Saturday, November 6, 2010

Saturday Throwback: When Food Frugality Pays Off - See Ya, Sallie Mae

Every Saturday, we post a little somethin' from the CHG Archives. Today's piece is from September 2007.

Next week, barring disaster, I will pay off college. Undergrad and grad school, both. I'll be 30 in November.

Before we get into how eating frugally and healthily helped that happen, we must do this:

*Happy dance!*
*Happy dance!*
*Happy dance!*

Okay. Sweet. On with the show.

Between a small scholarship, tuition reimbursement from my job, and eight years of incremental Sallie Mae payments, I started the year with a little more than $15,000 in college debt. Being fairly oblivious, it never dawned on me to dump it until I perused Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover. It’s the kind of life-changing book that advocates debt awareness and financial responsibility, and it convinced me to tackle my loans before I even finished reading.

So, in addition to moving to a cheaper place, cutting cable, and living off the salary I made three years ago (and banking the difference), I decided to chop my food bill. To my surprise (not really), of all my self-imposed cash conservation rules, the chow-related ones were hardest to follow.

This is partially because I’m thrifty, but not a cost-cutting psychopath when it comes to my gaping maw. I eat, I take trips where meals are a key component, and I go to roughly 12 billion baby showers a year, where I purchase layette sets in exchange for massive plates of chicken francese. So, yeah - chopping the comestibles budget was not easy. But I managed, and axed a few calories, to boot. Here’s how:

1. I started brown-bagging it to work. When you’re employed in the smack center of the most expensive five-block radius on Earth (Schtimes Square, Schnew York), your lunch budget is secondary only to rent. The average mid-day meal goes for about $7.50 around here, meaning it’s easy to blow $1700 bucks annually on sandwiches and soup. Plus, overeating is endemic, as you’re constantly striving to get the most food you can for your precious salary. Since starting to pack from home consistently a year ago, I estimate I’ve saved about $1300 along with several inches off my rear end.

2. I began shopping exclusively from the supermarket circular. The Boyfriend and I save an average of 21% off our weekly grocery bill this way. (I did the math!) We usually spend about $51.55 for food that would have normally cost $65.25, which saves us $13.70 per week, or $712.40 a year. As an added bonus, our fruit and veggie intake has about doubled, since produce is a loss leader and constantly on sale.

3. I switched to water. Admittedly, I was never big into fruit juice or soda, but I like Crystal Lite a LOT. The chemical aftertaste appeals to me in a way I can’t explain and don’t want to. Happily, agua is just as thirst-quenching, not to mention free. Oh, and it doesn’t contain any of these: Maltodextrin, Citric and Malic Acids, Raspberry Juice Solids, Aspartame, Red 40, Calcium Phosphate, Acesulfame Potassium, Blue 1.

4. I became a Trader Joe’s convert. Not for food, you see, but for booze. Where else on god’s green earth can you get a glass of semi-decent Sauvignon Blanc for $3? Despite lines that stretch to Peoria, The Boyfriend and I visit TJ’s wine store regularly, saving between $5 and $10 per bottle. We purchase less beer now, too.

5. I launched a blog about frugal, healthy food. Finally, an activity that encompasses my passions: eating, giving unsolicited advice, and linking to George Clooney pictures. But seriously, I find it’s much easier to save money and think nutritionally when I feel some responsibility towards others for being consistent, accurate, and informative.

Besides these five steps, I also:
  • Stopped frequenting Jamba Juice and Starbucks
  • Snacked increasingly on fruits and whole grains
  • Relied more on generic foods
  • Cut my meat intake
  • Obtained a Costco membership
  • Shopped using a grocery list
  • Began cooking in bigger batches
  • Stocked a decent pantry
  • Emphasized whole foods and meals cooked from scratch
  • Started a price book
Sadly, my restaurant expenditures have not changed. I’m still dining out or ordering in twice or thrice (that’s right, THRICE) a week, which wouldn’t be terrible except for my fancy-schmancy tastes. While I don’t begrudge myself the occasional date night, there’s gotta be a way to slash the bills. It’s something to work on for the future.

In the end, though I made some mistakes, it worked. College is (almost) paid off, man. While I’ll miss Sallie Mae’s jumbled interface, bad-deal consolidation offers, and bizarrely middle-aged “college student” photos, I’m glad our relationship is over. It’s time to concentrate on new things now, like saving for a house, going to India, and of course, linking to George Clooney pictures.

But once more, for old times’ sake:

*Happy dance!*

Stumble Upon Toolbar


Cathy said...

congrats! I can see that you've analyzed each step in the process and came up with a workable, livable plan. Not only cheaper, but healthier. Keep going, I enjoy reading your blog daily. Long live Trader Joe!

simplestages said...

Congratulations! It is so inspiring to see someone my age (turned 30 in September!) accomplish exactly what I am trying to do in such a like-minded way. Thanks for sharing your secrets!
If only they'd bring Trader Joe's to Texas...

debbie koenig said...

Wow, mazel tov! That is HUGE. We're living much like you described these days, too, but it's because we're broker than broke. Boo hoo.

John Ward said...

I must congratulate you on such a fine post, but more on what you have accomplished.

I must give this to my daughter who is nearly in the same situation as yourself. I know that it will help and inspire her.

Many thanks

eyots said...

Amazing, congratulations! I'll never forget the day I discovered Trader Joe's Wine ('twas only a few months ago!). My life changed.

MonsteRawr said...

Congratulations! Too bad Hallmark doesn't make a "You're out of debt!" card.

Jaime said...

Aw, yay! This was the post that first brought me to CHG, lo those many years ago. (It was linked to from Get Rich Slowly.)

I've got my credit card debt payoff within my sights (as in, roughly twelve months away), and it means buckling down (austerity budgets for me and the UK), but it's so exciting.

Heidi E said...

I stumbled upon your blog about a month and a half ago, I think, and have been fascinated and encouraged ever since. The last 2 years I have been acquainted (not personally) with Dave Ramsey and have found his teachings very useful. I, myself, hope to be debt free next year with the help of his crazy ideas. :) Rambling aside, I'm very proud of you and I hope you called in his show. CONGRATS friend!

marilee said...

Similar to Jamie, it was the original of this post that hooked me on CHG. Specifically this bullet point "7. ... Finally, an activity that encompasses my passions: eating, giving unsolicited advice, and linking to George Clooney pictures...." Who could resist a blogger who can cause a belly-laugh and give great advice! Not me. I don't get to stop in as often as I once did, so I really like the Friday round-up -- thanks for your efforts in skimming the cream from bloggosphere on our behalf. Please keep up the great recipes; when I need something quirky, fun, and good for me I search your site first. Yummy.

Suzanne with Laughing Wallet said...

Are you a chick? For those of us who luvva restaurants but not the prices, it's a heck of a deal - generally about 50 percent off!

Most of the deals are meant for at least two people, but if you go out a lot with friends, you can split the deal with a friend and you both save. We usually get a meal for both of us and have leftovers we can take with us, so it's quite a deal for us!