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What Baking Can Do. Conscious Spending On What You Eat.

Raise your hand if you know someone who tried to make their own “sourdough starter” back in the spring.

Raise your other hand if the way you personally spent money on food was flipped upside down back in March when the quarantine started.

Ok you can put both hands down now, you’re going to need them to keep scrolling through the rest of the blog post.

One of the amazing things you gain from tracking your income and spending (are you tracking your income and spending yet?), is you start to be able to identify patterns and habits in the way you spend and live.  Recently I was looking specifically at the way I was spending money on food in January and February, compared to how things changed in March, April, and even leading up to now.

Let’s look at food spending in two categories: dining out & groceries.

Whether you are tracking that spending or not, I’m sure you have a general pulse on one over the other.

For instance, in January I was spending a heck of a lot more on “dining out” than I was “groceries”.  But looking at April, I completely flipped the script and spent hardly anything on dining out (which includes ordering in in my budget).  

I’ve always enjoyed cooking from time to time, but being forced to stay inside my apartment really changed a number of my core habits.  And what was a fringe interest in cooking new recipes, turned into a robust passion for at home culinary adventures.

I’m going share all my food spending from January through April- and let’s take a look at how some of the shifting occurred, where I seem to be hitting goalposts, and where I might still have some room to improve. 

I Can Cook Too, Apparently!

I’ve been tracking my budget to the penny every day since January 1st.  It’s allowed me the really cool opportunity now at 6+ months to dive in and examine my spending from a macro view.  It’s also been really helpful in forecasting my own spending for the rest of the year!

January 2020

Groceries – $292.61

Dining Out – $887.96

Total: $1,180.57

Macavity!  Back in January I was spending nearly 3x as much on dining out as I was spending on my groceries.  If I’m being honest, the sad truth of that dining out category is a hugeeee portion of it seems to be just “work lunch” (if you could see the amount of Chipotle, Red Poke, Sticky’s- on repeat, it’s frightening).

The funny thing is I can actually remember thinking at the time that I was pacing myself pretty well.  That $887 number felt like a good landing spot for me.  I wasn’t yet in the mindset of packing lunch and the power of saving in that area.  Who know what I was even buying at the grocery store for almost $300 that I still was spending almost $900 on dining out at the same time.

But here’s the fun part- now that I had a clear picture of what I spent, I had goals to beat.  

February 2020

Groceries – $74.30

Dining Out – $771.91

Total: $846.21

And I did beat them!

Winner winner, chicken dinner.

Granted I still went a little nuts in my dining out spending- but hey, $100 of cutting back is a good baby step.  And look at that grocery spending- if I had to guess, I would say I probably bought a lot of groceries in January that went bad…and I wasn’t willing to make that mistake two months in a row.  I also spent some time in Amsterdam and Switzerland at the end of the month, so I had less opportunity for groceries anyway.

We all know what’s coming next- the world turned upside down.

March 2020

Groceries – $512.44

Dining Out – $320.43

Total: $832.87

Enter Covid-19.

The pandemic has changed so much of how our daily lives operate- and it instantaneously changed the way we access food and beverage.  Speaking as a New Yorker, when bars and restaurants were forced to close in mid-March, as a community we were forced to pivot our spending towards grocery stores.  Remember the lines outside to go inside? Remember the intermittent shortages of certain items?  Yeast disappeared faster than Daveed’s rapping in Guns and Ships.

Of that $320 figure in dining out, $302 of it was spent between March 1st and March 14th.

If I could give myself a hypothetical pat on the back, I would have been on track to spend just over $600 on dining out in March- over another $100 down from February.

What happened on the other side?  Groceries skyrocketed!  (Groceries also included alcohol here and let’s be clear, March was scary times).

But now as we enter the thick of it, and I really doubled down on groceries vs. dining out, let’s see what happened in April.

April 2020

Groceries – $617.39

Dining Out – $54.55

Total: $671.94

I spent $54.55 on dining out (including ordering in) in April.  $54.55.  And guess what?  I more than survived.  This blog post is proof!

This was the heart of quarantine in many ways.  Our lives were shaken up radically, and yes, we were stuck indoors- but we also found ways to activate new parts of ourselves at the same time.

I embraced the notion that I could feed myself, and I could feed myself very well.  I started trying to make things I only ever thought I could order at a restaurant (I made my own Miso Ramen from scratch, noodles and all!).  What was the end result of this mad human experiment?

I made this. It was supreme.

I ate like a king, for less than $700 that month- by simply not having access to the ability to spend more frivolously.

Remember back in January how I spent almost $900 on dining out alone?  Crazy!

Sugar, Butter, Frugality

The purpose of today’s post is not to try and get you to copy and paste my spending totals.  This was a very unique stretch, in a very unique time.  My food spending is back up closer to $800-$900/month now that we have restaurants back in our lives.  

I encourage you to have a think about your own food budgeting.  Where do you overspend?  Where could you afford to stretch that dollar just a bit further?  The results might surprise you. I’m sure there are some folks out there saying, “Woah I spend way more on food than Broadway Joe does!” and there are just as many folks saying, “How could Broadway Joe possibly spend that much on food?! I’m way under his budgeting already!”. As always, it’s going to be completely personal.

But what did I learn in this personal exploration?

Before the pandemic, I used to believe that quality food or a quality dining experience was tied to money spent.

I’ve worked in restaurants in NYC- I’ve dined at some of the absolute best.  I cherish those experiences.

But in April when I turned 30, I had my sisters over at my home for a very low-key birthday dinner.  It wasn’t what I had planned at the beginning of the year.  We cooked and made every ounce of what we consumed (which happened to be filet mignons and homemade pasta).  It has been one of my favorite meals of the year- and it happened in a month where I spent the least amount of money on food, probably ever in my life.

You don’t need to spend an immense amount of money to feed yourself well.  Yes, you might need some certain skills (Educate on cooking!  It doesn’t have to be scary, and there are so many simple ways to put a meal together), and you will need a little bit of discipline (it’s not always fun cutting those onions), but there is also a joy in providing for yourself and consuming what you create.

I’m going to follow up this post eventually with some ideas on “frugal cooking”- simple recipes that take little to no effort, but taste delicious.  And they’ll keep your budget on track at the same time.

That’s how we feed ourselves as artists after all.  You feed your soul through your hard work and efforts.  You have practiced and learned those skills.  Why not tend to your body the same way?  Isn’t it amazing, What Baking Can Do?  


Did you enjoy today’s post on Conscious Spending On What You Eat? Drop a comment and let’s start a dialogue about some of your favorite grocery store strategies!

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