Budgeting; The Swiss Army Knife of Accomplishment

Life Balance

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Budgeting; The Swiss Army Knife of Accomplishment

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Budgeting; The Swiss Army Knife of AccomplishmentLet's play with the idea of a "food budget" for a minute. You want to eat healthy, and you want to feed yourself and your family without spending a fortune on food. So how do you get your budget of calories and nutrients to harmonize with your budget of dollars? I suggest you do it by taking a clear look at what you've been doing, and then gently shaping new habits to take you where you want to go.

Survey Your Landscape

With eating as with so many other things, we form habits that often go unexamined. I don't mean to eat lunch so often from the snack truck that comes to my office building . . . I just do. You don't mean to go through a jumbo bag of potato chips each week . . . it just sort of happens.

Well, there's no better time than the present to start examining those habits and thinking about how they could be better. You're going to need some clean sheets of paper, a pen, and enough patience to carry out a little survey of your own behavior so far. So please just suspend all judgments on yourself and start writing things down.

  1. First, survey your kitchen -- the pantry and the refrigerator, especially -- and make an inventory of the food you have on hand. That's List #1. Use that as the starting point for........
  2. List #2, which is a record of everything you've eaten over the past week. Include all those fast-food lunches at work, the chocolates you sneaked from the receptionist's desk, and the extra cocktail you had at happy hour.
  3. Now start over with a clean sheet of paper for List #3. For this one, write down what your kitchen inventory and your weekly food intake could look like. These two topics can go into the same list, because what's in your pantry and fridge should be the major part of what you eat, if you want to budget both your money and the nutrients you take in.

Find the Weak Spots

Once you've written all of this down -- and it doesn't have to be perfect on the first pass -- you can start to figure out the weak spots in your food-buying and food-eating habits. Two questions, in particular, should be your focus:

  • Where did I spend extra dollars on convenience food and junk food?
  • Where did I eat empty calories that I don't need?

The key culprits for both of these will often be sugars and empty starches -- things like chips, white bread, breakfast pastries, cakes, cookies, and other desserts. Mind you, I'm not saying that you can't ever have premium ice cream again. I, for one, love Ben & Jerry's. But if you're going through a couple of pints of it per week, you're spending money you don't need to spend on food that's also not helping your waistline. Maybe you could cut back to a pint per month, or make a pledge to go without ice cream from now until the Fourth of July.

Nothing's keeping you from coming back and repeating this exercise next month or next season or next year. But doing this exercise now will help you figure out where you could be saving money, or repurposing money toward better nutrition.

Having done this exercise, you may discover that some healthy foods that have seemed like luxuries really aren't, when you put them in the context of a well-budgeted diet. For example, buying "expensive" organic vegetables for salads might make a lot more sense after you stop wasting money on junk food.

Living "On Purpose"

The bigger picture here is to examine your default behaviors. If you've got a great habit in place, keep it up! But if you find a behavior that isn't really working for you, be honest with yourself and revise it. If you can manage that balance, the world is your oyster.

There's a lot of good evidence from neurology and psychology that we gain mastery and build willpower by doing one little thing well, then adding another and another to it.

  • That's how an infant learns to crawl, then stand, then walk, then run.
  • It's how the greatest musicians learned to play their instruments.
  • And it's how you can move by constant small steps toward your dreams.

Budgeting your food like I'm suggesting could be the one little thing that helps you start to get a grip on other issues.

As a bonus, this exercise goes to the heart of two areas that bedevil a lot of people: money and fitness. Getting those two areas tuned up is a big step toward achieving the life balance that you want.

What are your tricks for budgeting your nutrition?

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Tim WalkerTim Walker

Tim is a writer, marketer, and social media pro living in Austin. He joined CareOne's blogging team as a contributing writer for the Life Balance blog in 2009. As a blogger who has personally overcome debt challenges, he draws from his own experience to provide tips on living a balanced life and keeping fit. You can read more of his thoughts (on fitness and everything else) at his personal blog, What I've Learned So Far. Compensated CareOne Blogger

Follow Tim on Twitter; @Twalk or follow us by clicking here!

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  • Great advice. I know that food is the area that's killing my budget right now. I always try to plan for the week and figure out what I should bring to work, etc., but I always end up running out of food by Thursday. I'm going to try this approach. Thanks for sharing.

  • Thanks for the tips. I could definitely use some help in this area. I know I'm probably spending way more on food than I need to.

  • Especially with the price of food going up, I know I'm spending way too much on food. I'm going to try making the lists like you suggested. Thanks for posting!

  • Awesome advice Tim! It's a pretty satisfying feeling once you you've actually taken a look at the whole picture and realize that if you make a few minor changes, you'll see big results. Right on the money.

  • The cost of produce is high and continues to increase; and, if you're a veggie lover, like me, your grocery bill is probably high. To save money on veggies, people are turning their thumbs green and planting their very own vegetable gardens, but is it

  • Send this article to obama, despite being required by law his administration has not produced a budget for two years.  His mantra is what you don't know can't hurt you, he's wrong as usual.

  • look at Sunday ads for grocery stores.  A manager of a Walmart store told me 4 years ago that they will match any competitor's ad. I have used that advice since. I take all ads to one store and am able to get all of the "loss leader" prices on fresh produce. It saves thousands of dollars a year, because we eat alot of fresh foods. Worth the extra few minutes organizing. And to all the "haters".... leave our president alone. I'm so sick of the lost sheep looking at a scape goat... when they should have acknoledges the WOLF that held office prior to President Obama

  • Folks, please let's keep politics out of this. We're talking about household budgets here, not what goes on in Washington. Whatever your political leanings happen to be, let's keep the focus on what we can control, not what the politicians do.

  • In other words, don't just go through the motions at the gym or on the jogging trail. Instead, set some goals, hit them, and then set some new goals. Push yourself, even if it's just a little bit.

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