Over the weekend, I received a great question about how to budget for the expense of hosting Shabbat meals.
I recently started reviewing your blog and I’m totally inspired. My husband and I are hitting rough times at the moment and when we sat down to figure out our spending we discovered that the majority of our spending has been towards food. It’s been practically a second rent for us. The question I have is how much do you calculate Shabbat into your budget? Do you have a separate weekday budget vs. Shabbat budget? Or is it each week you plan to spend a set amount on food and that also includes Shabbat? How does this work?
Thanks for your email! I’m reading between the lines here, but it sounds like you really have two questions:
1. How does one account for Shabbat within their budgeting? (Which is more of an accounting question.)
2. How does one afford the expense of entertaining on Shabbat? (Which is more of a personal finance question.)
So, I’ll give you my thoughts on both questions.
How Do We Budget for Shabbat? (The Accounting Question)
As far as what we do with regard to our budgeting, we have one budget for all of our groceries, including Shabbat and the rest of the week. In fact, this budget also includes non-food items, such as household cleaning supplies and personal care items.
Basically, anything that I’d buy at the grocery store, drug store, Costco or Target (with the exception of clothing and prescription medication) gets included in this number.
The reason we do it this way is to keep our accounting lives a little bit simpler. I used to have multiple categories for these types of items within my budget, but that made it a real pain to figure out which part of our receipt was food, which was household items, which was personal care, etc.
The same idea would apply to your Shabbat food expenses. If you divided it out, how do you handle left-overs? I mean, technically, that part of your budget would need to be re-allocated to weekday spending. See what I mean? Too complicated. Keep it simple!
How Do We Make Hosting Shabbat Meals More Affordable? (The Personal Finance Question)
#1. Be realistic
If money is tight right now, then huge meals with expensive cuts of meats and a dozen different side dishes is just not realistic. That doesn’t mean you’re a bad hostess. It just means that right now you can’t afford to entertain in a particular style. And you know what? That’s just fine. You can still perform the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim beautifully without running up credit card debt. (In fact, you just might find that when your finances turn around, you still don’t want to spend $100+ on a single meal!)
#2. Set a budget and stick to it
Once you and your husband have realistically evaluated where you’re at, pick an appropriate amount of money to spend on food, write that number down, and promise to each other that you will not spend more. Nomatterwhat. If you find yourself going over budget week in and week out, try cash budgeting. Take out your allocated amount, put it into an envelope and carry it with you to the grocery store. When that envelope is depleted, stop shopping for the week.
#3. Use savvy shopping strategies
Keep a price book. Menu plan. Consider couponing and/or bulk shopping thru a coop to reduce your grocery bill. Take advantage of Subscribe & Save deals thru Amazon to create margin in your budget. When you get a screaming good deal on toilet paper, you gain a bit of wiggle room in your budget. Apply those savings to the more costly items on your grocery list, which don’t often go on sale (for example, kosher chicken and beef).
#4. Make simpler meals
One is not obligated to serve brisket and cholent and chicken breasts at every meal. Choice is wonderful. Except for when it become gluttonous. I know I might be ruffling feathers here, but the hosting bar that has been set in some communities is just not healthy, financially nor dietarily. There’s nothing wrong with moderation — even on Shabbat.
#5. Invite fewer guests
As someone who is a bit of an introvert, I actually prefer “smaller” meals (i.e. one other family at a time) since that way I can really talk to our guests, rather than playing cruise ship director for the whole meal. But even if you’re more of an extroverted hostess, I certainly think it’s okay to say to yourself, “This is the time in our lives for more intimate – and budget-friendly — meals. In a while, when our finances turn around, we can go back to having huge meals.”
The most important thing about sharing Shabbat meals with friends and family is just that — “sharing”. Splitting a meal with another family or two is a great way to keep the costs down for everyone. And incidentally, it’s a lot less stressful and time-consuming. I love potlucked meals!
If you’re looking for more information on this subject, here are few others posts that I’ve written over the years about Shabbat and frugality:
- Shabbat on a Budget: Struggling Toward Frugality
- How Keeping Shabbat Actually Helps to Keep Me Frugal
- Frugal Shabbat Dises That Stretch
- 10 Creative Ways to Use Up Shabbat Leftover
Be sure to read the comments on all four of these – they are excellent!
I’d love to hear from all you. How do you make hosting Shabbat meals more affordable? Do you have any budgeting techniques that you use to keep your accounting in check?