I realize that we are actually almost two weeks into 2012, but today was the day of my first paycheck of 2012, which means it was also the first day of my new budget. I have a moderately complicated multi-sheet spreadsheet that I use that I created in Open Office (because I am too cheap to buy MS Office due to the fact that no portion of my work life involves me needing to use that at home), and I use it to budget for expected expenses (bills and the like) as well as fluid expenses. Outside of the bills-and-the-like categories, I divide my spending into three other categories: gas, groceries, and spending money.
Gas and groceries are pretty self-explanatory, and the spending money category kind of absorbs anything that is not a bill or does not fit into gas and groceries. This could be anything from a mammoth trip to Target to a car repair to a dental co-pay to a charitable contribution. Regular expenses that go into this category are the dues I pay for my bowling league, the cost of my Weight Watchers meeting each week, my contribution to my sponsored child through Compassion International, my trips through the drive thru, my lunches and dinners out with friends, gift purchases, and all the random money I spend on myself. The major issues in this category are definitely the trips through the drive thru (and other food purchases that are fast food-esque, even if I did not purchase them while seated in my car) and the random money I spend on myself. All the rest, I am okay with, for the most part. But reining in the food purchases and the random stuff would have a real impact on the amount of money I was spending each month.
Before I closed out my 2011 budget, I decided to go through the different sheets (I have one sheet for each pay period, with a cover sheet that breaks down all my expected bill-related expenses for the year) and take a look at how much money I spent in the different categories. Some of them were actually a little better than I expected. For example, I spent a grand total of $1,121.75 at Target this year. Now, it should be noted that I do not buy groceries at Target, and I do realize that this comes out to almost $100 per month, but I had a horrific suspicion that my spending there was even worse than that. Still, I do have to admit that Target is not really a place I go to buy major necessities. Yes, I do buy the occasional beauty items or vitamins or OTC medications there, but the bulk of my Target spending is of the I-have-had-a-bad-day-and-want-to-treat-myself variety. If I could rein this in, that could have an impact on the amount of money I could either put toward other debt each month or put into savings. Therefore, one of my goals for this year is to spend less time wandering the aisles of Target and more time making a list of what I plan to buy when I go in there and then sticking to that list.
Another not-too-bad total was the amount of money I spent at Barnes & Noble last year. Now, I am a big fan of my Nook, so most of these purchases were probably ebooks. And these were not in any way, shape, or form the only books I bought, as I often find myself grabbing a book at Target or Wegmans when I am shopping there. However, I spent $294.06 at Barnes & Noble this year. Many, many, many of the books I read this year on my Nook were from the Free Library of Philadelphia, which was a big cost savings for sure. I am actually fine with spending that much money on books, provided that they are books I actually read. I have a TON of books sitting around that I have not yet read, and I should probably not buy any more until those books have been enjoyed. My best guess is that will NOT be happening, however.
I spent a lot of money on fast food/grab-and-go food, and I blame this on my 12-hour shifts at work. I work from 6:30 AM to 7:00 PM, and I usually take a break at 9:00 AM to eat some breakfast and then again at 12:30 PM or 1:00 PM to eat my lunch. On the days that I work, I try to make lunch my big meal, and I almost always bring it from home. I used to eat in the cafeteria quite a bit, but this past year, I really cut back on that. However, on my way home, I pass a lot of fast food restaurants, and often by about 7:30 PM, which is right in the middle of my drive home, I am STARVING. And that is why I often find myself stopping off to get something to eat. Well, my spending at Chick-fil-a last year, which is one of my favorite drive thrus to hit on the way home because (A) I love it and (B) the 12-pack of nuggets only costs me 10 Points+, which is easy for me to save for dinner, was $68.19. That actually is not too bad. The 12-pack of nuggets is somewhere in the neighborhood of $5, and that isn’t a bad amount of spend on dinner, provided I don’t do it too often. However, if I add up the amount of money I spent on other fast food and grab-and-go food (including places like McDonald’s, SaladWorks, Sonic, Wawa, Sheetz, and various take-out places), I find that I spent an additional $456.24 on quick meal stops like this. So all in all, I spent over $500 on unhealthy meal choices, which might explain why my Weight Watchers success has not been as great as it might be.
The two biggest expenses in my budget, outside of my bills, are definitely gas and groceries. I budgeted last year $150 per pay for gas and $250 per pay for groceries. I have 26 pay periods per year, so my goal was to spend about $3900 on gas and $6500 on groceries. I have to say that, while I didn’t necessarily stick to the budget each pay in these areas, overall I did very well. My total gas expenses for the year were $3263.64, which is well under budget, and my grocery expenses for the year were $6087.15, which is also under budget. The only way I will be able to cut my gas budget appreciably is to live closer to work, which is not an option at this current time. However, there are ways I could save on groceries, and this year, my goal is to stick to a budget of $200 per pay for my grocery expenses.
Right now, I don’t do just one large grocery shopping trip each week, which I know is one way that I could make it easier on myself and save some money. I do tend to do a large shopping trip at Shop-Rite or Giant, but in additiona, I find myself stopping often at Wegmans (which is one of my happy places, incidentally…I love it there.) to pick up things for just one meal. And then while I am picking up those items, I grab other things that catch my eye, and before long, I am spending $50 extra outside of my weekly grocery trip on things that I probably don’t need. I also don’t do meal-planning, which is another way I could save myself some time and money. I would like to see myself hitting the grocery store just once each week this year so as to avoid the shock I feel when I go to clean my receipts out of my wallet to put them into my checkbook and realize that I went to Wegmans four times in a week and spent too much each time.
One way that I am going to work on sticking to my grocery and spending money budgets is to implement an all-cash envelope plan. I plan to look at my budget each pay and divide my grocery and spending allowances in half. I will then take out each week, in cash, the amount of money I have dedicated to those two items and place them in separate envelopes in my wallet. I will spend from the cash in those envelopes until the cash is gone, and once the cash is gone, I will spend no more (barring emergencies). This will mean that I will have to look at my calendar each week and plan out what I need money for so I don’t find myself without my Weight Watchers money or minus my bowling money when it comes time for those events to happen. It also means that I will have to eat at home more often and resist the call of the drive thru on my way home from work. However, I know plenty of people who have had great success with this plan and expect that it will help me as well.
WHEW! That was a lot. If you are still reading, thanks! And remember to make it a great day, everyone!