We all need a catalyst, this was mine
On January 1st, I set out to reduce my monthly food budget. Quick estimates of previous spending were atrocious. I was embarrassed and it was definitely the weakest part of my monthly spending. Frequently, I’d be away from home — overcome with hunger — and get whatever I could find.
For anyone who’s struggled to restrain themselves from eating out, the convenience can be captivating. Busy lives offer a perfect excuse for spending the extra money, as there’s less to clean up and a quicker time to satiety. The gratification of fast food, restaurants, and quick junk feels good when you’re always on the go.
Those moments of, “Oh, just this once” or “I better get a quick something to eat,” add up. At least, they did for moi. In some months, every lunch was “out.” $6, $7, $10, and $12 here and there. $500-600 later, I felt horrific guilt. Everyone knows that eating out is expensive, and I was failing at this part.
Finally, I lit a fire under my butt and started the $200 frugal food budget experiment. At the beginning of the year, I was renewed with a sense of purpose to this test. I wanted to push my limits and find a way to hold myself accountable. Frugaling was the perfect place to share that journey.
April food budget breakdown
As in previous months, I’ll share a complete list of days and spending. Everything food and drink-related is included — nothing gets spared. That means that if my good friend has a birthday party and I treat him to a drink, I’m putting it in here. My hope is to illustrate where much of my money goes each month, and to highlight obvious problem areas.
One thing you’ll notice about this month is a hefty increase in sweets and pizzas. From candy bars to donuts here and there, you might be shocked to know that I’ve been plowing through food — good and bad. I’m still trying to figure out what exactly is “causing” the cravings, but it might have to do with exercise levels.
I bike around 30-45 minutes per day and lift weights about 2 to 3 times per week. Together, the calories burned and needed muscle repair seem to be affecting my nutritional needs; in turn, my restlessness for certain carbs.
Noticing emerging patterns
I have failed to meet the $200 food budget experiment every month thus far. This April I spent over $240 on food and drink. I feel embarrassed that I keep saying that, and I struggle to lower it much further. Even though I haven’t reached this goal, I’ve noticed consequences, which is often necessary before change.
Life’s ups and downs are directly correlated with my budget
This month was challenging for me personally. The first week of April often serves as a remembrance for someone who died by suicide. As I navigate that period every year, I try to honor that person’s life in whatever way I can. Interestingly, during this period of April, I was eating healthier options. Later in the month, some of the spending faltered as the stresses of school mounted.
Greater raw food intake
After listening to The New York Times’ columnist, Mark Bittman, speak about the importance of raw foods, I definitely incorporated more. From fresh fruits to vegetables, I sliced and diced my way through the month. While it certainly helped me save here and there, the time it took to prep all that food was challenging when graduate school’s demands heated up. That’s when I turned to more processed foods. Ugh!
Becoming a lazy vegetarian/pescatarian
Meats tend to be expensive. As a consequence, I tended to avoid buying any meats and made a lot of vegetable stir-frys with rice. The combination is frugal, and probably a healthier choice. Although, every now and then I defrosted a piece of salmon for some omega-3s and protein. A secondary reason for this lazy vegetarianism centers on this concept of eating animals. I’m finding it increasingly difficult to enjoy eating another lifeform — something that feels pain.
Exercise undeniably affects mood, food cravings
As much as I try to “be prepared” for the food/mood cravings associated with lots of exercise, I can’t seem to carry enough. I’m on the go all day — from school to work to the homeless shelter. I run and bike everywhere. Moving around all day necessitates a greater caloric intake, but also limits how much I can comfortably carry around. I’m not particularly interested in sacrificing my physical health and back for a frugal month.
Hundreds of dollars added to savings
This portion is the greatest consequence of the entire journey. Over the last four months I’ve socked away cash. In fact, I’ve been able to save about $1500-2000 this year already! While much of these “savings” are artificial, as I’ll need to spend about $1600 on on a summer graduate course, I wouldn’t have had that money if my old eating-out habits were still active. That’s revolutionary for me! I’m happier than ever about my ability to save.
Where do I go from here?
Looking forward, I’m concerned about the $200 food budget experiment. I want to reach this value that’s escaping me. At the same point, we are entering summer in Iowa and farmers markets will be opening up. I’m eager to support locals who are kicking butt and raising terrific produce. It tends to be more organic and cared for, as opposed to grocery store options. If I shop more frequently at the farmers market, I’ll cut down on waste, support local farms, and have better food, but I will have a harder time reaching $200.
At the heart of this internal struggle is a desire to be greener, healthier, and kinder to my environment. I want to care for the earth around me. From my increasing interest in vegetarianism to farmers markets, I want to assimilate these hopes into a frugal food budget.
But Walmart’s (insert your local big-box retailer here) big, bright lights are calling. The stores have “always low prices,” and the produce can often be cheaper than in small co-ops and shops. But what are the consequences? Does frugality compete or cooperate with socially and environmentally responsible choices?
My hope is that if I can prepare even more meals at home, I can justify the farmers market purchases. Additionally, I’m concerned about the amount of treats and sweets I take in. My goal in May is to find more foods that can fill me up, while also providing glucose (more rice, perhaps?).
As always, I’d love for you to join in! Your contributions, comments, and questions certainly help me reflect on my goals. If you’ve done it before and met the $200 food budget, how’d you do it? If you haven’t, why not try it this month?