By Eric on July 13, 2011 18

Building Our Discipline Muscle

The food line item is the most-talked-about item on our budget day in and day out. It gets especially intense once we are at the halfway point between paychecks. We budget $200 for groceries and eating out every two weeks ($100/week).

How much do we have left? Do we have any plans with friends we need to save money for? Can we go out to eat tonight and still have enough for groceries? How much do we need for groceries next week?

All these questions get asked before we ever decide to go out to eat (which is usually just on Fridays for lunch and maybe once on the weekend).

But a situation came up a few weeks ago: Our friend Keisha (designer of this blog) asked us if we wanted to go to Jimmy John’s for lunch on a Wednesday, nearly the halfway mark before our next paycheck. Double whammy. We had packed our lunches, but were tempted to go out. What should we do?

KW is the keeper of the food envelope, so the first step was to see how much we had left.

Answer: $140.

Having more than half our money left usually puts us in a cocky position of arrogance. “Oh, yeah, we’re fine. We’ve got plenty of money. Let’s just go out to eat.” We are then usually humbled in the next few days as we find we want to buy something special at the grocery store or invite friends over for dinner, but we can’t because we are scraping by until we get paid.

It’s not that we don’t like going out to eat for lunch with a friend, it’s that we have learned that we don’t like the feeling of being out (or nearly out) of food money before we get paid again. And we have tried to be smarter these past few months by thinking ahead and stretching our food money to the end of the paycheck, and even farther.

But the temptation for us to go out to eat is usually strong. So, now back to the Jimmy John’s decision. Which is a hard one. We both love us some Jimmy John’s. I told Kels we could go if she wanted to (I’m usually the one that says no). But, she said no this time. And I was OK with that.

I emailed her at work and told her that whether we realized it or not, it was a big moment in our realm of food money. This small decision was helping us build up our discipline muscle.

It’s easy to let that muscle atrophy over time, but we must continue to work it out whenever a financial decision comes along. If we don’t, we lose it and fall back into the same routine of scrapping by until our next paycheck.

On our last paycheck we actually had $30 left over in our food envelope! Which means we were able to go on a little date!

Forward progress. I like it. How about you?


Husband to Kelsey. Father to Rooney. Follower of Jesus. Born and raised in Iowa. I like blogging. Bulleted lists excite me. Thanks for stopping by.

  1. I guess I am still fascinated/confused with your spending/budget categories. Do you ever intermingle categories? Like if you spend less in one category you could then spend more in another (ie food budget). Also, in your budget breakdown post you have one saving category. Does that include your retirement savings?

    • Thanks for speaking up that you’re confused! We rarely intermingle categories. If something comes up and we must overspend on food, we will use our debit card and then take that money from our blow category ($10/week) or entertainment ($15/week). Because we are working really hard right now to build our savings fund, we are very strict with our budget. Perhaps in the future we’ll be able to allocate more money to food (of course, it will be necessary if our family grows) and ease this stress. Because food is one of the few things we use cash for (hair care is another), it makes it harder to intermingle the funds (which can be considered good or bad, I guess!).

      Also, once we begin saving for retirement again (yes, you heard correctly…we are not putting any money away right now for retirement), it will come out of our paycheck before we see it, so the money will not be included on our monthly budget. Our budget only shows us the take-home pay we have to work with. Does that make sense?

      • Yes that makes perfect sense! Kudos to you guys for your drive and discipline. I would love to eventually hear more about your retirement plan. Maybe in a post? :-) I am not saving for retirement either because we are saving for a down payment on a home, but the closer I get to 30 the more anxious I get about needing to save for retirement. I keep hearing the whole “you can never make up for money saved in your 20s in you 30s and 40s.”

  2. Good job guys! I struggle with the out to eat temptation all the time! I bring my lunch everyday that i don’t already have lunch plans on the calendar, but I often get tempted and go to eat. I really like you idea of breaking your money into envelopes and only using that. Great idea!

    • I think using cash and having each other as accountability partners really helps! And, bringing good lunches to work! If I have leftover steak from the night before I am much more willing to eat that and makes it easier to choose it over Panera.

  3. I LOVE the idea of having an actual, physical envelope for things like food! I might have to try this :) It’s so easy to go over just a tiny bit when everything is in one giant online account.

    • It has been really good for us! I’m not sure how we’d stick to our food budget without it. We also have a routine and don’t go out to eat besides with our Friday lunch group and maybe a cheaper meal on the weekend (fast food or mall food court). Typically the only way we have money left over is if we are spending the weekend with our parents and get free meals! :)

  4. For your grocery budget, does it include household cleaning supplies, grooming supplies (razors, etc)? And also, what comes out of your entertainment budget? Thanks for sharing all the great Dave Ramsey tips! It’s encouraging to know that my husband and I are not the only young marrieds living this way! PTL!

    • Hi Heather! Our food budget includes groceries and eating out, and we have separate categories for laundry and cleaning, and toiletries. We pay for these with our debit card as the expenses come up.

      However, this is an area we could definitely improve on (now that I think about it!), as it would be easier to not pay in two transactions when we buy paper towels AND food at the grocery store, and we should probably plan ahead and allocate a specific amount every week and put that cash in an envelope titled TOILETRIES so we don’t have to think about it as we create each budget. I always feel “guilty” when I need to spend money on perfume or razors because they don’t seem as necessary, but if we planned ahead and had the money, it wouldn’t feel stressful! (I already have an envelope for hair care that gets $30/month.)

      Our entertainment budget is spent on concert tickets, movie tickets, hobbies such as golfing, Redbox movies and iTunes songs. As you might know, $15/week doesn’t go very far!

  5. Kels, did you ever start couponing?!

    I’m not an avid coupon-er, but I try when I know it is something I’m getting and just happens to be on sale (like planning meals for the week around it!). But we make our grocery budget stretch for about $50 a week for a family of four! Granted we don’t eat out a lot now that I don’t work downtown or have the ‘lunch meetings’ anymore, but we still like to treat ourselves when we can!

    But it’s something that’s helped us when we need it and trying to live the same on one income, every bit helps!

    • Whoa! You guys are awesome. We’ve dabbled in the couponing, and were completely frustrated the very first time we tried because the coupon wasn’t accepted (it was at a restaurant). Lately neither of us have been motivated to clip coupons, but I think you may have just given me a kick in the pants! :)

  6. Lunch meetings KILL me on the “eating out” budget. Or the “Haven’t seen you in awhile, let’s grab lunch.” I’ve started requesting lunch in the park! Then I can just bring my lunch. Worked great until 105 degree weather hit OK!

  7. Love this and it’s so true!

    We break our food budget down even further – $10/day. Obviously we can buy ahead if we need to so as to have food in the house to make meals for the next week or so, but we can’t go out to eat unless we have a surplus built up. It’s kind of extreme, but it was the thing we needed to do to really make ourselves stick to the budget.

  8. Good job, guys! I know those aren’t easy positions to be in. For me, it’s the feeling of breaking community, so to speak, that makes it hard to turn down lunch dates. (I usually just say I brought lunch but I’d eat first and just go to hang out or something). I like how you put it–you’re building the discipline muscle–and when we can be faithful with little we can be faithful with much.

    • Thanks Audrey. I agree with the community aspect. That’s usually when it’s hardest to say no. Thanks for sharing your idea. That’s a good one.

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