I’m sick and tired of my grocery bill: Mid-April Update


We’re two weeks into April so I thought I’d post an update to my post about my annoying grocery bill. There were also a few comments on the original blog post that I wanted to address a little more directly in case not everyone read the comments.

Rethinking January

After I wrote the post, there was something still nagging at me regarding the horrific number of $575.86 for January. It’s such an abnormally high amount for me. It’s usually around $400.00 a month. Really.

Then I remembered something. I was doing a 30 day gluten free experiment during January. My brother had been up visiting at the holiday and had great success eliminating gluten from his diet. I was inspired and decided to give it a 30 day test. (Side note: Though it was a game changer for him, I didn’t notice any difference.)

I suspect some of you who are gluten free will respond that it could be done for much less – and I know that’s true. I was trying some different things as part of the experiment and I just wasn’t paying attention to my budget. But I was relieved that I remembered that something was different and that contributed to the higher bill.

Has that ever happened to you?  You look at a category and say, “Woah, what happened there?”.  Just think about it for a minute and you can probably get to the bottom of it.  Then, take what you’ve learned and move on.  Yes, I had a horrible grocery bill in January, but it’s not the end of the world.   Feeling bad about it will only get you so far.  Remember to let things go and move forward.

Goodness, this is a lot of work. How will you sustain this?

A few folks mentioned that I wouldn’t be able to keep this up, it’d be too tedious. I don’t intend to do this forever. I’m just trying to move the needle a bit. I know there will be a day when I realize “Ok, I’ve learned what I needed to learn from this experiment.” Then I can shift gears.

Think about that for a second: You can change your approach to your budget any time you want. How cool is that? And you thought budgets were restrictive. Pssh.

So, how April is going?

Pretty good. It actually hasn’t been that hard to maintain. These are my numbers right now:

I’m pretty set for meals through April. I’ll just need fresh fruit for the most part. I’m betting I’ll come in under $300 for the month. I haven’t done anything with the breakdown information yet. Too soon.

When I find my mind drifting off to “Hey, maybe you should go to the grocery store.”, I stop and think for a moment. Do I really need anything? That’s stopped me a few times, and that’s a good thing because once I’m in there, I quickly lose control.

“Mmm…fresh bread, yum. Cookies! Gotta have those. Lasagna, wow, haven’t had that in a while. Oh…I’ll need spaghetti sauce for that.  Do I have cheese? Well gee, I’m already here, maybe I should get a few more things.”

I spiral out of control in about 4.2 seconds once inside the store. So I’ve done two things to slow that down.

I made a simple have/need list as suggested by Sonny in the comments on the original post. (Thanks Sonny!) I had to inventory what I had, but now I have a spreadsheet and can check it from my phone in the store.

Second, I make a list before shopping and try harder to stick to it. It seems to help. Sometimes it’s the small things, right?

What about sales tax on these split transactions?

Yana asked about sales tax and it’s a good question. When a transaction is split across a half dozen categories, what do you do with sales tax? Put it in it’s own category? Nah. Just let YNAB handle this for you.

When you’re creating the split, if you select “Done” before allocating the full amount of the transaction, YNAB will open a dialogue box to ask you how you would like to handle the unassigned amount. Chose “Auto-distribute amongst splits”. This will distribute the remaining amount between all items.

Can I get a report with a percentage breakdown for these categories?

Hannah was wondering if YNAB can report out the % spent in each of the sub categories.  You can do that easily in reports.

At the top of the Spending by Category report, make the necessary adjustments in the filter:

I chose “This Month” for the time frame and selected the Grocery Project master category:

Then you’ll see just that master category in the pie chart:

Click on the pie chart to see the breakdown by sub category:

Voila! Percentages! You can change the time frame as well once you have a few months of data.

That’s it for now.  I’ll post another update when April is over.  If you have any questions or want me to address something specific in the next follow up, just leave a comment.


19 Responses to “I’m sick and tired of my grocery bill: Mid-April Update”

  1. Rutlandish

    I did not know about that “Auto-distribute amongst splits” trick. Thanks for the hint! I love it.

    It’s just one more example of how YNAB not only makes budgeting possible, but actually FUN & PLEASANT!

    • erin

      Yeah, I love that little feature. Such a time saver!

    • Steve

      Well I’ll be… yeah, that’s a tip of the year candidate for me, too. Handy!

    • Jennifer

      I didn’t know about that trick either, but I wouldn’t use in for groceries because not every food item is taxed

      • Merry

        Good point. I was also wondering if the auto-distribute split the tax based on percentage (more tax for the categories that you spent more in) or if it was split evenly amongst all the categories. But it does seem to be a good trick.

    • Saskia

      Learned something new today with that tip–thank you! Many times I’ve been annoyed at trying to calculate sales tax on a split expenses at Target or somewhere similar. What an awesome feature!

  2. Tom Servo

    This is the sort of problem sub-subcategories could be handy for. It’d be nice if YNAB had these. The sub-subcategories shouldn’t have their own balances, but are added/subtracted to the balance of the subcategory they’re hosted under. Like this one could maintain a simple budget, but still discern in reports and graphs. Hobbies would be another category that could profit from this. Specify a generic budget for your hobbies, assign costs to the related hobby sub-subcategories, to be able to see where the money goes in reports.

  3. Hannah Spector

    Thank you!! I didn’t realize you could click on the master category pie chart to get the breakdown and was like, well, this is useless. Should have known YNAB would not leave me hanging.

    • Maiya

      Yes! I too, was wanting to get more info from my sub-categories in Reports, but didn’t know there was a way to see it! I had a real ‘Light Bulb’ moment with this one! Thanks, Erin!

  4. Lacey Olsen

    Good Tips!

    So you need to look at the program ‘Ziplist’ for your grocery shopping! You can ‘zip’ any recipe from any site, it put’s it in your recipes, and creates your shopping list. Then you just pull up the app at the store! I’ve used it for at least a year now and it’s saved my shopping trips!

  5. LeiraHoward

    In my state, at least, sales tax isn’t charged on most grocery items. Some things (like carbonated beverages, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, etc.) are taxed, but others (like produce, milk, etc.) are not. The items show up on my grocery receipt with a little “T” for taxable or “N” for non-taxable next to each item.

    So doing the split your way wouldn’t really accurately reflect expenses. Just FYI.

    • Richard

      Exactly! In WA State though, especially at Safeway you can get the letter B or F or T. Only the F items are non-taxable. Sometimes out of a $40 purchase I’ll have $0.84 cents of tax. Splitting that over multiple ‘food’ categories doesn’t make a lot of sense. I put all of my Sales Tax in it’s own subcategory under my Miscellaneous master category. I average less than $30 a month for Sale Tax unless I buy something out of the ordinary (or have my car repaired).

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