Can you guess what these questions indicate about how the strict $160 ($140 for food & household goods and $20 for fun eating out/take out) weekly budget went?
I did not succeed. Went way overbudget. And I have dropped my goal of doing that strict budget for four weeks.
But I also learned a few important things and it got my brain thinking and I'm going to try again after doing some serious budget analysis and thinking about how I want my money to be spent and saved. It helps that we are now in a position to be actively decorating and furnishing our house so my motivation to save up for things is high. Saving for actual things versus theoretical future things is easier and far more fun for me.
So let's go back a few weeks so I can tell you how my cash budget for groceries played out:
I started strong with a trip to the co-op on Monday. I had my meal plan in place and I shopped only for the items I needed. I didn't let Bella pick out extra organic fruits or yogurts just because she wanted it. We usually avoid interior aisles in grocery stores so she doesn't even know the sheer amount of foods she could be requesting - ha! I purchased dried beans from the bulk bin, rather than the BPA-free canned beans. This is a change I have been wanting to do FOREVER, and it felt good to finally make the switch. I didn't pick up anything from the deli for lunch, even though that is my usual habit at a co-op. I used a calculator to figure out what it was going to cost me and I parted with $50 of my cash. The whole experience took longer than usual and I left with less than usual.
We had crab cakes, baked potatoes, and salad for dinner.
The next day, Tuesday, I went to Super Target for what I thought would be the rest of the week's purchases. I didn't use my calculator. I needed diapers for Oliver (I don't care for cloth diapers at night) and the $20 for the chlorine-free ones made me quickly realize that I probably shouldn't try to be including household items in the budget. As I bought the other items needed for the week, I found myself frustrated that I couldn't pick up some of our staples in larger amounts even though they were on sale. I wanted to get a dessert item and initially went to the bakery. But as I looked around at the items and what they were charging, I realized that I wasn't down with spending my precious dollars on those. All that money for a small piece of cake that doesn't taste that great? So I headed to the packaged mixes, started reading ingredients and realized that was not going to work for me either. My sweet tooth and my personal goals of eating real, whole foods were at war. So I kept looking and found a gluten-free brownie mix that had decent-enough ingredients, but cost $6. I pondered it for another minute and then decided to buy it. As I checked out, I was cringing to see the total going up, up, up, and finally landing at $95. Now I was left with only $15 leftover for take-out & alcohol for the week. That was far less than I had been hoping for.
I made zucchini fritters for dinner with cucumber-filled tzaziki and served it with lettuce. Delicious.
Wednesday I cooked up a big batch of chickpeas in my slow cooker and felt proud of myself. I bought some wine and beer and that brought us to $20...which was $5 over budget. Hm. I could still do this, or come close anyway, we just couldn't get take out on Friday like planned. And there would be no Starbucks or Panera with the kids. Also, I was going to have to remove the household purchases from the $160 goal for sure. I was starting to rationalize things and my resolve wasn't where it had been on Monday.
We had roasted beet & apple salad with the leftover zucchini fritters for dinner.
Then came Thursday. During Oliver's morning nap, Bella and I busted through making two large meals: chana masala with the chickpeas and a large vegetable lasagna. Anyone remember what happened to that veggie lasagna?
That night we had this for dinner.
For the rest of the week I continued to save receipts and I didn't go nuts on spending, but I'm pretty sure I came in around $200 once all was said and done. After all, I had drank all my wine on Thursday night and it was imperative that was replaced. Imperative, I tell you!
So like I said, I will admit to not succeeding on this project. At all. But it got the gears going towards change and my brain is mulling over a lot of things that I learned from that week. And here is what I learned - or am in the process of learning - because a bigger change like this is a process:
- I do not want to bend on purchasing organic food. There was a moment at Super Target where I debated going for some of the conventional food items, because they are so much cheaper, but I decided against that. I will always choose to spend money on food over clothes or a tv or home decor. Totally insane to some (many) people, but it's what I/we choose. So, since organic is going to be the way we go, the more logical solution is to limit the more expensive items (meat, bell peppers, berries come to mind) and change dinner plans as needed depending on availability and cost of produce items. I will also have to continue to shop at at least three stores in order to make this work financially - Co-op, Super Target, and Trader Joe's. What a pain.
- I need to get smarter about my shopping. Have very specific lists and get my pantry stocked a little more. Perhaps I can get it so that I can do the Super Target & Trader Joe trips every two weeks rather than weekly. I need to get more efficient.
- I need to spend more time assessing what I actually spend on food, how I can spend less, and what that meal plan would look like. More work up front and THEN embark on a cash-only grocery mission. In the meantime, I need to keep working on thinking about every single item before tossing it in the cart.
- To the previous point, I am reading a couple books about budgeting and the process of change and I have more on my to-read list. I need help in this area and I learn best through reading.
- I need to really watch the extras that I'm tempted to add on to grocery trips - the prepared desserts, the deli items for lunch, the sushi. That stuff gets expensive VERY quickly.
- We drink too much and we choose expensive stuff to drink (Surly beer for Husband, fancy ciders or $15 wine for me). The obvious solution would be to switch to Coors Light and Two Buck Chuck. Maintain the buzz at a fraction of the cost. I kid. We have already cut back and we would like to resume being the kind of people who only drink on the weekends. No more glass of wine with dinner every night, even though it's oh so very French (and oh so very desirable after a long day!)
- I was very struck by the experience I had trying to choose a dessert at Super Target. When I put limits on my spending, suddenly the individually packaged bulk cake - normally something I desire - was far less appealing. When I really thought about it - I don't like that cake! I don't! It doesn't taste good - it's waxy and makes my teeth hurt and it's. just. not. good. So...what the hell is up with me being drawn to those items again and again while shopping? What is this wicked sweet tooth about? What do I really want or need? I hate to admit that I still have mild food issues that crop up, but there they are. And I think the lure of pre-packaged easy treats is related to being an exhausted mama. I want a quick fix way to feel good and my depleted body tells me I can get that through a sugar hit. And I prefer single portions because I can control my intake better this way. But this is very, VERY much at odds with the rest of my eating. None of this is new and I have discussed it on the blog before, but it has given me further food for thought (PUNNY!) about the connection between my spending and eating. I'm okay with my diet not being 100% exclusively pure organic and "real food" ingredients (like the author of the 100 Days of Real Food does), but crappy cake should be rare. Good cake, probably one that I would make myself, is a better fit for what I want out of my food.
- I am down with making my own beans in the crockpot from here on out.
- I need to keep back-up fun food in the freezer. This probably means a frozen meal or two from Trader Joe's - something like a lasagna or Mexican food. Food that doesn't technically fall into the category of "whole organic food" but gives me the take out option I crave on Friday nights or when Oliver throws a lasagna on the floor. Cheaper and faster than takeout, but still tasty. I tend to avoid buying stuff like that because I tell myself if I don't have it, I won't eat it, but HELLLLOOOO reality. I need to join reality to my overarching goals for myself.
I need to join reality to my overarching goals for myself.
So that's what I'm working on, folks.