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I’m sick and tired of my grocery bill: April Wrap Up

This is a three part series where I put my grocery bill under a microscope for a month.

April is now over and I thought I’d report out on my grocery project. For those of you just joining us, I decided to track my grocery spending in more detail to find out why the bill had climbed so much. I start at the beginning of April and posted a mid month check in. Now that April is over, here’s how things wrapped up:

I spent a total of $307.21 in April. I’m really pleased with the progress. This feels much better. The last time my grocery bill was this low was August 2013 when it was $300.69. Looking back that far I can see that I was averaging $300 a month, so I know I can do it. I just need to pay attention a little more.

So what did I learn from breaking things down more?  I’m spending less on fruit than I thought I was. I eat at least three different kinds of fruit a day and that’s really important to me. I would not want to cut back there. Cooking ingredients was the biggest area, but that’s good because I’m trying to cook from home more. Dairy feels high and I wonder if I could cut back on that. I’m going to try to pay more attention to sales for meat.

Right now, I’m not 100% convinced breaking things down is what helped lower the bill. What breaking things down did do was force me to pay more attention. It engaged me more, and really that was the problem.

Breaking things down forced better awareness and accountability. It required more attention than a single number.

I was really trying not to spend frivolously and I was paying closer attention to the budget. So when I found myself wanting to go to the store, I stopped and asked myself if I really needed anything, and I checked the grocery project category. I tend to buy in bulk quite a bit so there’s always something in the house. I found that two things forced me to the store: Fresh fruit and Coffee Creamer (Coffee is one of my indulgences. Mmmm Hazelnut...). I’m not sure what I can do about that since fresh fruit has a limited shelf life. I may pick up more coffee creamer in one trip since I go through it quickly. If I can avoid trips to the store than I can avoid being in the store thinking, “Maybe I’ll just pick up one more thing…”. One thing becomes five things and that becomes ten things, and so on. Fewer trips helps.

One other thing: Saving the receipts themselves, and going through them to record the split transaction wasn’t as tedious as I thought it would be. I don’t want to do it forever, but I’m ok with another month or two to see what I learn.

Posting all this here publicly was definitely on my mind as well. If you’re trying to cut back in an area of your budget, maybe get yourself a budget buddy that you can report out to. If you’re budgeting as a couple, make a focus category a part of your regular budget meetings.

I’ve decided to keep this going through May. I had $92.79 left in April that rolled over into May. I’m going to shoot for a max of $350 in May. So I budgeted enough to bring the max up to $350.

I’m going to track for another month, then I’ll have some averages and can decide what to do.

So that’s the nitty gritty. Here’s my big takeaway: The budget doesn’t work without me.

I know this. Of course I know this - I teach this. But it’s so easy to stop paying attention when there doesn’t seem to be a problem. Do you know what I mean?

It’s like putting on a warm hat in the winter and then thinking, “Well I’m warm now, I guess I don’t need this hat. Hmm...Why am I cold all of a sudden? Oh right, the hat. The hat is why I was no longer cold.”

The grocery bill was lower and under better control a year ago. “Well I guess I don’t need to worry about the grocery bill anymore. Hmm...Why am I spending so much on groceries? Oh right - I stopped paying attention and that’s what was keeping it low.”

I can’t just set the budget and forget it. I need to stay in the game. My budget and I are a team and I need to participate. And it’s not like I spent hours on this during the month. I just did a little more thinking and a little more checking of the budget.

So there you go. I’m curious to hear from our blog readers on this: Do you want me to update as I continue this grocery project? I’m happy to report out if it’s helping other people.

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I’m sick and tired of my grocery bill: April Wrap Up