March Food Budget – Still on Track?

Photo via Miroslav Vajdić

I’ve been on a bit of a blog haitus for the past few weeks, so I thought I’d ease myself back into things with a numbers post. Halfway through the month of April, it’s time to look back and see if I’ve been keeping up with my goals of reining in our food budget.

As I spelled out back in early February, I’d set $10 per person per day as a reasonable ceiling for a food budget. It’s a lot more than experienced frugal eaters spend, but it felt like a reasonable benchmark to start with, and then improve upon. For the month of February, excitingly, we hit the mark, reducing our food budget by about 22% compared to our 2014 averages in the process.

Now, let’s see about March.

While I appreciate that some other bloggers share exact numbers in their budgets, I’ve made the decision to obscure my numbers a bit. As I did last month, numbers will given as percentages compared to our 2014 averages. I’ll recap the previous month’s numbers for some context:

February Recap:

  • Groceries: 104%
  • Restaurants (includes work-lunches): 39%
  • Coffeeshops: 44%
  • Alcohol: 87%
  • Total Cost: 78%

This was a good month! Cooking more and wholesale shopping made an instant impact on our going-out budget, while hardly costing us in the groceries department.

March Numbers:

  • Groceries: 80%
  • Restaurants (includes work-lunches): 59%
  • Coffeeshops: 40%
  • Alcohol: 48%
  • Total Cost: 68%

What it Means

It means this was another good month!

My sub-challenge was to use my February budget, which had a cost per meal of <$3.33, and reduce it by 3%-5% every month for the rest of the year, resulting in a new 2016 benchmark CPM of between $2-$2.50. Reducing total monthly spending by 13% this month puts me well above pace. It looks even better on a CPM basis since there were 28 days in Febrary but 31 in March, with CPM dropping a whopping 20%.

Eagle-eyed observers may note that I had previously used an “other” category for things like wholesaler membership cost or cash spent indulging on a slice of pizza. I’ve folded these into groceries, restaurants/lunches for simplicity.

How it Happened

There are some caveats here, as always. That groceries number looks good – and represents virtually all the savings versus February, since 65% of my total budget this month was in the category. However, it benefited nicely from the fact that I took my weekly-ish grocery shopping trip on 4/1. At the same time, that restaurants number sure looks noticeably worse than its February cousin, but it’s also deceiving. In the ordinary course of things, we actually underspent February in that category, but we celebrated the birthday of a friend by going out and helping treat him. This is something that we were totally happy to do, but the point is that it won’t happen every month, so it skews the monthly figure.

I’ll be happy when I’ve accumulated more data and can look at this stuff in larger batches, which is when these differences can all be shaken out.

What’s Next

Well, I can tell you since we’re already into it, I’m not optimistic about April coming in well under March’s numbers. Things got busy, cooking happened less, nascent good routines were disrupted, and did I mention grocery shopping on April 1st? My main goal will simply be to get back to it, restoring our kitchen to glorious regular use. April may always be a month with unique food challenges, but it’s nice to feel like there’s a steady rhythm to return to when they’ve passed.


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Filed under Food, Numbers

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