Tuesday, November 8, 2011

In Which a Foodie is (Majorly) Challenged

I always love a good challenge.  The minute someone says I can’t do something, that’s usually when I get all defiant and try to do exactly what they said I couldn’t do.  (There’s usually a long string of obscenities attached to that defiance, but we needn’t elaborate on that here.)

In this case, the person telling me I can’t do something is myself.

Bah.  I hate it when that happens.

So, here’s the sitch: I’m up to my eyeballs in student loan debt.  I’ve always figured that I’d never be able to pay it all off in any sort of reasonable timeframe (helloooo, 20-year fixed payment plan!), but I’ve recently re-thought my position on that.  After many discussions, Hubs and I decided to prioritize paying off my credit card and eliminating as much of my student loan debt as possible before we even think about starting a family.  Babies are ridiculously expensive, and we don’t need to add huge expenses to our lives while I’m swimming in a veritable Lake Michigan of student loans.  So, although it’s going to take a while, I really want to pay off as much as I can in the next few years.  (Sorry, Mom – grandbabies are still a ways off.)

This, of course, will require the implementation of a fairly strict budget.  If I’m going to be allocating a ton of my income to paying things off, I can’t be allocating as much as I’ve usually put towards things like food.

Now, I have a serious food shopping problem.  First, I can’t meal plan to save my life.  No, seriously: if you were to place me over a vat of hot lava and ask me to plan all my meals for the next week or wind up getting personal with said lava, I’d totally fail. 

Secondly, I’m the queen and reigning champion of the grocery store impulse buy.  (I won’t buy shoes, clothes, or anything else without serious consideration of whether or not I genuinely need it, but all rationality is gone when it comes to food.)  Strawberries?  Who can say no to strawberries?!  I can’t say no to strawberries!  And oh, some new tea would be nice…

It’s bad.  Once I sat down and actually tallied how much I spend on things that were never on my list in the first place, I was appalled.

As a result of both these unfortunate tendencies, I tend to cook meals on the fly.  I’ll see asparagus in the store, think “Oh, I can cook something with asparagus this week!”  I’ll then buy it, wind up cooking something else because I didn’t make a meal plan, and then I’ll totally forget about the poor asparagus until I find it two weeks later, pitifully looking up at me from the vegetable drawer in the fridge while barely clinging to life.  A lot of stuff goes to waste that way.

So, my challenge to myself is thus:

1)      Plan each week’s meals in advance.  This will involve a specific grocery list.  However, I need to leave some room for flexibility since there are nights when I get home and am too damn tired to put together anything I’d so ambitiously hoped for.  Therefore, challenge #2 is…

2)      If do I deviate from the meal plan, it can be in ways that only use ingredients we already have.  If we didn’t buy it on our weekly grocery run, we ain’t buyin’ it.

3)      No grocery store impulse buys.  I plan  to buy only what I need, not things that are  delicious and can be justified because they’re also virtuous (strawberries, I’m looking at you).

This will be one of my biggest challenges yet.  Reining in my desire to buy random things at Whole Foods will require epic self-control, and sticking to meal plans will require more coordination and discipline than I've had to exercise in a long time - but I'm hopeful that my goal of total debt annihilation will keep me on track.

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