We spent a lot of money on food while we were on vacation that we probably wouldn’t have spent if we were at home. Some of it was intentional; I had a (mental) list of food that I had been craving and missing and I methodically worked my way down. On the other hand, there were definitely some surprises and challenges for our food budget.
First of all, it was a lot harder to menu plan and stretch meals in other people’s kitchens. For example, at one meal we had most of two rotisserie chickens from Costco. There were some big pieces of meat leftover for a second lunch for my husband and sons and I was able to recuperate enough smaller pieces to make a chicken pasta dish. However, had I been at home, I would have been able to make soup, and pick enough meat of the bones to make at least one other main dish. Nor was I able to take advantage of a pantry. I literally had to buy almost all of the food ingredients I was going to use in a meal. My mother has limited storage in her kitchen because of her roommate situation, and my father’s household rarely prepares meals. It adds up quickly when you have to buy everything instead of being able to piggyback off of what’s already in the cupboards.
The other big thing that I was not expecting was how much groceries cost and how little you get for your money. Groceries are expensive here, but I felt like they are really expensive there! Part of this was, I’m sure, artificial. I shop at a mid-range grocery store in France, paying careful attention to sales and customer loyalty discounts. We tended to shop at higher-end stores in both Seattle and Los Angeles for proximity’s sake and, of course, I wasn’t entitled to any customer loyalty discounts. And, in all fairness, I have to admit that I did go slightly crazy buying stuff, rationalizing every box tossed into the cart with ‘When it’s only once every two and a half years…’.
I knew before we left that we would be encountering these obstacles, and I was able to prepare in advance. For example, I dramatically slashed the grocery category in our budget: March by one third, April by two thirds. I also compensated when we set money aside before we left; I knew a big chunk of the change we were going to spend was going to go to feeding ourselves.
I also had a lot of really great ideas that came from my Tightwad Gazette Giveaway. We made sandwiches almost every day for lunch, or had leftovers. I bought entertainment books (through My Points) for the cities we were visiting, and we used coupons from there several times. The biggest help of all came from my in-laws, who paid for almost every trip we took to the grocery store. How nice was that?
I still haven’t finished calculating exactly how much we spent overall. But I’m fairly confident that, while we might have gone slightly over what I anticipated spending on food, we stayed within our general spending limits. That will be the real accomplishment, and something to be proud of!