I’ve been budgeting for years — tracking every penny I spend on everything from Milk Duds to an Icelandic vacation (highly recommend both). But when I really got down to the nitty gritty and truly reflected on what I was buying, I was not pleased with the result.
I found that I was spending an average of $565/month on food. For someone who identifies as frugal, this embarrassed me. So I did what any reasonable 20-something would do: posted every detail of my monthly expenses on my blog in an effort to hold myself accountable for a new challenge.
Then I decided to do something drastic, almost unheard of: eliminate takeout food completely. I’m pretty sure Americans love takeout more than they love avocado toast, so a lot of people I know were shocked or impressed to find out I was completely eliminating such a staple of the American diet.
After one month of no takeout, it’s time I impart some of my findings on life with no takeout containers filling up my fridge:
1. First of all, I actually am saving money.
I was happy to use this month as a trial, though I hoped it would not result in error. The trial month was not not a success! I ultimately spent $414 on food, including dining out with friends, groceries, and snacks for a game night at my apartment.
I’m definitely not claiming that I’ve become an expert on frugality in the kitchen, but I’m happy to start off this budget challenge with a number that doesn’t make me want to cut up all my credit cards. I saved $151 below my three-month average, spending $49 less than average on groceries and $102 less than average on dining out. And yes, I do understand that February is the shortest month of the year, but this is still progress, my people.
2. I’m not missing out on anything.
In fact, my life actually feels more fulfilling. There was not one moment when I felt deprived of something because I had eliminated takeout. Because, as it turns out, there is nothing particularly exciting about eating takeout alone, in sweatpants, on my couch. Okay, that’s inaccurate. It’s amazing. But it’s also a little grim.
During the challenge I really stepped out of my comfort zone and spent a lot more time socializing. I even threw my first game night at my new apartment! I normally provide an exorbitant amount of treats for all my guests. Instead, I made my infamous sugar cookies and avoided buying a bunch of individually wrapped candy to place in small bowls around my home, à la my grandparents.
3. Saying “no” is becoming increasingly easier.
I found that I would often give in to peer pressure and order something because everyone else was. And we all know how those situations end (cut to footage of Jessie Spano singing “I’m So Excited” because of her mystifying caffeine pill addiction). This month, I was able to stop myself from ordering something just because everyone else did. I drank water instead of wine; ordered a regular tea instead of a specialty drink.
Conversely, I was able to say “yes” to invitations that added value to my life. I ended up across the table from a lot of new friends this month. I don’t know if I would have agreed to as many after-work events if I had the option to grab takeout and go hang out with the cast of Friends.
4. I’m more creative with my ingredients.
I started this challenge with a gigantic spaghetti squash that I purchased because an attractive man was nearby and I needed him to know that this Nice Jewish Girl knows her way around the kitchen. Like most of my attempts at flirtation, this move was totally lost on him and I was left with the aspirational squash.
I let the squash sit for a couple weeks, occasionally Googling, “how long does a spaghetti squash stay fresh?” Weeks later, I decided to find a way to use it. After a quick Instagram search, I found a recipe for Spaghetti Squash Pad Thai! Using ingredients around my apartment, I made an epic sauce to go on roasted spaghetti squash, mixed with chopped cucumber and onion. It was beyond delicious and I was able to eat off that one recipe for five meals. If only the cutie from the grocery store could have seen me.
5. I produce a lot less trash.
It makes sense that I produce less trash without the added waste from takeout boxes or cutlery. There was pretty much no excuse for the amount of non-biodegradable and non-recyclable waste I produced from takeout accoutrements. And we all know this planet is going to implode on itself if humans keep acting like we own the place.
6. Life is, in general, significantly better.
I almost never feel the guilt formerly associated with spending unnecessarily on takeout or delivery fees. I sleep better, I’m more productive, and my budget is more manageable. I’m benefitting from preparing almost all my meals, which gives me amazing transparency of ingredients. In other words, I can almost guarantee that my food doesn’t contain MSG or plastic (though the fact that some food still does is alarming).
After my first month of completely eliminating takeout, I only feel more excited about continuing this practice. Typically, I’d spend the day after a month-long challenge indulging in whatever I eliminated. This time around, I didn’t even think about ordering takeout because it just didn’t feel worth it. I actually understand the value in this challenge and I truly feel as though choosing to continue will contribute enormously to my life moving forward.
So, who’s with me for no takeout in March?