I’ve heard that it takes 21 days to form a habit. If I’m understanding that concept properly, that also means it takes 21 days to replace some other habit. Is that still true if I’m breaking habits that I’ve been maintaining for 28 years? Some of my eating habits are so long-standing and deeply ingrained that I couldn’t imagine breaking them. How could I catch a movie at the theater without Milk Duds? How could I visit my family without spending time in the kitchen, cooking a family recipe together?
Thankfully, those are not the habits I’m trying to break. I’m more concerned about the food-related patterns that have a negative impact on my budget, not to mention my waistline. I’m talking about something that most American millennials do on a way-too-regular basis: eat takeout. It makes almost no sense. Other than the beautiful convenience of food arriving at your door or being ready for you when you arrive at a restaurant, it’s incredibly stupid. Every time I order takeout, I have to pay for the up charge of someone else cooking my food, plus tip because no one in food services makes a living wage. If I go the extra lazy route and order delivery, I also pay a delivery charge and sometimes additional charges for using a third party delivery website. The whole idea of all these extra fees becomes even more grim when I think about how inexpensive it is to cook all my own meals.
Budgeting has become even more essential recently, as I’ve added a slew of new expenses. I moved to a new city, where my living expenses practically doubled. While I have a larger salary to match (werk, girl!), I also have some added expenses from things I didn’t need in my last city (a car/car insurance) and new payments (#@$! you, student loans). Add in the annual beginning-of-the-year budget panic, and my bank account anxiety is at an all-time high.
I’ve done some fun spending challenges or budgeting techniques in the past, including:
- Limiting my spending to a specific dollar amount
- Only spending money on weekends
- The Cash Envelopes method
- Using apps like Mint or You Need a Budget (both are great, by the way)
But I have never been able to permanently kick my horrible habits of eating takeout and ordering delivery. So this time around, I am going to keep my goal simple and my eye on the prize.
Goal: stop spending money on takeout and delivery food. Prize: a bunch of extra money in my savings account, which I can use for about 1,000 other things.
Here’s what I’m doing in February and March to work toward this goal:
- Track my spending… then make necessary changes. I already track my spending incredibly closely. I literally track every penny I spend. Beyond that, I track which purchases are “unnecessary,” which may include random takeout, accidental Target purchases, etc. During December 2017, I made 11 unnecessary purchases that ranged from an overpriced dinner delivery to a very pricey fee for a parking garage (had I done some research, I would have found countless cheaper parking options). Though my extraneous spending only added up to $189, that’s still $189! The pattern is continuing into January–I have already made 12 unnecessary purchases that added up to $154. If this pattern continues for an entire year, I’ll spend between $1,848 and $2,268 extra dollars, which is bananas. I’d much rather save that money for a vacation… or two vacations! The spending mistake I make most frequently is spending money on takeout instead of cooking my own meals. I’m really glad I’ve been tracking unnecessary spending, but now it’s time to take that information and work toward fewer of the same mistakes.
- Read, read, read! The more informed I am, the more likely I am to make the best decision possible. I think reading more about budgeting, particularly as it relates to spending money on food, will help me work toward even more responsible spending. When I started budgeting in 2014, I got the initial idea from a friend. Then I used a lot of existing online resources to create budget categories and understand simple concepts in budgeting. For example, I learned (and continue to learn) that 50% of my money should go towards essentials; 30% towards other spending; 20% towards savings. That rule is succinct, easy to understand, and achievable. I am looking forward to reading more about budgeting with my specific problems in mind. I already have some favorites, like some Buzzfeed Food articles and everything I read on The Financial Diet. Through those websites, I’ve found some really legitimate arguments for reducing the amount of money I spend on takeout and some great recipes that make it more fun/delicious to eat at home.
- Only dine out with company. This one is tough for me because I LOVE takeout. At the same time, I often feel instantly guilty about the food choices I make. Then I feel another delayed guilt associated with extra spending. I get frustrated with myself for eating a lot of takeaway meals because I know I’m better than that. I love healthy, fresh food. I love cooking. I love posting about what I cook! I have the perfect personality and culinary skills to save money on takeout and choose to spend far less money by cooking. But it’s so freaking luxurious and convenient to have someone else do all the work. And I rationalize my choice to order takeout, probably the same way others do: It’s been a long week. I work hard for my money. It’s okay to do this every once in a while. The best way to solve this problem is to completely eliminate the possibility of eating takeout for no good reason. I’m going to avoid eating takeout or ordering delivery when I’m on my own, but allow it when I’m out with friends or co-workers. This habit has an added bonus: I’m new in town and really need to commit more time to socializing. So, if there’s a new restaurant I really want to try, I’m going to have to put on my big girl pants and find a new friend to dine with. So this leads me to my next habit…
- Keep my home stocked with easy meals. Most of the times I choose to eat takeout or order delivery are also the times I am low on ingredients at home. Over the course of nine years of being a busy student, I learned so many amazing kitchen hacks to make simple, healthy, easy meals. It’s about damn time I put those to use as an alternative to entering my credit card number on Domino’s website. I love grocery shopping, trying new recipes, experimenting with my own concoctions, and prepping meals for the entire week. It’s time to channel my inner Julia Child and get back to the joy of cooking. Since I won’t have a Plan B, I’m hoping I will be very motivated to keep my house stocked with healthy go-to meals and snacks. My favorites right now: hummus with veggies/crackers, stove top popcorn, fresh fruit and veggies, rice cakes, dried fruit, nuts, eggs, sweet potatoes, quinoa, canned beans, and vegan soups. I’ll do my best to avoid the potato chip and baked goods aisles, but no promises.
I look forward to sharing an update after a couple of months. Is anyone else struggling with something similar? Share some of your favorite techniques or resources in the comments section below!