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The Envelope Budgeting Method... For Calories

Monday, January 13, 2020

I've recently been smacked in the face with the news that "Hey, Matt! You are spending too much!", so I've been looking to tame the spending beast. I recognize that I'm spending too much. The first step I took was to simply... well, try not to spend so much. Once I accomplished that (and saw awesome results), I started looking at how to control my spending further. In doing so, I found out about YNAB and, more importantly, the envelope method.
In a monetary budget, the envelope method is really simple. You label envelopes with categories of spending, like: "Rent" (or mortgage), "Groceries", "Entertainment", "Charity/Donations", "Savings", etc. In each envelope, you place a certain amount of money. For example, my car insurance is $133.23 a month, so I'd put that into the envelope. That money is specifically set aside for that task. I do that with ALL the money I have on hand. Each time money comes in, I immediately have to decide where the money goes. YNAB takes that further and allows digital envelopes and can take in account months and years in advance along with scheduled payments. The major thing though is, as YNAB puts it, "each dollar has a job" and you can't overspend in one area without pulling it from another.
In calories, I wonder if the same can be done. Let's say I allocate a total of 1800 calories a day and 12,600 calories a week. I see two scenarios: meal-based categories (which I think many folks do) or content-based categories (carb, protein, veggies, etc.).
Let's go with the meal based idea. You might allocate 350 calories (350) for breakfast, 500 calories (850) for lunch, 650 calories (1500) for dinner, and 300 calories (1800) towards snacks. But, let's say you did well all day, but got invited out for barbecue (my weakness), pigged out at dinner, and ate 1300 calories (1800+650=2450), and you've already eaten the snacks and everything. So, now you're 650 calories over budget for the day. But, the next day, you eat 200 calories (200) for breakfast (you were still full from pigging out), 500 calories (700) for lunch (we meal prepped, so it's already boxed up), and dinner was 500 calories (1300). We were busy and just didn't get to the snack(s). This leaves us with a deficit of the day of 500 calories. Over a period of two days, we are still overbudget by 150 calories. So, we simply cut back 1 oz of flank steak (43 calories) for dinner on the 4 days (-172 calories) and stayed on track otherwise. This evens us out to our original budget (well, actually 22 calories under budget). (We could have also simply cut out the snack one day, but I like my snacks)
We could also plan ahead using this method. If we were heading to a party on Thursday, and we knew we were going to eat pizza. We have 650 calories for dinner, so you know you can only afford two pieces of a large pepperoni pizza (606 calories).
There are rules to follow. The biggest one is to be entirely honest. If you were way overboard one day, you need to be honest and plan on balancing it out. For anything more than 150 calories, I would suggest balancing it out over several days. It could be swapping in chicken, where you would have had steak, or it could be omitting bread / tortilla from your sandwich or wrap. I HIGHLY encourage you, though, to take it from an area that you don't get nutrition from. Don't omit a salad, when you can get rid of bread instead, for example (unless the bread is a special treat that helps keep you on track) (not to mention a single slice of white bread has 66 calories whereas you can eat 8.5 cups of romaine lettuce for the same calories).
All that said, make sure you create a "fun" envelope. Save an extra 50 calories each day, and save it for when your friend brings over a bottle of wine, or when your coworker brings in her special coconut cake. Over a month, you can save 1500 calories for "fun" through just 50 calories a day.
So, having an envelope for each meal on each day of the week can help you budget your calories over the long term. I'm going to try to try this out. We'll see how it works.

EDIT: Budget in progress. I had made spaghetti, meatballs, garlic bread, and salad for lunch. I tracked it before eating and found I had 1000+ calories in food just for lunch. So, I decided to not eat my garlic bread and only half my spaghetti. This reduced my intake by 300 calories!
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  • no profile photo SILVERNANCY
    emoticon emoticon
    41 days ago
  • 240POINT6
    This is a brilliant way of thinking about it. I am trying to be much more analytical about the process this time...very honest, less emotional.
    41 days ago
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