budget, meet september. september, meet budget.

True confessions time, shall we?

We eat out a lot. I don’t mean like sit-down restaurants with huge portions, I just mean we seem to do it on-the-go or at coffee dates or lunch dates or sometimes it’s take-out or coffee drive-through or take’n’bake pizza or coffee from the cafe in Target or food courts while shopping or a craving for Chipotle burritos or a craving for an iced venti decaf white mocha with a half a pump of hazelnut. Hypothetically.

But something about it not being those sit-down restaurants made us feel like it was ok, you know?Like as long as it’s not the Olive Garden we’re not wasting our money. We’re not being extravagant, we’re just being busy (and other lies I tell myself…) but then we took a closer look at our budget.

You ready?

We spent almost $600 on food last month – eating out and grocery store.

Holy crap, guys. HOLY CRAP. Granted, some of that was spent while we were traveling or out of town which is somewhat inevitable (hello, NYC and Oregon trips) but $600 is completely unacceptable for a family of 3 (2.5 if we’re honest) to spend on food in a given month. This has got to stop.

In reality, we’ve known it needed to stop for a while now. But summer is summer, you know? We’ve been to several states and on several trips and all those yummy iced coffee drinks (excuse excuse excuse…)

…I don’t care if summer is summer, a budget is a budget. And we were breaking ours.

So, September 1st has been circled on our calendar for a few weeks now. It is O My Family’s day to change. For the entire month of September we will not pay a single cent to eat out.

Cold turkey, friends (and I’m not talking about the lunch meat in the fridge). No more. None. No coffee, no Noodles & Co., no Jimmy Johns, no Papa Murphy’s Pizza. None of it. For a month.

As I write this, I am in a bookstore cafe and I promise you, the toffee mocha frappuccino and Chonga bagels are calling my blessed name. This is not going to be easy. I can count on both hands the number of functions and events we have at restaurants this month where we may be the only ones not ordering something. This is not going to be easy. Lately, this chasing a toddler thing has me plum tuckered out by 4:00 and I have little oomph left to make dinner. Usually we resort to take out at that point. This is not going to be easy.

So far I have thought of a few plans to help our family succeed at this challenge:

-Once a month cooking (on a smaller scale): I have never attempted OAMC, where you spend an entire day in the kitchen preparing meal after meal (but it’s more efficient because you prep and clean once, and often dishes have similar ingredients that you prepare together) and then freezing them. Then, the night before you plan to eat it, you take the meal out of the freezer and put it into the fridge to thaw (or put it on the counter by 9am the day of). Now, I don’t think I can handle a whole month at a time being that I’ve never ever tackled something of this magnitude, but I really want to try a 2 week version. I hope to do that this weekend which should help with O crud, it’s 4 and what’s for dinner? O’clock.

-Grocery ready-to-go’s: I don’t know if this is technically cheating, but in the back of my mind I anticipate buying a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store on one of those nights that we would normally resort to Chipotle. A frozen pizza or 2 will probably sneak its way into my freezer as well.

-Bringing snacks with us: I already do it for OBaby everyday – I have enough on hand for him to constitute a meal when we leave the house. Some snack sticks, some fruit, water, sometimes I even bring a small cooler bag (the one that came with my breastpump) with cheese sticks and hard boiled eggs in it. I need to start including enough for myself (and DanO if he’s with us) because being out and about and hungry is our main down fall.

-Avoid, when possible: yes, social functions often occur at eating establishments and yes I will continue to be social, but when it’s within my control this month, I will try to avoid cafes and stores with food courts as playdate settings. I will opt instead for libraries (although those increasingly have coffee shops and in-house restaurants), beaches, houses, and parks.

Sure, I’ve thought of some strategies but friends, (say it with me:) this is not going to be easy. But neither was looking at our budget last month. So.

Do you have any help/tips/advice/encouragement/motivation/experience to share? I could use it, because… well…

This is not going to be easy.

70 Responses to “budget, meet september. september, meet budget.”

  1. Cristin Vosburgh

    Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University whipped my husband and I into shape 4 years ago….and then we failed to plan…. = …so we planned to fail.
    i’m saying that we stopped doing what we were supposed to do. we were naughty.
    THE ENVELOPE SYSTEM. Each month….for groceries, gas, ‘fun’ money, (eventually ‘going out to eat money’ too)….have the amount you set in your budget for each thing set aside in an envelope and (be very strict with yourself) and ONLY use that money to purchase those things for the month. You will NEVER spend more than you planned on each item. EVER. if you are not naughty.
    the envelope system really works. i have to say it’s a pain to have to go INTO the gas station (especially with a child, i can attest now) to give them cash to fill up your car, or if you forget your envelopes and you just get to the store only to go back home and get your ‘grocery’ envelope….but it is SO worth it. you will NEVER spend more $$ than planned for the month if you stick to it.
    like i said…we were naughty are are seriously needing to re-visit our budget and get down to business with it. i can’t wait. reading your post has motivated me to do the same. we don’t have extra money for all the crap we get…i don’t know where it comes from!!!
    oh…making latte’s at home really does help, too. :) i save SO much! :)
    imagine all that extra money going towards a bill/debt. YES!

  2. Mary

    Wow! Glad to see you’re going well!

    Your challenges as a Mom with family TO COOK are similar (believe it or not to me who has 2 dogs, busy job like you but nobody but me to do it all :-) Yes, terriers are much easier and cheaper than beautiful growing boys!) As a single two dog homeowner – everything is my job! Many days I’ve thought I’ll just get a house husband so dinner is on the table, the house is cleaned, lawn is mowed, laundry is done ….. :-)

    If you like to cook, and sounds like you do! You just need to break it down into bits that can be chewed (pun intended) and enjoy it as a relaxing, fun thing to do. My suggestion – don’t do more than one week at a time.

    Start the week before and play with good things to eat (menus) that are good tasting (most needed), create good leftovers to freeze or eat again the same week (some are leftover adverse – me good food just a bigger amount than you consume at one sitting and it freezes/reheats well). Pick recipes that cover most of what you want/need so reduce or eliminate side – veg, salad etc. Soups, Pastas, cassaroles, stuffed peppers, great food like that give you vegs and the right recipes and keep.

    A great homemade soup with good store bought bread can be to die for and tummy full great! Summer, fall or winter there are a ton of light and “meatier”/chewy soups and stews to enjoy.

    Get a notebook and write down dinner ideas when you can relax (yes, I have sisters, and well loved sisters in law that have gone through 0 – teens-20s – there is never time!). Read cookbooks for ideas! Share recipe ideas with your friends! With the notebook, create your grocery list from your good things to eat planning. Then shop ahead of the day you cook – and shop the list only – add your other stuff – TP etc if needed. With a menu this sounds good this week, a list and also need to restock canned tomatoes etc – go to the store for what is needed and to get this week’s fresh. Cook another day – shopping is enough! Plus it is less of a chore and you can look forward to cooking!

    Find your day of the week – for me Sunday is perfect – cooking is relaxing so listen (do not watch TV) to Prairie Home Companion or some good music. And prep and cook for only one week! Put together 2-3 (depending on your leftover factor – more is good a day or two later). Soups, stews, the right good cassaroles (not hot dishes for me!) and the week will be good. With a good recipe that makes good overage (not leftovers) – you’ll have 2-3 more dinners for the week! So think prep – cook 2-3 recipes with quantities that = 4-6 dinners!

    Store bought baked chickens! Look at how much salt is in there. Roasting a chicken is easy – if you don’t know how – I’ll share some easy tricks for moist homemade roast chicken. Though my sister who is a Mom – does know in NC when they get marked down so picks up them up at their local in NC on a busy Sunday getting home from the lake for family early dinner. Roast whole chicken is very economical and easy to do. I make one for myself often – and eat/use the whole chicken. Great to throw into some pasta and sauce later. Lots of ways to use. The only PIA is if you want chix gravy – that too is easy – so is comfort mashers. But really great homemade smashed potatoes with just roast chix, salad or veg – great family “pizza”.

    My sister (the Mom with 2 within 18 months) have shared recipes and ideas for years – we’ve even talked about a “cheaters” cookbook – great recipes pared down on easier prep.

    ALWAYS have “emergency” food in your freezer – be that frozen pizza or other. Over time as you get in the rythym – you’ll use it less and less. but it’s a great safety value for “those days”. Just make sure you like it and don’t have to run to the store and you like it in a pinch. Running to the store or honey pick this up on the way home is exhausiting. Then it’s just food to fill a hole. Even emergency freezer frozen pizza is more relaxing.

    Good luck on your challenge – I love the library and you can bring your own delicious coffee and not spend a cent! If you’re buying books – learn how to get online and get on lists to “order” books for the library. New, best sellers have long waiting lists – if you have to have it – splurge – otherwise read them 6 months later thru the library. It’s one of the best things in the USA. Use it and support it!


  3. m @ random musings

    two words: crock pot. I have a tinnny freezer compartment, so we don’t have the luxury of storing a month’s worth of food plus the frozen stuff I keep on hand (cubes ‘o wine/buttermilk, yeast, vodka, asian herbs that I have to drive hours to purchase). But I do like to keep a couple of “homemade frozen meals” on hand, and the crockpot makes it totally simple to whip up enough for tonight, leftovers and some for the freezer.

    Pot pies also freeze well (make in a 9x 13 pan to guarantee leftovers) and when I marinate meat for stir fries I toss a marinade bag in the freezer for the following week.

    • m @ random musings

      oh, one more thing – cooking this way is cheap-o. Like $10 of ingredients for 6-8 servings. My bf & I spend ~$200/month for groceries + household products + dinner at a sit-down place [ala olive garden] once a month. We also try to eat one meatless dinner per week, and one dinner with eggs as the protein. We eat fruit and veg daily, and all our meat is form sources in-state, so we’re definitely not deprived! I will say that if you’re used to eating-out food, there probably will be a withdrawal period while your body (and taste buds) get used to eating not-oversalted food. For me it takes about two weeks for the [msg] cravings to go away. It also helps (a lot) if you actually like to cook and both pitch in on the cleanup ^_^ good luck!

  4. Michelle

    Wow… you’ve got a lot of great tips. I know that we did a similar thing about a year ago. My kids were 5, 3 and just under a year at the time and it seemed like my head was barely above water most days and the easiest thing to do was grab dinner out, or something easy. What streamed line things for us was two things.
    1) Ordering my groceries on-line. I shop at Harris Teeter and there is a small fee ($4.95) but it’s waived if you shop on-line more than 3 times per month. But what I found was that even with the fee I was saving waaaay more money shopping on-line. No more impulse buys. I was able to plan out my meals, get the items on my list and then 3 hours later just swing by the store and someone was out there ready to load them in the car for me. Not only was I saving money, but also time… another plus.

    2) My other HUGE find…. schwans! (remember the ice cream people from growing up?) For those night we would have gone out I just popped a Schwan’s in the oven. It’s almost as easy as going out, it truth it takes less time than ordering something and having it delivered or going somewhere and all I really have to do is clean up a meal. It’s healthier than going out to eat and their food is really, really good. Price-wise, it’s cheaper than going out to eat and a bit more than making it yourself… but it’s convience. Their pizza’s are fantastic, chicken alfredo with broccoli even my kids will eat, the winter soups are hardy, the tomales are good… even their chicken fries, they are the only breaded chicken product I’ve found that will crisp up when microwaved.

    I hope those ideas help. I think eveyone needs help in this department right now. Oh… another thing some girlfriends and I do on Facebook is a ‘What’s for Dinner’ Wednesday. Someone starts a thread every Wednesday and we all get to hear what everyone else is having for dinner on Wednesday, if someone likes something you share the recipe. It’s a good way to come up with new ideas. Just another thought because sometimes you just need new ideas.


  5. Andie

    I just read Dave Ramsey, too. My issue that I can’t let go of is that we get money back from our credit card purchases but maybe I should let that go and get on with the envelopes. It is hard but I find it is similar to my diet…I am going to start tomorrow. I will be interested to see how you do! Good luck! I will be checking back on your progress!

  6. Chrissy

    The envelopes are a good idea. Also, try and find versions of food that you like to eat in restaurants, they can make it so you can too.

  7. Nancy

    Good luck! We could never do it, we’re very strict with our budget, we might eat out maybe once every few weeks… but most importantly, we would never do that to our health (eating out so much)…yikes!

  8. Sara

    I do hope you’ll forgive me, I’ve just used your title for my facebook status. My budget met September and I feel better about it. We now have a plan for saving for christmas, book for next semester and his MCOLES (police) training in the spring. Such a relief.

  9. melissa

    i totally needed to read this today. the hubs and i are guilty of the same thing! and my downfall sounds something like….iced non-fat white peppermint mocha. i am going to re-evaluate asap! thanks for the kick in the pants reminder.


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