If at First You Don’t Succeed, Shop, Shop Again?

I failed last month. And the month before that. And although the month of April isn’t out yet, I’ve already failed again this month. In other words, I’ve failed every single month so far this year. Not at life, thankfully – but at sticking to my monthly grocery budget.

Overall, I have a pretty solid monthly budget put together. I open it up and I update my progress at least once a week. I created it with the intent for it to be a realistic budget – a bit aggressive (I’ve always had a strong tendency toward saving), but livable. Each budget component is a reasonable, fact-based figure, calculated based on market prices and historical spending patterns.

But if my budget is so reasonable and realistic, why do I keep overspending on groceries? And I’m not talking just occasionally, but month after month (after month!)?

Is it because:
– My grocery budget is somehow not, in fact, realistic
– I’m not trying hard enough to stay within my budget
– I don’t even try to keep track of how much I’m spending

To be honest, it’s a bit of all of those things. But in reflecting upon this, I’m realizing that there is a deeper underlying reason that I don’t stick to my monthly grocery budget: The budget itself is fundamentally at odds with one of my core values. In reality, I have pretty much zero incentive to limit my grocery spending. Why would I compromise on my comestibles if I truly believe that Health is Wealth?

So even as I approach the checkout with my shopping cart, the voice in my head is already justifying the expense by saying something like, “Making sure my family eats right is much more important than saving a few extra bucks this month.”

Values Have Value

So – okay. Everybody has values. It’s not wrong for me to value certain things above others! Our values are part of our programming. What I mean is: I might wake up in the morning without knowing what I’m going to eat for lunch, or which route I’ll take to get to work. But what I will know when I wake up is that I love my family more than sliced bread (and oh, do I love bread). And that I appreciate honesty and candor over superficiality.

Our values are our constants. They define us as human beings, and guide (or give purpose to) our everyday choices. They are the things that bring us joy and satisfaction. They are the things that we are willing to sacrifice for.

Foodstuffs may seem a little mundane after that last little diatribe, but they are (for better or for worse) directly linked to one of my values: Keeping my family healthy.

And there’s my revelation: I’ve been setting a financial goal that is at odds with one of my core values.

It’s no wonder that I keep failing. What means more to me: One of my own core values, or a few pieces of green paper (don’t even get me started on fiat currency)? It’s a no-brainer – my core value will win every time. Because my values are the things that I’m willing to sacrifice for.

This Grocery Budget, tho

All that is well and good. Seriously though, I need to come up with a solution to this over-spending problem. I can justify my overspending all I want, but the overspending is eating into my cash flow surplus every month – and it’s only getting worse.

What is the answer to my dilemma?
– Don’t budget for groceries at all? (What a terrible idea!)
– Try harder to stick to my budget? (You know what they say about people who do the same thing and expect a different result…)
– Set a new budget? (Ding ding ding…winner!)

Just as we can’t change who we are (or at least, not without tremendous effort), we can’t just ignore our values. And if we do, we are just setting ourselves up for failure (my case in point). It is far more practical – and less painful – to face and embrace who we are. Once we define and acknowledge the values that define us, we can be realistic with ourselves. We can begin to create plans that operate within our unique parameters.

In my case, instead of pretending that maybe somehow, next month, maybe THEN I’ll somehow stick to my grocery budget – instead of telling myself that lie again, I need to just fix my darn budget. And if my grocery spending is that important to me, the money needs to come from somewhere else in my budget. Maybe I’ll dust off my buzzer, pull up a Youtube video, and refresh my hair-styling skills to save the cost of two cuts a month (but no way am I letting my husband near my bob). Or maybe I need to make some more store-brand substitutions for other household goods. Or…

Our Values Don’t Take Time Off

…Maybe I should re-think my vacation budget this year? I can’t believe I even said that. I’m cringing. Does increasing my grocery budget really mean that much to me?

Well geez… if I’m going to revise my grocery budget to a number that’s truly realistic, I need to steal a decent chunk of money from somewhere. A large part of my budget is fixed (my electric bill isn’t going away any time soon!), so that’s no help. And there simply aren’t that many other places in my budget where a sizable reduction wouldn’t mean sacrificing some other part of my family’s financial future. Like, I’m not going to decrease my retirement contributions if there is any way to avoid it.

So rather than trying to cobble together enough money by combining small reductions across several expense categories (with would be difficult to track at best, and difficult to maintain at worst), here I am again, staring at my vacation budget.  And I think I’ve found my answer.

I know that I will have a fantastic time with my family this summer no matter what we do. We could drive to another state and stay with family if we feel the need to get away. Or we could plan a fun stay-cation at home. I can stomach a much lower vacation fund. Because, to answer my earlier question, yes – honoring my core values (which is reflected in my commitment to increase my family’s grocery budget) really does mean that much to me!

My Happy Place

I’m actually already getting excited about planning our stay-cation. I think it’s going to involve some backyard campfires, sofa-cushion forts, hiking, and picnics. I am also (already!) feeling SO relieved that from now on, my grocery shopping trips won’t involve lessons in denial, blame, and empty rationalization. My budget is in harmony with my values, and I feel like a weight has been lifted.

It’s easy to say, I know – but next time I find myself facing a similar issue with my budget, I intend to face it immediately, head-on. Because the place where my budget and my values are in harmony really is my financial happy place.

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