Feathers for the Empty Nest

by Linda Henson


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"What's for dinner?" he asked. Haven't gotten that far," I answered as we drove home from work. I was beat. "Let's just stop and pick up something," I sighed. It was just the two of us. Both girls had married and were living out of state. My husband and I were still working; we had the same or better salaries as when we had two kids at home, but now our expenses were a lot less. Money wasn't as tight as it used to be. It just seemed easier to buy prepared meals than to cook at home.

The above scenario is extremely common among couples who no longer have children at home. It seems that frugality is a necessity early in a family's life, but is tossed by the wayside as soon as the financial picture seems a little brighter. In reality, by careless living, an empty nest couple can manage to spend the same budget as a family with children, with no more to show for it.

It came as a shock when we began to look at our budget trying to determine where our funds were going. We found that frivolous expenses had eaten up much of the money we had expected due to the absence of two daughters. We looked at our attitudes. We had taken up the mindset that is very common: we paid our dues raising the kids, now we've earned the right to relax financially.

It's a choice with a consequence. Yes, we can pick up meals instead of preparing them, but the consequence is not having that income to invest in real estate or other markets, to give to the needy, to give gifts to our children, or to save for a fabulous trip. In other words, it's gone with nothing to show for it except possibly a mid-body hang-over.

We had to readjust our thinking and come up with a plan. We began preparing meals that were the same size as for a family of four. We made casseroles and other dishes that freeze easily. As we prepared one, we would eat approximately half of it on the day we made it, then put the other half in the freezer. We continued making the homemade dishes for about two weeks. By the end of those two weeks, we had saved money by not purchasing prepared food, and we had our freezer stocked with delightful meals for those evenings after work when we were tempted to just pick up something out of convenience.

Now, we didn't quit going out to eat altogether, but we made special choices rather than allowing circumstances to dictate.

It has been a long time since we first began our money-saving plan. Now, it is just a lifestyle. Several days a week, we prepare our full meals and freeze half. We continually have many dishes to choose from when we come in from a long day and don't feel like cooking. It has been amazing to see the difference in our budget. We've just returned from a trip to Puerto Rico and we're trying to decide where we'll go next!

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