My Food Budget Resolution

In 2009, I was in a good full time job working downtown, near where all kinds of food establishments were. That included a food court accessible by a tunnel from the building in which I worked, being in cold and stormy Canada during winter, to give me easy access to work lunch year round. It made it all too easy to buy lunch every day and never having to think about making lunch the evening before. After all, what was I earning a decent living for if not to enjoy life? And this was no splurge. There was a lot of fast food from that food court, I regret to admit. It was just the free time from cooking that motivated me not to cook for lunch, though the fact that a regular meal also got me two fast food meals, and not one that seemed much healthier. That perception, though, was probably a misperception, in part, from my choice not to go for vegan salads or other healthier meals that didn’t provide caloric needs for my marathon training.

Whatever the true value for money was available among my work lunch options that year, the end result was an average food and drink expenditure of almost $12 per day, which got you a fair bit more than it does in 2021, to keep things in perspective. That average expenditure was for all food and drink, not just my eat out work lunches. For appropriate appraisal context, I must point out I didn’t drink coffee, tea, or alcohol, then, and barely only drink any tea these days of those options. I bring that up because I know people with alcohol, possibly even coffee, budgets bigger than that today, so I wanted you to be able to calibrate my expenditure scale on an appropriate scale. $12 per day is nothing for lots of people I know when it comes to food and drink!

As valuable as time should be valued economically, I somehow managed to convince myself to balance things out a bit in 2010 with regards to food and drink expenditure, to keep that daily average under $10 per day, where it was before that year. That’s what happens when you have and use a finance log like the one I shared here. You find numerical reasons to convince yourself to do things that you know can be good for you, like making more of my own meals to eat less fast food, but that aren’t rational if you ever got questioned for it, like how much was my free time worth? I think ultimately, I convinced myself that any free time I might gain from not cooking and eating fast food, I was going to lose far more due to a shorter lifespan. I think I also convinced myself that if I were to eat enough more expensive food to get me my caloric needs for marathon training, I would probably have to double my food and drink budget, and not feel good about the bang for the buck with much cheaper fast food options nearby to be able to enjoy those work lunches. Not enjoying cooking or not enjoying lunches. Which was worse? Well, I won’t be saving $3000 for not enjoying lunches, so not enjoying cooking it was going to be! It would just be in moderation to keep that food and drink budget to under $10 per day, on average. So as long as I could do that, which I had a real time indicator of with my spreadsheet, I could skip cooking lunch all I wanted. I believe that’s how the deal was done.

Ever since 2010, despite inflation and rising costs of food and drink, I am super proud to say I’ve been able to keep my food and drink budget to below $10 per day each year! I didn’t do this at all costs, balancing enjoyment of life and learning to get some enjoyment from cooking meals and being able to brag about this accomplishment every year. Life’s all in how you view it, right? My attempt was usually just under my target, though, with the pre-2020 all-time low set in 2019 at only $9.18 per day, or about $300 under the $3650 target for the year. However, COVID lockdown and restrictions, along with a personal push to get that average under $9 per year in 2020, got me to a new low by a long shot! What did I say about having that spreadsheet and stupid numerical targets rationalized after the fact? 🙂

In 2020, I averaged just $6.33 per day for all food and drink! The anti-social cold winter got me off to a blistering start, living off food stocked up from the end of 2019 when it was clear I would miss the $9 per day target and would try for that in 2020. I spent all of $15 on food and drink in January. February was a bit more normal with having to get fresh produce, and also no eating out. March through June saw me make just about every meal I ate with lockdown through most of it, though June was restocking month that saw me spend over $11 per day, on average, then. I have enough rice bought at over 50% off to last me about 3 years, though, so it was worthwhile. The rest of the way, I held things between $6 and $7 per day for the year, with months ranging from about $4 to $8 per day, to end up at $6.33 and not allowing myself to stock up to get a head start for 2021. There was no way I was going get a value as low as that $6.33 ever again, so might as well keep it as low as I could for eternal bragging rights. Now the big question was going to be what would a reasonable target be for 2021?

I expect the COVID situation where I live in Halifax, Nova Scotia, to be like much of the second half of 2020 for at least the first half of 2021, if not first 3/4. I won’t be cooking every meal I will be eating for three months, I can tell you that! There will have to be a restocking month somewhere for non-perishable items other than rice, and social life dining might be relatively normal again for a quarter of the year. Looking at my 2019 average, my second half of 2020 average, a weighted month of restocking, I came up with the formula of (9.5*3+7*8+11)/12 = $7.96 or basically $8 per day for all food and drink.

  • Three months at about $9.50 per month from a typical year prior to 2020;
  • Eight months at about $7 per day, which was just a tad higher than an average month for me in the second half of 2020;
  • One month restocking at $11 per day like my June 2020 was, or maybe a travel month that I didn’t have in 2020;
  • To yield an $8 average that felt like a “normal” month in the second half of 2020, with the $6.50 average only due to a few extra diligent months of around $5 per day that wasn’t “normal” for me. I’m also not factoring any major increases for food costs, which might well happen as food costs have been rising steadily in recent years. As well, I’m not allotting any bumps in spending for travel, should I get to do that, because one pretty much has to eat out most of the time while traveling, or lose enjoying cooking in an AirBnB or such that defeats the main purpose of vacationing.

I don’t know how accurate that’s going to be given my best year before the outlier 2020 was $9.19 per day, but I’m willing to try! Mind you, all this could be thrown out the window should certain black swan events come along like be entering a relationship, finding new friend groups with my new interests this year, doing extended vacations, and so on. I definitely won’t be cheaping out on dining for any of those things. This is about self-discipline and getting good value for money, not being cheap or stunting life enjoyment, especially where others are involved, though food bought for others count in a different category! So with that, let’s get going on the details!

 

What’s your resolution idea?

Average under $8 per day for all food and drink (assumed to be bought for me and not others like when I am treating them).

 

Why & for whom are you doing this?

My health and myself, mostly, with personal pride and the occasional bragging rights for my life management skills and self-discipline in this area.

 

How will you know when you’ve succeeded?

At end of year, tally of money on all food and drink averages less than $8 per day.

 

Why did you choose the target you chose?

See near end of preamble above.

 

What must you habituate to achieve success?

Making my work lunches and supper, which is generally pretty good, though I lapse for stretches here and there. Also, to keep up my habit of always looking for buying discounted old groceries for the many benefits it affords beyond saving money.

 

How will you form the new habit needed?

No need to form new habits, just maintain them with as few lapses as possible, and as short lapses as possible when those lapses do happen.

 

What exemption from your habit will you allow?

I may exempt travel dining because I can’t do much about that like buy groceries and cook in hotels effectively, even if I wanted to do that during vacation which I wouldn’t be. Travel dining also doesn’t get any less expensive on the recovery end of this pandemic. Pending where the results end up, I may see if exempting travel dining would make a difference to meeting one of the standards of success.

 

How will you track your progress?

My finance log I share that I use to track all my earnings and expenditures every year.

 

How will you be held accountable?

Given the unpredictable year that 2021 will be, and with my crude estimate that left a target way out of range of a typical year ($8 per day instead of $9.50 or so), I won’t assess any penalties to missing my target. I have enough experience and a good enough track record for a decade on this that it will be more circumstance than personal self-control should I miss this target.

 

What are your levels of success?

For my average daily food and drink expenditures in 2021, I will aim for:

  • Gold standard < $8.00 per day;
  • Silver standard < $8.50 per day;
  • Bronze standard < $9.00 per day (which will still be less than my previous best in a “normal” year of $9.19 in 2019).

 

Putting it all together (aka writing a clean, final copy)

I will aim to spend less than $8 per day, on average, on all food and drink for myself in 2021 (with Silver standard being under $8.50 per day, and Bronze standard being under $9 per day).

  • I will do this mostly for me and my health, cooking more healthy meals than I would buy in their place, and to save money I can put to better use elsewhere.
  • I will accomplish this by continuing the lifestyle and spending patterns I developed in the latter half of 2020, with most of 2021 being expected to be similar for COVID lifestyle restrictions.
  • I won’t need to habituate anything in continuing my current lifestyle and spending habits.
  • I will track my progress with my finance log I share that I use to track all my earnings and expenditures every year.
  • I will hold myself accountable but won’t be putting penalties against failure due to the rather unpredictable year ahead and a crude estimate to try and predict it for my food and drink expenditures. I know I have the habit down quite well, and feel confident that should I fail, it won’t be due my personal failures, but rather external circumstances.
  • I may exempt travel dining should I be able to travel to any extent as that won’t get cheaper, and would have a greater impact on my budget given the target of just $8 per day rather than $10 other years, affording less buffer. The $8 per day estimate was also done on lack of travel.

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