Cooking the Books

Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 10.14.03 AMFew things make an engaged couple happier than having a store clerk hand you a registration laser gun followed by the permissive, “Have at it”. I (Christy) think my squeals were audible. I know I blew imaginary smoke that (wasn’t) flowing from my laser pointer after I scanned each item and I definitely swirled the scanner gun around and shoved it in my imaginary holster while annoying my husband to death with exaggerated cowgirl speak: “Well, how-do little darlin’! I reckon I’ll take that, there cheese grater.” (You’re asking yourself how my husband made it to the altar knowing he was marrying such a nerd, aren’t you?)

My adventures with the registration scanner aside, I was thrilled to death to have my pick from the rows upon rows of kitchenware. The colorful measuring cups and brightly patterned dishes, garlic presses and salad spinners, all seemed to whisper the promise of a warm, bustling kitchen in the center of a happy home.

As our years together progressed, I became more and more confident as a home cook and my meals expanded both in difficulty and ingredients. I remember how proud I was when I tackled my first Thanksgiving dinner—including three pies made from scratch! I enjoyed spending time in the kitchen and creating moments where our family could come together over a yummy feast.

Fast forward to last year: My husband’s job was at its most demanding. We were lucky to see him for a few hours on Sunday after church. The little time he did have off was spent on operating tables or doctor’s offices.  Our house was in a constant state of disarray—our kitchen being the biggest disaster area—due to a damaging flood. We were adjusting to a new baby and all of the joy (and extreme sleep deprivation) that went along with her.  (Oh, but that new baby smell- it’s magic, I tell you!)

My bountiful, inviting dinner table had gone from home cooked meals and meaningful conversations to three different dinner times and leftover scraps from takeout boxes. Our weekend, eat out splurges had now become an everyday survival tool for me. The idea of getting a meal on the table was overwhelming…..little did I know that I was completely overwhelming our budget as well.

Slowly our life began to heal from the “Year of Disasters”, but old, convenient habits die hard. At least five days a week we were eating from plastic “to-go” containers. Take out was my new crutch, and what’s worse, I was crippling our bank account.

When we sat down to input our spending into YNAB, I was slapped with the reality that we were spending well over $600 a month (and that’s being conservative!) on restaurant eating. It was a hard truth to stomach (pun intended) and I knew it was time to get cooking!

I was nervous that after a full year and a half of avoiding our kitchen, I might’ve needed a refresher course in slicing and dicing, but the comforts of simmering pots and delicious smells filling the house quickly awakened my joy of cooking. I took a cue from YNAB and became much more organized with my meal planning and shopping trips. I’m no longer staring into the fridge at 5 o’clock hoping a three course meal will appear on the second shelf. Our daily meals are set in advance, keeping dinner time anxiety free.

In the past 6 weeks we’ve eaten out three times…..THREE!! Our eat-out category has been flush and we’ve saved over $500 a month! I admit that I dreaded making this change. I was sure I would miss the ease of someone else handling our meals and freeing me up for other duties, but I was surprisingly mistaken. So many aspects of our life were improved when we committed to making this change: Our physical health, our financial health, our time together as a family. The benefits keep rolling in.

Of course everyone has days that require sending out a “bat signal” and surrendering to the chaos of the day with a pizza run or an escape to your favorite restaurant. I’ll always be grateful to have that option in my back pocket. But more than that, I’m proud of the progress we’ve made by rediscovering our kitchen and recommitting to a full fridge and a happy bank account.

Has YNAB helped you break some unhealthy habits? Have you had a recent victory in your budgeting? Let’s celebrate!! Share them with me and your fellow YNABers! Crunching those numbers can be stressful at times so let’s take a moment to focus on the amazing progress we’ve made! I’ll whip up something tasty for us while you’re writing…

15 Responses to “Cooking the Books”

  1. Sara Myers

    We’re in the same boat at the moment. Our household has struggled for the past 9 months for a number reasons, but just this week we have dedicated ourselves to eating out only once a week and cooking healthy food (and also exercising 3 or more times per week). This used to be a way of life for us and our bodies and budget were better for it. Due to circumstances and then bad habits and then more circumstances, that lifestyle slipped away from us and both our bodies and budget have suffered. We just ended a series of difficulties with an unexpected (but good) move to a bigger apartment. It’s more fun to cook here and there is room for people so we don’t have to go out every time we want to see our friends. Our new apartment complex also has a gym, so there’s money & time saved (and no excuses). We had temporarily put our gym membership on hold due to some recent circumstances and we may not go back. We’re excited to turn over a new leaf! Circumstances led us to significantly dip into savings a few times, and I’m so glad we had several years of savings due to living a YNAB lifestyle. We took a few hits, but we’re doing just fine and the light at the end of this tunnel is bright!

  2. christy

    Life can get so crazy sometimes, Sara! I’ve been there and I’m sure we’ll be there again at some point. I think we are all constantly adjusting to new circumstances and just plain doing the best we can. It’s so encouraging to hear that even though you are weathering a storm at the moment, you are coming through the other side without much damage due to the foundation you built with YNAB living. That’s what it’s all about! Thank you so much for sharing your story!

  3. B-Ster

    I admit to a eating out budget as big as our grocery budget. Many excuses, two full time working parents who are both going back to school full time online, with three very active children. I don’t ever find joy in the kitchen, so when I try to cut into the eating out budget, it feels like a huge sacrifice, and it only works for a couple of weeks. On top of that, my grocery bill always goes up. Many, many convenient ways to give myself an out here. But, reality is, my grocery bill does go up, but never as much as the eating out goes down. Last month we had a family meeting about meals, health, exercise, etc. with input from the kids. With some guidelines from Mom and Dad, the older two (12 and 9 years in age) are in charge of a dinner each week. Days and meals are designated ahead of time and I’ve limited grocery trips to once a week. This has been good for 3 weeks now, and it is much healthier. The kids are enjoying it and are feeling proud and enabled. After seeing this work well, my husband asked if maybe we each should also commit to picking two nights. He said it would be hard only to get down to bringing home food one night a week. I am encouraged and reinforced from all around. Maybe getting everyone else involved in the decision making and food prep was the secret to making this stick. Guess I can’t be overwhelmed anymore that I’m the “only one” doing “all of it”, and it goes to show that it works better all around when we all doing it together.

    • smeisner14

      I love that you got your kids involved! Sounds like the makings of a happy, healthy family as well as two kiddos who are learning a ton of responsibility and understanding more about where food really comes from. Kuddos to you! I hope when the time comes I’m able to do something similar with my future kids.

    • christy

      I know first hand how difficult it is to return to the kitchen, B-Ster. You should be proud of your progress! I’m so impressed that you’ve taken the extra step of getting your children involved. Not only will you benefit financially, and physically, but you’re also teaching your kiddos skills that will last a lifetime! So great!!

  4. Robert Dailey

    This article isn’t really fair. You didn’t really save $500, most (if not all) of that went towards groceries instead. It’s a balance scale. When you eat out less, you grocery shop more, and vice versa. Would have been more interesting to see you share the true numbers.

    • ptaylor

      Robert, I can attest to the savings, and naturally the larger your family, the larger the savings. My wife and I have two teenage daughters and two younger sons to feed each day. Eating dinner out, even fast food, is expensive. According to YNAB and my memory, here are the prices for 8 times we’ve eaten out as a family this year: 49.11, 49.11 (yes, twice), 41.21, 40.88, 48.36, 37.93, 38.47, 36.60. At all of those places, you order at a counter (or call it in for pick-up), meaning these were pretty much fast food places ($38.47 was a lunch, at Subway), and none of these meals included any alcohol to run up the bill. The average of those is $42.70, if my math is right. Tonight, we are having spaghetti dinner (we usually have that once a week). Two pounds of spaghetti and the garlic bread was $4.99 (just bought it tonight myself). You can usually get 3 large jars of spaghetti sauce from CostCo for under $7, making them about $2.33 each. Add a pound of ground beef to the sauce for about $2.00. Oh, and don’t forget the parmesan cheese. We probably use $1 worth of that per meal. Use a couple of tea bags and some sugar to make sweet tea (I live in the South after all), perhaps $.50 to account for the tea. Add that all up, and that comes to $10.82 for the entire meal. It all depends on what you make, but we probably spend between $10 and $15 per meal to feed the entire family at home. Occasionally we may get a protein that is a little more costly, but I’d be surprised if the bill went over $20 a meal once a month. So, in my case, today I’m saving about $30 by eating at home. My cheapest family dinner out was one day when I used coupons at two different fast food places to pick up things to suite everyone. That day, I spent $23.80 on dinner. Still quite a bit more than our dinner tonight cost.

      • christy

        Thank you for adding your eating out “stats” PTaylor! It’s incredible to see the money saved when you list the individual prices of eating out vs.eating at home.

  5. christy

    Hey Robert! I appreciate your feedback! We do use about $100-$150 of the $500+ we’ve saved in our eat out category and put it back towards groceries (pre-crack down I spent $200 for 2 weeks of groceries after crackdown I’m at $250/$275) but we still net a huge amount each month because the fact is- eating at home is way less expensive! Not too mention the health benefits and family time that are invaluable to us. :)

    I’m still a newbie in the financial (and YNAB) world and I forget that “breaking down the numbers” is beneficial to readers. Thank you for the reminder and for baring with me! :)

  6. Kelsey

    We were definitely in that same boat and embarrassed to admit how much we spent each month eating out. Meal planning and YNAB saved us :)

    • christy

      I had total “sticker shock” when I realized how much we’d been spending, Kelsey! So glad you’ve found a new balance with YNAB. We’ve definitely benefitted as well. :)

  7. Mike

    $600 in a month on restaurants actually isn’t as bad as it could have been. We’ve had months where we hit $2000 in total food costs (restaurants, groceries, snacks & drinks; family of 4). Lesson being, if you don’t know how much you spend on food, figure it up. It’ll shock you.

    • Christy

      I believe it Mike! It doesn’t take much to inflate the food budget. I’d just never paid very close attention until YNAB. Now I’m beginning to see where the saying “eat us out of house and home” comes from. ;)

  8. Kristin

    I’m in the same boat! I’m looking at my budget now and we have totally gone off the rails with eating out. $725 in one month. When you’re stressed and tired at the end of the day, it’s so hard to look at your overspent ‘eating out’ category and cook something at home, but it is what I’ll be doing next month to repay the overage in our budget this month. That’s the one great thing about YNAB, even if you fall off of the budget, it forces you to get back on and repay yourself.

    • christy

      It’s so easy to do Kristin! I think it’s a category that will always require “gut checks” and revamping. Some months may get away from us, but you’re right- YNAB helps us reconcile our overages and get back on track.

      Lots of luck for next month! :)

Comments close automatically after 14 days.