Sustaining a Reasonable Food Budget

If you are new to budgeting and intentionally living within your means, you may wonder if it is sustainable to live on less than you make and not totally hate it. After setting up how much you are going to spend on each category, how do you continually make choices to move towards the financial life that you desire? How do you stay consistent and remain unwavering in your decision to make some short term sacrifices to enable you to succeed in having long term financial success?

If you listen to Dave Ramsey for any length of time, you will hear him regularly talk about living on “rice and beans, beans and rice.” The concept is that while you are paying off debt, you should not “see the inside of a restaurant unless you are working there.” You should not go out to eat during this time frame. I do understand where he is coming from, and where he is trying to get his listeners to. I can relate to this, and did go this direction early on in our debt repayment journey. I was stingy in my allocation of money for nights out or having a bite to eat at a restaurant. And the logic behind it does make a lot of sense.

Spending money on restaurants and drinks out can be a huge drain on your budget. When Jos and I were dating early on, I was eating at restaurants regularly, especially for lunch and dinner. Heck, I even got in a routine for a while of stopping at a place on my way to work in the morning to get a bagel sandwich and a coffee to go. Money, money, money. I wasn’t even eating extravagant meals, I don’t have very expensive taste when it comes to food. But it was adding up. At one point we sat down together and I highlighted on my bank and credit card statements (sadly a lot of this was ending up on credit cards) all of my dining out expenses. It was staggering. Just an example from one of my average months showed I was blowing over $650 just on food. It was out of control.

In light of this, Ramsey’s approach made sense for someone like me. If I wanted to make a change, I need to do some drastic changing. Food was one of the areas where I needed a major wake up call. After we got married, we ate out very little in our first few months as an overcompensation to the large spending I had done in this category beforehand. Little to no spending at restaurants for us. But here’s the thing: extremism applied to any good cause is likely to fail.

After a few months of our fairly stiff frugality, we both became a bit miserable and a bit resentful toward this standard that basically banned restaurant eating from our budget. To make matters worse, we had just moved to the greater Portland, OR area which is notorious for great places to eat. It was a bad combination.

What I have learned after being on both sides of this fence is that there must be a healthy compromise. Beans and rice would be great from a pure spreadsheet point of view. And sure, on the flip side, I would love to say that we have tried every trendy eatery in town. But we haven’t. Somewhere in the middle lies the sweet spot between frugality and gluttony. We mustn’t punish ourselves with the budget or blindly swipe plastic aimlessly at any joint that looks like it’s worth trying out. Find that sweet spot and embrace it.

For us, our number is $80 every two weeks. This allows us to eat out a few times at cheaper places, or once or twice if we try something nicer. It would be a crime to have lived in the Portland area for 18 months and to have not tried some of the awesome food it has to offer. And it would be foolish to think that we can afford a steady stream of food prepared by someone else, outside of our home while paying off student loans. So what is your number? This will probably take some trial and error. Maybe you really do have a tight budget and you need to stick to eating out once a month or less. Or maybe you do have more flexibility as you pay off debt, but you know that you are spending too much on food. A budget is a flexible, fluid tool that is designed to serve you and get you where you want to go. Try a number, and then re-evaluate. Then try again, and see how it goes. You will find your happy medium.

My last thought on this is to identify and embrace that food is a huge part of our social lives. We are blessed to eat three meals a day, and each of those meals offers a chance to break bread with people we love. It provides an excellent environment to share ideas, laugh, catch up, and grow our social and relational connections. Food is important. With a proper perspective on it, we can allow food to be the wonderful gift that it is!

Tools I Use – – Account Tracking


Not to be confused with MintMobile, our cell phone provider, has been around in some form since its inception in 2006. It is a finance and budget tracking app and website. It has a number of great uses, but for the last few years, I’ve primarily used it as a one-stop hub to keep track of account balances, both positive and negative.

When managing finances and getting out of debt, it can be very easy to get overwhelmed and discouraged by all of the accounts you may have open, and how to keep track of each one of them. You may have three or four credit cards, all with different websites and logins. You may have student loans with multiple loans bundled within them, or your loans might be a combination of government loans and private. Maybe you have a couple of checking accounts or savings accounts, and those too require continual logins (and remembering those credentials) to access balances and other account information. Wouldn’t it be great if all your balances could be clearly listed out and updated without you having to keep track of some insane spreadsheet or checkbook? Mint flexes its muscle in this area, making the complex process of tracking balances quite simple.

When you first create a Mint account, you can start adding your accounts one at a time. For example, you can start with your main checking account. You are prompted to sign into it once, and then whenever you sign into Mint again, voila, there is your updated account balance for your checking. You can then add your credit card accounts, one at a time, by logging into them and letting Mint import all of your transaction and balance info. Say you get logged into your four credit cards. Next time you want to know how much total you owe on your credit cards, just sign into Mint! It will have your grand total neatly listed out with all of the credit card account balances beneath it.

Another great use of Mint is to track student loans. Jos and I each have our own login portals for our loan providers. Instead of having to access each set of loans separately, we just added them both to my Mint account. When we make one of our big loan payments, we can log into Mint and see the Loans section drop by whatever amount we paid on. It’s very rewarding watching that balance drop over time.

Lesser used and less important for our stage in the game are the Investments and Property portions. Here you can add your investment accounts to track your account balance there, very similar to how you track student loans or checking accounts, for example. And with Property, you can add things like cars or a house. We have our two cars added in this section. Mint reaches out to KBB (Kelley Blue Book) to get approximate values for private party value based on the car’s age, make, model and mileage. A nice feature, but not super useful day in and day out.

One last feature that Mint added not too long ago is a free credit score monitor. I have another favorite app dedicated for this (spoiler alert: it’s Credit Karma), but it is a nice freebie that lets you keep an eye on your credit score and track its trends, as well as giving you some advice on how to raise your credit score. Just be aware, they do try to sell you things from some of their affiliates.

Some of you may be wondering if it is safe to have one site handle all of this important financial info. That is up to you, but I find it to be just as safe as logging into any other financial institution through a web browser. The site is secure (it uses encryption technology) and has the same if not better security standards as the other sites you would access anyway for banking and account information. As usual though, never log into any sensitive banking site while using public wifi or from a device that is not yours. Also, always use secure, long and complex passwords.

Mint can also be used as a powerful budget creation and tracking tool. They have an excellent app for iPhone and Android alike, and the website is pretty streamlined and easy to use. We do not use it for budgeting (we use Simple bank, another tool you’ll hear more about later), but I know many people use the budget features and enjoy them.

Mint is a great way to view your zoomed out, “big picture” financial standing on one site. It minimizes the need to log into multiple sites. Its interface is easy on the eyes and easy to navigate. Everyone can find value in what Mint has to offer its users. Did I mention, it’s free? Happy budgeting, friends!

The Top 1%

How much do you think you would have to make to be in the top 1% of income earners in the world? $1 million a year? How about $500k. Surely $200k would put you in the top 1% globally. Nope! According to this intriguing article from Investopedia, only $32,400 per year puts you in the top 1% of income earners in the world. I was shocked too!

While this number stunned me with how low it was when I read it, it also made me think about and focus on what wealth means to me. We often throw around the questions, “what would you do if you had a million dollars?” This is a good, thought-provoking question if you really think about it! Go ahead, you can think about it right now. What would you do if you had a million dollars?

Many of us would go get a nice car, buy a house, take a sweet vacation to somewhere tropical. The opportunities feel endless! What about helping people? Maybe you would give part of the money to your high school so future students could play on a nicer football field, or the music program could purchase some new concert equipment for their performances. Maybe you would pay off your parents’ mortgage as payback for all that they have given you. Or maybe you would donate part of it to an organization who you believe does great and vitally important work.

We may not have $1 million. But if you are reading this and you live in the United States, there is a good chance that you or your household combined makes more money than that $32,400 figure above. We are blessed, friends, beyond belief. What are we going to do about it?

Our journey out of debt as a couple is the first big step for us to be where I would like our family to be financially. Sure, I am looking forward to the day when I don’t have to make a student loan payment. It will be nice when I am not accruing any interest against me, and instead, I only have investments churching interest for me. But for me, the greatest joy will be in the surplus. Not because of what material possessions it may bring me, not to see the number on my bank statement grow, but because I will be able to more actively and generously bless others. Being rich is not a sin. 1 Timothy 6:10 is often misquoted and misused to say that “money is the root of all evil.” However, in the NIV it reads: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” Money is never the problem, our hearts are.

If you find yourself a citizen of these United States, we find ourselves in rare financial air. We get to call home one of the richest, if not the richest civilizations of all time. What are we going to do with that responsibility? For me, I always hope the focus can be off of myself and on Christ and others. What can I do for my fellow man or woman?

I hope that one day I do have wealth. May it never be about the money, but rather, may it always be about the good that can be accomplished with it.

What are you working for today? What are you going to do with your important position? What would you do with a million dollars?

The Start of a New Year!

Western Cider Co., a welcome new addition to Missoula that we checked out last night!

2019! Here we are! We are blessed to be able to make a new start in a new year with new beginnings. I’m glad we get this chance to wipe the slate clean every 12 months. Much like the turning of the calendar to the next month, I really do enjoy the feelings that a new year brings: optimism, new energy for creating and accomplishing wonderful things, a real chance to start over, whether last year was good or bad.

I would like to take a minute to thank those of you who have been reading this blog so far. I’ve had probably a dozen people reach out to me or comment when we meet up that they are glad this blog is here and that they have enjoyed the content thus far. Thank you for the encouragement!

Looking ahead at this new year, there is a lot to be excited about. This year, Josilyn will graduate in May with a Master’s in Speech-Language Pathology. I could not be more proud of her! She will be applying for jobs this spring, so we are excited to see what openings arise. We are hoping to move back to Montana in that process, likely in May or June. At that point, we will have the opportunity to continue living on just my salary and socking away money to pay off student loans. This year should be an excellent chance for us to chip away at a significant portion of that debt.

Goals are best pursued when others are aware of them. One of the reasons I don’t consistently find myself in the gym at this point is that I do not have an accountability or lifting partner. Definitely my own problem, but because I do not have that person it is much less likely that I can accomplish goals for physical activity. I’ve gotta work on that! This blog allows me to make our journey somewhat public, keeping me motivated to keep moving ahead. This is a financial blog so we are focusing on that for now.

Right now I’ve got a wager with my father in law that we will be 100% debt free by the time Josilyn completes her first full year of work as an SLP. This puts our timeline at about May or June of 2020, or about 18 months. It’s a lofty goal, but I believe we can do it! I am going to create a new page here on the site to track that payoff goal on a monthly basis. Feel free to check in with our progress here!

Today’s post is a bit less technical in nature due to my feeling a bit under the weather. But I will share one piece of financial advice for you that I’ve been considering myself. As this year begins, take a look at your social calendar and write out dates that you know you will have non-standard budget items. For us, this will be a couple of plane tickets for two different trips to North Dakota, wedding gifts for a couple of weddings we will be attending, and potentially saving some money for a moving truck. Giving attention to these things will save you from having to dip into your emergency fund and will lower any stress associated with spending that money since you will know it is coming.

Also, as a side note, please feel free to reach out to me via email, text, or Facebook message. I love hearing from people and giving advice where I am able. I’ve already learned a lot from others who are on a similar path of pursuing financial freedom!