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Making short-term sacrifices in order to achieve long-term goals

Jennifer recently left the following comment on my blog:

I have
been following for about 10 months now and have managed to make a huge
dent in our "old" grocery budget. However, I am also an experimental
cook who loves to try new things, especially fish and ethnic dishes. We
eat fish at least three meals a week (including lunches i.e. tuna) and
fresh fish is rarely on "good" sale, and never free. We also love
Indian, Thai, and Chinese, all of which I cook from scratch. I've always
admired your honesty, as well as the fact that you repeatedly (and
sincerely) say "what we do doesn't work for everyone" – so I am also
wondering, do you "miss" variety in your menus?

Do I miss variety? Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that there are many things I often see at the store which I'd love to buy but which I know would totally bust our grocery budget. No, because I truly believe that making temporary short-term sacrifices (like, for us, eating simple meals made with inexpensive ingredients–see some of our normal menus here) is worth it to achieve long-term goals.

Before my husband and I got married, we sat down and did a lot of calculating to see how little we could survive on. Our goal was to make it through Jesse's six remaining months of undergrad and the following three years of law year without going into debt.

We had the money saved up and set aside to pay for school, but we didn't have much more beyond that. We figured that if he worked part-time and I worked part-time, we could manage to make close to $1000 per month. So that was the dollar amount we had to work with in making our budget. Considering that our rent ate up over half of that amount, we had around $125/week leftover to work with.

It seemed rather daunting to be able to pay for our utilities, transportation, food, and living expenses with that amount but we were determined to make it work. We knew we would have much more freedom if we weren't making payments on law school loans for years to come. And we knew if Jesse were to begin his legal career without the bondage of debt, it would give us much more of a foundation for achieving our long-term goals of owning a home debt-free, owning real estate debt-free, and being able to share abundantly with those in need.

Yes, we had some pretty big long-term goals from the get-go, and the only way to achieve those was by making short-term sacrifices. It would mean going without, saying "no", and exercising lots of self-discipline. In short, it would mean experiencing some temporary discomforts in order to reap lifelong rewards.

The temporary discomforts during the law school years weren't always easy, believe me. Both of us had moments when we just wanted to throw in the towel and throw our arms up in defeat. There were many times when we wished we could spend money on this or that or enjoy some of the little luxuries in life it seemed everyone else was. But we plodded on and on and on–wearing the same clothes over and over, driving an old car, brown-bagging it, clipping coupons, forgoing dinners out, living in a cramped little basement apartment, and so on–constantly reminding ourselves that it would someday be worth it.

And it has been every bit worth it. The little luxuries in life that we gave up–like eating out, making fancy meals, buying new clothes or things, driving a nicer car–pale in comparison to the freedom we now have living a life without payments.

Many people expected that as soon as my husband got out of law school and our income quadrupled, we'd stop being so frugal and start "really living". Shouldn't we reward ourselves for those sacrifices by loosening up on our tightwad ways? It was easy to justify, for sure, but we'd lived on such a beans-and-rice budget for so long that neither of us felt comfortable with all of a sudden becoming more extravagant. Plus, we have more audacious long-term goals–like paying cash for a house–and we know the only way we'll be able to achieve those in a timely fashion is by making more short-term sacrifices.

We have given ourselves quite a bit more budget breathing room than we had during law school and we have mutually decided to allow ourselves to "splurge" every now and then (like our dinner at The Cheesecake Factory last Friday night!), but we still adhere to a strict written budget and we do our best to constantly be looking for ways to keep our expenses and expenditures to a minimum. This enables us to live on much less than we make so we put a large part of what we earn towards saving to pay cash for a house. In addition, it allows us to have much more to share with others.

None of this would be possible if we were buried in debt. Not only would we have all the stress of trying to make ends meet while paying all our payments, we'd not have the freedom to give generously or the ability to make good traction in our savings goals.

So yes, there are days when I wish I could go to the store and just buy whatever I want without worrying about staying within our grocery budget. And yes, there are times when I wish I could make more elaborate meals with more expensive ingredients instead of planning our menus based upon the sales and what coupons I have. But then I quickly realize that sticking with a small grocery budget and eating simple meals is one of the reasons we're living a life without payments and one of the reasons we're able to save more and give more. When thinking of it in that light, it is so worth it!

And honestly? I really enjoy the challenge of working with a small grocery budget. In fact, while our menus might seem dull to some, we really rarely notice the fact that we spend so little at the grocery store. Through years of practice, I've learned a number of tricks (like the Buy Ahead Principle) which, coupled with a large dose of creativity and ingenuity, allow us to enjoy a rather varied and healthful fare without breaking the bank to do so.

Note: I wanted to make it clear that I am not advocating everyone need to have a grocery budget like ours or that you need to forgo eating fancy dinners. These are choices we have made based upon our family's goals and what works best for us right now. Your family's goals and needs are different than ours so please do not feel the need to do similar to us. I just share what we've done and are doing in hopes it might be an inspiration to you to find ways you can live on less in order to save more and give more.

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72 Comments

  • Cathe says:

    Thanks for that encouraging and inspiring post!

  • Amanda says:

    I just wanted to let you know I think you do a great job!

  • Meghan says:

    I completely agree about making short term sacrifices for long term goals. I think that Americans, in general, are far too accustomed to taking on debt for things they do not need without thinking of the long term consequences (though probably many of your blog readers are not the general American I am thinking of).

    I do, however, think that some “debts” are not necessarily bad. My husband and I carry no consumer debt, but we do have two mortgages (one on our primary residence and one on another home we used to live in and currently rent out). For us, these “debts” are investments, and one in particular is an extraordinary investment that we could have in no way made without taking on the mortgage (even in this market we could quickly sell the house for far above what we paid for it). So, in the long term, this “debt” will be a tremendous asset to us, once we choose to sell the home. Paying cash for a home is a commendable goal and good for some, but taking on mortgage debt is not always a bad financial move.

  • Kate says:

    Hi!

    I have enjoyed your blog so much and notice the pictures you often have of your family on it! How do you preserve the memories of your on a budget? Scrapbooking can add up in price so do you just use photo books? I am looking for a way to preserve our family memories without breaking our account! Any advise would be appreciated!

    Thanks!
    Kate

  • Rachel says:

    it should also be said that immigrants to this country from china thailand and india still manage to make food that is true to their culture and stay under budget. If I were the writer of that letter I would go to the library and invest some time in some cookbooks. then venture into the local ethnic neighborhood to see that the spices that usually make up the curries and sauces that sell for so much in our major markets sell for pennies in these stores. chilies, lemongrass fish sauce curry powders 5 spice powers etc, are all very economical and easy to “prepare” to make something much more delicious with less additives than the stuff on the shelf. I make my own kung pao, ‘oyster’ sauce, orange and lemon sauce, curries, all from scratch and for almost nothing. some vinegar, sugar, chili, fish sauce, corn starch and on and on. I go to costco for my halibut and salmon as we are big fish eaters. I can get a very good price on the frozen filet’s, but if you check the same ethnic stores, you can often find better prices on fish than in the markets. I have even seen fish filets (tilapia) in the dollar store freezers. it can most definitely be done. just cause you shop under a budget does not mean you are limited to tuna helper and top ramen for dinner.

  • jessica says:

    I agree. Each person and family has different priorities. I sit across the aisle in my cubicle from my coworker whose husband earns a very large salary, and their family lives what I consider to be an extravagant lifestyle. Their elementary aged school children are in multiple expensive activities, they take several exotic vacations a year (cruises to Belize… etc), she wears very stylish clothing and shoes, and so forth. I earn more than my husband, and our priority is to pay down debt (our mortgage is our only debt) so that when we’re blessed with a second child, I can quit work to be a full time mother, wife and homemaker (though I also do freelance writing for my own enjoyment and may continue with that). I have a Master’s degree and do not and would not consider my education wasted, were I to quit my work as an epidemiologist.

    Perhaps my coworker thinks I’m a tightwad, uptight person for throwing my salary at my mortgage while we “live” off my husband’s income. Who knows. But that is our priority. Maybe it is more important to her to have the finer things and take trips, than to be home. I cannot judge because I do not live in her shoes.

    I wholeheartedly agree, that husband and wife need to discuss what priorities are for the family finances, no matter what the financial situation– and even BETTER to do so BEFORE marriage so that there are no big surprises.

    Although I had some student loans as did my husband, we paid those off very quickly and at ages 29 and 30, we own more than 60% of our home, have two paid for cars, a year worth of expenses saved, and we have decent clothing and food in our bellies. Not having an iphone, manicure or designer clothing isn’t hurting us any!

  • Shelly says:

    Great post! I remember when I saw this comment originally. I think it is a great misconception that living/shopping frugally means you’re eating mac and cheese every night. We eat a lot of Thai (my son works as a chef at a Thai restaurant), Indian, and Chinese food. These are some of the cheapest foods to make! By shopping at ethnic stores you can get a lot of the more ‘exotic’ ingredients very inexpensively. I’ve also found things like sesame oil, oyster sauce, udon noodles, etc. at Bit Lots for super cheap.

    Tonight we’re having Indian Tomato chicken – chicken thighs on sale at Schnucks (bought a ton), tomatoes on sale at Kroger, rice was bought in bulk at Costco, spices bought in bulk at Whole Foods. It will probably be under $3 to very generously feed four. If it wasn’t 90 degrees I might even try making my own naan.

    It can be done! 🙂

  • amy says:

    Like Jenifer, I really enjoy cooking a variety of meals, trying new recipes, etc. I am no where near as good as you, Crystal, in lowering my grocery budget, but I do find that the new recipes/exotic ingredients can fit in for me. I usually make these kinds of recipes on a Saturday night – for some reason it feels more special. I do more standard, simple recipes throughout the week. When I plan my recipes throughout the week, I usually try to make sure I’m making enough for my husband to have leftovers the next day for lunch at work – if I were making an exotic meal, that would cost even more. By making that meal on a Saturday I don’t have to worry making enough for leftovers because we can have sandwiches on Sunday. The other thing I find, is that I enjoy the processing of cooking. That’s not so fun when I have a two year old vying for my attention (with one on the way) – it’s more fun to cook that fancy recipe on Saturday when my husband can play with him. I know my comment is long, but that’s how I fit in some more exotic recipes.

  • Min says:

    My family eats fish twice a week. We buy our fish from the local Asian market. It is ONE THIRD of the price at the grocery store and much fresher. I also buy a lot of our produce there as well.

    The best place to get fish is to shop where the immigrants shop. If you see signs in other languages, it is a very good sign that you will get a good price on fresh fish.

  • Danika says:

    Well said! I appreciate your honesty and your commitment to living debt-free. If everyone lived more frugally, spent less than they made (even if they cannot live completely debt-free), and sacrificed a bit more instead of indulging themselves in temporary luxuries, our economy wouldn’t be in shambles right now!

  • Tricia Young says:

    Thanks for sharing! I have a question about your $40/week budget….how do you fit in when chicken goes on sale for $1.98/lb and you want to stock up? I generally will buy 4-6 packs of this and divide them up in to freezer bags in individual meals. This would eat in to my $40/week very quickly that week. I use chicken as my example b/c it’s the only thing that I stock up on in major quantity at once that eats in to my weekly budget.
    I’m determined to try $40/week starting next week and take it from there to see what our budget should be. I did $31.10 this week!!!
    Also, you say you use cash only. Yesterday, I spent $7 at CVS and got $13 in ECB back. Does the $7 come out of your $40? and another…next week when you shop at CVS do you include the ECB’s you used in your $40 budget or are they bonus for you?
    Again, thanks so much.

  • Rochelle says:

    Congrats to Jennifer for taking the time to write such a well thought out question!

    And thanks to Crystal for answering with such dignity and respect.

    Just wanted to share another of my all time favorite blogs at 5dollardinners.com she always comes up with meals that sound like they would fit your taste buds, Jennifer, plus she describes how she fits them into a budget. She’s always coming up with different meals that I would never try, so you may check that blog out. *Not that I’m advocating that you not read moneysavingmom ;)*

    Rochelle

  • lela says:

    Can I just tell you how wise you are, my hubby only practiced Law for 4 years before deciding to go to seminary he is now 41 and with 10 years of higher education at Ivy League schools that we will literally be paying off till were dead.

  • Eden C. says:

    thanks for the encouragement! people ask us that all the time & i always try explaining it, but people seem to have a hard time getting it.

    really, i believe it comes down to setting your priorities straight.

    thanks for posting this. it was a great encouragement! i will have to get hubby to read this!

  • jodi says:

    beautifully written!

  • Katie says:

    Thank you so much for this post. It is really good and encouraging. I love your blog.

  • Christina says:

    I’ve enjoyed reading everyone’s comments. My husband currently has a lot of school debt and it just sickens me that we’re not getting anywhere it seems like. I hate debt and feel like the majority of Americans don’t care….they just put it on the credit card. Do they even have a conscious? I’ve learned so much in the past couple of months by all of these coupon blogs. It’s fun to see how much you can save with your coupons and apply that difference someplace else. Thank you for the encouraging words that it will all be worth it in the end!

  • bargain hunter says:

    You guys are making SUCH wise decisions and the Lord will truly reward you for that! My parents decided that they were tired of living in bondage by being in debt and payed off their house when I was in grade school and said never again! They have payed cash ever since that day for every single thing including cars for me and my sister, tuition to attend private universities, a wedding, and much more(and this was on only 1 “middle class” salary for 20 years!) My father lost his job 2 years ago which cut their income by 80%, yet he and my mom are able to live comfortably on my mom’s teaching salary alone. They may still live in the small 1,300 square foot home they’ve been in for 30 years and may drive an 11 year old Toyota which they share, but they owe nobody!
    Thank you for sharing with us!

  • Carrie says:

    We love love love fish and have found the most inexpensive way to enjoy it once per week is to purchase at Sam’s Club. About $10 purchases enough fish for 2-3 meals for our little family (3 and a baby).

    Overall, I think that this is a very frugal time in America–people are really trying to save money. You can’t pick up a magazine or watch the news without getting someone’s money-saving tips. I think that you just have to figure out what works for your family–what you can give up, and what you can’t. For example, we rarely go out to eat but………we have cable!

  • Jennifer G. says:

    Crystal, thank you so much for this post. It came at a very good time for me and my family. We managed to pay off $14,000 in debt in 2008 (without creating additional debt!) and we were excited to keep up the same pace for this year. But it seems like in April, we went right off the tracks and have been going completely overboard ever since, indulging in unnecessary things, pretty much just “stuff”. This really made me think about the past few months and I am ready to get back on track.

    Blessings,
    Jennifer

  • Erika says:

    You know a good way to cook with variety while on a budget I’ve found is actually pretty simple. Figure out what type of cooking you like to do and when you have wiggle room in your budget for the week (like the last two weeks I’ve been substantially under budget for groceries) pick up a couple of items and then you’ll have a good stockpile to do some cool things with. Like I’m two ingredients shy of making spring rolls right now and am going to pick those up at the store this week for dinner Friday, because I have picked up all the other things in previous weeks when money was good. I didn’t set out thinking, “Gee I want to make spring rolls a month from now” or anything. Shrimp was on sale for 3.00 the other week, and then I got sesame oil reduced at the store cheap and so forth. And then I found the recipe in “All You” magazine this month and thought, “OOhhhh! I want to try that” and loe and behold it was within my means to do it.

    That’s just my method of doing things though. I actually start picking up ingredients to brine my turkey three months early for Thanksgiving and start my Christmas shopping December 26th, though, so maybe I’m just obsessive compulsive that way.

  • Alicia says:

    Grat post. I do have to say though for me I coupon and save so I can justify getting those things that I really want. I also eat a very internationally varied diet and I am still able to purchase those items and stay with in budget. You just have to work it so it works for you.

  • Marhta says:

    I love this post. Thank you for the words of encouragement for those of us who are struggling with the (relatively small) sacrifices!

  • Heather says:

    I just want to add that in my more inexperienced shopping and cooking days, I found certain recipes to be extremely expensive because they required a seasoning,spice that was not in my pantry. I would buy a whole bottle to try the recipe and it would sit and not get used enough to make it worth the cost.
    Even if you do not have access to ethnic markets, the health food stores carry many spices in bulk that make it much more affordable. If I am trying something with a new spice I go to the health food store and buy exactly the amount I need. I avoid waste and can still try out the recipe. As I have become more comfortable with cooking, it has become easier to figure out a substitute for a more expensive or unavailable ingredient.

    Check out the bulk spices in your local health food store if you have never been before!

  • Amber says:

    Thank you for posting this. Sometimes we all need to know that one, this is a CHOICE, and two, some of us need a gentle slap in the face as a reminder to what we are working for.

  • Erika says:

    What a great question and wonderful response!! I love cooking–and sometimes I do feel that wish I could just go in and get everything for some “exotic” meal whenever I want. I have to put yet another plug in for buying ahead/stockpiling and ethnic stores. And buying in bulk can be a great option as long as you comparison shop. Such great and cheap ways to get quality “whole” foods.

    I too plan my weekly menu based on what’s in my fridge, freezer, and pantry and what’s on sale (and that I also have coupons for mostly!)–and I do sometimes feel like I make the same things all the time and start getting “ho-hum” about being careful with meal planning, yet my husband regularly comments on the wide variety of foods which we eat!!

  • Jennifer says:

    Hi Crystal, this is the Jennifer who wrote the original question – thanks for taking the time to answer it.

    Firstly, I want to clear something up for those who obviously think I’m “bashing” Crystal’s family’s choices. This is NOT the case at all. I think what they decided (back in the undergrad days) is fantastic and incredibly commendable, sensible, smart and highly admirable. In fact, my husband and I made very similar choices when we got married. As a result we own our own home with no debt, owe nothing on our cars, have no credit card debt and are working on savings & investments. My question came strictly from a curiosity point-of-view of “do you miss the variety”.

    When I moved back to the US just over a year ago (I was in China and Australia for 10 years prior to that) I was excited to get into couponing as we don’t have coupons in Australia. I also knew that it would be a great way to cut down on our grocery budget – why pay more for something than you need to? The added benefit has been all of the “free” or almost “free” items I’ve been able to accumulate in deals and then donate to local homeless shelters, put in Operation Christmas Child boxes and give to church – something I know many, many of you do. And I agree with one of Crystal’s final comments – I enjoy the challenge as well. We, too, have a written budget, and have for the 8 years we’ve been married, and are constantly reviewing ways to cut back, etc. And because of Money Saving Mom, we’ve been able to cut back our grocery budget by $70/month or more – so thank you.

    Thank you to everyone who’s written tips on getting “exotic” ingredients and fish. I do go to Asian & Indian supermarkets to pick up spices and other ingredients, though I never really thought to look at fish! We also support our local farmer’s market, as well as I buy Made in the USA produce as much as possible, even if it means spending an extra 10c per pound – I’d rather give the money to the American farmers.

    I agree with your comment, Danika, if the majority of Americans, and even our own Government, could apply the principle of “don’t spend more than you earn”, our country would not be in it’s current state of economic crisis. I think the fact that there are blogs and communities out there, such as MSM, where like-minded people can openly and encouragingly share ideas and provide support is testament to how wonderful the freedoms in America are.

    Thank you again, Crystal, for openly sharing your life with all of us.

  • Mama.Kuripot says:

    Crystal, thanks for sharing your goals with us. You’re truly an inspiration. We make sacrifices in our menus too. We stick to simple dishes with just 5 or less ingredients but I make it a point to always present them with flair.

    A twig of cilantro or a slice of orange on the side makes my humble dishes look elegant. Even my table setting looks like a high class restaurant. I use our nice plates, charger plates I picked up from the thrift stores, cloth napkins, and wine glasses (even though we’re only having lemon water!). Everyone thinks my dishes are way more expensive than they really cost.

  • Melissa S. says:

    I wish I had your wisdom when I first got married. We spent the first 3 years of our married life digging ourselves into debt, and then we spent the next 5 years digging ourselves out of debt! Thank goodness for Dave Ramsey! We’re now debt-free (except for the house). I love reading how close you are getting to buying a house with cash!

  • heather says:

    Wow! You have been a blessing and are always truly inspiring. I am doing so much better since I started reading your blog. Thanks for taking the time to answer reader’s questions and to help us see who you are and how your family does it. It means a lot to all of us.
    Thanks Jennifer for commenting and asking:) I enjoyed this blog and your comments as well. It is great to hear everyone’s backstory:)

  • Thanks for the great and inspiring post!

  • Kristina says:

    Thanks so much for this post, it is so inspiring. You’re blog is such a blessing to my family! You have helped me to cut our grocery budget immensely. I wish I had known about the world of couponing years ago, we would be in a much different place finanically if I had. We have started stockpiling and I hope to follow this lifestyle even when we are out of financial problems. Thanks for all the time you put into this blog and for helping my family! God bless you!

  • Michelle says:

    Just a bit of advice here. For those of you with high student loan debts, you might want to look into forgiveness programs that your current lender has available, or other lenders for that matter. I know that teachers have forgiveness programs available, and those who work with in public service will soon have options available for forgiveness programs.

  • Jodie R. says:

    Buying a house with cash is such an awesome goal to have! I bought my first house at 23 ($113,900), and I wouldn’t meet my husband for another five years. We’re now 30 and we should have the house paid off in the next 12 months (we still owe about 20K). Then we’ll put money away until we can afford to buy our next house outright.

  • Rebecca says:

    You definitely are an inspiration.

    As far as the original poster’s comment goes, you can still be creative and eat varied meals cheaply. I went shopping at the local Indian store and bought 10 lbs of rice for way less than I get it at the supermarket. The same goes for spices. I buy spices in bulk or at the ethnic foods store, and they are really cheap, so I can have a full cabinet to work with and still not spend a lot of money.

  • Jennifer Hotchkiss says:

    Thank you so much for this! I just love your site and your encouragment. I really needed to hear this now.

  • Lea says:

    Thanks for this post – variety is something I’ve been struggling with for a while now – once our freezer stash of sliced fruits and blanched veggies from last summer/fall and the venison and elk from my cousin ran out about 10 weeks ago! We’ve had a lot of expenses with cars, computers, and our house which has necessitated us cutting our grocery budget from $75/wk down to $25/wk and now up to about $40/wk so splurging and ‘stocking up’ on those things isn’t that much of an option. The Farmer’s Market is now open and my garden is starting to produce now so that should help quite a bit!

    I DO miss my variety but I keep reminding myself that we are doing this to pay off our house so that when my husband is done with seminary we can follow God’s call rather than our need for an ‘affordable’ house (our denomination typically doesn’t provide housing for their pastors). That makes me get creative and feel very blessed for what we do have in our cupboards.

    Thanks for asking Jennifer.
    And DEFINATELY thanks for answering, Crystal!
    I appreciate the encouragement to all of us!

    Clear Skies,
    Lea

  • Chris says:

    Jennifer

    While we don’t eat as much fish I also share your point of view. I read Crystal’s posts and sometimes think “If I fed DH that many waffles he would revolt (for the record DH is mostly pretty unpicky and eat waffles just fine)I think the point of living debt free is like Dave R. says, “Live like no one else so you can live like no one else.” We to have a strict monthly budget and paid for house and cars too.

    Having saved on all the good deals Crystal finds I can afford to spend money at the “fish guy” (we live a long way from any salt water and all summer this guy drives of Gulf seafood and sell it out of a truck at a gas station. It sounds weird, but it is the best.) or buy fair trade organic coffee beans from Ray the guy that owns the local coffee shop. Healthy, varied, locally grown (as much as feasible) and tasty food is one of my highest proirites and I spend without guilt. It’s not a contest to spend the least. The goals is to spend in a way that fits your current circumstances and priorities.

  • Liz says:

    I just wanted to comment that I love when you answer reader comments. It really allows your personality to shine and gives us frugal followers more inspiration. Thanks for the time and effort you put into this blog. Much appreciated.

  • gretchen says:

    Great question from Jennifer (you should start a blog too!) and a great response from Crystal. I am so impressed with how wise you and your husband were at such young ages.

  • natalie says:

    Well said! I am a law students wife and working to put him through school – we are trying to just do his tuition as debt and live life on my income, no loans. It amazes me how much people live on loans so carefree!

    I love your blog and its good to know that there are people out there who are sane. I wish we didn’t have to go into any debt, but his tuition is just under what I make in a year!

  • Kristi says:

    you are more than alright with your budget. When I tell people what I spend on groceries for a month they stare at me like I’m crazy. (I only budget 100/month for our family of 4) I just look online for meals that are under 5$ and feed double the amount of people than are in our family. I then double the recipe and freeze half. We eat on the original recipe for several days and then have more for later in the month. For us, this works great.

  • Dee says:

    Hi Crystal — Your response really made me think about my own spending habits. I try to be frugal, but after reading your answer, I realize I could always do better, especially with a long-term goal in mind.

    Thank you!

    Dee
    http://newenglandnanny.blogspot.com/

  • Elizabeth says:

    I think your point is well made, Crystal, but I appreciate you saying that every family has to pick what is important to them. For me, I would rather spend more of my family’s money on fresh, locally-grown, and organic (when possible) food. I do this by couponing and saving on other things to free up money,only buying new (to us) cars every 10 years, and other ways. For me, the quality of the food I am serving to my family is worth those sacrifices, but others would rather spend that money on travel, or entertainment, or solar panels for the roof. (OK, I’d like to have solar panels for the roof too!) The point is not so much to spend X amount on food, or housing, or whatever, but to be mindful and deliberate about what you spend your money on, and then find a way to make it work. I think you are very inspiring in that way, and your blog makes it much easier for me to spend my $120/week on groceries because I haven’t spent money on dishwashing detergent, toothpaste, nail polish or Smart Waters since I started reading it!

  • Diane says:

    I cook lots of Indian and Thai from scratch (for almost every meal) with lots of variety, and my grocery bill is screamingly cheap. I spend less than $40/week, and eat VERY well on that. But I don’t buy: processed foods (except weird Thai ingredients not available in typical markets), soda, out of season vegies, meat more than once every one or two weeks, fish more than once a week, fancy cheeses, etc. It’s totally doable, but you have to think carefully as menu planning.

  • Ellen says:

    Thank you for your well-thought post. It’s been encouraging to my family and me. Just got finished with a Crown Financial study so we are in the throes of redoing a budget and resetting goals,etc. I think the ability to give to others is so important too – it’s an often overlooked area simply because of the debt we carry.

  • Stephanie says:

    That is something my husband has always reminded me of, through 7 years of undergrad and 4 years of Dental school, “little sacrifice for much gain.” This last year that has been more true than ever, with us building a house and doing as much work as possible by ourselves…I gave up haircuts and new clothes. We saved money wherever we could…and spent any free time working on the house. We will move in, hopefully, in 2 1/2 weeks!

  • What stands out to me in your thorough response, Crystal, is the very point that so many people seem to be missing. It’s not just about the groceries!

    Yes, we all have a tremendous amount of control over what we spend on food, but there are so many other things that make living within or even below your means possible. It’s the older (paid for!) vehicles, the “no cable”, the free date nights at home, the “gift stash”, the minimal/used wardrobe, etc.

    Hmmm… I feel a post coming on. 🙂

  • Julie says:

    One of the first thoughts I had when I read Jennifer’s original question was that she ( and all 🙂 ) should become familiar with mail-in rebates that are put out by many of the beer companies. I do not know what state she lives in, but here in Hawaii they do NOT require the purchase of beer and MANY of them include fresh seafood! I think I have three in my stash right now that include seafood. I buy mine on EBay (search for rebate forms or beer rebates) and pay just a fraction of what they are worth to me when I send them in and the checks come back! I get a LOT of free chicken, beef, and seafood this way to feed our family of six – especially here in Hawaii – the land of $8 milk!!! Gah!

  • Katherine says:

    Great post. You always say it so well!

  • Marie says:

    Fun comments! Dave Ramsey saved us too. Let me rephrase: God blessed us with Dave Ramsey. I can’t even tell you how awesome it feels to have no credit card debt or car debt. Now to get those pesky student loans paid off!

    We spend $80 a week on groceries. I wish I could say we could cut it down, but my husband just loves his granola bars and yogurts (which I’ve determined to be the budget eaters). Thankfully with coupons I can get these for much less. Plus in the grand scheme of things it’s much cheaper than a vending machine run every day at work.

  • Celia says:

    This is just what I needed to read today. We got spanked with 1300 dollars in medical bills this month. My husband and I had to bust into the emergency fund to pay them. I told him I was cutting our grocery budget by at least 40 dollars a week till we put the money back. Which makes me sad because I love grocery shopping and generally try to feed us 75% organic. Anyway, thanks for the re-inspiration. Refusing to go into debt for our medical bills is important to us, even if it is low on the fun scale.

  • Becky says:

    We have a grocery budget as well, and while at first I found it restrictive, (I love to cook new things as well), I have learned that I can cook some new/exciting meals every month if I plan them out and we cut back on some of our other meals. I make a menu every about 2 weeks and make sure I mix our low-budget meals with our more expensive meals. It’s worked great for us!

  • jen says:

    Julie – I have never heard of a beer rebate! I have never seen it posted on a blog and I check several daily. Wow! I will look for those in the grocery store. I did a quick online search and found more info. It is true that you don’t have to buy beer at all for many of them. Why have I never heard of these?

  • Teresa says:

    Thanks so much for this post. I think it is great to show people that things that you think are impossible really aren’t. Have you ever read think and grow rich by Napoleon Hill. It talks a lot about this kind of thing. My husband and I were able to both get through school with no debt. Everyone else told us it was impossible since my husband could only work a few hours a week because of a learning disability that made it so his school work took him 3-4 times as long as the average person. After we had our first child I quit my job and we only had his income and several years to go. The outcome was incredible. We had money that literally just came in the mail. My husband was able to get multiple grants and scholarships that got us through. We made it and I am so glad we made those sacrifices.

  • Charlene says:

    Enjoyed this post! Thanks for sharing!

  • I appreciated the question and answer. My husband and I were just talking about our food budget, which led to a discussion about budgeting and our goals in general. My husband and I are both of a frugal nature. We both came into our marriage with no debt at all. We bought a house and once we have the fixing up done we plan on paying down on the mortgage as fast as possible. It does require sacrifices on our behalf but we believe it is worth it. I’m glad there are some other “frugal zealots” out there. We aren’t the only ones who don’t pull out a credit card and swipe when the funds aren’t there to purchase what ever is our hearts desire.

    Thanks Crystal for another great post!

  • Lisa says:

    I have a question on you buying your house for cash. With the prices of houses so low right now would you consider buying a house now with the cash you have saved and mortgage the rest to get a good price (& interest rate) on a house and then pay off the mortgage quickly?

    OR

    Are you going to keep saving until your get to 100% and possibly pay more initially for your home as house prices rise?

    What do you think would be better?

    *******************
    Money Saving Mom here: Unless something drastically changes in the next few months, we’re waiting. The housing market hasn’t hit bottom yet here, so the prices will likely not be rising anytime soon.

    But that aside, we really like the freedom of not having to make payments and the self-discipline we’re learning as we wait to save up to pay cash.

  • Melissa D. says:

    Crystal,

    Just a quick question. How do you know how much to save for a house?

  • Ashley says:

    Elizabeth said exactly what I felt in response to Jenifer’s question. I think if a variety of foods and ethnic cooking bring joy to your life- do it! Or, if eating rice and beans in order to pay cash for your house makes you happy, do that. I think that it is important to find balance in life. We try to avoid extremes. My husband and I couldn’t care less about food and therefore have a tiny food budget. We do love golf and spend a ton of money on weekly green’s fees and equipment. This hobby is an opportunity for recreational companionship and a way for my husband to sharpen his saw. So it is totally worth it for us. My point is that if we redirect funds from areas of little interest into catagories of great importance to our families, we can live within our means. Like Crystal said, each family’s goals are different. I love sharing money-saving tips (I especially love receiving tips), but I think it is so important to give each other (and Americans!) the benefit of the doubt that everyone is trying to make the best choices they can to meet their families’ goals. What a fun discussion. Thanks everyone!

  • Heather says:

    Hi Crystal! Both my husband and I are in graduate school, so I can relate to your story. I’m wondering, did you wait until after your husband finished law school to have children?

  • Stephanie says:

    Great post! We are learning the lesson of living sacrificially, and while it takes some adjusting, seeing our expenses going lower and lower is inspiring us!

    I have found that I can purchase fish through our local co op much cheaper. It comes frozen, but usually it is all organic and/or wild. Also ethnic foods, spices and seasonings can be purchased through a co op. Ethnic food stores are also generally much cheaper from what I hear. It just may take some creativity for you to cook the way you enjoy AND stay within budget, but you can do it!

  • Mary In Ohio says:

    My kids love fish so we found a cool family way to get it. We got our fishing licences and we go as a family fishing. We all love it and it gives us food anf family time together. May not be for everyone but it fits us perfectly esp now that dh is unemployed and we are subsisting on unemployment and savings while he looks for a new job. Unfortunately we are in an area of the countty that is suffering horribly in the economy but we will get through it. We have prayed for direction on if we should move but it seems we are meant to be where we are right now. Have a great day!

    Mary in Ohio

  • Diana says:

    This article made me feel guilty when I went out and bought some picture frames to decorate my apt a little more. It was definitely money that I didn’t need to spend, and didn’t help us achieve our long-term goals.

    I think that’s awesome of you not to go into school debt. My husband is attending school purely on loans and we are living on everything else, which is tough enough to manage. But, it definitely is daunting to think how high up our necks we are going to be in debt when he graduates. I just want to throw up now, thinking about it.

    But, if he wasn’t in school we’d be living off the wages we have for the rest of our lives, and darn Seattle living expenses are so dang high. So, hopefully when he graduates, things will look a little brighter.

  • Pam DeArmon says:

    I have a son adopted from India, so preparing foods from his homeland is vital in our house. There are many online ethnic markets that sell spices, etc. for very reasonable costs. Many have coupon programs as well. Just keep searching, it’s possible to make great ethnic food on a budget too!

  • I also like the challenge of planning meals around store sales and using our bought-ahead pantry stock for menu planning. I actually find that I have a lot of fun when my husband go on frugal challenges, and it doesn’t seem that we’re being deprived, but rather making a conscious choice.

    I have always admired the steadfastness you and your husband have to working together in your frugal lifestyle. My husband and I are lucky to do the same, and I think it makes our marriage even stronger and us closer in the process!

    Danelle Ice / Homemaker Barbi

  • Ami says:

    Oh, how you INSPIRE me!! 🙂 Reading your testimony is like vitamins for my will power!

  • I want to start off by saying that I love your blog, seriously. It has saved me so much money, and gave me the opportunity to take that saved money and throw it into our debt snowball. See, we were not as fortunate as you and never learned that debt was drowning us until it was too late. When we started out TMMO we had over 100K in debt, and in 18 months we have cut that number by more then half. While my husband was making a very good salary were were blowing it as fast as he was making it! I now check your blog everyday to try and catch a good deal, or savings. Because even though my husband makes almost 6 figures, we still have no money… we are broke! Well, not for long… thanks to you and your blog, we are hoping to fly through this this trying time and come out wiser, and with the ability to live like no one else…

  • Sunshinesavings says:

    What an inspiration. thank you!

  • Julia says:

    Please elaborate…what are beer rebates?

    And thanks for the great question and the wonderful answer!

  • Jen says:

    The poster’s comment definitely sounds like something I’ve wondered myself!

    To my husband and I, food is extremely important and enjoyable. We love cooking together, exploring new restaurants, reading food magazines, enjoying special wines. We actually were pretty good about saving and financial planning, but I knew we could be doing more. About a year ago, I started trying to cut our grocery budget. At first, I thought enjoying food was incompatible with being frugal. Don’t get me wrong, we love complicated recipes from fancy food magazines that take all day to prepare, but we also love good simple meals like casseroles, sloppy joes, etc. I do enjoy many of the meals I see described on the frugal blogs, but when I tried to stick only to those extreme-frugal recipes I found I truly missed things like fish, specialty ethnic ingredients, choosing an interesting recipe from a food magazine, etc. We also found we had a REALLY hard time sticking to the no dining out rule (we live in a large city FULL of exciting dining options). When we felt deprived, we would often have months where we “slipped”, and ended up going way over budget. We were saving money overall but still feeling really defeated.

    Recently, I’m coming to the realization that eating well is something I just don’t wish to give up. But, we need to have balance. 5 years ago, I would decide on a whim to try out a new exotic recipe and would rush out to buy 10 difference specialty ingredients. We thought nothing of stopping by the fancy cheese store to get $30 worth of cheeses and wine for dinner on a regular weeknight. Now, we still do all those things on RARE occasions. We still try new exotic recipes that require specialty ingredients every once in a while, but most of our daily meals are made up of simpler dishes with more frugal ingredients. We try to plan our meals around weekly sales or what is in season (read: cheaper!) at the farmer’s market, and we do a lot of our shopping at ethnic markets which often have cheaper produce or specialty ingredients. We still go out to eat, but we don’t do it as often and we try to order smarter (sharing portions, takeout instead of dine it, visiting on days with special offers, etc.).

    We also realized we needed to look at our budget as a whole, not just focus on the food part. If we want to reach certain savings goals and still spend more on food, we need to cut elsewhere. For the most part, we don’t do things like go out to movies, buy lots of clothes, etc. We choose to live more frugally in other areas of our lives because that allows us to enjoy our food as we want. It’s tough to try and remember that frugality isn’t an all or nothing thing, that maybe the lowest possible number doesn’t need to be our goal. Just because I can’t seem to comfortably get our grocery shopping down to $30 a week doesn’t mean cutting it at all wasn’t a huge improvement!

    Could we be living more frugally, especially with our grocery budget? Absolutely! I am still working hard to figure out how to organize my shopping, keep track of sales, use coupons effectively, make frugal substitutions in recipes, etc. Admittedly I’m still not very good at those things! (I am always in AWE of all the frugal bloggers and how they make the most of every penny!) It does feel good to know that if one of us lost our job or something, we could certainly cut back on our grocery budget to a survival level. And I expect this all may change soon, as we’re expecting our first child at the end of the year. I have no doubt a baby will drastically change our priorities and shift our budget yet again!

    There are still days where I feel like a failure for spending too much, but I still think the frugal thing is worth pursuing if I do it with my own specific family needs in mind.

  • Amy Perrott says:

    Love this post! It encourages me to do better with our financial goals and budget. I’m gonna link to you today!

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