How Looking at My Food Budget Helped Me Raise My Credit Score

published Sep 5, 2019
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I fall into the category of millennial that really didn’t understand money. Call me privileged, you’re not wrong — but in 2018, I took a look at my “fair” credit score and decided some things desperately needed to change. So I downloaded all of my bank statements and alphabetized them (the horror of how many Amazon rows there were was not lost on me) to really understand where I was making my mistakes. Then, I turned to an expert. Helen Ngo, CFP & CEO of Capital Benchmark Partners, has helped me get my credit score up from “fair” to “good,” and I’m still striving for “excellent.”

One of the areas that needed a lot of improvement (besides Amazon), was in the food category. “I would say younger millennials and most people spend a lot of money on food just out of convenience,” Helen says. “When people see an abundance of delivery transactions, they can find it hard to track and calculate.” 

She also says that most people underestimate how much they spend on groceries. I was definitely one of those people. I was definitely spending too much on delivery and groceries — and I was charging it all. But I turned things around and you probably can, too. Now, I’m putting less on my cards (which doesn’t lower your credit score), so I’m more likely to pay off the balance (which does!). Here’s how I did it. 

1. I started paying more attention.

One of the first things Helen and I did together was break down all of my money (that was going out and coming in) into percentages. I was spending a whopping 11% on food. Once I could see that clearly, I paid more attention to what mattered to me and where my money was going. I realized I didn’t actually want to be prioritizing the spicy tuna roll deliveries or the coffee orders. One huge step I took (which admittedly might have been drastic) was to cut out coffee. I’d read about the health benefits of doing so and had even been urged by doctors to quit drinking so much coffee for stress and anxiety reasons, so I switched to tea — a much cheaper and easily satisfying alternative, that was easy to make at home, at work, or on the go. 

Credit: gvictoria

2. I cut way back on takeout and delivery.

Deleting my Caviar and Seamless apps helped me cut back on delivery. That was pretty extreme, though, and I eventually re-downloaded Seamless again. But getting out of the habit of consistently going for it at 7 every night helped me reset my thinking. I now only order delivery when I’m in a pinch (or if I’m really, really hungover) and I look for coupons and deals when I do use them. Seamless, for example, provides local deals on its app, and Yelp is almost always offering something. It might take a little extra work on my part, but even then, I find I make more mindful decisions both about what I’m spending and what I’m eating. 

3. I signed up for a meal kit.

Surprisingly, Helen recommended that I look into a meal delivery kit. At first, I found myself dissatisfied with the sustainability options out there (so much plastic!) and the meal choices. Then I stumbled upon Sun Basket and fell very deeply in love. The meal options are aplenty and the food comes delivered in materials that can be recycled. Plus, the service recently started offering a pantry delivery, too, with fresh pastas, raviolis, sauces, proteins, healthy snacks, and more. It’s not only delicious, but it also saves me so much money. “Cooking with Sun Basket is a great way to both save money and avoid food waste. You receive and order only what you need, and since all ingredients in the meals you are making are used, nothing gets thrown away,” says Sun Basket’s Executive Chef Justine Kelly. “Plus, you skip the grocery store altogether, so you’re not adding in superfluous costly items to your cart.”

Credit: Christine Han/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

4. I got better at bringing my lunch. 

Have you ever felt that, if you liked your workout clothes more, you’ll workout more often? Well, I tried to apply that same theory to bringing my lunch to work. I bought a lunch bag from Anthropologie that I love (and was easy to clean) and made it a goal to bring my lunch to work at least three times a week. CNBC reports that buying lunch out can cost up to $2,500 a year, and half that if you bring it from home. Now, I either bring something leftover from Sun Basket or make my go-to salad: shredded rotisserie chicken with Bibb lettuce, roasted tomatoes, radishes, cucumbers, half an avocado, and half a lemon for dressing. I love this salad, though, which is key: If I ever bring something I really don’t want to eat, I almost always scrap it and go out anyway. 

5. I cook with what I have (and what’s affordable). 

Making recipes that require inexpensive ingredients has been clutch for me. I have leaned on this Alison Roman recipe for skillet chicken with caramelized lemon and white beans so many times. It is delicious and so cheap when I price it out per serving because the ingredients (chicken thighs, lemon, beans, kale) come out to maybe $2.50 a person, give or take. I’ve found that chicken thighs in general are much cheaper than chicken breasts, and finding little ways to save money like that can really cut costs — especially when you find a recipe you like making over and over or putting your own spin on. For example, this skillet chicken is excellent when shredded the next day (or even used in a salad for lunch). 

Have you ever looked at your food budget to try to raise your credit score? What changes did you make?