It’s been a while since I told you all about my New Year’s resolution to slowly create and live within a budget. I’m thinking it’s time for an update on my process.
After trying to track my expenses without third-party help, I quickly came to the realization that I am never going to succeed without some help. Writing down and tracking my own expenses is not so bad, but staying on top of what my husband spends as well just adds a layer of complexity that I’m not up to. There are seemingly endless budgeting tools available online, and I feel like I’ve tried most of them at one point or another. But when it comes right down to it, what I really wanted is a good old-fashioned spreadsheet. I’m pretty good with spreadsheets (because they are very handy for my job), so if I could just get my account data transported into a spreadsheet I know I’m capable of manipulating it in ways that are useful to me. Thankfully I found Tiller. This tool connects my accounts to a customizable Google Sheet, so I can sort my transactions by date and category. I’m on a one-month free trial right now, but I’m already thinking this will be worth the $59 a year it will cost me to continue. I was able to get it all set up in about an hour, and quickly saw that the biggest consumption of my money (beyond housing and medical bills) is food.
I looked at my food expenses and saw that there is definitely room to cut back on dining out as well as on groceries. Dining out is the easy piece. We just won’t do that as often. This will end up being better not only for the wallet, but also for the waistline. Groceries are more complicated. As I’ve done my tour through a few different stores lately, I’ve been paying better attention to how much things I consume regularly cost. There are some things (predominantly pet supplies) that I sometimes buy online. This week I compared that cost to in-store prices, and discovered that online is indeed cheaper for these things. But it would have been easy to just never check because I enjoy the convenience of having kitty litter delivered to my front porch. Now that I know the online price is less, I’ll make sure I have enough coming that I never have to buy it in store.
Another grocery cost-saver is whole foods versus prepared foods. A bag of steam-in-bag brown rice is significantly more expensive than a bag of raw brown rice. A little planning and some quality time with my Instant Pot can make that transition very easy. A jumbo tub of old-fashioned oats is much cheaper than pre-packaged instant oatmeal or any boxed cereal. For produce it’s important to consider the time of year. Fresh produce is not cheap in Pennsylvania in February. But frozen berries and vegetables can get the job done for a lot less money. I’ll wait to enjoy fresh when things are in season. And then there is meat. There is definitely savings to be found from buying in bulk. That jumbo pack of chicken breasts can easily be broken down into individual packages and frozen. That 9-pound pork shoulder roast can be slow cooked and then frozen as several individual pounds of cooked pulled pork for future burritos and casseroles and sandwiches. Today’s rotisserie chicken is tomorrow’s chicken casserole. And don’t forget about the poor-man’s staples: eggs, pasta, beans, rice, and meat that comes in a can (I prefer tuna, but I know there are still Spam lovers in the world!).
There are a lot of ways to shave the food bill. I’ll keep exploring them and sharing what I learn.