It’s become an annual tradition for me to review our grocery budget around New Year’s. At first, it was about gauging whether our garden was really saving us money. What I’ve come to realize is that our gardens (especially our fruits) allow us to eat really grandly (and healthfully), on a budget. It’s all a matter of perspective of what you want to put in your body and how much effort you’re willing to make, in the kitchen and the garden.
Anyway! There’s a major difference about our 2012 grocery budget. One year ago, we started using mint.com to track all of our expenses. IT ROCKS. Pulling the stats for this post took approximately 45 seconds:
There you have it, a simple pie chart showing that groceries are, far and away, where our food-related spending happens. When I first started looking at the stats, it looked like we had spent about $300 more in 2012 than 2011. But on closer inspection, I realized that if I just looked at Seward co-op, where we get almost all our groceries, we actually spent a tiny bit ($100) less. The other $400 or so was from other grocery stores around the states of MN and South Dakota, where we traveled in 2012.
I think it’s safe to say that, more or less, we held the line on grocery spending for 2013. Mint was a big part of making that possible—it tracks your spending automatically, and you can sign up for text messages when you exceed any of your set budgets in any given month.
My only criticism of Mint is that neither my credit union nor my 401(k) provider hook up well with it, eliminating some of the convenience factor. But for the most part, I like it. It’s helped us set up our monthly budget and now we’re using it to help achieve some financial goals (made possible by the kids being in full-day Kindergarten instead of daycare).
I should note: we spend a MUCH greater percentage of our income on groceries than average Americans. It’s a conscious decision and I have no regrets about it—on the contrary I feel lucky to have the option.
Enough about budgets, let’s talk about food. Adam’s been watching The Mind of a Chef on PBS, and the kids and I have been reaping the benefits, including this homemade ramen. He didn’t use a recipe, but based it loosely on David Chang’s descriptions of authentic Japanese ramen. It involved cooking pork and chicken bones, and some oxtail for good measure, for 24 hours, along with some onions and other random veggie trimmings. He removed the bones, then boiled it on the stove to reduce it by half, and also cooked some kombu in there for a while. We poured the finished stock over cooked Japanese noodles, and enjoyed it. Immensely.
January 13, 2013 at 2:25 pm
A great post and cheers for the heads up on the budget site 🙂
March 1, 2013 at 2:25 pm
What are your thoughts about the safety side of things? A long time ago I used Quicken (like Mint, it is from Intuit, however it is software you download onto your computer). I appreciated that I was able to easily track every single penny I spent and have a ton of sub categories (not just ‘groceries’ but ‘groceries: fruit’ ‘groceries: vegetables’ ‘groceries: meat’ ‘groceries: junk food’ and so on). Once I had a good handle on our spending habits, I quit tracking them. However now we have so many different things going on, including organic gardening with money going out and produce coming in, and I feel the need to track once again. Mint looks very much like Quicken but it is all online … I am not sure how keen I am about putting my account information into their program online, yet at the same time all of my account information is ALREADY online!!!
Anyway, I was wondering if there were safety concerns or if you researched it and cared to share what you found. Thank you for mentioning this free resource – I did not know about it.
March 3, 2013 at 9:42 am
Maye I’m a sucker for a good sales pitch, but I believe Mint’s security credentials. Also, Mint has no functions for transferring money out of or between any of your accounts. So if someone hacked into my Mint account, the worst they’d be able to do would be see how much I spend on groceries and how much we STILL owe on student loans. It doesn’t show the passwords to any of these accounts; the place where you enter them shows them as ****** so theoretically hackers wouldn’t be able to obtain my passwords that way.
I was an early adopter of shopping online–bought my first books from Amazon in ’97. And I’m a web designer by profession. In 16 years of online shopping, transactions, etc., I’ve never been compromised once. I’ve never even had a computer virus, though this most likely has to do with the fact that I’m a Mac user and viruses are much less common for Macs.
Here’s Mint’s information page on security:
The way they make their money on it is by “recommending” that you switch to different car loans or re-fi your mortgage. So as long as you feel strong in your ability to resist those “recommendations” you should be OK. Does that answer your question? 🙂
March 3, 2013 at 3:54 pm
Yes, that answers my question 🙂 After I posted the comment I checked out Mint a little more and it’s very much like the version of Quicken I used years ago. I might give it a shot and see if I have time to keep things up to date.
I know nothing about Macs but I do use Ubuntu which is known for staying clear of viruses as well. I purchase all sorts of things online and have been for many years. So far I have not had a problem even when I was using Microsoft.