It's official. We've embraced our Dave Ramsey lessons and now have a cash envelope for food. We have not eaten out for breakfast lunch or dinner since last Thursday (confession - a girl at work treated me to Subway for lunch one day, but that doesn't count, right?). This is HUGE and it's been tough. But mostly, I'm really enjoying it.
Here's what I've learned so far:
1. Plan ahead: I decided what meals we would be eating throughout the week, made a detailed ingredient list and attacked Publix with purpose. No excuses that we didn't have enough food at the house and no purchasing things that were not on the list.
2. Eat well: Not just healthy (although this is important). Enjoy what you eat! It makes is so much easier to eat at home if you feel satisfied with your meal.
3. It's cheap and fun to make it yourself: I am a salsa snob. Blame my mom. Blame my favorite Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants. I just can't eat salsa from a jar. Yuck! I bought fresh ingredients to have homemade salsa and homemade black bean dip in the 'fridge ready for a snack. Ours taste way better and is much more cost effective than buying it pre-made. Eric is GREAT at throwing together "a little of this, a lot of that" types of food. Also, I enjoy baking. I'm constantly on the search for a new cookie recipe. I love to bake a tray of cookies and put the rest of the dough in the freezer for later. Emergency chocolate craving? No problem.
4. Eat out, just be smart about it: Let's be honest. Sometimes, I don't want to mess up my kitchen. I don't want to slice, mix, preheat... I just want someone else to do it for me. No worries! There are ways to cut the bill here, too. For starters, we almost always order water. I love water and it's about all I drink. And guess what? It's free! Two sodas can add nearly $4 to your meal - yikes! When we eat Mexican food (when do we not?!), I almost always order a la carte. Eric eats his rice and gives me most of his beans and we are set! Also, if you are eating somewhere that serves bread with soup or salad (like our favorite Italian spot, Joe's), your meal can be a little lighter or you can share with someone (Although, don't let Eric fool you - he's a fit guy but he can really put it away at the dinner table. No sharing for us). If you can't share,leftovers become lunch.
5. Start building your kitchen staples list: We love flavorful food and fresh ingredients. I'm slowly learning to balance our kitchen and pantry so that we can make a meal at a moment's notice. Here's my list so far - peanut butter, honey, flour, sugar (brown and white), olive oil, chocolate, variety of cheeses, pesto, pasta noodles, frozen chicken, ground turkey, frozen corn, canned beans, canned diced jalapenos, canned diced tomatoes, chips, grainy bread (in the freezer), pizza crust, lemon juice, fresh tomatoes, fresh basil, fresh cilantro, fresh bell peppers.
6. Check, Check, Check your kitchen first: If you saw my Mema's pantry, you would think she is still preparing for Y2K. Not so. She just buys stuff she already has. Although I'm not ready for a nation-wide emergency, I am guilty of purchasing food I have in my pantry simply because I didn't look first. Now, when I make my grocery list, I check my kitchen and cross off anything I already have. This seems like a simple, common-sense step, but it's an easy one to skip out on.
7. Be willing to adapt: Every meal wasn't amazing and I'm still learning. Next time, I'll include Eric more in the grocery list making - he helped me discover that eggs are incredibly cheap and useful. I'll continue searching for new recipes and advice. Keep what works, toss what doesn't. Be flexible.
Who knows? Maybe all of that cooking together and saving money will inspire spontaneous dancing in the kitchen. What have you learned about eating well, eating out, eating in and eating cheap?