April $400 Food Budget: A Slight Change in Plans

One of three half-gallon jars of kimchi. 

One of three half-gallon jars of kimchi. 

We went over $400 in April. WAY over. Our total food purchases rang up to $555.93. 

$12 of that was dining out and $5 went toward produce gardening, which should pay off later. The rest: $176 at Aldi, $93 at Trader Joe's, $87 at Costco, $68 for tea (this will last me for months, but more on that later), $34 at Target, and the rest at various grocery stores in small amounts. That I went to so many stores tells me I was doomed to spend too much. 

So I'm thinking about changing the food budget from a monthly amount to a weekly amount. It's not that I want to spend more money. What I want to do is keep my weekly grocery-shopping routine, without feeling like I'm going over.

I've been in the habit of shopping for groceries once a week after work on my Friday (which is really Thursday). We were on track with spending about halfway through April, but looking ahead, I realized the last day of the month was a Thursday and we'd be out of money. I could put it off a day, but I find shopping on my last workday works much better than shopping on one of my days off. 

The other problem I've been pondering is how to finance a large meat purchase (a quarter cow or whole pig) on this budget. Until this month, we had been staying around $400, but without much wiggle room. 

So here's my solution: a weekly grocery allowance that, combined with the one-time outlay for meat, averages out to $400 a month. 

$400 x 12 - $450 (cost of meat last year) / 52 weeks = $83.65.

If $83 was my goal, and Thursday was my shopping day, did I make it? No, April was still a failure. What I would have had to work with was $415. Oops.

Caffeine!

Let's go back to the tea. I buy pu-erh tea, a fermented green tea, purchased online. It all started with an attempt to get away from coffee. I started drinking green tea, only to find that green tea often makes me sick to my stomach (and sometimes makes me actually throw up). So I read about pu-erh, bought some at the local international grocery store, and liked it. The problem? They only have it sometimes. And the quality varies quite a bit . Then American Express had an offer to get $15 back on a $50 purchase from an online tea seller. I ordered some of tea and liked it. Then Amex changed up their offer and I tried a different online retailer. I liked that tea, too, and it was less expensive than the first place. So, every three months or so, I order a couple pounds of tea. 

We're also buying diet soda and coffee for Eric. Because I lump those purchases in with the grocery budget, I have no idea how much money is really going to caffeinated drinks. So, I'm going to start tracking those expenses separately. I went back and re-categorized all my tea purchases, as well as a couple recent soda purchases, and discovered that those alone brought the total up over $500 for the last twelve months. Ugh. 

However, I find it's easier to change things if I have a clear picture of what's going on. 

Sugar!

Another thing I realized last month was that I needed to plan ahead more for snacks. For a while, I baked and enjoyed homemade granola bars, but then I got sick of them and went back to Powercrunch bars. This month, I tried out less expensive store-bought granola bars and finally found a satisfying one that I like that only costs about 30 cents per bar. 

I've also been keeping some snack food in my car, for work, such as chips and cookies. This keeps me from having to buy it when I want it. That stuff has to stay in the car, though. If I bring it in the house, I'll eat it all at once. 

Looking Ahead

We are going on vacation the last week of May, so I'm going to try to work through what we have here at the house, supplementing with perishables only. I've been making my way through the burritos I found in the freezer already, so I'm going to keep going with things like that. 

Maybe I can bring the May budget in low enough to make up for the April budget. 

Vacation Spending

Which brings me to my next concern, which is food spending on vacation. If you keep a budget, do you put the food you buy on vacation under groceries and dining out, or vacation? We try to buy as many groceries as we can when we travel, to avoid eating out so much, but of course we end up eating in restaurants a lot, too. For years, I've put that food spending, whether groceries or restaurant, under "Vacation Food." But for our last vacation, I put it under the regular categories. 

According to Sam at Frugaling's budget ideas, any food eaten goes into the food budget, so that would include vacation food. I think keeping it in the food budget would influence me in positive ways, encouraging me to try to minimize the costs. 

The other problem, which I just realized, is that we don't actually have a vacation budget. When we go on vacation, we do not sit down and say, alright, let's spend $1000 on this week and that's it. Maybe that's what I need to do, set up a vacation budget. I'll work on that and share it here, so I'm accountable to everyone. 

Either way, I'm going to work a lot harder on this month's food budget. It certainly doesn't feel good to go over and I really want to make this work. 

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