How to Split Food Expenses With a Significant Other
When couples first start living together, a lot of questions about money arise that you don't really think about when you're living on your own. For example, who pays for grocery and food costs?
When you're living on your own, you buy groceries maybe once a week and pay for yourself when you're at a restaurant. Simple. But what do you do when you and your significant other are both eating and paying for a portion of the groceries and dinners out on the town?
It can be frustrating trying to divide food into his and hers or figuring out how to pay for the amount of food that you ate at the Olive Garden last night. Luckily, my girlfriend and I figured out an easy way to do away with this problem and keep the food budget as simple as possible every month.
Finding How Much You Spend on Food
We moved in together in September and quickly realized that, since food was such a staple in our lives, we needed to keep our food finances as simple as possible to avoid a huge headache and potential money fights. Before we could do anything, we needed to get an idea about our food spending habits.
We decided to run a two-month trial where we ate what we wanted, bought food when we wanted, and didn't really hold back or attempt to cut pennies. We wanted an accurate picture of what a month's worth of food for two people would cost us. Trying to excessively save money or cut coupons would only hurt our data and make it impossible to accurately predict what our food expenses were going to be every month.
For two months, we documented our spending on food related items in a Google Doc. When we went grocery shopping, we came home and wrote down how much we spent and what we bought. When we went out to eat with friends, we kept the receipt and documented it when we got home. When we bought wine, we brought the receipt home and wrote the price down.
It wasn't as tedious as it sounds because we knew we'd only be keeping track of the spending for two months. It was a fun experiment to see how our habits changed from one month to the next. (It's also a good idea to get an idea about your spending habits in any category from time to time in case you're significantly overspending and not knowing it.)
Analyzing Your Spending
After our trial period, we sat down and looked at our data. We found a couple areas of our spending where we could cut expenses (cereal and potato chips), but for the most part our monthly totals were reasonable in our minds, and most importantly, for our salaries.
We averaged the two months and decided that was the amount we would budget every month for groceries, restaurants, and alcohol. To make sure we had some buffer room we added 10% so we wouldn't run out of money if one month went a little over. We have different salaries, but since we both eat a similar amount of food, we decided to split the food expenses 50/50, instead of each paying a percentage based on our salaries.
Using the Food Money
My girlfriend then created a food money box and placed it in the kitchen. On the 9th of every month, we go to the food box, split what's left in the box, and throw in our monthly food money that we found during our two-month documentation phase. (You would think that the expenses would fluctuate pretty often. It's actually the exact opposite: we're always within $20-40 of the previous month, so we never have a problem.)
If we go grocery shopping, we pick up some cash from the box, and head to the store. If we're meeting friends for dinner, we take money from the box. When my school lunch bill comes at the end of the month, I take out 5,000 yen ($50) and pay the bill.
The great thing about the two-month documentation phase was that it allowed us to better understand our food spending habits. We could see what we bought on paper, and it ingrained in our minds what was an acceptable amount of an item to buy.
Make It Your Own
Our spending is pretty similar from month to month, but your spending may be different, so mold this system to your situation. You can add a larger buffer — maybe 20% — if you find your spending is fluctuating. Maybe you want to treat yourself during the summer months? Go ahead and add some extra money to the food budget for those months.
The framework is here for you, but you'll have to do a little bit of calculating to figure out how it works best for you. At first you may find it difficult to control your spending since you initially put hundreds of dollars in the money box at the beginning of the month It can be easy to go food crazy and buy a bunch of unnecessary items. I know you don't want to hear it, but there is some money discipline involved in this process. We don't buy 25 bottles of wine every month. We may only go out to dinner less than four times a month. But we know what is acceptable to buy and what isn't, which allows us to keep our funds going for the entire month.
I would suggest this method to any couple who is having problems figuring out their food expenses. It's efficient, easy, and will save you loads of time and worry over the course of your relationship.
This is a guest post by Austin Morgan. Austin teaches English in Japan and writes about the money topics that affect all 20-somethings at ForeignersFinances.com.