Looking at my spending for the last ten days--since the last time I've budgeted--I have overspent by 60%. That is, I hoped to spend $10/day on average, and I spent $16/day instead.
What is the primary culprit? Food. I eat out a lot, because I can't be arsed to prepare lunch before going to work. I think I'm eating cheaply, because I usually get a couple "chicken snack wraps" and a large iced tea from McD's for less than $5. But blowing half of my discretionary daily budget on lunch isn't actually economical. If I did that every day, I would be over budget because of other necessary expenses that come out of my discretionary pool--kitty litter, actual healthy groceries, and entertainment.
Now, my situation isn't dire--the $10/day allowance plan was meant to allow for extra spending when necessary. But I am determined to reign in that spending with some smart planning. By my reckoning, I have 22 days left in my July plan to recoup the $60 I've lost so far.
Simple division says that, to accomplish this, my daily allowance is now reduced to $7 and a quarter. My discretionary fund is now roughly $50/week. Keep in mind that this does not include gas--that's a separate pool. But it includes food, entertainment, and other expenses.
Here are the steps I'm going to take to stay within the budget:
- Think in terms of weeks instead of days. Thinking in days gets me into trouble psychologically, because I get an inflated sense of spending power that makes fast food seem like a good deal, when it's not.
- Plan meals. In the short term, I'm not going to change *when* I eat (that's a project I'll need your help with, Laura), but I'll change *what* I eat.
- Carry cash, leave the cards at home.
Now, let's talk about food.
I don't eat crappy food because I enjoy it more than healthy food; I eat it because it's easy and it seems cheap at the time that I buy it.
The key to successful change is to make it as easy and as possible. I don't want this to be a major project. I want real progress, and if that means microscopic steps, then so be it.
I found a great place to start: a blog post, Eating Healthy for $3 a Day.
I have no intentions of slavishly obeying this post, but it gives me a place to start and allows me to make substitutions as I wish. If I wind up spending $5 day it will be a success.
Here is what he considers a list of daily staples:
- 3 cups cooked brown rice ($0.53)
- 2 cups cooked pinto beans ($0.23)
- 2 stalks cooked broccoli (360g) ($1.06)
- 1 baked sweet potato (180g) ($0.40)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil ($0.18)
- 1/2 cup sunflower seeds, shelled ($0.22)
- 2 cups nonfat milk ($0.37)
Let's forget number crunching and make some basic substitutions and additions:
- I don't like rice. But I'll eat pasta.
- I don't like sweet potatoes (sorry Laura) but I love regular baked potatoes.
- The shelled sunflower seeds is a really interesting possibility that I hadn't considered. Nuts are expensive--they hover around $5 for 8oz, and I don't normally think of them as a cooking ingredient, but for the added protein (or as a snack) I could see sunflower seeds as being pretty amazing. Otherwise I may just go with some unsalted mix nuts or peanuts.
- I'll take black beans over pinto beans any day.
- I'm cooking chicken cacciatore tonight, so I will need ingredients for that.
So my plan today is to grab $50 in cash, and try to get a week's worth of groceries (including tonight's dinner) for $30. Wish me luck, I'll let you know how it goes.