Real food and the budget

When I graduated from college, I started a blog to talk about trying to get a handle on finances and lose some weight. I had just signed up for Mint.com and downloaded the MyFitnessPal app, and set off on my first quest for a healthier financial and physical state. I had a college degree, a baby and a job; but I also had thousands of dollars in school debt, a car payment and about 30 extra pounds, which I wanted to lose. There were a lot of people, especially at the church I was going to, who were pushing the “if you just follow these easy steps, you’ll pay off all your debt in the next six months” and then proceeded to tell me about someone who sold their boat and rented out their lakehouse for part of the year so that they could eliminate credit card debt. Not exactly realistic for me.

Long story short, I love both programs and still use them, but I lost interest in the blog. (It’s deactivated now.) I did lose 25 of those 30 pounds, but gained them back (and then some) in the last two years. I diligently paid down the first credit card I ever owned and put aside extra money towards my student loans. But then I bought a house, taking on a mortgage and a credit card to make some renovations. Then I moved cross country, rented out the house and rented an apartment, taking on more credit card debt as I went.

So when T and I met, I was more than a little concerned about how she would view my financial situation. (Spoiler alert: She agreed to marry me anyway). But as we moved in together, we’ve been actively finding ways to spend less on the things we have to, splurge when it counts, and simply not spend when it doesn’t fall into the first two categories. There are also a number of ways that simply living together reduces costs. And after the wedding, there are certain tax breaks for being married that will help too.

So, we made it to a point where we were living on my salary and started planning to use hers to pay down debt, when she got laid off. So the restructuring has begun. We moved to a cheaper (but larger) house closer to the little one’s school and to my work. Our heating bill and auto insurance will be higher (because Detroit), but our rent is $100 cheaper each month, and we’ll spend $300 less in gas. Plus, with T working from home, we’re not spending the $700 per month that I was spending on childcare as a single mom, and we use about $120 less on latchkey each month because we don’t need it every day. (We still let him go sometimes because the little one loves getting time to play with the older kids.)

Meanwhile, we have begun navigating the world of sales cycles and coupons and store rewards. We shop at Eastern Market nearly every Saturday, and are focusing on eating “real food.” (Because imaginary food just wasn’t very filling.) If you recall this post from January, I’ve been focusing on minimizing processed ingredients for a while now. I fell off the no-caffeine wagon back in March, but I’m back on it again (it’s been 7 weeks now). I drink other pop, but for the most part T and the kiddo do not. We’ve completely stopped buying anything with high-fructose corn syrup, and we still don’t buy anything with MSG. We’ve been hitting our grocery budget (a 4-person food-stamp budget of about $632 a month), but we eat out (read: McDonalds) a lot more than I’m happy with. We’ve way overshot our $100 eating out budget EVERY.MONTH. Especially this past month during our move.

I’ve been reading various food blogs, but it’s been hard to figure out how to go from the good-most-of-the-time lifestyle we had to a frugal-and-nutritious-but-still-fun lifestyle these women seemed to have achieved. I mean, Michelle over at Nom Nom Paleo works a night shift just like me. And she has two kids, not just one! Even Lisa Leake’s mini pledges seemed like a lot to commit to getting through all of them, a 100-day full pledge seemed like a lot to commit to. It seemed like every time we get on track, things get thrown into the mix and we get off track. So, I read and envied and despaired. This month, I’ve despaired a lot.

But then Forgotten Harvest (a Detroit charity that I follow on Facebook and donate to periodically) posted a link from Don’t Waste the Crumbs about how to make 7 meals from one chicken. And I went, “hey, I use chicken to make more than one meal. I want to check this out.” And then I discovered Crumbs’ 22 day guide to getting started along a real food path on a budget.

This resource has found me just as we are nearing the end of our move. (It took two 14-ft trucks to move most of our stuff, but we still donated a studio apartment’s worth of stuff to the Salvation Army and I’m setting aside more as we go. Meanwhile, we’ve spent all week moving the things that didn’t fit and cleaning the house so we can turn in the keys. Hence all the fast food as we go back and forth and back again.) Anyway, I have a larger kitchen now, so I don’t have things piling up on top of everything else. We also now have a dishwasher that works, so I’m less likely to walk into a kitchen with a sink filled with dishes (a serious mood-killer for me), because I can count on it do it’s freaking job. Plus, the first few steps are managing themselves because things like “clean out the fridge” and “clean out the freezer” is happening as I unpack. “Eat leftoverss” is proving a bit trickier, but so it goes.

So in the lead up to Samhain, I’ll be blogging along with the steps of the Crumbs’ real food guide and seeing where it takes us. I’ll also be doing their budgeting and food philosophy worksheets. Click here to sign up and Emily will send you all of this material for free, or follow along with her blog posts here. She wrote it as a New-Year’s-Resolution style activity, but I find it a good start-fresh-in-a-new-kitchen activity. This way, I can start fall with a fresh perspective (hopefully).

I’m trying here guys. And I could certainly use all the support I can get.

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