One of the things that presents a challenge to those who want to save more than they spend, or in our case save significantly more than we spend, is that you are constantly battling the marketing and consumption culture that is pushed on you everywhere you go. I admit that at times it is hard to resist the temptations to spend money on a lot of things that are seemingly unnecessary. In the past I had a huge weakness for new technology devices, but luckily I mostly have that under control now. As we continue to ramp up our savings rate I know that we could easily save a lot more than we currently do, but this, as with most things, is a work in progress. We try to make smart decisions on what and when we purchase things, and I think by most people’s standards we are fairly frugal in most of our potential spending categories. The one area we have really tried to cut back on lately is our spending on groceries, which I think tends to be the number one weak area in our spending. Some of this can be attributed to feeding a toddler who’s eating preferences and habits change day to day, and some is simply due to inefficiencies in our shopping plan leading to waste.
Reducing our spending in this area is something that is included in our project goals for this year since it is one of the few areas we should easily be able to control. When I started this blog it was not simply an attempt to tell anyone who reads it how great everything was with our plan but to share our success and our faults as we work toward financial independence. Currently we are spending between $750 -$1,000 a month in our grocery category for a family of three. At first I thought this was significantly more than what an average person would spend, but according to the USDA Cost of Food Reports we are not really that far off from what would be considered normal. Regardless, considering our goals, I think these numbers are too high when trying to achieve and maintain financial independence. We are certainly not perfect and have our own share of challenges, so we do what anyone who is trying to achieve a goal does, we identify the problem and come up with a workable solution.
After taking a careful look at the spending in our grocery category, the first problem I have identified is the way that I am tracking grocery spending. Since my wife usually does all the grocery shopping I simply take all the purchases she makes at the grocery store and enter it into the grocery category of our spreadsheet. The problem with this is that I am not really taking a good look at the data, and not all of the spending at the grocery store is actually spent on what would normally be considered groceries or food. For example, we have cats and buying cat litter and food for them, both of which we purchase at the grocery store, can add up. I really should be putting this in a different category so I know what the actual costs of owning pets are compared to what we spend on food. I know for some this might not make a big difference, but for someone who likes to look at all data points to make informed decisions, it really surprises me that I haven’t broken down our spending a little bit more. Other items purchased from the grocery store include household items such as cleaning supplies, toiletries, medications, and even gifts. Ultimately the goal is to reduce spending, but without knowing where the money is being spent, it makes it hard to try to reduce or find alternatives that might be cheaper from another source.
The second problem is we simply need to do better planning. When I see items we purchase ultimately going to waste without being used, it can be a bit frustrating. Sometimes it is simply an item that made it’s way to the back of the pantry or the refrigerator and went unnoticed until it expired or went bad. Another issue with our current system is that it sometimes results in multiple trips to the grocery store per week as we decide what to have for meals throughout the week. We also don’t have a reliable way to keep track of the items we have in our pantry. I think the best way to address this is to move to a system where we plan out all of our meals at least for the week and purchased the items needed for those meals while at the same time looking to purchase things that can be used in multiple meals.
A fairly recent problem that may be the biggest challenge of all is how to get our child to eat more of the food we buy and prepare for her. Since we try to make sure she eats healthy we buy plenty of fruits and vegetables that sometimes she devours and sometimes she refuses to even touch. There have been numerous times when she has told us she really wants a particular food item, and once it is prepared refuses to eat it, and this can wear you down pretty quick. I am hoping that this is a phase she will grow out of soon, and luckily as her vocabulary and communications skills have increased she has been able to give us a better indication of whether she is going to eat a particular food item before we prepare it.
Finally, we do have some some factors that contribute to increasing our costs that are a little bit harder to resolve. My wife is a vegetarian and I eat meat which at times means we make two different versions of the same meal, one with meat and one without. I can, of course, eat meals that do not contain meat so sometimes I do eat the same thing as my wife, but there are other times I want to eat meat (or not eat the vegetarian meat substitute) as part of my meal. We also try to avoid eating processed foods and most of our meals are made from scratch. In some areas this can save money, but in others it makes it more expensive. We typically don’t bother with coupons since the majority of coupons are for the types of foods and products that we do not eat.
Reducing this spending category will be added to our goals for the year and I will continue to update this blog on our progress and any helpful suggestions we find along the way.