioned food allergies) or use a favorite bread recipe. its super, cheap, super easy and a piece of warm homemade bread with a veggie omelet seems decadent to me. Or toast your bread, pile some sauteed greens on it and add a fried or poached egg. Can you tell I’m hungry?

    I make homemade pizza (almost) every weekend now and its truly better than take out (and I live in NYC with a million good take out options) and I drink my favorite ($6) wine while I am am cooking and listen to good jazz music either streaming or from a free CD borrowed from the library (I’m a freak by New York standards because I don’t overspend on everything but I’m ok with it) ANYWAY I’m telling you this because it FEELS really fancy. Pizza with our favorite toppings runs about $6.30 and makes 4 meals. I got a bottle of truffle oil for Christmas which makes my homemade pizza even that much more fantastic.

    Do you ever read the cooking blog The Stone Soup? There are some great, easy, cheap recipes there.

    Also, something I have been working on lately -make a spreadsheet of all your staples and how much they cost at various grocery stores – I always thought I could keep in in my head and its just not possible. I was recently surprised to find out that many of my staples are the same price at Whole Foods as they are at Trader Joe’s (the 365 brand, but still organic which is important to me) which makes one stop shopping easier.

    Also, if I had a yard, I would grow my own vegetables. I don’t have a green thumb, but I figure there was a time in the not so distance past when everyone grew their own food green thumb or no. As it stands I’m going to try and grow a few things on my fire escape this spring. Wish me luck!

    And good job on the debt reduction – that is fantastic.

    • says

      Stone Soup: just found her the other week. Looks great and I love the concept of five items and ten minutes = meal.
      Good luck with the gardening. Not my forte (nor do we have an space for it) but I do love getting zucchinis and such from those with green thumbs.

  24. Cath says

    Just a note with menu planning, if you are using a chart, dont forget a column for leftovers from the meal for that day. It can carry forward down the chart to be a meal for a later date. We have 2 adults and 2 teen boys so one leftover meal from each day Monday through Thursday makes for a whole meal of leftovers on Friday night and everyone can choose which dish they want. Almost like a Pot Luck restaurant menu!

  25. David says

    Meal planning for us is hit and miss. We get on a good run, then something comes up and we lose momentum. But we go back and try again. I think someones level of motivation is very important. There was an earlier comment by someone who was out of work and had to budget. Being debt free has made it hard to develop that level of commitment.

    I also noticed a lot of people talking about less meat. We do a lot of bulk buying and freezing separately. Now that the kids are getting bigger our meat portions are growing. However, we still try to do a couple of vegetarian meals a week. Gotta love tofu steak with a nice peanut sauce.

    One final point. People only have a certain amount of will power. Use it wisely. If you deny yourself the coffee but end up going out for Thai overall you end up behind. So give yourself some indulgences, just choose them consciously and spread them out.

  26. Elin says

    Congratulations on beating down that 60 grand! Like a few others, I can’t grasp how that was possible. It suggests that you have $60,000 in income that isn’t needed for regular living expenses…does this mean your husband has a massive income? I know this is getting personal, but, hey, you started it. :)

    I just had to report our mortgage interest to the accountant for our corporate year-end, and I almost fell over when I realized we’d paid $10,000, in one year, for nothing. Of course, mortgages don’t come free and if you don’t have cash you have to have one, but it’s still a lot to swallow. And this is for a ’70s house in a Vancouver suburb…and we put 40% down. So compared to most young families in houses in the region, our mortgage is peanuts. Anyway, if there’s a way for us to throw money at our mortgage that I haven’t clued in on, I NEED TO KNOW!

    With regard to groceries, I’m baffled by the fact that we can’t seem to get below $1000 per month for our family of five. I’d like to hear what some of your readers with larger families (packing school lunches, etc.) are spending. We even go to Trader Joe’s in Bellingham for the vast majority of our groceries every three weeks or so, because we can buy organic/natural for waaayy less then we would pay for the same amount in processed crap at any of the local stores, including Superstore. But somehow we seem to blow past the $1000 mark most months. And we cook and bake — no grocery store muffins here! Maybe this is just what three hungry kids cost.

    Enjoying your blog.

    • says

      Hi Elin,
      Nice to meet another local. Food here is expensive. I’m noticing a trend of folks buying in bulk and eating vegetarian to reduce the cost.
      Debt: a) my husband is a high income earner and I was receiving maternity leave benefits until last October and b) about half of what we have paid off was with a HUGE tax return and a small family inheritance. We also sold a bunch of stuff including our car and reduced our bills by $1000/month (cut cable, newspaper, gym membership and was debts were paid off we didn’t have those payments any longer). Yes, $60k is a huge number for a year of focused debt repayment. There was a lot of luck involved with that.

  27. angela says

    I’d say meal planning really helps with sticking to a food budget. But we tend to make up a ‘weekly’ plan rather than a daily plan. I find planning each day’s meal doesnt always work for us and I am more likely to stray/stop planning. So I plan a bunch of meals that we will eat that week but dont necessarily have a ‘day’ for it before hand. If something comes up/changes than we can easily shuffle it.

    I don’t think striving for a near empty fridge/freezer is the best idea in budgeting your food diet. But I also don’t think having a fridge/freezer full of food you dont eat is a good plan either. But buying in bulk is way more economical. Dont buy more than you can easily store but having basics on stock means there are always meals to have and no panicked trips to grocery store.

    I agree with the spreadsheet of prices on basics and the items you buy the most. Learning the reg price, sale price and high price in stores will make a huge difference. Also stores have sale cycles. Learn them and you can pretty much always get your stuff on sale. (as long as you are willing to stock up a bit on some items). Maybe splitting bulk with someone would work??

    I am going to assume most comments from people with super low food bills are American. It’s just not the same for us here in Canada. Many items are priced the same (or lower-rarely) but some items are less than half what we pay in Canada. We have taken to a monthly trip to the USA Costco because we can buy our chicken, beef, milk, cheese, dairy and much needed coffee pods at about 1/3 the price. costs us $20 in gas.

    I was going to add more about your other questions but kids are going crazy ;)

    • says

      Food here is so expensive.
      I’m going to try this ‘clean cupboards’ system out and see how it goes. I track all purchases with an app on my iPhone so I should get a good sense if a) I am spending more or b) if I am going crazy without quick last minute meals on hand. I think we will always have something like grilled cheese and soup available for last minute dinners. And you’ve seen my kitchen: we have no storage!!
      Sale cycles: thank you for this one. I need to pay better attention. There are a few things we buy that are often half price when there is a sale. Need to stock up then and make note.

  28. Rachael says

    I’m in Australia, but I shop a the local farmer’s markets, then meal plan according to whatever I have bought. That way I’m buying fresh and in season. They even sell vacuum packed meat. Something I’m using more and more of which has a lot of bang for your buck in terms of breakfast and snacks are oats. I made a slice each week for the kid’s snacks, and they have porridge or bircher museli for breakfast. Inexpensive but they don’t get the hungries until lunch time. Always whole grains…which are more satisfying and means you eat a lesser amount. I think too it’s good to get your head around eating the same thing a few days if it’s cheap to eat that way. I *do* meal plan, but I like diversity in what we eat. Unfortunately diversity costs money in terms of food wastage if you don’t plan well enough.

    • says

      Thanks for the tips! I seem to switch up breakfast every few years. In my athlete says I was all about muesli and would make my own. Now I have eggs every morning.
      There was a comment above about saving veggie scraps in the freezer for broth and another one about saving meal leftovers and putting them on a pizza. Going to try them out and see if it can both stretch the dollar and reduce waste.

  29. Jill says

    Dear Rachel,

    You have started a fantastic discussion and I found a lot of useful ideas. Thanks! For my family, being largely vegetarian has allowed me to save on the food bills. I have chosen to put that savings towards buying more pricey organic food. (However, we have given up tv and shop second hand for all our clothes.)

    Working from home means that I NEED to have some time social time in a cafe! Sometime I will take the office to the cafe just to get out! However, I was spending too much money on chai soy lattes and lunch. So I took a tour around our small-town in Southern Ontario and did a taste test. I managed to find a cheaper but still soul satisfying cup of chai in a funky cafe! So I went from paying $5.25 (with tax) to $2.75 for the same amount and taste! And now I meet friends there rather than the pricier cafes.

    My other trick to save money is to eat before heading to the cafe for a tea. That way I order just my chai and don`t end up ordering food along with that! I still get to enjoy the cafe and spend time with friends but I stick to my budget.

    Cheers, Jill

    • says

      So true, Jill. Working from home can make you a bit stir crazy. Like your comparison shopping on cafes. If you buy a drip coffee at Starbucks using a Starbucks card, refills are free. I’ve just started making use of this but will be eliminating cafes this month to get lean on my spending.

  30. Margo says

    I track my spending each month. Last month I put a note in my wallet with how much I spent on coffees, junk food and lunches out – now when the urge hits to waste money on junk food I pull out the piece of paper and remind myself what I would rather do with that money.

    We take out our grocery money. This way we always shop with a planned list at home take the money out of the tin and go spend. Sometimes we’ll grab something on the fly and pay ourselves back out of the tin. This also stops us from getting gourmet or trying too many new meals as we can see how much money we have left so we decide on something simple.

    For the last 8 months or so we’ve been working on $400 a month for the two of us. As we’ve gotten better at basic meals in a regular rotation we’ve begun stocking up on large amounts of our staples. It’s not meal planning in a written list, but when we look in the cupboard the ingredients for our basic meals are there. Last month we were so well stocked we only spent $200 on groceries.

  31. Julia J says

    I started using a budgeting app last month and have been loving it. But for the month of February we spent over $900 on food for 2 and a toddler!!! We eat vegetarian, don’t eat out unless someone else is paying (or special occasion) and I shop at the cheapest places that I know of. I don’t meal plan because I like eating what I feel like that day and we eat pretty gourmet because I love good food, but we don’t waste food and we always eat leftovers for lunch the next day. I do one big weekly grocery shop and then shop each day at closer markets for that dinner’s ingredients. I have read every post and I still don’t understand how a family of 3 in Vancouver can eat on less than $600 a month, be eating good food and enjoying it! Is $900 a month normal in Vancouver? What am I doing wrong?!!

    • says

      Julia – you are ruining my vegetarians eat cheap theory!! =)
      Do you shop at downtown stores? They are 30%+ more expensive than stores across the bridge. I’m noticing that people a) know the best places for cheap produce (even organic) and b) are willing to walk/drive/bus there once a week to stock up. We are car-less but I can still get to a Kin’s Farm Market for fruit and veg once a week. And I find them on average 40% less than grocery stores.
      I feel your pain though. We’ve really struggled in this area. I am finding that fewer trips to the store means lower bills. Maybe try just once a week?

  32. says

    I have tried menu planning and just cannot do it! I find the unpredictable stressful: what if we end up with leftovers/don’t end up with leftovers, what if something comes up and we end up not eating at home, that sort of thing.

    Instead, I go shopping, buy whatever meat is a good price, and whatever vegetables are a good price, then work out what we will eat this week. We eat mostly meat and vegies, with a few sauces and spices, not much bottled anything. I’m currently increasing the amount of eggs and pulses we eat to cut down costs further, and reducing the variety/complexity of meals so we don’t have cupboards full of seldom used ingredients.

    I could cut costs a lot more, but I must be doing something right, though, because the amount I have budgeted weekly for food, entertainment, coffees and things like clothes and gifts and stuff is not much more than a lot of families the size of mine spend just at the supermarket each week! I realised last week, though, that my latte habit is about 10% of my budgeted amount! Maybe I need to take my own a little more often…

    • says

      This is what I love about blogging and comments: everyone does it different!
      The common theme is that people found what worked for them. I can see that this has a lot to do with lifestyle, cooking style, food taste and family schedules.
      If not meal planning works for you, run with it. Thanks for commenting =)

  33. Elisabeth says

    I agree with many of the points here, and just wanted to add an additional source of frugal ideas. _The Tightwad Gazette_ by Amy Dacyczyn has all sorts of ideas for living frugally, including food. She’s American, but I think that quite a few of her ideas translate across the border.

    Additionally, if you’re trying to kick the take-out-because-I-failed-to-(get home early/defrost something/get out of bed ’cause I’m sick/insert here) habit, I’d come up with 5-10 “emergency” meals that are mostly from pantry basics and that everyone likes and eats. I have even seen people put all the shelf-stable supplies for a given meal in one box and labeled it. For the ultra planned out: let’s say nachos are a go-to meal. Put a bag of tortilla chips, can of olives, can of refried beans, jar of salsa, jar of jalapeños, etc. in a basket or box together. Make a note for the front “Nachos–need cheese from fridge, diced fresh avocado/tomatoes/tomatillos if we have them”. Once you make nachos and clear out the box, all the items you need go back on your shopping list to replenish the box.

    I’m not quite so planned out, but I do have 7 notecards with “emergency” meals written out on them, and I try to generally have the supplies on hand for those meals. And yeah, maybe I could just remember them, but on those days I’m exhausted and feeling like “OMG, I can’t face the kitchen” I flip through the cards and think, “oh, I’d forgotten about THAT, heck, I could make THAT.”

    We have food allergies, so we can’t just eat out at the drop of a hat. So, I’ve HAD to learn how to cook no matter what.

    • says

      Like the emergency meal idea. I think it would be soup or chili in the freezer for us. Also, I need to do something similar to your note cards. I have a few weeks of meal plans with required groceries in the notes section of my phone. But I like the idea of having a list of just quick meals and ingredients. Thanks for the tips!

  34. KT says

    we are a family of 5 that have many after school activities, so meal planning is a must at our house. On Sundays we come up with 3 dinner meals, and Friday is always pizza movie night. This way we have flexibility for last minute changes, and I can get most of the grocery shopping out of the way Monday morning.
    Having 3 ‘go to’ meals planned allow us for the I really feel like something else, or we have left overs that need to be eaten. We never really plan for weekend meals as we have more flexibility to decide day of.

  35. says

    Great post! We too paid off all of our non-mortgage debt last year + have gotten a slack with all of the little things – eating out more often than we should, etc. So March 1st, Today marked the start of my Spring Spending Diet! Check out our weekly feed ME meal planner & meal ideas on my blog! Cheers & good luck, Jenny :)

  36. says

    Some ways we reduce our monthly bills:

    we don’t eat out
    we only buy what we need for the weekly menus + staples (olive oil, milk, etc.)
    we don’t go out unless it’s free (we have friends over or go to friends’ houses, free concerts, library events. living in Vancouver I can’t imagine you don’t have a ton of fun free things you could be doing)
    I see you have a bit of mad money you both get each month, we don’t do that (we figure we’ll have mad money when we’re done paying off the debt….we’ve been paying for 2yrs now and hope to be done this time next year, which makes me think…do you have a projected end date?)
    the rest you’ve already taken care of (reducing monthly expenses)

    are we perfect….no
    do we slip up…..heck yeah
    we don’t give up (:

    I have two children living at home (11yob and 18yog) we pay for our daughter’s college out of pocket (which is one reason it’s taking so long), we are definitely middle class here in the US and our income level isn’t luxurious

    some luxuries we still have:
    netflix (movie date nights at home)
    cable internet
    bicycles (my main form of transportation)
    iPhones (only 1 year left on the contracts….still kicking myself over that)
    gym membership (also our form of entertainment we go 6 days a week)

    It does get slow paying off debt. Once you sell off all you can sell, and the income stabalizes, it’s like a weightloss plateau. We like to have a running total of our debts in the kitchen so we can get excited to see it go down….it keeps us motivated (:

    Cheers!

  37. jclouti says

    Thanks so much for being so honest and sharing so much of the things that you have learned. I first read one of your articles on The Globe and Mail, and since then you have inspired me to minimalize in my own life.

    I’d like to share something with you that I do to help keep my grocery costs down and my fridge from being overloaded. It also helps with the problem I used to have of finding a broccoli that I had great plans for when I bought it, forgotten at the back of my fridge. ;-) I’ve been doing this for a few years and it works well.

    http://savingdinner.com/ has some great menus (I use the freezer ones, but I have also used her weekly planner). The thing that is great with this is that every week you get a menu that includes breakfast, lunch and supper for the week, with a shopping list, sorted by food type (meat, produce, spices, etc.). You just have to go to the store and buy what you need. There is no waste as you only buy what you need for the week, and no thought involved – just follow the shopping list. She offers a free menu if you sign up for her newsletter so you can try it out. I’ve been doing this for years and the recipes are great – I’ve only had one or two meals that I wouldn’t do again. Everyone at work thinks that my lunches smell great, if that says anything. ;-)

    Hope this helps. Thanks, again, for the inspiration!

  38. Rebecca says

    Started following your blog a month or so ago and really enjoy it. Well done on paying down your debt. My husband and I paid off all our debt two years ago – wow, just writing that puts such a smile on my face! It was tough, but the freedom is incredible. Now that it’s paid we’ve been free to change our lives – I quit work to write a novel and spend more time with our kids, my husband went freelance and just works 25 weeks per year, making sure that he’s always around when school’s out. You’ll never go back and the life ahead of you is just wonderful… Just wanted to say that to help with your motivation because it does get to be such a slog and it can be hard to keep going. Especially as you’re often going against the flow of friends and of what society considers to be ‘being successful’. Strangely now that our debts are paid the siren song of Starbucks doesn’t sound so sweet – we’d rather spend less time working than go there, but when we were trying to pay down debt it was very tempting. I think we just felt like we ‘needed a treat’. I actually asked people for Starbucks cards with credit on them for birthday gifts etc. and was really grateful for them – much better than more ‘stuff’. These days I have friends over for coffee and bake a cake for them and then go round to theirs next time, rather than meeting at the coffee shop. I invite people first, even though our apartment is tiny people don’t seem to mind, just as long as there’s cake!

    We live in London – very expensive city and the UK has inflated food prices compared to US on many staples. Yet our grocery bill is $325USD per month and our family eat very well. I meal plan like a military strategist! I have a four week rolling menu with a shopping list for each week’s menu. The shopping list for each week is saved at the online grocery shop. So I just go to my ‘saved lists’ and buy the list for ‘Week One’ for example. It took me a long boring evening to plan all four weeks, write the lists and save the lists online, but now the main grocery shop takes about four minutes per week… and that’s when my broadband is being a bit slow. As well as the online shop we go to the local butchers. They know I’m a mum on a tight budget and always give me a good deal. Neck of lamb or leg of beef are great slow cooked in a casserole, and they’ll also often give me a bag of bones to use for stock. We have a teeny tiny apartment with no freezer and only a very small fridge, so we can’t bulk buy and store things. At the end of each week our fridge and cupboards are completely empty, not even one slice of bread left! I prefer it that way – it’s good to know that nothing is wasted. Good luck on your journey!

    • Vanessa says

      Wow, I love your comment Rebecca! Do you have any resources you can recommend – I love the idea of a four week meal plan, it’s something I’ve wanted to try for some time, I’d especially love any tips you have on reducing food costs, and recipes that you frequently use! I hope that’s not too much to ask, but I’m really inspired!

      • Rebecca says

        Hi Vanessa, thanks, it was lovely to see that my comment was interesting to you! My top recipe is Lentil Dal – an Indian recipe which is super-cheap. It’s all storecupboard ingredients so I can even make it at the end of the week when the fridge is empty. Just fry one chopped onion with 5 cloves crushed garlic. Add 1/2 tsp turmeric, 1 tsp cumin seeds 1/2 tsp hot madras curry powder, 2 green cardamom pods and soften for a few minutes. Add a handful of green lentils and red lentils (remember to soak for at least a few hours before), a tsp of veg stock powder, a dollop of tomato ketchup and enough hot water to cover it. Stir then cook in the oven for 45 mins. I serve it with homebaked naan bread. I use a lot of Indian spices so once every six months or so my mum and my girlfriends and I go on a day trip together to an area of the UK where there is a big Indian population and bulk-buy all our spices at the ethnic supermarkets, then split them amongst ourselves. I also buy kohl for my eyeliner while I’m there. Other tips… In your meal plan, put meals together that use up all of the leftovers of the previous meal eg. Day One, Roast Chicken and veg, Day Two Fajitas, Day Three, Chicken Soup made with the carcass and the bones from people’s plates – the meals fit together like a jigsaw puzzle.
        We forage quite a bit in Autumn – my son loves going foraging and he’s already pestering asking when things will be in season. It’s amazing how much you can get even in central London – there’s a great apple tree on public land near us and lots of blackberries on the railway sidings and mushrooms in the parks (NOTE – it’s obvious, but can’t bear the thought of someone getting sick – please don’t anyone pick mushrooms unless you are with someone very experienced – it takes years and years to learn about wild mushrooms and a mistake can kill.) I also pick apples and pears from an elderly neighbour’s tree in exchange for a third of the crop – she isn’t well enough to get up a ladder and she’s glad that the fruit goes to a good home. I make jams, jellies, pickles and chutneys with our foraged food which lasts the rest of the year. Apples keep for a surprisingly long time in our garage too. Being part of the community, like helping my neighbour and getting to know the butcher helps our budget and makes life richer at the same time. Early Autumn is a real bonanza for us, Winter is always more expensive and we have to shop more at this time of year. We grow herbs and a few vegetables in window boxes and in containers on our tiny balcony. I’m going to start sowing this weekend which is really exciting – it’s been such a long winter. Hope this was interesting and best wishes from a cold and rainy London!

  39. Lydia says

    Hello, just started reading your blog after I read your Globe & Mail piece and I love it. I would like to hear what you’re spending your $500/month grocery money on. My husband and I have a $360/month grocery budget, including eating out once a week, and I wasn’t sure how that compared until I read the guy who writes The Simple Dollar and is married with two kids has a way way smaller food budget. I don’t know how he does it. I live in downtown Vancouver like you, so I spend too much at Whole Foods, but we also go to Costco and Kin’s for cheap produce, and we’re pretty good about staying in the budget.

    I always menu plan, but I rarely cook the same thing twice, so instead of doing that “spaghetti every Mon, chicken every Tues” kind of a thing, I just write down ideas and recipes I come across (I read a lot of food blogs), and then I’ll put together a plan from that. I always have to make enough to take to work the next day for lunch, so you’re lucky you can skip that since you work at home.

    I wouldn’t feel comfortable taking snacks to a coffee shop, but I don’t think it’s an issue to take a coffee to the library. My husband and I have Aladdin stainless steel coffee mugs that you could literally throw upside down into your purse and they don’t leak. I highly recommend them. They’re way cheaper at Target if you can get there. ($15 vs over $30 at a kitchen store on W 4th.)

  40. says

    Wow. Way to go! I’m at the beginning of my debt-eliminating journey, so it’s great to hear about someone that has made it over half-way through. I’m so glad I found your blog through Jo’s guest post today.

    I’m subscribing now!

  41. says

    I just read back a few comments, and now I want to know what Julia is spending $900 a month on! I know we don’t have a baby, but the savings can’t be that grand. She says she grocery shops every day, which makes me think she doesn’t have pantry staples, but then what is she getting every week on her big shop? I’m not being critical, I just want to help…
    I have all my pantry staples, so when I grocery shop, I’m just getting fresh things, such as produce at Kin’s, eggs at Whole Foods, and meat from the butcher on Robson and Cardero or Famous Foods. We don’t eat a whole lot of meat. I replenish my staples from Famous Foods (the best for spices, grains, baking needs etc), Costco, and a bit from Superstore. I don’t buy frozen pizzas or anything like that, since I cook from scratch.

    I have a budgeting app, but I don’t use it. I use this budget: http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/SavingandDebt/LearnToBudget/ASimplerWayToSaveThe60Solution.aspx
    Of course it took time to create, and I occasionally go back into my Google doc where I keep it and fidget with it a bit, but for the most part, everything works like clockwork. I also take my food budget out in cash every week, along with my fun budget, so that is probably a good tip.

    • Julia J says

      I want help, so thank you! I shop at East/West market on Main for staples and it is the cheapest I have seen overall. I buy organic dairy which is a bit more, but I don’t buy pre made food except for a couple things my husband likes for work. When I make cookies I eat them all so he can have his nasty Chips Ahoy!
      I also shop at No Frills which I love because it doesn’t advertise and is super cheap. I plan dinner that morning and get what I don’t have at produce shops like New Apple or Young Brothers (great for produce). The biggest problem is my trips to my local grocery 1 block away because it’s Meinhardt, which if you
      don’t know is an overpriced gourmet shop. I have really reduced my trips
      there, but I often think I have something and then find out otherwise and it’s 1 block away and we are car free. It also carries the ingredients I need that can be harder to get. I know the other problem is the meals I make. The recipes have things like raddicchio, artichokes, nuts, specialty cheeses, etc. which tend
      to be expensive. I don’t know how much of that I can change- I think my husband married me for my cooking! LOL ! But I am going to be a lot stricter and careful this month and we’ll see how it goes. My goal is
      $700, so wish me luck! I have read all these posts twice so I am inspired, but I just can’t bear the thought of meal planning. Being a stay at home mom I need variety and spontaneity wher I can get it!

  42. says

    Good for you for paying so much down! Now comes the real crunching.

    My husband and I are always looking for more ways to cut our expenses. Even when we think we’ve cut all that we can, we find new ways to cut more.

    We are a one-income family and my husband has been underemployed for over 4 years. Our income has been cut by 65%.

    We don’t live in a low cost of living area; we live in the U.S., in an area with some of the highest utility bills in the country, and higher food prices than I see anywhere else in the nation.

    Last year, I fed my family for .70 per person per day–and I filled my pantry again, too, for that amount (so we really ate for less than that, because we’re still eating from that-and not shopping for food). We don’t always have money to buy food; we pay bills first, and food is only purchased IF possible.

    I have 4 months of seasonal menus on my site (one for each season) and you can see how we’re doing it (there are lots of recipes as well as information about the things we do to save money).

    We are a family of 8; we can eat for less than .50 for ALL of us for breakfast; many of our meals are around $2 for the 8 of us, and they make leftovers, too.

    A stocked pantry keeps us eating well and for a lot less (I buy when prices are lowest and stock up then. I also buy in bulk).

    If you look closely at your grocery budget, and keep at it, in a few months you could easily cut it in half. I feed all 8 of us (including tolietries, cleaning and laundry supplies, and diapers for 2 children) for less than half of your bill. I used to spend a lot more when I had half the size family that I do now. I’ve changed what I buy (and I was pretty frugal before) and found ways to feed us for a LOT less.

    I don’t stick to a strict meal plan. I use my monthly menus to give me ideas on meals, and we plan according to our whims and the situation. Tonight I was working in the garden until 6:00 p.m., so dinner had to be quick. I changed from homemade pizza (which takes around an hour) to angel hair pasta with a creamy tomato sauce and a side of broccoli. It was quick, and I can make the pizza tomorrow instead.

    At the rate you’re going, with some continued cuts, you could be debt-free by Christmas!

  43. tru says

    I enjoy reading your blog. I am desperately trying to get out of debt (car, house and student loan). I have been reading about becoming a minimalist for a while and i appreciate being able to read different blogs. I am tired of the stress of accumulating more and worrying about whether or not I will have money saved in the event of a layoff. Unfortunately i work in corporate america so i do have to more than i would like on business attire but i am looking at cutting costs there as well. keep up the great work!

  44. says

    I don’t have the guts to drink coffee at the library. Although I don’t drink coffee at all, and I’m not sure other beverages carry the same “necessary for work” thing that coffee can. So I’m not sure what would happen, but I’m way too scared to find out.

    And as for the lunch meet-up, having an older toddler put the kibosh on those. My 2 1/2 year old is good for exactly 15-20 minutes in a place that requires sitting. So having him around saves me money, and it also saves me face because he’s my built-in excuse. We meet up at playgrounds or the library, instead.

    • theminimalistmom says

      Worked at home last week so haven’t faced the library issue yet. And looks like I will work from home this week as well for a number of reasons. Or maybe I am creating reasons to work from home because I am scared of getting busted in the library drinking coffee.

  45. Bobbi says

    I’ve been experimenting the last couple of months with meal planning and keeping an emptier fridge. Thanks for sharing your ups and downs, it inspires me to keep trying even after a week like last week — we had take-out two nights in a row, sheesh!

    Just a comment about striving for an empty fridge versus shopping in the bulk foods section. I get a little kick out of buying just a couple cups of dried beans from a bulk bin that I know I’ll use in the coming week. It’s dirt cheap! Too many times, I’ve bought more than I needed, and even dried beans have a shelf life and become hard to cook if they sit forgotten in a cupboard for a year. Of course, this only works for people who have easy access to food shopping, and know that they’ll be doing a weekly shop.

    Things in the fridge are perishable and shouldn’t stick around too long anyway, right? I’ve noticed so far, my fridge is a lot emptier if 1) I strategically freeze things, either leftovers or raw ingredients, before they go bad, and 2) I eat dinner leftovers for lunches. Much work for me to do in making this a habit.

    BTW, we do have some emergency stores of food – mostly rice and canned beans – that we use and replace every year to keep the emergency stash fresh.

    • theminimalistmom says

      I’d never given much thought to emergency food until it was brought up in the comments here. Err… maybe this is why we don’t have one of those earthquake kits in our home.
      Nice to hear of someone else doing the empty fridge thing. I agree, perishables are perishable. I’m getting into the freeze before it goes bad habit. Just tucked a container of home made Pad Thai in the freezer that will make a nice lunch in a few weeks.

  46. says

    I really enjoyed reading this post…mostly because I love reading about someone else’s experiences that are similar to mine.

    Our mission was to get rid of all debt by December 31, 2010…we started on February 1 and actually got out of debt twice but then with a unexpected trip that took my fiancée to Chicago for 3 months we had to absorb the costs of two homes. By the time he came home the debt had accumulated again…we had a month and a half to get out of debt to meet our goal…We managed to rid 8,000$ of debt by Dec 31!! It was a huge celebration.

    We did it by decreasing extraneous expenses and increasing income on small projects. We have been living debt free since and have created new financial goals for ourselves that include banking 100,000$ by the end of this year…as I write this we sit halfway to that goal.

    People think this is impossible but really it is not…we have a formula…1. remove all debt, 2. increase income, 3. decrease expenses.

    Debt…check!

    Increase income…we work hard and are continually coming up with new ideas to market.

    Decrease expenses…we don’t spend on things we don’t need. We downsized our home and are saving upwards of 1000$ a month now!!

    We also created a $1000 cash on hand account…if there are extras that need to be purchased we go to that and then replenish it the next month. At the moment we earn close to $3000 extra a month beyond our living expenses…now we bank it!!

    This is the only way to go for us and it really isn’t that hard!!

  47. says

    I think paying off $60,000 in debt in a year or less in amazing, and nothing to sneeze at. Wow! Good for you! It’s always easier to get into debt than to get out, but it sounds like to me you are doing a fabulous job!

    If you are trying to cut back your food bills my best suggestion is to eat real food, nothing processed, don’t drink your calories (water or tea only) & minimize or stop eating out. I have tried so many things over the years, from baking my own bread to making yogurt, to freezing meals. Nothing lasted long, because of the time involved. I would much rather buy a store loaf of bread when I can find it for under $1.50, than try to stay on top of making bread. If I can’t, we skip the bread for awhile, or use pitas or tortillas etc instead.

    We don’t buy cold cereal. I don’t buy snacky stuff other than tortilla chips. No soda, no juice, milk only rarely. I buy my beef in bulk once a year, and eggs and chickens from a farm, and we eat all meat sparingly. We mainly buy cheese, nuts, fruits, veggies, canned tomatoes & beans, pb, oats, coffee beans & a deli meat that has no preservatives. Also no rice or pasta. I don’t use the bulk bins. For some reason, I just find them annoying. The best part of all that is weight loss :)

    We do get takeout about once a week, which increases the food bill. My bills for 4 people are probably around $100 a week, maybe less, and some of that is from buying quality, although not necessarily organic, and we tend to eat low carb, high protein. But I do spend some $$ on vitamins/supplements too.

    I shop at Aldi and then my local store for my staples mentioned above. In the summer I use the CSA & farmers market too. No walmart, no Sam’s club, no Whole Foods (even though I love Whole Foods, they’re just too expensive)

    You might check out co-ops, like Azure Standard. If the price is right for what I need, I will use them.

  48. says

    Hi, I just found your blog and love reading your posts! We are a family of three and rarely eat out. I’m not a meal planner, but I keep my pantry well stocked with the basics and hit up the farmers market once a week to stock up on fresh, local, and in-season produce. I also keep the freezer stocked with frozen veggies, frozen fruit, bread, and tortillas that we buy in bulk. That way I have pretty much whatever I need on hand to cook up a healthy, low-cost meal each night. Also, I try to make enough food for dinner each night so that we can have left-overs for lunch the next day, which cuts down of eating lunch out.

    Thank you for your post and look forward to reading more,

  49. Stephanie says

    Not sure if you read new comments on old threads, but I had a financial question you might be able to answer. My hubby and I will be throwing our tax refund cash at car loan #1 to pay if off in April. That car loan payment ($350) will then be available for something else. Should we throw that payment towards car loan #2 to pay it down faster or put it into an emergency savings account? We currently don’t have any money in savings because we want to pay down interest bearing loans. So far, we’ve been ok, but we’ve just been lucky with the non-emergency way of life. What were you doing during this debt pay down or what do you suggest? (I really hope your reply to these since I don’t want to ask on your newest post.) Thanks!

    • says

      Hi Stephanie!

      First, I am not a financial planner and have absolutely no background in personal finance. So I can’t really give advice but I can tell you what we did to get out of debt. We put every penny towards debt and waited until it was all paid off to build an emergency savings fund (the stage we are at now). Now, we did have some money tucked away in registered retirement savings and we had a healthy line of credit available to us for emergencies.

      Doug Ramsey says you should always have a $1000 in savings to use for emergencies. That didn’t really work with our cash flow (erratic income because my husband was self-employed) while we were paying down the bulk of our consumer debt.

      Hope this helps and good luck!!

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