$400 Food Budget: May-July

It's been a while since I've posted an update on my food budget, but that's been for no particular reason. Sam at Frugaling, who inspired our monthly goal of $400, decided to end his monthly reporting on food expenses, a decision he discusses here. Not reporting for a few months didn't seem to help or hurt what we actually spent, but it's impossible to say for sure. 

What We Spent

If you just look at grocery expenses, we handily stayed below $400 every month, coming in at $302 in May, $384 in June and $264 in July. Not too bad, and really good in July. I don't think there was ever a point where we felt deprived on the grocery front. We took a lot of lunches to work, ate good food, bought what we wanted and felt satisfied with the lower amount. 

BUT - we also went out to eat. In May, we spent $36 on Chinese carryout, which is not a big deal, but in retrospect, it seems like Chinese carryout should be cheaper. I think we both got appetizers and entrees. In June, we spent a whopping $306 at restaurants. The bulk of this was spent in Chicago, where we went for my company's employee party, and where we ate out for every meal. Although the party itself is free for us, the surrounding activities certainly add up! And in July, we spent $112, which covered three restaurant meals.

A few of the meals I had at restaurants over the last few months: a burger at Stacked in St. Louis, German food in Hermann, Missouri, and a pizza in Chicago (I know, it's not even Chicago-style).

A few of the meals I had at restaurants over the last few months: a burger at Stacked in St. Louis, German food in Hermann, Missouri, and a pizza in Chicago (I know, it's not even Chicago-style).

None of this includes the meals we ate as part of gifts/experiences, which you might recall we're trying to do more of - so if we took you out for your birthday, that entire expense fell under "gifts," not dining out. Also, meals eaten out on vacation went into the vacation budget. These expenses could be accounted for differently, but I find doing it this way allows me to make clear decisions on total cost - how much does a week-long vacation spent camping cost? A trip to the wineries for Mother's Day? Separating out parts of those experiences feels like getting a skewed picture. 

I think I mentioned this before, but earlier this year I started tracking our caffeine-related purchases (soda, coffee and tea) separately, and for the three months we're looking at, those came to $10, $29 and $40. I might stop doing this, if the numbers continue to stay low. 

Total food expenses: 

  • May: $347.39
  • June: $718.67
  • July: $415.91

First, the positives: In 2014, Eric and I spent a whopping $11,374 on food, or $947.83 a month. So far in 2015, we have spent $4,021, or $502.63 per month (if we don't spend any more money in August, which is possible, but unlikely). That's a savings of $445.20 a month! Which is a huge difference. Obviously, that adds up over time. 

Dining Out

The nice thing about tracking expenses is that the data is there if you want to look at it. And the data shows a big drop in grocery expenses in the last half of 2014, which was when I first started thinking about cutting back. It took us until 2015 to decide to cut back on dining out. 

And although we've cut way back on our dining out expenses, it still seems like we're spending a lot when we do go out. I've been back and forth on how much we want to cut back in this category. I addressed this issue a little in my 1% Savings Challenge Update.

Sometimes going out to eat serves an important social function. It's easy to get together over a meal, especially with new friends. Before you know someone well enough to hash out diet restrictions, pet allergies, etc., it can be much easier to meet at a restaurant. Other times, it's fast and easy. We met Eric's dad and brother at a sandwich shop for lunch on a workday a couple weeks ago. If we hadn't been able to purchase a meal out, we would have skipped that altogether. 

Other times, dining out is a luxury that we definitely could skip. Did we really need to eat at four restaurants in Chicago, over two days? Here's how it happens. The party is one night. We take the train to Chicago as early as possible the day of, and come back as late as possible the next day. This leaves lots of time during which we have to eat. We are with friends so we all eat out together. Obviously, one option is to shorten the trip and just go for the party. Which sounds less fun. I find I have a lot of resistance to ideas that sound less fun, at least initially. 

Another option is to spend less when we do eat out. This is an area we've done a lousy job of exploring. I'd go so far as to say we haven't really tried at all. When we go out, we order what we want, almost regardless of price (I say this because if we truly ordered regardless of price, Eric would eat a lot more seafood). We get as many drinks as we want. We don't share. 

We use gift certificates when we have them, and we try to pick less expensive restaurants when we can, but these things are easier to do at home than while traveling. In July, we lucked into happy hour pricing on one outing, and shared cheap appetizers. Generally, though, we don't go out of our way to save when we dine out. 

So maybe that's the next layer of this challenge. Start figuring out what we can go without when we eat at restaurants, without feeling too much of a pinch. The idea of skipping beers and drinking water instead makes me sad now, but what if the trade-off was stopping at the liquor store and buying a six-pack on the way home? I think, unless we were at a brewery, I might go for that trade.

What I'm learning here is that I don't want to completely eliminate dining out. We want to be able to go out to eat sometimes, but I don't want to spend a fortune on it. So the next step is figuring out how we can do it for less. 

Food Budget Posts: