It’s a well-documented fact that I love to eat out. It is also a well-documented fact that eating out excessively has cost me — in terms of both my financial and physical health. And while spending a pretty penny to dine out can make you happy, it can also deplete your bank account and sometimes leave you feeling less than stellar. Since I had the goal of saving some major money to buy Beyoncé tickets — she’s predicted to go on tour later this year and I want good seats this time! — I decided to put some major restrictions on my meal costs for a week. I figured that between groceries, random snack purchases, and dining out, I probably spend a couple of hundred dollars each week on food. In fact, in one week last month, the total was actually $500! But what if I drastically reduced that to $50–or just $5 meals for a week for me and my husband? I’d save hundreds of dollars! And I’d have enough saved to get those Beyoncé tickets! And everyone would live happily ever after!
I set a few rules for myself because I worried if I didn’t, I’d figure out all sorts of loopholes. I decided that I could use whatever was already in the house and that the $5 would have to cover my husband’s food too if we were eating together. I know, it sounds intense, but I really wanted to save some money and ball out on VIP Bey hive status. Oh, and my last rule– I had to make do with whatever was already in the kitchen (like granola) for breakfast. So, $50 for a week!
Honestly, the whole experience was easier than I expected. And if you’re interested in doing the same thing, here are some tips and tricks I picked up along the way to make it work.
Meal planning is key
The first problem I had was that I started without a plan. Piecing together breakfast and lunch on the first day was pretty easy — I had some leftover granola that I made stretch for two meals. But come dinnertime, it was clear that I needed staples and heading to the store with $5 was a bit… disappointing. I was able to buy a box of two veggie burgers and a small bottle of ketchup. If I had meal planned, I could have pooled the money from several meals together, and figured out a better way to spend my weekly budget. Thankfully, I learned my lesson and started properly meal planning from then on.
Search for budget recipes
Looking for recipes online was an absolute treat! Honestly, I regularly complain about the world wide web being a cesspool, but it really had my back when it came to budget-friendly meal ideas. My best find? This amazing post from Spoon University about how to make a week of meals for $20. I decided to supplement my shopping list with some other ideas from Spoon University — hi, I love this site — and a few other lists from sites like Vegan Richa and Choose Veg. There were so many awesome recipes to choose from, and a lot of them were easy to prepare. They were a life saver.
Tacos are your friend
With $50 total and a serious list of ingredients, I had to make a few sacrifices. For example, I had to work with fewer fresh vegetables and more canned ones. And although I really wanted caraway seeds for a soup recipe, they were $5.99 so that was a non-starter. I also couldn’t add in all the impulse items I usually love to buy — no ice cream, no candy, and no chips. That said, I found an amazing staple that served me well throughout the week: tacos! Taco ingredients are cheap and healthy — bulk beans, blocks of tofu, and a few fresh veggies. I had them for many meals, including breakfast — which I made with tofu scramble, black beans, kale, and salsa. They were delicious, and pack a nutritional punch when filled with healthy-ish ingredients. Tacos forever!
Meet people for coffee instead of meals
When my friend invited me to lunch, I asked to instead meet for coffee. I bought a hazelnut latte, and although I couldn’t get my normal two shots of espresso, it was worth it because I had a tasty little treat, and got to catch up with my friend in a less expensive setting. Quality hang time is quality hang time, and it’s just as wonderful over a $4 coffee as it is over a $50 dinner. We followed it up with a walk around a nearby lake, and it was gorgeous.
Splurge — a little
On my last day, I still had $10 left over and quite a few groceries. I decided to head to the store and splurge on those caraway seeds and some extra fresh veggies to make a red lentil dal. I spent $9.33 and ended up with a giant pot of tasty savory goodness with the yummiest roasted veggies. Oh, it was so good! We ate it for lunch and dinner and still had some left over.
This week of eating inexpensively had very few downsides, except for the lack of eating out. It’s a bummer to turn down plans with friends, and that’s what makes this scenario less than ideal for me to repeat every week. However, meal planning really helped me figure out how to keep costs down at the grocery store, and I’ll be taking that skill with me moving forward. Most importantly, I set aside $450 for Queen Bey tickets. Winner, winner, $5 lunches and dinners!