Monday, September 21, 2015

Eating Our Way Out of Debt

As I said in my previous post there are two ways you can increase the amount of money available for your goal. 1) You can make more money, or 2) You can spend less money. It is that simple and I recommend doing both. This time we are going to focus on the second way; spending less. 

Magic me a burger, magic man.
You don't need a mathemagician to tell you it is cheaper to buy food and cook it at home than it is to eat out. What surprised Mrs. DisIndebted and me was just how much cash we could keep in our pockets by curbing the meals out. I am here to tell you just how much - a lot.

We were fairly hedonistic a year or more ago and would eat out around five times a week. On top of that, I would eat lunch out with coworkers almost daily. Coffee shops, drive-through cravings, ice-cream weekend trips, celebration dinners for any and all occasion for cheer; Adding it all up, we were an average of $550 a month on restaurants! That is on top of an out of control grocery bill of over $500 a month.  That is $12,600 a year, $242 a week, or  $35 a day. That's nearly $1.50 an hour, every hour, 24 / 7 / 365.

That is ridiculous.

We decided long before we made the choice to disindebtify that we would eat healthier and save money by cooking more meals at home. It has been over a year since then and we have made (and continue to make) huge cuts in our food budget. The best thing is - we are happier and healthier with this lifestyle than we ever were eating out.

Today our food budget is 55% of where it was. We allow ourselves up to $92 a week in groceries and $42 a week at restaurants (we find budgeting easier on a weekly basis - more on that another day). That said, while our budget allows this amount, we are actually spending even less. Last week, we spent $70 on groceries and $23 dining out. That is less than half of what we would have spent in a week last year!

Let me tell you about five ways we are eating our way to disindebtedness.

Every Sunday
1) We Save a Ton by Having Meal Prep Days.
This sounds like a chore - but it's really a time saver (and a huge money saver). Every Sunday we whip up a batch of something big enough to feed a Mongol horde. This week it is Taco Chicken and Rice. Chicken, rice, beans, peppers, onions, taco seasoning, and salsa. It's darn tasty! We have done this with ground beef, but opted for chicken... and specifically thighs, since they were on sale for $0.99 a pound this week. We bought 12 pounds. Once we cooked everything, we parceled it into roughly even portions in re-usable seal-able plastic containers. We made 18 meals. The ingredients cost us $13.50. That's $0.75 a meal. Next week - more chicken thighs will be consumed (because why waste a great sale?) with pasta in the form of chicken Parmesan. Again, for a shockingly low price under $1 per meal.

Chicken Parm on standby

This is how we eat. Aside from the savings, it is super convenient because we have easy to microwave meals ready for lunches and dinner all week. Usually we will have more than enough - which leaves us with a freezer full of stockpile for the next [name your catastrophe]. Plus, we do get tired of the same old same old all the time, so we can always grab last month's Thai Peanut Chicken from the freezer and mix it up. It's simple. It's cheap. And our friends are always envious of our meals.

Check out some great recipes at Food vs. Face! With the fall chill on its way, I'm looking forward to making a big old batch of Chicken and Noodles. Yum.

Get in my belly.
2) We Reduce Costs by Making our Own Convenience Packaging
We love cheeseburgers. That said, we also want to watch our waistline so we started buying extra lean 90% ground sirloin instead of chuck or other ground beef. We also love convenience. Early in the summer we discovered that Laura's Lean sold preformed 1/4 pound patties in the freezer section. These go for $15 a box full price; about $1.88 a patty. It's so convenient - but that convenience comes at a price. Overpaying is a bunch of bull.

Kroger sells ground sirloin for $5.19 a pound, which means I can make 1/4 pound patties for $1.30 each. I'm saving 30% by making the patties myself and putting them in freezer bags. When I can combine it with a sale - I do even better! Last week, Groupon's Snap (see below) application was giving a $1 rebate for the purchase of lean ground beef. The burger patties in my freezer right now cost about $1.05 a piece... That's almost 45% off the convenience price.

We do this with other items. I love having frozen peppers and onions on hand to throw into a soup or a batch of eggs. We used to buy the frozen bag Kroger. Now we chop up our own and freeze. Cheap and easy. Oatmeal. Who needs packets? Not the DisIndebteds! This stuff isn't rocket science.

3) We Avoid the Doctor and Lower our Healthcare Costs
Less salt, fat, and preservatives mean less health issues for the DisIndebteds. I don't know how to calculate this - but at a minimum we are saving trips to the doctor later in life. Potentially we are extending our years and eating our way to a longer life together. This is priceless. I have nothing more to say.

Give yourself a Raise!
4) We Use Sales to Lower the Cost of the Food we Buy and Apps to Put Money Back In Our Pockets
This is really two topics. We make our food less expensive so we pay less at the checkout. We also
exploit rebates to get cash back down the road.

My favorite way to cut costs is to take advantage of mega sales. This weekend, Kroger Private Selection bread was on sale for $1.99 a loaf (regularly $2.99), plus they had a mega sale where you get $1 off per loaf when you buy four. We bought four loaves of bread for $3.96; $0.99 a loaf. Not too shabby.

BUT, we also used a Kroger card I bought on Raise to purchase it. If you aren't familiar with Raise, it is a marketplace for buying and selling gift cards. If you have a card you don't want, you can sell it at a discounted price to someone who wants it. I regularly pick up Kroger gift cards on there for around 2.5% of the face value. Thus, I can buy $100 worth of food for $97.50. At 2.5% off, my bread cost about $0.97 cents a loaf. Not too shabby.

On top of that - we use apps like Ibotta, Snap, and Checkout 51 to get rebates on the stuff we buy. Ibotta will regularly have savings on generic stuff you buy every day - such as bread. Last week it had a $0.20 rebate on the purchase of any loaf of bread. You only get one - but that's still an extra 5 cents off each loaf, for a grand total of $0.92 per loaf.

Now I have enough bread to last the DisIndebteds two months and we paid $3.68. That's 70% off the regular price for four loaves.

I have been using these apps for two months and reaped an impressive $6.25 on Snap, $7.75 on Checkout 51, and $46.00 on Ibotta rebates. That's $60.00 in two months!

5) We Save Time
Time is money right? I can't tell you how many hours we have wasted on restaurants. Think of all the steps involved: 1) get in the car, 2) drive to the restaurant, 3) wait for a table, 4) wait for waitstaff, 5) order drinks, 6) wait for waitstaff to return, 7) wait for food, 8) wait for the bill, 9) wait for change, and 10) drive home. That is lot of process for one meal! With our prepared meals and homemade convenience items we average no more than a few minutes preparing a meal on a given night. When we go out, we can easily spend 90 minutes or more. When we eat in, dinner can be as short as 15 minutes. That's over an hour of time that Mrs. DisIndebted and I get to enjoy together. With both of us working and the constant intrusions from other areas of our lives - an hour together is huge.

Like our health, it's hard to put a price tag on this - but how much would you be willing to pay for happiness?


How are you saving on the food bill? Share your secrets with us below or at disindebted@gmail.com.







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