But before David and I could save, we needed to see what we spent, so we made a budget. We simply wrote down how much we spent each month in different areas. The fixed items, like mortgages and cell phone bills, were easy. The numbers that we had to estimate, like how much we spent on gas and entertainment, were a little tougher, but we did our best. We both looked at our statements from the past month and added up numbers, which helped a lot in determining what we thought were accurate amounts.
Then, because we were focused on saving, we tried to see where we could cut. Any money that we could cut out meant more money that we could save.
The biggest thing that stood out as a place to save was groceries. That's right, food. Most people would probably guess entertainment. Not us. We didn't go out to dinner much. If we went to a movie, we generally stuck with a matinee to save a few bucks. We'd go out to bars with friends, but we limited ourselves to just a couple of drinks each to save some cash. But apparently we just couldn't control ourselves when it came time for the weekly trip to Meijer.
Actually, a weekly trip probably would've been best. One of the problems was that we often went to the grocery every few days.
When we were dating, we didn't plan too far ahead as to whose house we'd be having dinner at each night, so it turned into running into the store to pick up enough food for a couple of dinners, and then doing the same things again a day or two later. More trips to the grocery = more opportunities to spend on things you don't really need = more money spent.
After the wedding, we did a little better (one house meant we could do more regular shopping, which meant fewer shopping trips, which meant saving more money), but we still weren't quite where we wanted to be. We found a good solution when we subscribed to a meal plan: eMeals. It's really helped us cut down on our grocery bill.
Here's how it works:
The eMeals team creates seven meal plans for a week. The meals are based on what items are on sale or in season, so the meals vary depending on what part of the country you're in, what store you choose to use, and the time of year. They offer smaller portions for two or larger portions for a family, and there are a variety of stores to choose from. Oh, and if you're a vegetarian or gluten-free, no problem: they offer a variety of specialty plans.
You pay a small amount for the plan. Our current rate is $20 for three months. Each week, we print out the list and go through the different options. If there are meals we don't like, or if we'll be out of town part of the week or have some other meals options already in the house, then we may do only a portion of the plan. Each ingredient is marked with what meal(s) it's for, so it's easy to just cross out those you won't need.
So far, we've found quite a few advantages to eMeals:
- Saving money. I know.... you're wondering how we're saving money when we're paying $20 every three months. Well, that $20 is offset quickly, because we spend less per week on groceries since starting eMeals than we did before. When we first made a budget, we were spending about $600 on groceries, or roughly $150 a week. Yep, that's for just two people. And yes, that's just for groceries.... it doesn't include eating out. (To be fair, we rarely ate out, so we did need more groceries, but still, that's a ridiculous amount for us to spend.) The meal plans usually add up to $55-$70 per week, which quickly cuts that $600 in half. However, we have to buy other things, like milk, lunch meat and cheese, and fresh produce. And there's some sort of paper product, household item, or toiletries that we have to buy each week. And you can't forget staples, like olive oil or baking soda. Then we have our guilty pleasures, such as ice cream and Coke. Of course, we don't need all of these things every week, but there are always a few things. Our bill usually comes to, on average, $100 a week. That's still cutting our bill down by about $200 a month.... not bad!
- Less waste. We've often found ourselves winging it in the store, because it was easier to just go rather than making a list first. Because we didn't have a list, we ended up spending a bunch of money on food we never used. That's wasting both food and money.
- Less planning. It's nice to not have to make a grocery list.... it's already been made for me! We might change things up a little, skip a meal, or substitute a favorite, but for the most part, we follow the eMeals meals. In addition to saving money and keeping food from going to waste, we're also saving time by not having to make a list.
- Learning and trying new things. We've become more adventurous in our eating by trying new recipes that we normally wouldn't. We've also become better cooks--we've made things that we knew we liked but had only eaten at restaurants or at someone else's house. For the most part, if it shows up on that week's list, we'll try it!
We were glad to find a way to cut down on the expense that, when we looked at our overall budget, seemed to be our weak spot. We plan to stick with the eMeals plan for a while
Note: I wasn't asked to do this review, and I wasn't paid or compensated in any way for writing it. I'm just really happy with eMeals and wanted to share the information with you. All opinions are my own.