The start of a new year is a time to reevaluate those areas of our lives that need improving. Whether it is losing weight or starting an exercise program or saving money and sticking to a budget, we feel motivated by a fresh start to renew our efforts in earnest. For me, I need to focus on saving money.

As Brad and I looked over our yearly expenses in the final weeks of the 2013, we saw several areas that needed our attention. The biggest one was our entertainment budget. We were way off on the amount we budgeted for this category. Like hundreds of dollars off each month. (Full disclosure is good for me, even if it is embarrassing.)

So before we headed off to Michigan and Indiana for Christmas Break, I visited the library and checked out several books on saving money. I go through spurts where I read these types of books. It is not like I learn some earth-shattering money saving tip that I have never heard before. It is more that I need a shot in the arm to motivate me to delay gratification and live within my budgeted means.

This isn’t an excuse, but I think part of the reason our entertainment budget is so out-of-whack is that Brad and I have regular date nights now, unlike previous seasons in life. When school is in session, we have one night during the school week when we don’t eat in the dining hall. What do we do with this night off? We go out to eat. I love to go out to eat. I love trying new restaurants. But it is not cheap! Rarely can we leave a restaurant for under fifty dollars. Add in an outing or a movie and now several hundred dollars go out the door on a given month. Yikes!

Thus, the “no eating out” pact in effect until February 14. (Surely Valentine’s Day warrants dinner out?!)

One of the tips I found most helpful in the books I read was to use what you already have in your pantry to make dinner for a week. On the one hand, this advice seems to contradict another money-saving tip, which stresses buying in bulk and having a well-stocked pantry. For me, using items already on my shelf (i.e. pantry and freezer) forces me to see what I really have stocked away. Recently when we returned from our travels, I scoured my freezer and pantry and made my menu based on what I found.

Here’s what we ate: leftover Minestrone soup (pulled from the freezer) along with homemade biscuits; Shrimp Pad Thai and roasted broccoli (the shrimp came from the freezer along with the broccoli); Chicken with Peanut Sauce and Rice (frozen chicken and frozen peanut sauce); Homemade Pizza (plain cheese pizza since I didn’t have any other toppings at this point). I noticed a twenty dollar drop in my grocery bill that week since I only purchased perishable items and the odd non-perishable item.

Since school has resumed, I have taken extra care to make sure I have food items on hand for Thursday evenings when we don’t eat in the dining hall. This past Thursday I dusted off my crock pot and fixed pot roast with potatoes and carrots. The house smelled delicious and even a student who joined us for dinner last minute raved about my biscuits and the food.

You want to know the biggest motivation for me in curtailing my entertainment budget? I want to eat and drink my way through Europe someday soon. If I spend my precious dollars dining out each week, my trip won’t become a reality. That’s another helpful tip I read in the money-saving books. Have a goal in mind and keep it at the forefront so when the going gets tough, you don’t settle for a ho-hum dinner out. Instead, imagine yourself in Tuscany eating the meal of your life. Sounds good to me.

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