April Food Budget – Holding the Pace

bulk-foodAnother month, another measured look at whether we were able to keep up with our progressively lower food cost goals.

From February to March we excitingly saw a 13% dip in total food expenditure (which translated to a 20% dip in cost per meal, given the shortage of days in February). That coming on the heels of February, the first month of our food challenge, already representing a 22% drop compared to our 2014 averages. This was a pretty fantastic start, but I predicted last month that we would not be able to see such a substantial reduction again. I would have loved to prove myself wrong though.

Rather than keep you in suspense, I’ll come clean that we did not reduce our spending by another 20% – in fact, spending went up. But I’m still happy with the month and we remain right on the pace I was hoping for.

Standard disclaimer: 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 have done in previous months, numbers will given as percentages compared to our 2014 averages. I’ll recap the previous month’s numbers for some context:

March Recap:

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

March was a great month – as I said above, a big drop from February and every single number came in significantly under our 2014 averages. There was some good fortune here (like a big shopping trip on 4/1) but it was partially balanced by some one-time expenses.

April Numbers:

  • Groceries: 82% [63% of total]
  • Restaurants (includes work-lunches): 71% [29% of total]
  • Coffeeshops: 31% [5% of total]
  • Alcohol: 157% [3% of total]
  • Total Cost: 73%

What it Means

After two straight mega-declines, things corrected themselves somewhat this month and spending rose slightly. Despite groceries rising slightly, food eaten out increased as well, as the growth in the restaurant category far outpaces the decline in the coffeeshops category. (This month for the first time I’ve added some proportional numbers to give these numbers a little more meaning compared next to each other… and to explain why a gigantic 157% alcohol total is not a giant screaming red flag.)

My stated sub-challenge was to use my February food budget as a base 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. Because we’d had such a fantastic start, even with the increase our monthly budget remained on pace.

How it Happened

April was a bit of an odd month. There was a week or so where our budding food routines were disrupted, plus just general busyness that I was worried would have knocked us further off track than this. It was also unusual in that aside from that April 1 trip, our groceries were generally purchased in a series of small runs, and we didn’t visit our local wholesaler once. This sounds like a recipe for disaster, but somehow, it wasn’t. It’s possible I mentally overestimate the value of big trips, but I think it’s more likely that I value them just fine and we were simply stocked up enough to pull this off for a month. It’s also the case that our expenses did rise.

A notable one-off expense was another celebratory food-buying event, without which our restaurants category would have snuck in decently under March’s. Of course, in March we had a one-off celebratory food-buying event too (and an even pricier one at that). A possible monthly trend? I can’t say I view doing this sort of thing once a month as much of a problem (and believe me these are not budget busting three figure fancy outings), but it’s worth considering whether I get to keep referring to these with a “one-off” caveat.

What’s Next

May has been a good month so far. One of our fixed-price food items went up about 10% in mid-April, which will add a few percentage points to our overall costs – just makes the challenge that much more fun. Given that this felt like a challenging month, I’m hopeful that next month our numbers can at least look like March’s again. Just gotta keep it up, keep cooking, keep shopping smart. Of course, we’re also traveling a couple of times for some events out of state, which may end up resulting in our next “one-off” food expense… except it’ll happen twice. We’ll see.

One other interesting thing to note is that starting next month, we’re expecting to buy some things that once went in the “restaurants” category in a store that Quicken will classify as a “groceries,” and I don’t plan to correct it. While I do split out home goods bought on a supermarket run, it’ll just be too much of a pain to do that in this case. Because it’s all food, and it’s the final number we’re truly worried about, it really doesn’t matter. It may skew some comparisons going forward, but with luck will also result in some sweet savings.

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