“It’s not how much money you make, but how much money you keep, and how hard it works for you, and how many generations you keep it for.”Robert Kiyosaki
Budget. We all have one, and it determines whether or not you can do something. As a single mom, one of the biggest struggles I face is financial. In the day and age of the two-income household, running one on your own can be terrifying. Once I was on my own with my toddler, it didn’t take long before anxiety over our financial future completely took over. Sure, I was making ends meet, but like so many other parents, I worried about the quality of life and opportunities I would be able to provide. Extracurricular activities, tutors, travel, braces, college, retirement, rainy day fund… I was losing sleep night after night and not even my Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Eye Serum could hide it.
As a small business owner, the Profit & Loss statement is my report card, and I determined if I could run a lean operation at work, I could run a leaner operation at home. So, I decided to take a deep dive into my household budget to see where I could trim the fat. After reviewing my spending habits, here’s what I learned: I’m an emotional eater.
Like most millennials, I was eating out… A LOT. And if I wasn’t eating out, I was ordering in. At roughly $50 per restaurant meal and $25 per delivery meal, I was averaging $800 per month on dinner for me and my son (with $200 of that total representing tips and delivery fees). Tack on my daily lunch purchase of $10, and my total monthly dine-out expenses were averaging $1,000 per month. The saddest part about this: I know how to cook…and I’m pretty good at it! So why wasn’t I cooking?
It seems obvious- preparing meals requires planning and effort. Not to mention, cooking while a toddler literally pulls at your apron strings requires the patience of a saint, especially after a long day’s work. And while that’s all true, this little financial analysis opened my eyes to a bigger emotion behind the spending. For me, dining out had become more than a convenience or form of entertainment. It was a distraction from the discomfort I felt at home in my new family dynamic as a result of my divorce. Somehow, eating dinner in a crowded restaurant with my son felt less heartbreaking than doing it at the kitchen table in our new little apartment.
When making any lifestyle change, setting realistic goals is important, but building a strategy that tackles the emotion behind the behavior is the difference between success and failure. So, I acknowledged my feelings, compromised with myself, and got creative.
Instead of dining out 3 times a week, I did it twice (and quickly became the authority on the promotional offers in my area- I love a good Wine Wednesday). Instead of ordering in 2 times a week, I did it once, and only from my local pizza spot because they don’t charge a delivery fee. Instead of buying lunch every day, I only bought lunch 3 times per week. This shift in spending resulted in an average monthly savings of $425.
With only 4 dinners and 2 lunches to prepare each week, I strategically plan my meals so that leftovers can be easily re-purposed into new meals (omelets and stir-fries are my favorite way to make leftovers new again). I include my little helper in the cooking process so that he can be entertained and start to learn this valuable life skill. And in order to minimize the sting of our new family dynamic, I started my own tradition with my son. Twice a week, I pack up our dinner so we can have a picnic in the park, which allows us to get out of the house in a more economical way.
With my emotional and financial needs met, I was able to commit to this lifestyle and recover over $5,000 per year in excess spending. Now I use this money to beef up my retirement fund, build a college savings for my son, make a bigger dent in some of my debt, and save for the next curve ball life throws at me.
Fulfillment, meaning, purpose- it all seems like an elusive desire we are all chasing. But true happiness is attainable when you know how to find it and choose to embrace it.
I did a pretty good job of avoiding loneliness. I kept busy and when I wasn’t busy, there were always friends and family around. And yet, those were the times I felt the most isolated. There’s nothing like being in a room full of people and not feeling connected to a single one.