When I’m stressed enough to compulsively photoshop things and have a minute where nothing else immediately demands my attention:
<- What is this?
If you said, “A bagel, a banana, and a single serving of lunchmeat,” you are correct. It was also my lunch for today, and cost $2.19.
I hear you whispering to yourself. I know that normally that is not an impressive thing. However, I have been traveling for a conference, and a $2.19 lunch is hugely different than a $5 or $10 or more lunch from eating out. (I will also argue that it is healthier than eating out. Because there is a banana. Fruit.) One of my colleagues even asked me where I got my sandwich because it looked good. What a success!
Occasionally someone will still ask me if I am still doing the $50 food month, or how it went. Although I didn’t finish it, I feel that I learned a lot and am still learning about how to cut costs on food. I see a lot of articles about how to cut spending, and they inevitably list something like, “Stop buying coffee at cafes! A $2 coffee every day adds up to $60 a month!” I think that is a totally valid way to cut spending – if you drink coffee. As I do not, I’m looking for other ways to lower my spending.
These are the guidelines I have come up with to follow for food budgeting.
1. Probably the most important one is set a dollar amount and stick to it.
– I keep every single receipt from my grocery trips, and enter them into an excel spreadsheet with my monthly budget. Sounds boring, but it makes you see the dollars add up. You can’t lie to yourself about your spending if it’s right in front of you.
2. Buy at the best price
– I buy fresh produce at Schnucks and everything else at Aldi. (Okay, I like good produce.) I suppose that I’ll shop at Wal-Mart for more specific items on my grocery list, but since I’m flexible about what I cook and eat, I don’t have to very often.
– You don’t need name brand stuff. Food is food.
3. Consider substitutions
– Can you get yourself to use frozen broccoli instead of fresh? Cream of potato soup instead of mushroom soup because the potato is on sale?
4. Buy on sale if you would purchase it anyway
– Before I left for the conference, I made a quick trip to Aldi to buy snacks for the flight (waaaay cheaper than airport food). Normally soups there range from $0.80 to $1.50 depending on size and type, but this time they had the small cans on sale for $0.40. I use cans of soup when I cook chicken and rice – dump it on top, instant sauce. Buy a few and it’s $1.50 saved. That’s a lot!
5. Let yourself be rewarded by the savings
– This is the one I’m really bad at. When I’m under budget on groceries, I kind of say, “Oh good,” and then forget about it. But if it’s a motivating factor for you, use it for something that makes you happy. $10 under budget? Go see a movie with friends. $20 under? Get a nice bottle of wine. Whatever motivates you. (Just a note – this will probably only work if you are budgeting other things, and thus limited on your spending in other ways as well.
– If you can think of a better way to see your progress, go for it.
When I started grad school my goal was to get straight As through the whole thing. Having solidly missed that goal after the first semester, my plan was vaguely to just ‘do the best I could.’ That’s still my aim, but I’ll add that the updated goal is to succeed in grad school while also being happy.
Actually, it would just be this:
Happiness > Stress
It’s a work in progress. I sometimes consider what I want/need, and some of it’s just not possible. For instance, it would be great if my immediate family and closest friends were geographically closer. But they’re not, and I can’t change that.
However, there are other things! Giving myself breaks (from schoolwork) helps, but maybe not always as much as I think it does. I’m learning that I need to do other things besides school, not just take breaks from school. Softball was one of those things, and also a way to be social. Now that the season’s over, I’ll (hopefully) still spend time with the team occasionally, but we won’t have regular games. I’m trying to add in a few other activities, so that I have many sources of happiness outside of school. Here’s my current list.
- Reading books for fun. I just finished one that I’ll add to my booklist later, and I have two more lined up to start.
- Running. I’ve been three times in the past two weeks, which still isn’t a lot but is more than usual. My goal is to get up to 2-3x per week consistently.
- Scola choir. This is great because I get to be with people, sing, and have a daily Mass that I’m committed to going to once a week.
- French. When Kevan started learning French on DuoLingo I went back to it too, but now it’s been a long time since I’ve been on it. I did a few lessons today and a few lessons yesterday, and just that little bit of progress on another interest has felt really good.
- Generally committing to more social activities. This one will take the most work on my part, because as much as I need more friendship/social interaction, my inclination at the end of the day tends to be to hide in my room.
Perhaps you’ve already seen the illustration on the left, and of course I was pleased to find the modified version on the right which describes graduate school. As funny as this is, it’s not correct. If I dropped everything besides my thesis, I wouldn’t end up with a more timely submission, I would end up unhappy and burnt out. Whenever I sacrifice sleep or interests or friendships, I don’t have “more time” because my performance is so much lower that it takes me longer to make any progress on academic work.
Ultimately, I do better in grad school when I pursue other interests and activities because I come back to work refreshed and in a healthy state of mind. Plus, I’ll come out of grad school with strong friendships and maybe even other skills in addition to that degree. So that’s my real grad school goal.