The most obvious and oft-cited way to achieve personal financial success is with a budget. Have more money coming in than going out. The concept is simple enough, but the practice is extremely elusive. Each individual or household has to find a way to make a budget work for their lifestyle. Sometimes it’s difficult to even make the initial numbers balance even in theory, but we knew this was how to stop our paycheck to paycheck lifestyle.
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When I first wrote out a monthly budget the numbers just didn’t make any sense. I listed all our debts(credit cards, auto loans, etc), recurring payments (electric, cable, etc) and then our discretionary expense (food, clothing, entertainment). What the numbers showed us didn’t exactly correlate to what we were experiencing week in in and week out. We had been constantly over-drafting our accounts in addition to adding more debt up to this point. Something wasn’t adding up.
We don’t live extravagant lifestyles by anyone’s estimation. We don’t spend frivolously on expensive clothes, cars, nor trips. The answer had to be in our discretionary spending and it had to be something constant. The only discretionary spending that we had that reoccurred regularly was our food shopping.
Two years prior our normal go-to supermarket (Giant) closed the location nearest to us. We started doing all our shopping at Wegman’s which is a great store, but generally more expensive. We had also gotten out of the habit of buying bulk items from BJ’s which was our local big box bulk retailer. We realized that the amount of money we were spending weekly on food was drastically higher than we had previously thought.
We drafted a course of action. On Sunday we wrote up our entire shopping checklist as well as a list of what we would have for dinner each night. If a checklist can work for pilots and surgeons, I think it can handle our dinner. Lunches were pretty much the same each day so that part was easy, but dinners always led to budgetary and dietary problems. “What’s for dinner?” would turn into a string of “No’s” followed with, “Do you want me to just pick something up?”. Eating out; even take out, costs more and generally results in consuming more calories than needed.
Even if we didn’t get take out, more often than not what we wanted required a stop at the grocery store for something we didn’t have. This cost us time. In addition to the time cost there was the additional temptation of being face to face with food while hungry. Wegman’s also carried six packs of craft beer; yet another financial and caloric drain that tempted me.
We wrote up our meals and the requisite ingredients. We added any other household items needed. Since we were starting a new process we decided to try a new store as well and went to Aldi’s. Aldi’s carried most the items we needed and at a significantly lower cost. Aldi’s didn’t carry everything we needed and we also learned that we didn’t care for some of their products that we tried. We would get the remainder of the items immediately afterward at Wal-Mart.
You would think that going to two stores would increase the time spent shopping, but it didn’t. Aldi’s are generally laid out in a way that allows for efficient shopping and since the cashier’s don’t bag your items, going through checkout is also a breeze. It’s a rare occasion that I need anymore than 15 minutes in an Aldi’s.
The results of using the checklist was immediate. For the first time as a couple we actually had money leftover after a pay period. This didn’t happen after we fine tuned our shopping or list making skills. This happened the very first week we made the list. This flexibility in our budget allowed us to start paying down debt and I was able to fix my credit score. We stopped having to make trips to the store after work throughout the week. This made our evenings feel fuller and gave us more time to cook. Not being rushed to get Olivia ready for bed made it more likely that we would cook. The more we cooked the more weight I lost. I ended up going from 245lbs to 195lbs.
The meal checklist became the fulcrum for how we stopped our paycheck to paycheck lifestyle.
Author: David Matthews
I started this site as a way of discussing what I’ve learned about the relationship between personal finances and physical fitness. What I have learned allowed me to lose 50lbs and improve my credit score 150 points in the same year and become a happier person.
Husband. Father. West Virginia University Grad. Licensed Insurance and Financial Professional. Sports fan (Philadelphia, WVU, and Manchester City). I’m also a huge nerd (like Magic: The Gathering huge)