September 9, 2010 by Leah
August didn’t turn out to be quite as good as I thought it was. An eleventh-hour ATM withdrawal and a couple of transactions (prescription pet food, e.g.) hit the books for August 30th and 31st after I’d analyzed our spending for the month. This is a compelling reason to track spending the old-fashioned way – by keeping receipts and entering individual transactions into some kind of ledger (perhaps I can also bring back the abacus). That said, we still spent less than our income in August – 94% of our income, to be exact. Considering July spending was up at 177% of our income, I’d say the August expenditures reflect a huge improvement.
Why was this? Let’s check out food spending. We spent $648.33 on groceries and $159.32 on restaurants (two meals out and one pizza in). Sadly (another argument for more personalized tracking) this doesn’t account for the cash I spend at the farmer’s market, which I attended twice during August and at which I probably spend $150 to $200 total. So our grocery bill, while lower than July’s (which was over $1000) was still probably in the $800-$850 range.
While this is a definite improvement, I’m not sure my goal of spending $100 per week or $500 per month is reachable for people who want to eat in a locally grown, sustainable manner. We’ve already talked about reducing our fish consumption to once a week, which should save us $40 to $60 per month (even though this week’s lingcod and ahi were both amazingly delicious, sigh). We’ll have to replace it with something else, though. Aaron is an inveterate carnivore, which makes me feel I need to serve some kind of animal protein the majority of the time (currently I’m shooting for four dinners a week being meaty – including fish or chicken – and three being vegetarian, and am averaging about five and two due to lack of creative vegetarian options). I’ve begun to embrace dried beans (I was already buying my grains and some flours from the oh-so-elusive-in-California bulk section), which theoretically (I’m paraphrasing a blog I read at some point) could save us $50 to $80 per year (I know I should be excited about that). We’ve been steadily cutting our wine consumption since the all-time high that was March through June of this year (to be clear, that period included our engagement, wedding, my finishing my MBA, our moving to Long Beach and living in a hotel for six weeks, a new house, second wedding reception, and honeymoon) and are now drinking in a manner which is good for our health and our bank account (seriously – I have leftover wine sitting on the counter these days). I’m doing a lot more homemade (bread, stock, aforementioned dried beans, etc.) in an effort to cut sodium and preservatives as well as save money. I think – in this area, anyway – I’m just going to keep plugging away with these newfound good habits and hope to keep cutting dimes off the grocery bill. Food is too important to sacrifice health to penny pinching.
Other oddities in August included the fact that we spent six days out of town, or, as Aaron would say, freeloading. (The plane fare was part of the debacle that was July.) We had a lovely time with Aaron’s family at two separate weddings on two consecutive weekends, but I’m not sure this really had a huge impact on our budget as we kept being good kids and buying gas and had to throw out leftovers when we got home. (The only payment our amazing and wonderful house and dog-sitter will accept is a dinner invitation. In fact, he’s coming over tonight for roast chicken.)
Speaking of travel and things that are important, I’ve been promising my 83-year-old grandmother that we will come out and see her (she lives in a beautiful spot near the coast of Maine and she and her husband are both completely delightful) so she can meet Aaron. Yesterday we booked our flight for next month – $800 for the two of us. (To a former Alaskan, this seems like pennies.) We should easily be able to work this trip into a healthy budget for September. There were two expense categories in August that were really over-the-top: one was clothing ($654 – I went on a premature shopping spree for climate-appropriate professional clothes including a new suit – for which my mama later generously reimbursed me since she couldn’t actually take me shopping) and the other was the dog ($1087 – getting his preliminary exams and course of treatment and medications all lined up). We don’t expect to spend any money in either area in September, so if we can keep our travel expenses under $1600 (shouldn’t be a problem) this actually represents a chance for us to save money. And the chance to see family and do some real hiking in a place with an actual autumn (I can wear my SmartWools!) is just too good to pass up.