How many articles have you read that say, “With this one change you can save thousands of dollars” and the answer seems to always been… cut out the lattes. The math is $4 latte * every time you get one = $$$$. I get the point, but what about tea drinkers? Or other ways to save money? The real reason this is the starting point is because it is so easily within our control. We need to eat, but how we go about that can look drastically different based on the different goals we set for ourselves.
For me, food is broken down into three categories: groceries, eating out on my own, and ‘entertainment’.
My average grocery budget for the past three years has been $112/month. This is a pretty fair number, considering how much I host dinner parties. I eat a lot of fresh veggies, including some from a small community garden plot I run. I am also a big fan on the discount rack at the supermarket to buy the things that I never otherwise would (fancy crackers in a dented box? Yes please!) When I grab a six-pack to bring to a friend’s place, I generally call that groceries too.
My ‘eating out on my own’ line-item is $92/mo. This is when I grab a coffee on my way to work, eat lunch at the food trucks, or find myself too hungry to think when I’ve been out running errands and need to hit the food court. Since I generally pack my lunch, this remains low. I keep this line-item separate because it is the one I have the most control over. When I choose to eat out it is either because I didn’t plan properly, just came back from a trip and didn’t have any food in the fridge, or for whatever reason didn’t have a lunch prepared. Or, it is because I felt like I deserve a treat gosh darn it! All that’s to say, I don’t begrudge this line one bit but I am mindful that it is one of the most pliable.
Going out is the kicker – $280/month. This is drinks, dinner, brunch, with friends, partner, etc. It has also held steady for more than 4 years, so my habits haven’t changed. This is about $70/week, which, in an expensive city, shakes out to be a $50 night of dinner, cocktails, maybe the cover at a bar with live music, plus brunch for another $20. I definitely don’t ever say no to going out, and it ends up being more frequent than just twice a week. Let’s say $12 for happy hour drinks with a friend, $13 for a more casual brunch, $35 for dinner and a drink, and $10 to treat a friend to a smoothie after yoga class. A late night jumbo slice of pizza with a friend for $6. While I can quickly justify this bucket in my head with “This is how I see friends!” and “This is actually not that much money given where I live!” it is still the biggest part of my flexible spending. (Note: My entertainment budget is split into “Food/Drink” and “Other” with the intention of incentivizing spending on things like theatre and movie tickets, comedy nights, etc rather than just sitting around a bar with friends. More on that category later.) And I certainly try and branch out from the ‘dinner and drinks to catch up’ model since it is not nearly as fulfilling as going for a hike, meeting for a book club, or even running errands with a friends. How do you manage to reduce your entertainment budget? Any frugal ideas for how to be social on a dime? Please send tips, and I will post an article compiling them!
Things I don’t buy:
Take out. For whatever reason, despite living in NYC – the land of grubhub – I never really got into it. That leaves me scrouging to the back of the freezer some nights.
Meat. While I do eat plenty of meat, I don’t tend to buy it to cook regularly since it is more expensive than soups, veggie burritos and other options which are equally delicious.
Things I buy on sale:
Beauty products. I will pick up vitamins, shampoo and face cream when the price is right.
Host supplies. The fancy crackers, tray of chocolates and other items that are perfect when hosting book club or to bring when visiting a friend.