It’s one of the first areas my clients zero in on to cut back. When you first start tracking, your food totals can be shocking! As a coach, food is also one of the first categories I want to look at with my clients because it’s the best place to start identifying patterns and habits.
I want to look beyond the numbers to see what the numbers are telling me about your life. In order to get the best information from your numbers, you have to set up your budget with a lot of intention. That means creating categories beyond the standard and boring ‘groceries’ or ‘eating out.’
Creating better categories requires putting some thought into what information would be interesting and relevant to collect for your life. For example, if you buy lunch at work every day, it might be nice to know how much that habit is costing you on its own. Or if you go out for pizza after little league every Saturday, you might want to split that from other eating out activities.
The key is to break out categories that are meaningful to you without creating so many categories that tracking becomes a nightmare.
For me, it’s important to distinguish between eating out that has a social purpose versus ordering pizza or picking up a last minute meal. I have one category called ’too tired to cook’ where last minute meals like pizza or takeout go. And my food category ‘fun stuff’ keeps track of date nights, family night out, happy hour, etc.
This gives me information about my habits, and helps me readjust my behaviors as needed.
If my ‘too tired to cook category’ is ramped up, I know I need to refocus my efforts on eating at home and meal planning. This type of eating isn’t important to me and I want to keep those costs as low as possible. If my ‘fun’ stuff category is really low, it tells me we haven’t done anything fun in a while and I should get a date night on the books.
The information you get from your numbers isn’t always about spending less, less, less. It’s making sure that you are using your dollars in the best way possible for your life.
Numbers bring clarity to any financial situation, but it also brings to light your behaviors and patterns. If you have been crazy busy, your numbers are probably going to show you have been relying on take out. If you have started to eat really healthy meals, your numbers are going to show that too. Getting feedback from your numbers allows you to continually refocus and prioritize what is important in your life. Use your budget as more than a financial babysitter. Use it as a tool to help you stay on track to your goals.