Food For Thought

Photo Credit: The Inadvertent Gardener

Once upon a time, I bragged that my wife and I could go a month without going grocery shopping, simply by eating out of our cupboard. I was wrong.

Eating Our Way Out Of Debt

My wife and I are dedicated to getting out of debt. Four weeks ago, we were looking at our debt snowball budget and realized that if we really cut back on spending, we could hit a major debt target sooner than planned. We budget pretty tightly as it is, but we did find one place we could cut: food.

When we started our Dave Ramsey program in July/August 2011, we were spending $120 per week on groceries. By the end of 2011 we were spending under $60. By mid-year 2012, we were spending under $50 a week.

Even with all that trimming, we had a full cupboard. I love cooking, and by extension, I love shopping for ingredients to cook with. So almost 1 1/2 years into our marriage, I bragged that we had stockpiled enough ingredients to feed us for a month without shopping. It was time to prove it.

No More Grocery Shopping (sort of)

So four weeks ago, Ruth and I decided that we wouldn’t shop for groceries again until our cupboard, freezer and refrigerator were bare. We gave ourselves three caveats:

  1. We could buy essentials – bread, eggs and milk.
  2. We could buy fresh fruits and vegetables.
  3. If we needed additional ingredients in order to to use something up, we could get them. For example, if we had everything for a recipe except for one crucial ingredient, we could get that ingredient.

We’ve stuck pretty closely to that rule, with few exceptions. We haven’t really needed to invoke rule #3. I love being creative in the kitchen, so cooking with only what I have on hand is an enjoyable challenge.

The Results

During the last four weeks, we went from spending an average of $47/week on groceries to an average of $14/week. That’s $132 we’ve saved from our grocery budget alone! And the funny thing about being disciplined in one area, is that it often carries over into other areas.

Since starting our “no grocery shopping” plan four weeks ago, we’ve actually managed to save more than three times that amount by saving money elsewhere too. And our cupboard and freezer are only about half empty, so we can probably make it a while longer without shopping.

My point: you can do almost anything if you set your mind to it. If you’re currently in debt, there is hope. You can get out. You can beat it. Ask me how.

Side Note

Getting down to $14/week for groceries might seem like an accomplishment, but it’s not really. For some families in our nation, that amount could be their actual weekly grocery budget. USDA data shows that in 2010, Americans spent 5.5 percent of their income eating at home (3.9 percent on food away from home).

In 2012, an average family of two living at the poverty line makes about  $15,130/yr. If they spent 5.5% of their income on food at home, that’s $832/year. Divided by 52 weeks, that’s about $16/week or $8/person for groceries. Per 2010 Census figures, 15.1% of the U.S. population (approximately 46.2 million people) lives in poverty. Sobering.

What I Bought With My Tax Refund

The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave of the lender.

If you use a credit card, you must watch this video. It’s 4 years old, but still rings true:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vR2c_K8rbqQ

For those of you who just want a quick preview:

Mmm’k, on with the post.

Background

I don’t write much here about my personal life – who cares, right? But just so you know, I’m a relatively recent college grad and 8 months newlywed. I worked to pay my way through school, but not hard enough.

To make up the shortfall I took out government loans; then a couple of private loans when that wasn’t enough; and then used credit cards when even that wasn’t enough. Long story short, I graduated with more debt than I ever thought I would.

My wife and I attended a Dave Ramsey course before we got married. She was a D.R. fan, and it seemed like a good idea to be on the same page when it came to handling money. To be honest, I wasn’t fully committed to the class when I started. Today is a different story.

Getting Out of Debt Fast

Today, we are both fully committed to getting out of debt. We work hard, cut back wherever we can, and look for opportunities to make extra money whenever we can (need a babysitter or maybe a couple of dance lessons? We can do that).

We live drastically within our means, and the discipline is paying off. It seems mind-boggling, but since we started doing Dave Ramsey’s Baby Step 2 – Pay Off All Debt Using The Debt Snowball – about a year and a half ago, we’ve paid off almost 32% of our debt (not including the house).

The average time it takes people to get through this step is 18-24 months, so we’re a bit behind. Part of that is because I wasn’t very serious about it at first. Am I serious now? You bet.

What I Bought with My Tax Refund

This year, 100% of our tax refund is going toward our next debt snowball loan target. That single lump sum payment will get us out of debt 25 months sooner, saving us almost $600 in interest.

We really wanted to buy other things with our tax return. Matching furniture would be nice. I really, really, *really* want a drum set. But guess what – it’ll be a lot easier to buy both of those later, when we’re not paying some bank $600 in interest 🙂

So, what did I buy with my tax refund? I bought freedom. What did you buy?*

 

Resources:

DaveRamsey.com

Debt Payoff Calculator

Lump Sum Debt Calculator

*Assuming you’re one of the majority of Americans who will get a tax refund this year. Also, yes I know that getting a tax refund means I just made an interest-free loan to the government. I’m working on it.