Ben’s Challenge, Week 2: Spending Less

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:

    • Groceries
    • Restaurants/dining

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…

with 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:

» Try ReadyForZero

Image 1 by danielmoyle; Image 2 by 401K; Image 3 by Like_the_Grand_Canyon

Receive updates:      
You can always unsubscribe by clicking on the link at the bottom of each e-mail.

  • Jenna

    Glad Adaptu can help you keep on track and stay on budget!

  • SarahK

    We save time by preparing proteins ahead of time. Chili, stew, ground beef with tomatoes etc.  They all freeze well in single serving containers & defrost easily in the fridge or even in the microwave if you forget to take it out before work.
    Also, roasted vegetables keep in the fridge for up to a week & tastes great reheated.  We roast a bunch on Sunday which saves time during the week and I found we throw away less food.

    • Those are great tips – thanks, Sarah! I think I am going to try doing some weekly cooking on Sundays so that I can freeze things (like roasted vegetables) and use them for lunches during the week. I’ll let you know how it goes!

  • I overlooked this, so I thought I’d give you a heads-up! Don’t forget you have taxes coming up! I missed that, and now that I’ve figured out how much tax I owe, I’ve had to do a complete re-think on my budgeting!! Good luck!

    • You are so right. I have been thinking about this since the New Year started, but I don’t know exactly how much I’ll owe in taxes. It would be wise to figure this out now so I can start preparing now. Thanks for the reminder!

  • Sean

    Anytime I have debt that needs to be paid off, I think about things like this. A dollar spent today on something is a dollar not spent paying down my debt.  If I have debt that I’m planning to have paid off 1 year from now and it’s charging me 15% interest, I just factor that onto my purchase decision.  A $10.00 lunch now becomes something like an $11.50 lunch in my mind because I treat the $10.00 in question as though it were the last $10.00 to be paid off of my debt  If my time horizon to pay down my debt was 2 years, my lunch decision would become approximately a $13.00 decision (ignoring compound interest).

    • That’s an excellent way to look at it. Especially helpful for bigger purchases. So that iPad isn’t just $600, it’s $615 or worse, $630!

  • Mark S

    Let me know how the cash only thing works for you.  I have a hard time imagining it would make much of a difference, but I’ve definitely heard people claim it works for them.

    • I’ll let you know, Mark! Stay tuned for my update next Tuesday.

  • Pingback: Ben’s Challenge, Week 3: My Credit Score()

  • Pingback: Ben's Challenge, Week 6: My Budget Exposed()

  • Pingback: Trying to Make Extra Money()