Considering combining eating out and grocery categories.
My wife and I have had our budget set up for about two months now and it is going well. One thing we had a very big problem with over the years is eating out. We work pretty long hours, and as much as we would like, we just don't get the chance or feel like cooking every single day. Stopping and grabbing food is just commonplace.
When we set up the budget, we created two separate categories and what we have seen week to week is we more often run out of fast food money very quickly. Several times I have thought we will just use money from groceries. That's where the idea to combine came from.
I guess I could always just transfer money from groceries to the fast food category. My only reason at this point to keep them separate is so we can see the metrics down the road - what we spent in each category over a certain period of time.
Are you interested in reducing the amount of money that you spend on eating out? If so, then yes, it's probably a good idea to keep a separate category for eating out. Also if you are having to constantly reallocate from groceries to eating out, maybe just allocate more to eating out and less to groceries. Less work.
I kind of get this, because my husband and I had a similar habit of raiding groceries to fund quick food items when that category went over. The thought being that if we were eating out, that was less groceries we would need anyway.
We keep them separate and stopped the category raiding when we decided we wanted to make a concentrated effort to make our own food more. Keeping separate categories allows us to say "okay, we hit the threshold we decided on and if we want to keep eating out, then there are financial consequences for that." It makes the spending more mindful for us.
So I suppose it comes down to what you want your category balances to be able to do for you. If eating out is just more normal for you and that's something that is totally in line with your priorities, you could just fund the category more than you are currently. That is what the early months of YNAB are for, learning what your real priorities are and then making your budget reflect that (or making changes in your daily life to realign with those priorities.) This pattern should be telling you that eating out is more of a priority for you guys than you thought. So just put more money there, or change the way you are doing things if you don't want it to be that much of a priority. Combining the categories, to me, just seems like it would be a head-in-the-sand strategy.
Ideally we would like to not eat out so much, but we just have roadblocks that mess up the grocery category. A big part of it is actually going to the grocery store one day a week. We set this day as Sunday. However, sometimes things happen and we cannot make the trip for whatever reason - for example, this past weekend we were at the beach over the weekend and came home Sunday night. Since we missed our weekly store trip, we essentially have an empty pantry and refrigerator and it leaves us scrambling for food wherever we can find it. Spending the hour or more to make a store trip one week night is not something either of us wants to do when we get home after 6 most nights and try to he in bed by 8. It would easily take a whole evening from us.
One of the hardest parts of beating the eating out problem is learning to be uncomfortable with being inconvenienced with having to actually prepare food. It is so simple to just stop by a fast food place and grab food.
I realize I'm getting off the budget discussion, but I'm just explaining some of the reasons behind our dilemma.
What about getting your shopping delivered? I don’t know if that’s a thing in the US but I’ve always found that the nominal delivery charges are usually more than compensated for by the impulse purchases (both in-store and fast food related) that are prevented.
Also consider the cost of medical bills incurred by the super unhealthy fast food diet!
Organized Chaos I can empathize with this, as I often work long hours and usually do not prepare fully homemade or time consuming food on weeknights. Some tips:
For weekday lunches at work, pick a day where you spend an hour or so prepping for the week ahead. I try to do this on Sundays. However, similar to your recent beach day, sometimes it just doesn't happen. That's okay. Roll with the punches, buy lunch out on Monday, go to the grocery store after work, and then prep on Monday evening for the rest of the week.
For weeknight dinners, I usually do a combination of leftovers from the weekend, eating out, and using a variation of "emergency stock" as Tobias mentions above. For example, I'll often buy some frozen veggie burgers I really like that can be microwaved, and take a few minutes to sautee some frozen spinach, and eat that with a yogurt. Or, if there's a brand of frozen pizza you and your wife like, try that. Also, Trader Joe's has excellent frozen meal options that are tasty and affordable. It will likely be half the cost of fast food and you won't need to leave the house or remember to pick it up. Keep a small reserve of frozen and non-perishable stuff on hand and use it when you want.
But, some tough love for the end: You'll just need to accept that you're paying for convenience when ordering food out, and that in order to save money, you'll need to get into the swing of preparing your own food on a regular basis. Not always, but at least some of the time. When it comes to going to the grocery store, is there one on the way home from work? Instead of making grocery shopping a stand-alone trip that could be interrupted as life comes up, especially on the weekend, try to make it a stop on Monday evening's commute home. If you're going to be working late, see if your wife can do the shopping instead, and vice versa. There will be days when this just won't work out, and that's part of rolling with the punches, but make it a priority to work it out most of the time.
Depends on your goal. My wife and I have separate "food" and "restaurants" categories. I know one friend who's trying YNAB now who wants to do a "lunches" category so she can be extra conscious of the $ she spends on lunches at work to help incentivize herself to stop buying lunch out all the time.
It looks like you've got two questions: 1- how you manage your budget- and again, it's what you want the data to tell you; 2- how do you make meal prep easier.
My wife and I both love cooking. She's doing it more now than I am because she works from home. But we do a meal planning session every Saturday, looking at our plans for the week, and then do either 1 or 2 grocery trips depending on if we can go together or go separately during the week (we walk, so it's a lot about what you can conveniently carry back in one go with two hands or four...). We keep a couple frozen pizzas on hand for the nights when we just don't want to cook/are too busy, but mostly try to 'stack' meals that stretch for a few days and aren't complicated.
So, things like...
* a big pot of soup (like, think 8 quarts). Eat some one night, bring one with you to work for lunch that'll last two days, freeze one for later when you don't want to cook in the future
* quick bowls of roasted vegetables and grains (like quinoa). Takes 5 minutes of active prep time, is ready in <20 minutes, can easily scale up to be lunches for the next day.
* big thing of chicken salad- can be sandwiches or salads, depending on if you pair with bread or greens.
That's a great idea someone posted about no screen time 30 minutes after getting home. That may help because like a lot of people, we have that problem.
Second, grocery delivery isn't really a thing where I am in Central Alabama.
Another point, we have two kids as well, so all the food shopping and prep includes their needs as well.
We will have to look further into the stocking the pantry thing, that way we have reserves. This makes perfect sense.
My wife actually works right beside our grocery store, but I just don't even want to ask her to go to the store some days. I know she is tired and ready to come home. I actually going to because I like to shop for food that I might now have thought about. Might be a different story though if we meal planned correctly lol, then she would be going for stuff I had on the list anyway.
I would say keep them separate.
Personally, I have a Food category group with categories for Groceries, Dining Out, Take Out, and Work (wife stays at home). When I budget money for these, and any variable spending categories, I always budget the Average Spent. You get to the point that, by always putting in your average, there is always enough money there. If I have enough to fund everything for the month, great. If not, I know I have to cut back somewhere to get through. If I have any leftover after funding everything, I start funding the next month. I am almost a full month ahead now, which was my goal. When that happens, I will decide if I want to try for 2 months out, or start saving for big future stuff.
Never feel bad about moving money between categories. That is one of the best things about this method and why people are often successful with it, when other budget programs and methods have failed them. It's your money. Move it to where it meets your goals and priorities. As long as your not taking it from somewhere that you need it, it's all good. My only rule on moving money is that, once I have budgeted money for the next month, I never move it back to this month. Other than that, I just make sure that everything stays green for the current month.
Try different ways and stay with the one that's works for you. We had an eating out category and a grocery category, but now we have a weekend food category and weekday food category. Weekend is more eating out or frozen pizza due to things like you mentioned, and weekday is all eating at home made from scratch, but those are not absolutes. We thought about making it just one category, but then we'd lose a level of tracking.
If delivery isn't available, what about grocery pickup? If there's a WalMart Super Center near you they almost certainly will offer online shopping and you just choose your pick up time, drive over there, and they load your trunk for you. Takes all of 5 minutes, and where I live, it's free as long as you order at least 30 dollars worth. It really helps me keep the budget in line since I can always see my total as I shop, plus as above it reduces impulse purchases.
Do you have a crock pot? It's kind of like magic to come home after a long day and have dinner waiting for you. It may be counterintuitive to think of crockpot cooking as we're heading into summer, but you can do things like throw the makings of a marinara sauce in the pot in the morning, then come home, boil the spaghetti and you're good to go. You can also simmer a nice vegetable curry all day, then cook couscous (faster than pasta...takes 5 minutes!) when you get home.
There are also tons of ways to cook once and eat twice, basically giving you two dinners for one prep and clean up. I have many, many tips if you're interested, but a quick google will also give you lots of ideas.
I certainly can't tell you how to live or prioritize your life, but in the long run, it will definitely be healthier for your finances and your bodies if you can get the eating out under control. I struggle in this category myself, for a different reason--I love to cook for others, but not so much for just myself and I'm single at the moment. Personally, it's important for me to keep the numbers separate so I can see how I'm progressing toward my goal of being healthier and wealthier, plus it gives me little victories to celebrate when I meet my target. Your mileage may, of course, vary.
I'm in the do what works best for you and most closely aligns with your priorities camp. I think of my grocery budget as groceries and household supplies. It's easier for me not to break the two into separate categories. I personally like to track what we spend on take out separately because I view it as a luxury vs a need so I keep that budget separate. We also are busy professionals with two kids. I get home later so I totally relate to the rushed feeling after a long day of work. I have found that planning ahead has been crucial to keeping us from defaulting to eating out. I meal plan by the month and adjust the plan as I'm making my grocery list for the week. I've found that we usually have enough on hand to skip a shopping trip every 4-5 weeks, which helps when we are out of town for the weekend or have a lot going on and didn't get to the store. I keep our meals very simple so I know that I can cook, feed everyone, and clean up in 75 min or less. I prep lunches on Sunday evenings and while I'm cooking dinner on week nights. This makes mornings easier and keeps us from buying lunch every day. It has been a learning process for us to get to this point so give yourself grace as you adjust your habits. It took us at least a year if not 18 mo to go from eating out most days per week to one to two times per week.
Check out this book:
It has weekly recipes where you batch cook but also still get different meals. I have made many of the authors recipes before and they are all delicious and easy. If your goal is to eat at home more, but the thought of hours in the kitchen is daunting, this would be perfect for you.
As far as the budget is concerned, I agree - it depends what your goals are. I have a coffee budget line item, because if not I would spend SO much on to-go coffees!
I've tried combining groceries and eating out into one category for a few months years ago and my combined spending has gone through the roof. I definitely needed to see both figures separately even if I budgeted more to eating out and less to groceries. I've since changed my habits, partly thanks to always seeing the two balances separately and getting fed up with how much eating out took up compared to groceries.
Also if the giant-vat-of-soup thing interests you, I STRONGLY recommend this book: https://www.amazon.com/Soup-Club-Cookbook-Friends-Yourself/dp/0770434622
And possibly exploring setting up a soup club with friends.
I'd keep them separate! If you find that you're spending more on eating out than groceries then it's okay to put more money in the "eating out" category than the "grocery" category. if it fits your lifestyle/budget. I like to keep my budget pretty detailed so it makes easier for me to find where we're going over. I currently have ours separated into restaurants + fun money (together), his fun money + lunch money, & her fun money + lunch money. We work crazy hours and don't get much time together so I find it's helpful that we get our own eating out category since we go alone or go do activities with friends by ourselves pretty often!