I’ve been wanting to track our expenses by category ever since I read Your Money or Your Life several years ago. This way, I can make sure that we were spending money according to our priorities and trading our “life energy” for something worthwhile. However, the manual process never worked for us and I hated sifting through all the expenses from our bank account at the end of each month.
Hence, last month, I finally bit the bullet and started using mint.com. Mint.com provides free personal finance management features like setting up a budget, pulling in transactions from your various bank accounts, and tracking your expenses by category. It still has a few bugs, but overall it works quite well.
Well, according to mint.com, we spent a bunch of money on food in September. I guess I’m not overly surprised, because we do buy organic, local food whenever possible and unfortunately that is not cheap. We also go out to eat a good bit. For example, last month, we made 20 restaurant visits! This is partially due to the fact that my husband lives in a different state half of the time and that we had relatives visit. But still… Groceries were “over budget” as well, coming in at about 8% of our net income.
In general, I think it’s good to spend a larger percent of your money on food. That means that you are voting with your money as it relates to boycotting the corrupt food industry and supporting local and sustainable businesses. However, I know that I also splurge on some foods that are not necessary at all (like luxurious dark chocolate and ridiculously expensive Bobo bars).
So, for the month of October, I’m going to try a more frugal approach to grocery shopping and eating out.
Here are a few things we’ve already done and are planning to do:
- Friday night dinner: Ordered on the cheaper end of the entrée menu (sub $10). Passed on wine & dessert. Packed leftovers for lunch the next day (it was delicious!).
- Eat what’s in the pantry/freezer week: When I did my grocery shopping today, I had a pretty short list consisting of apples, bananas (I know this is evil from a sustainability perspective, but I have not figured out how to live without this wonderfully convenient, healthy, and pre-packaged snack), veggies, soy milk, kefir, “home-made” granola, bread, oatmeal (from the bulk container), applesauce (to put on top of the oatmeal), and organic treats for my dog (yes, she is spoiled). The rest of our sustenance this week will come from the overflowing pantry & freezer.
- Create your own coffee shop: I stocked up on hot chocolate mix & whipped cream so we’re not tempted to go sit at Caribou all the time. (Btw, you can make frothy milk using a French press – it works great!)
- Ditch the luxuries: No raw, pure cacao, expensive processed food, or gourmet cheeses allowed.
- Go Freegan: If a free food option comes along, go for it! (My one exception is that I prefer not to eat meat unless I know where it came from…)
- Think twice before eating out: Sometimes we resort to restaurant food because we’re simply lazy or too tired to cook. When this happens, there are other simple options like soup & sandwiches, kefir/banana/granola, create your own salad, or breakfast dinner (we like waffles!).
It will be interesting to see at the end of the month how much we can reduce our food expenses if we really try and pay attention. I’ll let you know!
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