Groceries vs. Restaurants – Where’s our money REALLY going?

On my last post about our grocery budget, I simply gave a review of our overall monthly grocery expenses in January. Brandon, from Military Finance Report Blog, pointed out to me that I should also assess the correlation of my dining out expenses to grocery expenses to make sure that I didn’t just shift my spending from one category to the other. Thanks, Brandon, for the suggestion! Here we go 🙂

In our actual monthly budget, I set aside about $450 per month for groceries and $300 for restaurants/dining-out. Between my husband and I, I spend significantly more on restaurants. I attribute this primarily on our different life styles growing up. My family ate out significantly more than his, and it has been quite a compromise/transition for us to be on the same page as far as when we should eat out and when we should have a nice home cooked meal! We are always striving to do better, and we are thankfully mostly on the same page now…But, that’s another story!

In order to better assess my January expenses, I should look at our spending habits from 2013! Over the past year we spent a little higher than my goals for both groceries ($450) and restaurants ($300). I will have to admit I treat my budget categories more as guidelines rather than strict pots of money. We have so far been blessed to be able to do this. We still strive to live below our means every month and to put money in savings, so I don’t worry about it too much.

Here are a few things to consider about the graph:

1. “Groceries” includes household products like cleaning supplies, toilet paper, etc for my 2013 numbers so they are slightly skewed compared to January 2014 because I wasn’t tracking groceries manually. I was simply using the Spend Tool on my banks website.
2. We did the Paleo diet in January and October of 2013, which I attribute to the higher grocery expenses those months. We tend to buy more meat on Paleo which adds up.
3. We had family in town in June because of the baby, but we were very blessed that families from our church brought us meals during the month of June and part of July, so we didn’t spend much on groceries or eating out.
4. Months like November and December were high because family visited for the holidays, and we cooked full Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.
5. The only thing I’ll say about the “Restaurant” expenses is that it includes everything from fast food to sit-down restaurants to coffee stops to snacks at the gas station.

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The average from last year is $538 for groceries and $325 for restaurants. This puts our average food expenses at $864. Yikes! That’s quite a bit more than my budgeted $750 per month. But, again, I haven’t been too preoccupied with it because we still spend below our means for the rest of the budget… it’s all a little give and take among the categories. Maybe one of these days I will find the motivation to blog about our budget and how I keep tracking of everything.

One thing I just noticed by looking at this graph is a pretty significant increase starting in July. My only guess for that is I went back to work in August and started going out to eat for lunch again… hmm. Haha. Or the increase is probably due to Sky eating so much food!!! That’s definitely it! Okay, okay. I kid. I kid. He didn’t even start solids until the end of November. But anyway…I’ll have to do more thinking about that July increase. Any thoughts?

Now that I have last year’s expenses mapped out as my starting point, let’s look at the same chart but with January 2014 added on.

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Tada! There is proof that we spent way less in January 2014 than any month in 2013. I think part of it has to do with my blogging. I know you bloggers are holding me accountable so I am more self conscious/think twice about eating out. I also think part of it is us being more intentional about leftovers and eating the food we have in our freezers. I’ll also contribute part of it to the freezing temperatures in Wyoming. Who wants to drive to lunch in sub zero weather?

So what you should learn from my experience so far?

1. Manually track your expenses – it will force you to look at each charge and write it down.
2. Start a journal or blog – this will hopefully hold you accountable to your goals.
3. Don’t stress about a budget – but make sure you do have goals.

Well, I think that’s it for my analysis for the night. I am glad to find that our expenses did not shift from groceries to restaurants as we thought might have happened. Here’s to continuing the trend into February!

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