We are officially DONE with our January Spending Diet! First, let's see the tally...
Week 4 Totals:
For a FINAL TOTAL of $503 (of $450 budgeted) for the month of January!
No, we did not stay under $450 -our goal amount- but I still consider this a success. Normally, we spend $700-800 on these categories, so we still came out much improved over our normal spending behaviors. Most of that gas money was the $47 Hubby spent to fill my car completely up. (I would've just put $20 or so in for the sake of the challenge, but he decided to fill it up in order to save time later.) Otherwise, we would've nearly stayed within budget. The higher food expense this week was a result of having to fill in and buy more as our ingredients and staples were very depleted.
What I take away from this challenge...
We spend too much on groceries. I thought I was already doing this, but I need to do a better job of utilizing ingredients we already have on hand. A system using cash-only and calculator are the way to go (and don't forget to plan your meals.) It is also hugely helpful if you can shop without the kids whenever possible. Based on this experience, I am going to try and lower our grocery budget drastically to $80/week. It may work. Or it may not be sustainable over the long term. But you never know unless you try. Even if we could do that every other month or every third month it would be an improvement.
Cooking at home is underrated. While we weren't eating steak or lobster this month, we did eat pretty well and I didn't feel like I was constantly prepping or cooking. I tried to stay realistic about the time and energy I would have to prepare a meal on a given night, and plan accordingly. I used the slow cooker a lot for busier evenings which was a nice break. And I honestly didn't miss fast food or eating out. By severely cutting our food budget and virtually eliminating the restaurant option, it somehow made it easier and more enjoyable to cook at home. Eating out has always been the sole cause whenever we go over our food budget, and we weren't even eating in sit-down restaurants. It was fast food, mostly. Those costs add up quickly and the food isn't even that great. Sacrificing eating out is something I'm willing to do if it will help us reach our financial goals.
I stock up too much AND I don't stock up enough. Funny, huh? I probably spend a lot of money unnecessarily on stocking up. However, stockpiling ingredients (within reason) can be a valuable safety net if there is a sudden job loss, major illness, or disaster that causes you to be unable to afford food or leave your home. It is what helped us get through this month on our reduced budget. I think I will try to strike a balance--no need to spend a lot of money to fill the pantry back up. I will build it back up over time, using coupons to get the rock-bottom prices, and only if there is room in the budget. Ingredients for planned meals will be prioritized first and stock up items will be purchased only if there is money leftover.
We could be a lot smarter about our fuel consumption. In the future, we will drive for a purpose and when we actually need something, and not to just "get out of the house". We will use our hybid as the primary car. I will be better about planning ahead to minimize trips back and forth to work or the store.
We are blessed in many ways. I have a renewed appreciation for the ability to buy groceries and fill up my car with gas. For us, this budget lasted only a month. For many, they have to make do with even less and more mouths to feed. It is so easy to get caught up in your own world and what you think are big problems, that we forget to remember the big picture. We are so fortunate and need to be reminded of that occasionally.
What do you think? Are you inspired to do a Spending Diet of your own?