The September Budget Meeting in the Vega household was not an easy one.
We had given ourselves a lot of financial leeway as we gave up everything we knew last May to move halfway across the country to a city we had only visited briefly, separately, and years ago. During our transition, we focused more on comfort than on frugality, which means that if we felt we needed something, we bought it… That included the purchase of a King-sized bed to replace the 10-year-old Queen mattress we’d been using. For some reason it surprised me that when we got a bigger bed, we also needed bigger sheets and blankets! The comforter set naturally came with King-sized pillowcases, which meant we also bought bigger pillows. We also had two cars to register the first week we lived here. Because we moved to a more affluent neighborhood than our old place in Los Angeles, our food bill grew considerably higher. The air-conditioning in Mr. Vega’s 23-year-old car gave out just in time for the local temperatures to hit triple digits, and when he took the car to the mechanic, it turned out that he also needed a new exhaust system and ignition switch (old cars sometimes wear out, what can you do?). Additionally, our attempts to meet people, make friends, and experience some of the awesomeness that is Austin had us spending a great deal more money in restaurants and bars than we’re accustomed to.
After four months here, our finances have begun to settle into a more familiar rhythm: we’ve found less-expensive options for groceries, our apartment feels fully furnished, and we’ve gotten our professional wardrobes better adapted to the local culture (and climate!). But one spending category still looms large: FOOD.
To be honest, this has been an area of concern for me throughout our marriage. Every month, I am horrified to see how much we’ve spent on groceries, restaurants, fast food coffee shops and alcohol. But every month, we find ourselves rushed, or tired, or invited out with friends and there goes the budget. Mr Vega believes that if we’ve tried our best, and haven’t been able to make a change, then perhaps it’s an unreasonable expectation to continue trying to wrestle the number into submission. We certainly earn enough, even at our newly reduced income, to accommodate what we’ve been spending on food. I, on the other hand, think that a lot of the expenses result from exhaustion/impulsivity/not having found a system that works well for us. During the Budget Meeting, we found ourselves at loggerheads, until, in exasperation, I said “How are we ever going to buy a house if we keep spending like this on food? We are eating our house!”
That broke the stalemate, and we took a closer look at the budget, and made some decisions about the coming month. Fortunately, we haven’t got much planned for September, so if there was ever a good month to rededicate ourselves to this mission, this is it. We’re going to put our attention to planning ahead so that fatigue doesn’t get the better of us at the end of our longer workdays, and to make it extra delicious, to fortify us against the siren song of takeaway, or lunches grabbed on the fly. I’m also going to focus on avoiding food waste, because I have a sneaking suspicion that, since our move, ours has increased by much more than we realize… it’s easy to tell ourselves that “It’s not that bad,” when it really is, or that “This week was an anomaly,” when it really wasn’t. Finally, I’m going to do something I haven’t done in years: I’m breaking out the envelopes! Every dollar we spend on food in September is going to be cash money, honey, and when it’s gone, it’s gone. If we can actually do this, we’re going to reach our goal of homeownership so much faster, and I bet our waistlines will thank us, too.
What are you saving for and spending on in September?
Our food budget too, gets away from us too easily. And now I am having health issues that require me to try a gluten free diet for 4 weeks, meaning I have to actually cook at home most of the time, something I haven’t done a lot of for many years. Such a challenge!
That’s a challenge I believe you can manage, though, because I’ve seen you do it before. Health issues are no fun, but I’m glad you’re taking care of yourself, and hopefully it will benefit your finances, as well. Keep us posted on how you’re doing, and if the diet helps (I hope it does)! Love you!
I’m spending on the Financial Blogger Conference, which includes staying three extra days to visit with my daughter. We’re both trying to do this on budget, but not sure how well that will work. At least part of the trip is a business-expense thing.
At the same time I’m contributing $250 toward a home improvement project (ouch) and looking at another possible trip in mid-October, to the East Coast to visit family and also get face time with a couple of editors. Again: Will be able to write some of it off, and I’m using some frugal hacks (buddy pass good for 90% off the airfare, Megabus from Philly to NYC, hostel while I’m there) but will also be spending to do stuff like take my dad out to eat and maybe take my nephew to the Philadelphia Zoo or something.
I keep hearing cash registers going off. Sigh.
Really enjoyed meeting the two of you while in Austin.
Have a wonderful time at FinCon, and enjoying New Orleans with your daughter, I wish this were my year to go. Mr. Vega, however, is getting to attend a couple of local professional conferences that his employer is paying for, including one that we thought wouldn’t be covered but felt strongly enough about its importance to pay for! It will be wonderful to re-patriate those dollars when the reimbursement check comes in.
I suspect your home improvement project might pay for itself over a couple of years, if all goes well. At least I hope so! And the trip East sounds wonedrful, if costly. Your spending sounds like exactly what you wrote about in http://www.getrichslowly.org/blog/2014/09/04/voluntarily-slashed-salary/
A woman’s gotta LIVE, after all!
So glad we got to meet you too, and looking forward to our paths crosiing again, sometime.
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