Jennifer recently left the following comment on my blog:
been following for about 10 months now and have managed to make a huge
dent in our "old" grocery budget. However, I am also an experimental
cook who loves to try new things, especially fish and ethnic dishes. We
eat fish at least three meals a week (including lunches i.e. tuna) and
fresh fish is rarely on "good" sale, and never free. We also love
Indian, Thai, and Chinese, all of which I cook from scratch. I've always
admired your honesty, as well as the fact that you repeatedly (and
sincerely) say "what we do doesn't work for everyone" – so I am also
wondering, do you "miss" variety in your menus?
Do I miss variety? Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that there are many things I often see at the store which I'd love to buy but which I know would totally bust our grocery budget. No, because I truly believe that making temporary short-term sacrifices (like, for us, eating simple meals made with inexpensive ingredients–see some of our normal menus here) is worth it to achieve long-term goals.
Before my husband and I got married, we sat down and did a lot of calculating to see how little we could survive on. Our goal was to make it through Jesse's six remaining months of undergrad and the following three years of law year without going into debt.
We had the money saved up and set aside to pay for school, but we didn't have much more beyond that. We figured that if he worked part-time and I worked part-time, we could manage to make close to $1000 per month. So that was the dollar amount we had to work with in making our budget. Considering that our rent ate up over half of that amount, we had around $125/week leftover to work with.
It seemed rather daunting to be able to pay for our utilities, transportation, food, and living expenses with that amount but we were determined to make it work. We knew we would have much more freedom if we weren't making payments on law school loans for years to come. And we knew if Jesse were to begin his legal career without the bondage of debt, it would give us much more of a foundation for achieving our long-term goals of owning a home debt-free, owning real estate debt-free, and being able to share abundantly with those in need.
Yes, we had some pretty big long-term goals from the get-go, and the only way to achieve those was by making short-term sacrifices. It would mean going without, saying "no", and exercising lots of self-discipline. In short, it would mean experiencing some temporary discomforts in order to reap lifelong rewards.
The temporary discomforts during the law school years weren't always easy, believe me. Both of us had moments when we just wanted to throw in the towel and throw our arms up in defeat. There were many times when we wished we could spend money on this or that or enjoy some of the little luxuries in life it seemed everyone else was. But we plodded on and on and on–wearing the same clothes over and over, driving an old car, brown-bagging it, clipping coupons, forgoing dinners out, living in a cramped little basement apartment, and so on–constantly reminding ourselves that it would someday be worth it.
And it has been every bit worth it. The little luxuries in life that we gave up–like eating out, making fancy meals, buying new clothes or things, driving a nicer car–pale in comparison to the freedom we now have living a life without payments.
Many people expected that as soon as my husband got out of law school and our income quadrupled, we'd stop being so frugal and start "really living". Shouldn't we reward ourselves for those sacrifices by loosening up on our tightwad ways? It was easy to justify, for sure, but we'd lived on such a beans-and-rice budget for so long that neither of us felt comfortable with all of a sudden becoming more extravagant. Plus, we have more audacious long-term goals–like paying cash for a house–and we know the only way we'll be able to achieve those in a timely fashion is by making more short-term sacrifices.
We have given ourselves quite a bit more budget breathing room than we had during law school and we have mutually decided to allow ourselves to "splurge" every now and then (like our dinner at The Cheesecake Factory last Friday night!), but we still adhere to a strict written budget and we do our best to constantly be looking for ways to keep our expenses and expenditures to a minimum. This enables us to live on much less than we make so we put a large part of what we earn towards saving to pay cash for a house. In addition, it allows us to have much more to share with others.
None of this would be possible if we were buried in debt. Not only would we have all the stress of trying to make ends meet while paying all our payments, we'd not have the freedom to give generously or the ability to make good traction in our savings goals.
So yes, there are days when I wish I could go to the store and just buy whatever I want without worrying about staying within our grocery budget. And yes, there are times when I wish I could make more elaborate meals with more expensive ingredients instead of planning our menus based upon the sales and what coupons I have. But then I quickly realize that sticking with a small grocery budget and eating simple meals is one of the reasons we're living a life without payments and one of the reasons we're able to save more and give more. When thinking of it in that light, it is so worth it!
And honestly? I really enjoy the challenge of working with a small grocery budget. In fact, while our menus might seem dull to some, we really rarely notice the fact that we spend so little at the grocery store. Through years of practice, I've learned a number of tricks (like the Buy Ahead Principle) which, coupled with a large dose of creativity and ingenuity, allow us to enjoy a rather varied and healthful fare without breaking the bank to do so.
Note: I wanted to make it clear that I am not advocating everyone need to have a grocery budget like ours or that you need to forgo eating fancy dinners. These are choices we have made based upon our family's goals and what works best for us right now. Your family's goals and needs are different than ours so please do not feel the need to do similar to us. I just share what we've done and are doing in hopes it might be an inspiration to you to find ways you can live on less in order to save more and give more.