November was kind of a failure. Nevertheless, I feel like I’m starting to swim into a current instead of aimlessly treading water and it feels really good.
The bad news is Adam and I didn’t save any money this month. In fact, we had to dip into savings for $300 to be able to pay both the credit card bill and the rent simultaneously at the beginning of the month. So instead of $2,200, we now have only $1,900 in savings. I meant to deposit money into savings throughout the month but it never happened, due to extra holiday expenses, birthday gifts, a plane ticket, and paying a late utilities bill that I forgot about for 2 months (laundry machine rental). Losing $300 and then failing to save $1,100 (my monthly goal amount) means we are way behind on savings and may not be able to catch up by May. Our ultimate savings goal of $10,000 seems very far away at this point, and we only have a scant six months to get there.
Why do I feel so good, then? Why am I not rending my clothing and smearing my face with ashes in penance (or lying in bed feeling sorry for myself like I was last month)?
For one thing, it’s because I am making tangible progress on conquering my ridiculously expensive grocery bill. This month we spent $610.88 on groceries. Instead of shopping nearly every day, we went shopping only once a week with a few mid-week stops for staples like milk or bread. I planned a menu at the beginning of each week and then followed through. There were a few bumps and hiccups but I am slowly getting the hang of it.
Writing out the dollar amount $610.88 makes me squirm – I know it’s still really high and that I could do much better. I would hereby like to rescind the defensive comment I made last month, “I don’t apologize for the amount I spend on food and household goods – I can technically afford it.” Clearly I cannot, as I could not maintain my savings goal this month. Adam and I have been eating above our station in life and we realize that now. We have been eating like mid-career doctors and lawyers and hot young financiers, when in fact we are lowly blue-collar office workers and grocery store employees. We are guilty of aspirational eating and solemnly swear to mend our ways. I write this with a little bit of snark, but also I mean it. We cannot achieve success and monetary gain or be free to pursue our dreams until we get our financial house under control.
The other reason I see glimmers of hope winking through the veil of my paucity and ineptitude is because I have stumbled upon a solid and actionable idea of how to bring in a little extra income on the side. I am forever dreaming up ideas for small businesses, tiny cafés, research papers, gardens, Things I Want to Do, but usually these ideas are inoperable due to lack of investment capital, lack of a graduate degree, or lack of motivation/skill. This time I found something I am good at, that people will pay for, with only a small initial investment needed. I’m really excited about it but would prefer to keep my plans vague until I get my project up and running.
Last month I promised three weekly menu plans, which you can see below. Spending the time and effort creating these plans was a lot of fun. I found what worked best for us was making grab-and-go breakfasts and lunches ahead of time, to be eaten while in the midst of the morning rush or grabbed out of the fridge to bring to work. For dinners and weekends, I made slower food. I tried to include meals that shared ingredients (ex. fresh parsley) so you could buy a lot of one thing and roll it into a variety of uses. I also made one meal per week a “go out to eat” meal, because I think that is realistic. Feel free to edit according to your needs.
Tips: To save more money, I recommend making double, triple, or quadruple batches of things like soup or lunch burritos and freezing what you don’t eat so you can warm it up later. I did not relinquish ingredient quality in favor of money savings, but you could. Also, adding more pasta dishes (I’m not a huge fan of pasta) or some basic sandwiches will obviously bring costs down, too. For snacks, which I didn’t outline below but love, popcorn is easy, cheap, and healthy and you can flavor it to your preference. I also like toast and jam, or toast with chocolate peanut butter, or just plain chocolate.
(Note: All photos are mine.)
|Breakfast||Banana Bran Bread, eggs, sausage||Leftover Banana Bran Bread||Leftover Banana Bran Bread||Kefir, hard-boiled egg||Kefir, hard-boiled egg||Kefir, hard-boiled egg||Eggs, sausage, toast and jam|
|Lunch||Go out- it’s the weekend!||Burrito (wrapped in aluminum foil for portability and reheated at work)||Leftover Chard and White Bean Stew||Leftover Bucatini with Tuna, Carrots||Leftover Bucatini with Tuna, Carrots||Burrito||Garlic-Rubbed Tomato Bruschetta with Feta (this recipe, basically, minus the butter)|
|Dinner||Chard and White Bean Stew double batch!||Leftover Chard and White Bean Stew||Bucatini with Tuna||Spicy Roasted Chicken Thighs with Barley and Asparagus||Leftover Spicy Roasted Chicken Thighs||Sautéed Chard with Sausage, Baked Potato||Grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup|
|Breakfast||Pancakes with Sugar and Lemon||Kefir, strawberries||Kefir, strawberries||Kefir, banana||Kefir, banana||Kefir, banana||Ham and Cheese French Toast|
|Lunch||Hearts of Palm and Blood Orange Salad||Leftover Arugula, Goat Cheese, and Walnut Pizza||Leftover salad, ham and cheese sandwich||Ham and cheese sandwich, strawberries||Potato and cucumber salad||Potato and cucumber salad||Sausage and eggs|
|Dinner||Arugula, Goat Cheese, and Walnut Pizza (or use whatever toppings you prefer)||Leftover Hearts of Palm and Blood Orange Salad||Crema de Garbanzos con Pan Frito||Leftover Crema de Garbanzos con Pan Frito||Leftover Crema de Garbanzos con Pan Frito with sliced sausage||Friday night, go out!||Boiled corn with salty Colombian cheese|
|Breakfast||Pumpkin Muffins (I like to add walnuts and chocolate chips), scrambled eggs||Pumpkin Muffins||Pumpkin Muffins||Cereal, milk, banana||Cereal, milk, banana||Cereal, milk, banana||Eggs, hash browns|
|Lunch||Grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup||Tomato Basil Mozzarella and Arugula Salad (this recipe, plus arugula, balsamic vinegar, and pan frito from the recipe last week)||Leftover Tomato Basil Mozzarella and Arugula Salad||Grab-and-go burrito (so far I like to fill these with black beans, shredded cheese, and salsa, but would like to experiment further)||Burrito||Burrito||Go out for lunch!|
|Dinner||Mussels Roasted in Almond-Garlic Butter||Rice and Potato soup with Parmigiano Rind with crusty bread||Rice and Potato soup with Parmigiano Rind, bread||Meatballs with Rice||Leftover Meatballs with Rice||Chicken and Orzo with Lemon and Olives||Leftover Chicken and Orzo with Lemon and Olives|
In November, I made five goals for myself. I did pretty well on goals 1-4, but goal 5, to save more money, did not happen. I am worried that Adam and I will have trouble saving our normal goal of $1,100 in December as well, because of the holidays, but I will try my hardest to find that money. I have a few other things I want to do in December as well:
Goal 1: Save at least $1,100.
Goal 2: Get my business idea off the ground. That entails thinking up a catchy name, creating a website, working up some samples, and marketing/publicizing my product.
Goal 3: Organize my bills so I get them all paid on time.
Goal 4: Continue planning budget-conscious menus and curtailing my food spending even further.
Goal 5: Have a simple, sweet little Christmas.
Previously: See Amanda’s “Betting on Love” series here.
Amanda Tomas is busy pulling herself up by the bootstraps.