March 2019 Expense Report: Oops, I Ate Enough for Two People

Oy. This was a spendy month.

Here’s the breakdown:

*Affiliate links below*

Rent + Utilities 1,075.00  
Amtrak Gift Card 500.00 For visiting Mr. Boyfriend. This should cover the rest of 2019.
Groceries 304.54 ?????????????
Flight to San Francisco 297.60 My friends are getting married in June!
Gym 167.00 LOVE my gym! I go 4x a week.
Restaurants 147.67  
WordPress Premium Plan 96.00 Yay, this site is up and running!
Coffee 52.80  
Laundry 28.90 I sent out laundry once.
Drinks 21.91  
Uber/Lyft in Boston 21.94  
Admission to the Nogouchi Museum 15.00 This was awesome!
Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Whey 12.30 Subsidized by gift cards. I have this in the AM and after working out.
Spotify 9.99  
Forgetting my monthly MetroCard at home one day 8.25 Ugh.
Haircut 5.00 Tip only. I hit the free haircut on my punch card.
Underwear from Target 4.88 Lol
TOTAL 2,768.78  

Full disclosure: My monthly MetroCard and health insurance are paid pre-tax. I’m still on my parents’ phone plan.

Review of my March goals:

Reduce restaurant spending to $150 – PASS

I spent half of this in two days. Oops. But overall, the month was OK.

What worked?

  • Meal prepping in advance. When I cooked dinner, I made large batches of a few staples. I then mixed and matched them for meals the rest of the week. This basically brought takeout spending to zero.
  • Getting coffee with friends instead of dinner. I love coffee!
  • Going out for lunch instead of dinner. Lunch specials can bring down the bill 20%.
  • Being more thoughtful about our choice of restaurants. I like trying new foods. If I can’t cook them, even better. I don’t care about fancy service or decor. Mr. Boyfriend and I found ourselves going to hole-in-the-walls with Turkish and Jordanian food. These were delicious—and cheap!
  • Splurging when we do eat. Extra falafel? Yes please. When I maximized every meal, I needed fewer to be happy.
This is the most extra thing I’ve ever done

Buy a rice cooker and a rolling laundry hamper – PASS

So, I didn’t buy these items. But I realized that what I have is good enough. Most days, I cook rice with chicken in the Instant Pot. And my suitcase works as a rolling hamper! I think that’s a win.

Other wins:

The Amtrak gift card. Surprise!

Story time! When Mr. Boyfriend and I started dating, I took the bus from NYC to Boston for $60. It was not fun. The bus was late. I got hip cramps. The wi-fi never worked. The outlets also didn’t work.

Mr. Boyfriend was always worth it. But over the years, the bus got worse. It once took an hour to leave Manhattan. We picked up stranded people at the side of a highway. We started stopping in New Haven. The trip went from 4 hours to 5.5 hours.

After one night where I showed up to Boston as a zombie, Mr. Boyfriend suggested that I take Amtrak instead. For $20 more.

Guys, it was life-changing.

There was so much space! I could grab a table and write. I could get up and walk. My hips no longer hurt. I could buy water. There was no traffic.

So I’m a frequent Amtrak passenger now. You can catch me in the café car twice a month.

I’m usually at one of these tables. (Photo by Hansel Wong on Unsplash)

So why is this a win?

I used my Chase Freedom! Drug stores were a Q1 bonus category, so I bought my gift card from Rite Aid.

Gift cards are an easy way to hack the Chase Freedom. Going to Whole Foods, but the bonus category is drug stores? Buy a gift card from Rite Aid! Now your groceries earn 5% back.

The key is to fund purchases that you’re going to make anyway. It’s too easy to buy a gift card and think “oh, I already spent the money. Might as well go on a shopping spree!” Then before you know it, you’ve spent money on things that you didn’t want or need…

I knew that I would visit Mr. Boyfriend at least five more times in 2019. So I took the plunge.

The result? I earned 2500 points for a $500 purchase. Because I also have the Chase Sapphire Preferred, I can redeem those points through Chase Ultimate Rewards. There, each point is worth ~1.25 cents toward travel. So in effect, I got $31.25 back for an expense that I was going to make anyway. Not too shabby!

Areas for improvement:

All the money I didn’t spend on restaurants went to groceries.

WTF? What happened?

Some thoughts:

  • I was more adventurous with cooking. Mr. Boyfriend and I made kimchi jjigae! It was GREAT.
  • I bought a bunch of sauces and seasonings. I bought sesame oil and gochujang paste for the kimchi jigae. I bought oregano, garlic powder, and chili powder for everyday use. Many of these will last for months.
  • I shopped at local butcher shops. This was tasty but pricey.
  • I bought a lot of $4.95 cranberry walnut bread. Oops.

Side note—I mentioned that I signed up for a CSA last month. I pay by the basket, and I rescheduled this month’s basket. So that’s not included in this month’s grocery spending.

Not the end of the world. To be honest, I think groceries is one of the better places to overspend. But I should keep an eye on this…

That coffee category is creeping up.

I love coffee. I don’t mind spending more on coffee.

What I do mind, however, is spending money in a sub-optimal way.

80% of the coffee spending comes from work. I buy coffee at work because the pantry coffee is atrocious. It’s given me headaches and stomachaches at the same time.

I do make coffee at home. But it’s not strong enough to last me through the day. I still use the same Keurig machine from college. Might be time to retire it…

Spending goals for April 2019:

Reduce restaurant spending to $125.

Might be challenging since this is my birthday month…

Reduce grocery spending to $225.

My plan:

  • Record every grocery item that I buy. This is for this month only.
  • Create a spreadsheet with prices in my area. I never learned to compare prices at the grocery store. I wonder how this will turn out…

Learn to make epic coffee at home so I don’t have to buy it outside.

I’m super excited about this one! While there will be upfront costs for equipment and coffee beans, I expect this to lower my coffee spending long term.

How was your March?

Are there any other credit card hacks that you like?

How do you keep grocery costs down?

[Featured photo: Lily Banse on Unsplash]

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