Why I reduced my food and drink budget
In December I sat down and said, “enough.” I needed to cut back on my food expenses. Seriously, it was embarrassing and hurting savings. Every month involved hundreds of dollars in restaurants, fast food, and snacks on the go. When I finally shared it with you all — the readers of Frugaling — I felt nervous. How would people react? It was one thing to spend the money privately, but to openly disclose it made me anxious.
As the year turned from December to January, I knew that I needed to change spending habits. It was time to start saving, cutting, avoiding, and scrimping here and there. Likewise, I wanted to avoid debt at all costs, and recognized that in the next couple years I’ll need to spend thousands in job interviews, moving expenses, and rent. I couldn’t continue spending like mad, and actually afford these future hurdles. To be clear, “affording” means spending money on something without debt.
There was little room to save on rent or educational expenses. Additionally, I had sold my car, gotten rid of insurance payments, and moved on from any semi-optional expenses. The only piece left was the food budget. Darn it, though! I didn’t want to cut back for years.
When I first started the journey, I picked a number. It was somewhat random, but I wanted something exceptionally challenging and possible. I needed to eat healthily, too. So, I chose $200. That would be more than a 50% decrease in my budget for food and drinks.
Here’s a review of previous months
When January started, I holed up and tried to by some basics. But as the month continued, I realized I was severely underprepared and over budget. I wasn’t eating out frequently, nor was I buying lavish foods. Still, I didn’t know how to budget for this new level and ended up well over the line. Even though I had saved about $100 in one month, I knew I had more work to do.
Over the following months, I tried harder and even came pretty darn close to the tough goal. In February I was able to get within $12 of the budget through some serious cost-cutting and sacrificing. Frankly, I felt an internal pressure towards the end of the month. I knew I’d be close, and wanted the chance. My food stocks grew dangerously low and the repetition of the same foods night after night wore me down.
From then, my spending grew and it’s stayed above my $200 budget goal. It’s been one of the most frustrating parts of my budget and frugal goals. I know, understand, and see countless examples of individuals and families doing better. And there’s this guilt, as I’d like to live modestly. An expensive food and drink budget smacks in the face of that value. Plenty live on less. Plenty of live on less than they need. And I don’t want to live some lavish alternative life — above it all. I want to be in it. I want to feel the cuts.
The May food budget… Failure?
Now, I turn to May. Oh, May, you pesky month! This fifth month of my food and drink budget tired me. The middle of the month represented the end of my third year of graduate school. For us students, it was cause for celebration. And celebrate, we did.
Here’s a review of this month’s spending:
Part of the graduate school tradition at the end of the year is to go out, eat, and drink. Soak up the momentary freedom. This can be a challenging environment to save in, but it’s challenging not to seek out these moments and live them up when you can. Busyness prevents many of us from congregating as large groups. These moments are unique and special. When possible, I tried to go without or only one drink, meal, etc.
Nonetheless, as the table shows, the final total was $247.37. While an incredible $200+ decline from when I started this journey, I still couldn’t meet the goal.
Looking forward and long-term tracking
Because I’ve shared my budget a few times before, it’s not quite as embarrassing anymore, as it is personally frustrating. I’ve seen great benefits from trying to save. Hundreds of dollars have been invested, which were previously squandered. I feel healthier and eat foods that suit my own body’s needs. I do feel like a more modest person, and constantly try to recognize that I’m still privileged to have a full meal. Many do not share that luxury.
Another piece that I’m appreciative of is the tracking. Now, I can look back on my spending and clearly see where it’s spent. There are clear totals. Month after month, I can create a better average of spending versus one month’s test. In fact, my average spending for these five months was $264.78. That’s amazing to me, as I’ve never spent this little since high school. More importantly, the average is what I want to continue to reduce.
My friends and family continue to ask about this food budget. “Will you continue?” they ask. “Are you still doing that food budget thingy?” Why yes, I will continue. And yes, I’m still doing that food budget thingy. Maybe for the rest of my life, too.
June will be a tough month, as I’m traveling much of it. I’ll track and share, but I might need to pass for some increased spending. Sorry Frugaling fans! I hope you’ll forgive me. In July I’ll hunker down even further and do everything in my power to save.
How have you been doing on your food budget? What snags and troubles have you experienced? What are your recommendations for saving more? How do you rope people into joining you for your food budget? What motivates you?