The great internal debate (on food spending)

May 11, 2012 at 7:43 am (food) (, )

My food spending is out of control. I don’t know quite why. It could be that now I drive by my favorite, yet the most expensive/upscale market just before I get home, so I tend to stop there more frequently. It could be that I’m single and responsible for all of my food purchases and solely responsible for any food that is uneaten and wasted. Could be I have expensive tastes! I thought that buying more often and in smaller quantities would prevent food waste and help me stay within budget (see my recent post on food frugality). Well, I’m happy to report that there’s much less food wasted, but my budget is even more out of control now than usual. I think I’m going to blame the high-end prices and my impulses of being hungry and wanting a certain food item right as I’m nearing home and driving by.

I spent over $550 on groceries in April, and I’m a single person, no family, no kids, no partner. And about $150 in eating out (lunches, things grabbed on the go, etc). Egads, over $700/month for food! I’m still trying to figure this out. When I was with mr. maven I was able to keep my spending to $300-$400/month. I have to get back on track. I refuse to let food defeat me and my budget.

Ok, enough with the recriminations. What am I going to do about it? I’m trying to keep a really clear understanding of my spending on a daily basis. I’ve raised my budget to be $400/month for food spending (not including restaurant spending). Good quality produce and meats cost a lot. I don’t do packaged foods and coupons are useless – they don’t apply to uncooked raw materials. Safeway is one of the lower budget supermarkets I can also shop at, but I find their quality horrid and refuse to shop there. Anyway, back to it. If I break out that $40 into a daily limit, it comes out to about $13/day.

I do my budget in an Excel spreadsheet. I love it – it lets me have a bit of flexibility to add features and change things easily. I have found the online budgets really constricting and without the control I crave. A perfect example – I’ve added a little extra part to my monthly budget this past week. When I go in and enter my spending every few days, I update my little food spending chart. I look at the total I’ve spent on groceries, and I enter how many days are into the month so far. I then can easily figure out that so far this month, I’ve spent $91 in the past 7 days. That comes out to be $13/day – I’m exactly on target to maintain my budget. I also have an extrapolation portion – it takes that daily amount (to date) and figures out how much I’m going to be over (or under) budget if I continue to spend that way for the rest of the month. It’s a little exercise in keeping tabs on how I’m doing, rather than freaking out over how many times I’ve spent money on groceries (as I said, I’m going almost every day). It can be hard to see a gazillion entries in the food category and not be able to easily see if I’m on track or over budget.

This system is already helping. I had a taste for a steak salad last night (my latest favorite is grapefruit/goat cheese/steak slices on salad with freshly roasted beets). Steak and grapefruit is an amazing combination, and the juice leftover from cutting up the grapefruit is great in vinaigrette! It was a monumental mental struggle on my way home yesterday. Do I stop and get a steak? It would be a better deal and more options if I stop at Costco and get a 3-pack for $24 and freeze what I don’t use for later? What decided me was my daily budget. If I stopped and bought a steak I’d be in a serious deficit already, 1 week into my budget. If I didn’t stop I could have gyoza dumplings on my roasted beat goat cheese salad (I have a few bags from the asian market in my freezer – $3.99 for 30, enough for 3 meals in a bag). Well, the internal budget discussion won over my impulse buying behavior. I did not stop at any store. I went home and roasted beats, cleaned my kitchen, and made a gyoza dumpling salad. Yum. Yeah for my daily food chart. It’s the little things that are keeping me focused. I’ll report how I do by the end of the month, promise.

Budget – 1
Steak – 0

debtmaven out.

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3 Comments

  1. Tammy said,

    Wow! That is an insane amount of money spent on food. My grocery budget is about $200 a month. I have started eating more vegetables so sticking to this is fairly easy. Though I do get tempted to buy those big ticket items. The other day while shopping for chicken I coveted the prime rib and though on special still not inexpensive enough.

  2. debtmaven said,

    Tammy, yes, it’s hideously high. Vegetables run $1.50 – $2.99/lb. A whole chicken runs $10 (free range, no pesticides, but still not organic). Meat is often $4.99/lb – $7.99/lb for whatever I buy, pork, beef, lamb. Seafood is much higher. I don’t buy packaged, It just adds up and adds up. Maybe I should list my purchases, for fun, with photos, showing what I buy, what I make, and my receipt. Ugh. About the only packaged stuff I buy is milk (local, glass bottle stuff; soymilk in a container, butter). It’s hard to resist the olive bar and that stuff is expensive and heavy. Welcome to large metropolitan supermarket spending!! I recently bought a steak from Safeway ($4.99/lb) and it was horrible. I previously had a pre-cooked $3.99 whole chicken too, and couldn’t eat it – it tasted wierd to me. Unfortunately, I’m stuck with the higher quality, higher cost goods. Le sigh.

  3. Tammy said,

    I used to eat mostly organic too but had to stop. As you say, it’s just too expensive. It was more affordable when I didn’t have a mortgage and was just a renter but owning my own place is just a higher priority for me than eating organic.

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