Building Our Discipline Muscle

The food line item is the most-talked-about item on our budget day in and day out. It gets especially intense once we are at the halfway point between paychecks. We budget $200 for groceries and eating out every two weeks ($100/week). How much do we have left? Do we have any plans with friends we need to save money for? Can we go out to eat tonight and still have enough for groceries? How much do we need for groceries next week?

All these questions get asked before we ever decide to go out to eat (which is usually just on Fridays for lunch and maybe once on the weekend).

But a situation came up a few weeks ago: Our friend Keisha (designer of this blog) asked us if we wanted to go to Jimmy John's for lunch on a Wednesday, nearly the halfway mark before our next paycheck. Double whammy. We had packed our lunches, but were tempted to go out. What should we do?

KW is the keeper of the food envelope, so the first step was to see how much we had left.

Answer: $140.

Having more than half our money left usually puts us in a cocky position of arrogance. "Oh, yeah, we're fine. We've got plenty of money. Let's just go out to eat." We are then usually humbled in the next few days as we find we want to buy something special at the grocery store or invite friends over for dinner, but we can't because we are scraping by until we get paid.

It's not that we don't like going out to eat for lunch with a friend, it's that we have learned that we don't like the feeling of being out (or nearly out) of food money before we get paid again. And we have tried to be smarter these past few months by thinking ahead and stretching our food money to the end of the paycheck, and even farther.

But the temptation for us to go out to eat is usually strong. So, now back to the Jimmy John's decision. Which is a hard one. We both love us some Jimmy John's. I told Kels we could go if she wanted to (I'm usually the one that says no). But, she said no this time. And I was OK with that.

I emailed her at work and told her that whether we realized it or not, it was a big moment in our realm of food money. This small decision was helping us build up our discipline muscle.

It's easy to let that muscle atrophy over time, but we must continue to work it out whenever a financial decision comes along. If we don't, we lose it and fall back into the same routine of scrapping by until our next paycheck.

On our last paycheck we actually had $30 left over in our food envelope! Which means we were able to go on a little date!

Forward progress. I like it. How about you?