Thursday, October 24, 2019

Food and Beverage Budget, Ten Years Later...

Logging every purchase on Quickbooks* creates a database I can spelunk....

Lately, someone has been clicking on my nearly ten-year-old posting "Food and Beverage Budget" which at the time, had two paltry years of data to draw from.  In 2009 and 2010, I was spending about $1000 a month, in total, on restaurants, groceries, and liquor.  Since then, I have accumulated nearly ten years of data.  What conclusions can I draw from it?

Well, the data is very uneven, and part of this is sometimes things get classified incorrectly.  A trip to WalMart is logged as "groceries" even though half the stuff in the cart may be liquor, or may be auto parts.  Do you really have the time and energy to properly log all this stuff?   I will try to go through the entries and find things that were mis-classified and try to update this posting.  I noticed, for example, that my "Wegman's" and "Winn-Dixie" entries were classified as "Meals" which lead to under-reporting in 2010-2012.  I have since corrected that.  It also appears that during a trip to Canada in 2011, we must have paid cash for a lot of things, as there appear to be no expenses from that time period.   There are other years where we traveled a lot, and as you might expect, the grocery bill goes down, but the restaurant meals bill goes up, such as the month or so we spent cleaning out the condo in Virginia.

But even taking the inherent inaccuracies into account, what does ten years of data tell us?   Turns out, not much has changed.

Groceries:  For ten years, we spent a total of $61,549.49, which works out to an average of $512 a month in grocery expenses.   This is not too far off the numbers in my original posting.  It seems like a lot of money, and it is - about $125 a week.  But as you have no doubt noticed these days, it is hard to go to the grocery store without the total exceeding a hundred bucks, just for a few things - regardless of whether you are indulging in Trader Joe's Candy AisleIt also seems that in recent years, this bill has been edging up.   It was over $10,000 last year, which would mean about $800 a month (!!).  We need to cut back here, and have, somewhat, this year.

Meals:  The restaurant meals bill is smaller - thankfully.   Over ten years, it came to $34,435.04 or about $285 a month.  This also has been going up as of late, particularly in years where we travel.   It was over $7000 last year, when we went to Alaska (and Canada), where everything is expensive.  This year, less so, as we loaded the camper with groceries and didn't eat out as much while traveling, unless it was someplace really, really good.   Sorry, no "fast-casual" chain crap for us, thank you.

Liquor: Liquor is a bugaboo and some of these charges may be mixed with meals and groceries.  $31,801.23 over a decade (Be a Mormon, and SAVE!) or about $265 a month - about equal to our restaurant bill.  Again, the high was last year when we went to Alaska - liquor is expensive there, and very expensive in Canada as well.  We've given up on buying "brand" name liquor, particularly with regard to Vodka, which is just an industrial solvent, anyway.  And since we don't live in the finger lakes region of New York, we are not buying $20 bottles of local wines - or if we do, we buy just one bottle. not a case.

What is interesting is that these numbers are pretty much in line with what I came up with back in 2009.  So it seems our budget isn't creeping up too much, but then again, I can see where this needs to be controlled.  We already use a shopping list when shopping (we divide it in half, which saves a lot of time in the store, as we can fan out and each get half the items on the list) and avoid impulse-purchases and end-cap things, if we can.  We still shop on price, and buy store brands instead of name brands.  But prices have gone up, since I started this blog.  Generic Triscuit crackers at Wal-mart are harder to find, and are no longer $1.28, but over $2.  Of course, eggs are actually cheaper, today, but that is perhaps a one-time anomaly.  And apparently, despite the threats of a bacon shortage and pig flu decimating the swine population, America is awash in a sea of cheap bacon.  But even at "low" inflation rates of 2% or so, prices creep up over a decade.

And inflation is the one thing that worries me - it is low now, but can this last forever?   Poor fiscal policy can wipe out my 401(k) nest egg pretty quickly, and no one is hiring 60-year-old Patent Attorneys (even if I wanted to work again) and certainly not providing health care coverage.   I got a phone call yesterday from a 72-year-old attorney who is retiring and wanted to know if I would take over his practice.  He used to have a lot of corporate clients, but his practice - like mine - wound down and he ended up with a collection of small companies and solo inventors, and he thought he would "keep his hand in" by prosecuting a few cases here and there.  I think he would have been better off throwing in the towel a decade earlier, frankly, and it made me glad I made the decision I did - no point in working through your retirement years!

But retirement isn't all fun and games.   In addition to worrying about your health full-time, you have to worry about your financial health as well.   Some fun!

*NOTE:  I use a ten-year-old version of Quickbooks that is "paid for".  I offer no opinion or endorsement of their newer products which may be good as well.  I don't know.  And there are other products out there, including shareware products, so look around.   But logging all your purchases and bills and spending is essential to controlling your finances.  As a reader noted, "You cannot control that which you do not measure."   Imagine the thermostat on your house with no numbers on it, or no means of sensing temperature.   It simply wouldn't work, much as my finances didn't, before I started logging everything.