Sitting down to write this post has been a little daunting. After posting my April budget in early May and falling behind in my reporting here, it’s just felt like a lot of data to share. Even though, as I mentioned in my last post, I did collect my May/June data in early July, I never quite got around to sharing it here. The very same thing nearly happened today. However, it’s time to reckon with what’s been happening.
Unlike past months, I will not be able to state that I’ve continued to aggressively cut costs as the summer has unfolded (this may also have played a subconscious role in being in no hurry to put this post together). Food costs have definitely risen. Overall though, I’m still pretty pleased that even with less intention, our numbers routinely came in under our 2014 averages – over the span we beat it by about 8%. If that’s the new baseline, then great. I didn’t even shop at my wholesaler since March – March! I’m paying for a membership there. That needs to be rectified.
Ok, let’s dive into the numbers – now featuring a spiffy new chart.
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:
- 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%
April was a good month. Though it was a slight rise on March, numbers were still generally low across the board. Let’s keep moving.
- Groceries: 95% [58% of total]
- Restaurants (includes work-lunches): 101% [33% of total]
- Coffeeshops: 64% [9% of total]
- Alcohol: 0% [0% of total]
- Total Cost: 91%
- Groceries: 76% [45% of total]
- Restaurants (includes work-lunches): 152% [47% of total]
- Coffeeshops: 50% [7% of total]
- Alcohol: 87% [1% of total]
- Total Cost: 95%
- Groceries: 89% [56% of total]
- Restaurants (includes work-lunches): 112% [37% of total]
- Coffeeshops: 47% [7% of total]
- Alcohol: 0% [0% of total]
- Total Cost: 89%
For those thinking that’s a lot of numbers… Chart Form!
What it Means
Broadly speaking, you can now divide the last six months into two epochs. The first three months of this challenge (identified by the first three dots on the chart – sorry my chartmaking skills weren’t quite up to delineating that more clearly), where I was excited about it, carefully planning, and generally slashing great big chunks off our food budget. Look at how happy that overall total looks, hovering neatly under that third line, which roughly represents 20% under our 2014 benchmark.
The last three months have been a little more chaotic from a food-planning perspective. There’s been a lot going on, and I devoted less energy to this challenge. Accordingly, costs jumped across the board. Happily, peak costs during this period still snuck at least 5% under our benchmark, so that’s a nice little silver lining.
One other obvious trend over the last three months is the meteoric rise of the red “restaurants” line – in June, it soared to as high as 152% of my 2014 benchmark, but that doesn’t mean we’ve been dining out on the town more than in the past. I’ll explain that below.
How it Happened
When analyzing the April budget, I mused about how “celebratory food-buying events” seemed to be happening regularly enough that I wasn’t sure I could keep calling them “one-off” expenses. These have included things like celebrating a friend’s birthday or a personal anniversary. Here’s a list of such events that we accumulated in May-July: Traveling twice (one or two meals out per trip), treating my Dad to dessert on Father’s day, celebrating a birthday, treating friends who came to visit once, buying dessert out when relatives visited once, one lunch with my brother and one random treat lunch out. And we still fared ok. If we had cut out some of these fun things, we surely could have done better, but it’s just not worth it. I feel like we go out plenty and those costs generally don’t get too high for us since we rarely (if ever?) go to expensive places.
But what about that ascendant “restaurants” line, which seemingly flies in the face of the statement I just made? Well, one thing that should be explained is that a grocery store opened up basically across the street from where my partner works. It’s a little pricier than the discount supermarkets we favor for big runs, so while we do get odds and ends there, the primary use is to replace lunches that would otherwise be eaten out in coffeeshops or restaurants. Because keeping track of the receipts would be a nightmare – even if we were still in the happier, more excited epoch – I have lumped it all under restaurants. That’s part of why you don’t really see the groceries line rising much, despite my inexcusable absence from the world of bulk goods – it’s offset by this decision. This should ultimately be a good thing for our bottom line, even if it makes it harder to compare the “restaurants” and “groceries” lines across months.
Another factor is that I began treking across town once a week to “co-work” with some friends. Unemployment can be a lonely thing, friends, and once in a while it’s nice to have some human accountability when you’re trying to move forward with a goal. Yep, of course, that’s a factor in updating this blog too. In any case, this is more costly than it would be to stay at home, or even work in a coffeeshop close by where I can eat lunch at home. (Even if bought in a coffeeshop, all meals out are factored into that rising red line.)
In the end, the fact that we traveled and had guests visit us numerous times was probably always going to raise our numbers. Losing some of the drive to be as efficient as possible definitely contributed though.
I think it’s time for another epoch. While I am happy that we’re still on track to spend notably less than we did last year, those first few months make it clear that we can keep our expenses a good deal lower still, and it’s something I want to strive to get back to. Yes, it’s probably time to abandon the plan I had to target reducing my CPM every month from my February numbers, but simply matching the numbers from February again feels like a challenge I’m up for again. Besting last year is good, but coming in just under won’t be enough get us below $10/day, my original challenge and something I achieved back in February. Let’s get back to that.