Budget Hacks

One of the side effects of quitting a job is having less income. Surprise, surprise. Prior to obtaining the job I just left, we were living on E-4 (specialist) pay. I didn’t like it. As soon as I started working I commenced the bougie behaviors I had been forced to deny myself. Now we will be living on E-5 (sergeant) pay but with extra expenditures like diapers. Could be a recipe for disaster.

Never to be outdone, I have spent some time hacking our spending in hopes of finding money in our pockets as is. It is not a secret that people tend to increase their standard of living to match or exceed their income level regardless of any increases. The $350 car payment for a $5,350 car payment. We don’t have car payments. The $75 dinner becomes the $150 dinner. Similarly, I think we can adjust the other way and avoid the pain of running out of funds for our lifestyle.

Before I share what my plans are for the next month, I will share a bit about our current spending habits. First of all, we don’t live beyond our means. Of my salary, eight percent went into my retirement savings, 56 went to joint savings and the other 36 into joint checking. Of my husband’s, 20 percent goes to retirement, and the rest into checking.

In October, I bought a 2016 Jeep Patriot with cash. Buying a vehicle with cash had been the plan for a couple years, but when I got to the dealership, it was hard to see why I was doing that when I could use a liiiiittle bit of credit and get a top of the line crossover SUV just as a girl like me deserves… But knowing I would probably quit my job in the next year, I avoided the payment and got what we could afford. I put the Jeep in my name out of spite since my husband was in Afghanistan and I had to make the purchase by myself. It’s a complicated story, but just know I was pregnant… so there really isn’t a story.

While we are disciplined when it comes to avoiding debt, we do not very well monitor the mindless purchases we make. This is our opportunity to create “cash flow” within our current income. This is forgoing the sweet tea every time we eat out *cough- Spencer- cough*, doing more research before a hair trigger purchases (on Amazon- me), and making sure we don’t leave money on the table with not using coupons or paying highway tolls late. My goal is not to get to a point where I have to wait until the following month to “find the money” for a routine expense. I have identified 5 target behaviors that should impact our expenses most.


Grocery Shopping- $500/month

Every time I go to the grocery store I am shocked by how high the bill is. Every. Time. And I do utilize the commissaries. I have this unconscious belief that we should be able to eat what we want because it’s cooking instead of eating out, but I think there is an opportunity to pay attention to the items I am purchasing.

  1. More chicken- I’m perpetually burnt out on chicken because of all the years I spent watching my weight, but chicken is pretty much the cheapest of the meats.
  2. Use coupons- the commissary has a Rewards card, which doesn’t reward you, just allows you to download coupons from the website. I can use that as well as look and circulars for other stores.
  3. Limit expensive items- My husband likes to have a Naked or Bolthouse Juice EVERYDAY. They are $1.85 and $1.79 respectively. I feel like buying five of these per week is excessive, but also feel it’s a small luxury I shouldn’t take away since my husband isn’t the one that quit his job. I will attempt to cut back on the purchases. He also requires a Gatorade per day. If I don’t buy it, he will buy it at the gas station for two and a half times as much. A later strategy may also help with this spending as well.


Subscriptions +$32

Every time I see an alert about a payment for a subscription coming out I think “I should cancel that.” I have canceled that. Goodbye Napster, Hulu, and Audible. All these services are available elsewhere- OnDemand, YouTube Music, and Overdrive app for the public library.

Food Waste + < 50%

There is a statistic out there that Americans throw away 50 percent of the food we purchase. When I die inside at my $114 grocery bill, the fact $57 is going straight in the trash should make me just walk into oncoming traffic. We MUST eliminate food waste. Having more time to plan and execute meals should help.

  1. Maximize leftovers- I need to work on utilizing ingredients in multiple meals. Right now there is about a quart of delicious, healthy (debatable because my mom made them) collard greens in my refrigerator. That needs to be eaten before we make anything else.
  2. Freeze portions- I also find that crock pot meals like pot roast and Mexican shredded pork end up being wasted and those aren’t the cheapest meats. If I plan well, I can freeze half instead of getting tired of it and throwing the rest away.
  3. Replace fresh with frozen- I almost routinely purchase chicken breast and throw away spoiled chicken breast. Solution: buy frozen chicken breast.
  4. Minimize straight waste- I don’t even need to discuss not buying and not throwing away bagged spinach.

Eating Out- $100

I am going to attempt to put a limit on how much we spend eating out each month. If I have more time to plan our meals and we are trying harder not to waste food, we should be closer to meeting this goal by default. This may also result in not ordering appetizers and sweet tea. In addition, I’m going to attempt to put a $50 limit on my husband’s EXpress purchases. He often goes to the gym and goes to the EXpress (convenience store) after, or he may buy beer for the weekend. These actions aren’t bad but as regular habits they are excessive.

We’ll see how easily I get him to comply. Likewise, I’ll put a $50 on hobby spending for myself. Having an infant, I don’t run in the gas station very often.

Tracking Expenses

I would like to keep track of every cent we spent to help make a real budget next month. Again, that takes cooperation of both parties since we are both spending our money. To help, I am setting a reminder each evening to go over expenses for the day and put them in a color coded excel spreadsheet. I am sure there is an app– oh yes, EveryDollar– Okay, I will track our expenses in EveryDollar. Tracking our expenses will help us remain mindful and accountable for what we are spending.

MY OVERALL GOAL is to put a couple hundred dollars in savings each month even though we are living on one income. I want to do this now before we are in a place where we are out of money in checking before the next paycheck. Not a good feeling. Nor is coming home to the cable being turned off because there was no money to draft, which happened a few years ago.

Speaking of autopayments, one thing working at a health insurance company taught me is that we need to keep an eye on all our autopayments (and mail). With a smaller cushion, this will be even more important. I put all the drafts on my calendar so I can anticipate changes in our bank account and once again, create accountability.

One thing we don’t realize is expensive is our cable (internet and phone we don’t use) bill. I would like to cut cable but TV is my husband’s hobby. One way our bill fluctuates from $170 to $200 is OnDemand movie purchases. This is spending $5-7 on movies we can get at Redbox for $1.50. The price difference is worth the 12 minutes it would take to go get the movie.

To help me stay within budget on food, I will be withdrawing the cash and placing it in envelopes and only using that for those categories. This should also help cut down on spending on those multiples trips I make back to the grocery store when I forgotten one item but end up buying another set of groceries.

I named several things I can snatch away from my husband, but I have plenty of expensive habits that I don’t know how to change yet- hair, wax, nails. I could give up getting my nails done except I can’t…

Only time will tell how effective my strategies are. What is most important is getting ahead of the changes and being proactive. Money comes and goes regardless of how much you have. I didn’t want income to keep me at my job and dictate how I spent my life, but I don’t want lack of it to dictate how I live my life either. Limiting small luxuries is a small price to pay for the luxury of freedom.


  • Alexandria Sage

    Managing money is a matter of many small, incremental denials balanced with a few small luxuries, in which the denials outweigh the luxuries. And all those “littles” add up over time. (Good decision on the car, by the way!) And I do love every dollar but I’m averse to all cash. Knowing myself, it would not stay in my hands long. 😁

  • Catherine

    We just moved to a cash based system for eating out and for any convenience store type purchases. We’ve put a $100/month limit on eating out together and $25/month each for food we purchase when we’re by ourselves (i.e. convenience store, fast food or when I buy chips from the vending machine at work).

    As for the cable situation – have you looked into Sling? I think they have sports packages and may be a lot less than the internet/cable/phone bundle. I havent tried it because we currently get free cable with our rent. (Though without a paying for a DVR, it’s mostly useless to me) but, it’s definitely something I will look into when we move. Of course the issue is getting the internet for cheap.

    You’ve inspired me with these tips! Thank you!

    • admin

      Hey! Spencer mentioned getting rid of cable which is a huge step! I’m going to start talking to him about Sling now so that maybe we can switch by Christmas lol

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