Cooking the Books

Few 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…