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My husband and I took a huge leap in the dark. It was scary, but we didn't have a choice. We decided to dig our way out of $40,000 of debt – but we had no idea how to budget and we were running a $1,000 deficit each month. To say that we were terrified would be an understatement. But we just had to make it work. There was no plan B. When you run out of options, it is amazing to discover what you are actually capable of.
So, what do you do to feed your family when you are $1,000 short every month and you refuse to use credit cards? You get creative. You get resourceful. You grow. I share all of this in my new book The Recovering Spender.
Here are the 7 steps we used to get started tackling that debt, make our marriage stronger, and cut our grocery bill from $1,000 a month down to $200 a month. Keep in mind that I currently spend more than $200 a month on food… more like $500. But $200 is possible, and it was what I had to do for a few years.
My husband and I have always loved each other. Divorce is never an option for us. I don’t even like saying that word! But, as many of us know, finances is one of the major areas of strain in a marriage. It’s actually one of the leading causes for divorce. Our relationship was strained because of our debt load. My husband never shamed me about it. The debt was almost entirely because of my spending issue. When we decided to make changes to our financial situation. My husband NEVER made me feel like it was my debt. It was always ours. He never brought it up, never said, “I told you so.” Nothing. He is a righteous man. I am thankful to God for blessing me with him. But finances still strain so many marriages and relationships.My husband NEVER made me feel like it was my debt. It was ours. He never said, “I told you so” Click To Tweet
We started our climb out of debt. I got a job working nights as a waitress for a season to make extra money. It was necessary to give us a little financial breathing room… but I did not like it. I didn’t like not tucking my son into bed. And I didn’t like spending that much time away from my husband. He was already working 10 hours a day.
We had a babysitter show up every day between 3pm (when I left for work), and 5:30pm (when my husband got home from work). We were two ships passing in the night. I remember missing him and my son so badly. I would get home exhausted at 11pm or midnight to a dark, quiet house, kiss my sleeping husband and fall asleep.
Something had to change. What else could I do? We were in debt. Our budget was in the red. We needed the money. That’s when I really feel like the Lord answered my prayers. I realized that if I could cut our expenses $1,000 a month, that would be like earning an extra $1,000 a month, except that I could stay home and be the wife and mother my heart ached to be.
The first thing I looked at was our food expenses. We were spending $1,000 a month on food… for a family of 3 at the time! 2 adults and a toddler. I realized that if I could somehow get that $250 a week down to $50 a week, I could save us $800 a month just by doing something that I was doing anyways – buying food and making dinner.
Were we eating lobster dinners every night on $50 a week? No way. Some nights we had rice and beans. But when getting out of debt is your top priority, you live differently for the sake of your future. We planned on having more children. We now have 4 beautiful kids, and those old spending habits were NOT going to work when we had more kids. Gosh, they weren’t working when we had 1 child!
We were committed to not touch another credit card. We started to budget for the first time, and switched over to using cash for much of our day-to-day expenses.
My first experience on an all-cash shopping trip took a lot of work (it actually was kind of a nightmare), but it was worth every penny. I stayed up late the the previous night planning my triple coupon strategies, which took me about three hours. At the store, I had to do three different transactions, but I saved $150 on that one trip! It felt like I got paid $50/hr for those three hours I spent preparing for the trip! Since we were able to get so much food at such a good price and I was planning ahead, we completely stopped eating out for a while. Shopping trips like that saved us at least $50 every week. Usually more.
I don’t actively coupon anymore like I did in those early days, but at the time it was the best choice for my family. It gave me focus. I learned so much about grocery store sale cycles, how to quickly and easily find the best value on things, and how to creatively come up with healthy meals for my family. I know people on both sides of the coupon “aisle” and you need to look at your time commitments, your financial situation, your grocery store options, and make the best decision for your family. We have an ALDI in town and their prices and quality many times make couponing at a competitor not worth it. I still use and love coupons, but not nearly to the extent I did years ago. I think for some people it depends on the stage in life you're in.
Becoming resourceful with my food budget really helped my marriage more than I thought. It gave me a real sense of accomplishment. Even though I didn't work outside the home anymore, I was contributing financially – significantly. We were able to make our budget actually work, and also extra payments on our credit cards. I was home way more, and the routine and organization of grocery shopping and meal planning spilled over into other areas of my life. For example, I was able to spend more time with the Lord, we sat down as a family every night for dinner, my husband and I got more face time, and we were all able to breath a little easier.
Another thing that really helped me save even more time and money was meal planning and freezer cooking. Meal planning is a money-saver, time-saver… and a lifesaver! If you really want to save money on food, and don't feel like using coupons, make sure to check out my meal plans, designed around shopping at ALDI. To put them together, you basically don't even need to know how to cook!
In my book, The Recovering Spender, I tell my story of overspending – how I got my family into $40,000 of debt, what happened when I broke the news to my husband, and then I give you the step-by-step plan we used to become completely debt-free in 4 years.