As a member of mommy support groups, I frequently see the question posed: how can I afford to be a stay at home mom? I’ve been a working mom, so I get it that some of us crave “adult time” and enjoy career accomplishments. But I also know what a crappy feeling it is to leave your kids in the care of someone else all day. Ultimately, I made the choice to leave the corporate world, and I wanted to share the one lifestyle change that made it possible.
This past November, I quit my job. The plan was for me to enjoy the holidays with my family and start the search for a better employer in the new year. I did that, and things went so wonderfully that hubby and I decided it would be best for our family (and my health) if I stayed home indefinitely. There was just one problem– we were cutting our income in half.
While I was working, I always stressed about money. Even with two solid paychecks, it never felt like enough. How would we be able to make it on just my husband’s income?
Aside from monthly non-negotiables (housing, utilities, insurance), there was one expense that dwarfed them all. Once we seriously reevaluated our spending in this area, it freed up a huge chunk of our budget. I’ll give you a hint: it wasn’t our cable bill.
It was FOOD. Hubby has always loved to cook, and did so on a regular basis. However, we never planned out meals for the week. As a result, we were forced to pop in to the grocery store on multiple occasions throughout the week for whatever he decided to fix on a whim, or pick up take-out when we were short on time.
It seems hard to believe that food could have such an impact on the budget, so to prove it, I’ll show you what we used to spend:
$240 – We made at least 3 grocery trips every week, spending about $80 each time. Going to the grocery store without a list means you’re likely to forget items and end up having to return later. Multiple visits make it easier to succumb to impulse buys, as you are tempted over and over.
$160 – We ordered take-out about four times a week. Whether for lunch or dinner, with tax and tip it’s about $40 for our family.
$50 – While working, I spent about $10 per day on lunch.
$50 – Hubby also would order out food at work.
Add that up and you get $500 in one week! That’s $2000 every month — insane! This doesn’t even take into account any occasions where we would go out to eat in a restaurant. It was money we spent without even thinking– we had to eat, right?
It was actually hubby’s idea to start weekly meal planning. Amazingly, a commitment to this one concept was the key to a budget that worked.
On Sunday evenings, hubby and I sit down and talk about what we’d like to eat for dinner each night. To make it easier, we’ve designated days such as “Salmon Mondays,” so all we have to decide is sauce and sides. Other days, hubby might have a new recipe he wants to sample. When the week’s menu is determined, we make the grocery list so we know exactly what needs to be bought.
Having everything figured out in advance allows us to only have to grocery shop one time. We go in with a plan and don’t end up buying things that aren’t on our list. Impulse buys are a thing of the past. Since we’ve got a meal for each night of the week, we don’t need to order take-out. Hubby cooks for an army, so there are always plenty of leftovers for lunch as well.
Here’s a look at our weekly food budget now:
$150-200: One grocery shopping trip for the ingredients needed for dinner every night of the week.
That’s it. We’ve gone from spending $2000 a month on food to no more than $800. It’s an incredible change and all it took was setting aside 30 minutes on Sunday night to create a meal plan. If you think about all the time saved by consolidating grocery trips, it might actually be less time to meal plan than to try to go through the week without one.
Of course, we’ve made other adjustments to our lifestyle since I left my job, but none as significant as the meal plan. Maybe it sounds overwhelming to cook every single night, but just look at how much money you can save (for us it was $1200 a month!) An added bonus is that when you cook your own dinners, you know exactly what you’re getting– it’s healthier!
Even if you don’t aspire to be a stay at home mom, you could put an extra thousand dollars in the bank every month. That’s a weekend vacation! If you take a realistic look at what you’re spending on food, you might find that you don’t want to “eat up” a large portion your income any more.