To spend or not to spend? That is the question. Actually, the real question is: “How to spend less?” I’ve been thinking about it a lot this past week as I’ve been doing Week 2 of our Zero Debt Action Plan.
I certainly wasn’t expecting it would be easy when I agreed to do this challenge, especially the part about spending less. That’s one of the reasons we created the Action Plan and the New Year’s Challenge in the first place! To give you added motivation and resources to win that battle on behalf of your future.
Over the past week, I’ve realized the way to be successful with this challenge is to use better information and better environmental triggers to help speed up my credit card paydown. It’s important to remember that not every tip will work for everyone – getting out of debt requires finding and using the methods that work best for you.
Debit Vs. Cash
I learned that lesson this week with my spending. One of the things we recommend in Week 2 of the Action Plan is to use cash or a debit card instead of a credit card. The theory is that when you’re spending real money (rather than ‘credit’) you will think more carefully about what you buy.
So for the last week I’ve been using my debit card instead of my credit card, in the hopes of reducing my desire to buy things. However, I didn’t notice it making a difference in how I look at purchases. I was still buying all the same things I usually do (see below). I think it might be because the debit card is too similar to my credit card. They’re both plastic, and they both allow me to buy things quickly and easily. For that reason, I’m going to try using cash only for the next week and see if it makes a difference.
But I also have a suspicion that there’s another underlying reason that my spending behavior didn’t change when I used a debit card. I’ll explain below, but first I wanted to study my spending habits to see what I could find out…
My Spending Categories
The very first thing that Week 2 of the Action Plan asks you to do is to tally up your spending based on several broad categories. Doing this can really give you insights into where your money goes. Last week I used Adaptu to tally up my spending. Here’s what I found – the list below shows my spending categories (minus rent) for the month of December:
The numbers above are slightly skewed because of extra holiday expenses (namely: gifts). But they provide a rough estimate of my monthly spending. When I saw this, what I noticed immediately was these two categories were too high:
And I think I know exactly why that is. Every week, I go to the grocery store and buy enough groceries to feed myself for a week. Then I proceed to buy lunch at restaurants everyday instead of making lunch at home and bringing it to the office. It’s not that I have trouble resisting the tasty temptation of nearby sandwich places (although I do have a fondness for Subway sandwiches), it’s that I can never seem to make myself prepare lunch the night before.
Everyone has something that tends to foil their best-laid plans. (Even Superman had his Kryptonite, right?) In my case, that one thing seems to be food. Specifically, convenient food.
But now I’ve begun to tackle this little problem head-on…
My Plan to Reduce Food Costs
I’ve made a goal of cutting 20% off my monthly food costs. This will help me reach my overall goal of paying $480 per month toward my debt,
In order to make it happen, I’ve been using these tips from Week 2 of our Action Plan:
Plan your meals (30 min per week): Create a chart that has columns for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Make it long enough so that you can plan out an entire week. Then write in your planned meals for each day. This will allow you to…
Prepare meals in advance (30-60 min): One of the reasons it seems convenient to eat out is that cooking something on the fly is hard – especially if you just got home from work and you’re hungry and tired. The solution is to do the majority of the prep work the night before. Some tasks, like slicing vegetables, can even be done on the weekend so you don’t have to worry about it during the week.
In other words, it’s all about replacing this…
That second picture is from last week, and if you look closely you can see our wallets smiling. You can also see me and Azra enjoying our homemade lunches in the ReadyForZero office rather than spending money needlessly at a restaurant. I plan to have a lot more days like this in the future, and hopefully a lot fewer days of paying someone else to make my lunch for me.
Cutting back on spending is the cornerstone to any successful get-out-of-debt plan, so I really want to make sure I nail this aspect of my challenge. I’m going to be using our budgeting spreadsheet to track my spending, and I’ll keep you updated on my progress toward spending less. Also check back next Tuesday for an update about my credit score… I know you don’t want to miss that!
In the meantime, you can help me by doing one of the following:
1. Leave a comment – how do you personally save money on meals?
2. Share this on Facebook/Twitter
3. Do the Action Plan with me
It’s easy to do the Action Plan along with me – just enter your e-mail address in the box below and you’ll get a weekly e-mail from us for the next 9 weeks (and we’ll never share your e-mail address):
Are you ready to get out of debt? If so, try our free online tool. We’ve designed it to help you manage your credit cards and loans and to give you a financially sound plan for eradicating your debt: