Expense Wrap Up

Saturday, May 15, 2010

When I started this project in January, I said I would spend $100 a month and write about what I bought and ate. I normally spend about $90 a month, so I figured I would add a little bit of cushion because I wanted to focus a little more on healthy food, and I didn’t want to have to worry about going over.

I did a pretty good job for the first few weeks, but February didn’t go so well. I had two difficult work things come up on basically the same day, one of them totally unexpected and one that should have been done weeks before but had gotten stuck in some kind of bureaucratic black hole and just happened to reappear at the worst possible moment. So at that point, everything kind went of out the window and I never really recovered.

The thing that’s funny about my spending is that it tends to average out pretty consistently. I usually spend $10 to $15 per trip to the grocery store; if I decide to go crazy and get whatever I want and not worry about how much it is, I spend $25 to $35.

Things were not always like this.

I used to spend $75 to $100 when I’d go in for a big trip, and my monthly grocery bill was two or three times what it is now. It has definitely been a gradual process of figuring out what I really need, what’s worth spending my money on, what I can do without, etc.

(Note also that this is only for food. I think most people have other things in their grocery bill that I don’t have — household products like toilet paper and paper towels and personal care products like toothpaste, etc. I track those in separate budget categories, and also there are a lot of things that other people buy that I don’t buy at all, or else I use them in such small quantities that I buy them very infrequently. For instance I make most of my personal care products, and a lot of things I’ve learned are really just not necessary. Dryer sheets and air fresheners spring immediately to mind, but the list is practically endless.)

In terms of how I ended up spending less than $25 a week on groceries, I would say that the things that helped me the most were focusing just a few days ahead instead of trying to make sure I got everything I ever might need every time I went to the store, and using cash for all my purchases.

Using cash was really hard in the beginning. I would take cash out to last two weeks and it would be almost all gone after four days. I’d have to make it through the next week and a half with like five dollars. That really made me focus on working with what I had in the freezer and pantry, and made me think about what I could do with the least amount of cash outlay. It also re-programmed me so I could function with cash in my wallet again, an ability I had lost. I use cash for almost everything now. (Actual paper cash, not debit card cash. Using a debit card doesn’t feel all that different to me from using a credit card.) I definitely spend differently when I’m using the finite amount of cash in my wallet than when I’m using a debit or credit card.

I also think walking to the store helps. Unless you buy expensive, lightweight things (I’m not sure what would fall in that category — caviar? I guess really expensive cheese could cost a lot without weighing very much) you start to max out on what you can carry before you’ve spent too much money.

So anyway, that’s how things work in my regular life. I used to monitor my spending very closely, mostly because otherwise I tend to think I’ve spent more than I have and not buy things that I probably should, but I stopped doing that last year when my income briefly fell off a cliff and decided to just embrace my inner scrooge.

So I was not totalling my expenses on this project until I would put together numbers to post on the expense page, and I hadn’t don’t any kind of averages or anything. I knew I had some cushion to work with because the first month was under and the second month was even further under so I wasn’t really worrying about it, and then when I got busy I was just trying to get through.

I finally put together the Expense Summary, and the totals were

January — $81.72
February — $66.01
April — $121.90

Three-Month Average — $89.88

Which I think just goes to show that I average about $90 a month on groceries. Period.

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