My 2018 Plan for Finally Facing How Much Money I Spend on Food

published Jan 19, 2018
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(Image credit: Marian Weyo)

So, I have a confession to make: I spend a lot of my money on food and drinks. I’ve justified this for the last five years of my life because, well, writing about food and drinks is literally my job, and doing “research” makes me a better writer and editor, right? It’s totally cool that I buy that expensive new chocolate bar because it’s super trendy right now and I need to be in the know. And it’s fine if I blow all my money on going out to that fancy new restaurant — even though I don’t normally write about restaurants — because maybe I’ll be inspired by something I eat.

In the last year, however, I’ve also been getting more into learning about money and how to save and decrease a budget without pulling out your hair (I have the smart women at The Financial Diet to thank for that). I’ve become more comfortable with the idea that spending less on food doesn’t mean restricting what you eat (all the time) and that bringing your lunch to work more really does make a difference — especially in New York.

Last year I also launched the Food Budget Diaries on Kitchn, which was enlightening for me. Reading about how people were able to spend considerably less than I do was kind of a shock. And if you’ve ever read one of these diaries, then you also know that the comment section is pretty, shall we say, aggressive when it comes to judging people. It forced me to take a hard look at my food budget, or lack thereof.

So, where could I do better in my spending habits? The only way to look at this was to set a monthly budget based on past spending and then subtract based on how much I was trying to save on any given month. I also knew it wouldn’t be sustainable for me to keep track of every purchase in a spreadsheet, and so I reopened my old Mint account, a website that I had used in the past that helps you break down your budget and keep track of spending habits.

But this time when I opened Mint, I learned something new that totally changed how I’m tackling my budget this year: Mint has a great app! I don’t know how long it’s been around (years, probably), but this was new to me and it’s revolutionized how I track my spending. I made big buckets for all my expenses — including food — and I simply label everything that comes in on my credit card within the app. Every bottle of wine I buy, every restaurant I eat at, every grocery store visit all gets a “Food & Drinks” tag and the app collects this data and clearly shows you how you’re pacing for the month.

Because it’s an app, and because I always have my phone on me, checking how I’m pacing for the month has become a daily thing for me. I scroll through any transactions for the day, label them, take a look at the pacing, and close the app. It takes all of two minutes of my time.

I’ve learned a lot in the last few weeks, including that maybe that fancy bread I like buying really isn’t worth it, and buying a cup of tea when I could easily make it at home for cheaper might not be the smartest option. It turns out that setting a food budget is also freeing instead of restrictive, because I’m able to prioritize meals and events in my life and feel confident about those choices.

There’s a good chance that many of you out there probably have elaborate systems of tracking spending and budgets that are better than this. But if you’re like me (read: a little bit lazy and want to get a better hold on your finances), this might be the right app for you too.

How do you keep track of your food budget?