I Spent Most Of My Money On Food & This One Hack Helped Me Stick To My Budget

Here's the situation: About six months ago, on a chilly Friday night, I sat down with my laptop, a notebook, and a pen. I signed into the banking apps on my phone, opened up my calculator, and took a long and deep breath. My plan was to start a budget because I was moving out of my parent's place and facing bills for rent, electricity, and Wi-Fi. I needed to know where my paychecks were going, and that I'd be able to support myself financially in the "real world." As I started filling out the rows in my spreadsheet, I was pleasantly surprised and also so shocked. I had enough to cover my bills, but I spent most of my money on food. Right away, I thought to myself, "How on Earth did that happen?"

To be honest, I shouldn't have been so caught off guard. About once or twice a week, I would grab an iced coffee with a caramel swirl from my favorite café down the street. I would go to happy hour with my besties after work, and order a bunch of appetizers like fried mozzarella, loaded tater tots, and eggplant parmesan. When I started to crave a California roll or burrito bowl with a giant scoop of guacamole, I would throw on a pair of sneakers, grab my wallet, hop in my car, and happily ignore the groceries sitting in my fridge.

I didn't put any limits on myself or my cash flow, and didn't take a step back and realize that, over time, those dinner dates and boxes of pizza could add up. I was a little careless with my money, specifically when it came to food, and needed to change my ways so that I could stick to my new budget. At first, I thought, "I just won't eat out at all," which proved to be an unrealistic and difficult habit to maintain. Then, I tried this one hack that 100% worked. It helped me find a good balance between my budget and my deep need for take-out and chicken nuggets dipped in barbecue sauce. Wanna hear more? Duh!

Here's the one hack I tried that helped me not spend money on food and stick to my budget.

Jesse Morrow/Stocksy

The hack I tried wasn't necessarily simple, but it was fun and rewarding over time. It works well if you own a couple of pots and pans, a wooden spoon, and are willing to test your patience. It challenges you to find the tasty meals in the depths of your Pinterest boards and camera roll, and actually make them at home.

Because, odds are, you have a whole album on your phone dedicated to the healthy pasta dishes and spicy enchiladas you want to try. But, like me, you haven't dared to recreate those recipes or find the #necessary ingredients in the grocery store. You've said, "One day, I want to learn how to cook," or "I'm going to plan out my meals next week," over and over again, with zero results. What are you waiting for? Your budget, and stomach, could benefit from whipping up delicious and colorful cuisine in your cozy apartment.

Start by finding the meals that you want to try, from shrimp tacos to zucchini noodles topped with grilled chicken and sundried tomatoes, and save them to your phone. Go through the recipes, and write down the ingredients that you need, but don't have, like fresh basil or other spices. Then, make a trip to the store with your roommates or partner (That's arguably the most fun-filled part of this hack — you can do it with the people you love.), and pick up everything you need.

Once you get home, grab your planner, look at your schedule, and pick the nights you want to make each meal. The more simple ones can, and should, be made when you have a particularly long day at work, and the harder ones can be put together when you have more time to make a mess in the kitchen and pretend you're a contestant on Food Network. Hold yourself accountable as the week goes on, and most importantly, enjoy learning how to cook. If you run into an issue or something you don't know, call your mom, aunt, or sibling who is a gourmet, and ask.

I felt confident, organized, and like a true adult.

Kristine Weilert/Stocksy

I'm going to be honest with you: It wasn't easy to opt for a home-cooked meal, when I really wanted a burger and french fries or a beautiful bowl of penne alla vodka that was already made. But, once I got into this hack and a routine of cooking and meal-planning, I felt like a true adult.

I felt like I had accomplished something big, and checked an item off my "adulting" bucket list. I felt organized, because I knew what I would be eating for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, more confident in my abilities, and calm about my financial situation. When I went grocery shopping, I knew that I was buying items I actually needed and would eat. I wasn't going to waste my money on food simply because I was feeling lazy or didn't get to it in my fridge.

Don't get me wrong, sometimes, holding myself accountable to this hack was difficult. I had to make time in my schedule for my new love affair with my kitchen and find some will power when the burrito or Chinese food craving inevitably hit. But, I did it, and I'm still doing it. I have to admit, it feels beyond good.

What other hacks have I found helpful for not spending money on food?

Ani Dimi/Stocksy

In the process of trying this one hack, I found many others that keep me from spending the entirety of my paycheck on food. Who knew it was so possible to stick to your budget? Not me!

One of these hacks is downloading apps that make adulting easier, such as Yummly, which has a ton of simple and affordable recipes, and Mint, which can help you track your income and how much you swipe your credit card for things like take-out food, groceries, or coffee. Another is to tell yourself what your mom used to say regularly: "We have food at home." That keeps you from wasting the food you already bought, and should eat before it goes bad.

Last but not least, if you're trying to spend less money on food and stick to your budget, you also need to allow yourself to splurge sometimes or plan dinner dates with your besties. Finding balance with your money, and living your life is important, too. Got it? Good.