The 2 biggest money black holes (and how to destroy them)
We’ve all got areas of our spending that just seem like black holes. You know the ones - the parts of our budget that you can never seem to get under control, that start to suck in all the money around them, until whoops, you’re out of money again (or - whoops, the credit card bill this month has its own gravitational pull). What even happened there, anyway?
Let’s talk about the 2 most common ones I see with my clients, and what, exactly, to do with them so they stop ruining the rest of your finances.
The #1 Money Black Hole: Groceries
By far the most common statement I hear from clients when they see their spending realities for the first time is “I spend WHAT on groceries?!” I’ve seen anywhere from $50 per person to $800 per person. Everyone has the same reaction (OK maybe if you’re spending $50 per person, you’re pretty pleased, but that leads me directly into #2)
What to do about it: Plan, shop online, use cash
Your grocery spending feels out of control in large part because it doesn’t feel optional. It’s food! You have to eat. Your kids have to eat. You’re growing people here, for crying out loud.
OK, yeah. But let’s back up a little bit.
Is the wine for the kids?
Are those paper towels really “groceries”? What about that scented candle and the greeting card you bought?
OK, OK, mayyyybe there’s a little bit of wiggle room in this part of your spending after all. Maybe some of this stuff isn’t strictly sustenance, and some of it isn’t really groceries at all. But the way grocery stores are set up, you have no idea how much it’s all going to be until you get to the checkout line, so there goes the budget! What’s a gal to do?
Meal planning, buying in bulk, and “shopping the pantry” are great places to start with this. Keep a few core ingredients (chicken, plain fish, tofu, beans, canned tomatoes, pasta, eggs, cheese) in the house all the time allows you to shop sales, buy in larger quantities without worrying about waste, and reduces the money (and time!) you spend running to the store for the ingredient you’ve just “gotta have”.
If you’re thinking “great, how about something I haven’t already tried?” then I’ve got two more ideas for you. First up: buy groceries online. If you’ve got grocery delivery or curbside pickup available in your area, do it! The fee on this in my area is $3-5/pickup and in a lot of areas it’s $5-10 for delivery. We immediately noticed a huge decrease in our grocery spending, well more than enough to make up for the fee. No more impulse shopping. No more “oh I have been thinking about these.” Best part: you know exactly what the bill will be before you check out and can adjust as needed (no loudly sighing patron behind you).
And last but not least, try using cash. Try it for just one or two parts of your budget, and I suggest trying it for a month or so to start. But there’s something magic about this. You can’t overspend cash. If you’re really feeling brave, bring cash and leave the cards and checks at home. You better believe you’ll whip out the calculator on your phone if you do.
The #2 Money Black Hole: Eating Out
If you aren’t shocked by your grocery budget, and often even if you are, you’ll be stunned by your dining out budget. I’ve seen a dining out budget bring a grown adult to tears on more than one occasion.
What to do about it: Break it down
This one is a little simpler to tackle. I’ve got just one suggestion to start with: break it down.
How much of your eating out budget is coffee shops? How much is take out or delivery when you can’t be bothered to cook? How much is date nights, how much is lunches at work, and how much is just drinks?
“Eating out” isn’t one category, my friends! It’s an umbrella, hiding so many of your favorite vices.
You don’t have to break these things down forever, but I do encourage you to spend at least a full month to see where this is all going. You might find you’re thinking of this as a take-out problem when it’s really a happy hour problem. Totally different solutions. But in order to solve that problem, you need to know what sort of problem you’re actually having.
In fact, there are other “categories” like this that I’d treat the same way - think “Amazon” or “Target” or “Business Expenses”. Break that shit down!
What about you, are there parts of your budget that seem to suck in all the money around them that I didn’t mention here? Hit me up in the comments!