My food and drink budget was broken
A couple months ago I would’ve been ashamed to show you my food and drink expenses. They were atmospheric. I’d regularly spend over $400, with the occasional $500 or $600 month here and there. It was my one budgetary weakness, but something moveable and malleable. I decided to aim right at it.
In January, both to celebrate the New Year and form a resolution, I decided to set my first hardcore food and drink budget. I wanted to reduce everything: eating out, eating in, drinking out, and drinking in. I wanted to get down to $200 for anything food or drink related. I wanted to prove it to myself, and feel the budgetary benefit; frankly, I needed this change.
As the month came to a close, I reflected on what had worked, what I bought, and how much I spent. I was over budget — big time. My expense tracker showed a glaring total: $362.69.
What I learned from last month
While I had significantly reduced my food and drink budget compared to prior months, I was bummed. Here I was, trying to shape up and save. Heck, I’m the guy who runs a site about frugality and simple living, and even I couldn’t reduce these expenses enough.
Despite overshooting my budget by about $160, January provided some important lessons.
First, go to the store and buy strategically.
If you constantly go to the store and are exposed to new stimuli and purchase options, you’ll spend more. Go when you need to and bring a solid list of must-haves — not wants. This lesson is harder for me to implement, and you’ll notice how many trips are made because of it. I tend to go whenever I can, as I carpool with friends to the store.
Second, reduce date expenditures and eating/drinking out.
I’m a single guy, and in January I went on a few too many dates. Both of these killed my budget, but when decreased, they’d be an opportunity to save in February.
Third, with dietary restrictions, look for common products before speciality options.
I don’t eat entirely gluten-free, but I’m low-FODMAP, which often means less gluten-laden products. In January, I bought gluten-free pretzels and other assorted products that were made to taste and feel like normal foods. Buying naturally gluten-free items would save me a lot.
February’s results are in — drumroll please!
February is the shortest month of the year. I only needed to stay at or below $200 this month for 28 days. As the days rolled on by, I could feel it, I was going to be close.
Day 1: $54.81 (Groceries for self and hosted a party)
Day 2: $0
Day 3: $0
Day 4: $37.53 (Groceries)
Day 5: $0
Day 6: $0
Day 7: $24.52 (Groceries)
Day 8: $0
Day 9: $5.57 (Groceries)
Day 10: $0
Day 11: $0
Day 12: $1.77 (ARGHH, SO HUNGRY! Clif Bar)
Day 13: $28.50 (Groceries)
Day 14: $33.79 (Groceries)
Day 15: $0
Day 16: $3.66 (Coffee drink)
Day 17: $10.47 (Groceries)
Day 18: $0
Day 19: $0
Day 20: $4.32 (Groceries)
Day 21: $0
Day 22: $0
Day 23: $0
Day 24: $0
Day 25: $0
Day 26: $7 (Groceries)
Day 27: $0
Day 28: $0
Today, I’m happy to report I spent only $211.94! While that’s about $12 over the intended budget, I could not be more content. Woo!
Over the last couple years, I’ve cheated and procrastinated away thousands of dollars in food and drink expenses. I’ve rationalized the spending every time (“Oh, my week is difficult, I’m tired, and need some food.”).
Looking at the past, with $400-600 months of spending, I feel guilty and saddened. I was trying to save and build a better future, but one of the weakest parts of my budget stayed untrained. I was spending too much, and needed to do more than admit it — I needed to share it with you all.
Important strategies going forward
1. Get creative with social opportunities
Don’t be afraid to host and create social gatherings! Bring on the friendships — these are too important to miss out. Instead of going out on the town, stay in-house and when possible, make them potlucks. Likewise, game nights and good ol’ conversation doesn’t cost a thing.
2. Bring protein-heavy snacks to reduce cravings in a pinch
This particular strategy was vital to my success this month. If you don’t like protein powder, then I’m sorry, this tip doesn’t apply. For me, it’s a terrific mood and nutrient source. Protein makes you feel fuller, longer. By having dry powder on hand — ready to mix — I was able to stave off cravings, which could’ve led to outsized spending. Nowadays, I carry it nearly everywhere I go.
3. Intentionally cook and plan for leftovers
In past months, I’ve opted to cook for a single sitting. I totally exploded this mindset, and made more than enough every time. The extras went into tupperware to go. Lunches were constantly pre-planned and packed the night before. It made procrastination a difficult excuse, as it was too easy to cook more than enough.
4. Living simply means cooking simply
These days I’m living simply. I don’t have a car, rarely travel, and run to and from work. I’m trying to live within my means. But even greater, I’m trying to embrace these moments. This simple living includes basic meals. I’m not cooking anything fancy or with exotic ingredients — just wholesome, healthy foods. My tummy and budget love it!
5. Wealth can actually help decrease food budgets
Buying in bulk, storing foods, and planning for the store are all privileges. As a commenter noted in January, those in poverty and/or forced to stick strictly to $200 for one month would have it more difficult. I was able to buy more than enough every time, and the average month-to-month allows me to save more money. This is yet another example of how wealth and space can provide unique advantages.
This March I’ll be continuing the $200 food budget, and I’d love for you to join me again! The adventure begins today. Who’s with me?