YNAB BLOG

I’m sick and tired of my grocery bill: April Wrap Up

groceriesapril

April is now over and I thought I’d report out on my grocery project. For those of you just joining us, I decided to track my grocery spending in more detail to find out why the bill had climbed so much. I start at the beginning of April and posted a mid month check in.

Now that April is over, here’s how things wrapped up:

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I spent a total of $307.21 in April. I’m really pleased with the progress. This feels much better. The last time my grocery bill was this low was August 2013 when it was $300.69. Looking back that far I can see that I was averaging $300 a month, so I know I can do it. I just need to pay attention a little more.

So what did I learn from breaking things down more?  I’m spending less on fruit than I thought I was. I eat at least three different kinds of fruit a day and that’s really important to me. I would not want to cut back there. Cooking ingredients was the biggest area, but that’s good because I’m trying to cook from home more. Dairy feels high and I wonder if I could cut back on that. I’m going to try to pay more attention to sales for meat.

Right now, I’m not 100% convinced breaking things down is what helped lower the bill. What breaking things down did do was force me to pay more attention. It engaged me more, and really that was the problem.

Breaking things down forced better awareness and accountability. It required more attention than a single number.

I was really trying not to spend frivolously and I was paying closer attention to the budget. So when I found myself wanting to go to the store, I stopped and asked myself if I really needed anything, and I checked the grocery project category. I tend to buy in bulk quite a bit so there’s always something in the house. I found that two things forced me to the store: Fresh fruit and Coffee Creamer (Coffee is one of my indulgences. Mmmm Hazelnut…). I’m not sure what I can do about that since fresh fruit has a limited shelf life. I may pick up more coffee creamer in one trip since I go through it quickly. If I can avoid trips to the store than I can avoid being in the store thinking, “Maybe I’ll just pick up one more thing…”. One thing becomes five things and that becomes ten things, and so on. Fewer trips helps.

One other thing: Saving the receipts themselves, and going through them to record the split transaction wasn’t as tedious as I thought it would be. I don’t want to do it forever, but I’m ok with another month or two to see what I learn.

Posting all this here publicly was definitely on my mind as well. If you’re trying to cut back in an area of your budget, maybe get yourself a budget buddy that you can report out to. If you’re budgeting as a couple, make a focus category a part of your regular budget meetings.

I’ve decided to keep this going through May. I had $92.79 left in April that rolled over into May. I’m going to shoot for a max of $350 in May. So I budgeted enough to bring the max up to $350.

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I’m going to track for another month, then I’ll have some averages and can decide what to do.

So that’s the nitty gritty. Here’s my big takeaway: The budget doesn’t work without me.

I know this. Of course I know this – I teach this. But it’s so easy to stop paying attention when there doesn’t seem to be a problem. Do you know what I mean?

It’s like putting on a warm hat in the winter and then thinking, “Well I’m warm now, I guess I don’t need this hat. Hmm…Why am I cold all of a sudden? Oh right, the hat. The hat is why I was no longer cold.”

The grocery bill was lower and under better control a year ago. “Well I guess I don’t need to worry about the grocery bill anymore. Hmm…Why am I spending so much on groceries? Oh right – I stopped paying attention and that’s what was keeping it low.”

I can’t just set the budget and forget it. I need to stay in the game. My budget and I are a team and I need to participate. And it’s not like I spent hours on this during the month. I just did a little more thinking and a little more checking of the budget.

So there you go. I’m curious to hear from our blog readers on this: Do you want me to update as I continue this grocery project? I’m happy to report out if it’s helping other people.

24 Responses to “I’m sick and tired of my grocery bill: April Wrap Up”

  1. Deanna

    Don’t forget that the price of meats and dairy are going up. I’m experiencing higher grocery for same amount of items. Gas has also gone up. I’ve been able to cover those increased by taking it from other category for now.

    Reply
  2. Izma

    I appreciate these posts. Please continue to report updates!
    We are also trying to bring down our grocery spending (and create a realistic budget), although we have no data to compare against since we are fairly new to YNAB. It’s been eye opening, and for that we are thankful! I am looking forward to making progress in this area especially.

    Reply
  3. Pablo Gonzalez

    Thanks a lot Erin for giving us this “reports” of your progress with your Grocery project. I’m doing the same with my grocery budget ;)

    Regards!

    Reply
  4. Rebecca

    Just a thought- for those out there that are trying to save money by eating at home but are balking at increased grocery bills. Make a “food” master category with eating out/restaurants as one subcategory and “groceries” as another for a time. You can look at how the *total* is dropping even if your grocery bill goes up.

    Reply
  5. KR

    I would love for you to keep us posted!
    And great work btw…amazing progress.
    (Our family went from $900 down to $700/mo. on groceries because of YNAB.)

    Forgive me if you already mentioned this in a previous post, but on average how many times per mo. do you cook for other people? Like a dinner party, etc.

    Reply
    • erin

      A difference of $200 a month is fantastic! That’s $2400 a year. :)

      I may cook for others a few time a month.

      Reply
  6. Julie

    For fruits and vegetables, have you looked into bountiful baskets coop? It’s good if you’re not picky. You get a nice assortment and you pick it up from a local spot (ours is a community center), so you avoid the supermarket!

    Reply
    • erin

      Thanks for the tip, it’s not available in my area, but others may want to check it out. Looks neat!

      Reply
  7. Dmitry Olerinskiy

    Thank you, Erin, great job!

    Yes of course I would love to read more. Please, please, keep on :)

    Especially I’m waiting for the moment when you will try to go lower you “good historical average” if $300 per month. I’m convinced that there should be major insights on real new choices, not just refreshing the good old known ones, none the less this refreshment is drastically and surely helpful as well.

    My personal YNAB story goes that to be honest, first gains are sort of easy ones, when I’m not really trading anything off but just refreshing the inner discipline. And problem is that, once again to be honest, those first gains are never enough no matter how seductive this thought might be — I just need to go further. And there is what is really interesting :)
    Will you go there? Have you gone already over there in any respect?

    Reply
    • erin

      I’m really interested to see how low I can get it without sacraficing quality. I mean I could eat just ramen noodles at 20 cents a packet and it would super low. :) But I don’t want to do that. So there’s a threshold of quality I won’t cross.

      I agree that first gains are easy (the same is true of dieting). I’m fine though with slow and steady progress. If I can keep it under a given number for 3 months, I’ll feel like that’s sustainable long term.

      Reply
  8. CB

    Hi Erin,

    Thanks for posting this so quickly! I’ve been performing this experiment along with you and was eagerly awaiting May 1st to judge my April results. I’d love for you to keep posting this. I still think it would make for a great forum thread, too, to encourage more people to get involved.

    I wanted to use a more detailed category breakdown, so I opted to use Excel versus YNAB for this experiment to keep things in YNAB simple.

    If anyone is interested in seeing how my April grocery experiment went, I spent about $230, which is for just over one person (sometimes my cooking is for two). I’m pretty happy with this number since I shop at high-quality stores.

    Here is a link to my results:
    http://i31.photobucket.com/albums/c383/agt144/april-groceries_zps7ce1a211.png

    Clearly, produce is my largest category, which is primarily veggies. I can’t separate out veg and fruit because I get a mixed produce box delivered for a flat fee. I don’t normally buy animal protein, so I would expect that to be even lower in the future. I thought I would spend more on herbs since I cook a lot, but I do have a small herb garden going that I’ll expand now that it’s spring. Just growing my own basil even makes a difference. I also didn’t cook as much as normal because my restaurant category went over budget due to a busy work schedule. Will try to remedy that for May.

    I’m going to have to continue this experiment for a few months in order to get an accurate picture of my spending by category because I often have to buy a staple that is on the expensive side but lasts several months. For example, the only cheese I normally buy is for cooking, such as parmigiano reggiano, which is expensive but generally only gets used in small amounts at a time.

    If anyone has feedback or questions, I’d be happy to hear it!

    Reply
    • CB

      Sorry, thought I should note that I don’t eat snack food, and I don’t buy non-food items at the grocery store, so that’s why I don’t have either of those categories.

      Cheese and butter is not with dairy because I use them more as a cooking ingredient, so I’ve placed them there.

      Also, coffee is indeed a part of my life each day, but I track it separately (I don’t buy it at the grocery store anyway).

      Reply
      • erin

        Nice job tracking! I agree that you need a few months of data to get a good baseline. I didn’t buy sugar in April and probably won’t need to in May. So a 3 or 4 month average is probably better.

        Did you feel like you learned anything this month? Did it make you pay attention more?

        Reply
        • CB

          Thanks!

          I definitely increased my awareness for a category that easily goes over budget. I actually thought twice much more often while in the store than I have previously.

          Since I don’t budget down to zero overall, it was easy to convince myself that I can cover some overspending in the category or to say to myself, “Well, I’m out of this item, so I need to buy it.” Now I reconsider.

          I was interested in itemizing my grocery spending for two reasons. Firstly, I really had no idea how much I was sending on any given sub-category. Secondly, I had a hunch that I would let myself buy a fancy item too often.

          What I mean by that is I would be in the store and think, “Hey, I should get this as a treat. I almost never buy it. Once in a blue moon won’t hurt.” The problem, of course, is I was starting to do this with a different item each time I was at the store. So if it’s something every time, it’s not actually once in a blue moon.

          This experiment helped with that significantly because I’ll be able to see where my weaknesses are. I’m eager and curious to see what else I learn after a few months.

          Reply
          • erin

            Nice, great insights. Just make sure you don’t punish yourself. A treat once in a while is a good thing I think! :)

            Reply
  9. Victor R. Scott

    Yes, please keep up the reporting. I’ve learned a good deal through this experiment. I may have to apply some of the lessons to one of my budget areas! Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  10. Charmente

    That is great you were able to cut it down! This may be a bit ‘off topic’ but I have been saving ALOT when we eat out by utilizing the daily deals for my area, my fav’s are Groupon and Living Social. I find Restaurant.com is a little ‘iffy,’ and havent really seen the savings so much. But when we save money on groc. each month, I use part of the savings to buy these deals and we treat ourselves to eating out more (and it’s cheaper!). I just pur a $25 meal for $12 at a nice Italian Restaurant in my area!

    Reply
  11. Mary P

    Please keep updating. I have been inspired by your post to track my grocery spending by detailed category, and my goal is spend the most on a combined category of fruits/veggies. I am fortunate in that I have the option of having a selection of (mostly) organic items delivered to my house every week – I split the order with my daughter. It is a bit more expensive than going to the farmer’s markets or Whole Foods, but it forces me to be more intentional about eating produce to avoid waste. Signing up for a CSA if you can is also a great way to expand your produce consumption and also supports local farmers. I will be tracking my spending for about 3 months to get a good picture of what I am spending my grocery dollars on.

    Reply
  12. jcw3rd

    I find this approach very tempting (for other areas besides groceries), but since I do not intend to continue these detailed categories long-term, I need a way to *stop* doing it when the experiment is done. I can not visualize a way to shutdown the experiment. When you attempt to delete a category you are faced with the problem of losing the transaction data. How are you going to handle stopping this practice of tracking micro-categories when the experiment is over?

    Reply
    • CB

      Hi there. Don’t know if the YNAB pros would recommend something different, but here’s what I would do. Conduct a search, such as for the master experimental category, that would result in the transactions in question. Select all of those transactions, right click on them, and choose “Categorize As…” to bulk re-categorize them back to what your “regular” category would be. Then, you can delete the experimental categories without losing transactions.

      Reply
  13. fuel

    Interesting experiment. I like that it makes one reconsider the I just need one more item mentality. Which is really just impulse buying.

    Reply

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