40 Dollars A Week

So, I’ve mentioned we’re budgeting. Which I HATED and RESISTED for a long time. Remember my post about how we couldn’t afford a photo booth at the wedding and had to cut it loose? And everyone was like, “Spreadsheets!” and, “Budgets!” and, “Sanity!: And I was all, “yeah yeah yeah…ok mom.”

Well… it became very clear shortly after that (ok, maybe a few months of me sticking my fingers in my ears but I did come around after all), that having two incomes and two spenders was making me nutso unless things were thought about and written down somewhere. So that was the practice round.

The real game changer was quitting my job in order to actually have a career that doesn’t have to do with stuff-I-hate-but-just-happen-to-be-pretty-good-at. And the only way that was ever going to work was by budgeting. And sticking to it like … gum on your shoe… that’s been walked on for a day, I mean it’s really really stuck on there, ya know? So we have some strict guidelines and they have taken some getting used to. And about 5 minutes ago (On Wednesday evening) I was whining about how I’m hungry and how I don’t want anything to eat that’s in the house but I know I should just shut up about it and eat what we have because we can’t buy anymore food until this weekend and I have two days left so just leave it alone, Lauren, will you? And as these things often happen, I couldn’t stop thinking about our stupid budget, and here we are… in blog land.

The truth is, I’m proud of our budget, as much as it aggravates me. I’m proud of it because I know it’s getting us somewhere, a magical place where one day we might have a house, and I might be able to buy a shirt or a pair of shoes whenever I fancy, instead of waiting for my birthday or Christmas, or dinner and a movie could be a real possibility. So, I thought I would share some of what we do. Just in case you would like to one day get to your own happy place where you might have some savings to go somewhere warm or exotic, or to blow it all on clothes. I’m not judging.

The first thing we did was really cut down our food budget. We were spending 50-100 bucks a week, easily. We would buy lots of things, things we thought we needed but then would end up throwing out like true wasteful Americans. Or we would store it. Because everyone needs 3 boxes of pasta and 3 jars of 1/2 eaten pasta sauce, right? And lots and lots of frozen things. Lots. To the point where we would forget and then buy the frozen thing again. It was stupid. It was comfortable and easy.

But now we eat on $40 a week. For two people. Every week we buy food and it never goes above $40. Alright, to be totally honest… sometimes we have a “once in a while” grocery run when we run out of toilet paper and laundry soap, but other than that we’re on the $40 a week money diet. We never buy things that aren’t on sale. We think about the sales and we do the math and we make sure we’re getting the most bang for our buck. We always, always buy fresh produce every week and we eat it every week or it will go bad. We buy high quality meat and freeze it. We cook a meat product (this week it was pork chops) once a week and have the left overs for other dinners and usually at least 1-2 lunches. We’ve also lowered our portions, which is really better for us anyway. 2 good sized chicken boobs will last us an entire week (4-5 meals between the two of us) because we eat other things like rice and veggies to supplement. We weren’t huge meat eaters to begin with, so meals like this feel indulgent and not at all like a sacrifice. So, the argument that healthy food is too expensive? I feel like that’s a myth. Yes, fast food will always be cheaper than normal speed food, but for both of us, per day, it costs us $5.71 to eat. A DAY. Wrap your mind around that.

The other thing we’ve done is implement allowances. $50 every other week for each of us. From this money comes all of our eating out, movies, etc… everything that’s extra. This has been the hardest thing to do since it also limits our social-ness. And as I’ve said before, it’s really hard for me to say no… especially when I don’t want to. So, we’re still working on this. This afternoon Kamel said, “Oohh and then we can go to dinner on Friday night!” and I had to tell him, “No, we can’t. We don’t have the money.” And he was disappointed. And then he said, “Well what can we do that doesn’t cost any money?”  Yes. That is the question, isn’t? Besides go for walks and stay home, we’re kind of out of ideas. But remember, we’re getting to that good place of happy careers and a better quality of life. So, we plug along.

Everything else, we just map out. We know what we can afford and we work with it. And it has nothing to do with weddings, centerpieces, or entrees (well sometimes it does have to do with entrees doesn’t it?). It’s about life. And building one, somewhere… in the future. Where I can buy a shirt without sweating about it. Or a fucking granola bar. We’ll get there.

41 thoughts on “40 Dollars A Week”

  1. This is a good post, mostly because I’m curious what your grocery list looks like. Walt and I go grocery-shopping once a week and buy fresh fruits, veggies, fresh chicken boobs (ha), and other mostly healthy items and our grocery bill is anywhere from $80-100 a week. What is it that we are buying that you’re not, and how can we get rid of it so that we can eat for less? We don’t waste anything (maybe the spinach gets a little icky by the end of the week, so we toss out the last handful)… what kinds of recipes are you using? I’m burning with curiosity!

    I’m one of those people who will buy groceries once a week, cook all my meals, take my lunch to work, and not ever eat out, but my husband is the type of person who gets tired of his food and has to wander off to a taco place for something “different” (though he gets the same thing every time!). I understand where he’s coming from because sometimes I don’t care for the food we have in the house either, but it’s like the one thing we bicker about because $5 tacos or burgers or fancy sandwiches several times a week adds to the amount we spend on food every week and I’d like to get it lower.

    1. I totally understand your husband. I am your husband (well, not really). But I’ve learned that taking snacks for lunch instead of the typical sandwich or left over dinner helps me mix things up. So I have cheese and crackers + a granola bar and V8. Or other snacky things that we have around the house that give me protein, grains/fiber and fruit.

      Our grocery list last week was: Radishes, 1 zucchini, bread, annies mac and cheese, shredded cheese, potatoes, cream of mushroom soup (for the pork chops in the freezer from the week before), eggo waffles, V8, spaghetti sauce, and 1/2 pound of deli cut ham and a 1/2 pound of deli cut swiss cheese. With Kamel’s extra money he bought bananas for his office since I don’t eat those. We also had an onion, a head of broccoli, and nectarines at home. We have other things that last longer at home too like pasta and soup and stuff.

      Dinners this week have been zucchini/radish quesadillas, pork chops/potatoes/onion, mac and cheese (lazy night), tonight will be left over pork + broccoli, and tomorrow will prob be pasta with marinara.

      1. thanks for sharing all this! and for explicitly explaining your grocery list and meal plan for this week! i’m inspired… definitely gonna try to spend less at the grocery store!

  2. yay for budgets! we should try this $40/week thing. right now it’s a bit slap-dash, the way we follow our “budget.” I think we usually spend $100 every two weeks or so, but it’s probably more like every 1.5 weeks on average, which adds up to a lot more (and that’s not even counting what I spend on groceries near my office, for workday lunch).. it seems like every time we go to the store, we buy some big ticket item that will last forever, and justify it because “oh we won’t need to buy this again for a long time, it’s a big expense now but we don’t buy this very often.” but then every single time there’s something like that. ugh! laundry detergent, you bitch!

    anyway congrats on making this budget work for you! I’m thinking this fall we may need to completely overhaul the way we eat/shop.

    1. we used to do that too! Every shopping trip was a big ticket item shopping trip. And our first week of REALLY being held to the budget was a lesson. We were grocery shopping at target (we do this probably once a month) and I was like “well we need detergent, and I want these juices, and these crackers, and we should probably get xyz” and then as we walked around and I thought about what we REALLY needed and how the goal was to spend less, I started taking things out of the cart. It was liberating.

      Also, we only use baskets now instead of carts. It keeps you in check.

    1. It’s a cash allowance. So it’s easy to chart. But yes, right now we’re struggling with the “Well we can just put that on the credit card.” Uh, no. That totally defeats the purpose. haha.

  3. Congrats on the budget – that’s seriously impressive (and inspiring/scary). And there’s got to be lots of fun free things to do where you are! Museums? Outdoor music events? Hiking?

      1. “packin’ up the porkchops!” I think I’m going to use that phrase for other things too… possibly workin out? or getting everyone out the door? Either way, LOVE it.

  4. Have you seen Fun Cheap SF? (http://sf.funcheap.com/) It has all kinds of good stuff happening around the city that is cheap or free and, um, fun. I subscribed to the email list for a while, though never seemed to do anything (too busy with school and work, I think). It might be a good resource for you and Kamel, too!

      1. I was going to mention that site too – it lists lots of fun festivals, out door movies, etc. Takes some time to go through, but it lists a lot of stuff I wouldn’t otherwise know about.

  5. I’m so impressed with you guys. So impressed.

    It’s difficult to eat so cheaply in our house, mostly because Mr Marathon Runner straight up requires so many CALORIES. While I can (and do) eat Mac-N-Cheese for dinner, he needs protein and big portions … which add up.

    So, for us, it’s little tricks. For example: I’ve started buying blocks of cheese instead of shreded. If I’m planning on using shreded during the week, I’ll grate a bunch and put it in tupperware. The block lasts longer than a bag (we never end up using it all before it goes bad!), and as an added bonus, I can grab a knife and make slices any time I want cheese and crackers!

    Cheese and crackers, nom. I’m in a highly generic mood lately, so I’m eating sharp cheddar on club crackers, but hey … GOOD STUFF.

    1. Ooh, I started buying by the block too after I realized the price difference. I also recently realized sometimes the BOG block goes on sale for the same price as the small block. Weird. So we often get the big one. It never goes bad at our place, but I guess freezing part of the shredded cheese to keep it from going bad could make for some quick and easy pizza toppings later?

  6. I love your idea of budgets. Grocery wise I think we spend about the same, around 30 EUR per week and we only eat meat/chicken once maximum twice per week. We get fruits and vegetables for the lunches and I always try to use vegetables in whatever it is we cook. As for the allowances, it is a good idea. Whenever we look at our finances there is this “extras” column that we never know where the money really went to (because sometimes it was just taking money from the automat). And then since we are fixing the house, lots of those “little” things are from the hardware store, etc. but then going out (dinner, movies) go in there as well. Do you guys have bikes? Lately we have been biking together around and it is lots of fun, we discover places, we might even bring a lunch and picnic (ok we did that once). Wow with the bike obsession it sounds like I might be turning a bit dutch. But really. And I second the museums / free concerts / exhibitions suggestion above.
    It is difficult, but something worth working on and we are right there with you. The extras are the hardest to handle (more than the groceries, I think) because we all want to do the easy typical fun stuff you mention. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  7. We do a weekly cash allowance too for personal spending (gifts, clothes, the endless nail polishes and face creams I buy!). At first its difficult to get used to spending cash. Prior to marriage (and sharing money), I used my debit card for everything. Once we implemented the cash allowance, I also blew my cash every week. It was the opposite of budgeting. Just because it’s “disposable personal spending” in the budget, did not mean that I should waste the cash on frivolous things. Plus, once I was poor on the second day of the week, I had 5 more days to think about a better system. A year into our allowance method, I’ve gotten better at holding on to the cash. If I have extra cash at the end of the week, I put it in an envelope and hide it away. Eventually I’m going to splurge on something fun.

    Way to go Lauren and Kamel. The saving/budgeting will definitely pay off. Also, kudos for adopting healthy eating, working out, and budgeting all in one month. What an amazing feat!

  8. am I the only one who was really taken aback that the two of you can survive on 2 chicken breasts, granted large ones, for the whole week? That would definitely not work in our household, mostly because the way I have taken to cutting back on carbs is to eat more protein.

    what is that, like 4 slices of chicken breast per meal? my mind is boggled.

    1. hahaha. We split one chicken between us for every meal. Or it’s shredded in tacos. But we also eat other things (like fried egg over spanish rice, tomato soup and toasted cheese, pasta with marinara, etc) and the chicken doesn’t last the whole week. I think if you ate more meat than we do, it would just take up more of your budget instead of some of the other stuff we eat.

      But yeah…. I guess there are whole weeks we don’t even make a meat dish.

    2. I was too, at first, but then I realized that if you’re adding the chicken to something (quesadillas, pasta, whathaveyou) you’re not using a whole lot. And she did say they were only eating it a couple nights a week. It makes more sense that way.

  9. Ugh, yes, budgets. We sat down and mapped ours out a few months ago but haven’t really done anything with it… which is weird because we’re both big savers. I suppose that might be our saving grace(s): that we like to save, and that we have naturally similar approaches.

    Good for you guys, though – I’m impressed! Rock on with yo bad selves!

  10. I feel like people not in the Bay Area don’t realize how mad impressive $40 a week is. This is not a cheap eating city. Even basic stuff like ramen noodles are all jacked up here.

    Anyway, you rock.

  11. good for you. budgeting is so hard. it is soo easy to spend way to much on food (and everything in general).

    i have been searching for (and maybe one exists) a website or app sort of thing that makes shopping lists that will work for multiple meals throughout the week. that way you could have a list of exactly what to buy and be able to use every last bit of the food you buy..do you know of anything like this?

    1. I started using Gojee.com. You can add ingredients you have at home and it searches through food blogs to find recipes for you. I haven’t used this feature, but apparently you can link gojee to your grocery store reward card and it will know what you buy and come up with recipes from there.
      It doesn’t regenerate your list for you, but it will help you use up ingredients.

  12. I REALLY NEEDED THIS. I am so budget obsessed, and Fred is not which always leaves me in this panicky state when thinking about the future.

    I want to be self-employed as well (you know that) and I think that it’s really smart to sit down and do this NOW so I feel like we can afford for me to quit my day job. Also, it seems like I have babies on the brain but in the next 5 years one or two will be coming around and I want to have a nice base of savings in case I lose income, emergencies, etc.

    Thanks a bunch Duprez family!

    1. Thanks Allison! I hate budgets, but I did it because it was the only way. And you know how I said I we were having left overs with broccoli for dinner? We’re totally having pancakes and beer. See? WIGGLE ROOM EXISTS EVEN! 😉

  13. Amazing!

    $40? Jebus. If we could constantly stick to $100, we’d be happy. In Minneapolis.

    One problem? Food is our joy, our inspiration, our indulgence. I was raised by a hippie dippie mother who bought co-op food in bulk each month. It’s in my blood. Yep, I do the organic business, depending on the type of produce/meat/dairy (for some it’s more worth it than others). Still- we’re constantly being reminded that a few meals of rice and beans are great- they can still have delicious spices and herbs in them. A lot of veggies are cheap! Heck, eggs are cheap (I eat 2/day, easily).

    So…I’m anxious to discover food planning for the food snob. It’s my project for the month– planning ahead without feeling like we’re going without. And, leaving us room to still do a few cookbook experiments. Thanks for the budget inspiration!

  14. Budgeting blows cock. We’re on our third month of attempting to stick to one, and so far we’ve done mildly okay at it. (Meaning we’re pretty good at staying under in all our categories except Restaurants and Alcohol, which we decimate.) But it still blows cock.

    If I might throw a suggestion out there, try using Mint.com. It lets you see everything right there in front of you, and see exactly where every penny goes. Plus, if you start getting close to your limits it’ll send you e-mails letting you know that you’re too close. It’s helpful.

  15. Lauren, Thanks so much for this. The BF and I are constantly saying to each other “we really should make a budget” and then being totally overwhelmed. After years of being a broke ass college student (hello, paying your own way!) I really like the flexibilty my new modest, but larger income gives me. The idea of self-imposed limits on that makes me want to stomp my foot like a toddler and say, “No fair!”. But I also really want the things that I know saving will get me: financial padding, a nicer apartment, money for a wedding or a baby at some point in the near-ish future. So, you know, feelings are complicated.

    BUT three ideas about how to find cheap, fun things to do:
    -Browse the college newspaper: the writing is terrible and not all the ideas are great but they are definitely budget-friendly.
    -I scan Groupon/Living Social/etc. We reserve them for date nights but it does help stretch those precious “fun bucks”.
    -I also scan the mommy blogs in the area. Like the college paper they have a budget mind.

    Keep us posted on your successes and challenges!

  16. Thanks for posting about this! I enjoy your blog, and some of my favorite entries are the ones about trying to eat better while keeping it affordable–something my guy and I are struggling to do living in a city, as well. Nice to see you outline what works for you so we have some inspiration and a few ideas to try for ourselves!

  17. Dude, you are my HERO. Michael and I just budgeted our grocery bill down to eighty bucks a week for the two of us and we’re struggling. I’m impressed and forwarding this to him for inspiration.

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