Grocery Project Update: Victory is mine! (sort of)

groceriesApologies for the delay in updating on May’s grocery bill – I was away on vacation.  (Thanks Rule Two!).

So, I’m super excited to write this update.  My total grocery bill in May was…(insert drum roll)…


VICTORY IS MINE!  I had budgeted for a total of $350 and came in way under that.  Awesome.

But, that’s not the whole story.  Let’s look at how things wrapped up:

Remember, I start by budgeting in the MAX category, then adjust as the month moves along.  Some dollars also rolled over from April.

During my last post, Charlie M made the following comment:


He’s onto me.  :)  It’s a really fair point.  I shoot for about $100 a month for eating out.  Am I hitting that?  I decided to look.  (I was scared.)  Here’s the report for the last 12 months:


Notice in the filter that it says “Selected Categories”.  I chose only restaurants.  $1696.51 divided by 12 months = $141.38

There’s more to the story if we look at spending trends for the past year as well:


Woah!  Look at May 2014!  What is up with that?  The month of my lowest grocery bill is also the month of my highest restaurant bill.

I guess victory isn’t mine after all.

Nah.  There’s no reason to get all dramatic here.  There’s actually a good explanation for why May was so high.  I was at a conference for two days, and then traveled to New York City to watch my brother graduate from law school.  Have you ever eaten out in New York City?  It’s not cheap.  And naturally, being a super proud big sister, I wanted to treat. I planned for this.  I knew there’d be more eating out in May so I budgeted accordingly. If I had been home more, my grocery bill would have been higher.  But hundreds of dollars higher?  Probably not.

May just wasn’t a very normal month.  That’s why I wanted to do this experiment over several months.  It’s really easy to look at one month and think you’re seeing the whole picture, when really it’s just a part of the picture.  Life is changing and dynamic. Budgeting is too.

So as I head into June, I’ve still got quite a bit of food in the cupboards and freezer, so I’ve decided to try to eat from what I have as much as I can this month.  Here’s how June has gone so far:

I had some roll over from last month.  I’m shooting for a total of $225.  The easiest way to calculate that is to just add the total spending ($93.99) to the category balance in the max category ($131.01).  I’m not sure I’ll keep breaking things out past June.  We’ll see.  I think it’s helping so I’m little worried about slipping if I let it go.  I’m also going to continue my mission of less trips to the store.

All in all, I feel like I’m making really good progress on this, and I feel like I’m eating really well.  I haven’t felt compromised in that regard.  The money I’m saving on groceries is more money I have to get that car paid off.  The payment is $200 a month and this month I’ve been able to scrounge up $600 from across my budget.  That feels amazing.

So how do things look for all of you?  Do you see your eating out bill climbing as the grocery budget declines?  Do you budget a total for both and keep an eye on that? I’d love to hear how people manage that.

Maybe we need a post on eating out and the challenges associated with that.

*To be clear, I’m Snoopy, not Lucy.

17 Responses to “Grocery Project Update: Victory is mine! (sort of)”

  1. Emily

    I’m having a hard time with this post because I just got done over on the Mr. Money Mustache blog. I guess this is a good post but since I’m past this stage it’s downright head shaking to me. Erin, you can do much, much better. I’d say cut it back to slightly uncomfortable for the grocery budget and $0 in the restaurant budget (except for dinners for celebrating with your brother which would technically be a gift wouldn’t it?) until the car is paid off. How can you spend over $100/mo. eating out (for ONE person!) and have debt?! Aye, aye, aye! Good on you for the little you’ve done so far but hey, you work for the awesome YNAB, I expect more.

    • Karla

      We are only humans and nobody is perfect. Let’s be kind to each other.

    • Kenneth

      Emily, I too am a Mr. Money Mustache devotee. We have to remember not to judge others, they are grown ups and make their own decisions. I am in charge – of only myself. It feels comfortable for me to watch my spending a little more closely than other people do. But allow them to do what THEY want to do – you’ll sleep easier. That being said, I love Mark’s 2013 blog post http://www.youneedabudget.com/blog/2013/when-you-finance-anything-you-finance-everything/

      If you have a 15 percent credit card balance, when you spend $20 eating out, that money was financed at 15 percent, because it could have gone to pay down the debt.

      • Erin

        I outlined in the blog post on the car loan that it will cost me about $50 total by the time I pay it off, most likely around Christmas. I’ve decided I can live with that. I totally respect that some folks would draw a different line in the sand. :)

    • Erin

      Thanks for your comment Emily. I do think people have different comfort lines and I think that’s ok. Mr. Money Mustache has his, and I have mine. :)

      I find that I’m more successful with budgeting over the long term if the budget doesn’t make me feel punished. That’s why I’ve been working on this a bit at a time. I’ve tried taking restaurants down to zero in the past and it didn’t work for me. I’ve gotten to a point where I’m okay with that. :) I know some folks who spend more eating out, some who spend less.

      What’s important is that we each spend according to our own priorities. That’s what budgeting is about for me – aligning my spending to my priorities. I’ve found that everyone has different priorities financially.

      This process has been working well for me and I plan to continue to work my way down to a point where it starts to feel uncomfortable.

      Thanks again for chiming in!

      • smeisner14

        I really appreciate this reply. I think with budgeting and YNAB especially comes a certain level of frugality, but it’s a spectrum that varies greatly from one person to the next. When I first started YNAB I tried really hard to get every category to the lowest possible so I could get rid of debt. Great, right? In theory, absolutely. Reality, though? I was making drastic changes to the way I was using my money, and frankly doing it all at once quickly became overwhelming. Then I wasn’t budgeting at all. That’s exactly what we don’t want to happen, to anyone.

        Now, things are humming along nicely, and I’m making small strides here and there, while taking care of the big things. It works for me, and I don’t stress about going out with friends or spending a little extra on camping gear because I know the “big stuff” is getting taken care of.

      • erin

        I don’t think budgeting has to be about frugality. It can be, and has been for me from time to time when warranted. I really think at its core, budgeting is about aligning your spending to your priorities, and it sounds like you’ve done that.

        I’ve seen lots of folks take on too much in the beginning and then have a hard time staying with it. Good for you for realizing what you needed to do to keep things humming along, and for taking a long term view of things. It seems to have worked for you. :)

      • Nicole

        “Budgeting is about priorities” – This is pretty much my takeaway from the last month, over which I started using YNAB and began reading MMM. A friend said recently [about budgeting], “Well, money isn’t the problem. We have plenty of that.”

        ….Which totally misses the point. Heck, I have plenty to get by, but I realized my dollars weren’t doing the jobs that I wanted them to do. What was I doing buying a random candle for $15 when I would have rather saved that up to cover gas money for a day trip? Spending $300 on eating out when I was still trying to build up an 8-month living fund? Burning through $70 that could have gone towards my monthly “cruise savings”?

        MMM himself has certain things he considers “anti-Mustachian”, like his old house, but that doesn’t mean he’s not frugal – it just means he’s prioritized having that house over other things. And you can have a budget without necessarily being frugal in the first place, as well.

      • Karen J

        Great comment, @ meisner14! Thanks for pointing out the tricky brain-trick that often happens: as one increases awareness of how you’re spending your money, you naturally try to change it!

        It’s related to “user-forum-induced paranoia” – a phenomenon I discovered after I bought a car with a very active Owner Support Group. After reading so much about problems (and solutions, but still) I started getting spooked by every. little. thing. I noticed about the car!

      • Angela H

        Erin, I REALLY appreciated your post because it seems more human and real. I am a single person and I eat healthy and I like to eat out, sometimes. It feels really good to know that “normal” can be defined as you described it. I am a Dave Ramsey aficionado and I always took issue with the idea that in the gazelle phase we are supposed to be eating “beans and rice”. I like to eat vegetables and healthy fare, so my grocery budget, even for a single person was always kinda high. As a single person, sometimes I was too tired to cook to, so that meant sometimes going out. Hearing about your struggle and your allowance for what you deem important, while still chipping away at your goals just feels reasonable and like I said, more human. Thanks for providing that perspective.

  2. Rebecca

    I was JUST looking at the reports for the last year as well, and we looked at restaurants and eating out etc. What I would like to see is overall when I eat out less and spend more on groceries, is the overall spending on “food” less? Because, yes, I realize I can’t just look at groceries or restaurants alone, since they directly influence each other. You’ve inspired me to take a look at what the overall spending was each month and on the low months to see if we ate out less.

    • Erin

      I think eating in is cheaper than eating out as a general rule. Today I find myself contemplating a Food Master Category with groceries and restaurants as the only two sub categories.

      • Tom

        My family runs with just one “groceries” category, and that includes actual groceries, cleaning supplies, AND restaurants. That works for us because going out to eat is already fairly exceptional for us, and one “food” category keeps us that way. You really think twice about going out eat when you look at a restaurant menu and think about how much groceries those prices equal.

  3. harbr23

    One thing that my wife and I fight over is what should be on the grocery list. Do you put items such as cleaning supplies, shampoo, etc. on the grocery category?

    • erin

      Under my grocery project master category, I have a sub category for non food items. But when my groceries were in one category, I lumped that stuff in all together. The only thing I really broke out was pet costs. I have cats and a dog and like to keep an eye on those costs. :)

      Do what works best for you. I’m breaking things out in great detail now, but I won’t do that forever. Sometimes simplicity is better. It really depends on the information. Do you want or need to know how much you are spending on that other stuff? If so, break it out. If it doens’t matter to you, then maybe there’s no need. :)

    • Carrie

      Harbr23–I have food allergies and can easily go over budget with the many specialty type foods (goat’s cheese instead of cow, gluten/dairy free bread, etc). It’s important to me to see exactly where I am just on food. I have a separate category called Cleaning Supplies and anything from toothpaste to toilet cleaner goes there.
      Whatever your goals or priorities are should determine how you split it. I’ve gone from $500 per month to about $300 and am trying to get lower. If those categories were combined I wouldn’t have been able to see that as well.

  4. Amy

    I’m starting a new job working with marketing & advertising data and just saw an interesting presentation on consumer packaged goods (the kind of stuff we pick up at the supermarket) that got me thinking about this post. I learned that on average, people visit the supermarket 1.6 times per week, and 50-60% of what we buy there are impulse purchases. Manufacturers and markets count on us to make some basic assumptions about what we see at the store: for example, we are conditioned to assume that an item featured in a store display will be on sale or offer advantageous pricing in some way. We tend to spend most of our grocery budget on fresh produce and/or bulk ingredients, but I think this knowledge will help me stay mindful about my purchases.

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