One of our “famous stories” we like to share is that when we were saving money to pay off our first (and only) mortgage, we ate pancakes three nights a week for supper because pancakes are cheap.
We knew the cost of each cup of flour and I substituted water for the milk in the recipe. We couldn’t tell a difference in the taste and it made the meal cheaper.
Recently, someone asked me what else we did to save money on our food bill because it takes more than just pancakes three nights a week to get you mortgage free quickly (or whatever your goal is). So, I’ll share all our meal planning secrets with you!
Tip #1: Eating out is a no-no.
That means no “Sonic runs”, no Starbucks, no cheap hamburgers, no sit-down restaurants.
If you have big goals, then you have to make big changes.
Lets think about this for a minute. Maybe you’re saying, “Come on now. What’s the harm in one Starbucks coffee a week?” Well, let’s say, for example, you get one Caramel Macchiato a week (because why would you get anything but a Caramel Macchiato?). According to my Google search, that will cost you $3.75 for the tall. I said, “According to my Google search” because I haven’t had a Starbucks coffee since possibly 2008. It’s not worth it. That Caramel Macchiato once a week will cost you roughly $212 a year including tax. If you go for the Grande, you’re talking $252 a year.
You can make coffee at home for PENNIES a cup and I’m not talking about in a Keurig, y’all. Get out your coffee pot.
A Keurig is a gimmick. Not only does it make your price per cup more expensive, it also means that very hot water is passing through that little plastic cup and leeching chemicals into your coffee. Now, don’t give me that “I don’t drink much coffee so I just need to make a single cup” spill. You can buy a single cup french press. It’s not hard. Making a single cup of coffee in a Keurig will cost you more than 10 times the cost of making it in a french press. If you already own one of those re-usable type Keurig cups then you still have to consider the whole “plastic leeching” problem.
For all my single-serving coffee drinking friends, here’s a good French Press for you:
Our favorite brand of coffee is around $35 for a 5lb bag. It tastes wonderful and it happens to be ORGANIC. With that, you can make a tasty cup at home and keep your $212 a year.
Maybe you don’t think that’s a big deal. What if you kept getting your Starbucks coffee each week, and a burger here and there…and a Sonic cherry limeade on Fridays (because EVERYONE has a cherry limeade on Fridays, right?). You could be paying around $435 a year in fast food. Our first mortgage was about $400 a month. Giving up restaurants paid for an entire month of living. (The mortgage was only $400 a month because my husband had been diligent with his paychecks before we got married and he had already saved up half the cost of the house. It was a little, cheap house and we loved it.)
If you added the cost of an actual “sit down” restaurant to this scenario, then your talking about lots more wasted money.
$100 a week spent on restaurants, sodas, coffee shops, and non-essential grocery purchases would cost you over $5000 A YEAR!
Now, wouldn’t you rather have that extra $5000 to put toward paying off debt OR saving for your next big goal?
I thought so.
I hope you get the picture that if you are saving money for a big goal…eating out is a no-no.
Tip #2: We (mostly) gave up meat for a year.
Why? Because meat is expensive. Maybe you’re a “meat and potatoes” kind of person. Well, if you are trying to save money for a big goal then you need to be a “beans and potatoes” kind of person for a while. This might be different for a hunter but you still need to figure in the cost of a hunting license, gear, ammo, and processing (if you don’t process it yourself).
Tip #3: Sodas are a waste of money.
Drink only water, coffee, or tea. If you shower each day, that means you’re already paying for water. Drink it. Coffee and tea are a nice treat that are also cheap. Sodas are bad for your health and expensive. If you are buying them, you might was well throw your money out the window…while you’re on the way to your doctor (or dentist). You’re going to waste money and end up unhealthy. Period.
Tip #4: Eat as healthy as you can for as cheap as you can.
So, I told you we ate pancakes three nights a week for supper. What about breakfast? Boxed cereal can be expensive so a good alternative is oatmeal. Not the little packages, either. Buy the canister of off-brand quick oats. Put a little pat of butter in a bowl, add a pinch of salt, a sprinkle of sugar and cinnamon, and half a cup of oats. Pour enough boiling water in the bowl so it just covers the oats. Cover it with a small plate so it can steam. In only 5 minutes, you have breakfast!
Obviously, you need some fruits and vegetables in your diet also. The best thing to do here is avoid the “dirty dozen” and eat the “clean fifteen.” Because organic food is not in your budget right now.
What’s the “dirty dozen”? I’m glad you asked. It’s 12 of the most heavily sprayed (with pesticides) fruits and vegetables.
They are as follows:
I’m sorry. I know you really wanted some kale but you’ll have to wait until you can budget for organic.
Instead, let’s shoot for the “Clean fifteen.” These are fifteen fruits and vegetables that are said to contain the least amount of pesticides. That means, you can feel good about eating these fruits and vegetables even though they are not organic.
They are as follows:
Frozen sweat peas
You still have to be careful with that list because some of the items on there are expensive if they are not on sale or in season. Avocados, for example, can run you $1.50 each sometimes. Once a year, we have found them on sale for .25 cents each. That is the only time we buy avocados.
Also, pineapples generally go on sale once a year for $1 each. When that happens, throw yourself a pineapple party. Stock up and get your fill of pineapples because they probably won’t go on sale for another year.
Here’s the basic principle: In our quest to pay off our mortgage, we mostly bought beans, rice, potatoes, oats, flour, and the cheaper fruits and vegetables from the “Clean 15” list.
We also did not buy cheese during that time. To us, cheese was a luxury and it was expensive. When we sent in our final mortgage payment, we took a trip to the grocery store and we bought a specialty cheese to celebrate.
My MiMi used to chirp “cheap cheap” when she was around us. She was playfully and lovingly doing it because the truth was, she was proud of us for our choices.
Tip #5: Pack a Lunch
We are debt-free and my husband has a good job yet he STILL cannot bring himself to by a Starbucks coffee. He has gone to the location near his work several times with the intent to treat himself on a hard day. He walks in, looks at the prices, then heads back to the office to make some in the coffee pot on his desk. Once you get started with this mindset, it’s hard to stop because you keep seeing the rewards.
My husband takes his breakfast and lunch to work with him each day. Several of his coworkers walk in each morning with their expensive coffee and they go out to lunch each afternoon. But he knows that taking his breakfast and lunch each day means money in the bank. If for some reason, he HAS to buy lunch, he will get a $5 foot long from Subway. He’ll cut it in half and have lunch for two days. Also, there is a cafeteria-style restaurant near his work and he can get a plate full of food for around $2. BECAUSE he buys vegetables, NOT meat. It’s cheap to buy a plate of ginger carrots, seasoned green beans, herb potatoes, and a roll.
Tip #6: Avoid Temptation
Have you ever heard the phrase, “Big hat. No cattle”? It means “someone who is full of talk that is more impressive than that which one actually possesses or is able to do.” “Big hat” means the Western cowboy hat. “The term is often applied to ranchers. On the theory that if you’re going to wear one, you’d better be a cowboy and not just dress like one, you should be able to produce a head or more of livestock. If you couldn’t, you were just full of hot air.”
Maybe you’re looking at the people who drove their expensive SUV to the store. There they are, walking around in their $90 Chacos with their cherry limeade and bagging up their (out of season) $1.50 avocados. As you stand there with your shopping cart of beans, rice, oats, and cheap bananas, just remember…”Big hat. No cattle.” YOU are the one winning here. You have a goal and you’re getting there. It will pay off. And, most of the time, the people who LOOK like they have it all, the people who LOOK like they have money in the bank…don’t. They just spent their last $4 on that limeade.
Tip #7: Enjoy the Benefits of Your Hard Work
We continued with these frugal grocery habits for 6 years. Yes, we paid off our first mortgage in 13 months. However, we had a bigger goal in mind so we couldn’t stop there. We were saving for land and our Dream House. After 6 years of being frugal and saving, it all paid off. We were able to buy 5 beautiful acres near my husband’s work and build our Dream House. I can confidently say it was all worth it.
We have no debt, we have our dream house on land we love (we also have an additional 10 acres in another part of the state), but we still continue these practices. Not to the full extreme that we once did while we were saving for our Dream House but we still do it. It enabled my husband to stay home for a while after each of our children were born and we have been able to take them on many trips. Anyone else who has done this knows that delayed gratification is worth it.
Victory is Sweet!
“A penny saved is a penny earned.” I mean, A PENNY. Everyone has different financial situations. Some people can eat beans and rice and manage to save a few dollars each month (by the time they pay for other bills). Others can do the same thing and save more. It all depends on your income. However, I want to stress here that both people in that scenario are winners. It may take longer for one person to reach their financial goal than another but the key is to keep going. “Just keep swimming” as Dory would say. If you keep to it, you can consider each day a victory.
Each lunch you pack and carry to work with you is a victory.
Each time you pass a restaurant and don’t stop, it’s a victory.
Each time you buy the cheap bananas instead of the expensive oranges, it’s a victory.
You can do it. I know you can.
Disclaimer: I know some people make just enough money to get by and there is no shame in that. However, I also know that most of you who are reading this are not in that position. You may think you are in that position but you are not.
I will cover some of this in later posts but if you buy: coffee on the go (ever), fast food, sodas, new clothes from a store, have paid TV or a contract cell phone… you have room for improvement.
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