I’ve got another guest post from Rob on supermarket secrets coming up, and thought I would segue into that topic with some thoughts on food budgeting.
First, a poem I just thought up about food and budgeting:
“A moment on lips but a lifetime on the hips;”
But the moment out your wallet: that dough you can’t recall it.
Now onto the topic.
1. I have no idea how to budget for food shopping.
I just got to the part of “The Millionaire Next Door” about how most self-made millionaires manage household spending on an annual budget.
Even if you start with a ceiling-making goal like “I will pay 50% of my monthly take-home pay to my student loans,” how do you decide what to do with the other 50%? I tend to just spend as little as possible, which usually supports my loan paydown goals. But what if you want to find ways to spend less on different areas to further improve your saving goals?
Per the mint.com pie charts, food is my largest non-fixed monthly cost after my accelerated loan payments. And despite some of my fancy-pants grocery picks like stinky cheeses and silly crackers, my monthly grocery bills ring up on average at about 7% of my monthly take-home pay. This level of spending is also within reasonable range ($50) of the monthly bill for my groceries back when I was a poor just-out-of-college kid. I am not sure how much more I could streamline, but is there a way to decide? These numbers seem pretty low – I don’t think this is a problem cost.
2. Sneaky coffee shop costs.
Now I am a total anti-latte person. I get all of that. I even buy tea and instant coffee to drink at work. But I have noticed in the past few months an insidious trend: the workplace cafeteria effect. My workplace is like a college campus: it has both a dining hall and a coffee shop, among other amenities. That is a big “safety net” for bag lunch forgetfulness; better than going to a real restaurant and buying even more expensive food. But once I got my mint transactions rules (new feature?) set up properly, I noticed that I spent $86 on workplace food in March, and $59 in April, in addition to grocery shopping.
I go to a lot of trouble to buy cheap work lunches and snacks through my grocery shopping. I realize the bag lunch is a golden frugality opportunity. But sometimes I slip with lunch or want an afternoon seltzer, and I recall in March having that feeling of getting a little sloppy. And then I recall in April trying to clean up my act a little. Certainly $59 is better than $86 as a result of vaguely wanting to get back on the program. But I definitely see this as a place to set a budget. The only reason I pay the marked up prices in the shop is because I got sloppy with more cost-efficient grocery shopping.
So I have upped my grocery spending a little to ensure that I have plenty of cost-efficient seltzer, snacks, and lunch options, leaving me no excuse to wander to the coffee shop at work. In exchange, I aim to reduce the most recent $59 to $20/month, which represents 1 cafeteria lunch per week at $5 per lunch. So far in May I have spent nothing at work… guess it is working!
Do you budget for food costs? If so, how?