Keeping Reality Checks In Perspective

This is a guest post from Sheryl (a.k.a Cdn Gwen) in Ontario, who is 40 years old with a grown daughter, and is trying to rebuild her retirement dream just 20 years too late for early retirement.

In my day job, one of my tasks is payroll, which for some reason allows others to feel comfortable talking to me about their financial situation in detail. Most of time, I am happy to listen and make suggestions where they are having issues, whether it is an income tax issue, or a personal budgeting problem (How do I get my partner to spend less? etc).

The ones I find I resent are the whiners. The ones who always complain how broke they are but make more money than I do, take vacations every year, drive newer cars, wear designer label eyeglasses, buy their breakfast and lunch out every day, and are sure to tell everyone of the latest home improvement they have done (the expense of which was added to their line of credit). I know any suggestions I may have will fall on deaf ears, and I don’t want to listen to how “hard” their life is.

Sometimes the conversations, both private and public, turn to real household expenses. Although I accept I think of most things differently than most, some things are constant. For example, how much it costs to heat a home in Southern Ontario varies only by the size of home, how efficient the home is, and how warm the occupants like to keep it, so to me, comparing costs like that are reasonable. Groceries and discretionary items seem to be in an entire different league.

A little while ago, I had a discussion about the cost of living with a youngish woman who seemed like she has an idea about where her money goes. We both have homes with two adults, no kids living at home. I thought I was doing well, approximating that I spend $400 monthly on things from the grocery store (food, laundry supplies, pet food etc). When I heard she thought it was a lot of money as she only spent $250 per month (and seemed to eat more steaks, cheese, and other “high cost” foods), I was wondering what I was doing wrong (Plus, I’m a bit competitive in things like that, to be able to spend less and still keep a quality of life).

Feeling like it was pointless to press how she did it, I started paying more attention to other conversations with her. Although she claimed they were short on cash, and hardly ever ate at restaurants, I learned over the next few weeks that they order pizza weekly, buy take out lunch every work day, skipped breakfast entirely, and went out to a sit down restaurant once a week. Through a bit of fishing for more information, I figured out she also didn’t count the food they bought when they went to the family cottage every weekend in her grocery budget.

That got me to thinking that if the only food I counted in my grocery budget was dinner 2 or 3 days a week, I would eat very well on $250 per month. Since that realization, I’m relying more on reality checks that come from my own sources (debt going down? did I overspend? is there a way I could have done that cheaper?), than those of the general “I’ll work until I’m 65 and retire in debt” people.

Just as an update, I’ve been maintaining four different spending / budget trackers so far in November, all of them found for free on the net. I’ll post about my experiences with them after a few more weeks.

2 thoughts on “Keeping Reality Checks In Perspective”

  1. I like how people consider eating out part of their grocery budget. My wife and I manage very well on $75 a week including toiletries and household cleaners. Whenever non perishable items go on sale super cheap I stock up big time.

    I consider eating out under the entertainment budget and it’s a waste of money in my eyes unless you are on vacation or visiting.

  2. Over the past 4 or 5 months I’ve been tracking my spending and found that we (2 adults and 2 teenagers) spend about $1000 a month on food. How do I define food: anything you eat or drink. So I include Tim Hortons, Second Cup, candy bars from vending machines, takeout, restaurants, liquor store, everything. I’ve encountered the exact same issue with co-workers who claim they spend a fraction on what they call “food” but then tell me about how they go out to restaurants a couple of times a month and never get away for less than $240.

    I’m not saying that I couldn’t get away spending less – I know that I can – but it can be frustrating when others put you down without REALLY understanding. As well, unless you’re talking to someone who carefully tracks their spending, take whatever they say with a grain of salt. Prior to tracking the details of my spending, I would have sworn on a bible that we only spent $700/month on food. I was off by almost 50%.

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