The Plan to Eat Podcast

#38: Interview with Erin Lowell from YNAB - Budgeting and Meal Planning

October 26, 2022 Plan to Eat Season 1 Episode 38
The Plan to Eat Podcast
#38: Interview with Erin Lowell from YNAB - Budgeting and Meal Planning
Show Notes Transcript

Erin Lowell is the Education Manager for You Need a Budget, a budgeting app and website. She found YNAB in 2006 while looking for a tool to help her pay down her credit card debt and was hooked! She now manages the teaching staff, Live Q&A sessions, and helps train people in the YNAB method. 

Our conversation with Erin covers the 4 rules of the YNAB system of budgeting, meal planning, cooking and meal planning for one, budgeting tips for the grocery store, and tons of practical advice. We loved getting to talk with Erin and we hope you enjoy this episode!
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Creamy Chicken and Rice Soup from Budget Bytes
See Mindy Mom - Youtube Channel
Kitchen Counter Cooking School - Book
Good Cheap Eats

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I'm Riley and I'm Roni. And this is the plan to eat podcast, where we have conversations about meal planning, food, and wellness. To help you answer the question what's for dinner. 

Roni: Hello, Welcome to the Plan to Eat Podcast. Today we have an interview with Erin Lowell. She works at, You Need a Budget, also known as YNAB.

Riley: Erin is a wealth of knowledge about budgeting and specifically today we talked about budgeting and meal planning and how those two go hand in hand. All sorts of tips about saving money, what to pay attention to. In, in general, I learned a lot. And I am so excited for you guys to listen to it because I know that, this is just one of those seasons of life where we're all trying to save money in this particular area.

Um, and so I think it's a really valuable conversation and we're excited for you guys to hear it.

Roni: Yeah, Erin was awesome. She was so easy to talk to. I think you guys will get that from this interview with her. She just, [00:01:00] uh, she was a great person and yeah, we are excited about it. Enjoy.

Well, Erin, thanks for joining us today on the podcast. We appreciate you being.

Erin: I'm pumped. Love talking about this.

Riley: So do we, well, let's jump right in. I'd love to hear, let's just tell us about you, um, your bio and what you do for, You need a budget.

Erin: Sure I started working. Uh, both. You need to budget full time. Back in 2011. I had found the app, uh, in 2006 and it changed my life, not to be cliche, and, uh, ended up lucky enough to be able to work for them. So I help with a lot of the education and training, um, and making sure that our customers know what they need to.

Roni: That's a like a powerful story to be like, I found an app and it changed my life and I wanted to work for them.

Erin: They were much smaller then. So when I bought it, it was just a little spreadsheet for Excel. Um, but now it's my much bigger app, so I was, I feel really lucky that I found it when I did. So sometimes I wonder would I hire me, like if I applied for a job with myself? I don't know.

Riley: [00:02:00] It's actually funny cuz that's kind of how I feel about plan to eat and like my role with plan to eat. Like, um, it's grown so much since I've been here and I'm like, Oh man, I've just grown up with the company I used to do, fully support and then I've just like grown in my role and now I

Erin: Yeah. Yeah. I used to do the same thing. I used to answer emails. I've done all the things, and now they just have me doing this, which is a better seat for me. So It's 

Riley: Yeah. 

Roni: that's,

Riley: And how long have you worked for Y.

Erin: Uh, well, I actually started part-time in 2008, and then I came on full-time in 2011, So it's been been a while now.

I, now I got to see all the evolution of how we've grown. It's been fun, so,

Riley: that is really cool. It's a very unique perspective to have because it's internal, it's not an external perspective, and you can just see like the effort and the work and the like. Um, just sometimes painful. Like, we, we wanna go forward, we wanna go

forward and yeah. Yeah. That's awesome.

Erin: It's helpful because we have a lot of new hires over the last few years, so it's sometimes it's nice to be able to offer perspective on how things, you know, so it's all good. But yeah, no, [00:03:00] the app, the app totally changed my life. I was 40 when I found it and I was, I felt like I was pretty good with money.

I was paying my bills on time, but I had, I had just finished a major house renovation and I ran outta money and had to put a lot of it on credit. And so that's what sent me searching for something. Um, and I just real, I realized that I had fallen into the cycle. Of I would accrue some debt and then I would work really hard and pay it off, and then I would fall back into debt and then I would work really hard and pay it off.

And the method behind y a, the rules taught me how to set money aside for things, which is really how you prevent debt in the first place. So this time when I paid off on my debt, I was able to stay out, um, because I, I finally was able to save for the first time in my life. So really effectively save, you know, so.

Riley: Oh, that's amazing. Uh, and a very powerful testimonial.

Roni: Mm-hmm.

Riley: Um, Powerful. I mean, it's, we're talking to you like if, if, like you telling me that is the most powerful testimonial, you know, um, so [00:04:00] that's really cool.

Erin: Yeah. And it's not a single use case. I mean, a lot of our customers go through the same thing where they, whether it's debt or just trying to reach personal goals, they're trying to reach financially, you know? But these rules that we, we have these four rules, these rules can really, can really help.


Roni: Absolutely. Yeah, that's really like, it's a relatable story cuz I think a lot of people can fall into that category of like, you just feel like it's a, a roller coaster up and down

Erin: I feel like there's a debt cycle if you don't, and you can, is a, there's a difference between getting out of debt and then breaking the cycle of debt so that you don't need it again. And that's the next level that I needed that I didn't have,

Roni: Yeah.

Riley: Well, and that's not something that we're really. Um, as far as like school and education, I mean, I think some families teach that, you know, differently than others, but, um, these kinds of rules and like the physical, here's how you do this now, do it. The template of that, um, is really helpful because we don't really, we're not really given that in life so,

Erin: Mm-hmm. . And just a, just a quick, you know, overview of the rules for [00:05:00] anyone who might be listening that hasn't heard them. The first rule is to give every dollar a job. And really that's about taking the money you have and learning how to make trade offs. Because unless you're, you know, Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos, you're not gonna have all the money.

So you have gonna run outta money eventually. And it taught me a lot if, if I want. What am I not gonna have instead, or, you know, and, and that trade off helped me learn. These are the most important things. And so that process of giving every dollar a job just really gave me a lot of clarity. And then our second rule is to embrace your true expenses.

And by that we mean the non monthly. Stuff because if you ask people to list their bills, most people will list the things they pay every month. But you know, the vet bill that, I don't know when that's coming again. So, or Christmas every year it's on the same day. We shouldn't be surprised. Right. You know, car insurance, all that stuff.

And I learned how to break that stuff down and put a little bit aside every month so that I just, yesterday I was telling somebody earlier today, I noticed on my phone that this charge had come through from Amazon Prime and it was $139. And I was like, I [00:06:00] didn't buy anything for. Hundred and 39. I'm like, Oh, it must be the prime membership.

And then I had this momentary, Did I set money aside? Oh, yep. I've been doing that every month. I had, I had enough. So it was fine. So that was real. That even dealt the roller coaster. Um, and then our third rule roll with the punches is just this way of saying, Look, anytime you're setting money aside for what you wanted to do, that's just your best guess at the moment.

Because we can't predict the future with a hundred percent certainty. It's okay to make changes and adjust and that will keep you sort of in the game for the long haul. So that's my favorite rule. And then our last rule is to age your money. And the idea here is we want people to learn to set aside money for the next month so that you're a month ahead of your expenses.

And that was really like, it's really hard to describe how, how much peace of mind I had when I, when I had that. It also was like it's a gift of time. That you give yourself. Because if you're a month or even, like, I'm two months ahead now. I'm covered all the way through November. So if [00:07:00] something were to happen, I have time to react, you know?

Um, and just not having to time paychecks to bills, just being able to, I was finally able to, in my forties, put everything on auto pay because I knew there would finally be enough money in the account. So there was just, it was just a transformative way of looking at my money. So it's been

Riley: Very, Yeah, very freeing

Erin: Yes. People think it's restricting, but it's not. It's the opposite, really. Once you know it's important to you, it's pretty easy to make decisions about what you wanna do.

Riley: Well, we can certainly relate to that, um, with meal planning because it can feel like so much work to do it. Um, but when you do it, the benefits of it really give you so much freedom and flexibility, um, and lower your stress. And I think those, like those benefits really correlate with YNABs benefits. and it can certainly feel like a job and it can certainly feel like, Oh, I don't wanna do this , 

Erin: Right. Well, and I think that that's, I think in both cases it's true. In the beginning. And it's really [00:08:00] just because you're learning a new thing. But like now my budget is so dialed in, I don't even have to look for some certain, I know what's what's in there. And I think the same thing is true of meal planning.

Like I had decided years ago that I, I love pizza and I said I'm going to learn to make. The best homemade pizza. But my first few efforts were not good But now I have such a, I probably eat a homemade pizza once every week to 10 days, and I have that so dialed in. I make my own dough and shred my own cheese, but it has not work for me because I have dialed in this habit and it's become a routine and a part of my life.

So I think with people who. Coming into meal planning, they made me think I have to plan for all the things, but it's can, you can do it in a little bit at a time. I didn't reach all my financial goals on day one. And the same thing could be true of getting in a meal planning approach that works for you.

Riley: it's kind of a matter of putting down that like instant gratification thing. We all really want . [00:09:00] Um, and then, but it eventually becomes that way because like your pizza, um, there's things that I do that were really work upfront and now it's like, Oh no, I just do this thing. And it, it feels like, yeah, it's so low effort.

Um, but it's really great reward.

Erin: Yeah. I think it's also true, like with meal planning. I think that if you think about, I was thinking about. What kind of messages we get now about cooking and, you know, when my mom, I was growing up in the seventies and eighties, like my, my mom wasn't being exposed to like, tasty videos or, or you know, all these recipe sites that float through your inbox.

She just made the same basic. 15. So things in a rotation. She was basically loosely meal planning. But now we, we see these videos, I see them come through my Facebook feed cuz I watch a lot of cooking stuff and it's 60 seconds and you're like, Wow, that looks amazing. And of course they're not showing you that.

They got all the ingredients out. You know, ahead of time and they're, they've condensed it to 60 seconds and sped everything [00:10:00] up and it looks easy. Then you get everything to do it, and it takes you 20 minutes and your kitchen's a mess and you want, So I think there's a lot of messaging that comes out, like, this should be easy.

We should all be doing this, and it should be easy. And I don't, I don't think that's necessarily the case. You know, it's just sort of like a mismatch there and what, what's out there and what we do.

Roni: Yeah, we, at the beginning of September, we did a couple podcast episodes that were all about like customer meal planning tips, like directly from our customers about

meal planning. And pretty much like, that was like across the board what people said was like, Don't make challenging recipes, like don't make new recipes all the time, kind of like stay away from this Facebook or Instagram phenomena of constantly putting new recipes into the rotation because even if it says it's a 20 minute recipe, you're still having to learn how to cook that recipe, which is gonna take you longer.

So yeah, so many people like, it feels like the people who really have their meal planning system dialed in are just okay with using the same recipes, kind of like over and over again. And I [00:11:00] occasionally peppering in, you know, something special or something new. Um, I know that I certainly fall into the trap of like, it needs to be special.

It needs to be new. Like we're stuck in a rut. It's monotonous and it's like, really nobody at this house cares. You know? Like if we eat meatballs every week, nobody cares. That's a great meal.

Erin: Yeah, I think it needs to be something you want to eat. And I, I wish that people would, I go back to that, like, what, when you go out to eat, what do you order? Like my, one of my fall challenges is I love the Applebee's. Um, Boneless barbecue chicken. And I'm like, I've got to learn to make a really good barbecue chicken because if I can learn to do it and build it into a rotation, then I won't be trading out 30 bucks at Applebee's for it.

You know? But I think that's, What do you like to eat when you go out to eat? What do you order? Learn to make your version of that that's accessible and and inexpensive, and that's gonna be the best. I think that's the best way to start. And if everybody had six to 10. Recipes and a rotation that they love to eat, [00:12:00] then I think they're gonna be in, in pretty good shape, you know?


Riley: Well, and most of us are creatures of habit. We really do like the things we like.

Erin: Absolutely.

Riley: Yeah. And I think that there is some invisible pressure we put on ourselves, like if we're feeding other people or even ourselves to like branch out and be exciting. But, um, personally, I love the tips that you're giving us, which we really weren't expecting of.

Just like, I wanted to make amazing pizza, so I learned how to make amazing pizza. I wanted to learn how to make this barbecue chicken, and for you, particularly with your wine, a background. Like you're saving a, you're looking at this as like saving a ton of money

too, because buying pizza out that's really good isn't like a $5.

Where do you get $5 pizza? Um,

Roni: might get a $5

Erin: not gonna be 

Roni: pizza nowadays.

Riley: that is true. 

Erin: you might get a $5 pizza. That's pretty good. I think that there's, I always love looking at that spectrum because one of the things I think about groceries and grocery shopping in general is that it's essential spending. We have to eat, but it's full [00:13:00] of optional choices.

So, I mean, even if you look at eggs like, all right, I need eggs. Do I wanna buy 12 or 18 cage free, organic brown? So many. Sometimes I think it would be better if there were just eggs, right? But, so there's just so many choices. But I think you can start with the highest price item, which would be like the best, most expensive takeout pizza I wanna go get.

And then you can work back from there to like a frozen pizza. And I'm personally a fan of keeping a few things like. In the house to prevent the expensive takeout option. I buy a really nice frozen pizza, Not the $1, you know, not those ones, but like a really nice one. And then for the night when you just don't have it in you, you've got a less expensive option.

We call them, I got to call them emergency meals. So, but there's a whole gradient between there. There's like, like I told you, I make my own dough. and I shred my own cheese. You don't have to, you can make a really good homemade pizza by buying the dough and buying a bag of shredded cheese, and it's still gonna be cheaper than the takeout option.

But, so that, I [00:14:00] think that's the other thing about meal planning. I'm just imagining everyone thinks they have to become, you know, Julia Child or whoever the latest, greatest is, but like, you know, that's not necessarily the case. It doesn't have to be super complex.

Riley: Yeah. Preach. Erin, this is, This is exactly right. 

Erin: Oh, well, I, I, but I also think that there's, you know, there on.

Kind of a deeper level there is like, I read this wonderful book, I think I must have told you about it by a woman named Kathleen Flynn. And that's F L I N N for anyone who wants to search for it. And it's called the Kitchen Counter Cooking School. And she was a trained chef, but she found this fascination in figuring out why have people strayed so far from, you know, home cooking.

And we are all now because of the rise of processed foods, a lot of us are a couple of generations away from growing up next to somebody who showed you how to do all the things, you know? And if you look at like even a recipe today, They list every step. It's not unusual to see a recipe that has like 17 steps laid out, but if you pull a cookbook [00:15:00] up from a hundred years ago, It might just say, prepare the chicken like because people knew what to do.

But because we have so much convenience food, I think we've lost. And I think that's one of the things that gravitates us back to a lot of those videos is, I don't know how to do this. Why, why don't I know how to do this? And so for part, part of it for me is I just have a personal interest in gaining a lot of these grandma skills, I guess, of like learning how to do all the things,

Riley: Yeah, so do we. And in, in reality, a lot of those things actually save us a lot of money by doing it ourselves. Because if you go, let's just use the chicken, prepare the chicken option. If I were to, well, you know, maybe my great grandma would've had her own chicken that she had to really prepare. Um, but let's go with, let's go with like the chicken.

The whole chicken I can buy at the store. Versus the, like, just the breasts or just the thighs or something. The price difference on those is extraordinary. Um, and so like if you, if we can go back to some of those basics, um, we're actually gonna save a lot of money too, um, which is really [00:16:00] beneficial.

Erin: I feel like when it comes to groceries and, and let's just face it like the last couple years have been hard, right? Like there's been supply chain issues and you can't get stuff and then the prices are going up and, but I feel like there's always two levers to pull on. You either are pulling on a lever of time or money so I can spend more money.

For convenience to save me time. Right? And that might be a perfectly valid choice, right? Or you can spend more time to lower your costs. And that's where the, that's I think where the trade off is. Where do you balance on that? And even on the time component, like, like some things like we said will take more time initially, but once you learn the skills they get even easier.

So I think there's a sweet spot for everybody. Somewhere on that. Do I wanna invest more time for it? There was a grocery store I used to frequent and they had, um, peeled garlic. Just fresh peeled garlic in a little container. I'm like, I don't care if I throw half this way. I'm buying this peeled garlic cause I don't wanna spend the time like, you know.

So it's like that convenience line of what do, what are you willing to [00:17:00] spend on? And where do you say, No, no, no, I'm gonna put a little more effort in there. And to make this a little less expensively. I also feel like it's, uh, for me as I got to cook more, it's a form of taking care of myself. You know, like, so I, when I, when I was chopping vegetables one day, I was on a Sunday prepping, I prep on the Sunday for the week and I just thought, I'm prepping all these vegetables and cutting everything up and I feel like I'm doing this really nice thing for my future self.

I'm getting ready and I'll be in a good position to get through the week without, you know, caving to other things. So, yeah.

Roni: Well, we certainly agree with that because you know, we think that meal planning and budgeting, like they're both kinda like forms of self care. I wanna go back to your levers though, because I really like that comparison of the time and the money because I think. You know, we, we have gotten into this like fast-paced world where it's like everybody, everybody's schedules are so jampacked and all of your kids have all their activities and you have your own activities and meetings and all this stuff, and I think that a lot of times when we talk about like, [00:18:00] here's the way to save money, or here's the way to, you know, make a nourishing meal or whatever, there's almost this level of guilt of like, Okay, well I'm really busy and I don't have the time to do these things that you're recommending.

and, and, and it's really nice to like relieve that, to be like, look like it's, it can be a balance of these two things. It doesn't just have to be one or the other. Um, and just because you needing convenience right now doesn't mean that like you're failing, you know,

Erin: Right. Absolutely. You know, Ernie, one of our teachers, he has three teenage boys and he said when the pandemic started, I always tell the story about him. He doesn't mind, but he said when the pandemic started, he really got into online ordering cuz it, we were trying to avoid going into stores. And he said, Oh my gosh, I got my Saturdays back. And he said, Sure. You know, I mean, he could probably trapse through the store himself and find better sales, but what was more important to him at that time was time. So he was willing to pay for the convenience of the ordering online and the pickup and, and, you know, and so for me, I love the challenge of hunting things down across stores.

And [00:19:00] I'm trying to keep my grocery, I'm trying to, I'm fighting against the inflation bug right now, trying to stay. On the same grocery budget, but if, but if I could decided I didn't wanna do that anymore, that's a viable choice, you know? So,

Riley: for me, I do the grocery pickup and I, my life's a little crazy and so for me, like going and picking 'em up, well, I would love to be, to be able to shop around and. I like, I really like grocery shopping. I like being in the store. I like the environment.

Like it's, Yeah. Um, but right now just the season that I'm in picking up is just better for me.

And I've actually found I save more money that way personally because I'm not tempted to buy things I don't need, or I'm not like changing my mind about my meal plan because I see something that looks so enticing, like, Oh, that vegetable looks delicious. I'm gonna, I've gotta do that. I'm gonna make that, I'm changing my mind.

Um, So I actually save a lot of money doing that too. So,

Erin: Well, that's the whole benefit of planning is like it, it can help you dial in those impulses. You know what I mean? 

Riley: Mm-hmm. ? Absolutely. 

Erin: For sure. [00:20:00] And Ernie says, you know, we, he goes, he always jokes. He says, My goal is just to keep everybody alive for one more day. So he has like a rotation of meals and that's what they're getting.

And like, you know, I think that's perfectly fine again, but if you go back to what do I want to eat? Why do people buy things that they, you know, don't wanna eat? And then it sits in the back of the fridge and that's, that's not doing anybody any good?

Riley: I feel like we can add a third lever, which is like emotional energy

Roni: Yeah.

Riley: um, which is like, I'm just gonna make easy meals this week and everyone's gonna eat 'em and they're gonna all survive. And it might not be my five star chef dinner week, but everyone ate it and everyone would went into bed happy and slept all night, whatever.

Um, Because there's so there. That is a big factor in things and like,

Erin: Oh, it absolutely

Riley: Yeah. Yeah.

Erin: I mean, last summer I got sick. I was sick for a few weeks and laid up and I didn't care about shopping at different stores and I didn't care about getting the best price. And in fact, I wanted the extra popsicles and you know, and I think that that's okay to, like, I wasn't gonna.

Do as much [00:21:00] cooking for that stretch, but that's okay. I was doing, I was focusing on something else and you know, I, I think people are hard on themselves with, with regards to money management, but also I just think there's a lot of pressure from social media and you, you know, we were always seeing the best of people on Instagram and, you know, you didn't see the, the pictures, they didn't shoot of the kitchen.

All sink all full of all the, like, there's, there's that part of it too. You know, That's why I love to watch people on YouTube who will show me the beginning to the end. Just somebody in their own kitchen, just like, and there's the pilot dirty dishes. They're gonna have to like, I just prefer to like see the more realistic approach to it.

Riley: We can't all have like, people come to clean it up after, after we're done in a studio or whatever.

Erin: yeah. Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. So I, yeah, I think there's, But the other thing I think about groceries in general and meal planning is that there is a lot, you can, there's a lot you can do. Like sometimes people will say like, Well, well, how much should I be spending? And it's like, well, don't go by anybody else's average.

Go by your own average track your own spending. [00:22:00] Cuz that's a real number. If someone says, Well the average cost of groceries for a family of four, well that's a made up number. That's not even a real number. There's gonna be a different cost in where I live in Maine from, uh, New York City to South Carolina's gonna be different prices.

You know, So find your average. And then I think most people, if they say, Okay, this is what I'm spending, then I think you have some kind of a reaction to that where it's. I think I could do better or, no, we've really got this down as far as we can, I think, but, but you have a lot of wiggle room. If, if someone hasn't done anything, if they've done no tracking of the costs and no real efforts at meal planning in a really strategic way, there's a lot of savings to be, to be gained there.

Just, just by a little bit of work, just by paying attention, you know, They can really get a lot.

Roni: Yeah, I really relate to that because I remember reading an article. It was a couple years ago, but it was like a family of four. And the amount of money that they were spending on groceries every month was like half of what I spend for just [00:23:00] me and my husband. And I was like, What the heck am I doing wrong?

Oh my gosh. But it turns out like they're vegetarians and we're not, and we're not vegetarians. I, I don't really have a desire to be a vegetarian. And so it's like, obviously that's a humongous cost difference if I'm having to buy meat from the grocery store or meat from the butcher or whatever, and they're not doing that.

And um, so it was really, it was a really eye-opening part of, uh, reading that and instead of just like reading the headline that says like, Family of before spends $250 every month. Like, like that's the thing that I was like, Wow, that hurts a little bit, you know? But when you actually read the article, you realize like, there's a reason for this.

It's okay,

Erin: It's really crazy. Like I'm so always so surprised how different prices can be. Cause I follow a few YouTubers and um, there's a young lady I follow in North Carolina and she did something with Turkeys last year and she, so I got these on sale for 29 cents a pound and I was like, you would never see that price where I live.

You will just never, and maybe not even today what the prices have gone up, but like, so there's just a huge difference. And you know, my [00:24:00] brother does, um, has one of those meal planning delivery services for some of their meals. And he lives in, uh, Brooklyn. He's in New York City. And he said, I said, It just seems like so much money cuz cuz it's the same price for me to subscribe to it as anybody else.

And he said, you can't eat out. You know, once for what we get three meals out of at that service. And I thought that's right. And his, his perspective is different because his numbers are just different. So doesn't do any good to care. Compare yourself to others. It just doesn't, you

Riley: Well, that's a really interesting thing to note if they're viewing it like takeout. Because I was, when I, because I did a trial run of a grocery delivery service to just see, just to like, what's the hype about, what's the cost look like for my family? And I felt like, I was viewing it like a meal plan, like the, I'm integrating this into my meal plan, which meant I still had to go to the grocery store for breakfast and lunch and three other dinners cuz I wasn't doing every night.

Um, and I wasn't viewing it like takeout, but that's a really interesting perspective and also something to consider when we talk about like feeding a family of four for a week or two [00:25:00] weeks or whatever. Like how many meals are they eating? 

Erin: Right. Oh, 

Riley: grocery budget could be half of their eating out

Erin: Oh, yeah, yeah,

Riley: and then of course, yeah, you're saving tons of money,

Erin: it's always gonna be more, but I also feel like people should, if you like eating out, then what I tell people in their own budgets is set some money aside for that and go out and enjoy it. Like, you know, that you can have a little bit of both. I, I would rather like cook at home and keep that cost low so that I have money for these other things, and that's just a choice.

And I, I draw that line where I draw it and other people will draw it in a different place. But

Riley: we totally recommend the same thing. And we say that like, planning to eat out is part, is a meal plan because there, it 

Erin: Really good point. Yeah. 

Riley: like, Oh no, I've gotta throw away the meat that went bad because I didn't cook it. And because we chose to eat takeout, which is then a double cost of takeout.

Um, but integrating those things into your meal plan and your budget, 

Is, is [00:26:00] exactly, it's just what you need to do. It's part of your meal plan now. It's part of your budget. Um, you're not wasting extra money or throwing food away. It, yeah, we say the exact same thing.

Erin: I mean, it's just realistic, right? Like, and I also feel like if I plan to eat out, I'm gonna enjoy that more than whatever I end up grabbing on the run because I felt tired or whatever. You know? That's just, then I'm gonna just gonna be feeling bad that I didn't have something planned. Not that I, we all do that from time to time, but like, I still feel like the intention of when I go out to a nice seafood place Friday night and you know that that's, you're gonna get more value out of

Riley: Totally. I would rather save the money and meal plan to go have like a super delicious steak somewhere than like run through a drive through and like waste that money on something that was really just not as good as it could have been.

Erin: Yeah. I, I am learning from my own habits though, that I do need a little bit of discretionary drive through and get a frozen coolata. I, I find if I give myself nothing for that, Then I just end up doing it [00:27:00] anyway and then it's like, so it's better to just, So I just need a little bit of discretionary for that kind of, for road.

It's like road. That's where I get kind of caught up is on the road.

Roni: Mm-hmm.

Erin: Road food always kind of gets me, but you

Roni: Yeah.

Riley: Yeah.

Roni: Okay. So if somebody hasn't been, uh, tracking their spending as far as their groceries and stuff goes, what, what do you think is like the best place for, for somebody to start to try and like, uh, either assessing like, what's a reasonable grocery budget for them to have?

Erin: I think if, first of all, I think like just tracking it and get your starting number, and then I think you have to say the question I, One thing I've been working on is like, okay, did I throw anything away? Because if I'm throwing food away on a regular basis, then I'm buying too much. That's a good sign that I'm not, I was always like, Oh, broccoli's on sale.

I'll get two heads and then one dies in the back of the fridge cuz I didn't have a plan. So if you're, if you're planning, then I think that's, that's a pretty good way to start. So tracking and then are you throwing anything away? [00:28:00] And then I think it's after that it gets down to like, is there, do I wanna do anything else about it?

Or am I content right here? And if you do wanna do something else about it, there is a lot of wiggle run by price shopping. You know, this, I, I still, I'm a huge user of like, store brands. Um, but, but not for everything. I have my, you know, little things I like to have the brand of, and I think everybody does.

But if you haven't experimented with, um, store brands, is it okay to me mention a, a YouTube.

Riley: Sure. Yeah, go 

Erin: so I had watched this video that, um, See Mindy mom, that's, that's the name of the channel, See, Mindy mom. She had done a comparison of like 25 items, store brands versus, um, the real name brands. And the, the difference was like, Astounding.

Like, I couldn't believe it. So if you haven't done any experimenting there, there's nothing wrong with saying, I'll try the store brand version this week, and if we hate it, we'll just go back to the, to the other version. But there's, there's significant savings I think that can happen, can happen there. So, and it all depends on, like, [00:29:00] again, it goes back to how much more time do you wanna put in to get the cost down.

Like, you'll get to a point where you're like, I'm good. I'm not gonna do any, I'm not gonna, I'm not gonna raise chickens.

Roni: Yeah.

Erin: I have, I have my lines like where I'm gonna draw them, you know,

Riley: Yeah, I, I feel like when you start to just put eyes on it, um, cuz like when we started, when we looked at how much we were spinning on groceries, um, we were surprised. As high as that. It was as high as it was. Um, I think we, I think we separated out eating out in groceries, um, but like a food budget. And then that helped me be like, No, this is how much we're gonna spend roughly every week on groceries instead.

And then I just do things to like, Make that process happen. Like buy store bought one week or, or you know, like if I go to Costco and load up on like a lot of one thing, then that actually like over time lowers my grocery budget. If I could fit it into one week. And, um, I, something I've said on the podcast before is when I, cuz because I do the, like grocery pickup, it totals my grocery bill for me.

It allows me to [00:30:00] see, um, okay, I've got wiggle room to like buy an extra. Freezer item or buy that emergency meal item or buy, you know, an extra bag of rice so that, because then if the next week I, I would like to spend less money. I know I've got those backup items because I have more wiggle room the week before and kind it allow, but knowing those numbers allows you to fluctuate.

And in that wiggle room and spend a little more here. Spend less here. Or me and Roni did a, a kind of a trial podcast. What did we do? It was like a budgeting, like intentional budgeting. Um, we were trying to spend like $50 to the grocery store one week. And what did we do? We used what we have in our pantries and we like, there's ways to make it happen.

Erin: Oh, there totally are. 

Riley: Yeah,

Yeah. But you have to be intentional.

Erin: I think that the, all the supply chain issues and the inflation right now has with everything with the pandemic. I think that's made people maybe think a little bit more about, um, having a good, well stocked pantry. I know that I'm being a little bit more intentional about it.

And you know, and of course, couple of years [00:31:00] ago, back when March, 2020, like I. I remember going out to get, I, I felt the news was starting to look bad, but it hadn't really like, completely blown up, but you could see that it was coming. And I, I feel like I need to go out and do a big run and I, I like blew my grocery budget, like triple what I usually spend.

And I'm standing, I think it was in Walmart, like two carts. It's just me. I've got two carts and there's one part of me saying, Are you crazy right now? Are, should you, is this, are you being overreacting? And then the other part of me was saying, Should you go back and get another 10 pound bag of flour . So, and then of course it all blew up and it, I should have gone back for the flour.

But, so I think that experience that a lot of us have been through, like there's still some things I can't find on a regular basis that I'm still looking for and I, so I, well stocked pantry, but just like you said, like it's exactly what has got me through cuz I am budgeting a little bit uncomfortably low for groceries right now.

Cause I find it makes me pay attention. And when I get to the end of the month, like I am right now, I'm just [00:32:00] eating from what I've got in the pantry. So, you know, but, but I will say though, there's something to be said for, you know, don't, again, I'm gonna go back to don't buy things you don't like or don't buy things without some type of a loose idea in your head of what you would use it for.

Um, I took a cooking class. Um, it was like a cooking group with, um, Jessica Fisher over at Good Cheap Eats. It might have been two or three years ago. She's fabulous. She can cook, you should reach out to her, you can cook anything. And I listed, I said, I don't know what to make. You know, I think that's a lot of pressure.

People feel. And I said, These are all the ingredients I listed, like, you know, a bunch of ingredients. And she was in there and like two minutes and she's like, I see burritos. I see. And she listed all these things and I was like, How did she see all those? Meals when all I'm seeing is ingredients. And I think a lot of people feel like this, but I realized it's because she makes those things. I see English muffin pizzas because that's what I was making and like, so when you learn to build more things into your repertoire, then that that stuff that you're stocking becomes [00:33:00] more valuable because there's more you can do with it. So now I open my cupboards and I can see a lot more, a lot more meals than I did before.


Riley: I love that. I love that. And I think that's something Roni and I try to do on the podcast sometimes is just give people ideas to help them branch out mentally. Um, but having like a meal planning buddy, kind of like how that, that, that, uh, that woman that, I don't remember what you said her name, Jessica, Um.

She just looked at what you had. It's kinda like if I were to go to Roni and be like, I have no idea. Here's a picture of what I've got in 

Erin: Here's what's in my cupboards, right?

Riley: what do I make my could that emotional lever maybe is, uh, too far forward. Um, and 

Erin: feel like there's so much pressure out there from cooking. I feel like it's decision fatigue. I just can't, I can't decide right now, you know? But if, But here's another related point, like where I was on a work trip last week or two weeks ago, and they fed us. And it was buffet style. And my experience with that is usually there's one thing that I will eat on the, and you know, there's usually like the vegetarian choice and, and, but I was [00:34:00] happy with every single, it was a delicious, all of it.

Like granted somebody else was making it for me, but I also didn't have to decide like, So I do think that there's something to that, but if you're meal planning and you're thinking had, you've already decided, you know, it can be as simple as Taco Tuesday, Pizza Friday. You've, you've probably said all this stuff on, on in the past.

But I really think if everybody knows Wednesday night we have spaghetti and garlic bread and a side salad, then no one's gonna argue about it. There's no decisions to make. You've already made the decisions and that's, it's, you know, budgeting is the same way. I'm not gonna worry about my Amazon Prime.

I've already decided, put a little money aside, it's all good. So,

Riley: Do you plan for a week or a month or two? What's your meal planning process look like?

Erin: That's a great question. I mean, I am trying to maintain the well stocked pantry right now, and I am paying attention to, um, and I also have a freezer, so I'm paying attention to, like, I like to have boneless chicken breasts in and the prices on those right now, I've just, it's been awful. . [00:35:00] I'm pretty well stocked right now, so, but I'm paying attention, like if I saw a sale.

On something that I needed in my pantry, I'd be in, like, I, in fact, the grocery store in town has got whole chickens on sale right now, and I need to go down there and grab a couple. So there's that part of it of like, keep a good baseline of stuff in so that you, you know, always have something to go to.

But other than that, then I usually sit down on Sunday and decide, Okay, what do you wanna eat this week? And do you have, what's, what's, what do you have in. that needs to be used up. And is there anything else I might feel like trying something new or add something else? I just wanna add back to the rotation.

I might make a quick run out. So my shopping trips, I'll sometimes put my groceries onto the conveyor belt. And I feel like this is the strangest collection of like items, because I've got three cans of coffee, six cans of pumpkin puree, and a bag of salad. Like, but I'm trying to like feed, feed two beasts, right?

Make sure the pantry's well stocked and think about anything else I want to add. [00:36:00] Um, to the upcoming week. So I baseline is in the pantry and then I supplement fresh. Cause I do think it's, it's important to me to, to eat fresh. And you can't do, you can't, you can't hold food forever, so stuff goes bad. . Yeah.

And if I have, if I make one thing. I'm good with leftovers. I think a lot of things are better leftover, but one thing won't get me through the week. I find I need two things, at least to rotate from as one, as one person feeding myself, you know, I do think it's harder for, for those of us that are cooking for one, you know, I, I've been experimenting with halfing some recipes because I do like to cook and I do wanna try other things and you know, I just feel like a lot of soup recipes, it's like a VA of soup. You know, there's only so much, there's only so much of this I'm gonna eat five days in a row. So that's, I think the challenge for people who are feeding one or two people is how to get not bored with, you know, with the thing that you just made. So,

Roni: Yeah, I don't think we've had very many people on the podcast, um, [00:37:00] who have that experience of cooking as a single person. So I mean, if you have any tips, we would love to hear 'em because I'm sure there are listeners out there who would be interested.

Erin: I mean, I will freeze some things. And I try to freeze things I've been learning to, or I've been working on freezing things in the right portion. So like I make my own pizza dough, but I don't make it fresh every day. I make a bunch and I portion it out and I freeze some. So I just pulled some out today so I can make a pizza tonight.

Um, and the one that I've been working, I like, I prefer to make my own dried beans. I'm trying to get away from the cans, but I portion it if I portion it wrong. Then I can pull too much out. So I've been portioning it in smaller amounts. I do think freezers can be really, really useful. It has not been super effective for me to make something and freeze, you know, a meal size portion and then pull, I don't know why I, I can get it into the freezer. I just can't seem to get it out and, you know, and so that hasn't worked for me. That's why I'm trying a lot of like, I'm gonna. Fortunately, so many recipe sites, including [00:38:00] yours, like makes it so easy to just reduce the amount of servings and that will recalculate all the amounts, and that's been pretty effective for me.

I made. Two weeks ago, I made a creamy chicken and rice soup and I said, I'm gonna, this is too much. I know it's gonna be too much. So I halfed it. And it was perfect and it got me, you know, it was a good solid meal through the week. So I think that, I think real, being realistic about what you're buying, I, people tend to over buy, especially for fresh stuff, so to, to move the needle anytime.

I think you wanna move a needle. If you swing too far the other way, that can help you. So when I like the broccoli example, or I bought too much, right? Okay, I'm just gonna buy way less. Oh, that was not enough. And that can help you. Having both sides of that experience can help you realize how much you really need to buy.

But just the question in the store, Am I really going to eat this?

Roni: Mmm.

Erin: Am I really going to eat this? Sometimes that stopped me dead in my tracks. No, Erin, you're not gonna eat this. You're not gonna cut this pepper because you've already got two other [00:39:00] meals, right? You're not, you're not gonna do it. So, you know,

Riley: It's just that intentionality, I think. Um, When you, when you put on those glasses of intentionality and you go to the store and you, Am I really going to eat this much? Like, I way over bought broccoli recently too, and I, I got to throw it away and I was like, What was I 

thinking? Like 

Erin: bad really fast

Riley: we didn't even eat that much broccoli.

Like, what was I doing? Um, but if I had, Spend a little bit more time being intentional, I would've thought, No, this is way too much. So I really like that. I'm just like sitting there and thinking like, Will I do this? But also under buying sometimes is okay because it teaches you a lesson if you're paying attention,

Erin: Yes. 

Riley: like, I need to buy a little more,

Erin: I should have bought a little bit more. Yeah, I wish I had more of that, so, Yeah. But you know,

Riley: Serving sizes is a great, um, just a great reminder for smaller households or larger households. Because within plan to eat, it scales at the ingredients that you're buying down or up. Um, so then you're buying exactly what you need for certain things.

I find that I can never [00:40:00] make an entire batch of cookies. It, it's just me and my husband and a two year old here, my two year old. Um, but we, but like, we can't, I, I shouldn't. Eat a whole batch of cookies. Um, but also they, we don't usually eat them. And so if I make the whole batch, I'll freeze it, but then that sometimes that's a hard time getting out of the freezer at

Erin: Yeah, I don't know what it is. Someone should do like psychological research on how is it hard to get things out of the freezer. But I, uh, with the cookies, you could freeze the dough too.

Riley: Well, I do that. I

Erin: Yeah. Okay.

Riley: But I've just started halfing recipes. But it really actually is saving my budget too, because in the long run I'm using less sugar, I'm using less eggs. I'm using whatever the ingredients are. Um, so then if I use one egg instead of three or two or whatever, I have one egg for breakfast the next morning, which pushes me out another day.

Um, which is silly, but it's, if you're really being intentional about your grocery budget, these are the things that you're looking at. Yeah.

Erin: I've seen some people do like those challenges too, where it's like, I'm gonna try to feed six people on $40 and [00:41:00] see how far I can go. And I think those can be an interesting experiment. And again, testing limits. And I, I think, I think they're fascinating to watch. I like, I prefer as someone who does a healthy approach, and it's amazing what you can do, but, um, I sometimes I feel like it's, it is a little bit of the sad side of it is like if I had $25 each week, that's not as good as having $50 every two weeks.

Because if I have more, I can spend it. Once I can get a little bit ahead of it, I can get the bigger bag of rice that will last at a lower price that will last, you know. A little bit of a tangent there, but you know.

Roni: No, but that's, It's applicable still though, because there is that, there is that idea of like, I mean, you come across sales all the time that are like three for $4. You know, when usually. You know, one can is three 50 or something, you know, So it's like if you, if you do start out with a little bit more, oftentimes you can, you can maximize your money in, you know, particular ways [00:42:00] like that.

And you, Riley and I talked about this before on the podcast, is that like, I don't have very much space in my home. And so like, I don't have like a pantry, uh, to be able to like, fill up with food. And so I have to be intent. About not buying things like that. Like not buying the three for $4 because I don't have a place to put the three things.

I only have room for the one

Erin: for sure. Yeah, I mean, I've, I've done that same kind of thing where it's like, okay, this is, the bigger one is gonna be cheaper. I'm just, I don't 

wanna have to deal with, I don't wanna deal with that size, but also I'll get the, get the smaller one. There's a reason, I mean, there are convenient sizes for a reason, you know, so.

It's just, it's a fascinating to me how much there is to talk about on the topic of just grocery cost and meal planning, cuz it's, and it's something that affects every single person's day to day 

life, you know? 

Riley: Oh, I said a couple of weeks ago that, most not everyone has to care about their grocery budget. But most people aren't trying to spend more money

Erin: right.

Riley: even if like, budgeting is, like budgeting your groceries is like, not like [00:43:00] your ultimate goal. Like these tips are applicable to everyone.

Erin: Yeah.

Riley: if you're really trying to hone it in, they're really helpful. But if you're just like, Oh yeah, but I don't wanna spend extra, I guess I could buy the store brand. So then you're saving 25 cents and 25 cents adds up real fast. So,

Erin: That's the thing about it is, if you think about it, how many ways are there in your life to save $10,000 with one purchas? Like people are always looking for those big wins, right? It's really, what are they? House down payment car. But there's a ton of ways to save a dollar on, on this item or 50 cents here, and that stuff you're doing repetitively.

It just, it really does accumulate. So

Roni: Riley just sent me, um, an Instagram reel the other day from a woman who is like very focused on grocery budgeting, lowering costs and stuff, and I found that to be the most interesting thing, is that she's not saving $10 here, $20 here. She's saving 40 cents here, 70 cents here, but over the course of your entire grocery budget, that probably adds up to the $20 saving.

Erin: Yeah. And it depends on whether, like, to me it's a little bit of a [00:44:00] sport, but also if I've, if I'm in the store, in store a and I've got everything I need and the only thing left is some, a can of something, right? And I'm not gonna drive across town to save 20 cents. I'm just gonna grab the can while, you know, so there, that's, again, that's that time money lever, you know what I mean?

But, um, I feel like most of the time I'm doing fine. And I'm getting, you know, I'm getting a pretty good, good cost as I compare prices. But you know, I've worked really hard to keep my grocery budget the same despite the rising prices. And I almost saw it as like a personal challenge to do it. And I feel like I'm doing fine, but I'm also realizing maybe I'm gonna give myself a little raise in my grocery budget soon.

Like maybe I'm feeling like just a little bit more breathing room. Sometimes I think people fight their number. Wow. We should be doing, like we've said, you could be doing better. You doing, maybe just acknowledge your number and just allow, This is important to you. If you're constantly overspending and using air quotes here, like in your mind, like maybe you're just not thinking about it [00:45:00] realistically, maybe the number's actually higher and you just need to honor that and say, You know what, It's this, it's 800 for the, for the family and I'm just gonna, we're just gonna roll with that.

And that's, you know, maybe cause there's, I think there's a point where you can. You can only do so much more, you

know, Without making big changes. Anyway,

Roni: Right.

Erin: um, yeah.

Roni: Well, so you told us in our discovery call with you that you volunteer at your food pantry, your local food pantry, right? So tell us how you got started with that.

Erin: Um, I got started, like the food pantry is located, um, near where I used to walk on a regular basis down near the Waterfront Park. And when the pandemic started, I just saw cars lining up down there, and I just thought, Wow, I'm just so lucky that I didn't. Have any impact on my income during this.

And it really bothered me to see that people in my neighborhood were struggling, you know, And so I, I volunteer, they have a lot of volunteers over there, so sometimes you, they send out the sign up for 'em and I'm like, Oh, they took all the slots this week, . So it's great that the community's so invested.

But, um, I don't know how all food pantries are, but the one that I [00:46:00] volunteered at is, They have, it's almost like you go in and you can shop. So I know that there are some where they hand you a box and you get, you get whatever's in the box, but this one you can go in and pick and choose and they don't put any limits on it and people don't seem to abuse it at all.

And I love that cuz um, you know, it's just, there shouldn't be. Any stigma about it. Like the woman who runs it says there's dignity in choice and letting people have choice, You know? And so if people are, I, I hope people will avail themselves. You can call like your local police department or school or church and somebody will know where the closest resource is.

And sometimes people can get some baseline items there. They can get, almost like get a jumpstart on their budget so that the money that they do have to spend to supplement, you know, is, is being used effectively. You know, no one should be hungry. I. There's tons of resources, and we're happy when someone comes in and takes the food.

I'm not judging anybody. I'm just so happy to know that people are being fed, you know? So I just think it's, it's just a good thing. And these are, these are weird times still, and it's [00:47:00] affecting different people in different ways, and it's not a bad thing to reach out when you need it, so,

Riley: Yeah. Well thanks for doing that and thanks for talking about it because uh, I think that if somebody who needs that hears that and like the encouragement of like, we want you to come get it. We really don't want, It's there. We just are here for you. It's not like to hear to judge you or anything like that.

We're here for you. And, um, I think that's really beautiful thing. So

Erin: Yeah, it is. And I think, you know, it's, if we can get rid of the stigma, then hopefully people would feel better about it. Cause if we don't give away the food, it's gonna go bad. Just like the food in your, Do you, are you willing to be hungry to let food go bad? Like we want, you know, come in and take, take it, you know,

Roni: Mm-hmm. , That's a great point.

Erin: yeah.

Roni: Okay, well I feel like we could talk all day because you're so interesting. Um, but we don't wanna take up your whole day. So, uh, why don't you just give a little plug for where people can find YNAB and all that kind of stuff.

Erin: You can go to and uh, we do run an occasional grocery workshop where we just brainstorm [00:48:00] with folks if they wanna help get their costs down. Um, but if anyone's feeling, uh, You know, like they're not in control of things. I do think it's a great tool for getting in control of your money and it's really the method under the rules underneath the app.

That's really where the power is. And you can go to our site and just read about the method and people could implement it on paper and pen if they wanted to, but that's, that's the game changing piece of it, you know? So yeah,

Roni: That's, 

great. Well then we also like to end our podcast asking what's a delicious recipe you eaten recently that you'd like to share with us?

Erin: Well, it would be the, the soup that I made last week, it, it beat the soup that I made this week, which I'm like, this is okay. But that one, it was a creamy chicken and rice and it was from, um, well you must Beth months all over at budget bites.

Roni: Oh yeah.

Riley: yeah. Yeah. Mm-hmm. 

Erin: her stuff is just, I mean, that woman taught me to cook and she's one of the people, so it's a good one.

I will say she did not call for, um, any bullion or stock, and I threw in some homemade chicken stock [00:49:00] and I thought it was just flavor bomb. So don't underestimate soup. Soup is good

Riley: Now we're a big, I'm a big fan. Roni's a


fan, you know, having to convince us. 

Erin: it's finally soup season. You know, I couldn't make soup in August, but now every 

week a little.

Roni: We're. We're here for the soup. We are here for it.

Erin: Well, thanks for having me on. It's

Roni: Well, thanks for coming on. It's been great.

Riley: Yeah, this was fantastic. Thank you so much.

Erin: Awesome.

Roni: Thanks for listening to this episode of the Plan to Eat podcast. We love hearing different approaches to food, and we hope that you enjoy hearing it too.

Riley: We would love to invite you to find all the recipes mentioned on the Plan to Eat podcast, um, in our podcast account on Plan to Eat you can go to, E pod that's PT, E P O D and the variety of recipes that you've heard about and the variety of eating types that we talk about, those can all be found in that account.

Roni: Thanks again for listening.