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Personal Finance Mentoring - Integrating the practical and emotional elements of your money.

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Grocery Shopping - An experiment

Megan deBoer

The "Grocery Budget"...everyone seems to wonder how their spending compares to everyone else.  "Is how much we spend normal"? "I should really clip coupons, (shop at ....., never eat again!)".  It fascinates me - particularly this one category. Because it is the one category that we all share - we all have to eat. And so, inside this category lies some interesting psychology.

Spending on food can be justified, excused, celebrated, or induce shame, or guilt ("there are people who go without food - regularly!").  Extravagance - even essentials - can create different emotional responses.

Sometimes a few extras slip into this category (a magazine, a candle, a $7 snack for the kids to keep them quiet while you shop after school, more low nutrient food than you would care to really add up, produce that eventually gets composted from neglect). No one but you will ever know...

I had a client years ago who would berate herself monthly for how much she spent - but from what I see, it was actually very frugal. I asked her why it bothered her so much. After a few moments she remembered that her mother's grocery budget was X.  Her grocery budget was also X.  The only problem was that over 20 years had passed, and that number was no longer realistic!  In her mind it "should be" possible to fit within that amount, and each month she "failed". She hadn't realized she had internalized a ceiling on what was "ok" to spend, and it was fixed in stone.  (if it isn't groceries for you, it may be another category... I have one for pants, which is hilarious and I keep trying to re-adjust my comfort level to normal inflation! What is yours?)

You see...when we compare ourselves to another person's normal (or another era's normal), we will always fall short - of our own "expectations" or our true needs. A better practice is to examine, realistically -

"what are my needs, my values, and can my money sustainably support this spending?"  

When you examine it from this angle you are much more likely to reach an answer that is in alignment with your true needs.  

I see single people spending more than families of 4.  I see clients value where food comes from, their health and the health of the planet, who prioritize food over all other spending. I see clients who spend nearly nothing on groceries, but they eat out all the time. 

So, comparison... it really can only do one of two things: make you feel better about yourself, or make you feel worse about yourself (there will always be people who spend more, or less, than you on groceries, give your ego a rest!). Sure it is interesting, but it isn't necessarily realistic. You may base your budget on someone else's who cooks absolutely everything from scratch - but you work 55 hours each week.

Whether it is groceries or something else, we are more served if we find our own yardstick and measure our progress to it.  Can you spend less and be more mindful at the grocery store? Absolutely! Will your spending look like your neighbors? Probably not.

For a week, try this experiment: keep all your grocery store receipts. No judgments allowed, just keep them in a pile.  At the end of the week circle anything that you know wasn't entirely necessary, was wasted, or wasn't enjoyed.  Total this up... how much does it come to?  Multiply this by 4. This is a potential money leak - where would you rather this money went? Or are you ok with this amount?

This is the best way to begin making any changes...which do you want to make? Do you want to save more? Be less anxious? Donate more to the local food bank? 

If you want to know your answer to the question "can my money sustainably support this spending?", consider taking my course: Equipped to Thrive! that starts next Wednesday, May 11th... I would love for you to join us! Sign up HERE