Lowering your grocery bill starts with budgeting

There is an app for it and I'm loving it

This month of the blog, I want to share my tips for saving money while eating well at the same time.  As a professional chef, those are two crucial areas of importance to me.  While being fiscally responsible and healthy are both good habits, often they are pitted against each other.  "Cheap food is bad for you."  "Organic/local/free-range/homemade is only for the 1%."

I want to share with you some things I'm doing in my life, as I try to negotiate these two values.  Not to be a total Indian dad about it, but saving money starts with budgeting and knowing what you are spending.  The biggest pattern that I've noticed with the millennials, singles and couples that I've talked to is that we know we spend way too much money going out to eat.  

I know for me, I like going out to eat--it's my favorite way to socialize with my friends and partner and it's also an opportunity for me to taste another chef's food and see what's going on the culinary world.  I don't want to give up my fun, trendy restaurant nights out.  What I do want to give up is all the takeout from poor planning: deli counter pickups, thai food takeout, tacos from down the street.  

I've started to use the budget planning tool You Need a Budget (YNAB) and anyone who knows me knows that I've become obsessed with it!  Just like my $100 bet for working out, it's a simple tool that's really changed how I approach a healthy habit in my life.  YNAB is a fancy digital version of the "envelope-style budget" where you put all of your money into different envelopes.  Every dollar gets ear-marked for a certain kind of spending as soon as it comes in and you don't get to plan what to do with any money you don't yet have in your possession.  It's been phenomenal for me as I try to see what I'm actually spending my money on as well as a smart tool for saving up for infrequent or unpredictable purchases like a new computer, Christmas gifts and healthcare.

Here's how I've started to categorize my food spending so that I can work to align it with my priorities:

1. Groceries

I want to spend most of my food money on groceries to encourage me to cook at home and eat more healthfully.  Instead of restricting this category, I actually make it bigger because I want to put my money where my mouth is.  By tracking my spending for a couple months, I can also see how $100 put into the grocery category takes me a lot farther than the same amount of money put towards dining out.

2. Going out to eat with my significant other

Going out to eat is one of our favorite things to do together, so I want to dedicate a good chunk of change to this.  The tricky part though? It's easy for us to spend more than we realize because of a couple of brunches quickly add up.  YNAB forces me to cut off once I've reached my total allotment or transfer money from another category.  That makes it obvious to me that I'm taking away money from another goal like vacation or auto repairs so I can really evaluate if it's the right decision.

3. Going out to eat with friends

My friends have less decadent tastes than my SO and I, so this category is smaller.  Mostly I want to make sure I always have money designated for birthdays, group dinners and coffee catchup so I can relax and enjoy the evening out without worrying.

4. Going out to eat alone.  

This is the category I want to eliminate mostly because it sounds so sad.  This category is for when I pick up a sandwich or something like that mid-day; something I'm doing maybe once a month as it is, but would ideally like to eliminate.

A lot of this budgeting sounds so basic and obvious, but it really makes a difference when you actually apply it.  If you don't track your spending it detail, you might be surprised to learn where your money is actually going and that it might not align with your priorities.

How do you create your food budget?  Do you use a digital tool like YNAB?  Share in the comments below so we can all get more saving savvy.

Photo courtesy of YNAB.